Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The temple bell echoes across the valley

I received the task of listening to the echoes of the temple bell. Difficult when there is no valley here, and no bell either. But I sit down and listen.
Listening, sounds appear, perception is refined. Listening changes as so do echoes: there is the humming of the heating system; or my daughter breathing deeply as she falls asleep; or a passing car out there in the far distance; or the church bell...
What is the source of these sounds?

The listened is seen.
Not with the eyes.

Without warning, not predicting it, another temple bell echoes across the valley: the breathing process. This is not heard, but rather felt. Breathing in and out is the bell echoing; the body is the valley. The echoing is seen moving up and down the valley, in and out, deeper and deeper.

The body is the bell
struck by the breathing
its sound is totally empty

But, what is the source of this sound?
There is only one bell in the temple. It fills the whole universe. It sounds, vibrates and echoes in itself: heating system, breathing in and out, daughter sleeping, body feeling, passing car... all this just echoing across the valley, which is a bell, echoing across the valley, which...

what is the source of this sound?

The emperor stays in palace. 
The general goes beyond the frontiers.

The picture is borrowed from The Boundless Mind Zen website

Friday, February 19, 2010

Who do you think you are?

“We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.”
The Dharmapada

As advanced as our science becomes and as far as we have come spiritually, we still do not believe that we create our own existence. Many of us will admit that we create our current circumstances, while others will admit that our perception of reality is the only reality we really know. But who among us has come to totally believe that our thoughts actually create the world?

Duality is what keeps us from seeing this clearly, there is me and there is what is not me. I am a product of circumstances beyond my control. These thoughts are all generations of the dualistic mind, the mind that does not recognize the perceived and perceiver as one. Our eyes and my eyes are one and the same, yet to nearly all, the world something we see outside of us.

Who do you think you are?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Who’s your teacher?

Where’s your certificate?

What’s your lineage?

Are you qualified to transmit the dharma?

These questions are all too prevalent in Buddhism, and are usually asked by people who doubt or disagree with what you have to say. Unable or unwilling to trust their own judgment of whatever bits of information, wisdom, or foolishness you may have just offered, they want to know if someone else (your teacher or other certifying agency) agrees with what you say. If they have heard of this other person, or if you can sufficiently convince them of that person’s qualifications, then they may believe you and be willing to listen further. Why is this? Why are we so willing to disregard one teacher, then blindly trust another (to the point of exalting and deifying them), entirely on the basis of who did or didn’t sign their certificate? Why can’t we simply evaluate what they’ve said and trust our own insight and judgment as to its veracity?

This need for external verification of authority is most definitely not unique to Buddhism, though it is certainly antithetical to Buddhist teachings. And yet, many Buddhists formalize it, revere it and give it a special name: lineage. Rather than using our own personal experience and innate wisdom to decide if a person speaks true, we instead look to his teacher. And his teacher’s teacher. And his teacher’s teacher. And so on and on, until we come to the name of a teacher that we trust and recognize as an authority on the matter. How far back do we go - to Dogen? Rinzai? Bodhidharma? Buddha? Do we ask who the Buddha’s teacher was? Do we wonder who gave him the right and authority to teach? When the Buddha said “Be a light unto yourself”, I’m quite certain he didn’t add “so long as you can trace that light through an unbroken line of qualified teachers back to me.”

The mistake we make is in equating teachings (or wisdom) with authority, in the process also failing to recognize the very source of authority. The Buddha addresses this himself in the Kalama Sutra. He advises us not to blindly accept teachings, but to critically examine and experiment with them, accepting them finally only if they ring true for us based on our own experience and understanding. That is to say, authority comes from within, and we should grant this authority to the teachings of others only if they accord with our own innate wisdom. Thus does a teacher gain his authority – not from his teacher, but from his student; he is a teacher if and only if he has one or more students who think that there is truth in what he has to say.

When we realize this, we see that teachers are not the sources of our authority, but simply those who have gone before us, and that the purpose of lineage is not to grant them authority, but to preserve and transmit their teachings. In this sense, it doesn’t even matter if the lineage is unbroken, or if such-and-such a teacher was in that direct line. Recalling our geometry lessons from school, a line is defined by two points – no more, no less. Additional points may fall on the same line, but only two of them are needed for the line to exist. This means that as one point of the line, you are in direct lineage with any teacher from whom you learn. You are a direct descendant of Buddha, Jesus, Bodhidharma, Meister Eckhart, Rumi, the raven in the sky, the salmon in the stream, the mountain underfoot, and the neighbor across the street. You belong to as many lineages as there are teachers, and as the center point for all these lines connecting you to the teachers of the ages, you are a veritable sunburst – truly a light unto yourself.

Friday, February 5, 2010


In buddhist circles it is usually said that we are trapped by our notions about ourselves.
Sometimes I think not-self is as dangerous as the self, we end up trapped by that notion too, almost making a thing of the ego, a devil to be fight and conquered, the subject of struggle, confussion and worry (because we deny to admit that we don't understand).
Whatever we make of the ego, it is not by creating more concepts that we awake or get liberated, but by abandoning completely concept creations. Can we do that? Or is it too much for our egos?

Let the ancient master speak:
Cast off completely your head and skin. Thoroughly withdraw from distinctions of light and shadow. Where the ten thousand changes do not reach is the foundation that even a thousand sages cannot transmit. Simply by yourself illuminate and deeply experience it with intimate accord. The original light flashes through confusion. True illumination reflects into the distance. Deliberations about being and nonbeing are entirely abandoned. The wonder appears before you, its benefit transferred out for kalpas. Immediately you follow conditions and accord with awakening without obstruction from any defilements. The mind does not attach to things, and your footsteps are not visible on the road. The you are called to continue the family business. Even if you thoroughly understand, still practice until it is familiar. (Hongzhi Zhengjue, 1091-1157)