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Archive for August, 2010

A couple of days ago, Joseph wrote a great post about dealing with difficult people.  He’d remind himself, that, as annoying as someone may seem, nonetheless, they’re growing and evolving, and have already come a long way.

Bodhidharma, to himself, "Are you friggin kidding me?!"

They may have come a long way, but there are times when even that knowledge doesn’t make it any easier! 

Here are some other ways of looking at people, which have helped me get past some emotion or negative thoughts I’ve been caught up in. These are all true, but it’s often the case that one fits better than the others. (These are from Dharma talks by Daehaeng Kun Sunim) 

1.   I also used to be just like that

2.  They have a good heart, but when they open their mouth, it comes out all wrong

3.  This person(or event) is my true nature testing me.  And helping me discover all the garbage I didn’t realize needed to be dealt with.

4.  This is my true nature helping me grow up

5.  If I hadn’t made and sent out this kind of energy, it couldn’t have returned to me like this. 

6. All minds and my mind are one mind
pppppIf I repeat this one to myself, it’s like everything inside me settles down and becomes peaceful.

(I’m a bit reluctant to get into commenting on these too much, but every single one of these has helped me get through more than a few difficult situations.

We are all connected through our Buddha-nature. Through this non-dual foundation, energy and intention are freely going back and forth. Thus, the thoughts I give rise to are felt by others, and if those thoughts are contempt, resentment, or dislike, others will respond accordingly. 

If we can resolve the situation harmoniously, that’s the end of it. However, because we are all connected as one, if we leave things unresolved or with resentment and ill-will in the air, those will all come back to us. Again and again. So take care of things harmoniously, even though it may be a bother, or seem unfair (if you saw all the causes involved, you’d probably agree it was perfectly fair!). 
As you free the other person, you’ll free yourself as well. 

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as we bow…

A thing becomes broader as it becomes lower.
We are also like this.
As we let go of “I” and “mine,”
Our hearts become broader and more fragrant.

Link: Littlebang: A Broader You

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There were a few different photos I was going back and forth between over the past few days, but today, as I came to post, I decided to go with a photo to suit the weather. After digging through my files, I found this one, a misty morning in front of Donghwa Temple’s Dae Ung Jeon (Main Dharma Hall).

(click here to continue reading…)

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difficult people

At Saturday Sangha, quite some time ago now, the topic came up of dealing with difficult people. Chong Go Sunim related to us what he’d once heard Daehaeng Kun Sunim say in reference to a difficult individual, “If you think they’re difficult now, you should have seen them in their past life!”

Although it sprung from one of the many off topic spirals our talks often have the fortune to end up in, it’s stuck with me ever since. Depending on the relation between the thickness of my own skin, and someone else’s ability to crawl under it, this has helped me step back and see, “Hey, this person is still somewhere along the path, making progress.”

There are times that I’ve lashed out at people whom I seemed to have a particularly strong allergy to, instead of holding out a helping hand. I’m really sorry I didn’t respond with more patience, but keeping this short teaching in mind has helped on many other occasions.

I’ve also turned it towards myself, when I’ve realized I’ve been the difficult one, and accepted I still have a way to go!

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108 bows

In the period leading up to Tuesday’s Bek Jung remembrance ceremony, many people in the Bangkok Seonwon took part in a special 15-day bowing practice. Of course, for some, performing 108 bows each day is part of their normal spiritual routine, but during those two weeks many more also joined in and also meet together to practice each day at the Seon Centre.

At Seon Club last weekend Hyaedan Sunim spoke a little about the benefits of a bowing practice, both spiritual and physical. There have been a great many scientific studies attesting to the health benefits of a daily routine of prostrations she said, but Hyedaen Sunim also told us of more personal stories too.

She told us about people who had overcome physical challenges through bowing, of children who had dealt with attention deficit problems through the practice, even of a construction site where the numbers of accidents dropped dramatically after a programme of morning bowing was implemented.

It reminded me of an article I’d read about doctor Kim Jaeseong, one of Korea’s leading exponents for making 108 bows a popular form of exercise. Although a Catholic by religion, Doctor Kim has benefited greatly himself from the exercise and recommends it to all his patients. He’s also the author of the Korean book “108 Bows a Day”

I remember the first time I ever performed 108 bows, at Bongeunsa, the temple featured in the last ‘Sunday Photo’ here. It was agony! After just a few minutes I was seriously worried I’d be sick and at the end I could hardly walk down the temple steps. The trick, of course, is to build up to it slowly. Start with just ten bows a day perhaps and increase gradually.

I did eventually get much better at it and would often perform 108 bows while in Korea (but even at my best, 108 bows would take me at least twenty minutes to complete rather than the ten Doctor Kim seems to be aiming for in the advice in his book), and I can honestly say that I felt a good deal fitter during that period!

In fact, the benefits are obvious to see. Korean temples are full of old ladies who can bow with a strength, and gracefulness that put my efforts to shame. And friends from the seonwon, people like Linda who start each morning with 108 bows, have an energy and vitality I admit to envying. And studies from Gangnam’s Oriental Hospital, affiliated with Dongguk University, among others, back up these observations.

“But” I asked Sunim, “what about the spiritual aspect to the practice? Surely that must also have some bearing on the physical benefits?” Sunim, as she often does, smiled and nodded and allowed me to see, once again, that I’d just stated the obvious! Of course, bowing is a physical giving up of the small self that allows the true self, the fundamental part of us, to shine through.

We all have Buddha-nature, Buddhists, Christians, everyone. And Doctor Kim, a Catholic, in his advice to make a start, uses words that seem almost to echo the language of Kun Sunim and that shows the direct link between this exercise and our fundamental selves: “It’s better if you bow with a smile on your face. You will feel happiness and peace well up in your heart, like fresh and clear spring water.”

Oh, and to make a bow, you start from a standing position and, with your palms together in front of you and your back upright, kneel on the floor. Then place your hands on the floor and bend until your forehead rests between them. Next turn your palms upwards and lift them from your elbows to the level of your ears. Put your hands back down and lift your body back into a kneel. Then stand and repeat…

108 times!

There’s a link below that shows each step clearly in photographs and I’m sure it’s possible to find videos of Korean bows on the internet too. Many people also chant as they bow, you can repeat the name of the Bodhisattva, Kwan Seum Bosal, or another Buddha, or chant a Sutra. I know that at the seonwon there is a sheet of 108 short teachings that many use, and which I’d love to see a translation of one day!

But the most important thing is not this, or the number of bows, the most important thing is the attitude in which you bow. Daehaeng Kun Sunim says in No River to Cross: “If you bow once in front of Buddha, while returning everything to your foundation, your present mind, past mind, and future mind all function together as one mind, so one bow can surpass ten thousand bows.”

Links:
How to do a prostration: photo essay
108 Bows for Exercise: Doctor Kim Jaeseong
Sumi Loundon: vow to bow

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Four Mountains

[I posted this on my personal blog a bit over a year ago, but I thought it relates, in a sense, to Chong Go Sunim's post on Bek-jung. In this teaching, the Buddha makes a very strong case for practicing.]

ओं मणिपद्मे हूं

ooooIn a conversation I was having with my friend, Joe, we started talking about how many Buddhist teachings are related through a story, and how the visualisation, especially for someone with a developed imagination, can really help impact the meaning and create a sort of understand. There are basically two kinds of knowledge, conceptual understanding acquired through second-hand experience and knowledge you acquire from directly experiencing something yourself. I think Jean-Paul Sartre had this same realization when he wrote about his experience with the rock in Nausea. I’ve heard a similar analogy in Buddhism, talking about a watermelon. No matter how you explain the vine, the leaves, the texture of the shell, the sweet, juicy taste, the only way to truly know a watermelon is to see it, pick it up, open it, and take a bite. No amount of words will explain it.

ooooA lot of lessons in life can be taught through another person’s experience, although sometimes it takes learning something the hard way to really get through. For thousands of years people have taught through stories. Children’s stories usually have some moral in the end or some lesson. It reaches us on a deeper level than just saying, don’t do this or that. Is it that we relate to the characters on an emotional level that becomes personal? I don’t know, but I usually feel a good understanding of something even experiencing it through a story. It doesn’t take much to put my mind in that situation and it almost becomes ‘real’.

ooooJoe told me a teaching Buddha had given to a contemporary king who often requested the Buddha’s council. On the topic of the importance of spiritual practice, the Buddha spoke…

“Majesty, suppose one day your trusted messenger brought news that there is a mountain, as high as the sky, approaching from the East, crushing every living thing in its path. Just as you begin to worry about this situation, another trusted messenger brings news that a mighty mountain is advancing from the West, also crushing everything in its path. Then messengers from the North and South arrive, bearing similar messages. Four mountains are advancing, crushing every living being in their paths. There is no way to escape, there is nothing you can do to prevent the mountains from coming. You have very little time left. Majesty, what do you do?”

The King thought, then responded, “I believe there is only one thing I could do. That would be to live my remaining hours in as worthy and serene way as possible, following the true teaching.”

The Buddha praised the king. Yes, your Majesty! Those four mountains are the mountains of birth, old age, sickness, and death. Old age and death are closing in on us, and we can never escape.

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Today is Bek-jung here in Korea, with the ceremonies set to start in 30 minutes. It’s the day for remembering those who have passed away, and for practicing on their behalf.

In Sanskrit it’s called Ullambana, and is based upon a sutra of the same name. The premise is that we and the deceased are not separate, and that the thoughts we raise can benefit those around us.

So apart from the sincerity of the offerings, the parts of the ceremony that are chanted are also about compassion and understanding that we are not our bodies, (that they are composites that come and go) and so we are free to let go of those and be reborn at whatever level we choose.

And, as we internalize those truths (compassion, sincerity, and impermanence) and let them settle down within us, those beings we share a karmic connection with are also experiencing those truths. Because we know it, they do. Just intellectually knowing won’t do much good though, we have to input and let go of all of that to this very deep place where no fixed forms or concepts can survive. When we connect with this place, what we’ve input is communicated with all beings.

One of the big disadvantages about being dead is that, having no new sensory input, consciousness tends to “drift” along, stuck in whatever it was experiencing at the time of death, or in the very slowly changing karmicly conditioned states of consciousness.* So when we hold ceremonies like this, the purpose is to become one with the deceased, and, as they become one with our level, (which is hopefully focusing on these truths!) knock them out of the loop they were stuck in.

* If someone has experienced this inner light for themselves while alive, and is practiced at relying upon it, apparently “drift” isn’t a problem, because the person follows this inner light, instead of getting hung up in the various conditioned states of consciousness that arise.
 
 
 
 
My thanks to Roy, at Return to the Center, for getting me thinking about this topic.

The images are from the main Hanmaum Seon Center in Anyang, South Korea.

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People familiar with Buddhism in the West, particularly Zen, have often heard of Dharma transmission.

In some schools this is a certificate and a formal ceremony stating that you’re now the Dharma heir of so-and-so. It’s described as a mind-to-mind transmission that has continued uninterrupted from Sakyamuni Buddha himself, and only someone who has received this is an authentic inheritor of the Dharma.

However, Korean Buddhism has a rather different perspective on this.

In traditional Korean Buddhism, there are no certificates of transmission. After ten or twenty years, a general consensus would arise that someone was the Dharma successor of their teacher. Their authority was derived from their ability, not a piece of paper.

Likewise, people didn’t really buy into the idea of an unbroken lineage. There could be periods where there were a number of great teachers, where there was only one, and even generations where there was no particularly outstanding teachers. The Supreme Patriarch of Korean Buddhism, Hanam Sunim (1876-1951), explained why this wasn’t a problem:

It doesn’t matter whether or not you knew the previous king. If you sit on the throne, you’re now king.

That is, if you awaken to the inherent Buddha-essence within you, you are the successor of Sakyamuni.

We each this very same mind as Sakyamuni, inherent within us at every moment and every place. Our job then, is to learn to rely on this, even though it’s indistinct at first. If we can diligently do this, we will have the kinds of experiences that will confirm we are going in the right direction, and which will reveal our direction.

Continuously letting go and entrusting everything to this Buddha-mind is the path forward as well as a great Dharma protecting warrior, because in returning everything we experience, including what we know and what we don’t know, we keep letting go of “I” and “me”, and are not caught by the experiences that could serve as toeholds for pride, greed, and fear.

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Probably the most common cliché you’ll read in any travel guide about Seoul is that it’s a city of contrasts, a city of old and new. One of the spots where this is most apparent is up the small hill behind Bongeunsa, just behind the standing Mireuk Buddha.

(click here to continue reading…)

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Here’s an interesting poem about practice

Let go of everything to this great Emptiness,
burning, burning, burning,
like a vast, black sun,
burning away the bent, twisted parts of ourselves.

In truth though,
nothing is burnt away,
nothing comes or goes
All of those bent, twisted lumps of agony,
in touching light,
become light.

Like a nail becoming a magnet,
in meeting light,
they become light.

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