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/

Dec 09

The buddha and the beggar


Permanent link to this article: http://www.thebuddhacenter.org/2017/12/09/the-buddha-and-the-beggar/

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


Permanent link to this article: http://www.thebuddhacenter.org/2017/11/27/verified-confidence-faith-in-buddhism/

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