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Paramita of the Month: Meditation

As we begin the month of May, we arrive at the penultimate of the six paramitas: meditation. Here are some texts to contemplate.

Meditation Cushion

The Bodhicharyavatara (excerpt)

Shantideva

After cultivating diligence, set your mind to concentrate,
For those whose minds are slack and wandering
Are caught between the fangs of the affliction.

Verses on Work and Meditation

Khenchen Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche
(Songs of Realization)

In this day and age, when people fly in the sky like birds,
In this day and age, when people travel under the ocean like fish,
In this day and age, when people see a variety of empty fomrms,
In this day and age, when people hear a variety of empty sounds,
Meditating while in motion makes Samadhi increase.

Work is meditation’s friend.
Work is meditation’s focal support.
Therefore, while you work,
Relax naturally and uncontrived,
Know that memories are self-liberated.
Know that all thoughts are self-liberated.

Wild Awakening (excerpt)

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

When we close our eyes and meditate, when we look at our mind, it is not simply blank. It is not merely a big black hole. When we look at that mind, it is full of energy – it is a field of energy. This is similar to the experience of modern physicists examining an object under a powerful microscope. Although they do not find any solidly existing atoms, what they see is full of energy. There is a sense of complete or all pervasive luminosity at this point.”

An Introduction to Mahamudra Meditation (excerpt)

Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche

We basically have two parts to ourselves, one of which is our body and the other our mind. Because we can see and feel our bodies, we tend to think that they are more important. But actually, if you look at your experience closely you’ll see that your mind is, in the end, more important. It has been said that our body is really like a servant who is employed or commanded by our mind, which is like a monarch. When our mind is happy, we experience a well-being that extends to our physical body. When our mind is in a positive state, our physical and verbal actions will automatically be positive as well. When our mind is aware, clear and lucid, our actions will be more effective.

So, working with our mind, making our mind happy, positive and lucid is extremely important. Basically, there s no other way to do this than working with the habits that accrue in our mind. We’re constantly getting used to things, developing habits of doing things which may be positive or negative and the way to work with the mind, with our state of mind, is to cultivate positive and constructive habits and no longer invest in the negative or destructive ones.

The ultimate result in meditation practice is described in our tradition as Buddhahood, or awakening. When we talk about Buddhahood or the Buddha, it sounds like we’re talking about some kind of god. But in fact this is not what it means at all. The word Buddha means to wake up. For example, in the Tibetan translation of the Sanskrit word Buddha, there are two syllables. The first syllable, “sang,” means to purify or remove. It means to transcend or let go of all the problems that otherwise afflict one’s mind: sadness, regret, aggression, jealousy, arrogance, ignorance, apathy and so on. The second syllable in Tibetan is “je,” which means to expand or flourish. It means that when you can let go of, or transcend the problems that have afflicted your mind, then all of your innate qualities, which have up to that point  been bound, restricted or held in by those problems, can flourish freely. These are the qualities of wisdom, awareness, compassion, kindness, love and so on.

Now the source of these two aspects of awakening; the removal of defects and the natural flourishing or growth of good qualities, is the practice of meditation.”

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Tara Practice

The practice of Green Tara can help overcome fear and anxiety, enabling one to open up to one’s own heart of compassion. The practice consists of visualizations, songs, and prayers, composed by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche and Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche.

Nalandabodhi, Center for American Buddhism Seattle holds Tara practice sessions most Thursdays from 7:00 pm – 8:15 pm in the main shrineroom. Meditation instruction is available.

Tara practice is offered on Thursdays unless there is a conflicting program. Refer to the Nalandabodhi Seattle Calendar page to confirm that practice is taking place.

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Paramita of the Month: Diligence

Our monthly paramita practice is that of diligence, or, as it is sometimes known, exertion. The teaching below comes from H. H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, as transcribed for us by David McKinney.

Rice Farmer


From “The Heart of Compassion”, H.H. Dilgo Khyentse’s commentary on The Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva.

TRANSCENDENT DILIGENCE

28

Merely for their own sake, even shravakas and pratyekabuddhas
Make efforts like someone whose hair is on fire trying to put it out;
Seeing this, for the sake of all beings,
To practice diligence, the source of excellent qualities, is the practice of a bodhisattva.

To awaken and develop all the paramitas, diligence is vital. Diligence is the joyous effort and active determination to carry out positive actions, without any expectations or self-satisfaction.

Diligence has three aspects. The first, called “armorlike diligence,” is to develop a joyous courage and fortitude, which you wear like armor against discouragement. The second is “diligence in action,” which is to set about accumulating merit through the practice of the six paramitas without delay or procrastination. The third is “diligence that cannot be stopped,” an insatiable and unremitting energy to work for the sake of others. Diligence should permeate the practice of the other paramitas, and invigorate them all.

The first kind, armorlike diligence, is to put on the armor of a strong and courageous determination that you will never fall prey to obstacles created by the four demons (negative emotions, attachment to comfort, physical sickness, and death) but will persist, come what may, in your efforts to accomplish the extraordinary activities of a bodhisattva until you have established all beings in enlightenment.

The second kind, diligence in action, is determined perseverance in the actual application of that wish. Feeling a great joy to be able to practice, to travel the five paths and attain the ten levels, you enthusiastically undertake endless meritorious activities, particularly study, reflection, and meditation. Engaging in all this, sustain an indomitable courage and never fall prey to discouragement, laziness, or procrastination.

The third kind, diligence that cannot be stopped, is the insatiable energy to work constantly for the sake of others. Day and night, engage in every possible way, directly or indirectly, in your thoughts, words, and deeds, to benefit beings. If you are not able to help them directly, you should keep nothing in your mind but the benefit of others, and dedicate everything you do toward their attainment of buddhahood. Never feel self-satisfied because of the few good qualities you may have been able to achieve, and never be diverted from your aims by people’s abuse or other adverse circumstances. Just remain determined to continue constantly until you reach your goal.

Each of these three kinds of diligence has its opposite in a corresponding kind of laziness.

The first kind of laziness is the wish for nothing but your own comfort. It manifests as a tendency to sleep and idleness, to crave immediate satisfaction and comfort, and in so doing to ignore the Dharma. The antidote is to meditate on death and impermanence.

The second kind of laziness is a faint-heartedness. You feel discouraged before you have even begun trying to do something, because you think a person like you will never reach enlightenment no matter how hard you try. The antidote is to strengthen your fortitude by reflecting on the benefits of liberation and enlightenment.

The third kind of laziness is a neglect of your true priorities. You become stuck in negative and unproductive habits. Forgetting or ignoring deeper aims, you stay preoccupied solely with matters limited to this life. The antidote is to realize that all such ordinary concerns are invariably causes of suffering alone, and to cast them far away.

People work with great endeavor, day and night, to accomplish things that are merely for their own comfort, fame, and power–in other words, for things that in the long term are utterly meaningless. Of the hardships you may undergo for the sake of the Dharma, however, not a single one will be without meaning. The difficult situations you experience will help you to purify the negativity accumulated in many past lives and to gather merit as a provision for lives to come. They are sure to be meaningful.

Without diligence, bodhicitta and the activities of a bodhisattva will have no means to take root and grow in your mind. As Padampa Sangye said:

If your perseverance has no strength, you will not reach buddhahood;
People of Tingri, make sure you don that armor.

The Buddha Shakyamuni is renowned for having brought the paramita of diligence to its ultimate perfection. The power and merit generated by his endeavor over countless lifetimes could have brought him rebirth a thousand times over as a universal monarch, but instead he chose to direct all his efforts toward achieving enlightenment. As followers of the Buddha, we should use the story of his life and the stories of great saints of the past as inspiring models. Jetsun Milarepa, for example, displayed incredible endeavor, enduring many hardships to achieve his profound aims. Vairochana left for India in search of the Dharma at a very young age, undergoing fifty-seven unbearable difficulties to obtain the teachings and often coming close to losing his life. He and the other great translators of Tibet encountered tremendous hardships on their travels–the burning heat and the fevers then endemic in the Indian plains, the harsh animosity of local rulers, and so forth. Nevertheless they persevered and succeeded in bringing the authentic Dharma back to Tibet.

You are living today in countries where the Dharma has only just begun to take root, like a fragile new shoot in the ground. Only your sustained diligence will bring it to fruition. Depending on the effort you put into study, reflection, and meditation, and to integrating what you have understood into your spiritual practice, accomplishment may be days, months, or years away. It is essential to remember that all your endeavors on the path are for the sake of others. Remain humble and aware that your efforts are like child’s play compared to the oceanlike activity of the great bodhisattvas. Be like a parent providing for much-loved children, never thinking that you have done too much for others–or even that you have done enough. If you finally managed, through your own efforts alone, to establish all beings in buddhahood you would simply think that all your wishes had been fulfilled. Never have even a trace of hope for something in return.

A bodhisattva must have far greater diligence than a shravaka or pratyekabuddha, because the bodhisattva has taken the responsibility of accomplishing the ultimate happiness of budhahood not only for himself but for countless beings. As it is said:

The hero who carries the burden of all beings on his head has no leisure to walk slowly.

And:

Since I and all others are tied by a hundred bonds,
I must multiply my diligence a hundred times.

To increase your diligence, reflect on how impermanent everything is. Death is inevitable and may come suddenly and very soon. Think how shallow and superficial this life’s ordinary concerns really are in that light, and how free you could be if you could turn your mind away from them. If you suddenly realized that in your lap, in a fold of your clothes, a venomous snake was hiding, would you wait to take action—even for a second?

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Paramita of the Month: Patience

Patience
March is here again and despite the blustery, wet weather we can also know that the spring that will soon arrive brings forth an abundance of the new. Some of these new situations will be joyful, others will test our patience. With that in mind, let’s practice the third of the paramitas, patience, which is so beautifully explained by HH Dilgo Kheyntse Rinpoche in the text below.
 
 

From The Heart of Compassion, HH Dilgo Khyentse’s commentary on The Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva.

TRANSCENDENT PATIENCE

27

For a bodhisattva who desires the joys of virtue,
All who harm him are like a precious treasure.
Therefore, to cultivate patience toward all,
Without resentment, is the practice of a bodhisattva.

There are three kinds of patience. The first is to bear without anger whatever harm people may do you. The second kind is to endure without sadness whatever hardships you may experience for the sake of the Dharma. The third is to face without fear the profound meaning of the Dharma and the boundless qualities of the Three Jewels.

For the first, when you feel you are being harmed by someone, remember that the harm that person may be inflicting on you (or on someone dear to you) is the direct result of you yourself having harmed others in the past. Reflect that this person is so overpowered by delusion that he or she is as if possessed, and cannot resist harming you. As a result of this harm, he or she will have to suffer in samsaraʼs lower realms in a future life. When you think how terrible that will be, you will feel only sadness and pity rather than anger.

Remember, too, that if you can patiently accept all this harm, many of your own past negative actions will be purified, and you will accumulate both merit and wisdom. Indeed, this person who appears to be harming you is therefore doing you a great kindness, and is a true spiritual friend. As an expression of your gratitude, dedicate whatever merit you have accumulated to him or her.

Seeing all such situations in this way, train yourself not to get upset when someone harms you, not to seek revenge, and never to bear the slightest grudge.

Moreover, when you look even more deeply into what is happening, you will see that the person beings harmed, the person doing the harm, and the harm itself are all totally devoid of any inherent existence. Who is going to get angry at delusions? In these empty phenomena, what is there to be gained or lost, to want or to reject? Understand it all as being like the vast, empty sky.

Now for the second kind of patience, enduring hardships for the sake of Dharma. In order to be able to practice Dharma, it may happen that you have to endure illness, or suffer from heat, cold, hunger, or thirst. But since these short-term sufferings will help you purify your past negative actions and, in the long term, reach ultimate buddhahood, accept them with joy, like a swan gliding into a lotus pond. In The Way of the Bodhisattva, Shantideva says:

Is a man not relieved when, though condemned to death,
He’s freed, his hand cut off in ransom for his life?
Enduring likewise merely human ills,
Am I not happy to avoid the pains of hell?

The third kind of patience is to have the deep, inner courage that it takes to be ready, out of compassion, to work over many aeons for the sake of beings and to face without any fear the highest truths of the teachings—that ultimately all phenomena are totally empty by nature, that emptiness is expressed as radiant clarity, that there is a buddha nature, a self-existing primordial wisdom that is uncompounded, and an absolute truth beyond the reach of the intellect. If you are afraid to accept the reality of emptiness, and criticize practices such as the Great Perfection by which the true nature of all phenomena can be realized, you are rejecting the very essence of the Dharma and are preparing your own downfall into the lower realms. When Lord Buddha taught the profound teachings on emptiness, some of the monks who were present reacted to the deep truths of the teaching with panic so intense that they vomited blood and died forthwith. These truths are by no means easy to fathom, but it is of the utmost importance to try to grasp their true meaning, and not to have a negative view of them.

These three kinds of patience should be developed with the aid of wisdom and skillful means.

To practice the paramita of patience is essential, so that you can never be overcome by anger, hatred, and despair. Once you have entered the path of the bodhisattvas, you should in any case have kindness in your heart for all beings, seeing them as your former parents. So when people are against you and do you harm, you should have even more love, dedicating all your merit to them and taking all their suffering upon yourself.

Indeed, adversaries and people who try to harm you can be powerful sources of help on the bodhisattva path. By bringing about situations that would normally trigger your anger or hatred, they give you the precious opportunity to train in transforming those negative emotions with patience. On the path, such people will do you far more good than any well-disposed friend.

Now, Shantideva says:

Good works gathered in a thousand ages,
Such as deeds of generosity,
Or offerings to the blissful ones—
A single flash of anger shatters them.

And in the Sutra of the Meeting of Father and Son it is said:

Hatred is not the way to buddhahood.
But love, if constantly cultivated, 
Will give rise to enlightenment.

So if you react to an enemy with hatred and anger, he will certainly be leading you to the depths of the hell realms. But if you know how to see such a person with the deepest loving-kindness, he can only lead you toward liberation. No matter how much harm he tries to do you, it will only do you good. The difference is crucial. You may have studied various teachings and meditated for a while, and even feel rather proud of it. But if, as soon as someone says a few bad words to you, you burst with anger, that is a sign that you have not let the Dharma really permeate you—it has not changed your mind in the least.

Shantideva also says:

No evil is there similar to anger,
No austerity to be compared with patience.

If the land were full of sharp stones and thorns, you might try to protect your feet by covering over the whole countryside with tough leather. But that would be a difficult task. It is much easier to put the leather just on the soles of your feet. In the same way, even if the whole world is full of enemies, they can do you no harm as long as you keep loving-kindness and patience in your mind. Whatever apparent harm they do you would, in fact, help you on the path to enlightenment. As it is said:

When you encounter the emotions’ formidable army,
Don the solid and excellent armor of patience;
Thus, unscathed by the weapons of harsh words and vindictive blows,
Pass through them to reach the land of nirvana.

There is no peace for a person whose mind is filled with anger and hatred. Anger and hatred need to be subdued by the great army of patience, for they are your only true enemies. It would be impossible for you to experience harm if your own anger and hatred had not, in the past, brought about the causes from which the present harm arises, like the returning echo of your own voice.

Look, too, at the true nature of harm itself. It is as ungraspable as writing on water. Let resentment vanish of its own accord, and as soon as the fiery waves of thoughts subside, let everything become like an empty sky, where there is nothing to gain and nothing to lose.

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Joins Us for a Zen Koan Retreat with John Tarrant Roshi

We welcome the public to join us for a special short sesshin with John Tarrant Roshi, co-hosted by Nalandabodhi Seattle and Pacific Zen Institute.

Meeting the Golden Haired Lion

Thursday evening 3/24/2016 — Sunday midday 3/27/2016

The Koan:

A student asked Yunmen, “What is the pure and everlasting body of reality?”
Yunmen said, “A fence of flowers and healing herbs.”
The student asked, “What’s it like when I reach there?”
Yunmen said, “Golden-haired lion!”

photo by Andrew Ross

Please see our Event for details and registration.

 

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