On the Passing of Teachers (2022)

“It is possible that the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual. The next Buddha may take the form of a community-a community practicing understanding and loving kindness, a community practicing mindful living. This may be the most important thing we can do for the survival of the earth” .

~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh has passed away at the age of 95. He’s been in poor health for many many years and this is no surprise. But it’s still incredibly sad.

He was an amazing Buddhist teacher and a big inspiration to me. Two of my teachers died in 2021, Lama Chuck Stanford and Zen Master Wonji Dharma. Both of those deaths hit me hard. And now at the beginning of 2022 Thich Nhat Hanh has passed away. Three deaths in rapid succession. The world is changing. All things are impermanent.

I’m reminded a little of when my parents died, over 20 years ago now. 3 years apart and both from different cancers. This isn’t the same as losing a parent (or two), not even close. But it’s still…. something.

I never met him and I’ve never practiced in his community, but Thich Nhat Hanh has been a big inspiration to me. The first book I read on the subject of meditation was “The Miracle of Mindfulness” way back in 2000. And his book “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching” is still, in my opinion, the best introduction to Buddhism that there is.

He was one of the most well known Buddhist teachers in the world. He was born in Vietnam and he became a monk as a teenager, in the 1940s.

In 1966, he became a Zen Master.

He traveled the world as a peace activist throughout the 1960s, and in 1967, his friend, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., nominated him for a Nobel Peace Prize saying, “I do not personally know of anyone more worthy of [this prize] than this gentle monk from Vietnam. His ideas for peace, if applied, would build a monument to ecumenism, to world brotherhood, to humanity.” He wasn’t given the award—it wasn’t given to anyone that year.

He was denied permission to return to his home country in the 1970s, so he moved to France.

He founded an organization called “The Order of Interbeing,” and spent his life spreading Buddhist teachings and advocating for a peaceful world.

There’s a story that gets told about the death of the Buddha. It’s said that his cousin Ananda was at his side and had time to ask two final questions.

Ananda asked, “Do we have to follow all the rules that you set out?”
And the Buddha replied, “Just follow the important ones. Don’t worry much about the minor ones.”

(Ananda forgot to ask which rules were the minor ones)

Then Ananda asked, “Who is going to lead us when you’re gone?”

And the Buddha said, “Be lamps unto yourselves.”

It was up to his followers to figure out how to go on. And when our teachers pass it’s up to us to figure out how to go on too. We can get through losses like this. And we will go on.

I think he was aware of just how much people put him on a pedestal. He was almost worshiped. The fact that there even are celebrity Buddhist teachers is a strange thing. Sometimes it feels like a bit much and I wonder if it felt like a bit much to him.

He wrote over 100 books and he taught many many students. There is little doubt that he had a large impact on modern Buddhism.

Thich Nhat Hanh stated that the way forward is to strengthen our bonds of community. We need each other just as much as we need teachers, maybe more. I believe he would like that to be part of his legacy, although of course I don’t claim to speak for him.

Teachers arise and pass away. It’s up to communities to (hopefully) carry on.

Don’t be sad he’s gone. Be happy he was here. We’re all better off because this great teacher existed.

Suhita Dharma, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Karuna Dharma.
All three deceased now. Suhita Dharma was one of the teachers of Wonji Dharma (who was one of my teachers) who passed recently as well.

Buddhism and Religion (Video)

This is a live video I did  in the Tattooed Buddha Community Group.

I encourage you to join that group, which you can get to here:
Tattooed Buddha Community

I explored questions about whether a Christian can practice Buddhism, among other things.

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The Six Paramitas

The most important teaching for walking the bodhisattva path is the six perfections. The six perfections free us from delusion and lead us to Awakening. This is, above all else, the path to awakening that I really connect with. If we practice the six perfections in our lives, then we can dwell in Enlightenment. This is, to me, the central point of Buddhism.
The six paramitas (usually translated as perfections) are a teaching of Mahayana Buddhism. They are said to be vehicles to take us from shore of sorrow to the shore of peace and joy. We are on the shore of suffering, anger, and depression and we want to cross over to the shore of well-being and transcendence. Practicing the Six Paramitas is said to help us unleash the joy within.
This six paramitas are: Generosity, Virtue, Patience, Diligence, Concentration, and Wisdom.

The Paramita of Generosity
People tend to think that this means just giving material things and that isn’t necessarily the case.
We can give all sorts of things. We can give our time, our patience, our love.
The best gift we can offer is our presence. To be there when someone needs us, to listen when someone needs to talk. When we give our presence to someone that wants it, we are practicing the perfection of generosity.
Because of our meditation practice, we can be more mindfully present. Listening instead of waiting to talk, paying attention when attention is needed.
We can also give stability. When our thoughts and feelings are unstable, we can cause all sorts of harm and unhappiness to ourselves and others.
We can also give peace. When we are peaceful and have a peaceful relationship to the world around us, it brings benefit to everyone.
We can also give space. Staying away when someone wants time alone is a form of giving.
We can also give understanding. When we pay attention to what others are going through we can better understand how to interact with them in ways that are helpful.
Generosity is a wonderful practice. The Buddha said when we are angry at someone we can practice generosity toward them as a way to soften our anger.

The Paramita of Virtue
The Second Paramita is something we cultivate in two ways.
One way is through mindfulness training and the second way is through precepts. I’m going to write about the five mindfulness trainings now and save the precepts for another time.
Practicing the Five Mindfulness Trainings is a good way to transform our behavior in a positive way. This is a teaching created by the Zen Monk Thich Nhat Hanh.
Some of these overlap with the precepts a little, so it would be repetitive to write about both here.
The Five Mindfulness Trainings
1) Protect other beings. This applies to humans as well as other animals and plants. We should protect and help whenever possible.
2) To prevent the exploitation of humans and other beings. The normal way of doing things is often to step on others in order to get ahead in life.
3) Be faithful in relationships.
4) Practice deep listening and loving speech
5) Be mindful about your consumption.

The Paramita of Patience

This represents our ability to receive and transform our suffering.
The Buddha compared acceptance to water. If you pour some salt into a glass of water it will have a big impact. If you pour it into a river it will have no impact at at all.
We are the same way.
If our ability to accept is small, then we will suffer a great deal even when very minor things happen, like someone saying an unkind word or annoying us.
But if our ability to accept is large, then such things won’t have quite the same impact on us. It is so easy to carry the weight of an unkind word or action with us.
This Paramita represents our ability to receive, accept, and transform any pain and suffering that comes our way. We often tend to make things worse for ourselves than they really need to be.

The Paramita of Diligence

This represents our motivation on the path.
This Paramita is our devotion to cultivating the other five. It’s the one that really keeps us inspired to continue rather than giving up.
We can recognize the things that cause suffering in ourselves and others and we should do what we can to lessen these things.
The Buddha sometimes described life in terms of watering seeds. The seeds of anger, jealousy, and despair exist in our minds and we should try to refrain from watering them if we can. This means trying to bring happiness to ourselves and others.
The Paramita of Diligence represents striving to water positive seeds in our minds instead.
It’s said to have three components:
1) courage: the development of character. The will to walk the path with a sense on conviction and also to motivate others by our desire to walk the path.
2) spiritual training: taking our practice in our own hands. This component represents expressing our commitment to practice, not just when we’re in meditation, but in our daily lives as well. Talking about Buddhist concepts is great, but we really need to put them into practice at home too. Learning about the Paramita of Generosity, for example, is good, but we also need to actually put it into practice and be generous.
3) benefiting others: the Buddhist path is helping us to lessen our suffering and clear away our delusion and that is great. But, another important aspect is our wish to not cause suffering for others. We call this the way of the Bodhisattva.

The Paramita of Meditation

Meditation in this sense consists of two aspects.
First is stopping. Our minds run through our whole lives, chasing one idea after another. Stopping means to stop in the present moment, to settle our monkey minds and be here now. Everything is in this moment. With this meditation practice we can calm our minds. We can practice mindful breathing, mindful walking, and mindful sitting. This is also the practice of concentration, so we can live deeply each moment of our lives, touching the deepest levels of our being.
The second aspect of meditation is looking deeply to see the true nature of things. This is where we really cultivate an understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

The Paramita of Wisdom

This is the highest form of understanding, free from concepts, ideas, and views. Prajna is the seed of Enlightenment within us. This is what carries us to Enlightenment.
There is a lot of Buddhist literature on the Paramita of Wisdom (prajnaparamita), including the Heart Sutra and the Diamond Sutra. I really recommend reading these.
What we can talk about is looking deeply at the nature of things. Waves have a beginning and an end. Some are big and some are small. But they’re all made of water. They all come from and return to the same ocean. And, more importantly, they’re never truly separate from the ocean.
If we look deeply at ourselves and the world around us, we can come to understand that we have the same nature as these waves. We share the same ground of being as all other beings.
The Paramita of Wisdom represents our understanding of the oneness of things and it’s really considered the most important of the six perfections.


 

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The three treasures and two promises

This is a version of Buddhist vows created by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. I really like this version. It’s described in a way that anyone could easily understand.

 

The Three Treasures
I take refuge in the Buddha, the one who shows me the way in this life.
I take refuge in the Dharma, the way of understanding and love
I take refuge in the Sangha, the community that lives in harmony and awareness

 

The Two Promises

I vow to develop my compassion in order to protect the lives of people, animals, and plants.
I vow to develop understanding in order to live peaceably with people, animals, and plants.