We begin with where we are, what our priorities have been until now and what we wish to accomplish in the time remaining in our lives. We should ask, why limit ourselves with narrow and petty goals that leave us with a bitter taste? Why not turn to what is essential – the pure joy of being, unconditional love, and true presence.
How do we get to this state of true presence? Over time, meditation and mindfulness have shown us the way. That true joy is moments of internal peace, love and goodness, openness towards others, and to the world. That our wellbeing and happiness come from our state of mind. Phakchok Rinpoche’s “In the Footsteps of Bodhisattvas, Buddhist teachings on the essence of Meditation”, among many others, give us the structure to follow. References to seated meditation are often referred to as the chapters unfold below. I am also guided primarily by “The Way of Complete Perfection”, A Quanzhen Daoist Anthology by Louis Komjathy. Books by Alan Watts, especially “The Way of Zen”, and others will be added for emphasis with a focus primarily on capturing the flow of universal thought, looking to history and the Buddhist sutras. Emulating the traits of what it means to be a bodhisattva are a good way forward. How does the bodhisattvas vow mesh with Lao Tzu and Taoist thought and becoming the sage? Not just to what is “out there beyond us”, but something we simply do by our presence, the structure and discipline we live by and walk every day. A Buddhist practice does not require us to become Buddhists. With mindfulness and meditation, it could, with awakening to our highest endeavor and destiny… be the key to our own story, enlightenment and Zen.
- This is entry number one of over a dozen that are to follow.
In the footsteps of Bodhisattvas – 1 Aligning with what our lives should look like.
Key thought: Meditation is not an escape. It is the courage to look at reality with mindfulness. Thich Nhat Hanh Meditation is simply seeing things as they really are, learning to see what is, as it is.
What is it the steps look like:
- What is the reason for meditation and mindfulness? Why should a spiritual practice center on coming to a presence where we aspire to our highest endeavor and ultimate destiny? What is it that the Buddha’s vision of ultimate reality looks like? What is it that can be defined as our intangible essence, and why is it important to find and continue?
- It is finding the right conditions and aligning with what takes us there. In Buddhism this would be to mirror our authentic selves with authentic practice by what is known as “walking the path”. Or may be considered as traveling the path of complete awakening through connecting with and cultivating bodhicitta, the awakening mind of compassion and to what Watts called suffering, or better said that life as we usually live it is suffering. He tells us that the Buddha’s teachings convey the characteristics of being, or becoming, and the absence of self. (p 46)
- What is important in studying The King of Meditation Sutra we follow here, is that it includes instructions on how to behave, how to skillfully think, and how to use the material world to support your training with advice on getting out of your own way to enable your innate wisdom to come forward.
- This brings me to definitions. Understanding and applying Buddhism to our lives means having a sense of the premise of what you are thinking and talking about, especially in expressing ourselves to others. Something in Taoism we refer to as heart/mind. If you do not fully comprehend the meaning of common terms that are used such as arhat, bodhicitta, bodhisattva, dharma, samadhi, samsara, sangha, tathagata, the five aggregates, etc., then the content and context are lost.
- Especially if your practice centers on the act of sitting in meditation. It would be like setting out on an unknown path without knowing from where we came, rather we are on the correct path, and most importantly that we can reach our destination from the path we are taking. Also, there is a confidence in our own understanding when we can internalize the meaning when the path becomes us with insight becoming reality.
- So, while a glossary of terms may be included elsewhere, here are the ones used most frequently:
Arhat – In Buddhism, a perfected person, one who has gained insight into the true nature of existence and has achieved nirvana (spiritual enlightenment). The arhat, having freed himself from the bonds of desire, will not be reborn.
Bodhicitta – The awakening mind of compassion usually divided into what are two truths of reality – relative and the ultimate. First, relative is what we train in while on the path. And second, the ultimate is the complete enlightened state of being, to what is known as supreme samadhi in which we work for the good of all beings as if it were our own.
Bodhisattva – After buddhas, the most important beings in Mahayana iconography are bodhisattvas. The word bodhisattva means “enlightened being.” Very simply, bodhisattvas are beings who work for the enlightenment of all beings, not just themselves. They vow not to enter Nirvana until all beings enter Nirvana together.
Dharma – What consists of our character or essential qualities, our essence and virtue that connects us to the universe and to all things. The word often is defined as “the teachings of the Buddha.”
Samadhi – The highest form of meditation and mindfulness, it is where we connect with and experience the oneness found in the universe. A meditation that brings complete realization, total understanding, and one to equality. How we go from ignorance to enlightenment… to ultimately move beyond meditation and to become naturally virtuous, gentle, and loving.
Picture taken in Tibet at the Lhasa Jokhang Temple / Samadhi is a state of intense concentration achieved through meditation. The Jokhang Temple is the Spiritual Center of Tibet. Jokhang means ‘House of Buddha’. Located in the center of old Lhasa city, Jokhang Monastery is the prime seat of the Gelugpa (Yellow) Branch of Tibetan Buddhism. It was originally built in 647 AD.
Samsara – The continual repetitive cycle of birth and death that arises from ordinary beings’ grasping and fixating on a self and experiences. Specifically, samsara refers to the process of cycling through one rebirth after another within the six realms of existence.
Sangha – The community in which we live. Usually comprised in practical terms of people who may come together in a sitting practice of meditation.
Tathagata – This refers to a Mahayana Buddhist doctrine that Buddha Nature is within all beings. Because this is so, all beings may realize enlightenment. Often described as a seed, embryo, or potentiality within each individual to be developed.
The five aggregates – The five aggregates are form, sensation, perception, mental formation, and consciousness.
To the left is the depiction of the Paleta Place and surrounding area in Lhasa including the Sera Monastery where this picture was taken.
- The King of Meditation Sutra is a much referred to and used Mahayana scripture called the “Great Vehicle” of the Buddha’s teachings. It takes as its goal the liberation from suffering that leads to the realization of the twofold emptiness of self and of phenomena.
- We should acknowledge that emptiness does not mean that things do not exist, or the “no self” mean that we do not exist. Emptiness refers to the underlying nonseparation of life and the fertile ground of energy that gives rise to all forms of life.
- But we must first move beyond Samsara by the process of shifting past meditation as well, seeing our way to our highest endeavor by gaining wisdom, be virtuous, reduce our negative behavior and seeing the natural purity of everything. To gain the true nature of reality, meaning going to a vividness of our mind’s empty nature that lacks any permanent identity, to simple pure awareness and be willing to go there.
It is here I like to reference another source, a book entitled “The way of the White Clouds” by Govinda, where he discusses the fulfillment of the vow by the bodhisattva who retains the continuity of his consciousness over many lives and deaths on account of an aim that is bigger than of a single human existence. It is our higher aspirations and our aim that make us immortal – not the permanence of an immutable separate soul, whose very sameness would exclude us from life and growth and from the infinite adventure of the spirit and condemn us forever to the prison of our own limitations.
Reading the above multiple times to let the idea settle into thought is important. Its not an agree or disagree thing – but as a mechanism to be open to awareness, change, and reality. (p 130).
- It is here that the cross-over and merging for myself, moves from the traditional sage found in Taoism to that of the bodhisattvas and our actions in samsara – the mundane world. We take this step through our natural unfolding as a matter of expression. To attain this realization, we create positive conditions that support its unfolding. For many, meditation, and mindfulness of samadhi acceding to the highest attainment of themselves, is the goal.
The sutras from India going overland to Xian and what would become the Big Wild Goose Pagoda
- Chapter 1 of the sutra relays that we are not to hold those who suffer in contempt, but to give them wealth, and not to despise the impoverished. We are to have compassion for those with poor discipline, benefit others with helpful gifts, and to demonstrate loving-kindness. To act beyond judgment of others as we move closer to becoming our authentic selves without hypocrisy.
- Mindfulness means developing discernment and determining what should be either adopted or abandoned. In doing so, we are to keep a close eye on what motivates us. This kind of mindfulness requires continuous cultivation and joyful effort and brings clarity to our intentions.
I am reminded of Sun Ch’ang-hsing, who was a Taoist Master and seventh patriarch of the Dragon Gate sect of the Golden Lotus lineage and his commentary of Lao Tzu’s Chapter 16 of the Tao Te Ching, when he says, “Emptiness is the Way of Heaven. Stillness is the way of Earth. There is nothing that is not endowed with these, and everything rises by means of them”.
The Jintian Taoist Palace Temple at the top of Huashan Mountain in Anhui the home of Taoist priests and monks for thousands of years.
- Self-awareness and becoming skilled in knowing what is both helpful or harmful to ourselves and others by visualizing and observing our motivations is a key factor in having a positive seated meditation practice. This is the basis of mindfulness and beginning of insight and lasting wisdom.
- Settling our mind on the form, or visualization of the Buddha, brings us a calm awareness. Our power of concentration moves us to focus on both stillness and resting in the enhancement of our mind. With this, we are to develop the strength of our realization of emptiness by letting go of those things that no longer define us.
The Circle of Life depicted at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda in Xian
- Training our mind we learn to discard concepts, obtain fearlessness and confidence, and to rest in silence. As we come closer to the teachings of the Buddha, we can appreciate the meaning of ultimate reality and understand that there is little or nothing more to be said. Chapter 11 of the Sutra
- It is in this realization, we find ourselves returning to the discipline found in a pure heart, the Buddha, and comfort found in an awakened mind. With this wisdom, we choose our lives. We can go forward, stay only within the knowledge we now possess and practice a little, or simply return to the world of samsara.
- What is it that shapes our ultimate endeavor and destiny… and does it matter? Do we practice what is taught in The King of Meditation Sutra that brings us to happiness and worldly bliss? Move past this to what is called an arhat, who will attain the bliss of going beyond the afflictions of negative emotions. Or even a fully awakened Buddha, to profound samadhi that will lead to total mental purification, vast wisdom, and the unspeakable power of full awakening.
- What can our ultimate role be, but to move beyond worldly afflictions of negative emotions to become a fully awakened Buddha – practicing samadhi – moment by moment meditation that leads to total mental purification, vast wisdom, and full awakening… to follow in the footsteps of bodhisattvas.