The Ultimate Teachings: the Buddha’s Last Will and Testament

Nirvana Buddha by H.H. Master Shinjo ito

Nirvana Buddha
by H.H. Master Shinjo ito

In Japan, the death day of Shakyamuni Buddha falls on 15th February. Everyone has heard of the Buddha, but in case this is your first meaningful acquaintance with him, here is a brief biography. It is important to know a little about his life for several reasons: first, his life is inspirational for those who wish to fill their lives with all that is sacred as opposed to secular; secondly, he had profound insights into how to live fully as a human being instead of existing in a twilight zone, pressurized by sufferings and loss; thirdly, his spiritual evolution throughout his 84 human years of life helps to make sense of the lessons left to all generations of humans to follow, known as the great Nirvana Teachings, given on his deathbed.

He was born a Prince of the Shaka Kingdom, hence the name Shakyamuni Buddha, about 2600 years ago. His birth was acclaimed as highly auspicious, the result of the descending into the lower human kingdom of previous Buddhas, Manavaka and Dipamkara. At his birth he proclaimed himself ‘the holy one of heaven and earth’ and vowed to end all sufferings in the human world. When he was 7 years old, the young Prince started training in civil and military arts so that he would be able to take his father’s place as King. But while attending a festival with his father, he was disturbed by the sight of a small bird pecking at a worm turned up by a plough. He hid in a nearby grove and naturally entered into a deeply meditative state highly praised by his father.

baby buddhas

As the Prince’s privileged life progressed, his distress deepened and became apparent to the whole Palace Court. His father became worried about him and so arranged for him to marry the most beautiful woman in the kingdom. But even his love for his new wife could not distract him from his ingrained sadness about the suffering in the world and his birth vow to end it all. Eventually, on learning more about the suffering and death which came to all beings of flesh, he decided to leave his life at the Palace to seek a way to relieve them. His determination to become a monk caused great distress to his family, but he cut off all his hair, put on a simple robe and set out with his begging bowl. After 6 years of terrible austerities, which almost caused his death, he decided to take a Middle Way and to sit in deep meditation until he became enlightened. He then spent the rest of his life sharing what he had experienced with as many people as possible.austerities

The Nirvana teachings reveal the true nature of Nirvana, which roughly translated means ‘release from or the extinguishing of all fear, suffering and craving.’ Another more positive way of viewing it is as freedom or liberation, a state in which we can awaken to the truth of the Universe. In Nirvana, we can become one with the Buddha Shakyamuni and with all beings. There is no longer any separation. At the end of his long ministry, the Buddha had amassed incredible wisdom and insight into samsara (Sanskrit), the sufferings of human life. As he was about to leave the human world and shift back to the celestial realms he had descended from, naturally he wished to leave his fearful mourning disciples a storehouse of teachings and practices, which would motivate them to keep their faith.

final teachings

He announced to them that when his physical body had disappeared, his storehouse of teachings would embody his eternal spirit, and he would be with them always. This body of teachings was known as the Dharmakaya (I wrote an article on this last year – ref:https://lindenthorp.wordpress.com/2013/09/01/dharma-kaya-the-body-of-truth/) So, as energy is indestructible, and as all the Buddha’s disciples have flawlessly protected the teachings for the last 2,600 years, today, in the 21st century, we can become one with the Buddha’s incredible energy. In this way, if we train using the Nirvana teachings, we are intent on realizing and acquiring the true mind of a tathagata, a fully enlightened Buddha. (see:https://lindenthorp.wordpress.com/2013/09/04/dharmata-or-tathata-the-essence-of-enlightenment/)

Tathagata

The Buddha bequeathed these final teachings to all beings, saying that all the teachings that had gone before paled in significance compared with them, and that their mystical quality was beyond judgment or intellectual analysis. A Bodhisattva, as mentioned in a previous series on Bodhi (ref:https://lindenthorp.wordpress.com/2013/09/21/bodhisattva/), is a being driven by compassion supported by wisdom, who pursues the path to Enlightenment through practicing the 6 Paramitas or perfections (which are: giving, moral discipline, patience, exertion, meditation, and wisdom). The Buddha on his deathbed declared that Bodhisattvas dwelling in Great Nirvana are superior to all others who seek enlightenment for their own sake. He said, “Even if they suffer numerous agonies in hell for the sake of all beings, it will not bother them. For them, it will be as if they are in the midst of the serene pleasure of meditation. Therefore, it is wondrous.”

Kannon

Kannon

Pure actions are the key to attaining Nirvana. We are taught that we must accept everything showing our respect for all beings, who are after all Buddhas, and that we must recognize what they are attached to and help them to acquire it while introducing them to the Nirvana teachings. There may be those who speak badly of the final teachings, but we must be tolerant while expounding this wisdom to them. Universal compassion is paramount in our daily lives and thoughts, and towards this end, the analogy is made with doctors curing illnesses. The tathagata administers sweet medicine, which prevents death and rebirth. We can see that in these final teachings the Buddha makes the vow, made at his birth to liberate all people from suffering and loss, complete.

medicine Buddha

I am so fortunate to have encountered these wondrous final teachings in the evening of my life here in Japan. For me, they are the culmination of all the previous teachings, most of which I have studied and practiced as I mention in ‘My path so far’ (ref: https://lindenthorp.wordpress.com/my-path-so-far/) My guru, the founder of Shinnyo Buddhism, had also experienced many teachings before he came upon this Mahaparinirvana Sutra, but he felt that his mission was to find a teaching that the world most needed at that time 78 years ago. In Japan there was war and deprivation, as well as a Dharma crisis in which all religious leaders fell under suspicion. He realized the absolute suitability of the last teachings and boldly stepped forward to make them the core of a new stream of Buddhism in Japan.

Kinkakuji

Most schools here revere the Lotus Sutra, the penultimate teaching, so Shinnyo Buddhism is unique to date in Japan. In addition, Master Shinjo in his determination to bring all sentient beings to Nirvana, decided to sculpt a Nirvana image as the principal image. He had never sculpted anything previously, though he showed considerable artistic talent as a young person. But his prayers, one for each strike of the hammer on his chisel, drove him on and soon he had completed a 4 metre long image to guide us all. He worked tirelessly to finish it as a true Bodhisattva, with no thought for his physical condition.

Shinjo Ito sculpting

We can all find Nirvana in this life if we make the necessary efforts for the sake of others. It is that sincere altruism which brings us closer to the heart of the Buddha. The Nirvana teachings are truly magical and mystical, teachings of the pure heart. There is nothing to analyze or question. The pathway is clear and perfect for this troubled epoch of materialism and cynicism.

mystical

The topics of the following 9 articles in this series ‘The Ultimate Teachings’ are:

Article 2: Buddha Nature; Article 3: Emptiness; Article 4: Tathgata; Article 5: Hearing the Dharma; Article 6: Stupas; Article 7: Junda; Article 8: Lifespan; Article 9: Everpresence; Article 10: Supreme Enlightenment

10: The Same Pathway

breathe life into

This is the last article in the present series which looks at the Cathars, a mysterious Christian sect at their peak in the Middle Ages in Europe, from a Buddhist perspective, and attempts to express my direct experience of living in Cathar territory while practicing as a lone Buddhist. I have had a good response to these articles and plan to turn them into a book as soon as I can. There is a need in this age for written accounts of spiritual experiences, and for authentic ‘voices’ as opposed to academic tracts. I would like to be able to breathe life into spiritual traditions in this plural and secular epoch, or as Buddhists refer to it as, ‘The Last Days of the Law of Dharma.’

As mentioned earlier, I had many dreams and spiritual experiences in the Lands of the Cathar, high in the Pyrenean Mountains forming the frontier between Spain and France. I will attempt to describe them here so that you can read a more abstract portrait and superimpose them upon some of the historical facts, as far as they go, I have provided. In this way, I hope your experience of these two traditions is more than cerebral and reaches deep into your unconscious mind. It is no accident that you are reading this article. Everything is pre-destined if we listen to the guides.

unconscious mind

Following are several extracts from a novel I will soon publish as an ebook entitled ‘The Veil.’ Some of it was written in situation there among the secret pathways and crag-top fortresses where Cathar martyrs were finally thrown on the fires, some later when I had assimilated the incredible experience and become more spiritually evolved. I believe it is impossible to see the greater spiritual multi-dimensional design as it is happening. It is only later and with training that we can see all implications.

emptiness

This first passage describes logging in a tree graveyard island, bisected by fierce mountain streams of snow melt from the peaks, close to the village where I lived.

This had become our island, a flippant possessive notion, although it was certain that we were beings closely watched by more legitimate ‘owners. It took us some time to be able to see our audience on the mainland as we worked, because our eyelids had become veils to protect our eyes from pollution and urban chaos. They must be lifted now. And the thundering of torrents from the high peaks drowned out the shallow breathing of the invisible spectators as they stared at their enemy.

By the river, green lizards stood transfixed on rocks, posing as fallen mimosa leaves. Male red deer concealed their spindly legs in a nearby birch copse. Their eyes were undistinguishable from tree bark, and their antlers like miniature trees. Only the flicking of their tails revealed them to us fleetingly. Gaily dressed Hoopees, their chestnut, grey and white plumage, their black combs, cocked their disbelieving heads at us. Then one day, we suddenly noticed a tall monk in a rough black habit, a simple rope around his narrow waist. He was kneeling on a rock drinking icy water from the cup of his dark hands. These wandering religious were known by the villagers as ‘les Parfaits,’ the good.

Later, I, for ‘The Veil’ is of course autobiographical, go to bed and sense the ancient atmosphere of the silent village.

The shutters have been closed earlier to try to keep in some of the latent heat created during the day by the sun. When the high winds blow, it is this tall exposed bedroom, which resembles a lighthouse. It is completely exposed to the silent unlit mountains without moon. I sit back and let my mind slow down, smiling until it ceases completely. Then I turn to listen out here. There is nothing to distract me from the silence inside despite the roaring of the rogue winds. I am merely a little bundle of energy deposited on this wild hillside, but I am certain that I am meant to be here. My mind had long ceased to fret and chew at problems of doubt and the unknown future, or the spoiled past; it no longer dwelled in a souse of fear either.

As I only listened, the devil wind played with the openings of the room as if they were drums, and I could feel the energy of the stars on the baked clay of roof tiles. I had tossed aside my scant knowledge of the power of the heavens, and instead vowed to have only direct experience of them out here where comets and shooting stars were wallpaper. They seeped in under the carefully overlapped edges of the terra cotta tiles. Then tumbled around the elderly cobwebs and warm corners borrowed by scorpion families and squirrels during this indoors period of cold. As I drifted into sleep, stars caught in the attic slipped quietly through the lath and plaster of the ancient ceiling and soft-landed on the down quilt. They were not completely silent, but gently fizzed and fingered in the sky.

I reveled in the hot smolder of a planet on my cheek, a comet flying between my toes, the eternal vibrating of the universe singing out in every pore of my skin. I was part of the Cosmos, the whole universe fitted inside me.’

And later, a Cathar convert called Fabrisse de Caramany, tells of her conversion to the Parfait to a large Rock called Ram Rock, which she can crawl inside the huge curled horn of. She must not divulge to anyone what miracles have come into her life for fear of being imprisoned and tortured by the Fat Cardinals from the valley who hound the Cathars and mean to wipe them out.

Ram rock

‘Oh Rock. The floor of the threshing yard was strewn with perfectly winnowed barley that day. The first harvest. Its creamy grains gathered in the thick flounces of sunshine. Mmmmmm. You know that dry earthy scent which comes off it. Father August went on squatting, the wet-earth brown of his robes perfectly at home in the enclosed courtyard full of our crop. He could not resist playing with the grains, watching them intensely as if a thousand rosaries had been broken there. And in the silence between us, as I brushed aside a strand of hair which had blown into my eyes, and he ran his lengthy olive fingers over an arc pattern of grains he was busy with, he said, “Each grain has an original blessing,” and looked at me full, his head slightly bowed, “like you.” He trained his rustling eyes down again on the grains saying, “and me.”

Behind him a pair of grey and white wagtails boldly pecked, and I shoed them away by a sharp intake of breath which unnerved him. ‘Those wagtails are real scavengers,’ I said, irritated by them. You know Rock, I was irritated by their opportunism, always ready to rush in and thieve, and I felt my cheeks hotter than usual.

He said smiling, “You have done the work of removing the husks for them. Look! They are pleased!” And at that moment a single hen wagtail moved towards him and pecked at a grain he offered her in the palm of his hand. He looked for many moments deep into the eyes of this twitchy silvery bird, in a kind of trance like soothsayers lapse into. The he said, without removing his eyes, “God is here in this flapping feathery spirit.”

He continued in silence to pour his being into this creature, and then turned to look at me sideways again with the same deluge of love. And I knew him to be Love in flesh, a divine being. That grain-filled yard, once a commonplace, had become a heart place into which I could step whenever I wanted. It had become my own courtyard chapel filled with the grains of God, with an irritating winged thief transformed into a blessed creature, and with a child of the invisible world.

We sat and talked on and on in the hot sun, and he said, ‘We in the mountains find different routes to God, in the way we find pathways over the mountain passes. We are quiet here. Each of us like a mountain.”

His eyes were no longer dried leaves tossed in my direction on a chance breeze, but moist mossy lights looking deliberately behind my heart and searching my soul.’

There is no single doubt in my mind that the past is a construct of the mind! The heart lives now. But outside the intellectual mind, we can contact the invisible world. During my time in the country of the Perfect, I myself experienced persecution as they had. I was surrounded by Catholics, but in fact I was persecuted by my partner, a lapsed Jew agnostic. As my Buddhist beliefs surged deeper through both passionate practice and study, my partner was unable to comprehend what I was experiencing, and so we parted ways. There was great antagonism and endless interrogations to find why I had “deserted.” I wrote the following poem at this time when my sutras were defiled and my shrine destroyed, my Buddhist images hurled around!

calling meCalling

Sipping Rhone wine under the flounces

of the massive Lime-flower tree

aroma and scent trouble me.

The wine at its best, the flowers at their peak

and yet my habitual absorption in the sensory

is being tugged at

its tension overstretched like used muslin

its once overwhelming newness wearing thin.

The perfection of sky balanced on untouched forests

almost eludes me at this time

but the gist of your abstract words has already dropped

in the fine covering of flowers at my feet.

For someone is calling me from the white marble of Montpellier.

A dream in our shuttered salon

the logs in the stove like alpine witness wands

compels me to descend our mountain hairpins

on the weekly bus alive with grape-pickers

my suitcases slotted between their stained baskets

to the other North African haven of Montpellier.

You demand why and who and how I must go

down from this ultimate haven of Cathars

Catholics, shepherds, but the gist of your question

disappears in the evening sizzle of biftek

buried in an armful of bay leaves and vine twigs.

For someone is calling me from the vivid painted timbers of Montpellier.

The fierce row on the boards at bedtime

your coarse tears extinguishing the candles and

unbalancing the stable slab of incense

propel me out of your faithless fleshy cloisters.

You hurl bells, burn sutras in your ashtray

demand and denounce my path to this ‘borrowed’ deity

making last-ditch interrogations under a strong light.

But the gist of your spite is sucked into the Lama’s Himalayan eyes

dredged over the ample of his saffron robes

as he welcomes me to the wooden temple in an orchard

its specifications exact, my mission specific.

He has been waiting with his butter lamps and words.

‘‘You heard my calling. I knew you would come soon.’’

I left the high mountains as described and soon took up my place as a temple keeper in a tropical Montpellier Garden. The Tibetan Lineage of Kagyupa was my refuge for the next year, but I longed to go back to the Cathars, and realize now that my Buddhist persuasion is a perfect match with my Cathar inheritance. It has been confirmed that I am descended from Cathars, and I am now certain they were deeply connected to the Buddha’s path.

the sala grove

The next series of articles on NIrvana Linden will be about the final teachings of the Buddha, the Mahaparinirvana Sutra. Perhaps you have never knowingly read a Buddhist sutra or felt the urge to, but the final teachings of Gautama Buddha offer remarkable insight into a bright future for all living beings. Please explore the systems of genius made to perfectly fit human existence with me over the next weeks.

9: Heresy

heresy

The whole concept of heresy can only come about when there is a system of external rules. The etymological root of the word heresy is ‘choice,’ in other words, disobeying the rules, choosing something different from the compulsory way. It seems that the Cathars were seen to make a choice between the Catholic Church or Orthodox church, forming a well-organised underground church for hundreds of years, and very suddenly emerging into the light at the beginning of the 2nd millennium. By contrast, the evolution of Buddhist history is very different, because each practitioner works to reach enlightenment within themselves before ministering to others. Of course, there are rules and precepts, but Buddhists do not depend on the compassion or wrath of the Buddhas in the same way that monotheists, like Christians and Moslems, do. We do not submit to a god because we each have the potential to become Buddhas and generate Bhodicitta to lead all beings to spiritual liberation.

swarm of bees

So when did this phenomenon of heresy first appear in Europe? At the end of the first millennium, a peasant named Leutard in the north-east of France, had a dream in which a swarm of bees entered his body. Instead of screaming and waking up the whole village, he fled to the local church, destroyed the cross above the altar and violated the image of Jesus Christ. He then forced out his wife from their house insisting on living in celibacy, and refused to pay any taxes to the Church. The cannons heard of this and set out to exterminate him, but he committed suicide before they could. It would seem that this man was part of a group, but this is not certain at this point, and that he was the first heretic in Europe.

French Pope

At around the same time, the first French Pope of the Catholic church, at the time of his consecration, made a strange edict. He vowed to believe in both New and Old testaments, he emphasized the importance of marriage in the eyes of the church, supported the consumption of meat, and confirmed the presence of an evil spirit that was lesser than God in the world. Later, the Cathars rejected faith in all of these. Was he making an outward show of his orthodoxy because he was suspected of heresy, or was he making preliminary measures to control and exterminate the Cathars?

A little later, during the Church reforms, Pope Gregory VII announced that the established Church was the only way to God, and the Pope the highest human authority. It seems clear that the Church elders knew that some unrest was growing, so were making preparations to deal with it. As mentioned earlier, the Cathars did not tolerate the established church in any way, calling it the Church of Satan and Wolves. This, according to recent research, was the first occasion on which such an underground church had been detected, and heresy became a new scourge used liberally by the establishment.

crusade

The charge of Heresy has always exacted severe punishments and torture, ending in death, usually by fire. What does this kind of behavior say about the Christian Church, a religious organization meant to be focused on unconditional love and good deeds? In my spiritual progress through my life, I have always been appalled by bloodshed and notions of revenge. That is perhaps one of the principal reasons I turned away from Christianity, and started to practice Buddhism. Buddhists avoid the deliberate or premeditated killing of any form of sentient being. However, throughout history, Christians seem to have relished slaughter in the name of their God. Still today, certain sects of Islam are capable of committing unthinkable acts of violence, and fundamentalist Christians appear to think nothing of the random firing of guns at helpless children.

hatred

So, the Church of Rome used all their force to eradicate the gentle Cathars. They even retained their troops from marching to the crusades in order to make certain they could overwhelm the heretics and stamp them out. Their fervor is mysterious to peace-loving Buddhists who will offer themselves as food for the female mosquito, and spare the life of a cockroach while others around are beating it and spraying it with dangerous chemicals. Where des such fervor to destroy come from? I suspect that psychological fear is the root of such desperation to destroy a sentient being, but of course there are other underlying karmic reasons.

Perhaps the established Christian Church, in both eastern and western Europe, was afraid of the sincerity and courage of the Cathars and their forerunners the Bogomils, and so on: Threatened by their confidence in administering the Consolamentum and guaranteeing the consoled a place beyond all sin, by their quiet goodness and dedication to an invisible God. They needed no church, no exotic sacraments or instruments, no wine, communion host, incense or candles imported at great expense from Rome. In the inhospitable high mountains, the Cathars could thrive and fulfill their mission with stealth; whereas the indulged friars and dissipated cannons were intolerant of harsh conditions and deprivation of any kind.

friars

Human beings have a tendency to always search for something outside themselves, beguiled by other places and envious of other people, when all the time we have all we need for complete happiness inside us. It simply needs activating. It is surely simple to love unconditionally, and live to the full; finding joy in the joy of others, and supporting them in their sorrow. Buddhism is about joy and living morally. It is all about accumulating virtue with every breath, and constantly repenting for our mistaken deeds and thoughts, and those of our ancestors. Buddhism is about preparing for the future in a realistic way, as the Cathars did. Future lives depend on the causes we are making in this very second with our thoughts, our words, and our actions.

future lives

There is no choice for us, so there can be no heresy. When you are able to hear the voices of the Dharma in all that surrounds us, you can start to live in a Buddha-centred way. The Buddhist teachings empower us humans to balance out our karma. They endow us with certain mystical power through practice and focus with which we can help to make the world of humans a better place. The Cathars were beings of pure love as are evolved Buddhists. Their love enabled, and today enables them, to transcend all the complex boundaries thrown up from attitudes of fear, power-seeking and ignorance.

The so-called  ‘heretics’ despised the world of matter, preferring to focus their energy and their entire existence on the invisible world and preparing all beings for death and after death. In Buddhist terms, the world of matter is called Samsara, which in Sanskrit and Pali means ‘flowing on,’ indicating the cycle of rebirth and death individuals undergo until they attain Nirvana, or the extinction of all cravings. Buddhists also strive towards release and escape from Samsara and all its sufferings brought about by the three roots of evil: greed, hatred and delusion. Mahayana Buddhists, like the Cathars, vow to delay their own death or enlightenment until all sentient beings are liberated.

I am certain that the devil or Satan does not exist in actuality, but only in the deluded mind. If we cannot hear the Dharma or the true teachings of a god, we create our worlds inside our own minds filled with manifestations of greed, hatred and other negative views. In this way, Cathars and Buddhists trained and continue to train in the same way, but sadly the Catholic church acted in diabolical ways in order to eradicate this pure sect.

I am now certain that my ancestors were among the Cathar martyrs, and that I am continuing on their eternal mission wearing the simple robes of a Buddhist.

Buddhist robes

TouchyourHeart Daily meditation: 14th January, 2014

desert 2
For the complete meditation please go to:
http://www.facebook.com/stepbackfromsamsara

‘You are here. You are now. Right in the centre of the moment, with no desire to move, no desire to think. Let your mind stop and feel the depth of the pure silence. This silent place of total peace and certainty is emptiness. It will naturally merge with all the other silences of all the beings in the universe……….