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.”

Names:

  • 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?

Posted in Zen Buddhism

Common Senses

In Zen, we talk a lot about what’s happening in the present moment. What do we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch right now?

In Buddhism, there are six sense doors: eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. Everything that we experience comes in to our awareness through one of these doors. Let’s leave off the mind for now, and deal with our physical senses. These are the same five we’re taught in Elementary School in the West.

When we pay attention to our senses, it gives the “drunken monkey mind” less chance to wander into ruminations of the past or fantasies about the future. It may still tend to judge, however. “What a beautiful color!” “Ew! People actually eat this?!” Just bring the attention back to the sensory experience itself, releasing likes and dislikes.

The Buddha taught to follow the breath as a focus of meditation. The breath is great for two reasons. First, it’s always with us. No special equipment required. We don’t have to light a candle, put on special clothes, sit a certain way, or even sit down at all. Second, the breath is always moving. The motion gives us something to pay attention to.

Using the sense door of touch, we can tune in to where we feel the breath in the body. Is it in the chest? The stomach? Is there a sensation on the upper lip or nostrils as the breath moves past? Is the temperature of the air different on the inhalation and the exhalation? Using our sense of hearing, is there a sound when we breathe? Can we smell anything? There’s a lot going on with the breath.

Any time we need to quickly refocus our attention, we can come back to the breath. While waiting in the 15 Item or Less line behind the woman with 22 items, we can just breathe. While stopped at a red light when running late, we can just breathe. Even when being yelled at by a boss or a child, we can take a single, mindful breath.

But don’t forget all the other senses. The yelling boss is waiting for a reply, and you don’t have time to count to ten? Notice the color of his shirt, anchoring yourself in the present moment, and then answer. Be more aware as you move through your day. Pay attention to the world around you, rather than daydreaming.

Focusing on our sensory awareness in this way helps to quiet the mind. Less thinking results in less craving, and therefor less suffering.

But don’t take my word for it. Try it out for yourself. And tell me what you… “think.”

~ Rev. Jăbō

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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 Zen Buddhism

The Accidental Carnivore

or, Don’t Kill the Pig Twice

A lot has been written on whether it’s “better” for a Buddhist to be vegetarian. This is not one of those posts. The fact is that I am a vegetarian and have been for nearly 14 years. And yet I found myself eating pork recently. On purpose.

What happened was (my sister-in-law says it’s going to be a good story when it starts with “what happened was”) I was at a restaurant with my husband. I wanted the Quiche Florentine, which is vegetarian. My husband ordered for me, as he usually does, and he accidentally asked for the Quiche Lorraine instead. I suppose my mind was elsewhere (so much for mindfulness!), because I didn’t notice.

Until I put my fork into the quiche and found some animal flesh.

I could have sent the dish back and gotten the “right” one. But the restaurant would have had to throw it away, and the pig would still be dead. So I ate it. Mindfully.

Before I ate, I said a silent prayer for the animal or animals. (There could be meat from more than one in my dish. For simplicity, I’m referring to it here as one animal.) I acknowledged that it hadn’t offered itself voluntarily to me, but I thanked it just the same. I wished it a good rebirth, to realize enlightenment, and to save all beings from suffering.

My being a vegetarian isn’t about physical purity or spiritual perfection. It’s about being conscious of what I put in my body and about the choices I make in each moment.

Thank you, Piggy.

What are your thoughts on mindful eating? Please share in the comments below.

~ Rev. Jăbō

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Posted in Zen Buddhism

Taking Refuge

Yesterday, my cousin killed himself.

I wanted a bag of Oreo cookies and a quart of ice cream. Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough.

But I’ve learned that there are healthier things to seek solace in than food: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.

When we speak of “taking refuge” in Buddhism, we mean turning to those things which bring us comfort. Inappropriate refuge items are those that mask our emotions. They can include just about anything:

  • Drugs and alcohol
  • Sex
  • Food – there’s a reason some things are called “comfort food,” after all
  • TV and books
  • Shopping – retail therapy, anyone?

When we seek refuge in these things, we are seeking a way to “numb out” to the pains of life. We’re trying to hide from the reality of our situation instead of facing it, fully aware. It takes courage to live mindfully, and sometimes, we want to close our eyes, just for a little while.

I did this for a while last night. I hid in a work of fiction. At least these days, I know I’m doing it. I remember making the conscious choice to numb out for a few minutes, because I didn’t want to cry.

After a couple of chapters, I came to my senses. What’s wrong with crying? I miss Scott. I feel sad that he was in so much pain he opted to end it with suicide. I feel guilty that I hadn’t spoken to him since my Aunt’s funeral in 2010.

And do you know what? None of those feelings went away while I was hiding in my book. I had to come out and face the truth of my grief in order to assimilate it.

So I thought of Scott and cried. And then I stopped thinking and watched myself cry. I used my tears, rather than my breath, as the focus of my meditation. I felt them, really experienced them, as they ran across my skin. I tasted the salt. I became fully present for my mourning, without reliving old memories.

Like a fire with no fuel, my crying ended fairly quickly. It’s hard to sustain that level of internal pain when you’re not dwelling on it. Pema Chodron calls this process “letting the storyline go.” Just sit with the naked emotion, and see what comes up.

By meditating on my tears, I was taking refuge in the Dharma: the teachings of the Buddha. I used a process I’d been taught to find comfort. In the moment, it wasn’t about finding comfort, it was just about being in the moment. Yet I was comforted. My tears dried. My sobbing slowed and then stopped.

Then various teachings on the great work of life and death arose in my clear mind. How we are like clouds in the blue sky, appearing and disappearing – without any appearing and disappearing. More refuge in the Dharma.

I could have taken refuge in the Buddha, the man himself, the teacher. I do this when I consult my living teachers, which is usually weekly. Or when I think of stories from the life of the Buddha and see how he handled himself in various situations.

I did take refuge in my Sangha. Since I’m away from home, I posted a note about my cousin’s death on Facebook. The outpouring of love and compassion was overwhelming and instantaneous. My online community of Dharma brothers and sisters, some of whom I know in person and others only virtually, gave me refuge.

That’s what we mean by taking refuge: learn from the teacher, practice the teachings, reach out to the community on the path and let it enfold you in grace.

After my tears dried naturally, I chanted Jijong Bosal. I asked the Bodhisattva of Travelers and the Departed to guide Scott through the Bardo. I asked Jijong to help Scott have a good rebirth, gain enlightenment, and save all beings from suffering.

I no longer wanted the cookies and ice cream.

~ Rev. Jăbō

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Posted in Zen Buddhism

“Buddha’s Brain” by Rick Hanson

Want to be happier? “Buddha’s Brain: the Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom” has practical advice on how to do so, based on both neuroscience and Buddhism. Which is one of two reasons why I love it.

The other reason is the cool brain science stuff explained in plain English.

First take-away point: “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” You stimulate pathways in your brain often enough (the neurons firing), and after a time they decide to grow closer together (the wiring) so they can communicate more quickly. Result: You think happy thoughts, it gets easier to think happy thoughts.

Second take-away point: We create most of own suffering. “Only we humans worry about the future, regret the past, and blame ourselves for the present. We get frustrated when we can’t have what we want, and disappointed when what we like ends. We suffer that we suffer. We get upset about being in pain, angry about dying, sad about waking up sad yet another day. This kind of suffering – which encompasses most of our unhappiness and dissatisfaction – is constructed by the brain.”

Anyone else seeing the first two Noble Truths here?

Third take-away point: “Your brain is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones – even though most of your experiences are probably neutral or positive.” And why is this? Because negative experiences may be dangerous, and you need to learn from them: the stove may be hot, don’t drive too fast, etc. Remembering last night’s sunset is not a survival imperative. No wonder we can be so unhappy so much of the time! It’s what we remember.

Fourth take-away point: Taking in the Good. “[C]onsciously look for and take in positive experiences. There are three simple steps: turn positive facts into positive experiences, savor these experiences, and sense them sinking in.” In other words, take time to smell the daisies.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of all the good stuff in this book. Hanson also has several guided meditation series, including “Meditations for Happiness: Rewire Your Brain for Lasting Contentment and Peace.”

I highly recommend anything with Hanson’s name on it. He melds the scientific and the spiritual in a way few others have dared, and with great clarity.

Have you read this book? Listened to these meditations? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

~ Rev. Jăbō

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Posted in Uncategorized, Zen Buddhism

Bodhi Day

After traveling for six years, studying with several teachers, and practicing extreme asceticism to the point where he nearly died, Siddhârtha Gautama resolved to practice the “middle way.” A woman named Sujata nursed him back to health on rice milk. When he was strong enough, he sat overnight in meditation under a ficus tree. By dawn, he had become the Awakened One – the Buddha.

That day was the 8th day of the 12th lunar month of 596 BCE (plus or minus a few years). Using our modern calendar, most Buddhists commemorate Bodhi Day on December 8th. Bodhi means “awakened” in Sanskrit and Pali.

If you’d like to mark this important holiday, here are some things you can do:

  • Set aside a few extra minutes to meditate. Or take the time to read up on the Dharma or the life of the Buddha.
  • If you’re feeling festive, you can decorate your home or a tree with multicolored lights. The different colors symbolize the many paths to enlightenment. The tree represents the original ficus – now often referred to as the Bodhi Tree – that sheltered the Buddha on the night of his enlightenment. 
  • You can also decorate with a strand of beads representing the interdependence of all things. 
  • You can choose three special ornaments – shiny is best – to represent the Three Jewels of the Buddha (teacher), Dharma (teachings), and Sangha (spiritual community). 
  • Have a meal of rice and milk. Try eating in silence, using the process of eating as your meditative focus.

At the very least, it’s a good opportunity to remember that Siddhârtha was a human being who woke up to the nature of reality. If he can do it, so can we.

Happy Bodhi Day!

~Rev. Jăbō

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Posted in Uncategorized, Zen Buddhism

Happy Thanksgiving

This is the time of year we reflect on our blessings. This year, I’m grateful for the start of the Single Flower Zen Center. I’m grateful to Buddhamouse, the Claremont Forum, and Open Door for hosting us at a low cost. I’m grateful for each person who’s come to practice. I’m grateful for the Dharma, and to everyone who’s passed it on from the Buddha’s time until now. I’m grateful for you. For my next breath. For this moment. And for so much more.

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This Thanksgiving, you may want to try going around the table and letting each person express one thing they’re thankful for. Or, you can ask people to write it down on a slip of paper anonymously, then draw and read the papers during or after the meal.

But this isn’t the only time we should remember to be grateful. You can start writing down things as they happen over the next year, putting them onto bits of paper – perhaps some colored or patterned paper that makes you smile. Put the papers in a jar or box. Then next year at Thanksgiving, you can review the wonderful things that have come your way. (Or you could start this on New Year’s Day, too, and review it each New Year’s Eve.)

Personally, I keep a gratitude journal. Every day, I answer these three questions from M.J. Ryan’s book Attitudes of Gratitude:

  1. What am I grateful for?
  2. What did I enjoy today?
  3. Where do I feel satisfied?

Or you could use this list from Seventeenth Century Dutch Rabbi Baruch Spinoza:

  1. Who or what inspired me today?
  2. What brought me happiness today?
  3. What brought me comfort and deep peace today?

Try not to repeat the same list from day to day. I’ve been doing a daily gratitude practice since 2010 – even during my breast cancer journey – and it truly has given me a better perspective on life.

Now it’s your turn. What are you grateful for?

~Rev. Jăbō

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Posted in Zen Buddhism

Lessons from Cancer

I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason – unless that reason is Karma. I also don’t believe that situations are put in our path in order to teach us something. I do believe, however, that we can learn from the situations that arise in our lives if we choose to.

It’s coming up on two years since my breast cancer diagnosis. I’m currently disease-free and almost done with my reconstruction. I’ve shifted gears from identifying as a cancer patient to a cancer survivor.

And yet, I’ve noticed that I still use cancer as an excuse whenever it suits me. True, I still have some residual fatigue. True, I still have some memory loss from chemo. But these issues don’t have to keep me from living my life to the fullest, unless I let them.

So, in an effort to turn the page on that chapter of my life, here are some lessons I’ve learned along the way:

  1. I learned how to meditate during cancer treatment. No matter how awful I felt, I found time to get it done. Now that I’m well, I have a much more robust meditation practice that I did before.
  2. I learned who my true friends are, or at least who was emotionally mature enough to stand by me in the face of fear. And I made new friends.
  3. I learned that I needed to take better care of my body, and I started learning how to do that. It remains an ongoing process.
  4. I learned how to ask for help without embarrassment and how to accept it without guilt.
  5. I learned, on the deepest possible level, that life is fleeting.
  6. I learned how not to over-commit myself.
  7. I learned how to say “no” to things I really don’t want to do, and to say it graciously and without remorse.
  8. I learned how to politely avoid people who drain me or give off negative energy.
  9. I learned that it’s not enough to have priorities unless I also live them.
  10. I learned what being grateful really means.

May all beings benefit.

~ Jabo

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