A time for each of us to put aside political leanings and focus not only on our own highest endeavor, but that of all others. As we look beyond what is to what can be… to live in and through divine order simply through our own every-day presence. In neither a political nor religious context, just how we transform best into the oneness of the universe we all aspire to inspire by who we are meant to be.
Lending a hand – Wuhou Shrine Temple in Chengdu
This year, on this website, The Kongdan Foundation will focus of what Alan Watts called Zen. To understand Zen, we must first understand some of the basics of Mahayana Buddhism and Taoism/Lao Tzu. To how they move us to a practice – a way to live our lives. To do so requires us to see ourselves through meditation as bodhisattvas and the sage. Sometimes leaving behind pre-conceptions of how we see ourselves and believe things to be – maybe just for a moment of enlightening.
The Way of the Dragon – Qingyang Taoist Temple Chengdu
All the pictures of Buddhist and Taoist locations references were taken by myself. References to In the footsteps of Bodhisattvas are from a book by that title by Phakchok Kinpoche. Content is to aid in our efforts of mindfulness and meditation and living a more joyous and complete existence. The only requirement is proceeding with an open mind.
In the footsteps of Bodhisattvas – Going Forward
To become a good teacher, you must first become a good student. This means passing many tests as you simply remember and say ah so… Becoming one with the thoughts and words of the Buddha as they simply pass through and become you… as we continue to take steps to become and reveal the true “me” as a continuity with the past looking to the future. While I don’t consider myself an expert, only a novice who wishes to know more.
What becomes permanent is the impermanence of the words of the Buddha and Lao Tzu – that we in turn take beyond the beyond as we ask only of the bliss that defines us. It is to further in some small way, the meaning of Zen expressed so well by those who came before us. To center my own writing under the arc of teaching. For myself, there is an umbrella of wisdom we are to come under. It begins with the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha and what occurs with the synthesis of Tibetan, Chan, and Mahayana commentaries over the centuries.
Jokhang Monastery is a Buddhist temple in Barkhor Square in Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet. Tibetans, in general, consider this temple as the most sacred and important temple in Tibet.
To Lao and Chuang Tzu – as Taoism become central to the core understanding and wisdom through time. To even Confucius who added permanence and structure to what might be considered impermanence. It is not simply to proceed as a “practitioner” of accepted scripture, but to add to the wisdom that comes before us. With this, finding the King of Meditation Sutra, with its focus on getting our mind right for proper meditation, as a good continuing place to study with my own thoughts of the dual role of the bodhisattvas in Buddhism and the image of the dragon in Taoism. The key always to be free to take the next step.
It is the presence we look to each moment that is central to going forward. Sitting meditation for many helping to focus on the proper way bringing discipline first to our thoughts that translates into how we are to live. But it is moving beyond meditation to as I like to say to live beyond the beyond that shapes our path and core being. Understanding core concepts of this path to be taken is the essential first step. It is not simply to read the words and acknowledge – but to take to heart and become what you have read that fits with the path you follow as yourself.
The teachings of the Tao Te Ching and emblem of the dragon that takes us to previously unknown heights of awareness. The bell located at the Hall of Three Purities at the Qingyang Taoist Temple
For more than twenty-five years I have studied and lived as if following instructions laid down by mentors I am here to follow. My sometimes feeble attempts letting my humanness in the mundane world seemingly get the best of me. But in glimpses of my best efforts, I can see eternity looking back at me as if waiting for me to catch up… to simply get on with it as if time is of the essence as if furthering the cause. A compassion that conveys unconditional love as the essence of our soul and finding the proper vehicle that takes us there. As if we must first with sincerity give credit its due.
A book exchange at the Wenshu Buddhist Monastery (Manjushri Monastery) in Chengdu 2005
It was in this indivisible emptiness that the Buddha first discovered the enlightenment of compassion that was to shake us to our core. To develop the correct conduct, continuing presence, and ability to discern wisdom that guide us into realization that is free of suffering.
Over the following pages and entries several words and phrases are used where their definitions and meaning serve to take us to understanding and wisdom. Study them carefully as they have shaped the meaning of our lives and place in history. Their context and importance only limited to how we interpret them with the aim of appreciating and understanding our path, our own personal journey. The first example is the Buddhist word samadhi that refers to meditation and mindfulness that opens us to new beginnings.
Entrance to the Luohan Buddhist Temple in Chongqing
Some would say the highest samadhi is beyond absorption and beyond concept. It brings together the correct view of reality, authentic meditation, and altruistic activity. Along with our own virtue and behavior. We go there with the cultivation of loving kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity. It is with this we learn to walk the path, we can begin to understand our teachers, along with wisdom they share with us. To overflow with courage – To arrive at the blissful home of awakening… and become bodhisattvas and the sage ourselves.
What could become of our own highest endeavor and destiny. To have courage in our own state of becoming. In Taoism, it is said that the Master (Lao Tzu) would add “If people can understand the Way of Clarity and Stillness, then virtue and refinement will be complete”. (Page 84 of The Way of Complete Perfection). Picture at left from Qingyang Temple.
What is it that our own lives should look like, except the awakening mind of compassion that ultimately defines us? In Buddhism this is called bodhicitta, or “enlightened mind”, and is the mind that strives toward awakening, empathy, and compassion for the benefit of all sentient beings. Just how mankind might truly live out its life becomes what we aim at as our direction. This aiming or living while moving in a certain direction is what is meant by vow. In other words, it is the motivation for living that is different for a bodhisattva. Living within this awakened mind, or bodhicitta can be divided into two truths of reality. How we train in loving kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity – and apply this to the present with what we encounter on our path… as our aspiration.
The ultimate path or way of the bodhisattvas at the Sera Monastery in Lhasa, Tibet.
Second, the ultimate – how we move in the direction of our highest selves, our application. This refers to training and practicing the six perfections, which are – generosity, discipline, patience, joyful effort, meditation, and wisdom. These can be utilized as methods for the intentional cultivation of both absolute and relative bodhicitta.
It is with this we can appreciate the meaning of samadhi as the essence of meditation and mindfulness. Going forward means the above attributes become you with both our aspiration and application along with an awakening mind of compassion. How do we learn and take instruction on the path we are to take? To get out of our own way so that our innate wisdom can come forward naturally and we can travel the path of complete awakening. Ultimately the question becomes do our endeavors bring us to the path defined as that taken by the bodhisattva vow – and are we ready to go there? Are we ready to embrace the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha and the message of the Mahayana sutras? Capture for our heart/mind the essence of Lao, Chuang Tzu, Confucius and so many others who have led the Way?
I have been to Lhasa, Tibet and walked the famous path between the temples and monasteries, been to numerous Buddhist locations in China… Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing, Chengdu and the Giant Leshan Buddha. Visited numerous museums that highlight Buddhism in China, Longman Mountain to visit the cliffs, Songshan Mountain and Shaolin Temple south of Luoyang, Xian on numerous occasions to visit the Big Wild Goose Pagoda to study their place in history.
Does that make me a Buddhist, a Taoist, a transmitter of the ancient shaman and I Ching? Do I speak from ego… no, but simply as someone acknowledging the past… just as when I was teaching and living next to Confucius Mansion and Temple again in Qufu as a teacher and traveling extensively around China? I was simply at home again.
To live the practice, you must become the practice. You do not simply sit in meditation. The meditation becomes you. This is Zen. To move beyond sitting in meditation to living in the presence of who you are yet to become. What you do is nothing more than an extension of the existing virtue you possess as the world comes to greet you each day. The ultimate feng shui and kung fu… as you initiate nothing along the way. For myself, it is the transformation of our thoughts. To enable and take the next step as the sage – you must become sage-like. To become a bodhisattva, you must learn the process that takes you there. That is what In the Footsteps of Bodhisattvas, Buddhists Teachings on the Essence of Meditation and walking the path we will be following here is all about.
To understand Zen, you must first live in the essence of Zen… and that is what the year 2021 will be about.
Spinning the wheel at the Potala Palace in Lhasa, where a sutra or scripture resides in its center. Spinning the wheel is to release the sutra’s intent to bring you good fortune.
I have been to several Taoist mountains, temples, etc., and walked the walk in Qufu where Confucius lived and taught as well. Most simply serving as reminders and taking pictures of places I have been and seen before that help to define my ultimate purpose… As if re-capturing the essence of their impact for history’s sake, having been there, seeing what may have changed, and understanding what is important to my own journey. Pictures to help tell the story throughout this series that will ultimately reach over a dozen entries.
I seem late coming to Buddhism, having first written extensively for over twenty-five years about Lao Tzu and Taoism and living in Qufu, the home of Confucius where I taught and lived next to the Confucius Temple and Mansion. There is a famous saying that to be born a Taoist, live as a Confucian, and to die a Buddhist, is the ultimate endeavor. Rather seen as Dan, Dantzu, or Kongdan, I seem to have found the path I am here to travel as I once wrote – what I write is who I am to become. It seems that the study and pursuit of Zen, that combines all three (Taoism, Confucianism, and Mahayana Buddhism) is the path that opens the door to go where I like to refer to as beyond the beyond my becoming that lead to my destination.
With some of my students at the school where I taught across the street from where I lived in Qufu adjacent to the Confucius Mansion and Temple.
Now back to Mahayana Buddhism and the footsteps of bodhisattvas… There are many sutras that depict the teachings of the Buddha. Two of the most famous are the Heart Sutra, which is a short version of the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra, that expresses that “Everything is mind, mind is empty, the empty nature is clarity, and clarity is awareness. Pure awareness is Buddhahood; the state of Buddhahood does not have a path; that state does not have attainment; that state does not have nonattainment. That state is free of the five aggregates of form, feeling, perception formation, and consciousness, which constitute our entire experience.”
The bell at the Lama Buddhist Temple in Beijing
For many of us the question becomes “How do we practically get to an enlightened state of liberated or pure awareness through meditation.” The importance of the Heart Sutra is that it described the enlightened state, but it does not teach us how to practically get to it. Our time and purpose are to learn that all experiences of our lives must become meditation that gives rise to our ultimate freedom. That we are to define for ourselves the cause of pure aspirations of happiness in our lives. Everything we see, say, hear, touch, and do, can be as meditation – what we experience as our true selves.
A second sutra is the King of Meditation Sutra that is seen as a pillar of the Tibetan meditation tradition. It is the appreciation of this sutra that is followed from this point with Chapter 1 to follow.