Bob Schwartz

Category: Buddhism

Happy Buddhaday to

The celebration of Vesak, also called Buddha Day, varies in detail from place to place around the world, from Buddhism to Buddhism, from Buddhist to Buddhist. This year it is May 18 or May 19 or another date. It is the Buddha’s birthday or the date of his enlightenment or the date of his death or all of them.

As a birthday, this is a Buddhaday poem. Sing the song and eat some cake.


Happy Buddhaday to

how many candles
on the Buddhaday cake
not one
not two

©

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Four Reliances: How to Discern the Real Thing

When it comes to teachings and texts, when it comes to our own thoughts and conclusions, how can we tell the authentic from the inauthentic, the worthy from the unworthy?

The Buddha spoke and taught, and many of those discourses were recorded or remembered by those close to him. But over the centuries, as those discourses were passed along, changes were inevitably made. Later others spoke in the Buddha’s name, and still others spoke on their own, with the Buddha as guide and inspiration. The same can be said within other traditions.

How are we determine what is the real thing—not just in Buddhism, not just in religion, but in all facets of our lives?

Buddhism developed the universally useful Four Reliances to help in this quest and questioning. Whether you are reading a scripture from different traditions, or texts of any kind on any subject, or are hearing the news of current events, these are valuable guidelines.

Here is the succinct formulation from Red Pine, found in his translation and commentary on the Heart Sutra.

Rely on the teaching and not the author
Rely on the meaning and not the letter
Rely on the truth and not the convention
Rely on the knowledge and not the information

Around the Worlds in 108 Beads (mala)

Around the Worlds in 108 Beads (mala)

Each bead a smooth and perfect sphere
Lustrous blue with floating continents of gray
My finger lingers then travels on
To a different world the same
I circumnavigate the strand of 108
Ten thousand splendid worlds within
Ten thousand splendid worlds
I have been to all and none
Beads in mind beads in hand

©

Note: A mala is a strand of 108 beads used in Buddhism and other traditions for chanting, contemplation and meditation. The mala can be carried, or can be worn as a necklace or bracelet. The beads are made from a variety of materials, including gemstones, wood and bone.

Malas are beautiful and powerful. I carry a short mala of 54 tiger’s eye beads in my pocket, the same pocket in which I carry my phone. When I reach for my phone, I am reminded that however wondrous that digital marvel appears to be, it is no match for a strand of beads.

MeruBeads is a premier maker of malas. The lapis lazuli mala pictured above is just one of the many they craft and sell. Please visit.

The Buddha Endorses Poetry

Gatha: A metrical unit of Indian verse that can be anywhere from two to six lines in length. It is sometimes used as a stand-alone poem and sometimes to restate preceding sections of prose.

From The Diamond Sutra, Chapter Thirty-two, translation and commentaries by Red Pine:

The Buddha speaks:

”Furthermore, Subhuti, if a fearless bodhisattva filled measureless, infinite worlds with the seven jewels and gave them as an offering to the tathagatas, the arhans, the fully-enlightened ones, and a noble son or daughter grasped but a single four-line gatha of this teaching of the perfection of wisdom and memorized, discussed, recited, mastered, and explained it in detail to others, the body of merit produced as a result would be immeasurably, infinitely greater.”

Red Pine writes:

The Buddha returns to the comparison he has made throughout this sutra, whereby an offering of the most valuable objects in the world is compared to an offering of a single poem that expresses the truth. As the extent and value of material offerings have steadily increased, the fearless bodhisattva has been presented as the most likely member of the Buddha’s audience to understand the greater value of a good poem. How ironic that at the end of this sutra, the merit of a fearless bodhisattva fails to compare to that of an ordinary person. For even a fearless bodhisattva can become attached to the net of jewels of an illusory world. But the message the Buddha wants to leave with his audience is that the body of merit synonymous with the Buddha’s own diamond body is accessible to anyone, that such a body is a four-line gatha away.

Bell

Sensoji

the sound of breathing
easy or labored
the temple bell rings

©

Wake Up! It’s Bodhi Day.

Bodhi Day is December 8, marking the enlightenment of the Buddha.

bodhi. In Sanskrit and Pāli, “awakening,” “enlightenment”.
—Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism

If the mad mind stops, its very stopping is bodhi.
—Śūraṅgama Sutra

Friend, wake up! Why do you go on sleeping?
The night is over— do you want to lose the day
the same way?
—Kabir, version by Robert Bly

Deepak Chopra’s Buddha, Written by Deepak Chopra and Joshua Dysart, Art by Dean Ruben Hyrapiet

 

 

Thinksgiving

Dhammapada. One of the most popular and best-loved Buddhist texts. It consists of 423 verses divided into 26 sections arranged according to subject matter. In practice it is a sort of anthology of verses from various books of the canon.
A Dictionary of Buddhism

3. MIND

As the fletcher whittles
And makes straight his arrows,
So the master directs
His straying thoughts.

Like a fish out of water,
Stranded on the shore,
Thoughts thrash and quiver.
For how can they shake off desire?

They tremble, they are unsteady,
They wander at their will.
It is good to control them,
And to master them brings happiness.

But how subtle they are,
How elusive!
The task is to quieten them,
And by ruling them to find happiness.

With single-mindedness
The master quells his thoughts.
He ends their wandering.
Seated in the cave of the heart,
He finds freedom.

How can a troubled mind
Understand the way?
If a man is disturbed
He will never be filled with knowledge.

An untroubled mind,
No longer seeking to consider
What is right and what is wrong,
A mind beyond judgments,
Watches and understands.

Know that the body is a fragile jar,
And make a castle of your mind.
In every trial
Let understanding fight for you
To defend what you have won.

For soon the body is discarded.
Then what does it feel?
A useless log of wood, it lies on the ground.
Then what does it know?

Your worst enemy cannot harm you
As much as your own thoughts, unguarded.
But once mastered,
No one can help you as much,
Not even your father or your mother.

The Dhammapada: The Sayings of the Buddha
A Rendering by Thomas Byrom

“I would never disrespect you because you will all become buddhas.”

The Lotus Sutra—aka The King of Sutras, The Lotus Blossom of the Wonderful Dharma, The Discourse on the White Lotus of the True Doctrine—is one of the best-known and best-loved discourses of the Buddha.

A bodhisattva is one who takes up the way of the Buddha for the benefit of others. The Buddha speaks of various characters of bodhisattvas in the Lotus Sutra. In Chapter 20 we find Sadāparibhūta Bodhisattva—the Never Disrespectful, Never Disparaging, Never Belittling Bodhisattva.

The Never Disrespectful Bodhisattva was mocked and cursed by people, including those who were “attached to the Dharma superficially”, for his absolute refusal to disrespect others, no matter their behavior. His simple explanation was “I would never disrespect you because you will all become buddhas.” Ultimately, after a long while, the others learned and came around to his way.

How easy, even irresistible, it can be to disrespect, disparage and belittle others, especially when it seems to us so clearly appropriate and deserved. How cleverly cutting we can be. At those times, recall the Never Disrespectful Bodhisattva:

Then the World-Honored One, wanting to restate this teaching, spoke in verse:

There was a bodhisattva
Whose name was Never Disrespectful.

At that time the four groups
Were attached to the Dharma superficially.

Never Disrespectful Bodhisattva would go to them
And say: “I would never disrespect you,
For you are following the Way
And surely will all become buddhas.”

When people heard this
They made light of him or cursed him.
Never Disrespectful Bodhisattva
Withstood it all patiently…

At the end of his life
Never Disrespectful met countless buddhas,
And through teaching this sutra
Gained immeasurable happiness.

Gradually developing his blessings,
He quickly attained the Buddha way.
The Never Disrespectful of that time
Was really me.

More About Compassion Toward Things

These are the creatures and objects that are spoken of as the possessions of this individual: his animals and his walls, his garden and his meadow, his tools and his food. In so far as he cultivates and enjoys them in holiness, he frees their souls. “For this reason a man must always be compassionate toward his tools and all his possessions.”
Martin Buber, The Legend of the Baal Shem Tov

I earlier wrote about the concept of compassion toward your things. Here is a bit more.

What does it mean to be compassionate toward your things, to be “feeling with” them? This is easier to conceive if the thing is something alive like a pet, or something once growing but now picked like some of the food on your plate. But a chair is just a chair; does it really need your compassion to set its soul free?

Could it be that by stretching to find compassion for those things—for all those other things, no matter how insignificant they seem—we are exercising our practice and ability to be compassionate toward everything and everyone all the time? Could it be that by stretching to find the reality of those things, we are exercising our practice and ability to understand everything and everyone all the time?

The Buddhist concept of the trichiliocosm (also known as trisāhasramahāsāhasralokadhātu) “posits that any given thought-moment perfectly encompasses the entirety of reality both spatially and temporally…. the microcosm contains the macrocosm and temporality encompasses spatiality. Thus, whenever a single thought arises, there also arise the myriad dharmas; these two events occur simultaneously, not sequentially.” (Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism):

Trisāhasramahāsāhasralokadhātu. In Sanskrit, literally “three-thousandfold great-thousandfold world system,” but typically translated as “trichiliocosm”; the largest possible universe, composed of (according to some interpretations of the figure) one billion world systems, each of which have a similar geography, including a central axis at Mount Sumeru, four surrounding continents, etc.

In his translation of The Diamond Sutra, Red Pine reflects on a related point:

Chapter 1: One day before noon, the Bhagavan put on his patched robe and picked up his bowl and entered the capital of Shravasti for offerings. After begging for food in the city and eating his meal of rice, he returned from his daily round in the afternoon, put his robe and bowl away, washed his feet, and sat down on the appointed seat. After crossing his legs and adjusting his body, he turned his awareness to what was before him.

In ancient India, the main staple was glutinous rice, which was eaten with the hands by forming it into balls. The term pinda occurs again at the end of the sutra in Chapter Thirty, where it includes the biggest of all lumps: a universe of a billion worlds. This is not accidental, for the practice of charity and the concept of an entity, either compounded of smaller entities or compounding a greater entity, run throughout this sutra. In the chapters that follow, the Buddha takes us through a series of synonyms for the entities of reality and compares the results of offering such things as a ball of rice, a universe of jewels, numberless existences, or a four-line poem.

The Buddha said, “Subhuti, what do you think? Are all the specks of dust in the billion-world-system of a universe many?”

The Buddha turns from this teaching to the sanctuary where this teaching was being taught, namely, the vihara outside Shravasti where both he and Subhuti were sitting. If the teaching of prajna is no teaching, what about the world in which it is taught? The Buddha begins with the smallest perceivable constituents of matter and the largest conceivable entity that they comprise.

Chapter Thirty: “Furthermore, Subhuti, if a noble son or daughter took as many worlds as there are specks of dust in a billion-world universe and by an expenditure of limitless energy ground them into a multitude of atoms, Subhuti, what do you think, would there be a great multitude of atoms?…The Buddha said, “Subhuti, attachment to an entity is inexplainable and inexpressible. For it is neither a dharma nor no dharma. Foolish people, though, are attached.”

All things big and small are locked in an endless sleight of hand in which each negates the reality of the other. And yet we all look for something to grab. Sometimes, we grab the biggest thing we can find. Sometimes, we grab the smallest. The people of Shravasti offered the Buddha balls of rice. Were the balls of rice real, or the grains of rice? The Buddha ate what he found in his bowl. So, too, do Zen masters swallow the world and all its mountains and rivers. And the reason they can do this is because mountains and rivers do not themselves exist but are simply names we give to momentary combinations of causes and conditions that are themselves momentary combinations of causes and conditions: universes made of specks of dust made of specks of dust made of specks of dust that form universes that form universes that form universes. Zen masters swallow names and concepts, while the entities they represent change. Mountains and rivers and the ten-thousand things all change. If they did not, we would be in trouble. We would have no hope of liberation. But because nothing exists as an independent, permanent entity, there are no obstructions on the path to enlightenment. Foolish people, though, refuse to walk this path. They see nothing but obstructions. Buddhas see offerings and turn these offerings into dharmas.

“Competitive About Your Meditation? Relax, Everyone Else is Too.”

Missing the way by a hairbreadth
is the gap between heaven and earth.
Xinxin Ming (Verses on the Faith Mind), Jianzhi Sengcan (d. 606)

When I saw the following in The Wall Street Journal, I was dumbfounded.

Competitive About Your Meditation? Relax, Everyone Else is Too
As hard-chargers descend on the ancient practice, they are tweaking the quest for inner peace
By Ellen Gamerman

Alan Stein Jr. is on his 324th straight day meditating—a streak he is tending with the mindfulness of a monk.

The 42-year-old performance coach from Gaithersburg, Md., has kept his record using the Headspace app, despite early-morning flights and travel across time zones. On a recent work trip to Atlanta, he remembered to meditate only just after the clock struck midnight. Worried he’d blown his record, he closed his eyes and quickly tried to meditate on the hotel bed for 10 minutes.

“The whole time I’m just waiting for the 10 minutes to be over to see if my streak was alive,” he said. …

Desperate to maintain streaks that can surpass 1,000 days, some driven spiritual voyagers have started looking for new ways to protect their records. On Headspace, the app counts any session completed in an eight-hour period as its own day. Pointing this out, a user on Facebook suggested logging three days in one by meditating at 4 a.m., 2 p.m. and 11 p.m.

On Mindful Makers, a private online group of roughly 250 meditators, members can check the streak rankings daily. Robin Koppensteiner was in second place with 71 days at the start of this week. Members are trusted to report their own meditation updates.

“I have to admit I check every day to see if I’m still in number two or if I’ve gone up to number one,” said the 29-year-old author from Vienna, Austria.

As astonishing as this seems, it should not be surprising.

Every tradition that includes meditation as a practice warns practitioners of objectifying the practice itself, rather than experiencing the practice only for what it is within a bigger context. This is a danger inherent in all religious and spiritual traditions, where specific practices seem to overtake the bigger point. As the Zen saying goes, it is confusing the finger pointing at the moon for the moon itself.

Chogyam Trungpa called this spiritual materialism, which is a central idea in his classic Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism: “The problem is that ego can convert anything to its own use, even spirituality.”

Now in the case of many of these meditators, they are pursuing calm, relaxation or peace of mind, rather than following any particular way, Buddhist or otherwise. Which is fine. But the advantage of practicing within a bigger context is that you are regularly reminded and discover for yourself that things like “meditation streaks” are kind of ridiculous and kind of misleading. In fact, the meditation session you miss might be the very session the brings you the calm, relaxation and peace of mind you are seeking. If you are a “competitive meditator” that will mean nothing to you. If you are, for example, a Zen practitioner, it makes perfect sense.

For meditators worried about breaking their streak and losing the meditation competition, this from Suzuki Roshi:

One of my students wrote to me saying, “You sent me a calendar, and I am trying to follow the good mottoes which appear on each page. But the year has hardly begun, and already I have failed!” Dogen-zenji said, “Shoshaku jushaku.” Shaku generally means “mistake” or “wrong.” Shoshaku jushaku means “to succeed wrong with wrong,” or one continuous mistake. According to Dogen, one continuous mistake can also be Zen. A Zen master’s life could be said to be so many years of shoshaku jushaku. This means so many years of one single-minded effort.