Jul 24

Rebirth / Reincarnation , Self , not-self and Karma – Discussion Group Topic 7/22 at the Buddha Center

Rebirth / Reincarnation , Self , not-self and Karma

In order to understand what Buddha actually taught on this obviously difficult topic it is important to, firstly, understand Buddhas view on Reality.

Buddha taught the so called Middle Way which means we should look at Reality in two ways.1; the Ultimate Reality of the Non-Dual or the Deathless in which nothing exists and 2; the relative realty of our daily lives – the dualistic experiences in object – subject relations.

On top of this view on Reality we need to understand Buddhas teaching on Self and on not-self and / or personality view if we wish to answer the question if there is a lasting personal entity like a so called “soul” that is reincarnating / rebirthing.

Let’s start by explaining those terms:

The Deathless
If you study the Sutra’s you will learn that the Ultimate Reality, Deathless, the Other Shore, the goal of our practice is to be seen as being ‘Non-Dual’. It is un-become, un-compounded and never changing.

This notion of the Deathless as being changeless has deep and profound logical consequence if we think about it.
We have to understand that if one reaches the Other Shore, the Other Shore can not have changed because of that, or it would never have been changeless! So we have to conclude that we never at all were separate from that Changeless Non-Dual Other Shore called the Deathless!
(see for instance: Udana VIII 1-4)

If you study the Sutra’s you will learn that the Self as Buddha taught it is to be seen as ‘Subject that experiences the objective world’.
Although this is a very much misunderstood teaching of the Buddha it is quite clear that, for the Buddha, the Self has to be changeless, free from rise and fall!
For the Buddha the idea of the Self being subjected to rise and fall is an untenable point of view.

There is deep need to emphasize that Buddha never taught that Self does not exist! Buddhas teaching on not-self (Anatta) is often misunderstood to mean that there is no Self.
The teaching of Anatta actually teaches that the Self can not be found in the Skandhas or in any other thing that is become or compounded!

Contradicting that wrong view of the not-self teaching, is the clear teaching of the possibility for ‘some-one’ to attain the Ultimate Goal of the Deathless, the Other Shore.
If not ‘the Self’ were the One to be gaining this attainment, who or what then would be attaining it?
Denying the existence of Self is denying your own existence! Denying the existence of the Self is denying you are the subject experiencing the Skandhas!
(see for instance: Middle length Discourses of the Buddha ‘Majjhima Nikaya’ 148 under Demonstration of Not Self).

In order to honor Buddha’s teaching I wish emphasize here that I have not seen any Sutra in which there is posited a ‘View on Self’ in positive terms. As with the Deathless, the Self can not be seen or known from the dualistic relative reality and therefor it can only be denominated in negatives like not-this and not-that. Hence in Buddhism there is no view on the nature of Self other then that it has to be Changeless not subjected to rise and fall.

Personality view or ego.
Buddha teaches the way how personality-view arises like this:
If ‘some-one’ identifies with ones physical body, or any one of the other Skandhas, “thinking this is mine, this is I, I am this, this is my self” then the personality-view arises.
(see for instance: Middle length Discourses of the Buddha ‘Majjhima Nikaya’ 148 under the Origination of Personality).

This is the correct ‘Anatta’ teaching; teaching there is no Self to be found in the Skandhas or any other thing that is become or compounded!

So what insight does understanding these terms bring ?
1; In Ultimate Reality there is the Deathless which logically has to be understood to be the same as the Self, since they share the same denominator “not subject to rise and fall – changeless”.

First conclusion:
In Ultimate Reality the Self = the Deathless. It follows that ‘the-Self-we-experience-in-us’ (if one can say this like that), the observer of our ‘personality-lives’ never gets born nor can it die; is Eternal and never changing, it is Buddha Nature.

Second conclusion:
Existence in relative reality:
How do we come to be in our Samsaric lives in which we experience the duality of Subject – Object relations, according to the Buddha?
We come to be by means of the chain of interdependent arising; our consciousness grabs ‘name and form’ and that becomes the basis for birth of a so called being.
It is the personality-view that keeps us clinging to this dual existence in Samsara, our relative reality, Personality view that arises on the first two links of the chain of interdependent origination that is the creating force for the next moment and the next body for samsaric life!

Of course this personality never really objectively exists or existed. It is an illusion like all compounded things. Nevertheless as long as one (personality) believes it is an objective Self- existing entity which is not dependent on anything else, the creating of the next illusion of existence will continue.

So the Self can’t be known in positive terms, it is changeless and non dual. It always is the same and therefor can’t be seen to be moving or being born or born again.
The acquiring and maintaining of personality view is the root force that drives our Samsaric existence as persons, from moment to moment and from birth to birth. This relative existence is ever changing , we gain and then we loose and therefor we suffer.

As long as we maintain this personality view it functions as a so called soul. It gathers the fruit of karma. It will give us heavenly rebirths or hellish reincarnations as is appropriate.

Fruit of Karma

You perhaps now can see the nature of Self, as being identical to the Deathless, meaning it is beyond rise and fall. It is eternal and Changeless.

You perhaps now can see the logic that “all beings have to ‘exist’ within the Deathless or the Self’ because if they were not already contained within It, the Deathless or Self would from necessity have changed. (Of course from the point of view of Ultimate reality one has keep realizing the Buddha taught that Nothing ever objectively exists or existed)

If ‘some-one’ attained total Enlightenment and Liberation from Samsara, which in the case of that some-one existing ‘outside’ of the Deathless or Self, would have to be literation INTO the Deathless or Self! The Deathless or the Self would have changed which is not possible! Samsara and all beings ‘are within’ the Self, ‘within the Deathless’.
The Nature of the Self / Deathless (also called Buddha-womb (Tathagata-garba and Buddha-Nature) is, if you ask me, omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence – But Buddha gave a lot of effort not to denominate any qualities to It other than Changeless and un-become un-compounded (non dual).

You perhaps see that identifying ‘one-self’ with the vehicle of expression or existence (the Skandhas, the body, feelings and consciousness of it)) causes the rise of the idea that that vehicle is a permanent entity. It however is not permanent and therefor it can not be the Self which has to be permanent (according to Buddha). Buddha therefor taught that that is personality view and is NOT SELF

Now truly understanding these concepts and accepting them as Truth, automatically will start a process of shifting away from identifying with your body, feelings and consciousness!
This process will automatically give rise to compassion for all sentient beings, since you will recognize the Self in all of them as well as you recognize the Self within ‘your own personal appearance’.
This process will automatically start strengthening the control over mind and body because of reorientation of the self away from not-self (personality-view) towards the True Self, the Deathless.

If you consider these concepts in relation to what Buddha taught as the Chain of Dependent Origination it gets clear that ‘personality view’ is that what is described as the first two links (or 4 if the chain has 12 links) of the chain being Ignorant-consciousness (1) that clings to Name and Form (2). Because of this a ‘being’ arises in the one world or another.
Some-one = Consciousness-Name-Form-complex
Of course such a some-one actually is not some-one because there is no Self to be found within the Skandhas. The Skandhas are empty ! A rebirth therefor is a new Consciousness-Name-Form-complex which will acquire a new personality view (if it does that). The previous personality views are as easily discarded after death as the Skandhas have fallen away. Nevertheless these previous personality views are what drives ‘some-one’ into being born again to work out Fruit of Karma.

Karma, Fruit of Karma and personality-view

Now it is the Fruit of Karma that determines what ‘some-one’ will have to experience so therefor it is the Fruit of Karma that will make ‘some-one’ rise in the one world or the other.
Buddha taught that intention = action = karma!
Good intentions or actions bring good karma leading to favorable rebirths (and circumstances in general) and bad intentions or actions lead to bad karma and unfavorable rebirths (and cicumstances in general).

This gives us the possibility to work on what karma we create by working on what intentions = actions to cultivate.
More importantly though, understanding that the ‘personality’ is Not-Self will break the absoluteness of the connection that the Fruit of Karma has to that ‘now no longer recognized personality’. If you don’t entertain a personalty-view karma has nothing to attach to!

An example of Fruit of Karma:

If ‘some-one’ now for instance is addicted and that ‘some-one’ is not free from personality-view, they might be afraid they might end up in the realm of hungry ghosts. Is that realistic though?

Imagine you are addicted and you don’t like being addicted so you have the intention to break the addiction. You fail to do so and you remain addicted.
In this case the intention of wanting to break the addiction is a positive action weakening the worst fruit-of-karma-effects of that part of the mind (actions) that can’t resist the addiction. In essence the suffering because of this internal division is already working out the negative fruit of karma of the addiction.

Karma in general is rather unpredictable. Karma from many lives ago can pop up in some life now or in the future. What we surely can understand is that we all made a lot of negative fruit of karma (look at the world) and the wise have stopped doing that and started making good karma. The Wise don’t do that for ‘themselves’ since they know their appearance is not-self !
Remember the Buddha taught that one will not again fall into states of woe entering the Path to Liberation!

Big and little Fruits of Karma

Some intentions or actions are creating terrible fruit of karma, like killing human beings. Other intentions or actions create less negative fruit of karma, like killing animals for eating. Cruel intentions for ‘some-ones’ reason of killing animals will however create more negative karma than killing for eating will do.
Being addicted can be the result of karma from previous lives in which case the one being addicted is not ‘as this personality’ directly responsible for the addiction which will lessen the negative-fruit-of karma-affects of the addiction.
‘Some-one’ being not addicted deciding for some negative reason to throw themselves into an addictive habit has to fear worse fruit of karma.

With this this expose ends.


Permanent link to this article: http://www.thebuddhacenter.org/2018/07/24/rebirth-reincarnation-self-not-self-and-karma-discussion-group-topic-722-at-the-buddha-center/

Jul 23

Zen Stories – Buddha Center Campfire Night – 7/22/2018

Zen Stories

The purpose is not to try to explain the stories, because that would be missing the point: The stories themselves are the experience. Only you can meditate upon them to realize the insights within them. Zen carries many meanings, none of them entirely definable. If they are defined, they are not Zen.

Thirty Years
A fellow went to a Zen master and said, “If I work very hard, how soon can I be enlightened?”
The Zen master looked him up and down and said, “Ten years.”
The fellow said, “No, listen, I mean if I really work at it, how long—”
The Zen master cut him off. “I’m sorry. I misjudged. Twenty years.”
”Wait!” Said the young man, “You don’t understand! I’m—”
“Thirty years,” said the Zen master.

Muddy Road
Tanzan and Ekido were once traveling together down a muddy road. A heavy rain was still falling.
Coming around a bend, they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross the intersection.
“Come on, girl,” said Tanzan at once. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her over the mud.
Ekido did not speak again until that night when they reached a lodging temple. Then he no longer could restrain himself. “We monks don’t go near females,” he told Tanzan, “especially not young and lovely ones. It is dangerous. Why did you do that?”
“I left the girl there,” said Tanzan. “Are you still carrying her?”

The First Principle
When one goes to Obaku temple in Kyoto he sees carved over the gate the words “The First Principle.”
The letters are unusually large, and those who appreciate calligraphy always admire them as being a masterpiece. They were drawn by Kosen two hundred years ago.
When the master drew them he did so on paper, from which workmen made the larger carving in wood. As Kosen sketched the letters a bold pupil was with him who had made several gallons of ink for the calligraphy and who never failed to criticize his master’s work.
“That is not good,” he told Kosen after the first effort.
“How is that one?”
“Poor. Worse than before,” pronounced the pupil.
Kosen patiently wrote one sheet after another until eighty-four First Principles had been accumulated, still without the approval of the pupil.
Then, when the young man stepped outside for a few moments, Kosen thought: “Now is my chance to escape his keen eye,” and he wrote hurriedly, with a mind free from distraction. “The First Principle.”
“A masterpiece,” pronounced the pupil.

The Real Miracle
When Bankei was preaching at Ryumon temple, a Shinshu priest, who believed in salvation through the repetition of the name of the Buddha of Love, was jealous of his large audience and wanted to debate with him.
Bankei was in the midst of a talk when the priest appeared, but the fellow made such a disturbance that Bankei stopped his discourse and asked about the noise.
“The founder of our sect,” boasted the priest, “had such miraculous powers that he held a brush in his hand on one bank of the river, his attendant held up a paper on the other bank, and the teacher wrote the holy name of Amida through the air. Can you do such a wonderful thing?”
Bankei replied lightly: “Perhaps your fox can perform that trick, but that is not the manner of Zen. My miracle is that when I feel hungry I eat, and when I feel thirsty I drink.”

Nothing Exists
Yamaoka Tesshu, as a young student of Zen, visited one master after another. He called upon Dokuon of Shokoku.
Desiring to show his attainment, he said: “The mind, Buddha, and sentient beings, after all, do not exist. The true nature of phenomena is emptiness. There is no realization, no delusion, no sage, no mediocrity. There is no giving and nothing to be received.”
Dokuon, who was smoking quietly, said nothing. Suddenly he whacked Yamaoka with his bamboo pipe. This made the youth quite angry.
“If nothing exists,” inquired Dokuon, “where did this anger come from?”

Joshu’s Washing The Bowl
A monk told Joshu, “I have just entered this monastery. I beg you to teach me.” Joshu asked, “Have you eaten your rice porridge?” The monk replied, “I have.” “Then,” said Joshu, “Go and wash your bowl.”
At that moment the monk was enlightened.

A Smile in His Lifetime
Mokugen was never known to smile until his last day on earth. When his time came to pass away he said to his faithful ones: “You have studied under me for more than ten years. Show me your real interpretation of Zen. Whoever expresses this most clearly shall be my successor and receive my robe and bowl.”
Everyone watched Mokugen’s severe face, but no one answered.
Encho, a disciple who had been with his teacher for a long time, moved near the bedside. He pushed forward the medicine cup a few inches. That was his answer to the command.
The teacher’s face became even more severe. “Is that all you understand?” he asked.
Encho reached out and moved the cup back again.
A beautiful smile broke over the features of Mokugen. “You rascal,” he told Encho. “You worked with me ten years and have not yet seen my whole body. Take the robe and bowl. They belong to you.”


Permanent link to this article: http://www.thebuddhacenter.org/2018/07/23/zen-stories-buddha-center-campfire-night-7222018/

Jul 18

Wonderful Zen Stories – Life Stories

Zen stories can be used by anyone – Buddhist and non-Buddhist alike. Zen stories, which are also life stories, teach us to realize our true nature. Zen Masters advise us to let intuition arise when absorbing these stories (also called Koans). Enjoy!

Empty your cup
Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.
Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”
“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

The Moon Cannot Be Stolen
Ryokan, a Zen master, lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening a thief visited the hut only to discover there was nothing in it to steal.
Ryokan returned and caught him. “You may have come a long way to visit me,” he told the prowler, “and you should not return emptyhanded. Please take my clothes as a gift.”
The thief was bewildered. He took the clothes and slunk away.

A Time to Die
Ikkyu, the Zen master, was very clever even as a boy. His teacher had a precious teacup, a rare antique. Ikkyu happened to break this cup and was greatly perplexed. Hearing the footsteps of his teacher, he held the pieces of the cup behind him. When the master appeared, Ikkyu asked: “Why do people have to die?”
“This is natural,” explained the older man. “Everything has to die and has just so long to live.”
Ikkyu, producing the shattered cup, added: “It was time for your cup to die.”

Moving Mind
Two men were arguing about a flag flapping in the wind.
“It’s the wind that is really moving,” stated the first one. “No, it is the flag that is moving,” contended the second.
A Zen master, who happened to be walking by, overheard the debate and interrupted them. “Neither the flag nor the wind is moving,” he said, “It is MIND that moves.”
9. It Will Pass
A student went to his meditation teacher and said, “My meditation is horrible! I feel so distracted, or my legs ache, or I’m constantly falling asleep. It’s just horrible!”
“It will pass,” the teacher said matter-of-factly.
A week later, the student came back to his teacher. “My meditation is wonderful! I feel so aware, so peaceful, so alive! It’s just wonderful!’
“It will pass,” the teacher replied matter-of-factly.

One day while walking through the wilderness a man stumbled upon a vicious tiger. He ran but soon came to the edge of a high cliff. Desperate to save himself, he climbed down a vine and dangled over the fatal precipice.
As he hung there, two mice appeared from a hole in the cliff and began gnawing on the vine.
Suddenly, he noticed on the vine a plump wild strawberry. He plucked it and popped it in his mouth. It was incredibly delicious!

Just Go To Sleep
Gasan was sitting at the bedside of Tekisui three days before his teacher’s passing. Tekisui had already chosen him as his successor.
A temple recently had burned and Gasan was busy rebuilding the structure. Tekisui asked him: “What are you going to do when you get the temple rebuilt?”
“When your sickness is over we want you to speak there,” said Gasan.
“Suppose I do not live until then?”
“Then we will get someone else,” replied Gasan.
“Suppose you cannot find anyone?” continued Tekisui.
Gasan answered loudly: “Don’t ask such foolish questions. Just go to sleep.”


Permanent link to this article: http://www.thebuddhacenter.org/2018/07/18/wonderful-zen-stories-life-stories/

Jun 24

Monkey mind / puppy mind

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

At the Cherokee Buddhist Temple (Wat Buddhamanee Rattanaram) a couple of Sundays ago the topic was the Five Precepts. As part of that discussion Lorena talked about the ‘monkey mind’ except she used a different term, one that speaks more directly to a Western sensibility. She called it ‘puppy mind’. Wow. That metaphor made me smile then, and it still does. With some time to contemplate the concept of ‘puppy mind’ I’ve come to realize what a use of skillful means that is. Westerners have very little experience with monkeys while most have first-hand knowledge of puppies.


Puppies are all over the place, unable to focus on one thing as they try to take in all the world has to offer their senses. A puppy must learn to set aside sense input in order to follow commands. A mind must be trained for much the same reason. A mind must learn to set aside sense input in order to follow the Middle Path.

You first train a puppy not to relieve itself just anywhere and at anytime. In Buddhism you must train a mind to not just “go” any where at any time. A mind wants to go wherever it feels the most comfortable, which is not always the right place to go.

Like you train a puppy to sit and stay, a mind must be trained to sit and stay. A puppy must learn to set aside the presence of other dogs, strange and attractive smells, and compelling sounds. A mind must learn to set aside the presence of emotions, strange and attractive thoughts, and compelling distractions. You reward a puppy with a treat or a toy when it obeys those commands. A mind is rewarded with focus, calm and equanimity when it develops the ability to sit and stay.

Puppies will chew on anything. They don’t realize what is theirs and what isn’t; what is good for them and what isn’t. A puppy will happily chomp on a bar of chocolate that is going to make them sick but will struggle to avoid taking medicine that will make them better. A puppy does what makes it feel comfortable. The mind, without training will also chew on anything. It will chew on the past, it will chew on the future all in an attempt to avoid chewing on the present where focus is needed. A mind without training will fall back into negative habits because that is where it finds comfort. A mind without training will engage in habitual reactivities just because they are the easiest.

Habitual reactivities are those habits and dispositions that we automatically engage in whether or not they have resulted in unwholesome outcomes. A puppy does the same. So does an untrained mind.

A puppy has developed a habit of chewing on shoes. You sternly correct the puppy, “Bad puppy, bad puppy. You are not supposed to chew shoes. Bad dog.” You turn away and they go back to chewing the shoes. Frustrated you get them a dog toy. You offer them the toy in order to entice them away from the shoes. For a moment they chew on it but as soon as you turn away they go back to the shoes. Why? Does the puppy want to get yelled at and punished? The puppy habitually goes back to the shoes because they know right where to find them at the foot of the bed.

An untrained mind does much the same. Get a flat tire. Get angry. Burn dinner. Get angry. Get cut off in traffic. Get angry. It is raining outside. Get angry. Anger is the habitual reactivity a mind may engage. It doesn’t matter that anger doesn’t affect the tire. Anger doesn’t make dinner taste better. Flipping the bird in anger doesn’t cause the other driver to be more courteous. A trained mind realizes that fixing the tire needs to be done; sometimes dinner doesn’t turn out the way it should, some drivers aren’t mindful of others, and no one controls the weather.

Puppies are in a constant state of learning no matter how old they get. The saying that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks is not truth. A mind has the ability to be in a constant state of learning no matter the age. New mind, old mind there is always the ability and the room to learn something new. Whether puppy or a mind it takes commitment and effort to teach it to sit and stay. It makes the puppy a better dog. It makes a mind better at dealing with human experiences.


Permanent link to this article: http://www.thebuddhacenter.org/2018/06/24/monkey-mind-puppy-mind/

Jun 23

Metta vs Vipassina

Tricylce magazine
What is Metta Meditation?
Discovering your capacity for lovingkindness
By Sharon Salzberg

In metta meditation, we direct lovingkindness toward ourselves and then, in a sequence of expansion, towards somebody we love already. Somebody we are neutral towards. Somebody we have difficulty with. And ultimately toward all beings everywhere without distinction.

In vipassana meditation, we become aware of our ever-changing experiences, without adding to what is going on through our reactions and projections.
The main difference between metta and vipassana is that metta is a concentration practice, while vipassana is an insight practice. This is a functional difference. If you’re doing mindfulness practice, there is no such thing as a distraction. You pay attention to whatever arises in your awareness and make that an object of meditation.
There is no sense of preferring one experience over another, since each experience is seen as having the same ultimate nature. Each is characterized by impermanence (anicca), unsatisfactoriness (dukkha) and having no separate existence (anatta). You can see these characteristics by looking at either pleasure or pain.

Vipassana and Metta Meditation
In contrast to vipassana, in metta practice you are not focusing on the ultimate nature of phenomena. Furthermore, you are choosing a particular object of meditation, which is the metta phrase, such as “May I be happy.” You hold the phrase in your heart just the way you’d hold something fragile and precious in your hand. As you cherish each phrase, distractions inevitably arise.
Your head starts itching or your knee starts hurting or you start thinking about the phone call you didn’t make. When distracted, you drop the distractions as quickly as possible and come back to the phrase, the chosen object of meditation. Choosing a particular object to stay focused on makes metta a concentration practice. When some other experience arises you don’t explore it, note it, or try to see its changing nature.
Nonetheless, I still call metta “a sneaky wisdom practice,” because people often have enormous insight doing metta. Since it is a concentration practice and you have a chosen object of meditation, you keep shepherding your attention back to that object. This means that you are letting go again and again of everything else that comes up in your awareness. That moment of letting go is very instructive, because it shows you where you are holding on.
Letting go
The only way you can let go with grace and ease is when you begin to understand that the distraction, whatever it may be, has the characteristics of anicca, dukkha and anatta. You then don’t have to fight or fear it. In the moment of letting go – without any intended development of wisdom – you find wisdom. Ultimately, of course, the most powerful insight that comes from metta practice is the sense of nonseparateness. That insight comes through opening one’s heart and from being inclusive rather than exclusive.
During metta meditation, people are amazed to find out that they have a capacity for lovingkindness, both for themselves and for others. Due to our past conditioning, many of us do not trust our capacity to love. Metta involves a tremendous opening and purifying of our fields of intention, which can then infuse our vipassana practice as well as our entire life. We discover that we can indeed love and that everything comes back to love.

Sharon Salzberg is a founding teacher at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts. Her latest book is Real Love: The Art of Mindful Connection.
Vidyamala Burch


Permanent link to this article: http://www.thebuddhacenter.org/2018/06/23/metta-vs-vipassina/

May 01

What we Learn from our Teachers

From a talk I held at the Buddha Center in 2016
Today my talk is my real-life experience which I would like to share with you

The nice thing about having teachers is that we can pass on to others what we learned from them. An example of a superior, knowing Buddhist teacher came about when I studied at a Chan temple in 2000 – 2009. Dharma Drum Retreat Center This was not my home temple, but it was conducive for me to go there as they had consistent meditation on Thursday evenings. Chan and Korean Zen are very similar in their practice. Also, they hosted many retreats that I attended. I was allowed to live the life of a monastic for several days on different occasions. So, they warmly welcomed me. I had several teachers there but the one who most stays with me is Guo Jun Fashi who is now in Singapore.


He taught about the beginner mind often starting with this and going back to it again and again to remind us. (Suzuki also talked often about the beginner mind and wrote the book, Zen Mind, Beginner Mind which I highly recommend if you have not already read this)

Suzuki stated:
In order to receive the Buddha’s teachings, you must have an empty cup. (as you can well guess that is a metaphor for your mind). If you come to Buddhism with a full cup, there is not room for anything to be added – If you come with a full cup – you are full of ideas perhaps erroneous beliefs, etc. When you enter the practice of Zen, you must empty your cup– think of the joy of learning – it helps us to expand and grow develop.

In Chan and Zen we talk about beginners mind. If you have known me for a while and heard my talks– you will often hear me say go back to your beginners mind – empty that cup. Clean it make sure there are not cracks or holes in it. These are you misconceptions, your illusions. That clean, empty solid cup is your pure beginner mind.
My goal today is to pass on some of the things I learned from my teacher, Guo Jun Fashi.

I have this remarkable story to tell that I heard my teacher Guo Jun Fashi. He said that as a new Dharma teacher, he always found teachers, with whom he needed to continue his learning not suitable for his continued studies. He found them to be too old and at the end of their lives. He felt frustrated as he was not learning enough. He complained to one of his teachers and was presented this story which he passed on to us
He tells this story about a dharma teacher who had great understanding of the Diamond sutra. What is interesting is that in the diamond sutra The Buddha is generally thought to be trying to help Subhūti, an elder, unlearn his preconceived, limited notions of the nature of reality and enlightenment.
To continue with his original story, one day the teacher said to him – I will ask you a question that you must answer by not looking at all the sutras – you must come to your own realization. Use your own words.
Before you were born what was your original nature or original face? (Very famous koan)
The aspiring dharma teacher, Guo Jun, went to his room and all night read through the sutras but could not find the answer.
The next day he went to his teacher and said “I do not know the answer can you please tell me?” His teacher said
“Then it would be my answer, not yours”.

A beautiful story that teaches that we must all find our own answers and it can only arise from pure untainted intuition.

My teacher also talked of mindfulness. He said it has gone even beyond Buddhism – very popular word. But mindfulness is simply the practice being mindful, continually every minute of the day no matter what you are doing. not just when you meditate, but when you wake in the morning –brush your teeth – put your clothes on eat breakfast – all in mindfulness – that is true meditation – living and breathing it.

So I pass on to you the wonderful words given to me and hope you can then pass them on to someone who may need to hear them.


Guo Jun Fashi’s background
He speaks Mandarin, Korean, and English. He has traveled around many parts of the world to share his experience, including Singapore, Australia, Indonesia, United States, Luxembourg, Poland, Croatia, and Switzerland. He is a member of Australian Psychological Society. He is also a spiritual and guiding teacher of Chan Community Canada, and Dharmajala Indonesia. He was the abbot of Dharma Drum Retreat Center in Pine Bush, New York from 2005 to 2008. He was the abbot of Mahabodhi Temple in Singapore.
In February 2017, Guo Jun stepped down as abbot of the Mahabodhi Monastery and now the president of the monastery’s management committee. Venerable Jing Yao replaced him as the abbot, witnessed by senior monks from various countries
He has written several books and can be found in many YouTube teaching videos.


Permanent link to this article: http://www.thebuddhacenter.org/2018/05/01/what-we-learn-from-our-teachers/

May 01

The Path of Liberation

Suffering comes to an end only when a person is so in touch with life that he or she is completely at peace, regardless of physical or emotional circumstances.
Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

We must be liberated in order to be free from suffering. The Buddha gave us the 4 noble truths and the 8 fold path. However you can go deeper and learn now to follow these paths and others designed to help you in your liberation.

From the Tergar Meditation website

What is the Path of Liberation?
The Path of Liberation is an experiential path of meditation for those who wish to practice the Buddhist teachings under the guidance of Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. Encompassing the most important practices of the Kagyu and Nyingma lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, .
There are two tracks in the Path of Liberation. Each track is designed for a different set of circumstances. The first track is based on a short practice liturgy entitled Nectar of the Path and is designed for people who have roughly 30–60 minutes for their daily meditation practice. The second track is based on a traditional liturgy for ngondro entitled The Chariot for Traveling the Noble Path. This track works best for those who can practice between one and two hours each day. Both tracks culminate in the practice of a White Tara Sadhana entitled Radiance of the Heart.
What are the prerequisites for beginning the Path of Liberation?
To begin the Nectar of Path track it is necessary to take refuge and receive pointing out instructions on the nature of mind from a Buddhist lineage holder. To begin the Ngondro track you will need to take refuge, receive the reading transmission for the ngondro liturgy (Chariot for Traveling the Noble Path), an empowerment, and instructions on the ngondro practices, as well as receive pointing out instructions on the nature of mind from a Buddhist lineage holder. All of these transmissions are given at Tergar’s Path of Liberation retreats. If you are not sure if you meet these requirements, please email [email protected] to check with a Tergar Instructor.
What practices are included in the Path of Liberation?
Both tracks of the Path of Liberation include two different forms of practice: nature of mind practices and practices that involve contemplation and/or the imagination. Nature of mind practices put us directly in touch with our awakened nature — the radiant purity of awareness. Contemplations and practices that use the imagination bring us to the same place, but they do so by dissolving the habits that keep us from seeing our awakened nature.
How are the two tracks of the Path of Liberation different?
The main difference between the Nectar of the Path and ngondro tracks was mentioned above. The former works best for those who have 30–60 minutes to practice each day, or who want a simpler form of practice with more time to devote specifically to nature of mind meditation, while the latter is designed for those who have at least one to two hours for their daily meditation practice.
The two tracks contain many of the same elements. They both include the four thoughts — four contemplations that turn the mind toward the path of awakening — as well as the practices of going for refuge, arousing the altruistic mindset of bodhichitta, and guru yoga. The ngondro track also includes the practices of Vajrasattva and mandala offering.
Nectar of the Path is a much shorter practice liturgy. Daily practice in this track thus involves less chanting and more time for contemplation and nature of mind meditation. The ngondro practices are more time intensive, and therefore leave less room for periods devoted exclusively to nature of mind practice. In terms of the total amount of practice time needed to complete each path, the ngondro track takes considerably longer (see below for more detail).
Finally, completion of either track will enable students to receive advanced nature of mind teachings, but only the ngondro track will authorize students to practice the Vajrayogini Sadhana and the Six Yogas of Naropa.
How long will it take to complete the requirements for each of the two tracks?
The total time commitment for the Nectar of the Path track is 500 hours. The ngondro track requires a total of 100 hours of contemplation, 111,111 repetitions of each of the four main ngondro practices and 200 hours of nature of mind practice. Although it depends on the individual, this path takes roughly 2,000 to 2,500 hours of practice to complete. Thus, the Nectar of the Path track could be completed in roughly three years with 30 minutes of daily practice, while the Ngondro track would take roughly four or five years with 90 minutes of daily practice.
How do I begin practicing the Nectar of the Path track?
There are two ways to begin this track. One option is to attend a Path of Liberation retreat with Mingyur Rinpoche or Khenpo Kunga, such as our annual Exploring the Nature of Mind summer and winter retreats. The second option applies to those who have received pointing out instructions on the nature of mind from an authorized Buddhist teacher in either the Kagyu or Nyingma lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. If you have received these transmissions and would like to begin practicing the first and second levels, you should enroll in Vajrayana Online, which contains a Nectar of the Path course that includes the teachings and instructions needed to do the practice. If you have questions about this track, please email [email protected] to check with a Tergar Instructor.
How do I begin practicing the ngondro track?
There are two options to begin this track as well. One option is to attend a Path of Liberation retreat with Mingyur Rinpoche or Khenpo Kunga, such as our annual Exploring the Nature of Mind summer and winter retreats. The second option applies to those who have received the necessary transmissions from an authorized Buddhist teacher in either the Kagyu or Nyingma lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. These transmissions include pointing out instructions on the nature of mind, the reading transmission for a ngondro liturgy (such as The Chariot for Traveling the Noble Path), a Vajrayana empowerment, and instructions on ngondro. Path of Liberation retreats include these transmissions. If you have received pointing out instructions and would like to begin practicing the first level, you should enroll in Vajrayana Online, which contains a Ngondro course that includes the teachings and instructions needed to do the practice. If you have questions about this track, please email [email protected] to check with a Tergar Instructor.
What if I am not sure which track to choose?
The Tergar Instructors are always available if you need guidance on choosing a practice. If you are not sure which track to choose, you can start with Nectar of the Path and switch to ngondro later on. The most important point is to choose the option that works with your circumstances. You can always adjust later on and receive guidance from a Tergar Lama or Instructor.
What if I have already completed the 4 x 111,111 ngondro?
If you are an experienced Vajrayana practitioner and are actively practicing, or have already completed, the full ngondro, you can attend “Transmission for Levels 1 & 2: Recognizing Pure Awareness” at a Path of Liberation retreat to receive nature of mind instructions from Mingyur Rinpoche or Khenpo Kunga. The practice requirements for each level will consist of completing 50 hours of nature of mind practice and a certain number of days of practice in retreat, in addition to continuing with your existing practice (for those who have not yet completed the full ngondro). Detailed instructions can be found in the practice guide available in Vajrayana Online.
How do I progress through the five Path of Liberation levels?
Both tracks include five levels. Nectar of the Path meditators practice each part of the practice for 100 hours before moving on to the next stage. Ngondro meditators practice each practice to the completion of a certain number of repetitions, plus 50 hours of nature of mind practice for each level. Both tracks also include a certain number of days of retreat practice for each level.
Guides are available that provide details about the specific requirements for each level. These guides, as well as video instructions by Mingyur Rinpoche, additional practice instructions with the Tergar Instructors, and much more, can be accessed in the Nectar of the Path and Ngondro courses in in Vajrayana Online on the Tergar Learning Community website.

Tergar Meditation Community

Once you have completed the number of hours/repetitions and retreat days specified for that level, you can move on to the next stage of the path.


Permanent link to this article: http://www.thebuddhacenter.org/2018/05/01/the-path-of-liberation/

Mar 20

Cat in a Box – Engaging Form and Emptiness

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

The Buddhist philosophical ideal that “form is no other than emptiness, emptiness no other than form” found most famously in the Heart Sutra can be a difficult concept to wrap the mind around. Emptiness is well . . . empty, and form has substance so how can they have the same properties, at the same time. To achieve some realization of this dharma requires a thought experiment followed by a way to engage that ideal in moment-to-moment practice. There is both an ancient ideal and a contemporary thought experiment that can bring about a clearer understanding of form and emptiness.

In Buddhist philosophy everything, all dharma is causally conditioned. It becomes what it is in a particular moment as a result of the causal process of the Universe. This would not possible if all dharma had inherent and permanent form. The philosopher and scholar Nagarjuna is arguably at the top echelon of Buddhist philosophers whose original ideas continue to shape Mahayana thought and practice to this day. His most revered text is the Mulamadhamakakarika text in which he maintained, “Since there is no dharma whatever which is not causally conditioned (not relative to whatever experience or situation it finds itself connected with), no dharma whatever exists which is not empty.” Phenomena have no form until acted upon physically and/or mentally by another phenomena, human being or otherwise. Until the moment of interaction it has only potential (emptiness) to take on form, a form dependent on whatever acts upon it. Causal conditioning, the who, what, when, where, why and how of the causal process enacts the transformation from emptiness to form. For Westerners caught up in concrete definitions and concrete descriptions it isn’t an easy concept but one that can be engaged with a little creative re-description. Let’s look to a contemporary science model for some help with that.
In 1935 Erwin Schrodinger was looking for a way to describe the difficult language of quantum mechanics, in particular how particles like atoms can be in two or more different quantum states simultaneously. His thought experiment began with putting a cat in a box that had no openings. Inside the box is placed a radioactive atom connected to a vial of deadly poison. Once the box is closed there is no way to know if the atom decays allowing the vial to shatter and the poison to be released and the cat killed. He postulated that because the atom, the cat and the vial could not be seen then the atom could be viewed as beeing in both a decayed and non-decayed state at the same time. The cat, because it couldn’t be seen would be both dead and alive at the same time. Without observation these physical objects would be in two diametrically opposed conditions in the same moment. The ideal of choice between “dead or alive” was empty of meaning. Emptiness and form are diametrically opposed conditions yet Buddhist philosophy says they too are the same.
To apply Schrodinger’s thought experiment to the Buddhist philosophical ideal of emptiness and form first requires the understanding that observation is an experiential act and the emptiness/form concept can be experientially verified. In Schrodinger’s experiment there is a cat in a box with a vial of poison. There is a trigger, the atom that has the potential to release the poison killing the cat. The atom, the poison and the cat are each thought to be in two simultaneous states of existence because we can’t see them. It all comes down to one can’t ascertain the reality without the experience. There is both emptiness and form.
The saying that if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does it make a sound points to form and emptiness. There is the potential for sound to be heard if someone is present. If not, do we really know for certain if there is a sound? Only the birds, bugs and other critters present know for sure.
Consider too a birthday gift. You accept a package beautifully wrapped with a silver bow. You can hope that it is _____________ (fill in here whatever you might wish for). It feels like it weighs the right amount and it doesn’t rattle. The box is the right size for it. No matter. You are holding a box of emptiness until you open it and experience what is inside, giving it form.
There is no way for human beings to know the future. Yeah, some people say they can but it is all speculation whether scientific or the metaphysical methods are engaged. So, each moment can be viewed as in a box until it is entered in to. There is a tendency for people to believe they know what is in the box before it is opened. That is known as fondling the future. It is a thought experiment without the possibility of experiencing it (emptiness) until the future happens (form). Then that ‘future’ is empty and as the present moment, is form. Let’s try a different thought experiment.
Wade has been called into a meeting with his boss and a representative of human resources. He can’t think of anything he’d done wrong but that doesn’t ease his anxiety. Wade is certain he knows what will happen. Other employees have had the same situation and came out of the office, cleaned out their desks, and left the building. At 2pm he enters the office (the box). Sitting at the conference table is his boss (the atom), the human resources person (the poison), and Wade (the cat) takes a seat. Wade has prepared himself for the worse. An hour later he comes out of the meeting with a promotion and a raise. While Wade imagined what was going to happen in that office it was in reality empty of form until he experienced it. He could equally have imagined getting a promotion and raise.
The dharma is the realities of life, what is. We don’t know what “is” until we experience the emptiness of any situation, thus experiencing the form it takes. Buddhist practice further teaches us that once form is experienced it will not take that same exact form again. It will be empty again. Even as we experienced the form of any dharma there is another person who is experiencing the emptiness of that very same dharma.
Form and emptiness are Buddhist philosophical concepts that are deeply interconnected and interdependent. Generations of Buddhist monastics and scholars continue to contemplate them, discuss them, and try to understand them better. This concept also has great value in practicing the dharma, in achieving a mature Buddhist practice. Consider the ideal of not-self, the ever-transforming you. You, as not-self are a mirror of form and emptiness. The not part is emptiness. The self part is form. In you there is an emptiness, a potential that is realized when some phenomena has an impact on how your. In that moment a form arises. That form is also empty waiting for the next phenomena in next moment. You are not only a not-self. You are a human example of form and emptiness.


Permanent link to this article: http://www.thebuddhacenter.org/2018/03/20/cat-in-a-box-engaging-form-and-emptiness/

Feb 26

The cracked pot


Permanent link to this article: http://www.thebuddhacenter.org/2018/02/26/the-cracked-pot/

Jan 08


by Wayne Ren-Cheng

In Buddhist philosophy there are Three Characteristics of Existence realized by the Buddha. These characteristics arose from the realities of causality and causally conditioned phenomena, and fall away due to the same realities. These characteristics are impermanence, suffering, and not-self.
A passage in many discourses reads: “Impermanent indeed are the compounded (the conditioned) things; they are of the nature of arising and passing away. Having come into being, they cease to exist.” Things are characterized as impermanent because they are subject to three stages of being: arising (uppada), falling away (vaya), and decay or change (thitassa annathatta). Impermanence is a synonym for the Buddhist ideal of ‘arising and falling away’ or ‘birth and death’. Birth in the human sense, also in the sense of the combining of material phenomena from constituent parts into what is viewed as an object. Death as applied to living beings is readily understood; death of inanimate phenomena is sometimes termed destruction even though nothing is every truly destroyed. Inanimate death is experienced as the breaking down of its present form.
Impermanence is causality and it causally conditions all phenomena, and the same is true for suffering and not-self. Things are impermanent due to the causal nature of the Universe. All phenomena from the material to the immaterial, from rocks to emotions act as both cause and effect. A rock striking you on the head can be a cause of pain; emotional pain can be a cause for you to throw a rock. All things are causally conditioned due to the causal nature of the Universe. You were not in pain until the rock hit you on the head; you reacted with emotion when you threw the rock. Experiences are causally conditioned by internal and external factors.
Impermanence is the reality that all things are temporary and this reality is a cause of suffering. Nothing lasts forever in any specific form. Even the protons, electrons and neutrons that are the building blocks of all material phenomena undergo constant changes. Impermanence happens. Impermanence cannot be stopped and this leads to suffering because human beings can crave permanence. Impermanence can be slowed down or speeded up. It can result in unwholesome transformation or in wholesome transformation. It can happen naturally or it can be made to happen. Choosing to guide the causes and effects of impermanence is a path to the alleviation of suffering.
Impermanence is an unavoidable reality in Buddhist philosophy. ‘You cannot practice impermanence but you can practice how you use that reality; how you respond to its cause and effect. You can accept that impermanence is a reality and then learn ways to transform that information into knowledge by making it a factor in how you deal with the suffering that impermanence can be the cause of.’
Think okay, impermanence is a reality . . . now what. How can I most effectively respond to impermanence? You are actually already doing this, you just might not realize it.
You check the weather report each morning before going to work. It shows no chance of rain that day. You look outside and see gray clouds piling up. You take an umbrella just in case. This is responding appropriately to the suffering caused by impermanence.
Last year you got an eye exam and bought new glasses. At the time you also set an appointment for this year. This is responding appropriately to suffering caused by impermanence.
Your drop your favorite Happy Birthday coffee cup and it shatters against the tile floor in the kitchen. You get angry, slam your fist into the refrigerator. Two of your knuckles crack and the refrigerator stops working. This is responding inappropriately to suffering caused by impermanence.
It can seem that impermanence is a pretty negative reality. Negative experiences happen like the weatherman is wrong, health issues arise, relationships end, loved ones die, new cars get damaged, and you’re supposed to deal with these unwholesome events appropriately. For a Buddhist that is exactly what you’re supposed to do. You might ask then, “If impermanence is unavoidable then what can I do about it?” The answer is found within the reality of impermanence.
Remember earlier the statement ‘You cannot practice impermanence but you can practice how you use that reality; how you respond to its cause and effect. You can accept that impermanence is a reality and then learn ways to transform that information into knowledge by making it a factor in how you deal with the suffering that impermanence can be the cause of.’ The reality of the not-self is causally conditioned by the effects of impermanence; effects that you can allow to be uncontrolled or you can choose to control them, a lot of them at least.
The Buddhist ideal of not-self owes its arising to the Buddha’s realization of the reality of impermanence. He further realized that while impermanence was a factor in suffering, it could also be a factor in the alleviation of suffering. His acceptance that all phenomena are impermanent and that human beings are phenomena logically led to the realization that no aspect of being a human is permanent. There is a self, a not-self. It is a person who is continually undergoing a process of transformation so why not learn to channel that impermanence toward wholesome change and then make that a factor in how a person thinks and acts.
Like any Buddhist practice the causal potential begins with you. You can realize the reality of impermanence by just looking at yourself in a mirror. You can realize the reality of suffering through the lens of your own experiences. You can realize the reality of the not-self by taking a rigorously self-honest look at how you have changed, and how you continue to change in each moment. You develop a deep understanding and acceptance of the three characteristics through insight gained about yourself and your own life.
The Three Characteristics of Existence are realities; they are dharma. You only have to view your own existence through a lens of rigorous self-honesty to fully realize that impermanence, suffering and the not-self are truths. Realization that while this teaching has its foundation in human existence the realities of impermanence, suffering and not-self encompass the causal universe will arise as your Buddhist practice matures. The dharma of impermanence, suffering and not-self are truths beyond the human condition. All phenomena are impermanent. Human kind are not the only beings that suffer. All phenomena are causally conditioned and so have no permanent aspect, are not-self.


Permanent link to this article: http://www.thebuddhacenter.org/2018/01/08/three-characteristics-of-existence-practice/

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