Aspiring first to equanimity, to the wu wei of Chuang Tzu’s pivot, and the merit of the bodhisattvas and sage as symmetry fit for the ages.

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.

  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

  1. 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

  1. 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. 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

  1. 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.
By 1dandecarlo

History may not repeat itself, but it vibrates with the stars as our virtue that continually defines us.

Every great story begins with a question you cannot yet answer, or better said know what the answer will be. Because the answer flows naturally with the story yet to be told. What is it that defines us except the way we live our story as we interact with others? Who are we really? If we are not ourselves, are we here? Secondly, is what we think of the meaning of illusion. We often hear in Buddhism that life is but an illusion. If we think in terms of what that means in the context of “what we think we know and take for granted”, that may not make much sense to us. Always to be underestimated from the outset, it has always been those who rise to the moment in service to something greater than themselves.

The Giant Leshan Buddha depicting Maitreya, was built at the convergence of two rivers south of Chengdu (the Min and Dadu River) to have the Buddha’s  assistance in flooding that occurred every Spring.  

Locally it is known as “the mountain is a Buddha, and the Buddha is a mountain” and is next to the Wuyou Buddhist Temple and Taoist Cave that illustrate the connection between the I Ching, Lao Tzu, and the Buddha. I have been here many times.

There were two primary paths through ancient China to Xian and the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, and beyond. First, the southern route through Chengdu and by extension the Giant Buddha, and second over the Silk Route taking a caravan across the Himalayas to Xian and points east. To Huashan Mountain, the Longman Grottoes, and Luoyang and the White Horse Buddhist Temple – by tradition, the first Buddhist temple in China, then south to Songshan Mountain and the Shaolin Temple. Eventually to Qingdao and Mount Laoshan, the place where the Complete Perfection School of Taoism developed and the most important mountain in China north of Qufu, Tai’an Mountain. I have been to all of these (to Mount Tai’an more than a dozen times over the years) all-encompassing over twenty years of traveling in China. All depicting a flow of energy as if a travelogue mirroring eternity. What had been called and known in many ancient cultures as the “Stretching of the Cord” ritual to align the sacred monuments to the stars with ourselves.

Bixia Temple at the top of Mount Tai, aka the shrine of the Blue Dawn.

All the above are not listed in ego but denoting a constant flow that is always prevalent and present. The pictures tell the story as much as the narrative I might add. I generally always travel alone. Sometimes one of my students from my teaching days would join me. Helpful because I cannot speak or read Chinese… what a pity.  Always traveling with the caveat of catching up with where I left the last time. As if always on a pilgrimage, with no real destination only an outline of what remains unknown… that I am here to re-discover, acknowledge, and become.

The Immortal Dragon Lynx from the Kong Family Mansion in Qufu

Its why understanding the role of the sage and bodhisattvas is important that take us there. It was as if teaching in Qufu at Jining University and the Confucius School adjacent to the Confucius Temple and Kong Family Mansion (Confucius Mansion) was to “wake me up to my highest endeavor” once I knew I could return to USA. The greatest challenge is discipline and staying the course. Turning to the role of the sage and Bodhisattva… tells me I still have so much to learn and remember.

How can life be an illusion, if when I fall and hurt myself… my body and the hurt is not seen or felt as an illusion. Perhaps we have been looking at what is illusion in the wrong way? But then the question becomes, am I my body?” What is it that history teaches us and why is it so important?

The Upanishads are late Vedic Sanskrit texts of religious teaching and ideas still revered in Hinduism. They are the most recent part of the oldest scriptures of Hinduism, the Vedas, that deal with meditation, philosophy, and ontological knowledge; other parts of the Vedas deal with mantras, benedictions, rituals, ceremonies, and sacrifices.

Among the most important literature in the history of Indian religions and culture, the Upanishads played an important role in the development of spiritual ideas in ancient India, marking a transition from Vedic ritualism to new ideas and institutions.

The book to the left “Breath of the Eternal, the Upanishads, The Wisdom of the Hindu Mystics” is the principal texts selected and translated from the original Sanskrit.

Upanishads means “sitting near devotedly”, which conjures images of the contemplating student listening with rapt attention to the teachings of a spiritual master.

These are widely considered to be philosophical and spiritual meditations of the highest order. Several years ago, when I lived in Boynton Beach, there was a Hindu Temple. I helped with their site plan for a new temple in the city when I was with the planning department. I was invited and attended several of their celebrations and learned a little about their religion. I was always extremely impressed.

Of all Vedic literature, the Upanishads alone are widely known, and their central ideas are at the spiritual core of Hinduism. The Upanishads describe the universe, and the human experience, as an interplay of Purusha (the eternal, unchanging principles, consciousness) and Prakrti (the temporary, changing material world, nature).[1] The former manifests itself as Atman (soul, self), and the latter as Maya. The Upanishads refer to the knowledge of Atman as “true knowledge” (Vidya), and the knowledge of Maya as “not true knowledge” (Avidya, Nescience, lack of awareness, lack of true knowledge).[2]

Hendrick Vroom explains, “the term Maya [in the Upanishads] has been translated as ‘illusion’, but then it does not concern normal illusion. Here ‘illusion’ does not mean that the world is not real and simply a figment of the human imagination. Maya means that the world is not as it seems; the world that one experiences is misleading as far as its true nature is concerned.”[3] According to Wendy Doniger, “to say that the universe is an illusion (māyā) is not to say that it is unreal; it is to say, instead, that it is not what it seems to be, that it is something constantly being made. Māyā not only deceives people about the things they think they know; more basically, it limits their knowledge.” [4]

1)Paul Deussen, The Philosophy of the Upanishads, p. 161, at Google Books, pages 161, 240-254

2)Ben-Ami Scharfstein (1998), A Comparative History of World Philosophy: From the Upanishads to Kant, State University of New York Press, page 376

3)H.M. Vroom (1996), No Other Gods, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, page 57

4)Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty (1986), Dreams, Illusion, and Other Realities, University of Chicago Press, page 119

Why discuss this now in a discussion about Zen Buddhism? It is a matter of opening doors to seeing things in a different way. Things that are perceived as a “given” that fit into our understanding may not be well understood in the context of what we think we know but may not. A symmetry we find married to cause and effect. Mind altering consciousness looking to our becoming our true authentic selves depends on it… and seeing beyond illusion. Also, Buddhism moved from India to China and elsewhere thousands of years ago as illustrated with the Leshan Giant Buddha above. To understand its beginnings, it is important to go where its roots are. A study of both Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism helps to do that.

Note… Chapter four discussing loving-kindness is getting too long. I had to split in two. Chapter 4A includes numbers 1 through 12 and 4B contains 13 to 30. 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.

In the footsteps of Bodhisattvas – Buddhist Teachings on the essence of Meditation

4A 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. Universal love must become the source of our joy as the compilation of who we have always been and will be again.

  1. Coming to terms… First understanding the meaning of what defines our own authenticity by becoming equal-minded through meditation. It is by practicing loving kindness we begin our own daily activities and practice.

In Taoist history, the tales of Taoist sages counted their age in terms of epochs, not years, and would add a counting stick to a pile to mark each epoch of man. Heaven representing a Taoist paradise, while cranes represent longevity.

(Crane depicted on left is from the Confucius Temple in Qufu. I taught at school adjacent to the Confucius Temple a few years ago. Picture of crane on right is from the Qingyang Taoist Temple in Chengdu).

  1. Remain within pure compassion, and forever equal-minded toward enjoyments and the whole of existence. By cultivating samadhi through meditation and mindfulness, we will attain awakening. (from Chapter 9 of The King of Meditation Sutra).
  2. We begin by planting the seed of loving kindness and compassion in our hearts. We then begin to develop the four immeasurables of loving kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity. As we cultivate these, we begin to see where there is more work to be done.
  3. It is when we take on these qualities as we embrace emptiness, we enter the Great Vehicle of that characterized by aspirational bodhicitta (the aspiring to compassion, or the wishing for compassionate activity), as relayed earlier, that returns us to our original virtue. With this we can begin to cultivate and emulate loving-kindness and become spiritual guides for all beings. In some schools of Buddhism there are two levels of bodhicitta: aspirational and engaged. In aspirational bodhicitta, the individual desires to overcome spiritual and emotional afflictions to realize the truest Self and help others do the same.
  4. It is when we expand our presence as loving-kindness into the experiences of those around us our compassion grows. We feel the joys and suffering of others and we are moved to help them. As our compassion grows, our equanimity becomes rooted in pure intention. As a result, what was considered as either distant or close no longer become relative.
  5. With this we can transform hate into blossoms of Spring, move beyond human frailties, reside in loving-kindness, and release all anger. Our universal love for what surrounds us grows exponentially as we expand into the lives of those around us.
  6. Because our nature is endowed with love, we do not need to be afraid that we lack the capacity to feel love, thereby reducing selfish behavior and motivation. Any sense of reward for the love we cultivate must be abandoned. Love for the sake of love must be our joy.
  7. A sense of impermanence with no agenda or reward should be present. Even in our meditation practice, we proceed without ego, self or reward. Moving to selflessness and emptiness is key to our awakening and bliss moving all to reducing suffering.
  8. The Buddha’s teachings convey that we are not to get lost in or attached to what can be called illusory projections. How suffering occurs when our thoughts and expectations are nothing but illusions. Every person falls into their own projections, and because of this all people suffer.
  9. By acknowledging the delusions of the mind’s projections, our having compassion due to differences with others becomes tied to judgment. Thereby making projecting not a reliable basis for developing a caring attitude.

What I especially liked in studying the Upanishads described above, is that it brings out the essence of the Hindu philosophy in the sense that it states that the core of our own self is neither the body nor the mind, but the “Atman” or the “Self.” To many the Atman refers to the pervading principle, the organism in which other elements are united and the ultimate sentient principle. It further points out that the core of all creatures is the Atman itself, and it can be experienced through meditation. When we experience the Atman, we come to the deepest level of our existence. There are many similarities between Mahayana Buddhism and the Upanishads of the Hindu. With Hindu, the “Brahman” is the underlying substance of the Universe. It is the unchanging “Absolute Being.” It is the intangible essence of the whole existence that creates and sustains everything. The Brahman is beyond all description and intellectual understanding. When a person attains moksha or liberation, the Atman returns to Brahman, like a drop of water returns to the ocean… and the ultimate Tao.

What this means to me is understanding the convergence of philosophy and religion. To appreciate one, you must appreciate how over time the flow of divine energy manifests in many directions. Like spokes in a wheel, I sensed this most directly in my visit to Lhasa, Tibet. To understand Zen, for myself, means gaining an appreciation for its beginnings and what becomes of us. To what lies beyond the sage and Bodhisattva. It seems my visit to Lhasa is having a long-term impact on both my thinking and understanding how pieces are to fit together.

Picture from the Drepung Monastery in Lhasa

  1. When we watch the patterns of our own ego, it becomes easier to understand how the critical thoughts of others cause them to suffer. Ultimately, compassion for others must be without self-interest.
  2. We practice and generate compassion for others because it is the right thing to do. We cultivate this through our actions with kindness and do this in what is called compassion with agenda as we make note of our own behavior.

For many over the centuries, the ultimate Zen has been to abide in the bliss of knowing yourself. In contemplating the meaning of “compassion with agenda” this is where I begin. In Alan Watts, The Way of Zen, when discussing the Lankavatara Sutra favored by Bodhidharma, who was considered as the legendary founder of Zen in China, he conveys the tradition of the Short Path favored by Tibetan Buddhists considered as the short ascent to nirvana. Ideals of immediacy and naturalness of the sage and spontaneity come to mind as found with wu wei, Taoism, and Lao Tzu. (page 79)

Numbers 13 to 30 will follow in the next entry as 4B in Loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity.

By 1dandecarlo

Renouncing what does not define who we are meant to become as we move beyond zazen…

For many years prior to retirement, I was a city planner and what was called a neighborhood specialist in Florida. My focus was on neighborhood visioning and developing master plans to assist people in  prioritizing improvements and deciding what should come first. This always seems to be the biggest challenge. Finding the motivation to see beyond themselves to make a positive imprint on their neighbors and neighborhood. Recognizing past difficulties and understanding underlying contradictions that were inhibiting factors to improving their lives.

The key was always that they needed to take ownership and see beyond themselves and the boundaries of their properties in which they lived. Creating an environment of inclusiveness and joy. That they had a responsibility to the world beyond themselves. I liked my job because it allowed me to convey to others what should be done and help them find the path to do themselves that would include everyone, what we called stakeholders. To find a pace and dignity of transformation beyond just themselves to what someone once told me befitting the sacrament. To what I would say to become one with whatever one does as the true realization of the Tao. As we pay attention only to the present moment.

While open to debate over the centuries, the practice of engaging in zazen, i.e., sitting meditation, is essential for most people. However, some feel that it depends on where we are on the path to enlightenment. Some need the structure and discipline only zazen can provide. Others are beyond zazen. This is where the path of natural attainment leads us. It is like needing to know how to unlock the door and the door unlocks simply by our presence. Nothing else is needed.

Your presence is zazenThis realization generally comes after years of meditation, both sitting and actualized by who we have since become. You do not need to sit to arrive somewhere – because you have moved beyond the need as your presence illustrates. What you are here to do dictates the role the universe has laid out for you to play. It is a moving beyond the beyond thing of the Bodhisattva vow that is always in play. If you accede to the role of a teacher however, zazen reminds us of our origins, grounds us, and remains essential.

Over time, meditation and mindfulness have shown us the way as our actions simply reflect us. 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”, following the teachings of The King of Meditation Sutras, give us the structure to follow. References to seated meditation, what many refer to as zazen, 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 many ways, Buddhism is the liberation from convention. It is like a renunciation from who we are not.  It is like Ram Dass who will be chronicled later in the series told us all those years ago,

“The person we are from nine to five is not who we are from five to nine”.

Moving to the freedom of expression as we express the flow of the cosmos that speaks through us that is essential to eternal awakening. Not only for ourselves, but to the awakening of all. With Zen it becomes moving from thought to action as we find our own footsteps. It’s like moving beyond reading a book, to becoming the book. The practical application of what the Bodhisattvas does when they do nothing but be themselves. When vision, mission, and purpose merge as you are transformed with a spiritual awakening and develop a master plan, a positive path for living within the spirit.

This is the power of the Buddhist sutras and teachings of Lao Tzu coming into action through us. Values through virtue as we emulate both the Buddha and the Tao by and through our actions as we are to become the continuation of the story.

In the footsteps of Bodhisattvas – 3 Renunciation.

Key thought: Renouncing who we are not along with our resolve to practice samadhi – the ultimate meditation and mindfulness. What every shaman and holy man/woman has known and conveyed for the sake of eternity… to live in divine order simply through our eternal presence.

  1. To renounce is to give up something or put aside voluntarily, to repudiate or disown that which does not define our bliss and journey, and in gaining freedom.

Picture from the Jade Buddhist Temple in Shanghai

  1. With renunciation in our hearts, we go to a place of solitude. We open wide the door to bliss to a greater space to shape positivity and contentment. In solitude we have fewer distractions to practice the Dharma and to liberate ourselves. Finding the keys to this liberation should be our intention. We do this so that we may open wide the door to bliss to a greater arena to create benefits and positivity in the world.
  2. Chapter four of the Sutra tells us the nature of phenomena and how our re-birth comes about, as well as the benefits of nirvana. We are to continuously cultivate a loving mind; always keep pure discipline; take joy in training, exerting yourself, and to practice generosity and wisdom. To consistently discard unvirtuous friends while looking to spiritual masters is also important. With this you will have no difficulty in obtaining the samadhi.
  3. We are to understand and encompass the Foundational Vehicle of the early Buddhist traditions that emphasizes physical renunciation of worldly life. We are to by our nature have less attachment, with this we have a better chance of realizing the truth. If you have many things to do you cannot focus on the Dharma. It is a fact that wherever you direct your attention is where you gain success. Ultimate success comes with finding and carrying out the role we are here to play within this context.
  4. Whereas in the Great Vehicle, renunciation has to do with acknowledging that samsara is like a dream and the ultimate truth of emptiness. This is where we learn an understanding that ultimately you never die and are never born and that you would never find the actual essence of things even if you were to search for them for centuries.

As the name implies, the Mahayana came to think of itself as “great” both in its interpretations of the Buddha’s teaching and in its openness to more people, especially lay people. This was especially helpful in integrating into early China and a synthesis with Taoism that eventually led to Zen in Japan. The word yana means vehicle or raft, which evokes the image of Buddhist teaching as a raft or vehicle that can help one cross over the river of suffering to the “other shore.” The Mahayana is, thus, the “Great Vehicle.”

  1. With this, attachment to whatever we find in our worldly encounters becomes obsolete as there is nothing we are to be attached to. As we grow through study, reflection, and meditation, we encounter this ultimate truth directly.
  2. When we learn and can appreciate our role as bodhisattvas, we can leave behind karmic effects of our activities because we can take the ultimate view of who we are and understand the role we are here to play. This is due to positive and negative effects of both our previous actions and those of others.
  3. When we claim our freedom in keeping with The King of Meditation Sutra in the tradition of Mahayana Buddhism, we are renouncing clinging to ourselves and to substantiality altogether to gain the liberation that allows us to benefit others. As we acknowledge that there is no separate, individual, or independent interest.

The power of Zen has always been freedom. Adapting the best attributes of Mahayana Buddhism, the  teachings of Lao Tzu, and Confucius, to develop a synthesis that seeks to find the best path to follow based on transformation of where we find ourselves. To internalize Zen, you must assimilate all three.

There is a calmness that the Dali Lama refers to in saying “Buddhist ideas can be helpful in equipping our minds and emotions so that we can maintain peace of mind when we are facing difficulty. Too many worries and too much ambition are bound to increase suspicion and jealousy, leading to even more mental disturbance.”   

  1. The important thing to understand is that non-attachment has nothing to do with withholding love from our families or abandoning our responsibilities to them. In the Mahayana teachings, practice focuses on inner conduct, our motivations. That on the Bodhisattva level, non-attachment has to do with the mind.
  2. Renunciation means abandoning those things which inhibit our freedom. In thinking about ultimate freedom, we discover that meditation is learning how to be present and aware of what is going on and to distinguish between our judgment about a moment in time and the actual experience.
  3. It is important that you keep in your thoughts and heart that you want to achieve awakening for the sake of all beings. This is the essential meaning of renunciation. The moment you recognize there is ultimately nothing to abandon is when you find genuine freedom and non-attachment.
  4. Chapter seventeen of The King of Meditation Sutra tells us that the Bodhisattva is to be untarnished by the eight worldly concerns, their body remaining pure and their actions immaculate. They have few desires, firm contentment, and no attachment. They possess the Buddha’s qualities. This refers to the qualities about a Bodhisattva, the great practitioners, who have advanced on the path of awakening.
  5. Success in the practice of samadhi (meditation and mindfulness) is intimately connected with our conduct. Proper conduct improves our ability to gain meditative insight. Conduct means the way we deal with the eight worldly concerns which are the desire for fame, praise, happiness, and material gain. Conversely, the wish to avoid insignificance, criticism, suffering, and loss. Reflecting on the Tao reminding us of the interconnection of study, practice, and experience.
  6. Our worldly concerns and feelings always relate to aversion, attachment, and ignorance. It is how we see past these eight worldly concerns and these three feelings that demonstrate our progress in abandoning desire.

I like to reference the book, The Snow Leopard, mentioned earlier with identifying with going up the  Himalayas years before modern life caught up with what was there. When it was still natural and pure ever-changing, but constant just the same. With no real destination as if a pilgrimage to no place important except what you see and find along the way and returning just the same… It was the oneness and purity of the snow glistening in the sun and becoming a part of it if only for a moment that made the trip worthwhile.

To the left… my view of the Himalayas from the window of the plane flying from Chengdu to Lhasa in October 2018. I looked up while reading The Snow Leopard again prior to arriving.

  1. It is through the spiritual world and our dedication to meditation we acknowledge that desire always brings pain. Monitoring and keeping a check on these feelings and desires we can internally follow our practice on several levels. These are the view level, the motivation level, the meditation level, the conduct level, and the fruition level. We practice samadhi by evaluating our renunciation by asking ourselves “How much of ego clinging still resides in my life?”
  2. Keeping check on the level of our practice is to observe the following:

1) View – If clinging to our ego still exists, or has not changed, then some aspect of our practice has not improved.

2) Motivation level – Looking inward to see what motivates our practice.

3) Meditation level – Adhering to samadhi, we look to how distraction and dullness is present during our meditation evaluating our ability to apply the cure, or antidote, to overcoming these difficulties.

4) Conduct level – We check the strength of our mindfulness by our actions that guard against the eight worldly concerns outlined above.

5) Fruition level – Do we have great hope to achieve realization, or fear of losing it.

It is proceeding to what will be the result within this aspiration that defines our genuine approach to fruition. When we ask ourselves as the result of the above, am I maintaining the state that is free from attachment? It is the ability to do this that determines the fate of our practice.

  1. What is to come of our ultimate aspiration? The paradox for many is that we cannot practice the path without detaching from the desire for fame and respect. Or if you subscribe to the notion of seeking praise or gain.
  2. It is here that we must acknowledge and observe our underlying motivations and contradictions as we seek to move forward with enabling our ultimate connection with the universe – to our highest aspirations. Our spirituality cannot become the tool by which we feed aversion and attachment. We monitor this by observing our own actions and emotions and our response to them.
  3. By not seeking praise and remaining in a sense of self-depreciation, we illustrate our keeping with the essence of our intended practice. Chapter 22 of the Sutra reminds us “Whoever does not have excessive attachment to this hollow life and limb has vanquished the host of maras and will reach awakening at the foot of the Bodhi tree. The body is empty and selfless, and life is a dream, tremulous as a drop of morning dew”.

The Bodhi Tree or Bodhi Fig Tree (“tree of awakening”) was a large and ancient sacred fig tree (Ficus religiosa) located in Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India. Siddhartha Gautama, the spiritual teacher who became known as the Buddha, is said to have attained enlightenment or Bodhi circa 500 BCE under it. In religious iconography, the Bodhi Tree is recognizable by its heart-shaped leaves, which are usually prominently displayed.

The proper term “Bodhi Tree” is also applied to existing sacred fig (Ficus religiosa) trees, also known as bodhi trees. The foremost example of an existing tree is the Mahabodhi Tree growing at the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya, which is often cited as a direct descendant of the original tree. This tree, planted around 250 BCE, is a frequent destination for Buddhists. (description and photo from Wikipedia)

  1. It is important to rise above our thinking as our emotions display our ignorance. We are to work with our minds so that our habits are continually refreshed. When we reduce our thinking, habits have difficulty in gaining a foothold in our thoughts. It is here we learn simply being present is enough.
  2. When we focus on integrating renunciation, meditation, and compassion into our thoughts and actions leaving behind samsara, it is important that we have learned the true meaning of detachment. Buddhist teachings may be difficult to absorb into our daily lives, but that is precisely the point. The key has always been our ability to change to meet the challenges we face as our highest endeavor.
  3. It is when we recognize that every action has consequences and that every action that occurs in the present is a result of something that has occurred in the past, that we can understand karmic effect. We are not to try to diminish the laws of cause and effect, but to use them to affect the proper way we proceed with our lives.
  4. We are to learn the meaning of sharing in the merit of the Dharma by inviting others to practice generosity and connecting with virtuous activities, we can further discover through our own meditation and mindfulness living without discrimination.
  5. Learning the benefits of renunciation is a key ingredient to both our virtuous activities, practice, and getting to the meaning of things. That we are to reduce our desire and judgment, have correct discipline, and not engage in unnecessary debate. We do not praise ourselves or criticize others, we are to decrease our attachments, check our anger, and reduce our material concerns. With this, our presence will materially come to light for others not with our ego – but through our actions we shall show them.
  6. The Buddha’s teachings on renunciation is a form of self-compassion and how we are to become free.



By 1dandecarlo

Opening ourselves to everyday transcendence and Zen

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.

  1. 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, the who we are is nowhere to be found.
  2. 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.

  1. 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 in essence we are not our body. That rebirth is neither a theory, nor a belief, but an experience.
  2. 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.
  3. Because self does not exist efforts to protect it with the hope of gaining a lasting happiness are doomed from the beginning. It bears repeating, we need to realize selflessness, that 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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

  1. 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 – almost 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).

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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).”   

  1. 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 are wrong. This is in accordance with the Buddhist teachings.

The view from within the Arhat Buddhist Temple in Chongqing

  1. This is a central tenet of our spirit, requires little or no training and nature of enlightenment. It is with this we began to gain and develop a quiet sincere mind.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 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 coming when we can travel through time without the presence of ourselves.   

By 1dandecarlo

To know our story and then to live it.

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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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)
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).

  1. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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

  1. 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
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
By 1dandecarlo

2021 is the Year of Transformation. Appropriately beginning today on January 20th as we embark on the inauguration of a new president and vice-president.

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.



By 1dandecarlo