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Archive for January, 2011

A human being is part of the whole, called by us ‘universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

-Albert Einstein, 1921

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I recently posed a question to Chong Go Sunim about how our foundation guides us.  His answer is insightful and I’d like to share it.

(The Korean word Juingong (主人空)means that which is really doing things, and which has no fixed shape or form. It can also be read as true nature or Buddha-nature.)

Question: How does our true nature, Juingong, answer, guide, and direct us?  What should I be looking for?   How do I know what is an answer from, my foundation and what is just noise from my busy mundane mind. Specifically, do answers ever materialize in dreams?  Do they show up in circumstances in daily life?

Answer:  I’ll break this down into two parts:  “What form does an answer take?”, and “How do I distinguish it from ordinary, conditioned thinking?”

For me, so far in my practice, the answer takes a huge variety of forms. It can be a phrase from a sutra or a ceremony that suddenly pops into mind, it can be a feeling, or a sudden understanding of what needs to be done. Once, it was even a voice that seemed to be coming from outside me. (Okay, that was a weird experience! I thought it was a friend goofing with me.) It often comes out as “my” thought, or some variation thereof. A lot of times I suddenly seem to understand things exactly just before I wake up, and have even given myself really good Dharma talks while asleep, that I couldn’t remember upon awakening.

I think one of the things to be careful about, regarding our true nature, is looking for an answer that’s separate from myself. (A voice from the sky would be SO convenient!) Because what I think of as myself is also part of Juingong, it speaks through my own consciousness. Even if my understanding is hazy, Juingong is still there. Because my faculties are clouded with habitual perceptions, I may not be able to understand/perceive the answer as clearly as a better practitioner, but it still is pointing me in the right direction.

Sometimes the answer comes in results, such as a situation that seemed intractable suddenly resolves itself in a flash. People who seemed to be a huge obstacle are suddenly very flexible and amenable.

So, the question becomes, “What is coming from my true self, and what is coming from a bit of moldy cheese or a fragment of undigested potato?”  What is arising from true nature, and what is just a bit of conditioned consciousness. I’ll admit this one is a bit tricky, and probably for truly advanced practitioners the difference is much clearer. But one thing I’ve learned is that things arising from our true nature are harmonious, wise, and tend towards the generous side. If it’s harsh, negative, and violates the precepts, you can be pretty sure that this is just the karmic echo, a bit of conditioned consciousness bouncing back.

At any rate, in practice if we cling to the idea that “I know” even if it’s something about our true nature, that act of clinging will lead us astray. So even when we know something, we need to respond as best we can, and entrust even that back to our true nature. It’s that act of letting go and entrusting that’s really magic, because it automatically corrects any delusions or misguided ways or dualistic tendencies that we may attach to the experiences we have, and to the things that seem to be arising from our Juingong.

Thank you Chong Go Sunim.

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practitioners’ questions

At the last meeting of the Bangkok Seon Club I met two wonderful Thai women, friends and long-time Dharma sisters, with a real interest in the teachings of Seon Master Daehaeng Sunim and in Seon spiritual practice. Being new to Hanmaum, although of course far from new to Buddhism, they asked a lot of really great questions. Even better, both these women have stayed in touch with me by email since the meeting, and just today I recieved a list of very nice questions regarding some of the things that came up in the last Zen Club.

I’d like to post the questions here and open them up to all readers of this blog. If any of these questions, even if only one, inspire you to respond, please leave a comment. The idea isn’t just for Chong Go Sunim to come along and provide the definitive answers, but for anyone to say what the response is for them personally. These are genuine questions from two life-long serious Buddhist practitioners coming across Seon teachings for the first time, and they’ll both be following this post with interest! Thank you for your responses!

1) What’s the meaning of Sangha ? 
2) What is the difference between one mind and true nature ? 
3) If Emptiness is nothing, then what is one mind ?
4) Is awareness to realize true nature or not ?
5) What is the difference between Enlightenment and Awareness ?
6) Is One mind and meditation the same ?
7) What does it mean to say that wisdom comes from True nature or Buddha mind that is beyond good or bad ?

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One of the simple pleasures of visiting temples is admiring the latticework of the doors and windows.

I’m always in awe of the detail that goes into every inch of the halls and shrines, and especially in these skillful carvings

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good and evil

Not to do evil, to cultivate the good, and to purify the mind.
This is the teaching of all the Buddhas.
 – The Buddha, The Dhammapada, verse 183

You who desire true life
and wish to walk on God’s path:
Depart from evil; do good;
seek peace with all your soul.
 – Psalm 34, adapted by Stephen Mitchell

Having done something evil,
Don’t repeat it,
Don’t wish for it:
Evil piled up brings suffering.

Having done something meritorious,
Repeat it,
Wish for it:
Merit piled up brings happiness.
 – The Buddha, The Dhammapada

Choosing to do good or evil
all depends upon whether I rely upon my One Mind.
 – The Mind of All Buddhas, Seon Master Daehaeng Sunim 

For one who at all times conclusively realizes the Buddha Mind, when he goes to bed, he goes to bed with the Buddha Mind; when he gets up, he gets up with the Buddha Mind…  He functions with perfect freedom in accordance with circumstances, letting things take their way. Just do good things and don’t do bad ones. If you pride yourself on good deeds, however, becoming attached to them and abominating the bad, that’s going against the Buddha Mind. The Buddha Mind is neither good nor bad, but operates beyond them both.
 – Bankei Yōtaku, (1622-93)

Thus the Master is available to all people
and doesn’t reject anyone.
He is ready to use all situations
and doesn’t waste anything.
This is called embodying the light.

What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher?
What is a bad man but a good man’s job?
If you don’t understand this, you will get lost,
however intelligent you are.
It is the great secret.
 – Tao Te Ching, translated by Stephen Mitchell

You are to be great teachers, freed from the ego; you must live only to serve all people. Desiring to become as a big tree or a great container of Wisdom prevents you from being a true teacher. Big trees have a big use; small trees have a small use. Good and bad bowls both have uses. Nothing is to be discarded. Keep both good and bad friends; this is your responsibility. You must not reject any element; this is Buddhism. My only wish is for you to free yourself from conceptions.
Zen Master Kyong Ho

Good and evil have no self nature;
Holy and unholy are empty names;
In front of the door is the land of stillness and quiet;
Spring comes, grass grows by itself.
Seon Master Seung Sahn

The one mind of all Buddhas is my one mind,
 inherently free of stain or purity.
 – A Thousand Hands of Compassion, Seon Master Daehaeng Sunim

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I’ll let this one speak for itself…

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I’ve learned the hard way just how corrosive criticizing and complaining about others can be. I’m sure there are things that are more damaging to us spiritually, but criticizing and analyzing other’s faults has to be near the top of the list.

No matter whether you hear good things or bad things, do not let yourself be affected by them. Being praised when you lack virtue is truly shameful, while having your faults shown to you is a wonderful thing. If you are happy to see your faults, then you will surely correct them, while if you are ashamed of your lack of virtue, then this will spur you on to practice more diligently.
 
 

Don’t speak of other people’s faults, because eventually it will return and harm you. If you hear harsh speech or rumors directed towards someone else, look upon that as if someone was slandering your parents. Your criticism of someone else today will become criticism of you tomorrow. All things are impermanent, so whether you are criticized or praised, there is nothing to be happy or upset about.
 

                           Talking about the things that others have done,
                         “This was right,” 
                         “That was wrong,”
                          from morning until night.
                         At last spending the entire night
                         deep in the haze of slumber.
                         If a monk lives like this,
                         how will he repay
                         all of the donations he has received?
                         Escaping from the three worlds will be
                         truly difficult.

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reminders

Yesterday, at the Bangkok Seonwon, in a truly beautiful and deeply meaningful ceremony, everyone renewed their five lay Buddhist precept vows.  Half a dozen people also took them for the first time, and so gained a new Buddhist name reflecting their new paths and aspirations.

The proceedings were led by Haewon Sunim, who had especially and kindly flown in from Korea, and before precepts were given she delivered a short teaching. Luckily for us non-Korean speakers, we had Young there to jot down some instant translations as Sunim spoke.

The part that jumped out most significantly for me was the bit about everything in life being a teaching – but only if you are making an effort and paying attention. If not, there’s no teaching at all. So, yes, everyday life is itself the Dharma, but you must be an active student.

The problem, for me, is remembering. I mean, just hours later I was engaged in a coffee shop debate with all awareness gone, desperate to get my points across. One minute I was saying how most discussions are a waste of time, the next minute I’d lost all sense of my foundation in the middle of one!

But, as Sunim had said at the start of her talk, the very nature of learning is difficult. And that’s why I’m so grateful to all those in the Sangha around me, lay and ordained, that support me so richly. Sometimes we just need that reminder, that our inner teacher is there and is always available.

As Seon Master Daehaeng Sunim says in the latest Hanmaum Journal, in words that seem to apply especially to this weekend: “Coming to the Dharma Hall regularly will help you a lot in grasping this fundamental essence, and while relying upon it, whatever you need will come forth.”
 
 
 
 
(Here’s a post with a bit more about the Five Precepts.)

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At Saturday Sangha yesterday, we discussed the beginning of chapter seven, in No River to Cross. It’s a part that really stood out the first time I read the book, and continues to drift a considerable distance above my understanding.

One term that really jumped out at me was, “manifesting nondually”. It reminded me of something Chong Go Sunim told us back when Saturday Sangha first began.

The Dalai Lama has a policy of meeting any Tibetan refugee who crosses the Himalayas into India. Apparently, upon greeting him, many people thank him for rescuing them at some point during their journey. If they’d fallen into a crevasse in the snow, for example, they say that he appeared there to help pull them out.

Manifesting nondually, what a wonderful to open yourself to the world!

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This is the eighth of Ya-un’s admonitions: Don’t lounge about in the realms of desire. It’s also a caution for monastics to remember why they originally became a monk or nun, and to not end up living like an ordinary lay person.

The person who renounces the desires of their heart is called a practitioner. Not longing for the worldly life is called leaving home. Having ended desire and left the mundane world behind, how could you possibly associate and amuse yourself with lay people? To miss and yearn for the mundane world is called “intense craving,” which has always been incompatible with the path.

When longing and attachment arises, the determination to achieve the way begins to fade. Therefore, cut off all longing and attachment and never look back. If you do not want to betray the reason you left home(to became a monk or nun), then you should go to an outstanding temple and uncover the profound meaning. If you go forward with your robe and bowl, and dissolve all worldly desires, without any concern for hunger or safety, then your practice will automatically deepen.

                 Even good actions done for yourself or others
                 are the cause of the cycle of birth and death.
                Among the pine trees and arrowroot vines,
                the light of the moon illuminates all.
                Diligently enter the true meditation of the Patriarchs.

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