Pushed from one black hole, rushing into another. Coming from two lives we one day melt into all of them with a colorful tumble to separate the seeming beginning and end. Absolutely there is no absolute, knowing this we can do our kindest. Keep aware the infinite and interpenetrating expressions of the mysterious functions of action, word and thought in every moment. Only a heart cleared by touching impermanence, realizing self as composite and the transcendence of joy and suffering could die and live with infinity.

Ou-i’s Four Rules for Reading the Tripitaka

“There are four rules to be observed when reading the Tripitaka.

The first rule is to comprehend that the original purpose of speaking the Dharma of the Tathagata is to help all sentient being to escape from the Wheel of Birth and Death, that it is not meant just to give pleasure to the ears and eyes, and that and every word must be fully comprehended by one’s own Mind. Correct practice should not be likened to talking about food or counting other’s gems.

The second rule is that on the path of learning one should not, in the beginning, be ashamed to learn from those who appear to be one’s inferiors. Thus, there is an orderly progress in studying the Teaching of the Tathagata. However, some people have little talent but are very ambitious and anxious to have sudden Enlightenment. Apropos of such people we can ask the following: If one does not the ability to suck up a river, ho, then, can he reasonably expect to swallow the whole ocean?! He must first read the “Vinaya” of the Tripitaka to understand the monastic rules of the Buddha’s time as well as the importance of the order of the Sangha. Also, he must read the Four Agamas and come to understand very clearly the right causes and conditions that will to the goal. Then, if one wishes to know the fundamentals of the three wonderful meditations, he should focus accurately and deeply on methods and techniques of the T’ien T’ai School to understand the Tathagata’s purpose in speaking the wonderful Dharma and in skillfully teaching people by means of the four siddhanta. These four methods of teaching are the following: 1- mundane or ordinary modes of expression; 2- individual treatment, adapting the Teaching to the capacity of each hearer; 3- diagnostic treatment of their moral diseases; 4- the perfect and highest Truth. Thus after using the key of the Dharmadhatu to open all kinds of locks to the inconceivable treasures of the Sutras and the Sastras, one can then advance with irresistible force.

The third rule is to read first the Four-Division Vinaya with its verses, which is used by bhiksus; then one should read the Sanghika-Vinaya, in ten divisions, reciting its rules of fundamental discipline; next one should read the Mahisasaka-Vinaya, which details the five divisions of the Law according to that school. Also, one should read the Sarvastivada-Vinaya, which lists the disciplinary rules for moral training, and he should read other codes of behavior regulation and monastic discipline. Each of these codes of discipline and practice has been transmitted differently, and each has its full particulars, requiring careful thinking and consideration. One should not hold to just one side or view, denying the others, nor should one doubt both sides; but he should understand all sides for the deepest comprehension. Really, one should never say to himself, “It is not neccessary to care about Hinayana Dharma any longer, so abandon it and study only the Supreme Vehicle.” Such a view is foolish, heterdox, arrogant and evil, leading anyone holding it to stumble and fall into the deep pit of error and ignorance. Thus, on should not believe in it!

The fourth rule is to read, understand and respect the Sutras, Sastras and Vinayas of both the Mahayana and Hinayana Schools because each word is important and each sentence expresses the Truth. What kind of Dharma each person is to receive depends on his habits, whether heavy or light, which also determines his method of salvation. Choosing words and thoughts to benefit oneself and others can be compared to the great variety of herbs found on the snowy slopes of an ordinary mountain, where just gathering some medicine to cure one’s disease is enough. However, on the Treasure Mountain, where everything is valuable, one should focus on and take the Precious Mani first. This is the perfect panacea and method to cure all ills and can be examined by your hands and recognized by your eyes.”



Study & Practice (AKA “one does not always eat rice”)

ImageThere always seems to be debate internally and externally between practices and scholastics. Between doing and teaching, thinking and application. Between self-identified ‘practitioners’ and self-identified ‘scholars’. Between those whose disposition is logic/anger/mental and those whose disposition is devotion/desire/emotional. In between we have the indifferent and ignorant.

One of the summaries of Buddhist practice is: sila, dhyana, prajna, moksha moksha. Ethics (self-discipline), meditation/concentration, wisdom/inquiry- liberation, knowledge of liberation.

In Tendai there is an example of a bird with two wings. To be able to fly ahead both wings must be in harmony (study and practice) when not harmonized the bird will fly in circles. Ethical practice is the body – holding the wings together.

Another analogy is of two legs. If one leg is still a person will simply spin around- never able to progress towards their destination. One’s ethical practice is likened to the ground walked on. Unstable ethics and harmful behaviors mean uneven ‘surfaces’ and obstacles in the mind and practice.

In either example  we tend to wander the path back and forth, side to side, not quite in a straight line yet ever striving for the wisdom from listening, reading and reciting to be digested by the meditative practices such as contemplation, stilling and analyzing. Whatever our tendency may be we can seek a balance between the two of practice and study. Of course at different points in our life we may lean more towards one direction or another as they each inform and illuminate one another. Below, two quotes.  Two masters from two time periods addressing the need for this balance in spiritual development.

There is a type of meditation master who exclusively utilizes cessation-type practice and does not allow for the practice of contemplation. Such a person quotes a verse that says, “Thinking and thinking, one follows one’s own thoughts. Thinking and thinking, one brings suffering to oneself. To still this [conceptual] thinking is the path. As long as there are [conceptual] thoughts, one cannot perceive [the path].” There is also a type of meditation master who exclusively utilizes the practice of contemplation and does not allow for the practice of cessation. Such a person quotes a verse that says, “Stopping and stopping, one brings about cessation; this is darkness without any support. The stopping of cessation is the path. One encounters the principle [of reality] through the insight of contemplation.” Both of these types of teachers follow only one of the methods for realizing [enlightenment], and teach other people on the basis of the benefit they have received from [their one-sided practice]. Those who study [under them] are not aware of their [one-sided] intentions. [It is like the story in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra,] “one who exclusively drinks milk will have difficulty getting a drink [of cream], not to mention ghee.” If people rely exclusively [on either cessation or contemplation, or on only one teaching or practice] to attain understanding, then what was the reason for the Buddha to offer such a variety of teachings? The heavens are not always clear; a doctor does not rely exclusively on powdered medicine; one does not always eat rice.

-Zhiyi (538–597 CE) 

If you cultivate but do not study, you are practicing blindly and you will never manage to cut off the “affliction obstacle”. If you study but do not cultivate, you will never cut off the “obstacle of what is known”. If you can’t cut off the “affliction obstacle”, you still have a self, and if you can’t cut off the “obstacle of what is known”, you still have dharmas. If you have dharmas, then you have the dharma- attachment; if you have a self, you have the self -attachment and you have not realized that basically self and dharmas are empty. Therefore, you must combine study and practice. The understanding derived from study aids us in our practice and the practice aids us in our study. They harmonize. You shouldn’t cultivate your whole life away and then fi nd that when someone asks you how to explain a sentence of Dharma, you don’t know what to say! On the other hand, you shouldn’t simply study and listen to a lot of lectures on the Sutras and then find that, when someone asks you how to cultivate, you’re speechless!

-hsuan hua (1918-1995)

Return to Source by Fa Tsang

Six contemplations based on the Avatamsaka sutra:

1.  Revealing one essence: this means the inherently pure, complete, luminous essence, which is pure of its own nature.

2. Activating two functions- the eternal function of the oceanic reflection of the web of forms; the self-existence function of the complete illumination of the realm of reality.

3. Showing the three universals – the universality of one atom pervading the universe; the universality of one atom producing infinity; the universality of one atom containing emptiness and existence.

4. Practicing the four virtues- the virtue of subtle functions according to conditions without convention; the virtue of maintaing dignified, regulated, exemplary conduct; the virtue of receiving beings with gentleness, harmony, honesty, and straight-forwardness; the virtue of accepting suffering in place of all sentient beings.

5. Entering five cessations- cessation by awareness of the pure emptiness of things and detachment from objets; cessation by contemplating the voidness of person and cutting off desire; cessation because of the spontaneity of the profusion of natural evolution; cessation by the light concentration shining forth without thought; the formless cessation in the hidden communion of phenomena and noumenon.

6. Developing six contemplations – the contemplation of real emptiness, returning objects to mind; contemplation of the inconceivable existence of realms manifested by the mind; contemplation of mystic merging of mind and environment; contemplation of the reflection of myriad objective conditions in the body of knowledge; contemplation of the forms of many bodies entering one mirror; contemplation of the imperial net [of Indra], in which principal and satellites reflect one another.

summary below by Thomas Cleary:

“The first contemplation involves realizing that what are conventionally thought to be hard and fast realities are in fact terms assigned to foci or attention- organizations of impressions are not objective realities and “things” in themselves are ungraspable.

Then realizing the role of the mind in the ordering of the environment, the possibility of participating consciously and progressively in the continuous reformation of the universe dawns.

The mind then can lose its boundaries of thought and merge with the environment, receiving information ranging beyond the strictures of word and concept, reflecting myriad conditions of the environment in a mirrorlike faculty from which is born the body of knowledge.

Then, the contemplation of many bodies entering one mirror is the observation of the realm of mutual noninterference among phenomena, which is the simultaneous interdependence of all things, appearing all at once in the mirror of the whole awareness. Fa-tsang presents this notion in terms of the interdependence of the ten bodies of Buddhahood, meaning that mind, environment, beings and enlightenment are all immanent in one another.

The final contemplation, the unique vision of the net of Indra, shows the free noninterference of the focal and total awareness. Each element is both the focal point of all elements and also the satellite of all other elements in their capacity as focal points, with all things thus reflecting each other ad infinitum.”Mayumi Oda



Just as reflections in water
Are not inside or outside,
Bodhisattvas seeking enlightenment
Know the world is not the world:
They do not dwell in or leave the world,
Because the world is inexplicable;
And they are not inside or outside,
Appearing in the world like reflections.
(Avatamsaka Sutra – 884,885)

{photo – credit}

No Strings Attached – The Buddha’s Culture of Generosity

I get a very visceral reaction when I see people charging fixed fees or saying ‘suggested dana’ for dharma teachings or retreats and warping their wording. Encountering it a bunch recently I go to this essay by Thanissaro Bhikkhu >>>>> No Strings Attached plus my blabbing about it below.

Teaching the Dharma is the highest gift. If we’ve affixed a price tag or suggested that compensation is appropriate …then what are we giving?

This would be like someone inviting you out for a meal and saying “please come to my home, let me cook for you, be my guest and enjoy.”

After the meal they explain to you how much they’ve worked, trained, what they estimate the ingredients to cost, what they estimate their time to be, what they estimate it was to prepare the space before you came over.  They may even tell you about the other expenses in their life, travel plans and projects. How all these things they do require money.

“Here is a bill- I am not saying you have to pay BUT it would be great if you paid me $20 because I worked really hard, have other expenses and you enjoyed this meal I invited you over for. I mean this freely given without expectation and your paying me would be appropriate.”

This seems really dishonest and manipulative. Instead of using the dharma to make a livelihood…use a livelihood to support the dharma? When spiritual practice is dependent on money it is like clouds blocking out the sun. Still daytime but the world gets grey and difficult to see.

I am reminded again and again of what I know of and experienced in the the AA model. If someone has more experience with how they handle world needs vs. purpose/vision please correct me! I am sure the AA model comes with it’s own set of problems.  I don’t ever associate AA with trying to make a buck off of people’s suffering or seeking. My understanding so far of how it works :

The immediate participants (they do not have memberships and visitors do not contribute) make contributions each meeting and give or not give according to how they choose.  The  participation level and rotated positions in the group determines the size of the space used and allocation of funds towards things like rent, printing, snacks etc. No one is paid or compensated financially for their time.  This means any given group can fluctuate in size and participation over time. They remain organic and responsive to the needs of the community- not the agenda of an individual teacher or institution. Group stability is determined by participant stability, hierarchy is mostly equal with some respect given to those more seasoned in the process.

I think dharma-center type businesses could use this model of ‘stability and transformation of participants = success’, rather than a ‘growth in membership/donors/income = success in spreading.

What are some other ways we could try structurally to meet day to day needs while not mixing dharma with profit?