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.


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Feb 26

The cracked pot


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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.


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Dec 09

The buddha and the beggar


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Nov 27

Verified Confidence: Faith in Buddhism


Religious belief relies, to varying levels, on faith, acceptance of dogma and doctrine without expectation of experiential verification that what is being taught has a basis in reality. Some religions teach that a practitioner must continue to believe what is not, or cannot be proven or experienced . . . that they ‘take it on faith’. This can lead to an overzealous faith that suffocates intelligent exploration and questioning of dogma. People who believe without any attempt to prove will likely find themselves mired in dogma rather than accruing knowledge of themselves and the world around them. There is a great disservice to the individual and society if faith replaces the motivation to investigate and to experience personally the efficacy of any teaching or knowledge.

Buddhism is practiced by many as a religion and so faith plays a role, but with particular views not shared with other religions. To highlight the difference in intent Siddhartha used a synonym for faith; he used the word confidence. The same intent from a different arising. Faith, arises as the acceptance that what is being taught is reality without the expectation of, or means of verification . . . or too often it stifles the desire to verify. Confidence arises as a result of knowledge, practice and experience proving the effectiveness of tenets and practices . . . it is faith founded in the reality of experience. Knowledge that Siddhartha was human and that each of us are human gives us confidence (faith) that we can experience awakened moments. Engaging in practices such as generosity of spirit we experience that the good we do matters for ourselves and our society. The Buddha wanted each disciple and follower to engage his teachings and experience their value so that a verified faith (confidence) arose in them. In the Nandiya Sutra, Siddhartha teaches the ideal of ‘verified confidence’.

“There is the case where a disciple of the noble ones is endowed with verified confidence in the Awakened One: ‘Indeed, the Blessed One is worthy and rightly self-awakened, consummate in knowledge & conduct, well-gone, an expert with regard to the world, unexcelled as a trainer for those people fit to be tamed, the Teacher of divine & human beings, awakened, blessed.’

“Furthermore, the disciple of the noble ones is endowed with verified confidence in the Dhamma: ‘The Dhamma is well-expounded by the Blessed One, to be seen here & now, timeless, inviting verification, pertinent, to be realized by the wise for themselves.’ Content with that verified confidence in the Dhamma, he does not exert himself further in solitude by day or seclusion by night.
“Furthermore, the disciple of the noble ones is endowed with verified confidence in the Sangha: ‘The Sangha of the Blessed One’s disciples who have practiced well… who have practiced straight-forwardly… who have practiced methodically… who have practiced masterfully — in other words, the four types of noble disciples when taken as pairs, the eight when taken as individual types — they are the Sangha of the Blessed One’s disciples: worthy of gifts, worthy of hospitality, worthy of offerings, worthy of respect, the incomparable field of merit for the world.’ Content with that verified confidence in the Sangha, he does not exert himself further in solitude by day or seclusion by night.

Confidence in the Buddha doesn’t arise because HE IS THE BUDDHA. It arises due to the evidence of Siddhartha’s life, and the evidence of how his life affected others . . . including most importantly our own lives. It is verified confidence.

Confidence in the Dhamma doesn’t arise because they are texts of the WORDS OF THE BUDDHA. It arises due to the evidence of Siddhartha’s life, and the evidence that each practitioner gathers as they engage the Dhamma in life and experience the results. It is verified confidence.

Confidence in the Sangha doesn’t arise because the members are ALL ON THE SAME PATH. It arises due to the evidence of 2600+ years of Buddhists gathering together, and the evidence each of us experience when we sit together. It is verified confidence.

There is the concept of faith (sraddha) in Buddhist practice. Nagarjuna said, “When one’s mind is grounded in faith, one escapes doubt and regret. Then the power of faith is strong, one can seize and espouse the dharma; and this is called dharmaksanti: tolerance of the dharma, patient acceptance of the teachings about the nature of reality even though they are not yet within your grasp.” This also points to confidence. Though there are aspects of the dharma that aren’t immediately experienced the practitioner has ‘faith’ that they will eventual come to full realization.

The Buddha’s teachings do not begin with a leap of faith meant to affirm a metaphysical doctrine or theory but instead draw our attention to something we care deeply about: we don’t want to suffer and we don’t want others to suffer. The Buddha’s teachings don’t ask us to solely believe, or have faith. Trust in the dharma, in the form of faith or confidence, is useful in allowing practitioners to continue practicing, studying, thinking and meditating even when one hasn’t yet realized how worthwhile the effort is. A mature practice goes beyond faith in the Buddha’s teachings to confidence in the practitioner’s own experience gained from mindful practice and broadening awareness. Buddhist practice doesn’t ask you to just accept anything, even the reality of suffering. It offers teachings about the nature of reality while also offering ways that you can verify it for yourself.

Doubt and regret can arise at any level of Buddhist practice, the feeling that you just aren’t getting it; that you’re not seeing results. Meditation practice is where this is likely to first manifest. You meditate each day for twenty minutes and don’t recognize any benefit. You don’t feel more aware, it doesn’t feel like that part of your brain is getting bigger. You recognize the arising of emotions but still don’t seem to be able to control them. Everything else might be impermanent but you still feel like the same old you. There is doubt that what you are doing is of value and you develop a sense of regret that practice is wasted effort.

A sense of confidence enables you the patience necessary to come to the realization that ideals like impermanence, not-self and suffering are realities. That that same realization can lead to a more wholesome personal character. Acting with compassion and selflessness may not have immediate recognizable wholesome results, the ideal of confidence allows you the time to develop the encompassing awareness needed to realize them.

For some people the concept of faith in Buddhism is not complete with touching on the metaphysical ideals and practices in some Buddhist traditions. Faith in rebirth and karma, that some Zen Masters gain the ability to move instantaneously from one place to another, that a Vajrayana lama can control the weather, or in the legendary birth stories of Siddhartha Guatama is up to the individual practitioner. For others an agnostic approach to the metaphysical may have more value. Setting those concepts aside they focus on those practices that have practical moment-to-moment value while remaining open to the possibility of altering their view through direct experience.

Will you choose to put your faith in the hands of others, or take confidence firmly in hand and turn it into a useful tool in your Life Toolbox? Actualizing confidence that allows the arising of patience and endurance works. It can be the clamp that holds your Buddhist practice together while the glue dries.

I bow with respect,
Wayne Ren-Cheng Hughes, Shi 仁 诚


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Nov 19

Reading in voice

Hello Dharma friends.

I’m happy to join the conversation here and I’d like to share some of the reading I’ve been doing. I just completed a series of recordings of my reading the book “When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chodron. I found the guidance for my practice presented in this book to be informative and useful and at some points personally touching and relevant to my own experience. I hope you get a chance to listen and enjoy it as well.
links below to recordings of varying lengths 45 minutes to 90 minutes each.

chapter 1 – 4 %201%20chapter%201%20thru%204.m4a?dl=0
chapter 5 – 7
chapter 8  
chapter 9  
chapter 10 – 11
chapter 12 – 13

chapter 14
chapter 15 – 17
chapter 18 – 21

Thank you all for supporting my practice in sl


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Oct 30

Agression in many forms

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

A critical aspect of Buddhist philosophy and practice is the ideal of non-violence (ahimsa). Violence, any physical action that results in the harm or death of another being, is antithetical to the development of compassion, loving-kindness and to liberation from suffering. The reality is that violence abounds in the world; violence in acts like murder, rape, war and genocide, as well as any other actions that cause harm or death to living beings. The question each Buddhist practitioner must ask, and answer with rigorous self-honesty is what acts of violence have I committed or am I considering. None, or very few is likely to be the honest answer. Most people have never purposely taken a truly violent action. It is very likely though that most people have engaged in aggression in one of its many forms in thought and in action. To reach the ideal of non-violence requires an acceptance of the reality of aggressive habitual reactivities, unwholesome dispositions and habits that arise without mindfulness. Once accepted there must be a commitment to weeding the bodymind of them. When aggression is accepted as a major causal precursor to violence then practice can begin to mitigate and finally eliminate aggression in thought and action. Eliminate aggression and violence falls away.

The Buddha began the Attadanda Sutra with this verse,“Violence breeds misery; look at people quarreling.” It offers the reality that violence leads to suffering. The words look at the people quarreling also offers a glimpse of a causal factor of violence, aggression. Some people believe that aggression is as much a part of the human condition as is suffering itself. There is a factual basis for this view that can be experienced in language. In human relationships for example an argument gets called a fight even thought nothing physical usually happens and disciplining a child gets called punishing a child. Aggression is a phenomenon of human personality, personality that is subject to causal conditioning and impermanence so aggression can be transformed into loving-kindness with the application of mindfulness and compassion. A bodymind anchored in loving-kindness is one without aggression; a bodymind anchored in unbounded compassion is incapable of violence.
Look at people quarreling is the Buddha’s skillful way of directing mindfulness and awareness to aggressive thoughts and actions. The Buddha’s common mode of teaching through discourses is by pointing out the problem to be addressed, in the Attananda Sutra the first verse offers that it is violence that causes suffering. Then he points to a path to addressing the problem, be mindful of our own aggressive tendencies and aware of the same in others. This is a path that leads through practice to the elimination of aggression, a path that when walked further will lead to the elimination of violence.

It is recent situations at the Buddha Center in the virtual world of Second Life that prompted me to think deeply about aggression. ‘Griefers’ have been disrupting sessions by interfering with attendees, being inappropriately undressed, using foul and abusive language. and being disrespectful to teachers, sangha members, and staff. The fear and anxiety caused by these actions have led sangha staff and members to engage in their own thoughts and actions of aggression, sometimes even thoughts of violence. How some people have reacted to these ‘griefers’ reveals the negative impact that aggression can have on others, and how the seeds of aggression spread on this wind of unwholesome activities.

Asking why these griefers are acting so aggressively has little value in stopping them from engaging in the activity. Asking why is like the man in the Parable of the Arrow wanting to know all about the person who shot him with the arrow before he would seek medical help. The more pragmatic question is asking why are people allowing these griefers to have such an unwholesome effect on their experience in Second Life. There is nothing to fear or get anxious about. Second Life is a virtual world peopled by avatars with no actual physical interactions at all so the only harm they can do is emotional and emotions are temporary phenomena that one can allow to fall away. The most effective non-aggressive way to respond is to not respond. Be silent. Ignore IMs. Walk away. Teleport away. Aggression thrives on the emotional reactions it causes so don’t fertilize it, let it wilt, wither and die off.

There is another non-aggressive way to handle griefers but it requires one to be extra mindful and calm. Respond in open chat so that nearby avatars become aware of the griefer. Ask them this question: What is your reason for choosing to act this way? No matter what is done or said keep asking the question until it is answered. After a time either the griefer will answer, will get frustrated and give up, or the one being griefed can teleport away. Dealing with such issues in the virtual world of Second Life is great training for similar experiences in real life (RL).

Griefers, as they are understood in a virtual world aren’t as common in real life because there is not the anonymity that a virtual world offers. The term can apply though, the manifestations of action are still based in aggression. Aggression is readily recognized in threatening acts, property damage and openly carrying weapons in public (some will disagree with this view but their view is based in delusion). Aggression arises in more subtle ways, ways that a practitioner must be mindful and aware of. Mindful so that their own aggressive habitual reactivities can be realized; aware so that the aggressive tendencies of others can be appropriately responded to.

Intentional rudeness and disrespect are common examples of aggression that occur in human interactions. Whether it is forcing their way to the front of the line at the grocery store checkout or loudly making fun of a woman in a burkha, it is aggression. There is experiential proof that aggressive actions such as these lead to violence. In the first instance it precipitated a fist fight in the aisle; in the second two men who attempted to intervene were stabbed, one died of his injuries. These are physical reactions but a Buddhist practitioner must be mindful that even the thought of taking such rude and disrespectful actions is aggressive behavior. Aggression leads to violence. The more that aggression is limited in thought and action, the more that violence is limited.

Go back to the statement made above that openly carrying weapons in public is an act of aggression. To further this idea, even carrying a concealed weapon is aggressive. In both cases you might think that no violent act is being done by just having a weapon and you would be correct, but remember we aren’t just talking about acts of aggression and violence. In Buddhist philosophy and practice there is acceptance of the role that the mind has in how we interact with the world around us. How we think is of equal importance to the actions that we take. Carrying a weapon, in view or concealed is done with the anticipation of aggression or violence and so it creates in the mind a continuous possibility of the same. The expectation of aggression is rooted in the mind by a physical representation of that aggression.

In his book Creating True Peace, Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “Hatred cannot be stopped by hatred. Violence should not be responded to with violence. The only way out of violence is for us to embrace the practice of peace, to think and act with compassion, love, and understanding.” With the realization that aggression leads to violence then Master Hanh’s words find a deeper meaning. When aggression is accepted as a causal precursor to violence then practice can begin to mitigate and finally eliminate aggression in thought and action.

The individual practice of eliminating aggression begins with the mind, with how you choose to think. Letting go of the fear of what might happen is a step on that path. Fear is a major causal factor of aggression. The practitioner must ask themselves what they have to fear and then, with rigorous self-honestly answer the question. Determine if the fear being experienced is founded in reality or in delusion.

These days it might seem that aggressiveness and violence is everywhere and that belief is strengthened by the language being used. In politics for example there used to be opponents, now they are enemies; contest became war. Political rhetoric uses the combative word campaign to describe the activities of elective officials. In sports it used to be the Rams play the Falcons, now the Rams battle the Falcons. In the social arena it was Us and Them, now it is Us versus Them. Just today I heard a comment on the radio about retail stores like Target, Wal-Mart and Sear vying for holiday business and the CEO of one company called these businesses ‘battleground industries’. These examples may seem trivial but these are all subtle examples of aggressive habitual reactivities. We must be mindful of the language we use as an element of a path to non-aggression and ultimately to non-violence.

By now someone is thinking what about defense. How can I defend myself and others without aggression, without violence? The initial question to ask is just what I am defending. Defending the the ego is a waste of energy. Defending from a physical attack is another matter entirely. The ideal of physical defense without aggression is a reality. It is all in the intent.

Intent in this type of situation is key. Looking to the martial arts practice of aikido offers one path. The founder of aikido, Morihei Ueshiba said, “To injure an opponent is to injure yourself. To control aggression without inflicting injury is the Art of Peace.” The foundation of the practice of aikido is doing the least harm to an attacker by redirecting the energy of violence.

Most people have never purposely taken a truly violent action or been the victim of violence leading to physical injury. Most people have experienced some form of verbal or non-damaging physical aggression. The ideal set forth by Master Ueshiba can be applied to that reality. Respond to such situations with calm and equanimity. Walk away if possible. Do not return verbal injury with verbal injury. Do not return rudeness and disrespect with the same. Instead respond more appropriately with actions of loving-kindness and the voice of compassion.

The unwholesome weeds of aggression can bear the fruit of violence. Weeding aggressive thoughts and actions for the bodymind must be the goal of all of us who choose to walk the Noble Path. Be mindful of aggressive habitual reactivities so they pulled from the fertile soil of the bodymind leaving space to plant the wholesome seeds of loving-kindness, compassion and generosity.


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Oct 28

Dealing with emotions


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Oct 16


by Wayne Ren-Cheng

The whole of the human experience is a sequence of causal moments. Some of those moments pass without notice, others never seem to pass. Each moment, no matter the span of time is causally conditioned by the moments before and by the conditions in that very moment. Then that moment conditions the ones beyond that experience. It is up to each of us that walk the Noble Path to be mindful that each moment presents us with an opportunity to take action intended to have wholesome causal effects on others and ourselves. It is up to each of us that walk the Noble Path to take firm hold of this responsibility.

“Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost.” This verse is from the intentional practice of Sharing the Merit that is recited at the close of meditation and sangha sessions. It is a ritual of intent meant to remind us that the journey from birth-to-death is short and that we must make the most of each moment. The human life span, on average is 80 years. At age 20 that seems a long way off; at 60 the view shortens considerably. The appropriate view isn’t how many years are ahead, it is how do we make each moment count in the pursuit of liberation and human flourishing.

Zen Master Eihei Dogen is revered for the transformation he brought to Japanese Buddhist meditation practices. He also spoke of the utter continuity between being and time; that time is interconnected to, but not interdependent on all phenomena, animate and inanimate. Experiential examples of that interconnectedness is found in human aging, the effects of erosion on earth, and global warming all due in part to the passage of time. Along with time though there is another factor, causal conditioning or dependent origination.

A Zen practitioner is instructed to “be in the moment” in meditation practice and in the course of daily life. They train themselves to engage mindfulness and awareness in every moment so that appropriate choices can made in the variety of situations that life encompasses. There is great value in doing so no matter the Buddhist path being walked. What must first be clear is what is a moment anyway. Master Dogen offered a view in order to define “in the moment”. He determined that in each day there are 6,400,099,180 moments, moments that happen in 1/75th of a second. A quick math exercise reveals that an hour equals 266,670,799 moments, a minute equals 4,444,510 moments, a second equals 7407 moments, the time it takes to snap your fingers equals 60 moments. Moments come and go very quickly.

There are 6 billion, 400 million, 99 thousand, and 180 moments in each day and Zen practitioners are meant to “be in” each and every one, to maintain a high level of mindfulness and awareness in order to do so. Dogen likely wasn’t expecting others to memorize these numbers be he must have thought that knowing them would bring about the realization that time does swiftly pass by. One could find themselves disconnected from experiences if moments were allowed to pass without one being mindful and aware of their passage. Things change, impermanence happens in each moment. This can be intimidating, the ideal that being in the moment requires mindfulness and awareness 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year in each of the daily 6 billion, 400 million, 99 thousand, 180 moments.

Buddhaghosa, an Indian Buddhist scholar of the 5th century CE is most famous for writing the Visuddimagga, a Theravada based commentary on the Tripitaka (the Three Baskets). It included his own ‘theory of moments’ in which he used the textual components of Buddhism to make his point. He wrote, “Herein, the flowing present finds mention in the commentaries, the enduring present in the sutras (discourses). Some say that the thought existing in the momentary present becomes the object of insight.” Buddhaghosa offers that when studying or writing about Buddhist texts that commentaries are the lessons being engaged in the moment they are written so culture, context and experience shape the thoughts of the writer. The discourses or sutras, whether recited from memory or written down are the foundational moments those thoughts arise from; they endure before and beyond the writer. The reader’s thought, dependent on culture, context and time arises in the present moment of that individual and can provide a view of that immediate experience. A past moment transforms into a present moment, and is an immediate moment. How can this theory of moments have value in a contemporary Buddhist practice? With a touch of creative re-description.

The enduring present is the experience itself that is viewed without delusion or perception. It is what is actually happening, the reality or dharma. This is what must be appropriately responded to. What we tell ourselves in the midst of a momentary experience, with or without delusion is the flowing present. Language based in reality is more likely to lead to a wholesome response than language intended to sooth the ego or avoid the issue. The thoughts that arise during a momentary experience should be remembered if they lead to wholesome effects, or they can be allowed to fall away when unwholesome effects are the result. This is the insight that Buddhaghosa wrote of. The practitioner must learn from each experience no matter how long the moment lasts. The whole of any experience or moment is causally conditioned by the past and present and conditions the present and the future.

Eihei Dogen offers the 1/75th of a second suddenness of a moment. Buddhaghosa offers three aspects of each moment. Two paths arise from these views. One of a minute span of time and another of such complexity in each moment that it would be extremely difficult for the human mind to process a momentary experience within it. A third path can be blazed to engaging moments in a contemporary Buddhist practice.

Moments become a more accessible ideal when the reality that a moment isn’t a span of time is engaged. Instead it is viewed as a span of experience that is dependent on moments before it. Sure a moment can happen in the “snap of finger”. The suddenness of an enlightened moment, of satori, when all hindrances fall away and Buddha-element is revealed is such a moment. The gradual training of meditation, character building, practicing of Buddhist ideals such as generosity of spirit and acceptance that may take decades to affect the practitioner and others is also a moment. View moments not as chunks of time, instead as the whole of experiences keeping the insight that within each gradual moment there will be sudden moments.

With the acceptance that each moment causally conditions the following moments a practitioner more fully realizes the value of moral thought and ethical action. The thought or action we engage in each moment matters. What we do matters. Cease to do harm so no harm is done. Do good so good is done. Do good for others so they will do good for others.

The practice of the bodymind being in each of the 6 billion, 400 million, 99 thousand, and 180 moments that Master Dogen offers is in each day isn’t a pragmatic goal. It is more valuable and useful to practice being mindful and aware of each experience, each situation we find ourselves having to respond to during the day. It isn’t the quantity of moments that is the reality of the lives of human beings; it is the quality of each experience in which we engage the ideals of our practice.


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