Sunday, September 27, 2015

"Outline of Practice" by Bodhidharma

This is the text of Bodhidharma's "Outline of Practice" Translated by Ven. Dr. Wonji Dharma, Guiding Teacher-Five Mountain Zen Order
and some of Red Pine's "The Zen Teachings of Bodhidharma."

This is what I based the first talk in the Bodhidharma series from September 2015. The italic text below is my commentary, which is largely my takeaway from the text. As such, you may agree with it, you may not. My interpretations are what I came up with upon reading the text for the first time in a few years, and I'd forgotten what a formative text it is, and how much of our practice today comes directly from Bodhidharma. His teachings are reworking of previous Sutras, putting them in a skillful way for his students of that time in China, approximately 1,600 years ago. A couple of my favorite lines I've highlighted as bold text. 

"MANY methods lead to the Path; however, fundamentally there are only two: reason and practice. To enter by reason means to realize the essence through instruction and to trust that all living things share the same true nature, yet this is not apparent because our normal perception is shrouded in sensation and delusion".

  •  When we start our practice, a tree is a tree, and only ever a tree. We strive for the permanence that certainty brings us. We want that tree to be a tree, and the “me” to be “me” and to stay “me” even more. If the tree loses its leaves during the autumn, maybe it makes us sad. But our true sadness comes when we see that our own “leaves” are starting to fall.
  • Once we are reminded that all beings share a True Nature, that all we see is constantly changing, changing, changing, even from one moment to the next we can choose how we approach this dilemma: We can either deny it, and continue to live in delusion with all the struggle that brings, or we can have faith in our teacher and that the Dharma is just the way things are.

"Those who return from delusion back to this moment, who meditate in presence, the absence of self and other, the oneness of worldly being and sage, and who remain unmoved even by scriptures are in complete and non-conceptual agreement with reason. Without moving, without effort, they enter, we say, by reason".

  •  Realization of the Absolute, the acceptance of the Absolute
  •  In the Absolute, there is no duality—self/other, worldly being/sage
  •  No clinging to previous beliefs, including scriptures
  • Before thought--Not-intellectual, intuitive only, not-conceptual

"To enter by practice refers to four all-inclusive practices: Experiencing injustice, adapting to conditions, seeking nothing, and practicing the Dharma.

"First, is the experience of injustice: When those who embark on the Path encounter adversity, they should resolve that, “In the countless moments of my life gone by, I’ve turned from the essential to the trivial and wandered through all manner of conceptualizations, often angry without cause and guilty of numberless transgressions.

"This moment, though I do no wrong, I am allowing my past to control my present. Neither gods nor men can foresee when an incorrect deed will bear its fruit. I accept it with an open heart and without complaint of injustice. The Sutras say, “When you meet with adversity don’t be upset, because it makes sense.” With such understanding, you are in harmony with reason. In addition, by experiencing injustice you enter the Path".

  • Akin to First Noble Truth—“Injustice”= Struggle/dissatisfaction—“dukkha.” 
  •  Speaking of karmic consequences; unwholesome intentional actions will bear the fruit of those actions—when, where, how are not of our choosing.
  • Living in the past by regretting the karmic outcome, taking it personally, “Oh, why me? The world is out to get me,” is a symptom of not paying attention! This moment is here because it is dependent on all causes and conditions to this point. When karma manifests in the here&now, it is in the here&now that we have the opportunity to act…or not, depending on the situation, relationship and correct function.

"Second, adapting to conditions. As worldly beings, we are ruled by conditions, not by our momentary perceptions. All the uneasiness and joy we experience depend on conditions. If we should be blessed by some great reward, such as fame or fortune, it is the fruit of a seed planted by some unforeseen events. When conditions change, the situation changes, therefore, why do we delight in its existence? Nevertheless, while success and failure depend on conditions, our true self neither waxes nor wanes. Those who remain unmoved by the wind of joy silently follow the Path".

  • Akin to 2nd Noble Truth—there is a cause for this feeling of dissatisfaction—our karma.
  • Even “good” results are temporary because they depend on causes & conditions.
  • “True Self” in not conditional. It’s been here all along. In truth, it didn’t come, and it won’t go. It’s just clouded by layers and layers of delusion. Our small “I” is what comes and goes, thinking that all depends on us, when we are what depends on all else.

"The third method is seeking nothing. People of this world are deluded. They are always longing for something-always, in a word, seeking. However, the wise wake up. They choose reason over construct. They fix their minds on the transcendent and experience their bodies changing with the seasons. All phenomena are transparent. They contain nothing worth desiring. Calamity forever alternates with Prosperity! To dwell in the three realms of existence is to dwell in a burning house. To have a body is to experience discomfort and sometimes suffering. Does anyone with a body know peace? Those who understand this realize that all that exists is constantly changing and stop Imagining or seeking anything. The sutras say, “To seek is to experience disappointment.” “To seek nothing is harmony.” When you seek nothing, you are on the Path".

  • Akin to 3rd Noble Truth—there is a cessation possible. 
  • "Seeking” is to be in a constant state of dissatisfaction with the present moment. 
  • To seek nothing is to be absorbed in what it present: Our actions, our environment, our thoughts about them. That determines what we do in this moment, and determines what will come in the next moment. 
  • Not to be “here,” is to be living in fantasy. Where else is there?

"The fourth method is practicing the Dharma. The Dharma is the truth that all true natures are of themselves pure. Within this truth, all appearances are transparent. Defilement and attachment, as well as subject and object do not exist. The sutras say, “The Dharma includes no being because it is free from the conceptualization of being, and the Dharma includes no self because it is free from the adulteration of self.”  Those wise enough to trust and understand these truths are bound to practice according to the Dharma. In addition, since that which is real includes nothing worth begrudging, they give their body, life, and property in charity, without regret, without the separation of giver, gift, or recipient, and without bias or attachment. Moreover, to eliminate adulteration they teach to others and without becoming attached to form; through their own practice, they are able to help others and glorify the Dao of awakening. Moreover, as with charity, they practice the other virtues. Nevertheless, while practicing the six virtues to eliminate delusion, they practice nothing at all. This is what is meant by practicing the Dharma".

  • Akin to 4th Noble Truth--what to do, how to behave, in order to get out of our self-imposed struggle. 
  • The way is “The Way,” i.e. practicing the Dharma. 
  • From the Diamond Sutra—pointing to the Absolute 
  • All beings are no-beings (out of convenience, they are called “beings.”) 
  • Self is no-self, thus is it called “self.” 
  • Intuitive “before thought” response to situations leads to no need for thought. One is being generous, as there is no alternative to which it could be compared. There is only, “How may I help you?” 
  • The Six Perfections are only “perfections” when there are “afflictions.” When all afflictions are seen to be transparent, there are no “real” afflictions, and only what we’d call “correct” function is present.
  • Do we have to think about breathing? There is only breathing.
  • When practicing the Dao, there is likewise only practicing. 
  • Although this is the one section that doesn't end with "the Path," when truly realizing the Dharma, one also realizes that there is no "Path," that everything is the "Path."
Click on the title to listen to the Dharma talk from September 3, 2015.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

That Crazy Red-bearded Barbarian

Over the course of the month of September 2015, we’ve been studying and discussing Bodhidharma at One Mind Zen Sangha. The “Zen Teachings of Bodhidharma” is a collection of sermons attributed to him. We’ve used both Red Pine and Ven. Wonji Dharma’s translations of these four texts: “Outline of Practice,” “Bloodstream Sermon,” “Wake-up Sermon,” and “Breakthrough Sermon.” 

In Week One, I give some background biographical information on Bodhidharma—the first Chan (Zen) Patriarch. “Biography” implies the story of one’s life, so that may not be an entirely accurate description—since there are those who doubt Bodhidharma’s existence, where he came from (the Kong-an asks “Why did Bodhidharma come from the West?” not why did he come from southeastern India), and years of birth, death, and stories about what came in between.

He’s often referred to as the “Red-bearded Barbarian,” sometimes even with “Blue-eyed” thrown in. I don’t know what the ethnic traits of the population of southern India were 1,500+ years ago, so I can’t really comment on whether blue-eyes and a red beard automatically disqualify his coming from India. And I can’t say that it disqualifies him coming from modern-day Persia or Afghanistan either. And of course, how well translated “Red-bearded, blue-eyed barbarian” is from the Chinese of that long ago is questionable to me as well. All that notwithstanding, Bodhidharma is a legendary figure, whether it’s all based on legend or not.

If you want biographical information, there are plenty of sources, both from Zen and Kung-Fu standpoints. (He is also credited with being the teacher to the monks at Shaolin Temple in the martial art). There’s even a movie called “Bodhidharma, Master of Zen,” that goes into both those aspects. In its 1970-ish Kung-Fu movie way, it’s very entertaining if you like that sort of thing. I wouldn’t necessarily base any scholarly research on it, however. Then again, it could be 100% accurate.
Regardless of any arguments about Bodhidharma having lived, where he came from, and what he did once he got to China, there are some great, if apocryphal stories associated with him. Right off the bat, he is summoned to meet Emperor Wu, who thinks of himself as a great supporter of Buddhism in China (which had come somewhere around 400 years prior to Bodhidharma’s arrival). Wu tells Bodhidharma about his support for the monks, all the temples he’s been building, the general, “Here pat me on the back, eminent Indian monk, because you should really be impressed by me.” Wu asks how much merit there is in his deeds, Bodhidharma responds with, “No merit whatsoever.” Wu asks Bodhidharma to explain the teachings of the Buddha to him, Bodhidharma replies with, “Vast emptiness, nothing holy.” Perplexed, probably angry with this insolence, Wu asks something along the lines of, “Who do you think you are?!?” Bodhidharma’s reply is, “Don’t know.”

As with many Buddhist teachings, Bodhidharma is inclined to answer questions such as “What is this?” with answers that mark what “this” isn’t. Think there’s a payoff for your good deeds? Don’t count on it. If you do these deeds with the expectation of acquiring something as a result of having done them, the expectation itself cancels out the “merit” the deed might have accrued. You’re still back in the hell realms. The Buddha’s teaching? Nope, not gonna fall into your net, you created it, you wriggle out of it. Who is this? “Indeed, great Emperor, who is this?”

Realizing our True Nature? As easy as surfing across the Yangtze River on a hollow reed. Pacify one’s racing thoughts? Bring them to Bodhidharma, if you can find them. Open your eyes! How could it be another way? And how badly do you want to study the Great Way with a sage? Would you give your right arm for it? Ask Huike. He has first-hand experience. There is no second-hand.

Listen to the Dharma talk by clicking the title, or navigate here: 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Yes, But...

Just when you think you've finally wrapped around one of the teachings of the Great Way, you hear, "Yes, but..." And then you think you have an idea of what "Yes, but..." means, and then it's followed by another, "Yes, but..." And yet, for some reason, I'm somehow compelled to write something about it, although expecting that by the end of it that you'll see any answer might be misguidedly optimistic.

I'm one of those people that considers the "The a Heart Sutra" to be more important as a chant than a teaching piece of prose. That goes back to when I had absolutely no idea what any of it meant. "No eyes, no ears, no nose..." "OK, you say so, but I'm busy trying to follow the tempo of the wooden fish." I think it took me around 3 years before I could pronounce "Avalokiteshvara" without stumbling, and considering that's the opening of the Sutra, let's just say it's not a great way to start a chant. If nothing else chanting it (and any other chant for that matter) really forces the chanter into a state of pure concentration, intense listening, blending voices together at the same time as they're still individual voices if you listen closely enough for that also. "Form is none other than emptiness, emptiness is none other than form...." actually falls into the same category of, "Yes, but..."

The problem is that if it's left there, one might leave it as reifying both form and emptiness as "things." Either a teacher, or some serious spontaneous insight is required to get past that trap. My experience is that the Diamond Sutra has helped do that. The Vajra Prajnà Pàramità Sutra--the Diamond of the Perfection of wisdom, the Diamond that cuts through all delusion,  is a wonderful text, especially with a Great Teacher to help cut through it. Even the cutting through needs to be cut through. We can probably "get" the Two Truths of Relative and Absolute, at least on an intellectual level. Getting past that isn't so easy, yet it is fairly simple. Of course, most Zen teaching is actually fairly simple. Intellectual knowledge is nice, nothing wrong with learning things, unless one starts to believe that the knowledge is equivalent to wisdom. Bodhidharma pointed to that by reducing it down to True Nature, saying what that isn't as much as what it is. Just as the path of the Great Way involves fewer steps that more (none falling into the fewer category), Zen practice is reductive rather than additive.

The beauty of the Diamond Sutra is that it does pull that off, at least in my estimation. It's still verbal, and therefore limited, but the Buddha keeps peeling the layers of delusion away. At first slowly, then by the end, he doesn't just peel, he slashes with the Diamond Sword of Wisdom. The Buddha even says (a number of times) that memorizing spreading the message of just four lines results in substantial merit. Pick four lines out of 32 chapters, internalize them, and be able to explain them in an accurate way, and bingo, that's it. Granted, even doing that isn't so easy. Involving intellect and conceptual thought about it won't be of any value. They most certainly need to go under the Diamond blade.

Every talk I give it seems, ends up getting back to the Bodhisattva. Even if I don't plan on that, it ends up there. At a couple points, namely Chapters 17 & 25, the Buddha even slashes through the "Bodhisattva." Not only is it erroneous to think that there is such a thing (dharma) as a Bodhisattva, it's also erroneous to think that there either are, or are not beings, saving, and rescuing. He says that all beings are no-beings, "thus are they called 'beings'." Form, emptiness, then true vision. It's very much like ZM Seung Sahn's compass of Zen, starting with only viewing form as form, then moving on to "form is emptiness," then to "emptiness is form," and hitting 360 degrees at, "thus are they called 'beings'." It isn't just Relative and Absolute. It isn't just the non-duality of "no-self," it goes past that. Not only does it point to "not two,"  but it covers "not one" as well, then slashes that to that there aren't "one" or "two."

This on the surface may seem exceedingly paradoxical, and as a piece of prose, there is certainly no arguing that. It can also be profoundly disturbing on one level as well. Seeing the interdependence of all dharmas (the Absolute) and their lack of self, is one thing. But then one finds out that not only is the Relative delusion, but reifying the Absolute is as well. A Great Teacher of mine, when discussing the teaching of the Diamond Sutra asked me, "What does the Fearless Bodhisattva have to stand on?" After some fumbling through "this shore," "the other shore," and a few other conceptual answers, it finally came out: "Nothing." Another Great Teacher uses "beyond non-duality" as a way to put the same thing. This is disturbing! You finally get to the point of the Absolute, then you're told there isn't an Absolute. All those teachings of the Dharma you thought you could fall back on, not that either.

Get the relationship between Relative and Absolute? "Yes, but..." See that "form is none other than emptiness, emptiness is none other than form?" "Yes, but..." "Beings are no-beings?" "Yes, but..." The "nothing to stand on," the "absolute nothingness," the "beyond non-duality," that's where true freedom lies. It's "no-thing" to stand on. Comparing duality and non-duality is in itself dualistic. (Vimalakirti nailed it with "_____.") Of course, saying any of this also falls into "Yes, but...." But given the freedom of this freedom from not being concerned about all these concepts, allows us the freedom to go out into the marketplace with open arms, and save all sentient beings. Freedom? "Yes, but...." Freedom! The freedom to accept even, "Yes, but...

Click on the title to hear the Dharma Talk 
or go here: