Archive for December, 2009

Online Dharma teachings: Taigu on Oxherding

Posted in Buddhism on the web, Video, Zen with tags , , , , , on December 30, 2009 by Al

Treeleaf teacher Rev. Taigu discusses the first of the Ten Oxherding pictures:

Be sure to subscribe to the rest of the series here.

Dhammapada 11-12

Posted in Dhammapada Study with tags , on December 30, 2009 by Al

Those who regard
non-essence as essence
and see essence as non-,
don’t get to the essence,
ranging about in wrong resolves.

But those who know
essence as essence,
and non-essence as non-,
get to the essence,
ranging about in right resolves.

Thoughts:
Tolstoy’s Three Questions goes along with this one really well, don’t you think? Knowing what’s right or what’s essential can become an obsession. Still though, like in Tolstoy’s story, there’s this long, winding journey leading to the realization that the only important thing is what’s in front of you. I love the sound of “ranging about in right resolves.” You don’t want to be wandering around in the forest of wrong resolves, now do you?

Dhammapada 9-10

Posted in Dhammapada Study with tags , on December 28, 2009 by Al

He who, depraved,
devoid of truthfulness
& self-control,
puts on the ochre robe,
doesn’t deserve the ochre robe.

But he who is free
of depravity
endowed
with truthfulness
& self-control,
well-established
in the precepts,
truly deserves the ochre robe.

Thoughts:
I feel weird about this, almost as if it’s saying we have to be free of all the bad stuff before we even take up practice (the ochre robe). I’m guessing this is more like a pep talk to the monks, though, and a standard by which lay people of the time could decide where to devote their generous donations to the sangha. What does it mean to wear the ochre robe, though? To take up monkhood? Or just to take up practice?

Speak truth
Don’t be a maniac
Keep the 5, the 8, the 10 or the 16

Zen Christmas

Posted in General on December 24, 2009 by Al

A lot of people think jolly old Hotei is Buddha.

Listen up Americans! This is not Buddha!

He’s really more like Zen Santa Claus. He’s also responsible for one of the most awesome Zen parables ever.

The primary story that concerns Budai in Zen (Chán) is a short kōan. In it, Budai is said to travel giving candy to poor children, only asking a penny from Zen monks or lay practitioners he meets. One day a monk walks up to him and asks, “What is the meaning of Zen?” Budai drops his bag. “How does one realize Zen?” he continued. Budai then took up his bag and continued on his way.

First you drop everything.

Then you pick it all up again and head back out into the word, handing out candy and Dharma and taking pennies from monks.

I hope you get lots of candy and give lots of pennies this Christmas.

Dhammapada 7-8

Posted in Dhammapada Study with tags , on December 24, 2009 by Al

Today’s couplet:

One who stays focused on the beautiful,
is unrestrained with the senses,
knowing no moderation in food,
apathetic, unenergetic:
Mara overcomes him
as the wind, a weak tree.

One who stays focused on the foul,
is restrained with regard to the senses,
knowing moderation in food,
full of conviction & energy:
Mara does not overcome him
as the wind, a mountain of rock.

Thoughts:
Oh, this one is a little bit more challenging than the first few couplets, isn’t it? Staying focused on the beautiful is BAD? What now? Focus on the FOUL? That sounds like it would suck. It rubs me the wrong way. But the point here is that beauty is fleeting, and at the same time blinding. If you’re only focused on chasing after the good stuff, you are a slave to your senses. A lot of people think this is a good, fulfilling way to live, but Buddha warns against it.

Who is this Mara, anyway? A metaphor for the clever trickster of desire, you might even call Mara the Buddhist version of the devil. But I don’t think the idea is quite as evil as it’s portrayed in Christianity. Mara (desire, wanting) is easily defeated with the Buddha’s instructions.

Basically I think the Buddha is saying that if you’re constantly distracted by beauty, or by whatever the new sparkly shiny thing is, you’re not being vigilant enough in reigning in your senses. Social custom dictates that you don’t just take everything you see and you don’t believe everything you hear. Your senses shouldn’t rule you, but often they do. In order to break free of this, we have to keep our focus balanced between material life and spiritual endeavor.

Dhammapada 3-6

Posted in Dhammapada Study with tags , on December 23, 2009 by Al

Here are couplets 3-6 of the Dhammapada:

‘He insulted me,
hit me,
beat me,
robbed me’
— for those who brood on this,
hostility isn’t stilled.

‘He insulted me,
hit me,
beat me,
robbed me’
— for those who don’t brood on this,
hostility is stilled.

Hostilities aren’t stilled
through hostility,
regardless.
Hostilities are stilled
through non-hostility:
this, an unending truth.

Unlike those who don’t realize
that we’re here on the verge
of perishing,
those who do:
their quarrels are stilled.

And a few sentences of my own:
Hitting, beating, robbing. These are some pretty serious incidents! Notice how Buddha goes ahead and includes insults in with physical injury. The ego is a big, swollen thing and Buddha was a smart guy – those insults to our pride can hurt just as much and last twice as long in our minds as a physical thing. But he says anyone who broods on this, anybody that holds onto resentment and replays the great play of negativity over and over again on the screen in our minds is never going to still hostility. Interesting there because it means that to let all these things go, the goal has to be letting go of hostility, not revenge or the preservation of some reputation. You have to truly want to let go of your hostility and anger. Hostility is stilled through non-hostility, in thought, word and deed. The only hostility you control is your own. And also notice he says don’t BROOD on it. He doesn’t imply you should avoid it at all costs or if you’re just nice enough, bad things will never happen to you. You’re going to be insulted, hit, beaten, robbed – not just in the literal sense but in all kinds of emotional senses. Don’t brood.

And he finishes by saying, HEY! We’re dying. We’re dying you idiots. Stop quarreling. There’s no great cosmic father figure who’s going to turn the car around.

Dhammapada 1-2

Posted in Dhammapada Study with tags , on December 22, 2009 by Al

Today I am going to start a Dhammapada study project because it’s something I’ve been wanting to do and I happen to have the time this morning. I will be using Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s translation. Because I think it has a bit more heart than some of the others. I’m just going to post a section and then post a little bit about my understanding of it. I think the Dhammapada is a really accessible piece of writing.

To begin, here is the first couplet:

Phenomena are preceded by the heart,
ruled by the heart,
made of the heart.
If you speak or act
with a corrupted heart,
then suffering follows you —
as the wheel of the cart,
the track of the ox
that pulls it.

Phenomena are preceded by the heart,
ruled by the heart,
made of the heart.
If you speak or act
with a calm, bright heart,
then happiness follows you,
like a shadow
that never leaves.

And a little string of words expressing my current understanding:

The whole world is with you because the whole world is you. If your heart is breaking, it feels like the world is breaking with it. But there are subtler emotions. If you’re a victim, chances to be a victim present themselves. If you’re defensive, the world presents you with chances to defend. It is all built by our perception.

How do you speak and act with a calm, bright heart? How do you become confident that your perceptions are building your world instead of the world building your perceptions? How do you go from “life is happening to me” to “I am creating my life”? Buddha says reflection, insight. Think about your interconnectedness.