Bob Schwartz

Category: Buddhism

Yaqui: The last piece in a spiritual puzzle?

Saying that something is “the last piece in a spiritual puzzle” is misleading in so many ways.

It is not a spiritual puzzle, there are no pieces, and they do not appear and are not apprehended in sequence. It is a mystery of mysteries, at best they are clues, which fly in and out of the seen and unseen sky like birds, some of which you recognize, but many of which you will not identify until much later, if ever at all.

I am not a fan of spiritual syncretism and I am not not a fan of spiritual syncretism. Those who go from birth to death in a single tradition have much. Those who like bees or hummingbirds go from flower to flower have much. So it goes.

As for me, continuing a metaphorical mix, I’ve looked at plans and kept to some, picked up building materials along the way, and constructed what I could from what I found or what was delivered. It doesn’t look quite like anything else, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the structure even if I could, but I might suggest it is not a terrible process. Or place to work and rest in.

Here is something about the Yaqui of the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and Mexico and something from the most extraordinary of Buddhist scriptures.


Sea Aniya: The Flower World

In the spiritual heart of the “enchanted” natural world is the dream-like presence of this “blossoming” world. This realm is difficult to define in words. It is part of a ritualized symbolic language of spirit that is understood by not solely by the mind, but also by the heart. What can be said is that the Sea Aniya is the integral part of a very ancient belief that is also a part of most Mexican Indian peoples’ mythology: the idea of flowers “expressing” a spiritual message, flowers symbolizing growth (germination, budding, flowering) of spiritual awareness. Flowers are the harmony, fertility, and beauty of this world. Yaquis believe in a manifested reality so that we know this is a very real world that is located east of the sun and in a place below the dawn. It is an ideally perfected world that mirrors the grace and beauty of the desert territory.

Deer Dancer: Yaqui Legends & Myths by Stan Padilla

The Flower Ornament Scripture

The Flower Ornament Scripture, called Avatamsaka in Sanskrit and Huayan in Chinese, is one of the major texts of Buddhism. Also referred to as the major Scripture of Inconceivable Liberation, it is perhaps the richest and most grandiose of all Buddhist scriptures, held in high esteem by all schools of Buddhism that are concerned with universal liberation. Its incredible wealth of sensual imagery staggers the imagination and exercises an almost mesmeric effect on the mind as it conveys a wide range of teachings through its complex structure, its colorful symbolism, and its mnemonic concentration formulae….

[Book One] “THUS HAVE I HEARD. At one time the Buddha was in the land of Magadha, in a state of purity, at the site of enlightenment, having just realized true awareness. The ground was solid and firm, made of diamond, adorned with exquisite jewel discs and myriad precious flowers, with pure clear crystals. The ocean of characteristics of the various colors appeared over an infinite extent. There were banners of precious stones, constantly emitting shining light and producing beautiful sounds. Nets of myriad gems and garlands of exquisitely scented flowers hung all around. The finest jewels appeared spontaneously, raining inexhaustible quantities of gems and beautiful flowers all over the earth.”

The Flower Ornament Scripture, translated by Thomas Cleary

Buddha Bemidbar (In the Wilderness)

Buddha Bemidbar (In the Wilderness)

Moses is missing
In his place
Siddhartha sits.

Israelites are numbered
Can he free them?

The way in the wilderness
Is unpassable.
Can they pass it?

Too dark to sea
The waters give way
To dry ground
As if they were not there
From the beginning.

Walk on
The mountain next.

The Pope and the Dalai Lama: How Did We Get So Lucky?

In a newly published interview with Die Zeit, Pope Francis talks about many matters. Including his own faith. Asked about whether he ever doubts the existence of God, he said:

“I too know moments of emptiness.”

The current Pope shows us the honesty, humility, humor, wisdom and spirit we would like to see in all our traditions and in all our leaders—and in ourselves. The same can be said about the current Dalai Lama.

You don’t have to be a Roman Catholic or a Tibetan Buddhist to be inspired by these people. And just people they are, according to them, as the Pope reminds us in the same interview:

“I am a sinner and I am fallible. When I am idealized, I feel attacked.”

Pope Francis is 80. The Dalai Lama is 81. They will not live and serve forever, as much as we would be benefited by that gift. It is possible that both will be succeeded by their equal, but we can’t know that.

So let’s enjoy them and be inspired by them while they are here, wondering what we did to deserve this.

Light the Icicle

icicles

Happy Hanukkah. Happy Christmas.


The Icicle

A zaddik told:

“On a winter’s day, I went to the bath with the master. It was so cold that icicles hung from the roofs. We entered and as soon as he did the Unification, the bath grew warm. He stood in the water for a very long time, until the candle began to drip and gutter. ‘Rabbi,’ I said, ‘the candle is guttering and going out.’

‘Fool,’ he answered, ‘take an icicle from the roof and light it! He who spoke to the oil and it leaped into flame, will speak to this too, and it will kindle.’ The icicle burned brightly for a good while, until I went home, and when I got home there was a little water in my hand.”

Martin Buber,  Tales of the Hasidim


“People ask, ‘What is the Buddha?’ An icicle forming in fire.”

Dogen Zenji

Bodhi Day Riddle: Fig Newtons

Fig Newtons

Here is a riddle for Buddhists, scientists, cookie lovers or anyone else who likes a challenge:

Why should Fig Newtons be the official cookie of Bodhi Day, the day of the Buddha’s enlightenment?

(For more serious posts about Bodhi Day, see here and here.)

Bodhi Day: The Ancient Path

buddhas-of-the-celestial-gallery

“This was the third true knowledge attained by me in the last watch of the night. Ignorance was banished and true knowledge arose, darkness was banished and light arose, as happens in one who dwells diligent, ardent, and resolute.”

“Suppose, monks, a man wandering through a forest would see an ancient path, an ancient road traveled upon by people in the past. He would follow it and would see an ancient city, an ancient capital that had been inhabited by people in the past, with parks, groves, ponds, and ramparts, a delightful place. Then the man would inform the king or a royal minister: ‘Sire, know that while wandering through the forest I saw an ancient path, an ancient road traveled upon by people in the past. I followed it and saw an ancient city, an ancient capital that had been inhabited by people in the past, with parks, groves, ponds, and ramparts, a delightful place. Renovate that city, sire!’ Then the king or the royal minister would renovate the city, and some time later that city would become successful and prosperous, well populated, filled with people, attained to growth and expansion.”

“So too, monks, I saw the ancient path, the ancient road traveled by the Perfectly Enlightened Ones of the past. And what is that ancient path, that ancient road? It is just this Noble Eightfold Path; that is, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. I followed that path and by doing so I have directly known aging-and-death, its origin, its cessation, and the way leading to its cessation. I have directly known birth … existence … clinging … craving … feeling … contact … the six sense bases … name-and-form … consciousness … volitional formations, their origin, their cessation, and the way leading to their cessation. Having directly known them, I have explained them to the monks, the nuns, the male lay followers, and the female lay followers. This spiritual life, monks, has become successful and prosperous, extended, popular, widespread, well proclaimed among devas and humans.”

Saṃyutta Nikāya 12:65; II 104–7
In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon

Right Trees (Bodhi Day)

buddha-comic-enlightenment

December 8 is Bodhi Day, known in Japan as Rohatsu, the day of the Buddha’s enlightenment.  

Right Trees (Bodhi Day)

Which tree
To sit under?
Study each one
Counting branches
Inspecting leaves.
Is the ground
Too soft or wet
The shade
Too dark?
Who can deny
The forest
Yet it shrinks
To dust
On a distant shore.
The moon and
The morning star
Are just enough light
To brighten the night
Waking to find
This tree
All trees
Are right.

I wondered how the Buddha knew which tree to sit under for that consequential meditation. An easy answer is that it didn’t matter, that any tree or all trees would do. Another answer is that it didn’t have to be a tree at all. Another of the infinite answers is that there was no tree, no moon or morning star, no sitting. Just waking up.

Healing and Magic: We Are Not Alone

White Tara

All of our religious traditions—Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, and all others—include an element of healing. Healing of body, heart and mind. The Gospels, for example, contain many important stories about healing, from curing chronic illness to reversing death itself.

We invoke the power to heal in various ways. In Judaism, the Mi Shebeirach is recited:

May the one who blessed our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, bless and heal those who are ill. May the Blessed Holy One be filled with compassion for their health to be restored and their strength to be revived. May God swiftly send them a complete renewal of body and spirit, and let us say, Amen.

In Buddhism, White Tara, an important embodiment of compassion, is invoked:

The liberator of suffering shines light upon me to create an abundance of merit and wisdom for long life and happiness.

Is this magic we are engaged in? If you take magic to be a call to illegitimate and evil powers, as some traditions do, then this might have to be classified as something else. If you take magic to be the recognition of a seeming powerlessness in the face of things as they are and an attempt to borrow and employ the power we believe in, then magic it is.

This invocation of the power to heal—by ourselves, in a family, in a community—is a way of practicing that we are not alone. When healing is needed, that is something we want to know.

For JRK.

Readings for the Day of National Healing

Medicine Buddha Mandala

Here are readings for the Day of National Healing from Ocean of Dharma: The Everyday Wisdom of Chogyam Trungpa, a recommended collection of very brief excerpts from his talks and texts. The image above is of the Medicine Buddha.

THE FUTURE IS IN OUR HANDS

We hold the threshold of the future of the world in our hands, on our path. When we say this, we are not dreaming. We are not exaggerating. We hold a tremendous hope, maybe the only hope for the future dark age.

We have a lot of responsibilities, and those responsibilities are not easy to fulfill. They won’t come along easily, like an ordinary success story. They have to be stitched, painted, carved, step by step, inch by inch, minute by minute. It will be manual work. There will be no automatic big sweep, or solution.

When something good is done in the world, it is usually difficult. It is manual, rather than automatic. When something bad is done, usually that is automatic. Evil things are easy to catch, but good ones are difficult to catch. They go against the grain of ordinary habitual tendencies.

PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE

Humans are the only animals that try to dwell in the future. You don’t have to purely live in the present situation without a plan, but the future plans you make can only be based on the aspects of the future that manifest within the present situation. You can’t plan a future if you don’t know what the present situation is. You have to start from now to know how to plan.

CONVERSING WITH OUR NEGATIVITY

You can always count on the fact that our aspect of viciousness or apelike quality will reflect back to us. Then we can either project it onto somebody else or we can reflect and realize the situation within ourselves. Quite precisely, when you are in that particular state of mind, there is a kind of conversation going on. You may try to tell yourself to calm down and not worry. But then the undercurrent of the force of the projection tries to pierce through again and again. There is always this conversation going on with one’s own negativity. The neurotic aspect of mind is always willing to fall into either the extreme of left or right. The right extreme is anger, the masculine extreme. The left is passion, the feminine extreme. This symbolism is true and universal—a cosmic symbol, which happens with all of life. These symbols are not based on Indian, Buddhist, or Tibetan stories at all. These are utterly cosmic principles, as far as the symbolism is concerned.

WORK WITH THE PRESENT SITUATION

The buddhist tradition teaches the truth of impermanence, or the transitory nature of things. The past is gone and the future has not yet happened, so we work with what is here—the present situation. This actually helps us not to categorize or theorize. A fresh, living situation is taking place all the time, on the spot. This noncategorical approach comes from being fully here, rather than trying to reconnect with past events. We don’t have to look back to the past in order to see what people are made out of. Human beings speak for themselves, on the spot.

Laughing at Swallowing a Flaming Iron Ball

Dhammapada - Juan Mascaro

This morning I laughed at a few translated lines from a great and serious spiritual classic. The Dhammapada is a brief (423 verses in 26 chapters) collection of the sayings of the Buddha. For over two thousand years, there may have been no more succinct summary of the heart of Buddhism.

As with the Bible, there are many translations of the Dhammapada from Pali into English, each with its own character. I keep a number of different translations handy, and given that chapters are short, it is possible to easily compare.

I was reading Chapter 25, called variously The Monk, The Practitioner, The Seeker, The Bhikku. In the very loose and poetic translation by Thomas Byrom, the chapter begins:

Master your senses,
What you taste and smell,
What you see, what you hear.

In all things be a master
Of what you do and say and think.
Be free.

You are a seeker.
Delight in the mastery
Of your hands and your feet,
Of your words and your thoughts.

It is at verse 371 that I got my laugh. There the worthy translation by Ven. Balangoda Ananda Maitreya reads:

Do not allow your heart to whirl in the pleasures of senses.
Do not swallow a flaming iron ball and then,
As you burn, cry out, “Oh, that hurts!”

I can’t explain, exactly, what is funny about that last line. It just is. Compared to the other translations of what you might say swallowing this hot iron ball (“This is woe!”, “This is pain!”, “This is suffering!”, “No more!”), “Oh, that hurts!” just tickled me.

Note: Some other translations of the Dhammapada worth looking at:

Juan Mascaro (The first I ever read, excellent, and an awesome bargain as an ebook: $.95 v. $6.38 for the paperback.)

Gil Fronsdal

Glenn Wallis

John Ross Carter