It begins with questioning the norms of what we take for granted with our limited knowledge of what is real or not and understanding the true meaning of equanimity and what it means to freedom, mindfulness, and meditation. To what we have referred to as what the Buddhists refer to as samadhi. To places our essence wants to lead or take us to, perhaps to becoming a Bodhisattva or sage.
If you look up synonyms of the word equanimity, you see the likes of calmness, composure, detachment, serenity, and tranquility. If you look further and try to define, you see… mental or emotional stability or composure, especially under tension or strain; calmness; equilibrium. We begin by seeking balance, historically by centering ourselves with the movements of tai chi. What is known as divine order, i.e., aligning ourselves with what we have always known and the stars.
Our purpose connecting again to the stillness of an eternal flow. Not only with what we do, but with who we are as we look to mindfulness and the above as our guide.
Someone whose books and writings have helped us to cross-over from Western to Eastern thought and back, was catholic priest Thomas Merton. He was an amazing author of many books whose influence has been immeasurable in helping us to see beyond ourselves and what we think we know that defines us. Merton became a keen proponent of interfaith understanding, exploring Eastern religions through his study of mystic practice. He is particularly known for having pioneered dialogue with prominent Asian spiritual figures, including the Dalai Lama; Japanese writer D.T. Suzuki; Thai Buddhist monk Buddhadasa, and Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh.
He traveled extensively while meeting with them and attending international conferences on religion. In addition, he wrote books on Zen Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism, and how Christianity related to them. This was highly unusual at the time in the United States, particularly within the religious orders of Catholicism he had followed for many years. He would be a great teacher for Alan Watts and Ram Dass, who would not hesitate to take the next step to greater understanding we all could then follow.
More than twenty years ago now, there is no one who opened the door that influenced me more with thoughts of freedom to travel the universe than Chuang Tzu. Thomas Merton’s book was like the glide path, a beacon to awakening, that would say yes you can go home again. There are so many thoughts that serve to compliment how we are to live with ideas of wu wei that make all things unconditioned that are to remain in perfect harmony with the whole. Reflect on this for a moment – maybe for a lifetime. Our actions are to be effortless and spontaneous because they are done “rightly” in perfect accordance with our nature and with our place in the scheme of things. That all things must have an equal opportunity at life’s enfoldment. This is the bliss that Joseph Campbell was referring to.
This is the true definition of wu wei… not inaction, but “perfect action” and one’s cosmic humility as a man or woman who realizes their own nothingness who becomes totally forgetful of themselves. To what Chuang refers to as seeing all things in the light of “direct intuition and our making a pivot”. Chuang Tzu’s “pivot” and ideals expressed as the “perfected man” were to become a central core to incorporating the essence of Tao and Zen as a way of life.
You cannot underestimate the influence and flow from Lao and Chuang Tzu and the Vedas of Hinduism, to what was to become of Taoism, and what was to lead to this “direct intuition” of Chan and later Mahayana Buddhism described below that moved into Western philosophy and what was to influence Emerson’s thoughts on Nature and what would become transcendentalism and Zen as we would come to understand and know.
Something that appears in Emerson’s essay entitled “The Over-soul” is expressed as:
“We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. Meantime within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related, the eternal ONE. And this deep power in which we exist and whose beatitude is all accessible to us, is not only self-sufficing and perfect in every hour, but the act of seeing and the thing seen, the seer and the spectacle, the subject, and the object, are one. We see the world piece by piece, as the sun, the moon, the animal, the tree; but the whole, of which these are shining parts, is the soul”.
The central message Emerson drew from his Asian studies was that “the purpose of life was spiritual transformation and direct experience of divine power, here and now on earth.”
When I said in an earlier entry the idea of “moving beyond zazen” this is what I was referring to. Becoming at ease and one with the rhythms of eternal flow and having no fear of where it leads. When we do meditation, it is connecting with the never-ending stream of consciousness that already exists within us. To the One Emerson is referring too. When we talk about “being present”, it means that there is no place to go because you are already here. Willingness to remain fearless and taking the next step conveying how death is only the continuum. To what brings our life its ultimate joy. Living simply becoming the extension of who we have always been. This is the freedom expressed by Emerson and Chuang Tzu. If you want to get an introduction to life’s meaning, I could not recommend studying both and Merton’s book more strongly.
For the Taoist, it always begins with cause and effect, adhering to “complimentary opposites”, the I Ching, and the fallacy of seeing things only as right and wrong as Chuang explains so well below. One of my great friends and teachers over time has been Chuang Tzu and his thoughts on “the perfected man”. Chuang Tzu was a transitional figure in Chinese history who lived in about 300BC, considered by some as the father of what was to become “Chan Buddhism”. What would come of taking the next step that would later become the benchmark for Zen.
He saw through the abstract nature of Lao Tzu to how to in more practical terms make it all come together – seeing beyond what may appear as obvious. Often questioning and laughing at man’s attempts at seeing beyond ourselves and ego. It was Chuang Tzu’s belief that death was nothing more than a continuation of spirit that moved us to another realm of understanding that served as a major part of his enduring legacy, especially with what was to become Chan and later Zen Buddhism. So much of the flow we create is for the purpose of adding to what already exists, as if once we understand our greatest endeavor, we can do nothing but do our best to follow it.
Something I wrote more than twenty-five years ago that appears here on my website in an unpublished manuscript entitled “My travels with Lieh Tzu” describes Chuang Tzu’s argument well…
Chuang Tzu’s Argument
Who can think things out in analytical terms, and why should they when there can be no judgment? No determination as to what can be right or wrong in our thoughts, actions, or deeds. If alternatives are non‑existent to time and space, what could be the difference? If as the Tao says, nothing is either noble or base (good or bad) and all things say they are noble and another base, then where is judgment?
As conventional wisdom or what may be considered common sense expands, then neither good or bad can stand alone and cannot depend upon themselves. If you try to judge by degree or get the upper hand then arguing from one position or the other can lead only to seeing one place in relation to another. If judgments are rendered from a position where something is big in relation to smaller things, then all things become big. If you argue that they are small, then all things become small. If you can argue that heaven and earth may be treated as a tiny grain of sand, then all things remain perfect and be such.
If you make judgments based on the function of something, then if you judge them from those which they have then all things have them. If you judge them from what they lack, then all things lack them. If you know that east and west are opposites, yet cannot do without each other, then is not their functions predetermined?
Faces of terra cotta warriors in Xian
What can all this mean? Can any judgment be made by what is considered rational? Who can know? Who can say?
Just as in arguing tastes. If you argue that to people who consider them to be good, then all things are good. If you argue for those who disapprove or disagree and say they are bad, then they must be bad. If you know of two people who believe the opposite has occurred, that one believes he is right and the other wrong, standards of taste will be seen in proportion.
In the end if all things remain equal, or in balance as such, then who can there be to judge right and wrong? And can right and wrong truly exist? 4/14/95
Note… Chapter four discussing loving-kindness was getting too long. I had to split in two. Chapter 4A including numbers 1 through 12 was in the previous entry and 4B containing 13 to 30 is below. Currently, there are thirteen chapters in total planned for this discussion. That may change. The narrative in each chapter is divided into numbers to aide as discussion points and referencing. It is a lot, but you can keep coming back for more.
In the footsteps of Bodhisattvas – Buddhist Teachings on the essence of Meditation
4B Loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity.
Key thought: My friends the dragons tell me that I must come to know and practice these four attributes to truly become a sage. Chuang Tzu would laugh at human frailty and such attempts at freedom as universal love becomes the source of our eternal joy.
- As we acknowledge our behavior, we should recognize our own patterns of self-centeredness in learning the first step needed for developing compassion, asking ourselves – what is the key to compassion and what is it we need to improve as we move to non-judgment?
- It begins when the ego no longer exists. What the Buddha refers to in The King of Meditation Sutra when he says “Therefore, you teach them emptiness, profundity (sagaciousness), peace, and nonconceptuality.” The profound equality of all beings is when the “I or ego” no longer exists. This compassion that cannot be separated from emptiness is the ultimate samadhi.
- We are to develop compassion while enhancing our realization of emptiness. Chapter 13 of the Sutra talks about being in line with samadhi. Proceeding without a reference point, without mental engagement, the extinction of perception, to be without afflictive emotions, to be without the need for elaborations, along with the ultimate training of bodhisattvas within the domain of the tathagatas. The perfection of these qualities is seen as the clear demonstration of the true meaning of samadhi.
Stone carvings from the Jiming Buddhist Temple near where you can enter the top of the Nanjing City Wall.
- Bodhisattvas are clear minded, i.e., their minds are not confused. They exhibit great compassion and help others in many ways. The highest compassion is non conceptual and is indivisible from the highest insight.
- Our presence should be guided by focusing our meditation and daily activities on both compassion and emptiness. Combining compassionate aspiration with meditation free from self-interest and ego is crucial to finding joy and realization.
18, Compassion is your mirror and exhibiting dignity indicates rather you have realized your innate nature. Do not confine yourself to a self-centered agenda acting only with awareness and love. Dignified compassion comes from recognizing the intrinsic goodness of every being. All to be treated equally, fairly, with awareness, and love.
- We are to know compassion without duality – not demonizing some and glorifying others. Our compassion for others is to be universal, beyond empathy to include all beings free from clinging to our own experiences. Compassion means wishing all beings to be free from suffering and the cause of suffering. This aspiration of compassion becomes us as meditation relays our intent and our voice.
- We begin by seeing the positive in all things and living within the confines of the goodness of our own awakening and nature. Finding joy in the merit and nature of others as we acknowledge suffering and how to alleviate suffering by teaching compassion.
- We are meant to be free to be an expression of eternal joy and to rejoice in the goodness of others. The Buddha tells us that when we take joy in the actions of those working towards awakening, we move more rapidly along the path as well.
- To practice rejoicing we must see all sentient beings as our loved ones. With emptiness as our starting point and as our experience, negativity cannot gain a foothold on our thoughts and actions. We are to focus on our own intuitive positive qualities and simply build on them.
Dragon stone carving at the entrance of the Wenshu (Mañjuśrī) Buddhist Monastery in Chengdu
- We change our mindset when we have a problem by speaking to ourselves with a knowing small smile. Focusing only on ourselves diminishes us from appreciating the success of others. When we are happy for the success of others, we can become happy for our own happiness as well. We should not be too self-focused.
- It is often said that the best way to persuade is by listening with your ears often to what is not said in the silence. The root of virtue is the mind free from the three poisons of aversion, attachment, and ignorance. While the root of merit is the practice of the six perfections, or what is known in Sanskrit as paramitas. They constitute what is known when engaged in bodhicitta – as the mind of compassion.
- These six paramitas are known as generosity, discipline, patience, diligence, and meditation. These five are considered as the source of merit. When these are embraced by the sixth – transcendent wisdom, they become true paramitas, or perfections. A virtuous mind that practices paramitas is filled with supreme joy… This is the mind of the Bodhisattva.
Chuang Tzu’s teachings many times were paradoxical saying that you never find happiness until you stop looking for it. He was saying that happiness can be found only by not seeking it and through non-action. In Tao everything is found everywhere. It is acting with freedom from care, that all action is “perfect joy because without joy one cannot be happy in anything.” We come to find perfect harmony with the whole as action that is both effortless and spontaneous. (page 28 The Way of Chuang Tzu) To what would be referred to as having a virtuous mind and developing merit. Why is merit so important… as we come forward to look to patterns and symbols that show us the way.
- Inspiration and support from the minds of Bodhisattva creates a virtuous environment and impact on our lives and the lives around us. We are to rejoice in the confidence of others who like us, have confidence in the Buddha, Lao Tzu, and other spiritual teachings. This enhances our own relationship with the Dharma (our essential nature that connects us to the cosmos) and increases merit.
Picture from the Shanghai Museum
- To dedicate your merit to the awakening of all beings is the ultimate act of joy as we are to regard all beings equally, without anger or partiality. This sense of equanimity is what ultimately carries us forward with a caring, loving mind. This equanimity can be separated into three levels:
1) The first level of equanimity can be when we see all sentient beings with an equal amount of love. Buddhists understand we have many lifetimes of connection with every being. We nurture this understanding to the point that it arises and our experience, and eventually we can walk in the world with it.
2) The second level of equanimity relates to our nature. We see that all beings share the same essence – the essence of the Buddha. That is, we recall that we all have Buddha nature.
3) The final equanimity is to be free from both concepts of equal and unequal. Such freedom brings supreme flexibility. When this happens, we have no clinging to ideas, we have no judgment.
- The essence of equanimity is to be incapable of clinging to anything. This brings love and understanding, and it is from this place our compassion becomes vast as space as we engage in the art of becoming our true selves.
- What can be the goal of our true aspirations except as expressed as follows:
1) May all beings have happiness and the cause of happiness; 2) May they be free from suffering and the cause of suffering; 3) May they never be separate from the supreme happiness devoid of suffering; and 4) May they remain in boundless equanimity beyond attachment and aversion to those near and far.
- We should nurture the understanding that throughout infinite lifetimes of connection, all beings have been our mothers. With a love that extends to everyone equally, recall that we all have Buddha nature. Again, and again, we call out that everyone has Buddha-nature. When this recollection becomes strong, direct, and authentic, concept free equanimity will unfold.