The key is remembrance. Whether it’s remembering to come back to the present moment, recalling the truth of impermanence, or who we have always been and are still yet to become. We are reminded of images of our past as our continuing presence and what is yet to be determined.
Picture of Dan in Qufu standing next to place known as “Confucius Hill” along the Xiaoyi River where Confucius is said to have taught his students more that 2500 years ago. Confucius romanticized name is Kong. Because I was a teacher in Qufu and my respect for Confucius, in China I became known as Kongdan. Hence… the Kongdan Foundation.
Our practice (the Buddhist word for how we live moment to moment) is living in transparency. Having a mindful presence. Becoming fearless in both life and death. We all know that we’re going to die, but we don’t know it in our guts. If we did, we would practice, i.e., live as if our hair were on fire. One way to swallow the bitter truth of mortality and impermanence—and get it into our guts—is to consider the four reminders. That we are not here under the auspicious of legitimizing our path, while de-legitimizing the path of another. The ultimate meaning of becoming transparent. The four reminders, joined with mindfulness meditation, instill a strength of mind that benefits both self and others.
These reminders, also called the four reversals, were composed by Padmasambhava, the master who brought Buddhism from India to Tibet. They can be viewed as representing the trips Siddhartha took outside his palace that eventually transformed him into the Buddha. During these trips, Siddhartha encountered old age, sickness and death, and developed the renunciation that turned his mind away from the distractions and deceptions of the outer world and in toward silence and truth. They help us keep moving more and more in line with what’s real and true, as opposed to getting continually sidetracked and distracted by what’s easy, convenient, or what we think we want based on external influences.
As with mindfulness itself, the four reminders provide another way to work with distraction. They bring the key instruction from The Tibetan Book of the Dead to not be distracted to a more comprehensive level. The four reminders show us that it’s not just momentary distraction that’s problematic but distraction at the level of an entire life. If we’re not reminded, we can waste our whole life. The Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche presented them this way:
FIRST Contemplate the preciousness of being so free and well favored. This is difficult to gain and easy to lose. Now I must do something meaningful.
SECOND The whole world and its inhabitants are impermanent. In particular, the life of beings is like a bubble. Death comes without warning; this body will be a corpse. At that time, the dharma will be my only help. I must practice it with exertion.
FOURTH The homes, friends, wealth, and comforts of samsara are the constant torment of the three sufferings, just like a feast before the executioner leads you to your death. I must cut desire and attachment and attain enlightenment through exertion.
How long should we contemplate these reminders? Until our mind turns. Until we give up hope for samsara (the worldly cycle of birth and death) and realize the folly of finding happiness outside of ourselves. Most of us spend our lives looking out at the world, chasing after thoughts and things. We’re distracted by all kinds of objects and rarely investigate the mind that is the ultimate source of these objects. If we turn our mind and look in the right direction, however, we will find our way to a good life… and a good death. Instead of being carried along with the external constructs of mind, we finally examine the internal blueprints of mind itself. How is it we are to live – as we become fearless.
As stated earlier we begin with our conduct as an expression of our motivation. This idea has been the thread of the King of Meditation Sutra we have been following. What is the circle of life, but what moves us beyond where we now sit that further defines our presence? Mahayana Buddhism as illustrated by The King of Meditation Sutra, Lao Tzu, and others continues below in Chapter Nine, representative of the continuing eternal journey we all take together.
In the footsteps of Bodhisattvas – Buddhist teachings on the essence of Meditation / Chapter 9 Finding joy in samadhi… a continuing commentary.
Key thought: To cultivate awakening with a joyful presence.
- The King of Meditation Sutra stresses our focus should be on joyful effort with an emphasis on awakening within the context of samadhi. The bodhisattvas are to cultivate this samadhi to see and act beyond themselves.
- How do we define samadhi for our own growth and change? (The term ‘samādhi’ derives from the roots ‘sam-ā-dhā’, which means ‘to collect’ or ‘bring together’, and thus it is often translated as ‘concentration’ or ‘unification of mind’.) How do we create the perfect union of the individualized soul with infinite spirit, a state of oneness, complete absorption? Samadhi means many things to many people.
It is an experience of divine ecstasy as well as of superconscious perception where the soul perceives the entire universe. In other words, human consciousness becomes one with cosmic consciousness. The soul realizes that it is much more than the conditioned body. Christian saints have previously described this experience as “mystical marriage,” in which the soul merges into God, soul, and spirit and becomes one with Him. Mystical marriage or spiritual marriage (also espousal to Christ) is a figure used to denote the state of a human soul living intimately united to God through grace and love.
- Throughout history people have tried to realize the ultimate meaning of samadhi and live within the trajectory of what nourishes our highest aspirations. Understanding that whatever can be the truth can be our teacher. The ancient shaman taught our connection to the stars, nature, and our surroundings would be what defined our own history as we live within the constraints of this wisdom.
- It begins with our merit for all fear to melt away and the realization of our commitment to dawn from within. Therefore, wisdom from the teachings of the Buddha and others we have studied and gained insight from is critical. The Buddhist always recognizes that what is left undone in this life will/can be done in the next life. This assurance allows us to work on merit that moves us to a higher realm of consciousness and to become emblematic of transcendence. To rest assured with who we have always been and will always be.
- It is walking the path without doubt that enables us to know what we need to do and live in the world with this understanding. It is this that guides our meditation practice with clarity and sincerity towards our own life and the lives of others. With this we learn the impermanence of all phenomena in nature, the laws of cause and effect, and reasons why staying in samsara is not for us.
- It is as if we are trading what we think we know, for the comfort found in what we do not but would if we could. We inspire ourselves through a practice that takes us beyond anything we can imagine. It is here we consider the Tibetan word for diligence as joyful effort that results in pure insight as the ultimate expression of our own divinity.
- Ultimately, the question becomes “what is our mindset and where are we doing it from, who are we and where do we go from here?” There is a transformation of consciousness that we look to at some point with exertion becoming necessary if we are to be transformed. The King of Meditation Sutra tells us that if we are to stabilize samadhi, we must remain committed to the process. What we then find is joy by integrating instructions we receive into a meditative and mindful practice.
- Is it as Ram Dass says, that if you are happily ignorant in the present perhaps enlightenment is not something you are interested in pursuing knowing you are embraced by the buddhas. Since this is about Buddhism, Taoism, and Zen, the diligence needed or spoken here may not for everyone. In “following the bodhisattva path where we gain their blessings and qualities”, we not only help others along the way, but also help ourselves develop towards attaining enlightenment. If this is not fitting with our life choices and they lead elsewhere, then we should look elsewhere.
- Taking the path of meditation and mindfulness is not one for the fainthearted. It requires work. For many it is referred to as a practice. It is not something we do… it becomes who we are. It is how we live with structure and compassion encompassing all those that have been discussed in the chapters preceding this one. It is about persistence, training, and learning about ourselves.
- We look to the benefits of following the King of Meditation Sutras and other teachings over the centuries that show us the way. What are the values of the sutras? They provide a description of advantages of practice gained over thousands of years, along with accounts of those who have made the Dharmic journey. I have been to numerous Buddhist Temples and Monasteries, museums with artifacts dating thousands of years, the Longman grottoes, Giant Leshan Buddha, throughout China, plus Lhasa, Tibet, and more, as inspired and illustrated throughout this endeavor. Telling the story that was a purpose in my travels.
- Traveling with Lieh, Chuang, and Lao Tzu and writing books about the I Ching, Taoism, and the role of the sage, has given me a perspective to become re-acquainted with my peers as if becoming a sage is simply not enough. Studying the ways of bodhisattvas is essential as well… knowing our place and what we do when we arrive.
- What is important is being guided by both aspiration and inspiration. I am reminding of how over the centuries Buddhism and Taoism came together in China. In a famous commentary of Chapter 16 of the Tao Te Ching by Te Ch’ing, a Buddhist monk, who lived in the 15th that century reads:
“To know what truly endures is to know that Heaven and Earth share the same root, that the ten thousand things share the same body, and there is no difference between self and others. Those who cultivate this within themselves become sages, while those who practice this in the world become rulers. Rules become rulers by following the Way of Heaven. And Heaven becomes Heaven by following the Tao. And the Tao becomes the Tao by lasting forever.”
Te Ch’ing established a monastery in the 1500’s at Mount Lao, or Laoshan, on the coast of the Shandong Peninsula where I visited in 2017. (Pictured here) Laoshan is known as one of the birthplaces of Taoism. It is the place where the Complete Perfection School of Taoism developed that is often referred to in these pages.
- Chapter 38 of the King of Meditation Sutra says that the bodhisattvas should focus on three areas. First, the exhaustion of afflictive emotions; second, becoming a field of merit; and third, generating roots of virtue with the wish to obtain the wisdom of the buddhas. Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching became the benchmark, with Buddhism’s teachings the fulcrum, and Confucius the overriding structure that made it work over the centuries.
This idea of virtue was the connection between the three competing philosophies in China (Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism). Over the centuries, they merged into a workable framework that allowed each to flourish. A famous picture of Lao Tzu, the Buddha, and Confucius over a vat of vinegar from the Song Dynasty in 1000 BC tells the story.
- It is becoming a field of merit as we rise above negative thoughts and emotions in the mundane world with the teachings of the Buddha that remains the key through virtue and wisdom. In doing so it is important that we accept our own greatness through our power of awareness.
- Observing our actions is a central focus of self-awareness, how we control our emotions, how much our thought creates new thoughts, and how much attachment you have considering your own merit. It is from here that we continually focus of the attainment of wisdom. With this we vanquish the negative and ascend the positive through diligence.
- To go beyond is to embody both wisdom and virtue. That the teachings of the Buddha, samadhi, and Lao Tzu form the underpinnings of our journey with both our heart and soul fully entrusted to the outcome. When you see yourself on the path rejoice in the power of your vision and ultimate destination.
- We are to be active for others sake and our actions reflecting a higher good as we engage in positive activity. Focusing and setting our mind to the thoughts of our mentors. In addition to the Buddha, others come to mind including Lao and Chuang Tzu from Eastern thought and philosophy, as well as Emerson, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and others in the West. Emulating the thoughts of our mentors should be reflected by our actions. Garnering or gathering merit as we re-discover the flow of the cosmos we have always known.
- Set your mind on awakening and loving-kindness through diligence as you gain the quality of your mentors through merit. It is here that we come to know unrelenting joy as we refine diligence by 1) continuously recalling impermanence, 2) tame negative emotions, 3) become a field of merit, and 4) by attaining wisdom.
Living in Zen – Reflecting thoughts of the cosmos and eternity with the essence of joyful spiritual presence, mindfulness, and gaining an appreciation of samadhi while taking others to places they might not otherwise go… as we live and follow in the footsteps of Bodhisattvas.