Posted in Zen Buddhism

Saturday Satori

The other morning, I was lounging in bed, savoring that sweet spot between sleep and wakefulness. And then I heard my neighbor’s wind-chimes.

Time stopped.

The universe expanded.

There were no wind-chimes to produce the sound and no “me” to hear it.

We had merged into the sound, itself. There was nothing else. In that moment, only the sound remained.

The best way I can analogize it is to compare it to the visual effect Sam Raimi made famous, the “push-pull.” (He uses a dolly to move the camera rapidly toward a person or thing, while adjusting the lens so that the subject doesn’t get larger in frame. The net effect is that it appears that the background is moving away from the subject.) Although the experience wasn’t visual. It wasn’t auditory, either, although it was triggered by an auditory stimulus.

Then I realized that “I” had attained something – a moment of full peace – and my “self” came rushing back, ending the moment.

This is what Buddhists call a “kensho” moment, a taste of satori, a foreshadowing of nirvana. This has happened to me more times than I can count over the course of my life, usually when I’m being still. While it’s nice when it’s happening, the trick is not to get attached to it.

When I start grasping and clinging to the moment, when I start wanting it to happen again, I only push it farther away. More than that, I set myself up for disappointment, as no two moments are alike. The Buddha taught that the origin of our unhappiness is wanting things to be other than as they are. Therefore, I try to accept each meditation experience, each breath, each moment, as it comes.

Once I got over congratulating myself on having had this experience, my mind settled, creating space for something new. I had three or four more kensho moments, when my thinking mind fell away and the universe opened. Each lasted for an unknown amount of time, but no more than a few minutes, then dissolved when my thoughts returned.

And that’s okay, as I need my thinking mind to navigate this human existence in the world of form. Eventually, the thought came that it was time to get up and start the day. I used my thinking mind to cook breakfast. Ah…!

 

Posted in Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism

The Four Great Vows

One of the sanghas to which I belong recently became a California non-profit. As part of that process, we wrote our bylaws. And, like our parent organization, the Five Mountain Zen Order, we decided to include the Four Great Vows in those bylaws.

Sentient beings are numberless; we vow to save them all.

Delusions are endless; we vow to cut through them all.

The teachings are infinite; we vow to learn them all.

The Buddha way is inconceivable; we vow to realize it.

Most of us, when reading or reciting these vows for the first time, are struck my the impossibility of actually keeping them. And that’s okay; some vows aren’t meant to be “kept” so much as “attempted.”

One of the most important things I’ve learned is that intention is the key to the spiritual life. I remember Khenpo Ugyen Wangchuk giving a teaching on this in 2013. It can be tricky, because it requires tremendous self-knowledge and honesty. “Oh, I meant well…” isn’t good enough. Mistakes are fine, provided they come from a sincere heart.  But we must be clear about the sincerity and strength of our intentions. If we enter the spiritual life half-heartedly, we’re deluding ourselves that anything will change.

We also need effort, but that flows naturally from powerful intention. Let’s use meditation as an example. I intend to meditate every day. But I still have to follow up my intention with the effort of sitting my butt on the cushion. If I can’t seem to make that happen, then my intention wasn’t strong or heart-felt enough. If my intention is deep enough, if it’s felt in my bones, if I can’t imagine a world where I’m not meditating every day, then I’ll exert the effort and get it done.

All of which means: we’re not off the hook on these vows! We have to try. We help sentient beings whenever we can, from catching and releasing a bug that came into the home, to giving a stranger directions. We look fearlessly at our own spiritual ignorance and attempt to illuminate the dark places through meditation. We read, study, attend Dharma talks, and question everything until learning takes place. And we watch how we keep our minds, moment to moment.

What’s the point, if the vows can’t be kept? First of all, it makes a difference to that stranger who was lost! But even more basically, it’s training in how to keep going, even in the face of impossibility. If we can look at the enormity the Four Great Vows and commit to undertaking them, how much easier is that daily meditation practice by comparison!

May all beings benefit.

Jabo Prajna Chop Small

“It’s a basic fact about being human that sometimes the self seems to just melt away.”

—Jonathan Haidt

No-Self

“The root of ‘spirit’ is the Latin spirare, to breathe. Whatever lives on the breath, then, must have its spiritual dimension.”

—Jane Hirshfield

Inspiration

“What makes the desert beautiful,” said the little prince, “is that somewhere it hides a well …”

—Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

Hidden Well