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)

Self
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.

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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.”

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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.

Cliffhanger
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.”

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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.

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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.

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