Sunday, June 24, 2012

A Snuggle, a Swim and a Hug - Taking Refuge in the Three Jewels

The early Buddhists seemed to love making lists - the Four Noble Truths, the Ten Perfections, the 108 Cravings (comprised of six groups including the 18 Cravings Through the Sense of the Nose for Sensual Pleasures Associated with a View of Eternalism or Nihilism, Internally or Externally, of the Past, Present, or Future). Out of curiosity, I had a look at the 38 Blessings. It turns out the first one is Not Associating with Fools. Who knew?

I think because I’m a bit of a minimalist (read: simpleton), lists enumerating the Virtues, the Hindrances, the Dwellings of the Noble Ones and the Unwholesome Actions just don’t ring my bell. I guess that’s why I’m attracted to the simplicity of Zen - even the name only has three letters.

There is one little list, however, that I have grown very fond of: the Three Jewels - the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, a.k.a. the Three Treasures.

Many folks with great scholarship and great insight have already written about the Three Jewels. This little offering is just a freehand sketch of what they mean to me. I know that as soon as I open my mouth, I fall into error, creating artificial separations, but here goes.

First off, the Three Jewels are not separate 'things' - more like one thing seen from three different directions. For the same reason, our take on them will be different, each from our own vantage point.

Buddha - not just the chap who sat under a tree and noticed something important. Buddha nature may be a better term. Vast emptiness. All-inclusive. Capable of becoming anything. Capable of awakening.

Dharma - the teachings of the Buddha and more. The laws of cause and effect. Change. Unfolding. Awakening. Relieving suffering.

Sangha - for sure everyone who follows the teachings of the Buddha - but also every other being of every kind, everywhere.

Taking refuge in the Three Treasures is a formal Buddhist ceremony. It is also a personal act we perform with our whole being - not just our thoughts and words - but our whole lives: a lifelong, intimate love affair.

We take refuge in the Buddha whenever we sit down, let go of our thoughts (including the thought of taking refuge) and simply pay attention. A little habit has crept up on me: last thing at night, if I snuggle up with the universe, for want of a better term, my iron grip on my little sense of self seems to loosen and I'm asleep in a few seconds.

My mental picture of taking refuge in the Dharma is going for a joyful swim in a river, doing a playful dance with the currents of cause and effect. It's also expressed in our sincere efforts to do the right thing, to be a manifestation of wisdom and compassion.

Taking refuge in the Sangha. Group hug. How wide can we spread our arms? We support and nourish and heal and cherish. And we are supported and nourished and healed and cherished. How cool is that?

Photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar via Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic


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Saturday, June 2, 2012

Blowing in the Mind

I feel a little thrill whenever I see flags flapping in the wind. I usually gaze and listen for a while and then come back to earth, noticing that my feet are plodding along the pavement as usual and that some litter has blown up against a fence.

This is the 29th koan of the Mumonkan:

Two monks were arguing about a flag. One said, "The flag is moving."
The other said, "The wind is moving."
The Sixth Patriarch happened to be passing by. He told them, "Not the wind, not the flag; mind is moving."

Their habitual way of thinking about flags in the wind was stripped away, leaving – something else.

About two hundred years later, some monks were debating the koan. Zen master Miaoxin overheard them and said,

It's not the wind moving, it's not the flag moving, it's not the mind moving.

Something else was stripped away, leaving – what?

This progression reminds me of the first few times I attended our Zen centre. The first time I went, the abbot gave a dharma talk during the second sit, which I thought was pretty profound. The same thing happened the second time I was there. The third time I went, he just sat in silence. I remember thinking to myself, what could be more profound than that? Well, the next time I went, he wasn’t there at all…

I suspect “mind” is one of the most difficult words to define. There is mind meaning thought; there is the subconscious mind; there is no-mind and there is mindfulness; there is little mind and there is big Mind; there is original mind and everyday mind and there is beginner’s mind and there is don’t know mind.

Then there are the Three Minds (sanshin):

Magnanimous Mind (daishin) is like an ocean or a mountain: calm and steady, yet accepting and nourishing countless beings and situations without differentiation. The ocean is serene because it accepts the many rivers without resisting.

Nurturing Mind (roshin), literally "old mind", is akin to the attitude of a kindly grandmother or parent who delights in caring for others. It is the spirit of the bodhisattva, the fully mature person.

Joyful Mind (kishin) is the joy that comes from deep in our hearts even in the midst of difficulty. It arises from the insight of zazen, that we live together with all beings and are not separate.

(These originated with Dogen Zenji and were propounded by Kosho Uchiyama Roshi (Opening the Hand of Thought) and subsequently by his successor, Shohaku Okumura Roshi (Realizing Genjokoan), founder of the Sanshin Zen Community, from where the above quote was taken.)

Rational thought insists on trying to compartmentalize and categorize mind in order to comprehend it, as it does with the rest of the world. Except it can't. The best it can do is ask interminable questions.

If it would only shut up and pay attention, it might notice something important.

I don't know much, but I know enough not to vex my brain or anyone else's by trying to think up - or worse, suggest - answers to these questions.

What is it that flaps in the wind? What is it that watches the flag through my eyes? What thinks about the flag with my brain? What is asking this question? What wants to know the answer? What opens and unfolds, withers and dies all at the same time? What suffers and at the same time seeks out and relieves suffering? What is both nowhere and everywhere? What is neither one nor more than one? Neither nothing nor something? What is writing these words? What is reading them? Wouldn't a cup of tea be nice?

It occurs to me that I may have overstepped my bounds. I don't want my aimless musings / infantile burblings to be mistaken for teachings. As an unordained layman with no qualifications, verification, rank, transmission or lineage, I'm not really anything. If I must be something, perhaps the litter blown against the fence.
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