Posted in Zen Buddhism

Bodhi Day: Celebrating the Buddha’s Enlightenment

Buddha’s Enlightenment Day celebrates the result of Siddhartha Gautama’s search to understand himself. In Buddhist tradition, it is the most important day of the year. It is celebrated on December 8th each year.

During the week preceding the celebration, Zen Monasteries around the world hold their most strenuous retreat of the year. In some cases, they do not even stop to sleep for the whole 7 days.

The significance of Bodhi Day lies with the Buddha and his universal peace message to humanity. As we recall the Buddha and his Awakening, we are immediately reminded of the unique and most profound knowledge and insight which arose in him on the night of his Enlightenment. This coincided with three important events which took place, corresponding to the three watches or periods of the night.

During the first watch of the night, when his mind was calm, clear and purified, light arose in him, knowledge and insight arose. He saw his previous lives, at first one, then two, three up to five, then multiples of them: ten, twenty, thirty to fifty. Then 100, 1000 and so on. During the second watch of the night, he saw how beings die and are reborn, depending on their Karma, how they disappear and reappear from one form to another, from one plane of existence to another.

During the final watch of the night, he saw the arising and cessation of all phenomena, mental and physical. He saw how things arose dependent on causes and conditions. This led him to perceive the arising and cessation of suffering and all forms of unsatisfactoriness, paving the way for the eradication of all taints of cravings. With the complete cessation of craving, his mind was completely liberated. He attained to Full Enlightenment.

This wisdom and light that flashed and radiated under the historic Bodhi Tree at Bodh Gaya in the district of Bihar in Northern India, more than 2500 years ago, is of great significance to human destiny. It illuminated the way by which humanity could cross from a world of superstition, hatred, and fear to a new world of light, true love, and happiness.

How to Celebrate Bodhi Day

The best way to honor Bodhi Day is by simply increasing your meditation period on or near December 8th. You may want to read a Dharma book or chant a text instead, or in addition to your meditation. You may also want to do some volunteer work or make a charitable donation around this time.

But there are also ways to make the day more festive.

You can bring your own bodhi tree (a ficus tree of the genus ficus religiousa) into your home and decorate it. Multi-colored lights symbolize the interconnectionednesss of all things. Three shiny ornaments represent the Triple Jewel of the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. ​

You may wish to have a meal of rice milk, which is what Sujata offered the Buddha to nurse him back to health prior to his enlightenment.

Children are particularly welcome at Bodhi Day ceremonies, as they are given an opportunity to offer flowers to the Buddha. You can celebrate with your kids at home by making cookies in the shapes of trees or leaves. Since the bodhi tree’s leaves are heart-shaped, you may already have suitable cookie cutters on hand.

Happy Bodhi Day!


Posted in Zen Buddhism

Coming Down from the Mountaintop

I live a very quiet life. My home is in the suburbs. I no longer “work” except as a Zen Priest and a Reiki Master. I don’t have to commute in traffic. And I spend virtually all my time around adults. 

​So when “Auntie Sandy” got pressed into service on a weekend trip helping to watch two 10-year-old nephews and a 2-year-old niece, it was a real test of my practice.

I love all three of these kids. They’re each terrific. None of them are bratty or particularly challenging on their own. But I have (1) no experience as a parent, and (2) not much maternal instinct. So I felt like I was flying blind.

Combine that with the fact that the whole thing just kind of grew organically – without the parents communicating their expectations to me or their kids – and we were all a little unclear on the limits of my authority. Luckily, as I said, these are great kids, and none of them back-talked me or refused to obey. (Though I sensed the boys were considering their options!)

One thing I found very effective when dealing with all three of them was saying “Please” and “Thank you.” When Nephew #1 (we’ll call him N1) refused to get out of his swim trunks to go hiking with the family, I said, “N1, please don’t be difficult. We’d like to do this as a family, and we want you along.” And I got cooperation, albeit a bit grudgingly. Once he was dressed and ready to go, I thanked him; and I was rewarded with a bright smile.

What does this have to do with meditation or Buddhism? Everything.

My meditation practice has taught me to pause before I react. And my Buddhist training as allowed me to remember I love these kids and want them to be happy. I’m not trying to force them into submission, I’m trying to express my compassion and understanding. I got that N1 didn’t want to go on this hike. But family trips mean we all give a little so we can enjoy each other’s company. Once I understood his point of view, I could help him see ours. And what could have been a contest of wills was peaceably resolved.

Nephew #2 made the critical error of making fun of the baby when she spilled some popcorn on the carpet. After his third or fourth snarky remark, my niece’s mom, N2’s other aunt, made him go clean it up while she was cleaning up after lunch. I stayed out of the fray for a while, then went to help him. There was a lot of “It’s not fair!” and “I’ve done more than anyone else!” He tried to leave once, claiming he was done, but I calmly told him that we weren’t done while there was still a mess. He and I worked together a little longer, he settled down, and I let him out of the rest.

Here’s where the Middle Way comes in: backing up N2’s other aunt while not making N2 work so hard that he became resentful of his little cousin. He was nice to her the rest of the trip, so I think we struck the right balance.

I’m coming away from this trip with a whole new respect for parents!

And a renewed gratitude to this practice that allowed me to remain calm and sane in the midst of life’s chaos.

In the words of Somerset Maugham, “It’s easy to be a holy man on top of a mountain.”

~ Rev. Dr. Jabo Prajna

Posted in The Spiritual Life, Zen Buddhism

The Meditation Habit

I’m currently re-reading “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Bodhisattvas.” No, wait, it’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey. But this time, I’m reading it as Bodhisattvas, and it works great that way!

Covey says that a habit is formed by the intersection of knowledge, skill, and desire. As I was listening to this section (okay, I’m actually listening to it on audiobook rather than reading it), I wondered how to apply it to meditation. This is what I came up with.



Knowledge of meditation answers the questions “What?” and “Why?”
So what is meditation, anyway? Here’s a great answer from “Meditation is a conscious effort to change how the mind works. The Pali word for meditation is ‘bhavana’ which means ‘to make grow’ or ‘to develop’.”

In Zen, we sit without a goal. If we have a goal, we set ourselves up for disappointment, and then, suffering. But if we could have a purpose without getting attached to the outcome, it would be to pay attention to our mind moment-to-moment.

As for the “why” of it, you probably already have some good ideas on this question or you wouldn’t be reading this. Just yesterday, a new study came out showing that meditation can alleviate post-traumatic stress disorder in active-duty military members. (Read more about that here.)

It’s long been known that meditation helps us to slow down, relax, and be calmer. Scientists have confirmed that meditation changes the physical structure of the brain, leading to greater happiness:

“As we showed in ‘Super Genes,’ actually meditation changes your gene expression so within one week of meditation you see a 40 percent increase in the enzyme called telomerase, which is an anti-aging enzyme,” said [Deepak] Chopra, who co-authored the book “Super Genes” with Dr. Rudolph Tanzi. (Read the story here.)

And in keeping with the Bodhisattva ideal of Mahayana Buddhism (of which Zen is a part), when we’re happier, we tend to be kinder to others, which makes them happier, so they’re kinder to others, and so on, and so on, and so on…


Skill in meditation answers the question “How?”

Sometimes it seems that there are as many ways to meditate as there are people on earth! Here’s a simple one, called “Mindfulness of Breathing.”

Pay attention to your breath. Notice where you feel it moving in your body: your nose, upper lip, throat, chest, stomach – there’s no one answer here; it’s where you feel it. Once you’ve felt it, just keep paying attention. That’s it. When you’re breathing in, be aware that you’re breathing in. When you’re breathing out, be aware that you’re breathing out. When you pause after you inhale or exhale, be aware that you’re pausing.

Simple, right? Certainly. Easy? Well, we call it practice for a reason.

Here are some more tips to keep your thinking mind occupied with your breath. You can count your breaths. Start over when you reach 10, or when you catch yourself thinking. You can recite a mantra silently to yourself as you breathe. Breathing in, ask “What is this?” Breathing out, answer “Don’t know.”

When thoughts come, and they will, gently release them and return your attention to your breath. You might think the word “thinking” to yourself, labeling the thoughts as you let them go. Don’t go into any more detail, like labeling the type of thought, or you’re just indulging in more thinking!


So now we know what meditation is, why it’s good for us and the world, and how to do it. But if we’re not sufficiently motivated to get our butts on the cushion, none of that matters.

Desire, for me, comes down to motivation. Here are four things that motivate the hell out of me. See if one or more of them works for you.​

This Precious Human Existence

Many people think that this merely means they were born human this time around – and if you don’t believe in rebirth, this isn’t terribly motivating. But it means far more than that. This precious human existence refers to the fact that you have encountered the Dharma and are capable of understanding it. Think of how many billion people alive today don’t have that advantage.

The Impermanence of Life

As a cancer survivor, this is the one that really gets me. As Pema Chodron asks, “Since the fact of death is certain, and the time of death is uncertain, what’s the most important thing?” It probably isn’t checking Facebook.

The Defects of Samsara

“Samsara” refers to our cyclic existence of birth, death, and rebirth. And the defects are ways that life can suck. We suffer when we’re born; we suffer when we die. And in between, we suffer from illness and aging. We suffer when things change; we suffer when they stay the same. Luckily, meditation helps break our clinging to wanting to have things our own way. We crave less, and therefor suffer less.

Cause and Effect

Ah, karma, let’s not forget you. What goes around, comes around. You want to be surrounded by people who love you? Love other people. You want to have less drama in your life? Stop being a drama queen. You want to live an abundant live? Give generously. You get the idea. Meditation shows us what’s really important. Over time, we come to live our values. And then karma takes care of itself.

The Meditation Habit

Let’s put it all together. You have the knowledge of what meditation is and why it’s a good practice. You have the skill of how to do it. And, hopefully, you have the desire or motivation.

So get busy. It’s no accident that Lent is 40 days long. That’s how long it takes to form a new habit. (Sorry, one month doesn’t cut it for many people. Plan on 40 days.) In the beginning, you may need to experiment with what time of day to sit, where to sit, and for how long. The answer is whatever you’ll stick with. But do stick with it for 40 days.

Meditation has changed my life for the better, as well as the lives of billions all over the world and for thousands of years. If, after 40 days of sincere practice, you’re not completely satisfied, your suffering will be cheerfully refunded!

Posted in Zen Buddhism


This evening, one of my Zen students brought me a dozen eggs – from her chickens! I used to have a student who brought me kale and other produce from her garden.

I love this sort of “dana” (generosity). It makes me feel connected to the priests and monks of generations past, who received food offerings rather than money. It makes me feel connected to those priests and monks in other parts of the world, who still receive such offerings.

This type of connection is wonderful for our practice. When we chanted the Heart Sutra tonight, we discussed the fact that it’s been chanted for over a thousand years, by countless Buddhists. And that somewhere on the planet, other Buddhists were chanting it at the same time we were.

It’s the same reason I encourage people to say “we” in the Four Great Vows, even when reciting them at home by themselves. We’re never truly alone. We’re all part of the larger whole, and that never changes. So “together action” is always appropriate.

All this is part of the maha-sangha, the greater spiritual community. Even when we’re practicing by ourselves, others are practicing elsewhere. If not others in our Zen order, then other Buddhists. If not other Buddhists, then other spiritual people. We can feel that connection every time we practice, if we just remember to do so.

Don’t take my word for it; try it for yourself. The next time you meditate, chant, or read a Buddhist sutra, think about your connection to all the other people practicing at the same time. Remember all those who have practiced through the years. Feel the connection to them. Remember the interconnectedness of all beings. Then practice with the sangha.

~ Rev. Jăbō


Posted in Zen Buddhism

The Buddha’s Daily Routine

The Buddha slept on his right side, with his hand under his head, one foot overlapping the other.

He got up early, around 4 am, to meditate. Since he was psychic, he checked on his disciples and revealed any plots before they were hatched. And he prayed for people. He also did walking meditation in his room.

Then he washed up and got dressed. At dawn, he headed out with his bowl to beg. He begged from the poor as well as the rich, so that they could earn merit, too. He stood silently at the gate of each house and waited to see if anyone came out with an offering. If not, he moved on to another house.

If the Buddha and his disciples were moving from one place to another, they generally traveled during the time of their begging rounds.

He took the food home to eat and was generally done by noon. If someone invited him to their home for lunch, he accepted and gave a teaching afterward.

Next, he gave his disciples a topic for contemplation. As was the custom, the Buddha and his disciples took a nap during the hottest part of the day. However, they did not lose awareness.

At dusk, the Buddha gave dharma teachings to any lay people who came. He used parables relevant to their lives, as well as questioning.

After the evening teaching, he took a bath and rested.

During the first watch of the night, after the lay people had returned to their homes, he taught the monastics. Then he went to sleep.

Posted in Zen Buddhism

Life of the Buddha, Part 5 of 5

This 5-part series consists of Rev. Dr. Jăbō Prajñā’s lecture notes for a series of talks she is giving on Thursdays at Buddhamouse, from 6:30 to 7:30 pm. For a more detailed biography of the Buddha, we recommend Buddha (Penguin Lives Biographies) by Karen Armstrong.

Amrapāli was an extremely beautiful courtesan. She gave everything she had to the Buddha – her mansion and her mango groves – and became a nun. According to some accounts, she was approached by some local Brahman who were jealous of the Buddha and were trying to discredit him. They got her to agree to say she slept with the Buddha. But before she could tell anyone, she was bitten by a cobra and died. This tale may relate to a different courtesan, and according to many sources, Amrapāli remained a nun all her life and became an Arhat.

Another attempt to discredit the Buddha occurred that same year. Some ascetics in the area of Śrāvastī got a wandering ascetic named Sundari to spy on the Buddha. After they were sure that many people had seen her coming and going to Jeta’s Grove, they hired her killed and buried in a ditch. Then they reported her missing. But the hired killers got drunk and bragged about the deed, clearing the Buddha of any suspicion.

The Buddha maintained mindfulness in every activity. He walked 15 to 20 miles per day, between his begging rounds and traveling to different towns and cities. The sangha followed this rhythm even at other monasteries.

The Buddha went against the caste system and taught everyone. In modern India. Buddhists lose their caste, are considered outside the caste system, and are therefor allowed to have any job.

The first teachings the Buddha gave were on giving and morality. Later, he taught the Four Noble Truths and Not-Self.

The Buddha’s cousin, Devadatta, attained supernatural powers and was liked by many, While meditating, he got the idea to take over the sangha. He teamed up with Ajatasatru, the son of King Bimbisara. Ajatasatru had taken over the kingdom by force, imprisoned his father, and starved him to death. He was now a powerful king.

Devadatta offered to take over the sangha, allowing the Buddha to rest. The Buddha declined, so Devadatta repeated the offer twice more, louder each time. Finally, the Buddha referred to Devadatta’s offer as “Something that tastes bad in the mouth, that one wants to spit out.” Devadatta was humiliated.

Later, at Vulture Peak, the Buddha was below the peak in the caves. Devadatta dropped a boulder on him. The boulder shattered and a piece hit the Buddha’s foot. Infectino set in, causing serious injury.

For his next attempt on the Buddha’s life, Devadatta got a war elephant, got it drunk, like it up at the Buddha, and released it. People ran away, but the Buddha walked on. Ananda threw himself in front of the Buddha, but the Buddha told him to move out of the way. The elephant stopped, took the dust from the Buddha’s feet, and put in on its head.

Devadatta claimed he was stricter than the Buddha:
1.     Only sleep in the forest
2.     Only accept alms
3.     Only wear rags
4.     Eat no fish or meat

He convinced 500 monks to leave with him. The Buddha was saddened by this and sent some monks, including Śāriputra and Maudgalyāyana, to talk to those who had left.  Śāriputra and Maudgalyāyana were able to get the other monks to come back with them to the sangha. Devadatta was again humiliated and realized he’d made a mistake. He decided to go to the Buddha to apologize, but on his way there, he got sick and died.

The Buddha’s health began to deteriorate when he reached his 70s. He had aches and pains, and Ananda massaged his back in the late afternoon sun. By his early 80s, he was in a lot of pain, but practiced equanimity. Ananda expected the Buddha to give a final teaching, but the Buddha said, “I’ve been teaching for 45 years. I’m not the sort of teacher who keeps the teachings in a closed fist.”

The Sangha headed north, resting for weeks at a time. They stopped in a mango grove at Pava owned by the blacksmith Chunda. Chunda invited them to dinner. The Buddha told Chunda not to give pork to the sangha, but he ate it when it was offered to him. The Buddha became very sick, bleeding from his bowels.

Knowing he was dying, the Buddha instructed Ananda to tell Chunda that giving a Buddha his last meal was an act of great merit. He said that their teacher would be the dharma, discipline, and practice.

Ananda went to a shed so the Buddha wouldn’t see him crying. The Buddha called him back and told him that he, Ananda, would get enlightenment soon.

The Buddha sent for the people of the village and performed an ordination. He asked for questions. There were none, which he took as a sign that his work was complete.

His last words were, “Truly monks, I declare to you, it is the nature of whatever if formed to dissolve. Attain perfection through diligence.” He went into meditation and from there, passed into the deathless state of Nirvana. The earth shook, just as it had at his birth and enlightenment. It was approximately 483 B.C.E.

Posted in Zen Buddhism

Life of the Buddha, Part 4 of 5

This 5-part series consists of Rev. Dr. Jăbō Prajñā’s lecture notes for a series of talks she is giving on Thursdays at Buddhamouse, from 6:30 to 7:30 pm. For a more detailed biography of the Buddha, we recommend Buddha (Penguin Lives Biographies) by Karen Armstrong.

A merchant named Sudatta was the Buddha’s chief lay disciple. He was given the name  Anāthapiṇḍada. Looking for a place for the Buddha and his disciples to spend the rainy seasons, he found a grove belonging to Prince Jeta. He offered to buy it, but the Prince required that  Anāthapiṇḍada cover the entire area with gold. So he did: 1.8 million gold pieces. Then he built Jetavana Monastery, which became one of the Buddha’s favorite places, and he spent 19 out of 45 rainy seasons there.  Anāthapiṇḍada became known as the foremost of the Buddha’s disciples in generosity and character.

Queen Mallika convinced her husband of the value of the Buddha’s teachings, so he built another monastery. The rainy season retreat began, and many of the monks left their wandering lifestyle. The monastery residents because the local village priests. The wandering forest monks had no relationship with the lay community. They lacked stability but had freedom. Both the monastic and wandering (or forest) traditions continue to this day.

King Śuddhodana continued to practice his son’s teachings and became an Arhat before he died. When the Buddha heard that Śuddhodana was dying, he returned home again to preach to his father on his deathbed.

Meanwhile, the Buddha’s aunt and step-mother, Prajâpatî, had begun to follow the Buddha along with 500 other women. They asked him for ordination three times, and three times he refused them. When the Buddha moved on, Prajâpatî shaved her head, put on a robe, and followed him barefoot with her people. Their feet became swollen and their head sunburned. Ananda found them and went to the Buddha on their behalf. Again, the Buddha refused three times. The Ananda asked whether women could achieve the four levels of realization. The Buddha said yes. Then, realizing he had trapped himself in his own logic, the Buddha relented.

The Buddha created additional precepts for nuns for two reasons. First, to protect them. Such precepts included forbidding them from cooking or sewing for the monks. The other reasons was to place nuns under the monks’ authority. This may have also been to protect them, as women had no power or rights at that time. This remains a custom in most parts of the world today, but it is cultural, not religious.

There were 227 rules for monks and 338 for nuns. Many, perhaps most, Buddhist orders use the original rules. Other schools have modernized them. For example, the Five Mountain Zen Order has 58 precepts, or rules. They have eliminated all the ones which were redundant, culturally bound, or no longer made sense in modern life. FMZO ordains both men and women as monks, with identical precepts.

Prajâpatî, now called Mahaprajâpatî, became an Arhat. So did Yasodharā, who also had supernatural gifts.

One of the sutra experts among the disciples was accused of breaking a minor rule by one of the vinaya experts. Bickering ensued. “Even thieves get along better than bhikkhus.” ~Lama Tsultrim. The Buddha refused to intervene.

Eventually he took his bowl and staff and went into the forest. There the Buddha met an elephant who said he’d left his herd because he was tired of getting pushed around. “Tusker agrees with Tusker,” said the elephant. The Buddha hung out in the forest with the elephant for a while.

In the meantime, the accused sutra expert confessed his wrong and was readmitted back into the sangha. This event became the model for settling disputes.

Rahula, the Buddha’s son, became fully ordained at age 20. During his ordination ceremony, he reached Arhatship. Rahula was known as the foremost in quietly doing good.

When the Buddha reached 55, in the 20th year of his teaching, he decided to spend every rainy season in Jetavana, on the southern outskirts of Śrāvastī. He would give more teachings here than at any other monastery.

Also that year, he appointed his cousin Ananda as his permanent attendant. Ananda was not permitted to go on begging rounds with the Buddha, so there would be no temptation to take advantage of his position.

That same year the Buddha also began laying down the moral code: the Prātimokṣa. It was recited regularly with a pause after each precept for any confessions from the assembly. Many Buddhist traditions continue to do this twice each month, including Tibetan Buddhsts and the Five Mountain Zen Order. FMZO monks recite the Prātimokṣa on each full moon and new moon. The idea behind confession in Buddhist practice is that something damp that’s left wrapped for too long, will certainly rot.

Visakha, a married woman and eventual mother of 20 children, was the first matron of the lay sisters. She was even called in to settle disputes among the nuns from time to time. She had first heard the Buddha teach when she was only seven years old, at which time she became a Bodhisattva. As an adult, she donated the Migaramata Hall, on the eastern outskirts of Śrāvastī. It was named after her father-in-law, Migara, who had become a follower of the Buddha through her and had allowed her to donate to the Buddha and his disciples.

Posted in Zen Buddhism

Life of the Buddha, Part 3 of 5

This 5-part series consists of Rev. Dr. Jăbō Prajñā’s lecture notes for a series of talks she is giving on Thursdays at Buddhamouse, from 6:30 to 7:30 pm. For a more detailed biography of the Buddha, we recommend Buddha (Penguin Lives Biographies) by Karen Armstrong.

The Buddha met a rich businessman’s son who was wandering at night. He became a disciple, and brought 54 friends. They became Arhats. He sent them out to teach, while the Buddha went to teach King Bimbisara.

The Arhats brought so many converts, the Buddha taught them how to ordain more:

  • Shave head
  • Put on a saffron rove
  • Kneel at the monks’ feet
  • Take refuge

Three well-known teachers who involved the deities through fire arrived. The Buddha taught the three poisons by using fire. They converted and brought their 1,000 students.

The Buddha showed up with his 1,000+ disciples at King Bimbisara’s house. Bimbisara fed the Buddha by hand, and poured water over his hands from a golden picture. The King gave him land and his pleasure palace to convert into a monastery.

Sometime later, two Brahman were searching for immortality. One of them, Śāriputra, saw Ashvagit (one of the Buddha’s original five followers) as Ashvagit was out begging and walking in meditation. Ashvagit seemed to have a glow about him. Śāriputra asked him who is teacher was and what he taught. Ashvagit said that the Buddha was his teacher and that he taught the causes of things and the dissolution of things.

Śāriputra told his Brahman companion Maudgalyāyana, and the two of them went to find the Buddha. As they approached, the Buddha recognized that these two had already received direct transmission and would be among his chief disciples. Over time, Śāriputra became known as the foremost in insight and wisdom, and Maudgalyāyana was known as the foremost in supernatural powers.

Later, the Buddha was preparing to teach at Vulture Peak. A man named Pippali yelled from the back of the crowd, asking to take refuge. The Buddha welcomed him and Pippali basked in that blessing. Then the Buddha taught three of four sentences and held up a flower. No one understood what was happening, except, Pippali, who smiled.

This was the first mind-to-mind transmission and the foundation of Zen. The Buddha said, “I possess the true Dharma eye, the marvelous mind of Nirvana, the true form of the formless, the subtle dharma gate that does not rest on words or letters but is a special transmission outside of the scriptures. This I entrust to Mahākāśyapa.” The newly renamed monk went on to become an Arhat and the Buddha’s dharma heir. He was known as foremost in ascetic practices and held the First Buddhist Council three months after the Buddha’s death.

By now, word had gotten back to King Śuddhodana about his son’s achievements, and the King sent word asking the Buddha to visit. It was now seven years since Siddhârtha had left home. Śuddhodana had kids bearing flowers go out to the Buddha first. The kids bowed. The elders, however, did not. So the Buddha performed some miracles to get their respect: he shot water and fire out of his body, and made it rain from a cloudless sky. Now the elders bowed to him, including his own father.

The next day, the Buddha went on his daily begging rounds in his father’s neighborhood. This embarrassed Śuddhodana, who approached the Buddha about it. The Buddha taught his father about impermanence, and after that, the King went out and begged alongside his son. Śuddhodana had a feast at the palace and served the Buddha by hand.

The Buddha asked for Yasodharā. She came to him and prostrated. For the past seven years, she had followed news of him and had done all of the practices he had done.

The Buddha’s son, Rahula, now seven, asked for his inheritance. So the Buddha ordained him. Yasodharā was displeased that she had not been consulted first, and from that time forward, it has taken the consent of both parents to ordain a young monk. For his part, Rahula noted, “It feels good even to stand in your shadow.”

When the Buddha and his followers went on their way, many members of the Śâkya clan went with him, including two of his cousins. Ananda, whose name means “bliss,” would later become his attendant and be known as the foremost in hearing many teachings. Devadatta was jealous of the Buddha and became his enemy. He tried to found a stricter order than the Buddha’s and even tried to kill him.

The Buddha’s barber-turned-disciple Upali became the expert in the Vinaya, or monastic code. He had been born into the lowest caste and was the Buddha’s barber before the latter’s enlightenment. Upali was known as foremost in keeping the precepts and was the one to recite the Vinaya at the First Buddhist Council

The Buddha allowed monks to live in houses. Some, including Devadatta, criticized this policy. The Buddha did state what size the rooms could be when a house was built for a monk.

Posted in Zen Buddhism

Life of the Buddha, Part 2 of 5

This 5-part series consists of Rev. Dr. Jăbō Prajñā’lecture notes for a series of talks she is giving on Thursdays at Buddhamouse, from 6:30 to 7:30 pm. For a more detailed biography of the Buddha, we recommend Buddha (Penguin Lives Biographies) by Karen Armstrong.

Siddhârtha begged and slept under trees. Until some of King Bimbisara’s men recognized him as King Śuddhodana’s son. They took him to Bimbisara, who told him to go homeSiddhârtha said he couldn’t; he was seeking. Bimbisara was so impressed, he offered to let Siddhârtha take over his kingdom. Siddhârtha still said no, but that he would come back and teach once he found the answer to his question.

Siddhârtha’s first teacher was Ananda Coloma. Siddhârtha learned so fast that Ananda Coloma asked him to be his lineage holder. Siddhârtha said no, he was still searching.

His second teacher was the yoga teacher Udrapa Rajapudra. Siddhârtha stayed longer this time, mastering the teachings. Again he was asked to be the lineage holder, and again he said no.

Siddhârtha tried several other teachers and eventually decided that teachers don’t have the answer, and to try asceticism with five old friends: Kaundinya, Bhadrika, Vashpa, Mahanaman, and Ashvagit. They competed with each other to push one another.

As Siddhârtha got stricter, he grew weaker. He was nearly washed away in a river while bathing. He remembered sitting under a rose-apple tree on the first day of planting as a child; his father was there, he’d felt a connection to the earth, and had experienced deep meditation, peace, and happiness.

He realized that the middle was is the path. He’d lived at both extremes and neither had worked. Meditation was the route! His friends saw this as slacking and, vowing never to speak to him again, left him.

He decided to eat something. A village woman named Sujātā, wearing a dark blue dress, saw his fall in the river. She offered him rice milk, the closest thing to mother’s milk. He accepted it, and the feminine, back into this life.

Siddhârtha started eating again and felt rested. After recovering in the home of Sujātā and her husband, he decided to meditate until he got his answer. After the heat of the day was passed, he crossed the river. There he met a grass cutter and asked for a bunch of grass to make a seat. With that, he sat under the bodhi tree, vowing not to get up until he reached enlightenment or died.

Mara appeared and said, “That’s my seat.” Siddhârtha replied that it was not Mara’s seat, but his own. Mara countered, “By what right?”

Siddhârtha answered, “By my work as a Bodhisattva.”

“Who’s your witness?” Mara asked.

Siddhârtha said, “The earth.” He reached down and touched the earth, and the earth goddess reached up and touched her fingertips to his. Then she came up from the ground and shook the world in an earthquake.

Siddhârtha continued to sit in meditation, so Mara sent his daughters. This represents the sexual desire in the future Buddha’s mind. He neither grasped after them nor pushed them away; he just sat. Mara asked for help from the god of love. The god pulled out his bow made of humming bees and shot the arrow of desire at Siddhârtha’s heart. But it fell short.

Mara sent his warriors after Siddhârtha, but still he continued to sit.

During the First Watch of the night, Siddhârtha saw suffering arising. The watcher in his mind opened and he saw the interconnectedness of all things, the 12-Link Chain of Dependent Origination.

During the Second Watch, the night went silent. He saw the universe as a mirror, and beings being born and passing away according to their karma. He saw causality. Siddhârtha relinquished the watcher and his mind opened. He turned his mind inward to look at his question.

“When this is present, that comes to be. From the arising of this, that arises. When this is absent, that does not come to be.”

Siddhârtha asked “Who is it that senses?” But then he realized there is a better question: “With what as a condition does sensation occur?” Instead of asking, “Who is it that is reborn?” ask, “With what as a condition does birth occur?”

During the Third Watch of the night, Siddhârtha realized that there was a way out of suffering. He understood how dependent arising can be a cause of liberation.

During the Fourth Watch, he realized that the way out was what came to be called the Noble 8-Fold Path.

At dawn, seeing all of his past rebirths, Siddhârtha saw the last traces of ignorance. As the first star of the morning came out, he saw the underlying truth of reality, the way things are; and through that realization, he was liberated.

Now known as the Buddha, the Awakened One, he thought his approach was too alien to teach. He wandered for six weeks before the deva Samapati asked him to teach in order to save others. The Buddha had been waiting for someone to ask him to teach.

The Buddha went to the Deer Park at Sarnath, a hangout for yogis and seekers. Seven weeks after his enlightenment, he ran into this five friends and taught them the Four Noble Truths and the 8-Fold Path.

Refuge was the first Buddhist ceremony. The Buddha’s friend Condinya, a Brahman, was the first of the Buddha’s followers and the first to take ordination. “Live the holy life in order to completely end suffering.” His other four friends joined soon after and became the nucleus of the sangha. All of them attained Arhatship.

Posted in Zen Buddhism

The Life of the Buddha, Part 1 of 5

This 5-part series consists of Rev. Dr. Jăbō Prajñā’s lecture notes for a series of talks she is giving on Thursdays at Buddhamouse, from 6:30 to 7:30 pm. For a more detailed biography of the Buddha, we recommend Buddha (Penguin Lives Biographies) by Karen Armstrong.

Siddhârtha Gotama had been a Bodhisattva in previous lives.

As Sumedha, he met the Buddha Dîpa.nkara. Sumedha wanted to bring a flower offering, but all the vendors had sold out. He asked a woman to give him hers, but she refused. Seeing him as a holy man on a good path, she said she would give him half of her flowers if he married her. Sumedha had taken monks’ vows, so was not free to marry. He offered to marry him in his next life. They negotiated that he would be together in every future life until they were both liberated, and she gave him half of her flowers – so she could still make her own offering.

Sumedha threw himself in the mud for Dîpa.nkara to walk over. Dîpa.nkara prophesied that Sumedha would become a Buddha.

Born into Tushita Heaven as T’Shang Ke-two. There for thousands of years. A sound came indicating that a Buddha was about to be born. The gods asked him to be that Buddha, so he want to a grove and died.

His mother’s dream: a white elephant with 6 tusks entered her body from her side; she became pregnant.

Brahman’s prophesy: baby would become either a universal monarch (great king), or a Buddha.

King Śuddhodana was the father. He may have been an elected leader. The townspeople were called “sanghas.”


  • Śâkyamuni:
  •      Muni: “wise one”
  •      Sâkya: tribe’s name
  • Gotama: family name
  • Siddhârtha: given name 

563 BC to 483 BC

Foothills of Nepal

Mother went to a grove that she had loved as a young woman to give birth on the full moon. She walked, gave birth standing, holding on to a tree.

Tree: the first symbol associated with the Buddha.

Baby came out of her armpit in some stories.

There was an earthquake, then Siddhârtha took 7 steps in each of the 4 directions. He said, “I am leader and guide of the world and this is my last birth.”

When he was 5 days old, there was a party and naming.

When he was 7 days old, his mother, Maya, died.

Prajâpatî, his aunt, became his step-mother.

Śuddhodana didn’t want Siddhârtha to renounce the world, so he kept him from seeing any suffering. Classic parental mistake of over-protection. Siddhârtha grew up surrounded by luxury and comfort.

At 16, he married his cousin Yasodharā, also 16. They shared the same birthday, and had known one another since the was Sumedha.

Over the next 12 years, he started wondering about the nature of reality.

Normally, the road was cleaned when he went out. However, he took a spontaneous trop with his charioteer, Chandaka, and saw an old man. Siddhârtha got scared and wanted to go home.

On his next outing, he saw a sick person leaning on other, howling in pain. Home again.

Next outing: funeral with corpse being carried. Went home, but had seen too much to return to the state of innocence.

He felt betrayed by his father. Shocked by seeing things all at once instead of gradually.

Next outing, he saw a saddhu/sage, and the seed was planted.

Siddhârtha was dissatisfied with palace life after his outings. His father took him to a farm to talk. It backfired: Siddhârtha saw the suffering of the slaves, oxen, and insects. Siddhârtha freed the slaves and detached the oxen from the plows.

Yasodharā had a son, Rahula. After a party, people were passed out drunk and drooling, the flowers were faded, the dishes dirty. Siddhârtha decided to leave that night. Yasodharā woke up and told Siddhârtha she’d had a dream he was leaving. He told her, “Wherever I go, you can go, too.”

Siddhârtha asked Chandaka to muffle the feet of the horse and come for him. It was a full moon. Chandaka brought Siddhârtha’s favorite horse, Kanthaka. Siddhârtha looked back at the palace from the last hill. The demon Mara appeared and said, “Go back, and I’ll make you the universal monarch in seven days.” Not now, but soon. Then, then, then…

Mara is within the Buddha, his shadow self.

Siddhârtha said, “Mara, I know you. What I need is not there.
At dawn, they came to a river. Siddhârtha asked Chandaka to cut off his hair. He traded clothes with a hunter and gave his jewelry to Chandaka. They he sent Chandaka away with his horse.

Siddhârtha’s question: What is the cause of suffering?