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Faith in Mind

As my time is limited these days, one of the ways I maintain a connection to the dharma at work is to listen to a few chants over my headphones. My favorite of which is currently Faith in Mind, or Affirming Faith in Mind (it is sometimes attributed to Jianzhi Sengcan, but that is under debate and unlikely to be proven). To me, this verse/poem points to many of the most important Buddhist teachings like karma, conditioned existence, dukkha, the Four Noble Truths, awakening to pure Mind, and non-conceptual wisdom. And it does all of that without the overlays of ancient Chinese culture that some might find bewildering or off-putting. It is a powerful work, one that will speak to many over countless generations.

I’ve included the text below. You can also listen to it being chanted here.

The Great Way is not difficult for those who do not pick and choose.

When preferences are cast aside the Way stands clear and undisguised.

But even slight distinctions made set earth and heaven far apart.

If you would clearly see the truth, discard opinions pro and con.

To founder in dislike and like is nothing but the mind’s disease.

And not to see the Way’s deep truth disturbs the mind’s essential peace.

The Way is perfect like vast space, where there’s no lack and no excess.

Our choice to choose and to reject prevents our seeing this simple truth.

Both striving for the outer world as well as for the inner void condemn us to entangled lives.

Just calmly see that all is One, and by themselves false views will go.

Attempts to stop activity will fill you with activity.

Remaining in duality, you’ll never know of unity.

And not to know this unity lets conflict lead you far astray.

When you assert that things are real you miss their true reality.

But to assert that things are void also misses reality.

The more you talk and think on this the further from the truth you’ll be.

Cut off all useless thought and words And there’s nowhere you cannot go.

Returning to the root itself, you’ll find the meaning of all things.

If you pursue appearances you overlook the primal source.

Awakening is to go beyond both emptiness as well as form.

All changes in this empty world seem real because of ignorance.

Do not go search for the truth, just let those fond opinions go.

Abide not in duality, refrain from all pursuit of it.

If there’s a trace of right and wrong, True-mind is lost, confused, distaught.

From One-mind comes duality, but cling not even to this One.

When this One-mind rests undisturbed, then nothing in the world offends.

And when no thing can give offense, then all obstructions cease to be.

If all thought-objects disappear, the thinking subject drops away.

For things are things because of mind, as mind is mind because of things.

These two are merely relative, and both at source are Emptiness.

In Emptiness these are not two, yet in each are contained all forms.

Once coarse and fine are seen no more, then how can there be taking sides?

The Great Way is without limit, beyond the easy and the hard.

But those who hold to narrow views are fearful and irresolute; their frantic has just slows them down.

If you’re attached to anything, you surely will go far astray.

Just let go now of clinging mind, and all things are just as they are. In essense nothing goes or stays.

See into the true self of things, and you’re in step with the Great Way, thus walking freely, undisturbed.

But live in bondage to your thoughts, and you will be confused, unclear.

This heavy burden weighs you down– O why keep judging good and bad?

If you would walk the highest Way, do not reject the sense domain.

For as it is, whole and complete, This sense world is enlightenment.

The wise do not strive after goals, but fools themselves in bondage put.

The One Way knows no differences, the foolish cling to this and that.

To seek Great Mind with thinking mind is certainly a grave mistake.

From small mind come rest and unrest, but mind awakened transcends both.

Delusion spawns dualities– these dreams are nought but flowers of air– why work so hard at grasping them?

Both gain and loss, and right and wrong– once and for all get rid of them.

When you no longer are asleep, all dreams will vanish by themselves.

If mind does not discriminate, all things are as they are, as One.

To go to this mysterious Source frees us from all entanglements.

When all is seen with “equal mind,” to our Self-nature we return.

This single mind goes right beyond all reasons and comparisons.

Stop movement and there’s no movement, stop rest and no-rest comes instead.

When rest and no-rest cease to be, then even oneness disappears.

This ultimate finality’s beyond all laws, can’t be described.

With single mind one with the Way, all ego-centered strivings cease;

Doubts and confusion disappear, and so true faith pervades our life.

There is no thing that clings to us, and nothing that is left behind.

All’s self-revealing, void and clear, without exerting power of mind.

Thought cannot reach this state of truth, here feelings are of no avail.

In this true world of Emptiness both self and other are no more.

To enter this true empty world, immediately affirm “not-two”.

In this “not-two” all is the same, with nothing separate or outside.

The wise in all times and places awaken to this primal truth.

The Way’s beyond all space, all time, one instant is ten thousand years.

Not only here, not only there, truth’s right before you very eyes.

Distinctions such as large and small have relevance for you no more.

The largest is the smallest too– here limitations have no place.

What is is not, what is not is– if this is not yet clear to you, you’re still far from the inner truth.

One thing is all, all things are one– know this and all’s whole and complete.

When faith and Mind are not separate, and not separate are Mind and faith, this is beyond all words, all thought.

For here there is no yesterday, no today, no tomorrow.

 

Hat tip to Marcus for sending me the link to the VZC awhile back. The text used in this post, however, is from the Portland Zen Community site.

 

 

Cheers.

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A practice I can call my own

The Backside of Mt. Baker as seen from Highway 9 near Van Zandt, WA

So I’m currently shaping a daily routine for practice. As you may or may not know, I used to do the whole SGI thing, but left that behind. Now, I am attempting to set up something meaningful and unique that also fits within the scope of the rest of my life. I’ve been trying this out for the past few days (I missed a couple due to time issues coupled with exhaustion) and here is what I have so far:

First, a little stretch. I am probably the least flexible human being on this planet. Even thinking about sitting in full-lotus caused my groin to scream. My hips, legs, back are all in need of a good workout. I found this little routine on Tricycle blog that is supposed to help work/stretch the muscles needed to sit full-lotus. So I start with this. I try to hold each posture (an extremely modified version of each one) for 1 minute, then move on to the next. Next week, i’ll up it to 2 minutes, the week after that, 3 minutes. I’ll try to hold each one for 3 minutes for a while, and see where that takes me.

I’m thinking about adding in a bit of exercise here. Sit-ups, push-ups, yoga, getting on my elliptical. Something, but I don’t know what yet. I just know that my body is out of shape, and I need to do something about it. Sitting for 8+ hours a day at work is taking a toll on my body, and it needs to end.

Next, I chant. I still have all my materials from SGI, so I just chant a couple of chapters of the Lotus Sutra, and then dive into some diamoku. Now, when genuine Nichiren practitioners chant, there is meaning and purpose behind it. For me, I’m trying to use it as simply a meditative tool. Also I still struggle with the Japanese, so that adds a little humility to my practice. Maybe in the future I’ll try chanting something else. We’ll see.

At the end of chanting diamoku, SGI members typically offer 3 prayers that have been written down. Not one of them ever really spoke to me. They all have to deal with the organization and beliefs held within Nichiren Buddhism. Usually I would just try to clear my mind, or offer a prayer for the well-being of my family during that time. I decided that this needed a more personal approach, and so the other night I wrote out the following two “prayers” that I think I will use from now on:

I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.
I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape ill health.
I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.
All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.
My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.

All evil karma ever created by me since of old
On account of my beginningless greed, anger, and ignorance,
Born of my conduct, speech and thought,
Now I atone for it all.

The first one is the Five Remembrances. They are a reminder that life is short, it is not to be wasted. They are a reminder that life is temporary and frail. They are a reminder that we must love and love now, for there may not be a tomorrow. They are a reminder that our destructive acts in this life have profound consequences in this life. They are a reminder that compassionate acts in this life have profound consequences in this life.

The second one is The Gatha of Atonement, something the Zennies apparently recite frequently. I first saw it on John’s blog, and thought then how I would like to use this in some way. It kind of speaks for itself I think. It is a way to reflect on how much strife I’ve caused in my life. Upon examination, I can come to see how unskillful that behavior was, and in the future abandon such behavior. And sometimes it helps to say I’m sorry, even if no one is listening.

If anyone has a suggestion for a third one, I’m all ears.

Next, I meditate. I’ve just been doing 10 minutes at a time. Nothing too grandiose. Just spending some time connecting with my breath, which proves to be quite a challenge. I can usually make it until 3 breaths before my mind kicks in with all kinds of nonsense.

At some point in the day, I study. Even if it is just 15 minutes. Right now I’m working my way through The Wings to Awakening (check the footer).

This is how my practice looks right here, right now.

It is not perfect. It doesn’t include a real life sangha. It doesn’t include a real life teacher. Maybe at some point in the future I’ll live closer to a dharma center, and those will be both possible and practical.

This is my practice. I think it will work for me for now. It is organic, home-grown, and provides me with goals and challenges. I know I will fail and stumble along the way, but I believe that if I can stick to a routine like this, I can keep picking myself up when I fall down.

Cheers.

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A new year, a new diet, and some thank you’s.

First, let me look back on 2009. No top ten lists here, (though I feel it’s worth mentioning that Full Sail’s Session Black was the best new beer I had this year) just some quick reflection. My son was born on Christmas Eve 2008, so this year has been all about not sleeping and the baby. My home brewing was a wash this year (2 great batches, and 2 that became infected). I took a vacation and just stayed home to spend time with my family. I helped raise some money for charity in November. I started a blog in March, and….. oh yeah, became a Buddhist. I can’t complain about 2009, and even if I did, what’s the point? It’s all in the past now. While nothing monumental happened, my son hit so many milestones and kept surprising me and challenging me that to call this past year boring would be a flat-out lie. I’ve had a great year, it’s been mostly focused around my family, sharing in our love, and for that I am thankful.

So what’s next in 2010? Normally I’m of the “New Year’s resolutions are retarded” crowd. This year however, I find that it’s a great time to make some commitments, goals, and life changes.

1st: No more meat. Yup, after today I’m going “veg”. A few people have asked me why, and I haven’t come up with a great reason for them. I suppose it’s simply that I don’t want to kill animals anymore. I like them. There are plenty of healthy alternatives, and it’s better for the enviroment to eat a diet that doesn’t involve meat. James from The Buddhist Blog posted this video awhile back that I think has a great message (without being one of those gross PETA videos).

So I have many personal reasons (moral, ethical, enviromental) to not eat meat, and the only reason I can find to continue to eat it is that “bacon is tasty” (which it is. I’v previously stated that I would walk across broken glass like Bruce Willis in Die Hard for bacon). So, I will miss steak, and beef jerky, and bacon, and burgers, but I think I will be getting much more in return. Also, I’m not going to push my vegetarianism on anyone else. Really, I’m not here to judge your diet. Eat what you want, but please do think about where it came from.

2nd: A more committed practice. The idea is to chant twice a day, though I’ve been failing at this miserably. I seem to always find some sort of excuse to not chant. So with the New Year, I’m going to make a stronger mental effort to chant twice daily. The only crappy part about this is the fact that I will sleep/rest less. My son currently wakes up about 5 times a night, and finally gets up around 6:30am. I try and just sit with him for a half hour or so to let my wife gain a little bit of sleep, but now I’ll just have to take him into the living room with me so we can chant together. I suppose I can sleep when I’m dead.

3rd: Add meditation to my practice. This isn’t going to be something that I will start Jan 1. This is something that may not happen for a few months, but it is something I feel the need to add. I’m reading up on different approaches and techniques now, and will try to figure out what works best for me.

That’s it. Those are my concrete goals and affirmations for 2010. Am I a perfect father/husband/employee/friend? Hell no! But I’m already working on those things all the time, and I don’t feel the need to make a new resolution to just make myself feel good. The three things I listed are things I want to do, feel I can accomplish, and I feel like the time is right to make them all happen.

I’d like to take just a moment to thank all of my readers that have stuck with me from some of my first posts on Blogger all the way to now. Likewise, thanks to those of you that have joined as of late, have commented, and have supported and challenged me. Also, thank you to my fellow bloggers that I’ve met and have been willing to discuss everything from the 5th precept to squirrel nuts to the culture and politics of Buddhism in the West and beyond (including Buddhist Purgatory). And last, thank you to my beautiful wife for putting up with my sometimes excessive interweb use. I love you.

Have a happy (and safe) New Year’s everyone.

Cheers.

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A new (old) ritual

This Picture doesn't do the tree justice. If anyone cares to donate an SLR camera so that I might take better pictures, feel free to email me 😉

This past week I received the 3rd best Christmas present of my life (the first being my son who was born last year on Christmas eve and the 2nd being the iPod my wife got me 2 years ago – I heart gadgets) when my Father sent me my Christmas ornaments. I’ve been without them for 9 years, and this is the first time in as many years that I’ve really gotten into the spirit of things.

For me, Christmas has always been about the tree. But first you need a stand for your tree. I think my family has the coolest one ever. My Great-Grandfather built a house in my hometown of Saginaw, MI. It was one of the original neighborhood houses on the East-side, then a center for the manufacturing industries. Eventually, he decided to make a scale replica of the house and make it into a Christmas Tree stand. It’s a really cool stand, that looks exactly like the house. There are spots for lights to light up the house, and he even drilled little holes in it, so we could stick tree sprigs in them to replicate trees.  The house is still standing to this day, and my Father currently has the tree stand. This is the one item that stands out above all from my childhood, and it is the only thing besides my last name and male pattern baldness that has been passed down from generation to generation in my family.

Next on the tree come the ornaments. Yes, I am completely attached to my ornaments. And I am fine with that. I have had my own ornaments since I was born, and I’ve been collecting them every year since. My whole family would make the annual trip to Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland to pick out our ornaments for the year. Bronner’s is literally the world’s largest Christmas store. It is Christmas there year-round, and it will absolutely overwhelm you when you walk in the doors. They have pretty much every kind of decoration and Christmas themed item you could ever imagine, and then some. Their ornaments though are a notch above everyone else’s. They are imported from Germany, Poland, Italy and Czechoslovakia and most of them are quite beautiful hand-blown glass replicas of just about anything you can think of. So we’d make the half hour trip over there, pick out our ornaments, and then head home to hang them on the tree. Everyone had their own ornaments, and even their own box to keep them in. And every year, it was a little bit like Christmas came early when I opened up my ornament box and “discovered” ornaments from years past that I forgot I had.

For me, it was this ritual that marked the beginning of the holiday season. I wasn’t really in the “Christmas Spirit” until we decorated the tree. And afterward, everything was about Christmas until the morning of the 25th when it all culminated in the usual gift-giving celebration, followed by food and family get-togethers. This year, I was able to start this tradition with my own family. My wife and I decorated the tree with the ornaments my Father sent me, along with some others ones that we have collected over the years and just haven’t used yet. The next morning when my son Corbin woke up, his face lit up brighter than the tree he was staring at.

So, I suppose the reason for this post was to examine ritual and tradition a little bit. When I started thinking about hanging my ornaments, I realized that this was the act that got me in the “Christmas spirit”. While it certainly isn’t necessary, it helps. This is how I view the various rituals that the many sects and schools of Buddhism perform on a regular basis. Whether it is using  juzu beads, prostrations, bowing, turning prayer wheels or whatever your particular cup of tea (which could also be a ritual).

These rituals aren’t the means by which you realize enlightenment. Big shock, I know. So what is their purpose if not practical? I think it all just has to do with the intention behind the act. If you intend to bow deeply to world out of respect, and repeat this action again and again, and are genuine in your action, how does that not carry over into the rest of your life? If you immerse yourself in loving-kindness practice, this is how you will react to the world. The same thing if all you listen to is Rage Against the Machine (which I love). Eventually, you’re going to hate the government (and white people too I think?). We’ve built up so much of the delusion, greed, and hunger in our lives that sometimes it takes 100 prostrations or 300 nam myoho renge kyo-s to break ourselves out of that mode of thought and being.

But it’s not just some kind of brainwashing exercise. Lighting candles and incense, chanting, offering food and water, these things create the right environment for earnest practice. They are the same as hanging the ornaments on my tree, or watching It’s a Beautiful Life. Those things are not the Christmas Spirit in and of themselves, likewise my offering a pear on my Butsudan alter isn’t going to bring me enlightenment. But it helps me. I understand the symbolism, and how it should reflect in my life.

Of course, there is also the flip side. I’m sure I have neighbors that have put up their lights out of some sort of obligation. I’m sure there are plenty of Buddhists in the world that light incense with no intention behind it. This can be found in all the world’s religions, as well as in social interaction itself. People just going through the motions for whatever reason. And I’m sure that there are some that don’t see the ritual items as physical symbology, interpret everything literally, and hope to bow their way to enlightenment. But I think that most practitioners are aware that many of the rituals they perform are symbolic, and are there to aid their practice, not be their practice.

So it kind of bugs me when people like Sam Harris say things like “While it may be true enough to say (as many Buddhist practitioners allege) that “Buddhism is not a religion,” most Buddhists worldwide practice it as such, in many of the naive, petitionary, and superstitious ways in which all religions are practiced.” [emphasis mine]

I’ll just say that I fully believe Buddhism to be a religion, though whatever way you choose to practice it is up to you. But I don’t think that looking down your nose at the world-wide sangha is helping you to develop loving-kindness or compassion Sam Harris. I could just as easily say that treating Buddhism as anything but a religion, and practicing it as a mere philosophy with only personal gain in mind is futile and selfish. And reducing it to the “Science of Mind” that many propose misses the entire point of Buddhism altogether. But that’s just an opinion. It’s divisive speech, and it makes the claim that I somehow own Buddhism and propose to know the true and “right” version of it to practice; when in fact this would be far from the truth. Rather than attempt to create more division, why not just embrace what it is that you choose to practice, without degrading others?

This kind of talk is common. Many people here in the West believe that Buddhism has too much ritual and metaphor and if we just rid it of these, and it’s cultural baggage, it would be better off.  If that’s what you want, practice that. But there’s no need to go stripping Buddhism of it’s rich culture, tradition, and history. Personally, I’m choosing to learn from the diverse cultures that have developed Buddhism over the past 2500 years or so. I don’t see it as “baggage”, even though there is plenty of it that doesn’t speak to me on a personal level. What do I then do with this cultural “baggage”? I try and understand it. I try and understand it’s purpose and meaning. I take what I can from it, and then move on. I like the metaphors and symbolism, but I understand that is what they are, and nothing more. Calling the culture that has intertwined itself with Buddhism “baggage” is disrespectful on so many counts, but I’ll let Arun talk more about that (that’s kind of Arun’s niche).

So far, all of the ornaments have survived the wrath of Mr. Grab-Hands

Back to the topic at hand. I think that ritual has it’s place in Buddhist practice. One shouldn’t get lost in it, nor do I think one should have a strict aversion to it. I enjoy ritual. It helps me. It helps to bring focus to my practice. While not necessary, it’s a tool that I can use that has it’s roots deep in Buddhist tradition and culture. When I find my mind wandering while chanting, I use my Juzu beads to bring my focus back where it should be. They also help provide that feeling that what I’m doing in the present moment is focused practice, which it then becomes. So what’s wrong with that? Why strip me of that? I like my ornaments on my tree. They certainly aren’t getting in the way of anything. They’re pretty, they make me happy, and it just plain feels like Christmas with our tree now.

I’ll leave you with this. Awhile back, Jack from Zen Dirt, Zen Dust wrote a post called “The Stripping of Buddhism“. One of his readers Lee left the following comment, which I think sums this all up nicely: “I never thought I’d like ritual..but first time I spent time with monks and bowed I found the purpose in my training for bowing…full bowing…chanting…having services..lighting candles…all the symbolic bringing together of the mind in action and letting go self in the process… For some I suppose it’s helpful…but no one should mistake it for some old idea .. not necessary… and somehow unworthy… to bow deeply to the universe is good to do… Gashho!”

Cheers.

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Chant it out Loud!!!

As promised, here’s a picture of our Gohonzon, enshrined in the Butsudan that me and my bro in law made.

So, how’s the chanting going so far? Weird. Jarring. Calming. Awkward. Uplifting. I’m having a hard time making it a regular habit. My 9 1/2 month old son likes to wake up 5 times a night, so getting up an extra 20 minutes early for Gongyo is quite the chore at the moment. I’m stumbling over the Japanese, though I’m not doing nearly as bad as I thought I would.

But this is all a good thing. It’s forcing me to experience something new, something profound. It’s breaking me out of my shell of comfort that I’ve spent the better part of 26 years building up around me. Because that shell of comfort is an illusion. It’s an attachment-based reality that is filled with unreasonable expectations of myself and the world around me. I need to stop having these expectations, and just let shit ride. I need to stop finding comfort in the what-ifs and maybe-some-days and find comfort in what I have here in the now (which is a home, a stable job, and the best family a man could ever ask for and probably doesn’t deserve – I don’t have it that bad).

Chanting, practicing, meditating, pondering; it’s all forcing me into a new and more fluid version of myself. I’m thinking outside the box, I’m acting outside the box, I’m being outside the box. Now if I can just get myself out of bed to do it every morning……..

Also, I just found out that KISS has a new album out: “Sonic Boom”. (hence the title of this post)Cheers.

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Gohonzon!!!

Well, we recieved our Gohonzon tonight. It was interesting, weird, jarring, and peaceful chanting with a room full of family and strangers. I don’t know many of the chants quite yet, but I managed to fumble along nicely. Paul, who’s home we went to for the ceremony was very nice and welcoming, and no one commented on our lack of chanting skills. Next week we’ll be enshrining it in the Butsadon that my brother in law and I made last weekend. I’ll put up a picture of mine then. This is a picture of one for those unfamiliar.

 

I was holding my 9 month old son, Corbin worried that he would start crying at any moment. It was getting past his bed time and he usually doesn’t do well with loud noises or if a lot of people are around him talking. But he just sat there the whole time. Didn’t make so much as a peep. He looked around at all the strangers, and really seemed at peace. Maybe it had to do with the fact that Alex, my wife, has been chanting to him since he was in the womb. He certainly enjoyed himself, and seemed really centered. And when we all stopped, he starting doing his baby babble as if to fill the silence with his version of Nam myoho renge kyo.

 As for me, well, I was able to do the Daimoku, but the rest was way beyond me. I’ll need lots of practice, but I’m okay with that. If it came easy, I don’t think it would be worth it. I think a big benefit of Buddhist practice is breaking us out of the shells we’ve created for ourselves (and we certainly have thick shells here in the US, don’t we?). So while Nicherin Buddhism wasn’t my first “pick” for the type of Buddhism I would practice, it will certainly suffice. I don’t see any reason why in the future I couldn’t also sit zazen or approach things from a more Therevaden standpoint. Maybe that will be the future face of Western Buddhism. The US has always been the “melting pot”, so why not for Buddhism as well? Maybe that is where we will find our voice in the West. Not in any one particular practice or any new version of Buddhism, but a marriage of many practices and beliefs. Who knows?

 I know that right now, I’m diggin this new sangha and practice, and that’s all that matters to me. I’m fine with any form of practice that helps me realize my own Buddha nature. Cheers.

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