Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Lesson 22 -The Flower Lesson

One day the Buddha held up a flower in front of an audience of 1,250 monks and nuns. He did not say anything for quite a long time. The audience was perfectly silent. Everyone seemed to be thinking hard, trying to see the meaning behind the Buddha's gesture. Then, suddenly, the Buddha smiled. He smiled because someone in the audience smiled at him and at the flower. . . . To me the meaning is quite simple. When someone holds up a flower and shows it to you, he wants you to see it. If you keep thinking, you miss the flower. The person who was not thinking, who was just himself, was able to encounter the flower in depth, and he smiled. That is the problem of life. If we are not fully ourselves, truly in the present moment, we miss everything.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Lesson 21 - How to Create a Buddhist Altar

The Buddhist Altar is called a Butsudan. The picture I have on the top of this blog is a view of a traditional altar. Altars can be of whatever kind that you like. Please take the following as a guide but I believe an altar is more special when it is made with things that have specific spiritual meaning to you. You may place photos of family members. Many do this who are of the Amidism tradition as a form of ancestral worship/honor. Some place photos of their Guru. Altars can also be placed outside, this is very common in Japan and some parts of the Himalayas. Many believe making objects like statues carved from wood or clay bring good fortunes in the next life. So do what makes you feel comfortable in making that special place for you to sit and meditate and worship. Below are some concepts that may prove helpful and I hope interesting study. Happy Altar making!

~Buddhist Altar 101~

Having an altar in your place of meditation can be of help. Lighting the altar candle and offering incense can have the effect of quieting in the midst of a busy day and allow for focusing the mind before meditating.

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The Buddha on the altar is a reminder of the stillness and compassion found within meditation. Making the altar beautiful and joyful with flowers and incense encourages looking up within the concerns of everyday life.

Let the altar be as elaborate or as simple as is appropriate to your circumstances.

The elements of an altar are: a statue, picture or scroll of a Buddha or Bodhisattva; flowers or a plant; a candle; a water offering cup; and an incense bowl.

The flowers are usually arranged to show aspects of the Teaching:
A single flower to show the unity of all beings;
Three flowers to represent the Three Treasures;
Four to represent the Four Noble Truths; and so on.

Flowers represent the offering of our training and may reflect the season as a reminder of impermanence.

The candle is placed on the Buddha's left side (the right-hand side facing the altar). This represents the light of the Buddha's Teaching which comes from the Compassionate Heart of Buddha. For safety on a small altar, a night light or candle in a votive glass works very well.

The water offering cup placed in front of the Buddha symbolizes the cleansing power of meditation that converts greed, anger and delusion into compassion, love and wisdom. The cup is always kept full, symbolizing that the water of the spirit is always there.

The incense bowl stands in front of the water cup. This bowl should be filled with ash or sand and should be deep enough that lit sticks of incense inserted into it can stand upright. Incense is lit and offered before a meditation period or when you feel it might be useful to have a short period of recollection to ground yourself during a busy day.
The incense stick can also be used to time a meditation period. A five to six inch stick takes about 30 minutes to burn down.
The perfume of the incense permeates all corners of the room and thus symbolizes the power of the Teaching to reach and convert all forms of greed, hate and delusion.

*special note* Look for next weeks entry when I will break down in detail a traditional shinto home shrine altar.


Friday, November 30, 2007

Lesson 20 - Ksitigarbha Dharma Door Practice Method

Today I will share with you the Ksitigarbha Dharma Door Practice Method. Ksitigarbha is also known as Earth Store, Earth Treasury or Earth Womb in English. In Chinese Dizang/Ti-Tsang Pusa. In Japanese, Jizo Bosatsu. In Tebetan, Sye Nyingpo.

This method is best undertaken in a regularly maintained practice (e.g. daily, weekly, bi-weekly etc.) for an indefinite length of time. Choose one or more and practice regularly. You will see negative karma eradicating and positive conditions developing.

1.) Read or recite the Sutra of the Past Vows of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha. Link provided below:

2) Reciting the Sacred Name of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha - The proper way to recite the name in English is "Homage to Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha" or "I take refuge in Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha. The proper way to pronounce the name in Chinese Mandarin is Namo Dizang Wang Pusa (said 'Nah Mor Dee Jahng Wahng Pu Sah') It does not matter which language is used as long as the practitioner is of focused mind. The number of recitations is your own choosing (e.g 108 times, 500 times, 1000 times , etc)

3) Reciting Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha's Mantra of Eradicating Negative Karma: "Om Bo La Mo Ling To Ning Soha" (e.g 108 times, 500 times, 1000 times , etc)

4) Reciting the Great Vow of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha: "Only when all sentient beings are rescued will I certify to Bodhi. If the hells are not emptied, I vow not to become a Buddha" (e.g 108 times, 500 times, 1000 times , etc)

May you find this practice beneficial in your liberation.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Lesson 19 - Tendencies

Please listen there is much to learn from this talk!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Lesson 18 - The Eight Auspicious Symbols

Buddhism is deeply rooted in symbolism. I am sure you have seen these symbols before and today we will go into an understanding of thier meaning. I hope you find this lesson interesting and helpful. Namaste

The eight Buddhist auspicious symbols consist of - a parasol, pair of golden fish, the great treasure vase, a lotus, the right turning conch, the endless knot, the banner of victory and the wheel of dharma. These originated from a group of early Indian symbols of royalty which were presented at special ceremonies such as the coronation of a king. The symbols differed between different groups, for example the Jains and Newar Buddhists.

In Buddhism these symbols of good fortune represent the offerings that were made by the gods to Shakyamuni Buddha immediately after he attained enlightenment. Brahma appeared offering the thousand spoked golden wheel as a request to Shakyamuni to turn the teaching wheel of dharma. Indra appeared presenting the right spiraling conch shell as a symbol of the proclamation of the dharma and Sthavara presented the golden vase full of the nectar of immortality.

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The Protection Parasol
The parasol or umbrella is an Indian symbol of both protection and royalty. The shadow protects from the heat and sun, and the coolness of the shade represents protection from the heat of suffering, desire, obstacles and illness. Different traditions have developed many designs of the parasol. The parasol dome can symbolise wisdom and the hanging skirt, compassion.

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The Golden Fish
The golden fish symbolise happiness, due to their freedom in water, and fertility and abundance, due to their ability to multiply quickly.. The symbol is a common auspicious symbol in the Hindu, Jain and Buddhist traditions, which originated as being a symbol of the two main sacred rivers the Yamuna and Ganges in India, which represent the lunar and solar channels. In Egypt the pair of fishes symbolised the River Nile, and early Christianity adopted the symbol as an emblem of Christ.

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The Great Treasure Vase
The Treasure Vase is modeled on the traditional Indian clay water pot. The Tibetan design is very ornate with lotus petal designs. The scarf is a silk cloth from the god realm and the upper opening is sealed with a wish granting tree, with the roots retaining the water of longevity to create all the treasures. The 'inexhaustible treasures' possess special qualities, so that however much is removed from the vase, it will always remain full. Therefore it symbolises long life and prosperity.

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The White Lotus
The lotus is the symbol of purity. It is able to grow and blossom from the muddy water, and therefore is a symbol of divine generation. The lotus is used to depict this purity in different forms. The lotus on the throne implies immaculate conception and therefore the being is innately divine. Deities are often depicted holding a lotus as a symbol of their purity, compassion, renunciation and perfection of qualities.

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The Right-Turning Conch
The conch shell is derived from ancient Indian stories that describe how heroes of mythical warfare carried a large while conch shell. It is a symbol of power and sovereignty, the sound believed to banish evil spirits, scare away harmful creatures and avert natural disasters. Buddhism adopted it as a symbol of religious sovereignty and an emblem that spreads the truth of dharma.

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The Endless Knot
The endless knot overlaps without a beginning or an end, symbolising the Buddha's endless wisdom and compassion. It indicates continuity as the underlying reality of existence.

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The Banner of Victory
The victory banner originates from the victory banner that was a military standard carried in Indian warfare. It was adopted as the symbol of Buddha's enlightenment. In Tibetan Buddhism it is said to symbolise the methods for overcoming the defilements-the development of knowledge, wisdom, compassion, meditation, and ethical vows.

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The Wheel of Dharma
The wheel is an ancient Indian symbol of creation, sovereignty, and protection which represents motion, and change. Buddhism adopted the wheel to symbolise the Budhha's teachings, the wheel being identified as 'dharmachakra' or wheel of law. In Tibetan this means 'the wheel of transformation' or spiritual change, and can represent the overcoming of all obstacles and illusions.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Lesson 17 - Bardo

Tibetan Buddhist have a very clear understanding of what happens to one when they die. There is a process, it is called Bardo. It is very important to understand Bardo so that one may be successfully guided through the afterlife to be reborn a human. It is most auspicious to be born a human, only in this nature may we have the great opportunity to learn and perfect our wisdom. In the Tibetan culture Bardo is thought to last for 40 days, during this time families have monks come and read the Tibetan Book of the Dead to aid as a guide for the loved one to hear and understand what is happening to them and what they should do. Culturally families spend time praying for their loved one that they will successfully navigate the Bardo. It is my great pleasure to share with you today what Bardo is and how to use it to live your life more fully. The Bardo is explained in the Tibetan Book of the Dead. It is a book not only for the dead but for the living as well.

I will first explain Bardo as it was taught to me orally as a child. When one dies the first level of Bardo one enters is marked by a bright light. This is pure spirit. If you think of the mind as a bright sun and the world we currently live in filled with illusions as a large cloud then I can explain the first level of bardo as this. When the cloud of illusion moves away at our death the true brilliance of the minds original shining nature is seen.

The second level of Bardo is an interesting one...the practitioner will see a beautiful deity usually with it's consort. The deity is there to offer you help on your path through the Bardo, but this is a test. The practitioner must be careful to listen to the deity without being totally caught up in it's brilliance and beauty. If the practitioner becomes to overly enamored with the deity it will turn into a wrathful deity. The idea here is to stay neutral.

The third level of Bardo is that of the wrathful deity. One must not be too afraid of the deity. This is easier said than done. If you have ever seen depictions of the wrathful deities, they are very scary looking with multiply eyes and blood stained mouths meant to invoke pure terror. As all levels of Bardo this too is a test. One must again stay neutral. The wrathfull deity holds in it's hands stones of two colors. It drops the stones in a pile. White stones representing the practioner's good deeds and black stones representing the practitioner’s bad deeds. If one is not to frightened and shows proper reference and sees the deity for what it really is it is thought that the deity will usher the practitioner into the final level of Bardo, the rebirth.

Last level of Bardo the rebirth. The practitioner finds oneself walking down a corridor with copulating couples. The practitioner finds affinity with one couple (it is important here that the practitioner find the right couple since this will be his future parents) and in that instant that the affinity forms the practitioner finds himself going toward a bright light again and is reborn into the human form.

The most important thing to remember in Bardo is to stay with the quality of mind that is neutral. Not being to upset by the scary things presented or by being too happy over the beautiful things shown. In this neutrality the practitioner will be able to find his way through Bardo clearly.

I have tried to lay out the Bardo in a simple way for you to understand its general visual representation, but there are many mysteries and symbolisms that can be gleaned from a careful study. I hope that I have given you an interest in Bardo. I would highly recommend reading the English version of the translation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead by Wentz-Evans for a complete understanding. I also thought I would include the article below from Buddhanet Magazine for those wishing to get a deeper meaning of Bardo.

Tibetan Buddhist Teachings on Death and Rebirth

by Lama Ole Nydhal, Vajrayana Buddhist Lama

The Tibetan Buddhist teachings on death and rebirth are unique and very complete. They usually interest everybody who gets them. In order to understand about death and rebirth, it’s important to begin by observing the nature of our mind. Looking at the mind we often think that there are two things. There is something seeing and there is something being seen. There is a mirror there, the picture is in the mirror. There is that which observes and that which is being observed. But if we look for true duality this cannot be found. Where does every thought and feeling and experience come from? It comes from the open clear space of the mind. Who knows it? The open clear space of the mind. Where does it change? It changes inside that open clear space and it also returns to it again. So, if we look for the mind we see that it's not two things, the seer and the things seen, the experiencer and the experienced. They are not two, but one totality manifesting in two ways. There is the timeless aspect, which is like the ocean, and there is the changing aspect inside time, which is like the waves coming and going in the ocean. And we cannot say that the things either are or are not the thoughts and feelings, either are or are not the mind. They appear there, they are known by it. They disappear there again. Of course they are felt to be different and they are experienced as different. We see them as something apart.

If we look at these two different aspects of mind we see that that which is aware, that which is looking through our eyes, listening through our ears, that which is hearing and feeling and experiencing now, is timeless. It is open like space. It is radiantly clear. It has no limit or end anywhere. Something which is like open clear limitless space of course is not bound inside time. It is not limited by time and place. But if we look for the true nature of that which is aware, which is experiencing the world right now this must be seen to be timeless and limitless. Our own clear space and mind is without birth or death. It is however very rarely that we experience our timeless nature. It is very rarely that the mirror is aware of itself and the mind sees its own nature. Usually we are caught in the things coming and going in the mind. We are not seeing the ocean. We are seeing the waves which come and go there. The few times when the mind experiences itself are the moments of greatest intensity and joy that we can imagine. The way that the radiance of the mirror is actually more than the images coming and going in the mirror when the mind experiences its own nature are very powerful, very exciting and unforgettable.

People may tell you about the clear light. They may tell you about the peak experiences before the parachute opens in free fall or something like that. You may actually also have had moments where you forgot to expect anything or fear anything or live in the past or live in the future, where there was time when nothing else was in the mind. Suddenly you became exceedingly joyful, totally secure. You found yourself to be very powerful, very kind. You saw suddenly that the experiencer itself, that which is aware, really had some lasting qualities that we usually don't see. Sometimes we know who is calling before we lift up the receiver and that means that the nature of the space of our mind is information. When we get happy on the inside for no outer reason because we forget to hope or fear or think of anything, it shows that the space of our mind is joy. When we are kind and compassionate without thinking that we are doing something to somebody else but simply because they are not separate from us and there is nothing else to do, it shows that the space in our mind is kindness and unlimited love. Even though we may have experiences like that for a few moments in this life most of the time we are constantly caught in the things which come and go. We are in the pictures in the mirror, not in the mirror. We see what changes all the time.

Seeing this then, different kinds of feelings will appear, attachment and aversion, likes and dislikes. Hope and fear will follow most beings during their lives. Instead of being here and now in the truth and the intensity and the meaning of what happens in every moment, recognising it to be true just because conditions come together like that, we are thinking of the past, of the future, we are somewhere else. Doing that we experience the human life. The Buddha tells us that there is no one thing which stays the same during this life, not one single thing. The open clear limitless space is the same in everybody. It never changes, is not born and doesn't die. But the pictures in the mirror, the stream of experiences, even though they seem to be similar, are more like a stream of water that flows all the time and new water is there in every moment. If we really look we see that in the boy of seven and the man of seventy there is no-one who has stayed the same. There is not one single personal thing which stays the same from one moment to the next. All things appear, change, disappear again, are born and die and come and go.

On the other hand there is relative continuation because if there was no child at seven there will not be a man at seventy. So we see that even though no experience of the body or mind, no molecule, no atom stays the same from one moment to the next, still there is this continuation. One thing brings about the next and becomes the cause of the next thing again. Things move in a stream like that. We are aware of this stream. We are aware of three so called Bardos or intermediary states while we are living here. The Tibetan word Bardo, which is quite well known, actually means something which is between something and something else. For instance, if I haven't bored you too much now you are all in the waking Bardo, the Bardo of being awake. After some hours you will fall asleep and you will be in the Bardo of sleep . While you are in this Bardo of sleep you will have certain dreams. Each of these things are intermediary states. They are states that follow one another all the time. After a waking state comes a state of consciousness and inside this again is another state: the dreaming state. And this is what we are used to now. Every twenty four hours, if our lifestyle is not too extreme, this is what we experience, these three Bardos.

But there are three further ones, which we only experience every time we die. There is the process of death itself, there is the thing that happens after death, the continuation of the experiences of our last life and then there are the new experiences as our subconscious starts to go into the shape, go into a certain structure which then leads into our next birth, our reincarnation. And, before I tell you the whole process as it happens I should tell you my credentials for telling you this, why I can sit here and actually tell you this. You probably know that in Tibetan Buddhism we have many incarnate Lamas. We have many teachers who are recognised when they come back. They are clearly the continuation of a stream of consciousness of a former teacher.

Nearly everybody knows the Dalai lama. Actually the first Dalai Lama was a student of a student of the fourth of the Karmapas, who were the first incarnate Lamas in Tibet around 1110. And among all the incarnate Lamas in Tibet and there are about 110 special ones, he is the first one to actually start. His first one was in 1110 in Eastern Tibet and he is also the only one who, before dying, writes down every detail of his new rebirth, so other Lamas don't have to find him, they can actually read the letter he has left and then they can go out and find the child. That child then has unbroken consciousness and memory from his last life that he has brought over. So that's one reason, being a student of this Lama and having his teaching is one of the reasons that I can talk about this with confidence.

Another reason is teachings by other great teachers like Guru Rinpoche who gave these explanations. He was the Lama who brought who brought Buddhism to Tibet around 1250 years ago. And the third reason is that I myself am a Powa Lama. Powa means conscious dying. I teach conscious dying. So far I have taught 20000 westerners how to die consciously. Its not an academic study, its not something I'm telling you about that is abstract. People accept that when they have the physical hole in their head. When through meditation they have actually knocked a physical opening in the top of their skulls without even touching their heads.

Many have actually also experienced leaving their bodies during this process and entering realms of great bliss and great joy. Some people really lose their fear of death in the process. The biggest courses are always in Poland, Russia, Germany and Central and Eastern Europe, but I've taught it here once. Its a process that takes about three to four days with the instructions and everything else and the result is that you actually come out of your body. You sent your mind out of your body. I mean you get a real physical sign and you also of course have many mental transformations. Its a teaching which as far as I know is practiced in a few places such as Burma but among the Tibetans in the old schools in Tibetan Buddhism it is quite widely known. The word Powa means 'a bird flying out of a skylight in a roof, this is actually the meaning of it. I have also had the experience of beings who were dead coming to me. They were there as real as you are here today. For all these reasons I am telling you now with confidence, I am not just repeating what I have read in a book or giving a summary of some other teaching. I am totally convinced of what I am saying here myself.

So, what happens in the process of dying is always the same. If we look at the death process from the outside it may look very different. Death in people who step on a mine or get hit by a fast car looks very different from death in someone who dies from Aids or Cancer in a hospital somewhere. It doesn't look the same at all. But actually what is happening is the same process. What happens is that the energy which used to be spread all over the whole body begins to draw into a central energy channel inside the body.

There are different kinds of energy and maybe I should say a little bit about that also. We are all Western educated so we know about nerves, those yellow strands going through the body, sometimes thick then thinning out more and more, contracting muscles and bringing information. They work with electricity and a hormone called serotonin.

Then some of you who are Asian probably know about acupuncture and acupressure, where for example, you put a needle in a finger and it brings a flow of energy and some more awareness to your kidneys or heart or liver or something else. There is this outer flow of energy which follows different meridians to the inner organs. Then you have probably also heard the Hindu word kundalini where they talk about the nervous energy which is in the spine.

In Buddhism we work with the central channel which starts four fingers below the navel in the centre of the body and it rises to a place eight fingers behind the original hair line on the top of the head. It is said that this original energy line or energy channel appeared when the egg and sperm met in the womb of our mother. At that time the egg had an energy which in meditation is experienced as red and the sperm had an energy which is experienced as being white.

The information in these two cells created the billions of cells which form our bodies today. The red energy moved down to four fingers below the navel and the white energy moved up to about eight fingers behind our original hairline on the top of our head. Between these two then is the central axis. It activates itself at five places. At the head thirty two channels move out and activate the brain centre. They have to do with the body, everything physical, everything sensual. With speech there are sixteen channels which fill the throat. With the heart there are eight channels which became many channels and cover the upper body and have to do with intuition and feeling and so on. At the navel there are sixty four which spread out and go into the legs and cover the lower body and which have to do with qualities such as artistic abilities, creativity and so on. Four fingers below the navel there is our power centre which the Chinese call Chi which can be sexual power or ordinary physical power.

What happens in the process of dying is that these very spread out networks of energy begin to draw into the central energy channel. The different wheels collapse. The experience we have on the outer level is that our sensory experiences become less and less. We see but we are not quite sure who, we hear sounds but its more like mumbling. Its not distinct. We feel something but we are not sure what it is we are feeling and actually our whole contact with the outer world begins to disappear. While this is happening we are also having some inner experiences. We begin to get confused and begin to drift in and out of consciousness. It's difficult to focus and be aware. At the same time we also have some physical experiences. First, is the feeling of pressure. That is the solid element moving into the water element. Then there is the feeling of flowing. That is when the water element is moving into the fire element. Then there is the feeling of dryness. Step by step as the mind begins to withdraw from its physical bases which are the elements of solid and fluid and heat giving and airy moving and finally space itself and consciousness. Then we float and start getting cold and our consciousness begins to disappear. During these different processes which are really the process of death, all the energy comes into the central channel. And here at a given time we breathe out three times and the third time we forget to breathe in again.

Here people say now this is death but actually we say as a joke sometimes that if people can afford a few days more in a hospital people will come and put electrodes on their hearts and give them a shock and then they will go on for a while longer. Anyway even if we do hook people up to the local electricity works, after a while they do die. Everybody dies. So at the time when one dies, after the taking in of oxygen and the exchange of energy with the world outside has stopped, there is a twenty to thirty minute period where the inner energies stop moving. What then happens first is that the white energy from the top of our head gradually begins to move down through our body to the heart centre which is in the middle of the body, not to the right or the left. On the way down there thirty three kinds of feelings which come from anger, which are usually based in anger, disappear. We see a very clear light like a very clear moonlight. Then after that about ten or fifteen minutes the energy begins to move up from the lower centre, the centre below the navel. As this begins to move up we actually experience red light like a setting sun moving up and forty kinds of feelings which were caused by attachment and greed disappear. And when twenty to thirty minutes have elapsed after we stopped breathing, these two energies come together in the heart. First everything becomes dark. This darkness is where seven kinds of feeling based on stupidity disappear.

Then after that we experience an intense clear light. This is all the awareness, all the energy, everything that used to fill our whole body. This is now in the heart centre. Everything has met there. This moment is actually our best moment for enlightenment. If we can hold this state, if we can be aware twenty to thirty minutes after death that this clear light is our true essence, that this is our awareness, then we can do what many great saints have done during this last time over the last two thousand five hundred years.

Here I would like to give an example from my own direct experience. It was when the sixteenth Karmapa died in 1981. A year and a half before that in 1980 he had told me on which day he was going to die. I met him on the solstice in Colorado in America. He told us to come to him on the first day of the eleventh month next year. He said that we could also bring our friends. So we came out to seek him in the Himalayas. He wanted to die in the West where scientists could examine his death processes. Five days after his death his body was still warm and supple. He was then put into the meditation position surrounded by a lot of butter lamps. He stayed there for forty five days until the19 of December when he was taken from his meditation seat. He had made his body very small. They put him in a box with a window that you could look in. Most people didn't want to look but I did because I knew that I would have to tell the story. I knew it would be my job. His head was smaller but not much smaller but his whole body was like that of a child. This man had been bigger than me. He was a massive big boned Tibetan from a warrior tribe, a big strong man. When he was burnt the next day there were outer signs, a double rainbow around the sun, which is very unusual in Sikkim. There was also an enormous eagle that kept turning high up around the burning place. When his heart came out of the oven it rolled down to the students. There were many other things that happened that were very unusual.

This is a case of what you call Thukdam. Thuk is the Tibetan word for heart or deep mind and dam is bond. It is where one is able to bind the consciousness in the heart. If one is capable of doing that and holding that state then one can do all those things. Other things also happen when teachers and Yogas and Lamas die. They sometimes change the whole vibration of their bodies from solid to energy and they only leave their hair and their teeth and their nails which have no nerves and which cannot be transformed. These things are still happening. But if one transforms everything like that it is more difficult to be reborn because there is nothing physical to pull one back again. It is always difficult for high incarnates to come back because there are so many things pulling them in other directions and only other people's problems to bring them down here again. So this was an example of somebody really capable of staying in the clear light of the mind, in the state called Thukdam.

If you use meditations where you concentrate on Buddha forms disappearing and you concentrate on being aware without being aware of anything, concentrating on just naked awareness, totally conscious without having to be conscious of anything, just having awareness in its own state resting like that, then that is the kind of meditation which will develop into the power of staying aware as you are dying. It is a period where awareness and energy and space inside and outside are no longer separate, where one's mind, where awareness, clear light is the same inside and outside, where there is no difference between enlightenment here and there. It's just like space and awareness, inseparable.

If one is not capable of holding that state, and the normal taxpayer does have difficulty holding that state, then one becomes unconscious. Here the text usually says that one is unconscious for three and a half to four days. My own experience is that every time people who died came back to me it was exactly sixty eight hours. It happened with my mother and a few other times also. I don't know what meaning it has but I know that when they are there as close as you are, it's very clear that they are there. Every time checking afterwards it was 68 hours. So it may be that modern big city people, very intellectually trained people and so on, go through some processes more quickly than less neurotic farmers or people like that. Anyway, this has been my own experience.

Then when one wakes up from this state of unconsciousness, then usually one does not know that one is dead. If one's death process has been very long, if one has been dying for a long time one has some idea but if one has just been hit by something and has had no time to prepare then one really has no idea. One is also confused because one has no solid body and that means that wherever we think we are then that's where we are. If we think England or India or Thailand or Burma or Cambodia or Denmark, whatever we think, the moment we think it our awareness is there because like space and awareness, there is not anything to move. Its also a difficult situation because nobody can see us. So we try to make contact with people. We try to find out why all our friends are unhappy and our enemies are happy. We can't really understand these things. Any time we try to talk to them they walk away and when we sit in a chair they come and sit on us and so on. It feels very strange. After about a week in this state and that means about ten days after we died, then mind really faces the fact that we are dead. Then we really understand 'Oh I must be dead.' Here again if you meditate on the process where after a meditation everything arises as a pure realm, everybody is a Buddha, you are a Buddha, every thing is a pure realm, that aims for the second phase, the phase of waking up again. An ordinary person who is used to seeing the world in an ordinary way will in that situation see ordinary things everywhere, while somebody who is trained in this process of having the whole world appear as a pure land and seeing Buddha nature everywhere, will at that time when one wakes from the shock of dying, again see Buddhas and pure states of mind and one will run there and do what the Tibetans say, change bodies with the different Buddhas.

It is like a child seeing her mother and running there. When we see these different Buddha forms that we are used to meditating on, we run there and we mix into them and we enter their mental level. This is not the state of Dharmakaya or the state of highest truth. It is a state of Sambhogakaya. Its a state of blissful joy and richness of the mind. But this state is also without any kind of falling down or suffering again. If we don't make it to that state, then, as I said, mind will discover that it is actually dead and this is such a big shock that we become unconscious once more. When you wake up from that unconsciousness then the stream of experiences from the last life has been broken, the stream of experiences from the last life is over and now our subconscious begins to come up. The things that were planted inside, the pleasant, the unpleasant, the friendly and unfriendly thoughts and feelings now come up because no new impressions are coming to the mind from the outside. There is no new sensory input. All the subconscious things start coming up and depending on what is the strongest tendency inside us then one out of six worlds begins to predominate.

For instance its possible that we've done a lot of good things but we were also aware that we were doing them. In that case of course we fill the mind with good impressions but always thinking "I do this for you". We don't remove the separation between us. We don't remove the things that block us. Though the things are positive and give good dreams, they don't make us wake up into the experience that everything in the the open clear space is the same. So, if we've done that, if we've filled the mind with good impressions but still think that I do something for you, then the result is what we call the Gods' world. Buddha tells us that there are six levels where we experience spontaneous joy, all desires are spontaneously fulfilled. There are seventeen levels where we experience aesthetic joy, like beautiful sunsets and fine art and so on, and there are four levels where we experience abstraction. Buddha called them Arupadhatu, Rupadhatu and Karmadhatu, that is, the formless, the formed and the desire worlds. These three are the psychological states that we enter if a lot of positive Karma is there but we still believe that there is a me doing it for you.

Then there is also another stage which is much less pleasant. That is if jealousy is the strongest feeling in us. Then in that case we reach what is called the half-god realms. Half-gods are not having such a good time. They are always jealous, they are always fighting to get what others have, they are always experiencing looking for weapons and so on and they are not experiencing joy. They also get hurt more easily than the gods. The gods' minds function in such a way that they only think that they die if their heads are cut off. But the half-gods also think that they die if they are shot through with an arrow. So their minds work differently. Also in these half-god states beings are usually very angry and in those states when they die they really fall down because their minds are charged with negative impressions, anger and hate.

Then there is also the possibility that the mind has really clouded its potential. This can bring about a situation where one is so confused when one dies that one tries to hide between rocks or in bushes and here one can actually appear the next time with four legs and a nice fur coat. It's possible for mind to unite with the animal body at least for one life. I know at least three cases in my own experience, for some reason always with big yellow dogs, where they have come right up to me, put their paws on my chest, looked into my eyes and mentally said "What happened? Suddenly the light went out and now I'm in this state." One dog in Malta was actually following me all the time. It was so embarrassed about having that body. It was really a contact. I won't say that it happens often. If we look at the world there are so many miserable and poor and suppressed and suffering human lives that one doesn't even need to become an animal to suffer today. Look at Africa and South America and so many poor parts of the world where people have nothing. In my own experience I have made contact across that barrier and it does exist.

It's possible that greed and avarice have been the strongest feelings. At that time the desires, wishes which were always tormenting us, concentrate on food and drink. There again, beings may have very strange experiences. They may have the experience of having a very small mouth. Whatever one tries to eat is very difficult to get down. In this dream state one is in a body as big as a town and it's impossible to get what one needs. There are other states where one experiences outer hindrances, where whenever one reaches for something then some demon or disturbing influence always takes it away. Or, things become fire and burn us and so on.

Finally, if we have mainly charged the mind with anger and hate, then the result is paranoia. When the subconscious impressions come up from the mind the mind cannot stand them and the main feelings then are cold and heat. Buddha tells us that there are eight levels of feeling extreme cold and eight levels of feeling extreme heat. Then there are also stages which come from time to time like when people suddenly start drinking like mad and destroy their lives once or twice or four times a year, make a shambles of their lives and then gradually they have to get together again.

Actually we can see it all if we look in a mental institution or at human beings living in extreme situations. All these things can happen while there are physical bodies. We see human beings experiencing all these things in different places. All this can happen even more strongly when there is no physical body. Right now if one is depressed or unhappy one can eat pills, but when we die there is no body to distract the mind. The experiences are very strong. So for that reason Buddha really advises us to do, think and say useful things. Otherwise we create problems for ourselves.

These other realms, even though they may be experienced for a very long time, are realms where one gets rid of karma, where one works out karma. If one is in the god realms one is spending the money, the good energy one created. If one is in the paranoia or suffering states one is working off one's debt. But the place where one comes back to the really important place is this human life. If we return to a human life then seven weeks after dying we find some parents making love and we go down from the top of the fathers head and follow his sperm into the mother. We wait until the sperm and egg meet and then a new life starts. Or, we go from this life into one of the other pleasant or unpleasant states. But after some time again we reunite with a human life like this and this human life is where the most things can really be done. Here we have a physical body. We can understand that things are positive and negative. We have very strong feelings, desires and attachments and expectations.

If we look at the continuation of our last life or this one then the first thing to consider is what happens after we die. What structures come up, where we go. And then when we are reborn human again there are three more results. First there are many kinds of human birth. Australia, North Europe are some of the most pleasant places one can be today. So, there is the place one is born. One can be born in a place where there is collective good karma, where the poor are taken care of, where there are transparent political processes and where one can be free to have a useful life to develop oneself and think of others. Or one is born in a place with a lot of suffering, oppression and hunger, which is actually the majority of the world.

Then there is also what kind of body we get. We may get a body that is healthy and long lived, brings joy and is popular, or we may get one that is sick and not functional, is short lived and has many problems. And the third thing is the tendencies we have, that is if we naturally like to share, if we like to be good with others, if we like to benefit others, or if we like to put others down and stand on them and suppress them.

After that next life when we die, the whole inner roulette starts again. The outer impressions disappear then once again, we get into new states. Buddha tells us that there is no beginning to all this. He says that mind is like space and space has no beginning. Mind has been timelessly playing with itself, expressing its qualities, experiencing, producing situations inside and outside. And there are many more births in states of pain and suffering than in states of joy and bliss. Even when we are born here as human beings as we are now in a nice country, healthy and so on, still when we were born we didn't smile when we came out of our mothers, we screamed because it hurt. Some day we will get old, sick and die.

While we are here in our best years like we are today, we are always trying to get things we like and avoid things we don't like. We try to hold onto what we have and arrange ourselves with things we can't avoid. In all conditioned states no matter where we are there is either the suffering of everything collapsing and landing on our heads or there is the suffering of things being impermanent and changing and being unable to hold them, or there is the suffering of being ignorant, of simply not knowing, of hardly remembering yesterday and having no idea about tomorrow.

That is why Buddha is always advising us to shift our values from the bank that gives less and less interest because our life is getting shorter and we cannot take things along, to the bank that gives more and more. To shift our values from things that change and disappear, that are born and die, that come and go and shift them into something which is timeless and cannot disappear, something which is more joyful, more happy, more powerful, more compassionate. And that basically means shifting our values from the thoughts and feelings and projections of the mind into the open feeling of the space of the mind itself. It means to try to rest in our awareness and doing that, see the one who sees and not just do the things that are seen, trying to be aware of the one who is aware.

We will see three things that will make us very joyful. First we will see that that which is aware is not a thing. That is, it has no colour weight smell or size, it really like space. And recognising that it is like space, we do become fearless, I mean really fearless. Nothing can disturb us. Nothing can hurt us again. Being fearless, we can see that everything is interesting because it happens, because it shows the qualities and the abilities and the richness of the mind. Finally we can see that other beings are like us. They want happiness, want to avoid suffering, and that their mind is like clear space. And then we become loving and kind. So actually all these different qualities, all these different mental tendencies are really important. We saw quite a few of them demonstrated by a red-headed policeman on our way into Canberra. He stopped us for doing 90 kilometres per hour in a 60 zone, and he was actually completely happy that while he had to book us to keep up his quota we were going to leave the country and nobody would suffer. This feeling of sharing and being with us was a really wonderful human reaction. These tendencies exist everywhere in everybody and everybody can bring them out. There is something seeing and there is something being seen. There is a mirror there.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Monday, September 3, 2007

Lesson 15 - Jump or Fly

Please accept this gem of the dharma with metta.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Lesson 14 - Trouble Makers

Today I will try to relay a wonderful teaching given by Pema Chodron. Have you ever thought what do "Trouble Makers" in my life have to do with my spiritual development? You should know that in the Vajrayana tradition when you really start working closely with a teacher, that teacher becomes the greatest troublemaker in your life. The Rev Rimpoche is famous for a quote "the job of a spiritual teacher and friend is to insult you". If you ask why that is so it is because in order to become a completely loving person, a flexible person, you have to see where you are "hookable". You have to see where your shempa arises so that you can work with it. So in the Vajrayana tradition there is actually a whole practice in teaching that you can do that is called "heightened neurosis" where the situation is created by a set of practices that you do where the neurosis is heightened to you, because if you don't see "it", if you don't first see where you are hookable and where you get provoked with complete honesty and directness without guilt but just a great look at where you get stuck then you are always going to have that blind spot and it's always going to be there to drag you down. So if you really want liberation, really want freedom you need people around who will be provoking you to show you where it is that you still have work to do. I love this teaching and I do try to see life in this way...this does not mean that I like these people anymore than you do but that I actually see the value of what they are showing me about myself no matter what their intention is. There is an old story about a revered who had a spiritual community in France, it was a beautiful spiritual community and there was one man living in this community of about 35 people that there was not a single person who liked this man. This was because this man was so irritable and it didn't matter what you said or did he would go off the handle, he was very very grouchy. Just a very mean spirited person. So the spiritual teacher use to have the students do meaningless tasks, I think to sort of test them, to see how much they could endure. So on the particular occasion they were moving a lawn from one side of the road to the other by cutting it into small pieces and moving it from one side to the other. What a task! and this was just too much for this one individual. He threw down his sod of grass and he screamed that this was stupid and declared he wasn't going to stay another minute, he stormed away and got in a car and drove away and everyone cheered. They all screamed with joy, the whole community was so happy to see him go. When the spiritual leader heard what had happened, he got in his car and drove off after this fellow and brought him back. That night when the leader's attendant was helping him get ready for bed, the attendant who was a young boy said "sir why did you bring him back?" and the leader said, "this is a secret, just between you and I but I pay that man to be here!"

I hope you found this story funny and entertaining yet filled with the truth of the dharma. Namaste

Friday, August 17, 2007

Lesson 13 - Amitabha Unification Sadhana

Today's lesson is in response to a request I received on what is a proper sadhana for Amitabha Buddha. I will first define what is meant by the word sadhana. Sadhana (Sanskrit sādhanam) is a term for "a means of accomplishing something" or more specifically "spiritual practice". It includes a variety of disciplines from Hindu and Buddhist traditions that are followed in order to achieve various spiritual or ritual objectives. Personally when I perform sadhana in relation to Amitabha I have a practice I received many years ago and have found it to be very useful. It is called Amitabha Unification Sadhana, this was taught to me by my guru and is a direct translation from the Chinese to English by the famous Chinese author Yutang Lin. I hope to pass it along to those of you desiring a way to spread Metta (loving kindness) in your own life and those around you as well as the universal whole. Please find below the practice.

Amitabha Unification Sadhana

By Yutang Lin


Arrange offerings as usual.

Do prostration three times.

Regular Practice

Ascend the seat and practice in accordance with the sadhana as follows:

1. Motivation

Fold palms together and sincerely recite:

In a blink the swift changes of impermanence may arrive,
Sentient beings are drifting in the ocean of suffering,
This altruistic session born of sober clarity is all too precious,
For all beings this sadhana is practiced to realize Amitabha.

2. Original Purity

Rest the hands in Dhyana mudra, and silently recite three times:

All things are conditional phenomena,
Mutually dependent and coexistent;
Renouncing antagonistic discriminations,
all appear as original purity in oneness.

Visualize the whole Dharmadhatu return to original purity, and appear as boundless sky-blue light.

3. Totality

Visualize that all the four classes of saints and the six realms of sentient beings appear from this blue light.

Visualize that one’s father and mother are to the right and left side, all beings related to one through past karma to the front, and the rest of the sentient beings behind. Among the six realms of sentient beings behind one, those in hells who need salvation most are closest to one, then are the other beings in the order of hungry ghosts, animals, humans, asuras, and finally the heavenly beings. All sentient beings are facing the same direction as the practitioner.

Visualize that in the space in front of the practitioner are all the holy beings: Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Arahats, Pratyekabuddhas, Dharma Protectors, etc. At the center is Amitabha Buddha (red), with Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (white) and Bodhisattva Mahasthanaprapta (blue) to his right and left. These three holy beings are surrounded by all holy beings of the Western Pure Land of Utmost Joy. These are in turn surrounded by layer after layer of all the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and holy beings of all other Pure Lands. With great compassion all holy beings look attentively at all the sentient beings below.

4. Taking Refuge

Fold palms together and sincerely recite three times the following refuge formula while visualizing that all sentient beings are gazing with admiration at Amitabha Buddha in the sky and recite together in unison:

I take refuge in the Vajra Guru.
I take refuge in Amitabha Buddha.
I take refuge in thorough Buddha Dharma.
I take refuge in holy beings of Bodhi.

Visualize that all holy beings are rejoicing over sentient beings’ ability to recognize and choose the path toward liberation. Amitabha Buddha, on behalf of all holy beings, grants refuge to all sentient beings. From the heart chakra of Amitabha Buddha rays of blue light radiates forth to each and every sentient being. In this way each sentient being’s bad karma is eradicated, merits increased, and Bodhicitta nurtured. This ray of blue light then stays, like a candle flame, in the heart of the sentient being, shines forth the light of Bodhi, and sheds light on the right path of Bodhi forever.

5. Offering

Visualize that all sentient beings take delight in participating the making of extensive and long-term offerings and donations, and that they join the practitioner in reciting in unison the following stanza:

Filling the whole Dharmadhatu with treasures,
Pouring all attainments of the wisdom path,
Offered without reluctance nor omission;
Beg to accept out of compassion and empathy,
Exhibit skillful display of the wondrous Dharma,
Salvage without neglect nor omission.

Visualize that all holy beings are delighted by the Bodhicitta, which is the pure motivation underlying these offerings, and therefore gladly accept and enjoy the offerings. Each and every holy being obtains complete enjoyment of all sorts. All holy beings emit lights in blue, white, yellow, red and green color that enlighten the whole Dharmadhatu and give blessings to all sentient beings. Then all holy beings other than Amitabha Buddha transform into lights and merge into Amitabha Buddha.

6. Praise

Recite with ardent devotion and may use accompanying Dharma instruments such as bell, drum, inverted bell (Yin Qing) and wooden fish; visualize that all sentient beings join the practitioner in ardently reciting in unison the following praise:

Amitabha Buddha emits pure lights,
Spiritual nature of sentient beings in all directions are revealed!
Amitabha Buddha enunciates clear sounds;
Sorrows of sentient beings at all times are eradicated!
Amitabha Buddha always remembered,
Even trapped in the mire of sorrows one is still spotless!
Amitabha Buddha is the mentor,
Rebirth in Pure Land and full enlightenment are at hand!

Visualize that Amitabha Buddha, upon hearing this praise, is very pleased by the right faith of the practitioner and the sentient beings. Amitabha Buddha emits bright red lights from his heart chakra shining through the whole Dharmadhatu and giving blessings to all sentient beings. Then Amitabha Buddha sprinkles showers of nectar from his bowl upon sentient beings to purify their karma of body, speech and mind. The nectar is also granted for sentient beings to drink in order to nourish their wisdom and expand their life span.

7. Accomplishment

Visualize that, through the nectar blessing of Amitabha Buddha, all sentient beings in the whole Dharmadhatu have returned to the original purity; they all transform and merge into a boundless sky-blue light. Amitabha Buddha, having thus purified all sentient beings, also transforms and merges into this light of original purity. The whole Dharmadhatu becomes a limitless and indiscriminative Oneness.

In this vast expanse of blue brilliance, suddenly there appears a karma vajra. Above the karma vajra, there appears a magnificent Dharma seat supported by eight lions.

Then above the seat there appears, one after the other and one above the other, a lotus, a moon cushion and a sun cushion. At the center of the sun cushion there appears a red seed word "Hsri" standing upright. Hsri transforms into Amitabha Buddha with red brilliant rainbow body, sitting in lotus posture, and holding at his lap with both hands a bowl full of nectar. In the heart chakra of Amitabha Buddha there is a lotus, above which is a moon cushion, and a sun cushion atop. Standing upright at the center of this sun cushion is a red seed word "Hsri." Evenly distributed around and above the circumference of the sun cushion are the six words constituting the Heart Mantra of Amitabha Buddha. All six words of this mantra wheel are red in color and are arranged counterclockwise in their regular order.

The Heart Mantra of Amitabha Buddha

Om A Mi Da Wa Hsri

8. Spinning

Recite the Heart Mantra and simultaneously visualize that the mantra wheel in the heart chakra is spinning. The word Hsri at the center remains still. The mantra wheel spins clockwise with ever increasing speed. After a long while of spinning, the mantra wheel gradually slows down until it comes to a complete stop.

As the mantra wheel spins, it simultaneously emits waves of red light spreading in all directions throughout the whole Dharmadhatu. With each wave of red light countless numbers of Amitabha Buddhas are sent forth. These Amitabha Buddhas surf the waves of light to all corners of the Dharmadhatu in order to salvage all sorts of sentient beings.

9. One Breath

With mouth closed and tongue touching the upper front palate, practice deep breathing through the nostrils. While inhaling visualize that the ignorance, sinful karma, sickness, suffering, sorrows, karmic hindrances, etc., of all sentient beings are transforming into foul and black air, and yet are inhaled by Amitabha Buddha out of great compassion. While holding the breath visualize that all such foul and black air has been purified by the profound wisdom and countless merits of Amitabha Buddha into clean and fresh air of wisdom which will nourish the wisdom life of each and every sentient being. While exhaling visualize that this clean and fresh air of wisdom permeates the whole Dharmadhatu, nourishing and maturing all sentient beings so that they would open and expand their minds and attain full enlightenment soon.

10. Identification

Having merged through the communion in one breath of Amitabha Buddha and all sentient beings, the Buddha and sentient beings transform into light and become one in the brilliant blue light of original purity. The nominal distinction between "Buddha" and "sentient being" gradually fades away. The whole Dharmadhatu again appears as limitless blue brilliance.

From this brightness of original purity Amitabha Buddha appears in human form as the practitioner to facilitate teaching and salvaging sentient beings in this world in accordance with their various aptitudes and conditions. Then Amitabha Buddha descends from the seat. Afterwards Amitabha Buddha employs the form, speeches and activities of the practitioner to expand ingenious contrivances in limitless fashions toward the compassionate salvation of all sentient beings.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Lesson 12- Quan Yin

In today’s lesson I would like to introduce you to the female Bodhisattva Quan Yin. Quan Yin along with other figures in Buddhism illustrate Buddhism's feminine side. Quan Yin is the bodhisattva of compassion. She is often called “the one who hears the cries of the world”. Many legends state that if one is ever in need all they need to do is call out for her and she will help. This belief comes from the idea that she has a special relationship with sound. Many people chant her mantra ( I always chant it when I am nervous – like riding in a plane) it is said that the more you chant her holy mantra the more she “hears” you and grows in affinity with you. Her mantra is: Om Mani Padme Hum. Om Mani Pedme Hum (or Om Mani Pedme Hung), is the most common mantra in Tibet, recited by Buddhists, painted or carved on rocks, prayer wheels. Tibetan people, almost all Buddhists, do believe that it is very good to practice the mantra of Chenrezi/Quan Yin , the Bodhisattva of Compassion (The protective deity of Tibet), which may, relieve negative karma, accumulate merit, help rescue them from the sea of suffering and achieve Buddhahood. Speaking the mantra loud or silently, spinning prayer wheels with the mantra, and carving mantra into stones are the usual practices. 

Om, symbolize one's impure body, speech and mind, and also the pure noble body, speech and mind of a Buddha. Buddhism claims that an impure body, speech and mind can be transformed into pure ones of a Buddha, who was once impure and later by removing their negative attributes, achieved enlightenment on his path. 

Mani, the jewel, symbolizes factors of method, compassion and love, the altruistic intention to become enlightened. "Just as a jewel is capable of removing poverty, so the altruistic mind of enlightenment is capable of removing the poverty, or difficulties, and of solitary peace. Similarly, just as a jewel fulfills the wishes of sentient beings, so the altruistic intention to become enlightened fulfills the wishes of sentient beings", the Dalai Lama says. 

PADME means lotus and symbolizes wisdom. Growing out of mud, but not being stained by mud, lotus indicates the quality of wisdom, which keeps you out of contradiction. 

The last syllabus, Hum, means inseparability; symbolizing purity & can be achieved by the unity of method and wisdom.

Quan Yin is truley one of the the most beloved female figures in Buddhism. She is also thought to have a particulair affinity for children and women. Above is her most iconic representation. In most statues or paintings of her you will see her pouring something from a vase….this is to represent the pouring of compassion on all sentient beings.

The legend of Quan Yin

One of the deities most frequently seen on altars in temples is Quan Yin (also spelled Kwan Yin, Kuanyin; in pinyin, Guanyin). In Sanskrit, her name is Padma-pâni, or "Born of the Lotus." Quan Yin, alone among Buddhist gods, is loved rather than feared and is the model of beauty. Regarded as the goddess of mercy, she was originally male until the early part of the 12th century and has evolved since that time from her prototype, Avalokiteshvara, "the merciful lord of utter enlightment," an Indian bodhisattva who chose to remain on earth to bring relief to the suffering rather than enjoy for himself the ecstasies of Nirvana. One of the several stories surrounding Quan Yin is that she was a Buddhist who through great love and sacrifice during life, had earned the right to enter Nirvana after death. However, like Avlokiteshvara, while standing before the gates of Paradise she heard a cry of anguish from the earth below. Turning back to earth, she renounced her reward of bliss eternal but in its place found immortality in the hearts of the suffering. In China she has many names and is also known as "great mercy, great pity; salvation from misery, salvation from woe; self-existent; thousand arms and thousand eyes," etc. In addition she is often referred to as the Goddess of the Southern Sea -- or Indian Archipelago -- and has been compared to the Virgin Mary. She is one of the San Ta Shih, or the Three Great Beings, renowned for their power over the animal kingdom or the forces of nature. These three Bodhisattvas or P'u Sa as they are know in China, are namely Manjusri (Skt.) or Wên Shu, Samantabhadra or P'u Hsien, and Avalokitesvara or Quan Yin.

Quan Yin is a shortened form of a name that means One Who Sees and Hears the Cry from the Human World. Her Chinese title signifies, "She who always observes or pays attention to sounds," i.e., she who hears prayers. Sometimes possessing eleven heads, she is surnamed Sung-Tzu-Niang-Niang, "lady who brings children." She is goddess of fecundity as well as of mercy. Worshipped especially by women, this goddess comforts the troubled, the sick, the lost, the senile and the unfortunate. Her popularity has grown such through the centuries that she is now also regarded as the protector of seafarers, farmers and travelers. She cares for souls in the underworld, and is invoked during post-burial rituals to free the soul of the deceased from the torments of purgatory. There are temples all over dedicated to this goddess.

No other figure in the pantheon appears in a greater variety of images, of which there are said to be thousands of different incarnations or manifestations. Quan Yin is usually depicted as a barefoot, gracious woman dressed in beautiful, white flowing robes, with a white hood gracefully draped over the top of the head and carrying a small upturned vase of holy dew. (However, in the Lamaistic form, common in bronze from eighteenth-century China and Tibet, she is often entirely naked.) She stands tall and slender, a figure of infinite grace, her gently composed features conveying the sublime selflessness and compassion that have made her the favorite of all deities. She may be seated on an elephant, standing on a fish, nursing a baby, holding a basket, having six arms or a thousand, and one head or eight, one atop the next, and four, eighteen, or forty hands, which which she strives to alleviate the sufferings of the unhappy. She is frequently depicted as riding a mythological animal known as the Hou, which somewhat resembles a Buddhist lion, and symbolises the divine supremacy exercised by Quan Yin over the forces of nature. Her bare feet are the consistent quality. On public altars, Quan Yin is frequently flanked by two acolytes, to her right a barefoot, shirtless youth with his hands clasped in prayer known as Shan-ts'ai (Golden Youth), and on her left a maid demurely holding her hands together inside her sleeves known as Lung-nü (Jade Maiden). Her principal feast occurs yearly on the nineteenth day of the second lunar month. However, she is fortunate in having three birthdays, the nineteenth of the second, sixth and ninth months. There are many metamorphoses of this goddess. She is the model of Chinese beauty, and to say a lady or a little girl is a Kwan Yin is the highest compliment that can be paid to grace and loveliness.

According to one ancient legend her name was Miao Shan, and she was the daughter of an Indian Prince. Youthful and serene, she chose to follow a path of self-sacrifice and virtue, and became a pious follower of Buddha, herself attaining the right to budddhahood but remaining on earth to help mankind. In order to convert her blind father, she visited him transfigured as a stranger, and informed him that were he to swallow an eyeball of one of his children, his sight would be restored. His children would not consent to the necessary sacrifice, whereupon the future goddess created an eye which her parent swallowed and he regained his sight. She then persuaded her father to join the Buddhist priesthood by pointing out the folly and vanity of a world in which children would not even sacrifice an eye for the sake of a parent.

Another Miao Shan legend was that the son of the dragon king had taken the form of a carp and was caught by a fisherman and displayed for sale in the market place. Miao Shan sent her servant to buy the fish and released it.

As related in yet another legend Quan Yin was said to be the daughter of a sovereign of the Chou dynasty, who strenously opposed her wish to be a nun, and was so irritated by her refusal to marry that he put her to humiliating tasks in the convent. This means of coercion failed, and her father then ordered her to be executed for disobedience to his wishes. But the executioner, a man of tender heart and some forethought, brought it about that the sword which was to descend upon her should break into a thousand pieces. Her father thereupon ordered her to be stifled. As the story goes, she forthwith went to Hell, but on her arrival the flames were quenched and flowers burst into bloom. Yama, the presiding officer, looked on in dismay at what seemed to be the summary abolition of his post, and in order to keep his position he sent her back to life again. Carried in the fragrant heart of a lotus flower she went to the island of Putuo, near Ningbo. One day her father fell ill and according to a Chinese custom, she cut the flesh from her arms that it might be made into medicine. A cure was effected, and in his gratitude her father ordered her statue to be made "with completely-formed arms and eyes." Owing to a misunderstanding of the orders the sculptor carved the statue with many heads and many arms, and so it remains to this day.

The image of this divinity is generally placed on a special altar at the back of the great Shakyamuni Buddha behind a screen, and facing the north door, in the second half of the Buddhist monastery. Quan Yin is also worshipped by the Taoists, and they imitate the Buddhists in their descriptions of this deity, speaking in the same manner of her various metamorphoses, her disposition to save the lost, her purity, wisdom, and marvel-working power.

From early Ch'ing times to the present, many thousands of statues of Quan Yin have been carved in jade. The Maternal Goddess, the Protectress of Children, the Observer of All Sounds, Quan Yin is a favorite figure in domestic shrines. As well, her image is carved on small jades which Chinese women offer faithfully at the temples dedicated to her. She also is the single most important figure crafted in blanc de Chine ware, with approximately nine out of every ten figures from Dehua representing that divinity in one or other of her manifestations. (The Quan Yins often were described to European purchasers as "white Santa Marias," so as to make them more desirable to a Christian market.)

Monday, July 30, 2007

Lesson 11 - Don't Embarrass the Buddha

This week I have a special treat for my dharma friends. A Video Dharma talk! I think that many westerners who have not attended dharma talks have an idea of a stiff ritual enviroment but this is not the case usually. Lamas and Dharma instructors usually are very funny people who love to laugh and help you see where you can laugh at yourself. Make no mistake about it though there is good solid dharma here. The person who I have chosen for your dharma talk is a master at this approuch his name is Tsem Tulku Rinpoche he was recognized by His Holiness the Dalia Lama as an incarnation and was instructed by him. I think you will find this a wonderful addition to your dharma instruction. Check back later this week for a look at some of the deities and figures in Buddhism. I will start a series of entries of this subject. The first dieties we will look at are the female deities White Tara and Quan Yin. Enjoy today's dharma talk!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Lesson 10 - Meditation

Today's lesson is on Meditation. I could write a book on this subject but for purposes of this blog I will keep it simple and concise. Meditation can take many forms, walking meditation where practitioners walk in a defined manner while focusing concentration often done in Tibetan Buddhism and Zen Buddhism. There is Vipassana meditation, a Sanskrit word meaning insight. Samatha which is a calming pacifying meditation popular in many Yoga classes. There are guided meditations with the practitioner focusing on mental visualizations. All good forms of meditation. The meditation I have found most useful in my own life is called Kalibasa in the Shum language of India. It is a technique that I believe with practice anyone can use. I will make the point here that meditation is a skill that must be honed. Many people have commented to me "I can't mind just will not slow down!" This is the case for everyone. Meditation at first is not an easy task. So be patient with yourself and grow into your practice. It will become easier with time. In Buddhism we call this racing of the mental faculties the "monkey mind", I think this term gives an adequate description. The mind is wild and out of control in its state as we normally view it. When you sit down and see how frantic your mind is this is good! You can understand why you might be stressed with all of those thoughts bouncing around uncontrollably in there. The goal of meditation is to witness this and then work to make the mind a calm and peaceful state. You do this by first being aware. When thoughts arise in your meditations look at them like passing clouds. Just notice them and then let them drift away. The mind can be peaceful but the "monkey mind" needs to be trained. Keep at it and the rewards will be great.

What will follow is a structured outline of Kalibasa meditation.

We now come to the practical aspects of meditation. In the beginning, it is best to find a suitable room that is dedicated solely to meditation. If you were a carpenter, you would get a shop for that purpose. You have a room for eating, a room for sleeping. It is best to have a separate room just for the purpose of meditation. If you are fortunate to have this, wash the walls and ceiling, wash the windows. Prepare a small altar if you like, bringing together the elements of earth, air, fire and water or place on your altar those representations of faith that are aligned with you. If it is not possible to dedicate a room to meditation then I would suggest a special area of a room, free from clutter and only used for this purpose. Establish a time for your meditations and meet those times strictly. This is VERY important. There will be days when you just don't feel like meditating. Good. Those are often the best days, the times when we make strong inner strides. The finest times to meditate are six in the morning, twelve noon, six in the evening, and twelve midnight. All four of these times could be used, or just choose one. The period of meditation should be from ten minutes to one-half hour to begin with. Posture is important as well in meditation. By sitting up straight, with the spine erect, we transmute the energies of the physical body. Posture is important, especially as meditation deepens and lengthens. With the spine erect and the head balanced at the top of the spine, the life force is quickened and intensified as energies flood freely through the nerve system. It is best to keep the tongue touching the inside of the front teeth lightly and breathing through your nose. In a position such as this, we cannot become worried, fretful, depressed or sleepy during our meditation. But if we slump the shoulders forward, we short-circuit the life energies. In a position such as this, it is easy to become depressed, to have mental arguments with oneself or another, or to experience unhappiness as the energy flow is restricted. So, learn to sit dynamically, relaxed and yet poised. The full-lotus position, with the right foot resting on the left thigh and the left foot above, resting on the right thigh, is the most stable posture to assume, hands resting in the lap, right hand on top, with both thumbs touching.

The first observation you may have when thus seated for meditation is that thoughts are racing through the mind substance. You may become aware of many, many thoughts. Also the breath may be irregular. Therefore, the next step is to transmute the energies from the intellectual area of the mind through proper breathing, in just the same way that proper attitude, preparation and posture transmuted the physical-instinctive energies. Through regulation of the breath,thoughts are stilled and awareness moves into an area of the mind which does not think, but conceives and intuits.

There are vast and powerful systems of breathing that can stimulate the mind, sometimes to excess. Deep meditation requires only that the breath be systematically slowed or lengthened. This happens naturally as we go within, but can be encouraged by a method of breathing called kalibasa in Shum. During kalibasa, the breath is counted, nine counts as we inhale, hold one count, nine counts as we exhale, hold one count. The length of the beats, or the rhythm of the breath,will slow as the meditation is sustained, until we are counting to the beat of the heart, hridaya spanda pranayama. This exercise allows awareness to flow into an area of the mind that is intensely alive, peaceful, blissful and conceives the totality of a concept rather than thinking out the various parts.

Remember as with any skill practice makes perfect. Give yourself the gift of having a wellspring to draw from and start meditating today. It is beneficial for the soul and as many researchers have noted on the body as well. Only with a calm mind can one practice the dharma. This is why meditation is a corner stone of Buddhist practice. When you start to meditate you will start to experience your TRUE self.


Monday, July 9, 2007

Lesson 9 - The Precepts

This Lesson is probably the most important lesson I will give you. It is the rock from which we Buddhist stand and is hands down the most fundamental of the practices. The Buddhist precepts are a moral code by which we live our lives. When you become a Buddhist you take vows that state you will uphold these precepts. You will see that the precepts are not written in such a way that say "thou shalt..." this is a defining difference in Buddhism which I think sets it apart from many other religious paths. In Buddhism we do not say one MUST do anything...rather we realize that by doing one thing we bring virtuous karma and while doing other things we generate negative karma. So the precepts should be looked at in this manner. What we do has cause and effect, following the precepts insures us that we are generating positive karma for ourselves and the world while avoiding those actions which rain down negative karma on us personally and the world at large. Having said this let us begin learning about the precepts.

We will start with the lay precepts these are the precepts that those of us who are not monks or nuns will follow on our Buddhist path. They are as follows.

1) Refrain from destroying life. We all have life. The universe itself is life. We should not destroy that of which we are a part of. This is the first vow for a good reason. If you do this you will go a very long way in not generating negative karma. This precept is why Buddhist do not eat meat. This precept has some deep implications and I will do my best to try to help you gain a good understanding of this. When you eat meat not only do you generate the negative karma from that action but you also generate a type of karma from the cause of this action. If you did not eat meat then animals would not have to suffer as they do being penned up and slaughtered, there would not be people generating the negative karma of actually killing those animals. So do you see how the action of you eating meat extends itself? If you did not eat the meat there would be no need for the animals to suffer or for people to do a negative occupation such as slaughtering animals. So if you wish to reduce your negative karma this is the one thing that will get you the farthest on that goal. This is also why you will never see a Buddhist kill an insect. ALL life is precious and worthy of us honoring it. Even the tiniest of be careful and don't step on ants! Negative karma is easy to generate.

2) Refrain from taking what is not given. We all have our own place in the world, our own position and property. We should not invade others position or property. So we should not steal.

3) Do not desire too much. We all have desire, but excessive desire is not the origin of happiness. It destroys our composure. Too much desire tends to make our lives very unhappy. This vow is usually interpreted also in regard to relationships. We should live in the morality not to have immoral desires for others. If you are in a relationship it would be considered immoral sexual conduct to desire another. In the monks and nuns vows this is the vow of celibacy.

4) Refrain from Lying. We are living in the universe. The universe is the truth itself. Truth and honesty are bound together. If we want to find the truth we must be honest. If we are not honest we can never find our real situation in the universe.

5) Refrain from intoxicants that cloud ones mindfulness. I have seen in my own Buddhist path this precept interpreted in a few ways so I will explain them to you as such. One school of thought says that this precept was originally intended to refer to not making ones livelihood by selling intoxicants. Other schools of thought say this precept was designed to mean not to partake of intoxicants on religious days. Personally I look at this precept in terms of merit. Of course should you choose a life that does not involve partaking of intoxicants I think you will receive more merit. I think if you partake of alcohol or drugs and attend a ceremony at the temple it would also be very obvious that you would generate great negative karma from the disrespect of this action.

Okay those are the precepts for the lay. If you wish you can vow to take the other additional precepts. All monks and nuns entering the monastery must take these additional vows.

6) Only eat at appropriate times. Which means only eat from sunrise to noon.

7) Refrain from viewing or participating in shows or wearing jewelry. This precept in our modern world relates to not viewing things that disturb our mind. Watching violence on TV. It also relates to not being showy and wearing lots of jewelry in a prideful manner.

8) Refrain from using high luxurious beds. This precept is about humility.

Those are the basics of Buddhist precepts. I will now give you a few more that I feel apply to those Buddhist true to the dharma. These precepts are good for the lay to follow as well and are mandatory for all monks and nuns to follow.

9) Don't discuss failures of Buddhist priest or layman.

10) Don't praise yourself or berate others.

11) Don't begrudge the sharing of Buddhist teachings or other things but share them freely.

12) Don't become angry.

13) Don't abuse the Triple jewels. The Buddha, the dharma, the sangha.

I hope this gives you a good code of moral conduct to follow. If you do these things I assure you, you will generate good karma and stay away from those actions which will create negative karma. I will leave you with one last thought on the precepts. My guru once told me. If you are unhappy with some aspect of your life you should look to the precepts and see which one you are violating. If you are the victim of people talking negative about you, you are talking negative about others. If you are suffering physically maybe you are violating the first precept and causing others to suffer. All of our lives are cause and effect, nothing happens TO us. We generate our own karma. Carefully observing the precepts is a must for all Buddhist who wish to live a good and fruitful life.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Lesson 8 - Emptying Your Cup

Last lesson we talked about temple life and I gave you a resource for audio dharma talks by the tibetan master Gehlek Rimpoche. In this lesson I would like to further give you a taste of the transmission of dharma through a written dharma talk.

As a child I looked forward every week to going to the temple for our weekly dharma talks. It was a chance to learn something that I always found useful in my daily life also I always felt transported to faraway lands as the Geshle would tell these insightful dharma stories...see this is the way that the dharma has been disseminated from the time of the Buddha. These wonderful stories told over and over never changing yet always spot on to any age’s problems, ancient yet modern in their relevance. Please enjoy.

Dharma Talk ~Emptying Your Cup~

One of my favorite stories concerns a Buddhist scholar and a Zen Master. The scholar had an extensive background in Buddhist Studies and was an expert on the Nirvana Sutra. He came to study with the master and after making the customary bows, asked her to teach him Zen. Then, he began to talk about his extensive doctrinal background and rambled on and on about the many sutras he had studied.

The master listened patiently and then began to make tea. When it was ready, she poured the tea into the scholar's cup until it began to overflow and run all over the floor. The scholar saw what was happening and shouted, "Stop, stop! The cup is full; you can't get anymore in."

The master stopped pouring and said: "You are like this cup; you are full of ideas about Buddha's Way. You come and ask for teaching, but your cup is full; I can't put anything in. Before I can teach you, you'll have to empty your cup."

This story is and old one, but it continues to be played out in our lives day-by-day. We are so enamored of our own ideas and opinions and so trapped by our conditioning that we fill ourselves up to the brim and nothing can get in.

The third ancestor in china, Seng Ts'an, said, "Do not search for the truth; only cease to cherish opinions." If we empty ourselves out, let go, and cease to hold on to our views, the truth will come to us.

We Westerners, who cherish our opinions, find this difficult, for we have been brought up to value the rational thought processes above all else; this attitude is deeply embedded in us, for it goes all the way back to Aristotle and forms the basis for much of our way of life, at least as it is taught in our secular public school system.

But Seng Ts'ans's way -- empty yourself of opinions and truth will come to you-- also finds voice in Western culture, not in the mainstream, but in the lives and writings of assorted sages and saints. The Seventeenth-century Catholic poet Angelus Silesius put it this way:

God, whose love and joy
are present everywhere,
Can't come and visit you
unless you aren't there.

The deep peace and fullness that comes from living a spiritual life is not a matter of accumulating knowledge. If we empty our, insight and understanding will come. If not, we go forth into the world with our own ideas and opinions and we see the world through this filter.

Zen Master Dogen put it this way in Genjo Koan:

Acting on and witnessing myriad things with the burden of oneself is delusion. Acting on and witnessing oneself in the advent of myriad things is enlightenment. What this means is that when we approach things carrying our conditioning, ideas, or opinions, our perceptions are colored by them. This is the "burden of oneself" we carry. Unless we can empty ourselves and enter the moment free and open, our perceptions are clouded by delusion, and we can't see things clearly.

For example, if you are repeatedly told as a child, "Don't trust people; they're only out to use you," it may be difficult for you to approach a people openly, with an empty cup. If you have been used by people and have had these opinions reinforced, it will be even more difficult. Conversely, people carry much of what others have told us about our fellow man, what our own experiences have been, what we've read, and what advertising presents us. This becomes part of ourselves. It takes a great effort to unload this burden and see people, as they are when we meet them. To see with the eyes of a sentient being is to see through this filter of the self.

To see with Buddha's eyes is different. The second part of Zen Master Dogen's statement reads, "Acting on and witnessing oneself in the advent of myriad things is enlightenment." The myriad things (all beings) come forth as they are and confirm ourselves as we are. We learn from all beings what we are when we allow them to come forth as they are and see ourselves in their light. Then, as Angelus Silesius says, "God visits us;" we are no longer incomplete but full, with nothing lacking, in Buddhist terms, "awake." Then we see with Buddha's eyes.

If we see with Buddha's eyes, everything is fresh and new, for we receive things with a free and open mind, empty of preconceptions. My master had a way of approaching each encounter freshly, open to what was happening at that moment, with no carry over from what had happened in the past. Whenever he re-connected with people after a bad interaction, he never felt that he was still carrying anything. This was one of his greatest strengths.

Children are also like this. How many times have we seen children arguing and screaming at each other one minute and playing nicely, the best of buddies, the next? They can drop one moment's mental state and move on to the next with little carry-over. In our practice, this is called emptying the cup, cultivating an open mind, one that is able to meet every moment and be filled by it, rather than remaining closed and filling the moment from our own side. This is something we lose when we get older, and something we cultivate in our practice of zazen.

In the story we began with, the master showed the scholar how ideas and opinions about Buddha's way fill our cups and, as a result, we are unable to absorb true teaching when we encounter it. This teaching can come to us in the form of a living master who embodies it in everyday life. When encountering such a teacher, you should, in the words of Zen Master Dogen:

Listen to the teaching without trying to make it conform to your own self-centered viewpoint; otherwise, you will be unable to understand what is said.... Unify your body and mind and receive the Master's teaching as if water were being poured from one vessel into another.

The teaching can also come to us through any being, sentient or otherwise. If we are open to it, if our cups are empty, the water will fill them; if not, the water will flow onto the floor and be lost.