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

Posted in Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism

Zen and the Dalai Lama

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The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, is coming to Southern California this summer.

“We’re Zen Buddhists. Who cares about the Dalai Lama?” you might think. It would be like a Baptist going to see the Pope.

Not exactly. The differences between the various branches of Mahayana Buddhism are much more about form than substance. To use another analogy from my Christian upbringing, the difference often is on the level of sprinkle vs. dunk for baptism. The core beliefs, and even practices, are surprisingly similar.

Vajrayana Buddhism, what we think of as “Tibetan,” is technicolor, and Zen is black and white. But both schools have meditation as their primary practice. Both teach on emptiness and the nature of mind. Both have as their goal the liberation of all beings.

An then there’s the fact that the Dalai Lama is a prolific author on Buddhism, a social activist, and a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and you have a man worth listening to.

Tickets go on sale April 2nd, and you can get yours here.

I’m going. Hit me up if you want to carpool.

~ Rev. Jăbō

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Posted in Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism

Impermanence

The Radiant Buddha said:

Regard this fleeting world like this:
Like stars fading and vanishing at dawn,
like bubbles on a fast moving stream,
like morning dewdrops evaporating on blades of grass,
like a candle flickering in a strong wind,
echoes, mirages and phantoms, hallucinations,
and like a dream.

— the Eight Similes of Illusion,
from The Prajna Paramita Sutras

I copied this passage into a journal entry dated 12-2-02. It gives me a soft, gentle ache in my heart to read. Because I understand impermanence. 

No, really. I do.

You see, I’m a breast cancer survivor. I had Stage III B on a scale where the next step up is nearly always fatal. So I’ve had an up-close-and-personal view of death. Of impermanence. Of life. And gratitude.

I’m so grateful to the Buddha for reminding us that it is all just an illusion. It helps keep me from getting too attached to this form. May it help you, too.

~Jabo

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Posted in Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism

The Stream of Power and Wisdom

Place yourself into the middle of the stream of power and wisdom which flows into your life.  Then, without effort, you are impelled to truth and to perfect contentment.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

I love Emerson’s suggestion.  There are many ways to place oneself into the stream.  Yesterday, I did so while painting the inside of a house.  Most days, I do so through meditation.  And I am deeply content.  Even while waiting for insurance authorization of my radiation treatments.  Even while bone weary from painting.  When I remember that I’m in the stream, as a Zen Buddhist monk once said to me, “I don’t get disturbed.”

Posted in Tibetan Buddhism

Gateway

I’ve been accepted into a 7-year study and practice program entitled “Gateway: Journey into the Heart of Machig’s Lineage.”  This is a reference to Machig Labdron, an 11th Century Tibetan Yogini.  I’ve studied some of Machig’s practices before, but what I know is really just the bare beginning.

The teachers are Lama Tsultrim Allione (with whom I’ve been on retreat 3 times so far), Tulku Sang-Ngag Rinpoche, and Khenpo Ugyen Wangchuk.  The program includes approximately 2 hours of practice daily and various week-long retreats throughout the years at Tara Mandala in Pagosa Springs, CO.  The teachings and practices incorporate what historically would be covered in a 3-year retreat.  For us householders who can’t get away for 3 years straight, it’s going to take 7 years.  🙂

Topics of study include the following:

  • Contemplations on the Six Thoughts That Turn the Mind toward the Dharma
  • Training in the two kinds of Bodhicitta: Absolute and Relative
  • The Four Immeasurables: Love, Compassion, Joy, and Equanimity
  • Progressive Stages of Emptiness and other topics
  • Barlung Breathing
  • Refuge & Prostrations
  • Vajrasattva Mantra recitation
  • Mandala Offering
  • Guru Yoga
  • Dream Yoga
  • Parchangma Chöd (a Shamanic practice used for physical and spiritual healing)

The program begins in late June with a retreat at Tara Mandala.  I’m already preparing by memorizing the various chants I’ll need to know in Tibetan.

May all beings benefit!

Posted in Tibetan Buddhism

My Current Daily Practice

My spiritual practice has taken many forms over the years.  One thing I’ve learned is that the line between “spiritual” practice and other practices is purely imaginary.  Here are the things I’m doing now which I consider parts of my spiritual journey:

  • Sitting and enjoying a cup of green tea while reading inspiring works.  My tea is part of my new cancer-prevention regimen, so is also part of my physical practice or self-care.
  • Reading inspirational literature (while enjoying my green tea.)  I spend about 20-30 minutes reading from a variety of daily readers in several different traditions.  Five of them are Buddhist.  Seven of them are not.  This practice also helps to keep me mentally sharp.
  • Giving myself an all-over Reiki treatment.  Reiki is a Japanese energy technique used for relaxation and healing.  I spend about 15 minutes on this.  Reiki, like my tea, also falls under the category of physical health.
  • Meditating.  Yes, I do a traditional sit-and-still-the-mind practice.  I’m currently doing 40-45 minutes per day.  I’m participating in the Winter Feast for the Soul, which I highly recommend, even starting “late.”  Of all the meditations offered, I’m doing the Tibetan one, which includes some chanting.

It all adds up to 90 minutes per day.  I could never do it if I saw these things as tasks or chores.  Luckily, I enjoy each part of my routine, even mindfully brewing my tea.  And it sure beats watching television.  At the end of my life, I may wish that I had meditated more, but I doubt I’ll wish that I had watched more television.

Posted in Tibetan Buddhism

The Most Important Thing

There’s but little breath left

on the boundary of this life and the next.

Now knowing if I’ll here next morning,

why try to trick death

with life-schemes for a permanent future?

 

~ Milarepa, Drinking the Mountain Stream

 

This passage really spoke to me when I read it today.  I’m currently in treatment for breast cancer, and though my prognosis is good, I’m constantly reminded that I don’t know how long I have left.

Of course, I didn’t know how long I had left before my diagnosis, either.

Still, according to this quote by Milarepa, should I plan for retirement?  It’s like the old argument new meditation students often bring up when learning to focus on the present moment.  “But if I live in the present, I’ll have nothing in the future!”  The solution is simply that sometimes the present moment is the correct time to plan for the future.  “What am I doing in this moment?  I’m reviewing my 401K.”

More to the point, should I plan for a life after cancer?  If so, how far into the future?  I think what Milarepa is pointing to is that nothing is permanent, so planning for a permanent future is futile.  As they say in the movie Fight Club, “Given a long enough time line, everyone’s survivability drops to zero.”

So I bought a house.  The house is already older than I am, and it will outlive me.  I think that’s kind of cool.  I like the idea that I’m merely one of a series of occupants in the house over the course of its existence.  I don’t plan to own the house forever, just as long as I live.  That’s impermanence.

I’ll close with this question from Pema Chodron: “Since death is certain, and the time of death is uncertain, what’s the most important thing?”

Posted in Tibetan Buddhism

Monday Night Demon Feeding Practice

Tonight was my Monday night phone appointment for Demon Feeding with a friend I met at Tara Mandala.  It was very productive.  I have a degree in Psychology, and still, I’m dazzled by how many layers there are to the human mind.  Our subconscious is always willing to speak to us, but it can be hard to hear over the noise of mundane busyness.  We need to slow down to listen deeply.  It’s wonderful to be able to do that at the beginning of the week.  Ah…