Posted in tattooed buddha

Bodhidharma: Barbarian Master

Huike said to Bodhidharma, “My mind is anxious. Please pacify it.”
Bodhidharma replied, “Bring me your mind, and I will pacify it.”
Huike said, “Although I’ve sought it, I cannot find it.”
“There,” Bodhidharma replied, “I have pacified your mind.”

Bodhidharma appeared in China in the 5th century.

It’s unclear where he came from, but it was probably India. He has been described as having blue eyes and a beard.

He has also been described as a barbarian. His Buddhist name is Bodhidharma and he is credited with bringing Ch’an Buddhism to China. He is also credited with creating the martial art that would come to be known as Kung Fu.

People told a lot of stories about him and was already famous when he arrived in China. It’s said that he spent nine years in a cave meditating and that he invented tea to help him stay awake during long meditations.

This is the story of Bodhidharma meeting the Emperor. Emperor Wu was a big supporter of Buddhism.

Emperor Wu: “How much merit have I gained for ordaining Buddhist monks, building monasteries, having sutras copied, and commissioning Buddha images?”
Bodhidharma: “None. Good deeds done with worldly intent bring good karma, but no merit.”
Emperor Wu: “So what is the highest meaning of noble truth?”
Bodhidharma: “There is no noble truth, there is only void.”
Emperor Wu: “Then, who is standing before me?”
Bodhidharma: “I know not, Your Majesty.”

This is how Bodhidharma taught. He challenged ideas and preconceptions.

His teaching was simple. He said we should focus on practice, rather than spending too much time giving faith and devotion to religious texts. The idea that Enlightenment is with us already comes from Bodhidharma.

He described Ch’an Buddhism as:

“A special transmission outside the scriptures,
Not founded upon words and letters;
By pointing directly to mind
It lets one see into [one’s own true] nature and attain Buddhahood.”

The practice he spread was simple sitting meditation. He said we should sit facing a wall, with our eyes open, and just follow the breath.

That’s it, straightforward and simple. Direct and right to the point.

Our true nature is always with us.

All that we need to do so find it is settle our minds.



Posted in buddha

On Taking Refuge in the Buddha

On Taking Refuge in the Buddha

“Whoever sees his true nature is a Buddha.”

What does it mean when we say we are taking refuge in the Buddha?

For most of us Refuge Vows are taken fairly early in our practice. Does taking refuge mean that we’re asking the Buddha to do something for us? No. The Buddha was just a man. When we go for refuge in the Buddha, we are declaring that we want to follow his example. But, we are also taking refuge in the Buddha within, our true Enlightened self. The state of Awakening that is within us is what we are really taking refuge in.

When the Buddha saw his true nature he became Enlightened. This is a journey that we can take as well.

At our core, we are Enlightened, we just can’t see it because our minds are obscured by layers of delusion. But, deep down, the truth is there. Our journey involves penetrating through these layers of delusion to find our true nature, to know it intuitively.

Posted in altar sutra

The Altar Sutra: Temperament and Circumstances

A monk named Fa Hai in his first interview with the Patriarch asked him to explain the meaning of the proverb: “What mind is, Buddha is’.

The Patriarch replied, “Prajna is mind. Samadhi is Buddha. In practicing Prajna and Samadhi, let them be equal. Then our thoughts will be pure. This can only be understood if we practice.
Samadhi functions, but does not become. The teaching is to practice Prajna as well as Samadhi.”

After hearing this Fa Hai was Enlightened.

He said, “Now I know the causes of Prajna and Samadhi, both of which I wll practice to free myself from attachment.”

One day Chih Ch’ang asked the Patriarch, “The Buddha taught about the ‘Three Vehicles’ and also the ‘Supreme Vehicles’. Can you explain this?”

The Patriarch replied, “Look within yourself. The differences between these four vehicles don’t exist in the Dharma, but only in our minds.”

“To see, hear, and recite the sutra is the small vehicle.”
“To know the Dharma and understand it’s meaning is the middle vehicle.”
“To put the Dharma into practice is the great vehicle. To understand thoroughly all Dharmas, to absorb them completely, to be free of attachments, to be above phenomena is the Supreme Vehicle.”

“All depends on practicing things yourself, so you do not need to ask more. But I will remind you at all time that your true nature is Awakened.”

Chih Ch’ang bowed and thanked the Patriarch. He acted as the Patriarch’s assistant until his death.

Things could get confusing here. Branches of Buddhism are divided into ‘yanas’ or vehicles. In the modern world the most common division is Hinayana, Mahayana (of which Hui-neng is a member), and Vajrayana. But, that’s not the division Hui-neng is talking about. The three yanas he is referring to are these:
Sravakayana: For those who attain Enlightenment by listening to or reading the teachings of the Buddha.
Pratyekabuddhayana: Those who achieve liberation by practicing the Dharma but do not teach others. They are said to remain silent and solitary.
Bodhisattvayana: Those who attain Enlightenment in order to help awaken others and lead as many to Enlightenment as possible.

One day the Patriarch was looking for a place to wash the robe he had inherited. He found a stream to wash it behind the monastery and when he was washing it a monk appeared.

“My name is Fang Pien. When I was in South India I met the Patriarch Bodhidharma and he told me to return to China.”

Bodhidharma is the first Chinese Patriarch, the man who brought Dhyana teachings to China. He is the first in the lineage which claims Hui-neng as the sixth. Because he couldn’t still be alive in Hui-neng’s time, it seems that Fang Pien is telling a story about meeting Bodhidharma’s ghost.

“Bodhidharma told me that the lineage had been transmitted to you, so I came to find you. Can you show me the robe and bowl that you have inherited?” Fang Pien said.

“After a long voyage, I have arrived.  May I see the robe and begging bowl you inherited? ”

The Patriarch showed him the robe and bowl.

Fang Pien showed the Patriarch a life-like sculpture he had made of Bodhidharma.

The Patriarch gave Fang Pien a special blessing.

A monk quoted the following stanzed by Dhyana Master Wo Lun: “There are ways and means to protect the mind from all thoughts. When circumstances do not react on the mind, the Tree of Enlightenment will grow steadily.”

Hearing this the Patriarch said, “The writer of this stanza has not realized Awakening. To put it’s teaching into practice would not Awaken you.”

The Patriarch recited his own stanza:
“Hui-neng has no ways and means to protect the mind from all thoughts. Circumstances often react on the mind. How can the Tree of Enlightenment grow?”


Posted in altar sutra

Altar Sutra: Questions and Answers

A government official named Wei host a dinner and asked the Patriarch to give teachings.
Wei said, “I have heard your teachings. Your teachings are so deep that it is beyond me and I have some doubts to ask you about.”

“If you have any doubts, please ask and I will explain,” the Patriarch replied.

A lot of Buddhist texts function this way, as a Q & A session. Many of the Buddha’s morality teachings exist because his followers spent a lot of time asking him what was and was not okay. So, in this section, Hui-neng is following the Buddha’s example as a teacher.

Q: Are you teaching the same philosophy as Bodhidharma, the first Patriarch?
A: Yes

Q: I was told that when Bodhidharma met Emperor Wu he was asked what merits the Emperor would get for the
work of his life supporting the Dharma by building temples and giving to monks. Bodhidharma’s reply was no merits at all. Can you explain this?

A. Bodhidharma is right. Emperor Wu’s mind is in delusion and he didn’t understand the teachings. The work he did in supporting the Dharma is good and helpful, but shouldn’t be mistaken for generating merit. Merits are to be found in the Dharma Realm. Awakening to the nature of our minds is our goal. When our mental activity functions outisde of delusion, then we can truly understand ourselves.

Essentially the Emperor is wishing to buy Enlightenment. He is a very wealthy man and he doesn’t understand that spiritual awakening can’t be bought. Merit refers to the concept of Karma, the concept that if you are virtuous and wise in this life, then even if you don’t attain Enlightenment in this life, you will be reborn in a better one after death. Sometimes this is taken as a metaphor, sometimes it is taken literally.

Within, let’s keep our minds humble. Without, let’s behave according to virtue.

That we are one with all things is the Truth. Having our minds from from idle thoughts is our goal.
Not to stray from our true nature, and not to delude our minds by going deeper into delusion. These are the things that generate merit.

Do not insult others, but treat everyone with respect. Looking down on others is a sign of delusion.
When our thoughts can work without being held by delusion and function in a straightforward manner, then we are Awakened.

Q. I noticed that some Buddhists recite the name of Amitabha with the hope of being born in the Pure Land. Will you please tell me if this is possible?

Pure Land is another Mahayana sect that was of a similar size to Ch’an at the time. It hasn’t quite made itself as well known in the West as many other Buddhist sects, but there are still many many people who practice it today. Instead of meditation, Pure Land Buddhists chant. They believe this chanting generates merit and helps them to be reborn in a better world after death, a world called the Pure Land.

A. According to the Sutra given by the Bhagavat in Shravasti City for leading people to the Pure Land, it is clear that the Pure Land is not far away. To some it is far and to others it is near. Although the Dharma is uniform, individuals vary in their mentality.
Because we have different degrees of delusion, some understand the Dharma more quickly than others.
The Buddha said, “When the mind is pure, the Buddha Land is also pure.”
When we are in delusion, we might seek to be reborn in the Pure Land. But, to the Enlightened, everywhere is the same.

The Buddha said this about the Awakened: “No matter where they happen to be, they are always happy and comfortable.”

If you really want to be in the Pure Land, I have some suggestions.

Do away with the ten evils and the eight errors.

The ten evils are: Killing, Stealing, Sexual Misconduct, Lying, Slander, Coarse Language, Empty Chatter, Covetousness, Angry Speech, and Wrong Views.

The Eight Errors are the reverse of the Eightfold Path. They are: Wrong Views, Wrong Thought, Wrong Speech, Wrong Action, Wrong Livelihood, Wrong Effort, Wrong Mindfulness, and Wrong Meditation.

If, after that, we can realize our true nature, then we are in the Pure Land. The Pure Land is right here.
If we can only practice the ten good deeds, then we don’t need to worry about being reborn in the Pure Land.

The ten good deeds are: Charity, Morality, Mental Cultivation, Respect, Service, Transfering Merits, Rejoicing in the Merits of Others, Teaching the Dharma, Listening to the Dharma, and Straightening one’s own views.

If you understand the teachings, then you are dwelling in the Pure Land now. If you do not understand, then reciting the chants of Amitabha will not help you.

Here right now, we are in the Pure Land.

Work for Awakening diligently and don’t seek it apart from yourself.

If you consistently perform the ten good deeds, then the Pure Land will manifest.
There is a great light in your mind. It is powerful enough to illuminate you.

When it turns inward it eliminates the three poisons.
Those who wish to engage spiritual training may do it at home. The Pure Land is everywhere, not only in temples and monasteries.

Q. How should we train ourselves at home?

A. I will give you a stanza. If you put it into practice, you will be in the same position as those followers who spend all of their time with me.

For a fair mind, observing the precepts isn’t necessary.

For straightforward behavior, practice in contemplation isn’t necessary.

On the principle of forbearance, we do not fight, even in the midst of a hostile crowd.

By making amends for our mistakes, we get wisdom.

By defending our faults, we show that our minds are not sound.

Practice generosity whenever you can, but generosity alone will not bring Awakening.

Enlightenment is within our minds. There is no reason to look for mystical truths outside of ourselves.

Those who hear this and put it into practice will see the Pure Land manifest.
The Dharma waits for no one.

Posted in tattooed buddha

The Principles of Zen

The Zen Buddhist Tradition has four key ideas:

1) Do not attach to words and sentences

2) Teach outside of tradition

3) Point directly to the mind.

4) Perceive the mind’s true nature and attain Buddhahood.

These are the principles that are the foundation of Zen Buddhism.

With these sentences, fundamental understanding can be achieved and the principles of Zen training become clear.

It is said that Zen cannot be explained in words. The labels we use can and do often serve as a distraction. We can learn a lot about Zen history and theory from reading or listening to compelling Dharma talks, but we can’t really understand if we don’t practice ourselves.

There is often more truth in silence than there is in words. It is important that the teachings have been preserved in words, but learning without practice isn’t helpful.

Zen theory is explained in two source texts. The writing of the Patriarch Bodhidharma and the Sixth Patriarch Hui Neng represent the framework of Zen theory. There are many texts about the method of the Zen tradition but they all derive from the philosophies of these two Zen masters.

Bodhidharma said, “There are many ways to enter the path, but in reality this does not go beyond two distinct methods; method one is entry through principle, whilst method two is entry through conduct.”

Bodhidharma goes on to say:“Entry through conduct (method two) is associated with four practices which must be observed,” but that ‘entry through principle’ is the essence of the Zen path and explains the Zen tradition.

The first method represents insight developed through meditation. The second represents our sincere and diligent effort to walk the Buddhist path. Both of these are very important.

Zen conveys the core of Buddhist thought in only a few words. Bodhidharma explains entry through principle in this way:

“Those who enter through principle understand that all beings—whether enlightened or unenlightened—share exactly the same true nature.”

In reality, we all have the same Buddha nature, and we can manifest this Buddha nature right now. Bodhidharma says that: “The Buddha-nature is obscured by a layer of dust which prevents the real from manifesting.”

Everyone has Buddha nature but it is obscured by delusion.

Bodhidharma said:

“Give-up delusion and return to the real by concentrating (and stilling) the mind so that a broad and all inclusive mind is achieved. Then there is no self or other and no difference between a sage and an ordinary person.”

Bodhidharma tells us that to clear away delusion we must concentrate and still the mind so that we can find a deeper and broader awareness.

This leads us to a mind that is free from delusion so there are no distinctions between sacred and secular or a sage and an ordinary person. Delusion originates from thinking in dualistic terms that see boundaries between self and other as being real. This is why we can’t realize oneness of mind. In this state of delusion it’s hard to see our Buddha-nature.

Many of us think of enlightenment as something that is far away, but it’s actually here right now. Our delusions can be broken through immediately here and now.

If we practice with a sincere motivation to overcome our delusions, then our Buddha nature will manifest.

This can happen right now and is the entire reason the Zen tradition exists. Zen practice is a powerful method for attaining Enlightenment, not in some future life, but right now.

When we practice, we should be motivated to follow the Buddha’s example. If we do this we can enter a spiritual state and be as one with the Buddha and the Zen Patriarchs. This is how we can transform the ordinary deluded mind and reveal our true nature. This realization is the essence of the Zen principle and is what sustains the tradition.

When awakening occurs it is like coming to life or waking up from a dream. This is the Dharma that the patriarchs and masters have transmitted through the years.

This spirit of awakening is what lies at the center of Zen. It is all about complete freedom from suffering.

This method breaks down the barriers to attaining enlightenment and crosses over duality into a state of cosmic oneness that is true freedom.

street art Buddha

Posted in diamond sutra

Diamond Sutra, chapter 19

“Subhuti, I do not have this thought: ‘I have spoken spiritual truths.’

If someone says I have spoken spiritual truths they are mistaken.”

The Buddha is telling us not to be attached to words and letters, which is an important teaching that the Ch’an Patriarch Bodhidharma would later give. It might be a little hard to understand but the point is that we should actualize the teaching in our lives, rather than just studying it and learning it. The teaching is something we study, but it’s also something that we do.

Posted in zen

Some of the Teaching I’m Giving at Zenfest.

I’m a true believer. I think our true nature exists under layers of delusion. Because it’s our true nature to be Enlightened, we can find it. It can come upon us all at once.

Huineng, the 6th Zen Patriarch, was an illiterate woodcutter. He heard someone reciting a text called the Diamond Sutra and he suddenly entered the stream. After that, he found a Zen teacher and started cultivating the seed of Enlightenment. This is the authentic spiritual journey that many people have gone through. It exists throughout history.

The purpose of Zen is Enlightenment, self realization, awakening to the absolute truth of reality.

It’s a path of transformation instead of salvation.

We have a constructed image in our minds of who we are and what the world is. Zen is about being in the moment without the constructs. Dropping ego. Dropping the past and our thoughts about the future and engaging with the present moment. Zen Master Dogen called it “The dropping away of body and mind”

Easier said than done. Our minds want to do anything but stay in this moment. Zen involves learning to quiet our minds and penetrate through these layers of delusion. Zen is teaching our minds how to sit still.

We do this by following a set of principles: Meditation, Mindfulness, and Morality.

Any discussion of Zen history has to involve Bodhidharma. The story of Zen says that it comes from the Buddha, the historical founder of Buddhism. The story says that he passed Zen teachings to one of his followers and it was passed from teacher to student for many many years. There’s not a lot of historical evidence for this. But that’s ok. What we do know is that it has been taught from teacher to student since around 400ad. The purpose of the teacher is both to set an example and to provide context for us for what’s happening as we progress along the path.

Zen as we know it started with Bodhidharma.

He taught what he called were the two entries to the path. He called them Conduct and Principle. He said both are necessary, but he clearly favored the teaching of Principle.

Conduct represents modifying our behaviors and spiritual cultivation. It also represents countering the three poisons: Greed, anger, and delusion.

He described 4 methods for Entry through Conduct.
1. Repaying wrongs: actions have consequences. Try to mitigate negative consequences from our actions as much as possible.
2. Adjust to circumstances: Accepting our conditions. Not being obsessed with changing our circumstances. It’s not that we shouldn’t try to change things. It’s only that when we only sit around thinking “When this happens I’ll be happy” that we have problems.
3. Non-seeking: Acting without attachment to success. Just doing our part.
4. Upholding the Dharma: Spreading the teachings to anyone that wants them.

Entry through Principle: Engaging our true nature. There are different methods of doing this. When we sit in silent meditation we are touching what my teacher calls the Empty Mind Ground. It’s available all the time because it is our true nature.

Our true nature is one with everything and the only reason we don’t see that is because we are in layers of delusion. When we meditate we clear some of that delusion. We have to dig ourselves out.

We train to realize our true nature. We investigate ourselves.

We just have to be present to perceive our true nature.

The path has been handed down for centuries.

In the early days it only consisted of transmission from one teacher to one student. They practiced together and over time the teacher would ask questions to help the student untie knots in their mind. Teachers would teach students to lay down thoughts and when the teacher could see a level of attainment, they would give dharma transmission, permission to teach and spread the dharma.

This changed over time. Teachers started taking many students and giving transmission multiple times. That’s not bad. We probably wouldn’t be here right now if that hadn’t happened.

Today there are lineages and organizations and schools. Many of them are very different. Lineages teach in their own style. Some require monasticism. Some, like the one I am in, discourage it. Zen has been evolving in different ways for hundreds of years.