What can it mean to possess a “zen mind”? Two books stand out that deserve attention before moving to the path of the bodhisattvas and more. Also, this entry is chapter two of thirteen and perhaps more, so we are just getting underway. So much is determined by the flow, patterns of how we live, and who and what we in turn follow…
First, is “The Snow Leopard”, by Peter Matthiessen, it is highly recommended and amazing as the author takes us on a journey of discovery that pulls us to who we are supposed to be, and to what some would say to who we have always been. I do not have space here for a book review but want to extract a few elements that contribute to the effort, and hopefully encourage you to go further for your own journey. Opening doors to ways of seeing what may be considered as old and putting a new twist on things that bring us to awakening and teaching what should be relevant. This is the first step to understanding what it means to pursue the courage of our existence by being right here right now and nowhere else.
What I liked especially in The Snow Leopard, as two friends trekked up the Himalayas in search of the snow leopard, was the author’s references to Buddhism and history. As well as the narrative of the trip itself. Matthiessen was a great storyteller. A character in the book who identifies himself as a Buddhist conveys ideal of the bodhisattva as one who has deferred his own eternal peace of nirvana, remaining here in the samsara state until all of us become enlightened; in this way Mahayana Buddhism answered man’s need for a personal god and divine savior. Saying the “universe itself is the scripture of Zen, for which no religion is no more and no less than the apprehension of the infinite in every moment.” He goes on to tell us that the traditional founder of Chan Buddhism (in Japan what became Zen) was Bodhidharma, a teacher in the line of Shakyamuni Buddha, who carried the teachings to China in 527 AD from India who was to be influenced by Lao Tzu and the Tao. And I would add the writings of Chuang Tzu, who was influential in showing the connections between what existed at the time in China, and what would follow. My friend Chuang will be added to the mix of over a dozen entries here as we tell the story as well.
The book conveys a continuity of thought, a universal flow that permeates us all. I have read The Snow Leopard a half dozen times and refer to it frequently. More on The Snow Leopard later.
In following the theme from Chapter One, 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. As well as the openness to change. That true joy is moments of internal peace, love and goodness, openness towards others, and to the world. That our well-being 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. This series continues to follow the path of the bodhisattva’s role in history and what we should consider as our own. Additionally, I am not an expert, simply someone opening doors to my own enfoldment and showing in as broad strokes as possible the way for others.
In the footsteps of Bodhisattvas – 2 Searching for the true me… you must first visualize the outcome and then go there.
Key thought: Releasing attachments to conditions in perpetual change. Clearing away ideas that say things should look and act a certain way and what the steps going forward should look like.
- We spend our time looking for substantiality where it does not exist. Looking for purpose and identity as the focus to who we are yet to become. The who, what where when and why of ourselves. But no matter what we rely on, who we are is nowhere to be found.
- We are to acknowledge that there is not a single thing that is not composed of other things. Every object is made up of parts and each part is made up of more parts and this continues indefinitely. We are as the ancient Chinese said simply one of the ten thousand things.
In looking at Chapter 22 of the Tao Te Ching, Wang Pi tells us, “As with a tree, the more of it there is, the farther it is from its roots. The lesser of it there is, the closer it is to its roots. More means more distant from what is real. Less means closer.” p. 44 Red Pine’s Taoteching.
To the right is the Fairy Maiden Peak on Yellow Mountain also known as Mount Huangshan in Anhui. I took this picture in October 2016.
- We are not our body as it is destined to decay. This being so who are we? It is our attachment to this body which creates complications and distractions. It is the Buddha that reminds us that we can learn to see how meaningless it is to remain overly attached to our physical body by remembering that we are not our body. That rebirth is neither a theory, nor a belief, but an experience.
- We need to realize selflessness to be free from attachment. Identifying the mind as the self, as an attempt to find the mind, is also fruitless. However, the mind creates all the facets of our present life.
- Because self does not exist, efforts to protect it with the hope of gaining lasting happiness are doomed from the beginning. It bears repeating, we need to realize selflessness, which frees us from both good and bad as we teach the Dharma of selflessness as Chapter 14 of the Sutra tells us, and that we are to be free from attachment. With this we can begin to stabilize both our meditation and mindfulness releasing our energy into universal samadhi.
Picture at left is the Buddha with bodhisattvas taken at the Shaanxi History Museum in Xian in Shaanxi Province
The Buddha offers a path that goes beyond this endless orbit: a path to nirvana. This path to selflessness is guided by the following:
a) We are to avoid all evil: Evil has been clearly presented in the Dhammapada known as selfish thoughts and actions. (The Dhammapada is a collection of sayings of the Buddha in verse form and one of the most widely read and best-known Buddhist scriptures) Sorrow will always follow these – they keep us locked in samsara’s orbit. Dhammapada means “the path of dharma,” the path of harmony and righteousness that anyone can follow to reach the highest good.
Picture to the left was taken in Chengdu at the Wuhou Memorial Temple
b) Cultivate the good: the good has been shown since the opening to be selfless thoughts and actions. We might readily think of this as being a martyr. However, a martyr is still caught in the game of “self”– sacrificing him or herself, sometimes for recognition, sometimes for self-gratification. The Buddha’s questioning of self is more radical. He questions the enduring entity of “I”, revealing that the self is a process that can be mastered, not a static entity. To be without self; those who realize this are freed from suffering. This is the path that leads to pure wisdom. And,
c) To purify your mind: This one follows from the other two. The task of the spiritual path is to master yourself–recognizing that you “are” an unfolding karmic set of conditions and acting in such a way that recognizes this impermanence, this ongoing flow: “states” without self. To put it simply, we can offer two verses from the opening chapter of the Dhammapada as guiding principles–lanterns lighting the path of purifying your mind: For hatred does not cease by hatred at any time; hatred ceases by love. This is an unalterable law.
- Our path requires us to have an appreciation for the effects of the Buddha’s view of suffering. We are to understand that without mindfulness we spread suffering as well. Learning what it means not to suffer, to be on the path – to move beyond suffering.
- We do need positive material conditions to contribute to our relative sense of well-being. That it is through the realization of selflessness that no one becomes afflicted. We can better understand this by looking at the relationship between mind and the sense of self and day-to-day life.
Picture to the right taken at the Sichuan Museum in Chengdu
- A key to understanding and practicing mindfulness is to look at how your belief in a self, determines almost every word coming from your mouth, every move you make, and every thought you think. Without mindfulness, you suffer, and you spread suffering.
We never seem too far removed from Taoism, and even Confucius, as we look to how they continuously shape our virtue over time. How, over thousands of years they shaped us, our thoughts, actions, and wisdom that was to ultimately define our role. It becomes the transition of one thing to another, from one generation to the next – from one mountaintop to another that becomes the elixir of eternity and us. What connects us all to the universe – the flow of wisdom that pervades everything. In honoring the bodhisattva, we must look also to the sage.
To the person seen by many in history as China’s greatest sage, Confucius. With the following, you can see the connection. Confucius says, “Do you think I learn to increase my knowledge?”. Tzu-kung answered, “Well, don’t you?” Confucius said, “No, I seek one thing that ties everything together” (Lunyu: 15.2).
- Your mind, as you proceed in your daily life, is the key to your virtue and Dharma as you acknowledge that you are not your body. With this our mindfulness makes us authentic.
- We can then begin to visualize that both the Buddha, and the best elements of the bodhisattvas – in my case a special reference for Mañjuśrī – can begin to dissolve into us. Their attributes are to become our attributes as well. Mañjuśrī in Sanskrit means “He who is noble and gentle”. Much more on Mañjuśrī later.
- The key to learning and practicing mindfulness is to be without conceit. In the King of Meditation Sutra, the Buddha tells us that to meditate on the nature of selflessness is to rest in the state in which conceit is entirely absent, and that when we are not engaged in meditation that we are in a conceited state of mind.
- We need to find whatever it is that is not the state of conceit for that is the genuine mindfulness of the Buddha and is enlightenment. In this state of the absence of conceit, even the idea of selflessness is not present. This state is not a vacuum or a dark nothingness, whether it is the awakened state of the presence we hope to attain.
- Approaching this awakened state, we need to understand how the Buddhas, and bodhisattvas are inseparable from us. In Tibetan Buddhist practice, we can visualize how they dissolve into us. It is in this midst of goodness our intrinsic nature no longer becomes defined as self, but as who we are yet to become.
I am reminded again of the mandalas I saw at the Sera Monastery in Lhasa from the standpoint of creative visualization. As if in meditation, you are guided and sustained by the living power of the sound, as if an internal knowing, coming from within. Crystalizing into the universal order of the mandala as we are reminded again that it is often art, literature, and music that takes us there.
- We are to gain trust in the potency of our present qualities and understand where they come from. The path we travel is where we are to learn to follow our innate eternal compassion and goodness.
- The underpinnings of compassion grow from an intuitive sense of knowing, even selflessness. That there is nothing that separates us from all things in the cosmos, that we were all one and share the same nature.
The compendium of perfect Dharma reads:
“O Buddha, a Bodhisattva should not train in many practices. If a Bodhisattva properly holds to one Dharma and learns it perfectly, he has all the Buddha’s qualities in the palm of his hand, and if you ask what that one Dharma is, it is Great Compassion. (mahākaruṇā).”
- We possess an intuitive sense of knowing that we are not independent selves and that we are connected to everything around us. With this, we know that violence and cruelty is wrong. This is in accordance with the Buddhist teachings.
The view from within the Arhat Buddhist Temple in Chongqing
- This is a central tenet of our spirit, requires little or no training and the nature of enlightenment. It is with this we began to gain and develop a quiet sincere mind.
- Dharma defines our essential qualities or character as if returning to the cosmos. It is here we gain the fundamental disposition that what is right is right and what is wrong is wrong. Adding that a moral compass appears when we see above both extremes to “it either is, or it isn’t” in accordance with Buddhist teaching.
- Dharma speaks through us as we act without sense of reward. We do good for the sake of doing good. Act without need for reward and know pure compassion.
- The most important thing to internalize in this teaching is that we have the capacity to improve because we are not a fixed entity. That there is always room for improvement.
- By focusing on compassion for all others, our compassion grows accordingly. By continuing to grow into a meditative practice, insight into selflessness will develop. When compassion and insight develop, samadhi overtakes you and thoughts of teaching this become real. Your ultimate role is yet defined.
As we are continually reminded that this samadhi is real and encompasses the highest form of compassion, mindfulness, and sincerity that we are to identify with, encompass, and become. The ah ha moment is coming when we can travel through time without the presence of ourselves.