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.)