12 September 2007

Sutra of the Eight Realizations

This has been described as a short summary of Mahayana Buddhism and was one of the first sutras translated into Chinese. The speaker was Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha. The commentary under each Realization is by Venerable Master Hsing Yun, founder of the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist order of which the Hsi Lai Temple is a part.

The First Realization
Realize that this world is impermanent, that nations are unsafe and unstable, the the four elements cause suffering and are empty, and that there is no self within the five skandhas; that all things that arise must change and decline, and that they are but false appearances without any stable essence; that the mind is a source of evil, and that form is a congregation of wrong-doings. Contemplate all of this, and gradually you will disentangle yourself from the cycle of birth and death.

The "skandhas" are: form, sensation, perception, mental activity, and consciousness.
Just as good things can turn to bad, so also can bad things turn to good. Change leads us out of difficult situations, it relieves us of our cares, and is the process by which we transform ourselves into Buddhas. If nothing changed, we would never grow.
Emptiness is a special term in Buddhism. It means "having no permanent, definite, or absolute aspect whatsoever.
The concept of emptiness flies in the face of basic human psychology, for one of our strongest tendencies is to treat ourselves, other people, and the things of the world as if they were permanent.

None of this says the world is not here, or that nothing exists, or that we must despair of our condition. Emptiness simply means that nothing has an unchanging essence or self-nature that is independent of other things.

The four elements are earth, water, fire and wind. i.e all material phenomena.

The Second Realization
Realize that excessive desire causes suffering. The fatigue and troubles of the cycle of birth and death arise from greed and desire. Have few desires, be receptive, and you will be content in body and mind.

The Third Realization
Realize that the mind is insatiable, and that it constantly strives for more, thus adding to its transgressions and mistakes. The bodhisattva is not like this; he thinks often of being satisfied with what he has, and he is peaceful in poverty and upholds the Dharma. Wisdom is his only concern.

The Fourth Realization
Realize that laziness leads to downfall. be diligent and break the hold of harmful fixations. defeat the four demons and escape the prison of this dark world.

The Fifth Realization
Realize that ignorance gives rise to the cycle of birth and death. The bodhisattva studies widely, listens carefully, and thinks often in order to increase his wisdom and develop his talents in speaking so that he is fit to teach and transform others, and show them the greatest joy.

The Sixth Realization
Realize that resenting poverty and suffering leads only to more of the same. A bodhisattva is generous and equal minded toward both friend and foe. he does not dwell on old wrongs, or make new enemies.

The Seventh Realization
Realize that the five desires bring nothing but trouble. Though we live in this world, we do not become stained by worldly pleasures. Instead, we think often of a monk's garb, his bowl, and his chanting instruments. Having set our minds on monastic life, we uphold the way and purify ourselves. Our morality encompasses all, our compassion includes everyone.

The "five desires" are for wealth, sex, fame, food and sleep. "Each of the five desires can be understood as an exaggeration of a normal and valuable human need. Desire is not wrong if it is kept in proportion."
The Eighth Realization
Realize that life and death are like flickering flames, and that suffering is endless. Take the Mahayana Vow to befriend all things. Vow to take on the illimitable suffering of sentient beings, and to lead them all to ultimate bliss.

Vowing is an important part of Buddhism. A vow is an act of consciousness that alters the nature of the consciousness that makes it.

11 September 2007

Zen and Pure Land

So I’d heard of Zen Buddhism before but all I was certain it involved was meditating and koan or riddles to derail conventional thinking. I didn’t know that Zen was just a sect within Mahayana Buddhism, one of the two main divisions in Buddhism. The other main strand of Buddhsim is Theravada Buddhism which calls itself the original Buddhism in that it came first and is built on the words of Buddha while Mahayana puts more emphasis on the historical Buddha's actions. Theravada encourages each of us to work hard on our own enlightenment, period. Mahayana suggests that the purpose of enlightenent is to help others.

While it’s possible to find both Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism here and most other places in the world, Theravada Buddhism has over 100 million followers primarily in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Philippines, and Malaysia, while almost 200 million people practice Mahayana Buddhism - mainly in China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Tibetan Buddhism (whose spiritual leader is the Dalai Lama) comprises a much smaller group of about 20 million people who practice a form of Buddhism that’s a bit different than the two more populous sects.

But the Hsi Lai Temple says the kind of Buddhism practiced there is a combination of Zen (in Chinese: Ch'an) and Pure Land Buddhism. Pure Land? I’d never heard of it. And yet this sect of Mahayana Buddhism is one of the most popular and widespread. In the book Huston Smith wrote with Philip Novak, Buddhism, he says the Pure Land school of Buddhism is often overlooked by Westerners because "when Westerners began tio be interested in Buddhism, its Pure Land school looked too much like Christianity to seem interesting." Zen Buddhism requires you to spend time. a lot of time, in meditation. In Pure Land, meditation is considered a good practice but there's no need to do it.

Pure Land, according to Huston Smith, says that, because so many people have become liberated in the past, they "have together produced nothing short of an infinite treasury of merit, a storehouse of salvific energy" that we regular folk can turn to for "unlimited help." This is why, for example, the Hsi Lai venerables taught us to say "Amituofo" - the Amtitabha Buddha's name - before everything. That name alone has the power to liberate and that idea is an example of the Pure Land part of the practice at the Hsi Lai Temple. Pure Land is much more popular than Zen in Japan, for example. It takes much less personal effort. In Zen, there's no being who can give you anything.

The historical Buddha was a real person named Siddartha Gautama who "woke up" then spent his life teaching others how to do it for themselves. He made no claims of divinity or even that he was the first or last "Buddha." In fact, "Buddha nature" is something everyone has, even you, even me. Zen Buddhism stays focused on that, on "waking up." In Zen, the task is to realize that, not to know it but to realize it. Pure Land says that's really hard and so you can apply for help from a Amitabha Buddha, a divine being whose name means Infinite Light.

07 September 2007

Other people's lives

Attachment is the cause of suffering. Here I am, the summer is gone, and I’m beating myself up, using my picture of what my work life, my work output, is supposed to look like and doesn’t. While I’m typing these very words, I’m mindlessly knocking back a cup of coffee while chomping Famous Amos oatmeal cookie crumbs all over my keyboard. That’s after buying and eating a chocolate MoonPie at the convenience store when all I meant to buy was milk for the coffee I’m now drinking.

Sure great how those eight grueling days of mindfulness training made a real difference in my life.

So what has filled the void? What stories have moved in to the vacuum left by those I'm not telling? Luke, sixteen year-old Luke, may be breaking up with Amy after a year. I'm like a gossip magazine addict or a mangy dog waiting for the crumbs of information that fall off the table. I'm obsessed. Better than feeling what I feel when I'm not.

Attachment sure does cause suffering. I suffer when I don't measure up to some yardstick I imagine, then I flail around looking for anyone else's plot twists to agonize over because anything's better than feeling what I feel.

What a whiner.

Enough. Just type.