Fri, 24 May 2013
Another obstacle meditators face is boredom. Our confusion is a result of the interaction of our desires and ignorance. That is, we have a hard time giving up egotism, because our desires need an egotistic framework to function in. And we don't want to give up our desires because we seem to get a lot of enjoyment from them. We have to undo this confusion by letting go of the desire and this creates the space where our ignorance can be seen for what it is. This is what the practice of meditation is. But the flip side of desire is boredom. Boredom is the frustration of desire, the inability to do anything with it. And it's necessary to experience it, to experience what desire is. But it's difficult and because of that we fill our practice with daydreaming or cut the practice short. This becomes an obstacle to practice.
Sun, 19 May 2013
Back to my list of problems that can happen to meditators. Once people commit to Buddhism fantacism becomes a problem. They want to attain enlightenment, a noble wish, but somehow all their efforts in meditation seem to have no result and they are as far away as ever. So they turn their energy to other pursuits. They take one or more of the precepts and exagerate it to the point of ridiculousness. They become fervid partisans and attack other Buddhist traditions for past historical slights. They become experts in ritual and correct others who don't do them properly. All of this a great waste of time and misapplied effort. Practice is important, but the purpose of practice is to diminish the ego and not build it up. This sort of fanatical practice is just an ego defense and is one way your practice can go wrong.
Sat, 18 May 2013
Finished up translating another quote by Gampopa. I've been laying off the translations lately, as I've been busy with other stuff. But I don't want to quit entirely. I've published a translation of this quote before, but this version is considerably different, and I hope better.
dwags po rin po che'i zhal nas/
snong sems gcig yin/sems las ma
gtogs pa'i snong ba logs na med/snong ba 'di
sems kyi 'od dam sems kyi chos nyid yin pas
sems rtogs pa'i dus su snong ba sgrog rang brdol du
'gro/sems nyid dang chos nyid gcig yin te/
sems nyid kyi 'od chos nyid yin pas sems nyid
rtogs pas chos nyid sgrog rang brdol du 'gro ste/
dper na/nyi ma song nas 'od phyir chad pa mi srid de nyi
ma'i phyir 'od 'gro ste 'gro ldog nges pa yin/de bzhin
du sems nyid gcig pu rtogs pa chos nyid rang shugs
rtogs nas 'ong/sems dag pas snang ba rang shugs
la dag/de na snang ba dang ses nyid la sogs pa rang
sor bzhin la sems kyi ngo bo ba sgom pas chog/sgom
pa'i dus su chos dang chos nyid blos bzhig nas sems
ngo bo'i thog tu yer gyis rgan mo mdzub tshugs su
bsgom/yang na phyi nang snod bcud thams cad sems
nyid du gtan la wal ba zhig phab nas/de nas ngo bo'i
thog tu bsgom te de gnyas 'dra/chos nyid gzhi'i thog
tu bsgom nas ngo bo ma rnyed par bsgoms kyang 'tshong mi
rgya/rlung sems gnyis gcig yin/rlung gi g.yos
pas sems kyi rnam rtog sna tshogs su 'chor ba yin te/
de nyid de nyid dang gzhan du brjod du med par gnas te
sems rtogs pa'i dus su rang sar dag nas 'gro/
gnyis med rig stong lhan gcig skyes pa yin gsungs/
Dagpo Rinpoche said:
Appearances are only mind. Apart from mind, appearances do not exist on their own. Aren't appearances just the natural radiance of the mind? When the mind is recognized, appearances are its spontaneous activity. The nature of mind is dharmata. Isn't the nature of mind the natural radiance of dharmata? When the nature of mind is realized to be dharmata, appearances are its spontaneous activity. As an analogy, when the sun disappears, so does the light of the sun. It is impossible that this is not so. Similarly, when one realizes the nature of mind is solely the dharmata, one will abide in that realization. And through the force of that, mind and appearances will be purified. After that it is sufficient to meditate on the nature of mind, leaving mind, its nature, and all appearance as they are. During that meditation the knots of the relative and absolute are unfastened and the mind's essence quickly revealed through the meditation which is like an old woman pointing her finger. The world and everything in it are completely overthrown and are vividly seen as the nature of mind. Thus it is essential to meditatate directly on the identity of these two. The nature of the ground consciousness is dharmata, but there is no fault if this is not found in meditation. The winds and mind though two are one and when the winds move the various discursive thoughts arise. Abide in suchness without trying to characterize it and self awareness will purify itself.
Fri, 17 May 2013
Brad Warner wrote a bit on this topic over on his blog. I thought I'd write a little on the same subject. Brad wrote because of the controversy surrounding some Zen teachers who have slept with, groped, and otherwise molested their female students. Tibetan teachers are not entirely free of these accusations, of course, but the teachers most recently in the news are from the Zen tradition. People quite reasonably aske how can supposedly enlightened teachers do such terrible things, so explaining what enlightenment is and is not seems in order.
I think the modern Western idea of enlightenment is strongly influenced by Japanese Zen, especially Rinzai. In Indian Mahayana Buddhism enlightenment was a complex path, with many levels and degrees. It's not clear to me to what extent the Indian texts are just theory spinning and how much based on experience. The descriptions of kensho or satori in Zen are obviously experiential, even if sometimes described in elusive terms. I'm not a Zen Buddhist, of course, but what gets called kensho in Zen seems more or less the same as what is called rtogs pa in Tibetan Buddhism, so that is what I will talk about. I usually translate rtogs pa as recognition, which means recognition of what mind is.
There are three points to make about recognition. The first is the difference between recognition and experience. All sorts of powerful experiences can come up in meditation. These are powerful emotional states, usually experiences of bliss and peace. These experiences fade after a while, although they can re-occur. Sometimes there is a trigger that sets them off and students become experience junkies. The differince between experience and recognition is that recognition is an understanding that once you have, you don't lose. Actually it might waver for a while, you can lose your understanding, but sooner or later it comes back for good. The second point is that this understanding has a negative character. You understand what mind is by seeing what it is not, that is you are freeing yourself from an illusion. If your understanding is some sort of positive idea, like "I am one with all of creation," that is not what Tibetan Buddhism calls recognition. Third, recognition is not the end of the path, it us one the first step on it. Recognition need to be deepened though continued practice.
So why do some people with recognition behave so badly. Recognition by itself doesn't change your behavior. Behavioral change is hard work and comes in addition to recognition. But as you practice, the friction between what you see and what you do grows. You need to adjust somehow. Unfortunately, one way people can adjust is to rationalize the behavior. Of course, rationalizing bad behavior is common enough in ordinary life. You don't need to be enlightened to do it. As one continues to practice, there is a lot of ego resistance and justification. So practice is not so much different after recognition than before. One needs to realize that a teacher is someone who understands more than you, but not a perfect person. They don't need to be to be effective.
Wed, 15 May 2013
After someone has been meditating for a while, their mind calms down a little. In this open space, thoughts pop up. Sometimes these are creative, affirming thoughts. But sometime they are very dark, negative thoughts. All sorts of negative stuff can come up: crippling fear, strong anger, thoughts to commit horrible crimes. They can very easily knock you off balance. That's why it's best to practice meditation in a group, preferably with some experienced meditators. Talking to people helps you regain a sense of perspective, while trying to deal with these powerful emotions on your own is more difficult. These dark thoughts aren't prroduced by meditation. They were there all along, only supressed. This doesn't happen to everyone who practices meditation, but it happens often enough that it should be mentioned.
Mon, 13 May 2013
One more obstacle people have with meditation is the obsessive need to check their progress. If things are going smoothly and there's not much emotional turmoil, they think they are making progress in their practice. If they are in some emotional turmoil, they think their practice is not working. You shouldn't judge your practice like that. Just keep at it. There are going to be good days and bad in everyone's lives. They aren't really a reflection on the quality of your practice. The most important thing is to develop the good habit of daily practice and keep at it through good times and bad.
Sun, 12 May 2013
Continuing on yestrday's theme, another problem new meditators have is that they expect meditation practice to be exciting and emotionally satisfying. It often is at first. The intellectual challenge of learning new ideas, the novelty of a new and different culture, all combine to create a sense of excitement. But inevitably this wears off. When this happens, some people move on, maybe to a new practice or another teacher who can create a sense of excitement again. In Tibetan Buddhism, you can collect sadhanas and yidams. But that need to be constantly entertained by your practice is just another form of greed. If your meditation practice is never boring or frustrating, you are never confronting your greed. Your motivation to practice needs to come from somewhere else than the desire to have fun. And if it does not, your practice will not progress very far.
Sat, 11 May 2013
Time for something new. I plan to write about obstacles that people run into in their meditation practice. Most are based on my own experience, some on discussions with others. I'll try to discuss them in a roughly chronological order. That is, I'll start with problems beginners face first.
The first obstacle new meditators face is making too much of their experiences in meditation. When first meditating one becomes more aware of sensations in the body that one usually ignores. Sometimes people latch onto these experiences and take them as an indication that something significant is happening. They may have read something about kundalini or qi and think the sensation is an indication of that. Or some emotion may surface, positive or negative, and the meditator may interpret that as ego death or something.
There's now a group of Western meditation teachers who earn a living though their teaching. And they introduce students to the practice of meditation through paid seminars. The temptation is to have the students go away from the seminar with some sort of impressive experience. This is a problem because it distorts what meditation is about. I can't say it totally destroys the value of meditation, but when a beginning meditator has an experience and the teacher says, "That's it!" you certainly are putting an obstacle in their path.
The best advice is to remain in the role of a neutral observer when practicing. No experience is either good or bad, it' merely something to be noted during the practice. Holding to this attitude with protect you from a lot of problems.
Sun, 05 May 2013
It seems some people want to meditate but are put off by the chants that Buddhists do before and after meditation. So my opinion. Anyone alive today is famiar with advertising. And what is advertising? Constant repitition of a few ideas, over and over again. And why? To get you to believe them. Advertising is a serious business and companies spend serious money on them, because they work. So consider the opening chants as Buddhist advertising. A word from our sponsor, the Three Jewels, the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Only we couldn't afford to pay an announcer, so we're asking you to read the commercial for us. We're also selling love and compassion. We're having a special you can get both for the price of one. So don't think chanting is useless, a relic of the past with no relevance to the modern world. Especially when every time you turn on television, you hear essentially the same thing.
Sat, 04 May 2013
The best decision I ever made was the decision to start meditating. It wan't a hard decision to make. I had already self-identified as a Buddhist, and I thought Christians pray and Buddhists meditate, so I'd better start meditating. What was more difficult, though, was figuring out how to do it. This was back in the Seventies, and Buddhist teachers were thin on the ground. So I tried to figure out how to meditate from books. MY first attempt was based on Edward Conze's book Buddhist Meditation, which was a selection of practices mostly taken from Buddhaghosa's Path of Purification. It had the advantage that the author had tried the practices had tested their value, but the disadvantage that most of the practices were wordy and analytical. I tried the meditation on impermanence and the thirty two parts of the body, but did not get very with them. What I found more helpful was the book The Heart of Buddhist Meditation. It teaches mindfulness of breath, which is probably the best way to start for most Westerners. At least it is the most popular. I took the practice and though I don't exactly follow those instruction, I feel the mahamudra practice I do now directly follows from it. So I would say that The Heart of Buddhist Meditation was the most influential book I ever read.
Meditation has a good reputation now, but back in the Seventies it was considered strange. The same skeptics who so viciously attack alternative medicine now attacked meditation and claimed it was of no value. All this is passed over in silence now, but I don't recall them ever admitting that they were wrong. What they failed to realize is that meditation is like putting a dollar in the bank every day. Not much at first, but it becomes quite a sum after a while. So short term trials of the value of meditation won't show much.
Mon, 29 Apr 2013
Time to resurrect my dormant blog. I can't see continuing to preach on Buddhism or translate, for various reasons, so I'll use it as a soapbox, the way blogs were intended to be used. If you're interested in my bad translations, you can download them from Github.
So my topic is a plea to do away with the tulku system in Tibetan Buddhism. For those who haven't heard the word before, a tulku is a person who has been recognized as the incarnation of a holy man. I'd like to see it eliminated not because I don't believe in reincarnation, but because the recognition process is obviously open to corruption. When the 16th Karmapa died I thought, here is a test of how well the recognition process will go. Needless to say, the test was a miserable failure, with different "heart sons" recognizing different children as the 17th Karmapa. The recriminations and vituperation continue to this day. How much better it would be if each person was allowed to find his own level an teachers were judged not on who they were supposed to be in previous lives by on their conduct and wisdom in this life.
Sun, 17 Mar 2013
The Mahamudra lineage prayer starts out with three easy to translate lines. They are mostly just a list of the lineage holders in Tibetan Buddhism:
rdo rje 'chang chen te lo nAro dang/
mar pa mi la chos rje sgam po pa/
dus gsum shes bya kun khyen ka rma pa/
Great Vajradhara, Tilopa, Naropa
Marpa, Milarepa, and Gampopa, the Lord of the Dharma
Karmapa, who knows the three times entirely
We really don't know much about the Indian origins of Tibetan Buddhism because Tantra was a secret practice and Indians were uninterested in compiling history. So much so that much of the information we have on Indian Buddhism comes from the writings of Chinese pilgrims. Legends fill the vacuum of genuine knowledge and the stories of the lives of the Indian mahasiddhas are well known. The KTD website has some of these traditional biographies. The names in the first line, Telo and Naro, are the Indian mahasiddhas. Dorje Chang symbolizes the enlightened state and represents that the teachings Tilopa passed on were authentic.
We know more about the Tibetans in the Kagyu lineage. Their dates, who they studied with, what they studied, and where they lived is well established and can be found in the Blue Annals and other traditional histories. Marpa went to Nepal and India to learn tantra from its source rather than second hand through Tibetan teachers. He and his student were lay practitioners, yogis, and not monks.
Gampopa was a pivotal figure in the history of the Kagyu, as he was and remained a monk. Though he showed a little "flexibility" in his vows when he first met Milarepa, as he drank the beer that Mila offered him. Gampopa turned the teachings he received into the system that is still taught in the Kagyu. In the second line "Lord of the Dharma" (cho je) is an honorific title for Gampopa and not another person in the lineage.
The students of Gampopa and their students founded the different subschools of the Kagyu. Pengar Zangpo mentions the founder of his school, Dusum Khyenpa, the first Karmapa. Dusum Khyenpa is a title, not a name, and indicates that the first Karmap was enlightened. The third line is only line with something to translate, really. "Dusum" is three times. "She ja" is knows and usually means conceptual knowledge. "Kun kyen" means knows everything and is often translated as omniscient. But I find that translation is misleading and used the word entirely instead.
Sun, 10 Mar 2013
Today I start discussing a new text, Pengar Zangpo's Mahamudra Lineage Prayer. The prayer is well known and practice in the Karma Kagyu tradition, although I don't recall it ever being discussed outside of it. There are several well done translations of it and the world does not need mine. Similarly, there are good commentaries on it available. But lacking anything better to write on, here I go.
Pengar Zangpo is part of the Karma Kagyu lineage, as he was the teacher of the Seventh Karmapa. He wrote this prayer shortly after his enlightenment. He meditated for some years on an island in the middle of the lake. He had walked to the island in the middle of winter when the lake was frozen. But when he was ready to end his retreat there were several mild winters and he was unable to leave. At the end of his supplies, he prayed to the dakinis and they made a bridge for him to walk to the mainland. The full story is in "Rain of Wisdom," if you want to read it.
The substance of the prayer is a descriptions of the practices one does to realize mahamudra. It starts by requesting the blessing of the Kagyu lineage and then describes the practices: renunciation, devotion, shamatha, and vipashyana. Then the prayer ends with an aspiration to enlightenment.
So, no actual translation tonight, as it is unexpectedly late. Until next time.
Sun, 24 Feb 2013
Tonight's stanza describes the final stage of enlightenment. The phrase "free of elaboration" is a technical term which means free from the additions we make to what is really present in reality. It's like staring at a pattern on the wall and seeing a face in it. The face is not there, it was superimposed by your mind. Disciples are ordinary, that is, not enlightened, because they take the elaborations to be real. So we come full circle. Buddha nature is everywhere and in everything. But to be unenlightened is not to experience it.
spros bral nam kha'i mtshan nyid can/
thams cad de dang dbyer med kyis/
da dung slob ma'i gang zag la/
yum rdzogs sangs rgyas kyis bskyab tu gsol/
Space is by nature free of elaboration
Everything is just the same as that
Yet disciples are still ordinary persons
Perfect Buddha Mother, please defend them
"Spros bral" is the Tibetan word translated as elaboration. "Slob ma" in the third verse is usually translated as student, but I translated as disciple. "Gang zag" is translated as ordinary person, meaning someone who has no realization or recognition of the nature of mind.
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