Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Shri Nisargadatta Maharaj: Escaping The Net

Maharaj:The real world is beyond the mind's ken; we see it through the net of our desires, divided into pleasure and pain, right and wrong, inner and outer. To see the universe as it is, you must step beyond the net. It is not hard to do so, for the net is full of holes.

Q: What do you mean by holes? And how to find them?

Maharaj: Look at the net and its many contradictions. You do and undo at every step. You want peace, love, happiness and work hard to create pain, hatred and war. You want longevity and overeat, you want friendship and exploit. See your net as made of such contradictions and remove them -- your very seeing them will make them go.

(from I Am That)

Absorption In The Treasury of Light

This work by Koun Ejo, early Dharma heir of Dogen Zenji's lineage, is available free here:


Monday, May 30, 2011

Bankei on Zazen

"That's why, in my place, I'm always telling everyone, 'Abide in the unborn Buddha mind and nothing else!' Other than that, I'm not setting up any special rules and making them practice. All the same, since everyone got together and decided to practice for 12 sticks of incense every day, I told them, "Go ahead, do whatever you like'; so I'm letting them practice every day for a period of 12 sticks of incense. But the Unborn Buddha Mind isn't a matter of 12 sticks of incense! When you abide in the Buddha Mind and don't become deluded, then, without looking for enlightenment outside, you'll just sit in the Buddha Mind, just stand in the Buddha Mind, just sleep in the Buddha Mind, just get up in the Buddha Mind, so that in all of your ordinary activities you function as a living Buddha. There's really nothing to it.

"As for zazen, since 'za' (sitting) is the Buddha Mind's sitting at ease, while 'zen' is another name for Buddha Mind, the Buddha Mind's sitting at ease is what's meant by zazen. So when you're abiding in the Unborn, all the time is zazen; zazen isn't just the time when you're practicing formal meditation. Even when you're sitting in meditation, if there's something you've got to do, it's quite all right to get up and leave. So in my group, everyone is free to do as he likes. Just always abide at ease in the Buddha Mind. You can't simlply remain sitting from morning til night, so walking meditation for one period; and you can't just keep on your feet, either, so sit down and meditate for one period. You can't very well do nothing but sleep, so you get up; and you can't just keep on talking, so I let you practice meditation. But this has nothing to do with rules."

-Bankei Kotaku (from Bankei Zen, p.58-9; tr. Peter Haskell.) 

Note: Bankei's practice instructions were simple: recognize the "marvelously illuminating" Unborn Buddha Mind, your own present awareness, which is always functioning, and abide in it. He would often direct people to notice how the mind continuously and spontaneously illuminates and presents objects without any personal effort, and tell people just to abide in that, without trading their "Buddha Mind" for thoughts and becoming a "hell-dweller, hungry ghost, animal or other deluded being". Do just that, said Bankei, and you abide as the living Buddha you already are.  

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Bankei Zen: Can women become Buddhas?

"I can tell you something about this matter of women's Buddha Mind. I understand that women feel very distressed hearing it said that they can't become Buddhas. But it simply isn't so! How is there any difference between men and women? Men are the Buddha Body, and women are the Buddha Body too. You shouldn't entertain any doubts of this sort. When you thoroughly grasp the Unborn, then, in the Unborn, there's no difference whether you're a man or a woman. Everyone is the Buddha Body.
You women, listen closely now. While, in terms of physical form, men and women are obviously different, in terms of the Buddha Mind there's no difference at all. Don't be misled by appearances! The Buddha Mind is identical: it makes no distinctions between men and women."

Bankei Kotaku (from Bankei Zen, tr. by Peter Haskell p. 35)

Comment: I'm really struck by how strongly and explicitly both Dogen and Bankei argued for women's equality in Dharma practice. Dogen Kigen (1200-1253) argues passionately and extensively so in his essay Raihai Takuzui, available at the Soto Zen Text Project (http://hcbss.stanford.edu/research/projects/sztp/translations/shobogenzo/index.html).
The problem stems from the doctrine that women cannot become "samyaksambuddhas" or fully self-awakened Buddhas who establish a religion in a world without Dharma (as Shakyamuni did). This idea originated in the Hinayana, where it was not so significant since most practitioners aim at becoming arhats- people who are liberated by a Buddha's teaching, but do not themselves establish a new religion, which Hinayana teachings say women can do just as well as men. 
In the Mahayana this teaching became problematic because becoming a Fully Self-Awakened Buddha was the goal of all practitioners. Many solutions arose, examples of which can be seen in the Srimala Sutra, Lotus Sutra and Vimalakirti Sutra. What impresses me about Dogen and Bankei is their total refusal to accept that women cannot become Buddhas despite the fact that standard scriptural Mahayana says they can't.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Fusho (Unborn) Zen

Chasing after words, pursuing phrases,
when will you ever be done?
You run yourself ragged amassing knowledge,
becoming widely informed
Self-nature is empty and illuminating,
so let things take care of themselves
There's nothing else I have to pass on.

-Bankei Kotaku (1622-1693) (tr. by Peter Haskell, from Bankei Zen)

Friday, May 6, 2011

A Moses Jataka?

The jataka tales are stories of the Buddha’s former lives. These stories tell of his lifetimes as a “bodhisatta” or being bound towards enlightenment for the sake of all beings (later “bodhisattva”). As a bodhisatta the Buddha cultivates the “paramis” or perfections of character to the extreme, in preperation for his last life when he will discover and teach the Dhamma (liberating truth). The jatakas have been shown to contain some tales original with Buddhists and some from common stocks of Indian and Mediterranean folklore- some of the stories also show up in Hindu and Jain collections, Aesop’s fables, and one even shows up later transformed into a medieval story of a Christian saint. Yitzhak Buxbaum recently pointed out that a Hasidic tale appears to be based on a Jataka tale- a story reconfigured to be about Moses! This is a first as far as I know:

   A Hasidic Rebbe, Rabbi Yaakov Lazer of Pshevorsk said a wise man told him that there is a midrash which says that Moses saw a hawk chasing after a mouse and he had compassion on the mouse and protected it from harm. But Moses sensed that the hawk was angry– this was its food after all– so Moses cut a bit of flesh from his body to feed and soothe the hawk. Thus, Moses’s compassion for a living creature was with self-sacrifice.

 Sichatan shel Avdei Avot, vol. 2, p. 288 (see Hungry Tigress p.116-7 for one of several similar Jataka tales) Original source: http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?llr=nqsvr8cab&v=001kpRLqdWUZBwdVlP-NBsN7jO4Yyp65j05otHYzoZPY1pIHjc4LFePYsRkiA959gPyIJ0TCj2UftpEykalMUjFPf4I3sqbd-uxpzu5iDPEAbjTgRrmOkHj6g%3D%3D 

Several Jataka tales feature the motif of the Buddha making an extreme sacrifice for the sake of another. Sometimes he is an animal giving to a human, sometimes a human giving to an animal, sometimes an animal giving to an animal or a human giving to a human. In this way the Buddha shows his transcendence of such distinctions and his thorough, unflinching and perfect generosity. How interesting to see one of these tales apparently become a part of the legend of Moshe Rabeinu. As Buxbaum points out in his original posting, the mention of an unspecified “wise man” and “a midrash” are clues that this story did not originate in a traditional Jewish source. I can imagine the story travelling across countries, losing its Buddhist trappings, being picked up by some Jewish maggid (storyteller) and eventually applied to Moses. Thank you to Mr. Buxbaum.