Chunda: the beginning of liberation for all without discrimination

Chunda

2600 years ago, under twin Sala trees among all the dignitaries and enlightened monks gathered to say farewell to the Buddha Shakyamuni, there was a deeply devoted lay follower named Chunda. He was the son of a blacksmith from the nearby area of Kushinagara castle who came to pay his respects to the Buddha, bringing with him 15 of his friends.

To show his devotion, he had discarded his daily clothes and put on a simple robe, bearing his right shoulder in the traditional way of monastics, kneeling on his right knee and bowing at the feet of the Buddha. He then made a speech confidently and sincerely, which was to change the future course of Buddhism.

In essence, he begged the Buddha to accept the simple offerings of homemade food he and his friends had brought. All the distinguished members of the congregation had already offered luxurious gifts of precious commodities like livestock and gold, but the Buddha had refused to accept everything until this point. To everyone’s surprise Chunda’s modest offerings were accepted. Chunda eloquently expressed his deep sadness at the prospect of losing the Buddha and begged him to accept the offerings from himself and his 15 friends before he entered Parinirvana, the special Nirvana only Buddha’s can enter, so that all sentient beings would not suffer from spiritual poverty.

In ancient India, and to a certain extent there today, the rigid caste system rejected people such as Chunda because he did not fit into any of the four main castes: He was not a clergyman or scholar, not of the nobility or a warrior, not a merchant or farmer, or a general labourer or servant. But he had confidence that all humans, despite their caste imposed at birth, were equal, and that when the Buddha left them, they would all be equally spiritually destitute. He said:

‘O World-Honoured One! My situation is like that of anyone among the four castes who, because of poverty, has to leave his country to find work and then buy domesticated cattle and fertile fields. After removing the stones and weeds and tilling his land, he has only to wait for the rain to fall from the sky.’  (Chapter 2, Mahaparinirvana Sutra)

Chunda’s words displayed great wisdom despite his lack of formal education or spiritual training. He knew that all living beings needed simply the rain of the Dharma to make them spiritually fertile, and that the Buddha, the truly awakened one, the Tathagata, could bring such rain into the human world of suffering (samsara). The Buddha was delighted and immediately conferred eternal life on him and connected him to the ever-presence. In other words, he was enlightened on the spot.

The Buddha during his ministry had insisted that his disciples should leave their ordinary life and become monastic practitioners, learning strict moral discipline and upholding monastic rules. The assembled disciples who had reached the pinnacle of all spiritual training were looking on as Chunda, a lay person, and an ‘untouchable’ – a person outside the caste system – became immediately enlightened with no training, and therefore supposedly little virtue. Chunda became the exception that was to be a crucial part of the Buddha’s last will and testament as he moved back to the spiritual source.

There were two ways in which this moment in the history of Buddhism brought fundamental changes to the aspirations of Buddhists. Firstly, this unprecedented enlightening of Chunda, a lay person and householder(someone who had not given up ordinary life or entered a monastery), was to open the path for all beings, no matter what their caste, whether lay or clerical, to aspire to reach Nirvana (or enlightenment). It is easy to imagine just how radically this changed the course of Mahayana Buddhism because now anyone could become enlightened, and hence the emergence of many lay Buddhist orders later.

Secondly, Chunda became enlightened within his own lifetime as a relatively young man and did not have to work hard to accrue merit and virtue in order to become enlightened in a future lifetime, which was the prevailing Brahminbelief at the time. The Buddha’s acceptance of humble Chunda’s offerings was symbolic of the fact that all sentient beings are endowed with Buddha Nature, and that when the rain of Dharma waters the seeds of Buddha Nature, they will ripen and all negative karma and human suffering will be cut away.

By bringing so many of his friends in a sincere gesture of reverence to the Buddha, and by having the confidence to make his offering in front of all the dignitaries and esteemed disciples, he had exhibited the spirit of a Buddha, without either training or privilege.

In other words, this courage and wisdom was a facet of Chunda’s true nature, and thus true human nature is Buddha Nature. The Buddha’s exclusive mission was to liberate all beings from the sufferings of being a human.

In appreciation of the Buddha’s acceptance of his humble offerings, Chunda said,

‘It is hard to be born a human being, and harder still to encounter a Buddha. It would be like a blind sea turtle encountering a floating log with a hole in it and poking its head through.’

This comment moved the Buddha to leave his final instructions before shifting into Parinirvana. His final teachings on impermanence and detachmentfollowed, known as the Dharmakaya, which he left in place of his physical body. These final teachings would exist for all eternity and were indestructible.

Chunda is especially significant to my own spiritual journey. During my lengthy Buddhist career, I can trace the beginnings of my Buddhist faith to the sea turtle that Chunda mentions. As a young child in urban Britain, I heard this maxim on a radio program and retained it as I searched for a way into Buddhism without any leads.

I was a quite devout Christian through my family’s influence, but the Buddha, even though at that time I had no idea what or who it was, somehow penetrated into my unconscious mind and I began to yearn to receive the teachings and become a disciple. I had neither Buddhist friends nor contact with the Buddhist teachings in northern working class Britain in the sixties, and yet, I was certain that I would be like that turtle, and that one day I would find the Buddha.

Chunda is also reputed to have described the rareness of meeting a Buddha in the Sala grove as follows:

‘An udambara blossom (a flower said to bloom once every 3000 years) can rarely be seen, and so is it to encounter a Buddha…..who can nurture the faith of all sentient beings and …extinguish the suffering of death and rebirth.’

The Buddha’s revelation that even lay people and women, in fact, anyone, could train spiritually and so enter enlightenment is also pertinent to my case. As a Tibetan Buddhist in the Kagyu lineage, I was intent on taking vows and becoming a Lama, but at the final stage I had a tiny doubt about committing myself to monastic life because I felt the best training ground to learn how to love unconditionally, was in ordinary human life. I searched to find a lay order so I could fully devote myself to humanity. Also as a woman, as is commonly known and still the case in some lineages, there was no equal treatment with men.

Finally, the Nirvana teachings have found me in Japan, and I am fulfilled and engaged in normal human life while holding a priestly rank, and serving at the Temple whenever possible.

In Japan, for historical reasons, Buddhism has been and continues to be perceived as training for the elite or monastics only, so my order is working hard to make Mahayana Buddhist practice accessible to all Japanese people and people of the world. It is a challenge to guide Japanese people of great humility to have the confidence to practise rituals that were once only available to the Imperial family.

Kobo Daishi, or Kukai, was responsible for single-handedly bringing Buddhism to Japan from China in 9th century, but at that time the national popular religion was Shinto, and it remained so until 1945. Here, in modern times, Buddhism has become the principal means of conducting funeral rites within society, but the main emphasis on Buddhism still lies in monastic practices at a distance from general society.

Chunda then, is a seminal figure in my Dharma stream. We aspire to do as he did: to bring as many people as possible to the other shore of Nirvana. A recent sculpture of Chunda in the Sala Grove with his 15 friends executed by a modern Japanese sculptor, Nakayama Hideo, is one of our objects of devotion. It is truly inspirational.

As Mahayana Buddhists, the welling up of or generating of Bodhicitta – the wish to take all sentient beings with us to enlightenment – is made all the more possible by knowing that every being is capable of polishing their Buddha Nature and reaching Nirvana. That just as Chunda’s Buddhahood was identified by the Buddha because of his sincere heart and wish for all his friends unconditionally to have the opportunity to experience the presence of the Buddha so rare in the world, we can each experience the ever-presence of the Buddha through the Nirvana teachings, and our sincerity will be recognised

The Buddha’s acceptance of the final offerings of a lay householder and untouchable signalled the very final instructions, which could not have been revealed before that moment. The essence of them is that we must each learn to control our own minds; our minds determine our behaviours in the world, either as a self-serving beast or a magnanimous and compassionate Buddha. We must rid ourselves of human passions, driving them out of our rooms as if they were poisonous vipers.

He then reassures everyone that his death is only of the flesh – as it was born and nurtured by parents, so it must deteriorate and perish – and that Buddhahood is not of the flesh, but of the spirit. The final teachings were to become the body of the Buddha –the Dharmakaya – and he begs all his disciples to preserve them just as they had followed and cherished him in life. In doing so, the Dharma Body of the Tataghatas will be ever-present and so never disappear.

Chunda’s deep humility and sincere heart radiated out beyond that of the advanced practitioners and enlightened who had perhaps become arrogant or complacent. So we can learn from this that practising as a true being of the heart is not about worldly success and reputation, but about humility and sincerity, and simple but total belief in the power of loving goodness and pure faith in the world.

I believe we are all Chunda. Even if we have low status and are poor in materialist terms, even though we might have shortcomings and little knowledge, everyone has the capacity to love all beings unconditionally and indefinitely, and this is our principle mission in human life – to become a Bodhisattva – the embodiment of spiritual ideals.

I
images courtesy of Megapixyl:  Chunda sculpture –  Shinnya Nakamura – permission to use from Shinnyo-en, Tachikawa, Japan.

Words and ideas dropping away

A young fair-headed child looks softly into a mirror. She wonders at her pale skin and iceberg eyes, becoming involved in intimately experiencing herself directly, the eye seeing exclusively. She is certain that there is no imaginingat all.

Each slow blink of her long lashes reveals a different person there in the large mirror surface: male, female, young, elderly, of many different complexions – a compendium of karmic identities. And someone photographs this procession of reflections obsessively from behind her, flash bulbs sizzling, the shutter rasping.

Then, as the rapid flick of images stops, from the side, dark elegant hands offer white robes of fine cotton to decorate the smooth skin of this mirror child. The child accepts them, slowly raising them towards her nose to absorb the scents of “jasmine” and “Japanese cedar,” names which she repeats to ensure that sensing is exclusive, then letting the sounds of the words drop away with their idea.

The dark hands then offer a large stem of pink lotus complete with several woody seed-cases. The lotus is the only plant in existence which produces seeds whilst still in flower, and which can thrive in the poorest patch of mud.

The child smiles and walks out of the reflection, cool bare feet spreading on marble.

art by Mariko Kinoshita

Embodiment

erotic

The erotic burns images into our soul. Or does it simply mirror them? This happens at an unexpected moment when an image, word or sound ignites a deep feeling completely out of the blue. It takes us by utter surprise, the body reacts without the mind’s interference, and we just know it is a pure and ancient event. It is like falling in love with a stranger or recognising our life-partner or a relationship from another lifetime or dimension. It is a moment when real sincerity burgeons and we make contact with ourselves outside the restrictions of social structure and norm, beyond all the layers. This is our true nature. It is feminine, yielding, at peace naturally. It is transformative karma if we can allow the feelings to fly. 

It is sad and shocking that in a developed world dominated by masculinity and competition the erotic has become enmeshed with sex and pornography, the consumerization of human feelings. Eros is the god of true love, of the coming together of two souls. Strong feelings often lead to demonstrative behaviour – standing up and shouting, murder, betrayal, the giving of oneself totally, suicide – but so what. Why is the human body and its ability to merge with another so shocking? It is reduced to an object by the constant witness that polices the intellect arm in arm with the Law and Organised Religion.

Suddenly an apparition in a film brings tears to my eyes, my throat tightens and my heart beats rapidly. I cannot believe it is me shedding tears watching a screen in a comfortable seat. She is a middle-aged widow dressed in chic Chanel black, hair coiffured immaculately, stocking seams straight, sipping at champagne, and behind her is the heals of the Eiffel tower.

A man she doesn’t know walks towards her to look at the view and her. He gets closer and they strike up conversation briefly, he lighting her gold-filtered cigarette though he doesn’t smoke. Then she gives him her card with long coral-lacquered fingernails, and tells him to ring her any time after 5:00. He is mesmerised and so are we as we watch. We know nothing of either story except their suffering and isolation which has attracted them to each other.

His visitor status in Paris is nil – living in a filthy cheap hotel, all his possessions stolen from him while he slept on a bus, and forced to work for his keep for the owner as a night-watchman. His whole purpose is to see his young daughter again after his mother has brought a restraining order against him so he writes a perpetual letter to her and stalks her. But one day he takes up the woman’s invitation.

Roles are reversed and she makes all the moves in the hallway, dangling kisses which disintegrate him, undressing him, confronting his habitual domination and taking him. She holds him back with the force-field of her eyes while revealing his erect flesh to the brush of her lips, unconditionally releasing his pent-up seed and then bathing him lovingly. There are neither questions nor answers, no parameters based on time or space, and the social conditioning is a priceless vase dropped on marble from a great height.

Two foreign angels are released from their tight protein ropes in the City of Light. They allow each other to fully embody their divine essence in the dark apartment, and all the synthetic layers, the spots and spores of differentness planted by urbanisation, drop away.

They are Greek gods of love just like Eros and they can walk around among us. The visible and the invisible are one.

erotic 1

Forward to my new book: Glorious Death: Glorious Life

Buddhists and Cathars jacket

author’s forward

Glorious Death? Human beings are curious of and frightened by their own death and the death of others they love. Death is taboo to most of us, and it is understandable that the complete unknown is terrifying so we evade it, clinging to what we know even more tightly.  But I will show you in this book that there is a way to understand and to embrace death, and that when we do our lives are transformed. 

Glorious Life?  Life is both predictable and unpredictable; both happy and sad; both satisfying and dissatisfying, but what is certain is that we do not have control of it.  Like setting sail on a stormy sea, we are at once battered by waves and wind, and the next becalmed or shrouded in dense fog. However, acceptance of our impermanence is the master key to dealing with such fluctuations; we need to have complete mastery of our sails and rudder and to learn to sail with the weather, into the weather, instead of against it. Realizing that all the challenges that the wild ocean throws up are spiritual tests and messages provided for us to overcome and interpret, allows us to strap in and actualize our human potential. 

Buddhists? Cathars? People of the Earth? There are so many spiritual pathways available to us in these days of diversity, but I have discovered that although they may have different appearances and structures, they are all reaching for the same lasting happiness and joy. They are all about mastering our restless fearful minds. The serenity and wisdom of the Buddhist way are well known.

The way of the Cathars (the Good), a medieval group of Christian mystics in Europe branded as heretics by the Church of Rome because of their spiritual beliefs, may not be so well-known because they were exterminated by the close of the 14th century. 

But now is the time of the revival they predicted 700 years later at a time when the Earth and its people are rapidly deteriorating.  The Cathar Creed is the perfect blueprint for us to fully realize that we special humans with our essence of pure love are not aliens here on Earth, but we are the good way for the Earth and its community to heal. 

People of the Earth? The surviving indigenous tribes of our world possess the wisdom to save the planet and to live in harmony. In fact, they are the only people who dedicate themselves entirely as custodians of the Earth, protecting species and living in awe and respect for what the Great Mother Nature has supplied to allow humans to evolve spiritually. The natural world which we moderns have made ourselves separate from provides the perfect conditions for us to excel in love and light, and to bring our intrinsic goodness to bear.

All three of these traditions have brought me personally to a breath-taking watershed.  I look down into the great oceans and I have no fear of death or life, and I have come to surrender to the truth that the world we think we know is just a tiny part of the vast invisible world, the ocean of spirits of love. This is our origin.  In other words, I have fully awoken to the reality of the supremacy of universal love, and that everything else is simply weather. 

I write this work, not from a place of dazzling qualifications or impeccable experience, exhaustive scholarly research or struggles for recognition or advancement. In fact, I have deliberately put aside such accolades and indicators of success, and instead offer a different kind of intelligence and a world of perceptions unique to their expresser. They are testimony above all to being a human spirit. My motivation is to share my view of the world as honestly as I can, striving to write from my true nature which I have consciously worked to uncover during my enchanted life.

I find my true nature to be akin not to heroes or celebrities, state leaders or explorers, but more to mystics and castaways, contemplatives and psychics. In my short human life, I have found the great truth in my own mind as I create it for myself, for it does not exist without my creation. By virtue of our dazzling consciousness, human beings are extraordinary creators.

Living and working in Japan, I have been given a unique opportunity not only to experience an ancient and bizarre culture first-hand but also to question or reappraise many aspects of life that ‘westerners’ take for granted. As a person of faith, one of those aspects is exactly that, faith.  It is well-known that most Japanese reject notions of religious affiliation and look both uncomfortable and incredulous when asked in public what they truly believe in or at any mention of spirituality.

It has been said that Japanese have little imagination which on the surface may be attributable to their passivity and conformity to the greater social conscience.  It is the social system and customs which expect them to be self-contained, restrained, and so they are often reluctant to exchange true feelings or experiences. They are however skilled readers of the air once they have trust.

Therefore, when a westerner, usually born, brought-up and educated in a Christian, Moslem or Hindu atmosphere, talks freely about faith feelings, it seems that it is almost impossible for them to grasp another life course outside superficially secular Japan.  In fact, many Japanese are rarely if ever exposed to foreigners: there are still strong traces of xenophobia from the 250-year period of the country’s closure.

Surely faith has to be recognized by those who realize its personal importance?  Faith?  Conviction?  Trust? These are not qualities that come easily to many Japanese because there are so many types of fear running through their veins. There is also a formidable sense of national pride and duty under the skin, a sense that everything Japanese is best, superior. Here religion and spirituality are very much a social pursuit.  This is part of the necessity of belonging so that the countless temples (Buddhist) and shrines (Shintoist) double as community, culture, and mental health centres.

It is from my stance as a person with a commitment to the intrinsic power of the human race and with indestructible confidence in my own true nature, that I write this book.  My life is unimaginable to most mono-cultural and mono-linguistic Japanese – packing up two suitcases and leaving my ‘homeland’ to live in this land of endemic shyness and nationalism, sampling many spiritual teachings and alternative disciplines along my route, and so on.

You Japan, though we are now one, cannot imagine my life.  So, I dedicate this work to you.  It is a bringing out of the roots of my faith, my origins, and the process of my life as a spiritual seeker.  I want you to experience my invisible Christian upbringing and education, the purity of my lineage; in fact, the whole purpose of my being; to experience my brushes with Islam and Taoism, Sufism and Hinduism, Judaism and Jesuits in the multicultural environment of my birth.

This is my mission: to share my blessed life with a nation which Kukai, the founder of Shingon Buddhism created a form of Chinese Buddhism especially for. He is recognized as, one of the very few Japanese who have attained a universality far beyond the limitations of nation or race.

In 1950, after the Pacific War was resolved and Japan was occupied by the United States, there was a purging of religion and education.  In Buddhist terms, it was called the Dharma Crisis, and through my involvement for 11 years with a Shingon Buddhist teaching, I have encountered this first-hand, although it has mostly been buried under recorded Japanese history of the period so it is difficult to research. Indeed, as a result of the government inquisition, all religious organizations, no matter what denomination, were scrutinized and subjected to a vicious authenticity check. 

The founder of the teaching was in fact thrown into prison for his deep convictions and faith with murderers and other capital criminals, his Buddhist instruments confiscated, and his qualifications and motivations examined microscopically.  This truly tested the faith of his small sangha (community), most of whom disassociated themselves, but those remaining deepened their conviction leading to worldwide strength of the teaching today. This Dharma Crisis was an enormous test of faith for the whole nation, and it has clearly engendered the moral and religious cowardice or seeming indifference that exists today as a result.

It seems that people, in general, are divided into two groups: those who need to know, and those who just-know. Those driven by fear and doubt, and those who are fearless and accepting. Those who think and those who do not. Those who consider the physical sun to be the only source of light in the world shining down on them, and those who are their own sun shining on themselves and others. Those who have taken up permanent residence in their minds, and those who have stepped on to the bridge of their mind and walked out into the limitless field of their consciousness.

As I write, I find myself conflicted and separated by trying to cater for both of these groups, not wanting to leave anyone out. For example, when writing about sincerity and secrecy in relation to the Cathar creed, The Church of Love, I have to describe the Cathar-Catholic history and struggle in great detail so that permanent residents can understand the background; meanwhile, I am longing to get to the spiritual centre of things, and do not want to be pinned down by the time-space continuum.

It feels as if there is a dense web of doubt and proof-seeking, a kind of contagion emanating from the thinkers, the limited, which threatens to draw me in.  So, I want to kick free of it and unconditionally dart around the infinite field which has no horizons or divisions, or tenant agreements, without any appointments or duration. I, therefore, have inserted small articles into the text so that the received knowledge concerning Buddhism, Catharism and Creation Spiritualism is available to those who need it.

Thinkers habitually make questions and construct opinions, which can potentially tyrannize a writer, blocking him or her from writing anything at all. They are natural fighters with an obsession with analysis and understanding on their terms, but they have the power to sway others in this modern life dominated by the intellect. Surely it must be an affliction to always need to justify and debate in order to be accepted, or to gain approval from the intelligentsia fashion leaders, but that is the norm in developed nations.

As Buddha is reputed to have said, People with opinions just go around bothering people all the time. What I write in this book is not opinion but insight gleaned from my spiritual training and awakening mind. And yet, I am unable to exclude this majority group because my message concerns them most of all. I have no dispute with anyone. (Buddha)

In the end, readers will make up their own minds about my Glorious Death: Glorious Life based on so many conditional factors. Therefore, writing anything using abstract symbols capable of such beauty, such harm, such hypnosis, such confusion, is a leap of faith into an abyss. I leap willingly.

And as for my own Glorious Death, the title of this book? I die every night in my dreams. It is no stranger to me.

Evenings had always been our special time back in the city, each one a life in its own right. It was usually initiated with flames and candles, and the opening of corks. Each a make or break, visible or invisible, irresistible attraction or cold polarization. Now, in the mountains, evenings ended in small deaths in the full darkness and silence. We two isolated souls, which might sting or flee at any moment, were entirely invisible here. (Veil, a novel of Cathars and Troubadours by Linden Thorp)

To wake each morning is a blessing, a new start, a stand against the fear that the human mind throws up like the jackknife of a bully.  During all my moments, the Veil of my physical death flutters above me, giving me glimpses of the invisible world beyond the bridge.

My motivation in writing this book then is to share my journey and to drop seeds into fertile earth.  As a Buddhist practitioner, I have already written a great deal, but it was my discovery of the universal Cathar Creed combined with the realization that I was a member of the 20th-century Cathar revival behind the scenes, that made me sit down and determine to create it.  I believe this perfect Creed entitled The Church of Love, will suit all beings regardless of their supposed level, caste, status, thinking or no-thinking in the visible world. All beings are perfectly equal in the invisible world.

In order to familiarize the territory before revealing the Creed, I share my blueprints and the spiritual schemes which have brought me to this Glorious point, this watershed.  Some would say perhaps that Buddhists, Cathars, and Indigenous Australians have no fear or doubt because they are at liberty to embody their beliefs. But I would go a step further and suggest that beliefs are dead thoughts, museum pieces, plastic flowers compared with the energy stream that these three breeds of spiritual giants stand knee deep in.

The energy flow of all humans without exception consists of light and love and humanity is itself the Church of Love.

The Church of Love recognizes that the way we (humans) are may be the way of those around us because we (humans) are the way.

Embodying love, being the universal energy of love, cannot be limited to inert thoughts or beliefs, or added to a tomorrow to-do list. It happens right now and here inside us.

Once we have put our visual accessories time and space aside, then reality consists only of now – this moment, not the next or the one before, and here – without borders or differences, regardless of weather or religion. The conditioned mind may think this notion embodying love is an interesting concept, an intriguing theory even, but it will immediately disappear as thoughts and theories always do the moment it is made conscious. By thinking about it, it is immediately made indirect, a mere interpretation. So, it is useful to create a mindful gap around this seed that has been dropped into your being and stay quietly in that gap. In other words, resist thinking about it or even giving it a name. Mark it as that thingy, or your favourite song – music is concrete so cannot be erased as abstracts such as words can.

The thingy must be gently held back outside the gap, prevented from its usual destructive, interfering activities. Then the love can flow freely, indiscriminately, for all of the people around you: like a fresh mountain stream cascading across everything in its path.

In this gap, this opening, you can use your borrowed human muscles and limbs to flow or swim into your day ahead. Staying in this fluid state you enter a crowded space, a train carriage, a shopping centre, or a classroom. With every square inch of your body and your energy field, you can live the divine love that you have eternally embodied once the conditioned mind is quiet.

Then you make eye contact only to love. You spread your lips in a smile only to love. You extend your arms and stride forward with your legs only to love. It is absolutely the only agenda your spirit has. Next, staying for as long as you can in that identity-less gap, just radiate into now and here, and others around you will radiate in response. They will use their eyes only to acknowledge your light and being.  They will spread their lips in a smile only to radiate.  They will extend their physical form in a sincere gesture of appreciation only for the light you bring. And they will expect nothing in return.

Inside this gap is where we belong. It is our true nature. There are no labels or identities, no hierarchies or structure. It is the flow and flux of our energy origins, the wide river of our indestructible human love and light.

Those who are, know.

(Church of Love, Cathar Creed, circa 1244)

 

March 2016, Osaka.     

 

Gratitude to Mariko Kinoshita for her gorgeous artwork

Temple Chronicle: 25th February

torii

Buddha taught that if we become enlightened we will have full clairvoyance (seeing) and audiovoyance (hearing) in the past, present and future. When our conditioned mind is quiet, idling so that it can deal with the demands of daily life, and all our cravings have been extinguished, the clarity of our perceptions will intensify. We will no longer simply react in the ups and downs of subjectivity or duality, being swept along trying desperately to get our feet down on the ground for a few seconds. I have witnessed and experienced past lives and future lives, and I have lived with indigenous people who naturally have these extra-sensory tools at their disposal.

Karma is an absolute proof of our past and our future to come (DNA is the scientific equivalent) which we hand on through the birthing process and the closeness of related spirits to our families. It is a marvel how we inherit our parents’ physical appearance and structure. We also inherit their predispositions and proclivities, their cellular conditions, and very often their diseases, sorrows and losses, come to the surface in our lives. It is also, therefore, logical that we will pass forward our karma and our wisdom to future generations, and that is our responsibility.

How do we create good and bad karma? – respectively the karma to live happily, safely and to fulfill our life’s course; and the karma to have tragic and restless lives, crippling disease and deformity, to be criminals and make others suffer. It is useful to see karma as a seed which we sow with our thoughts, words, and deeds: eventually, the seed germinates and ripens at an indeterminate moment we ordinarily have no control over. But with spiritual practice and elevation, we gradually take some control.

We must accumulate as much merit and virtue as possible while crossing the river of life so that our negative karma will be neutralized and our positive karma will increase. These are the challenges of the world of form which we are deliberately manifest in to overcome. Having good karma will ensure our happiness in temporality, and if we cut the negative karma and console our ancestors their spirits will reside comfortably in the spiritual world. If our ancestors are suffering in the hell realms, then that will reflect in our lives. All things that appear to us are simply reflections of the invisible world.

Look back at photos of yourself as a child, a young adult, and older adult, and you may be so surprised at how different your appearance is. The camera catches glimpses as your karma and DNA flows and transforms, and at any moment, you may resemble your ancestors right back to the beginning of human history, the seeds being planted and germinating as you travel through life encountering suffering and joy. Pure gratitude and appreciation for your parents and theirs, and so on, is the best way to console their continuing journey in the spiritual world. ‘You’ would not exist to have these incredible opportunities if they had not given birth to you.

Floating lanterns inscribed with prayers on the ocean or rivers is one moving way we remember and console our ancestors in Japan. The torrii, large orange gateways to be found all over the country, were expressly constructed to allow the spirits of ancestors to return to the physical plane at certain periods of the year. They visit briefly to gather our prayers and wishes and then return, representing a golden chance to feel their closeness to us.

I am my parents and my grandparents. I can never walk in any other footprints than theirs along the beach, although the conditioned mind may convince me I have taken a new direction.

I smile and shed tears and love and feel and breathe as them. It is my true nature to eternally tend their garden of karma as our seeds ripen and stock dies while they recline on a shady verandah, always watchful. 

lanterns

Temple Chronicle: 16th February

 

persecution 1

At the close of World War 2, the victorious American forces occupied Japan and ordered a complete social reorganization. It was especially concerned about new religions, so the government scrutinized every new organization or cult and demanded that they justify their existence. Many Buddhist organizations were ripped apart, their founders imprisoned and interrogated, their instruments and holy books confiscated, and many were banned from continuing. Religion was generally outlawed and viewed with the greatest suspicion, and this legacy continues today. The Buddhadharma struggles to survive here more than almost anywhere else. Its survival fills the prayers of many spiritual leaders.

The master was imprisoned and tried. His children and wife were persecuted. Humans often intimidate innovators from a sense of envy or fear. He continued to deepen his faith throughout this disgrace, counseling murderers and common thieves about their faith in his communal cell. He continued to be kind and calm even under duress, and his interrogators recognized his quiet determination. His core of conviction was not touched by blows to his pride, by social shame, by degradation. His Buddha nature shone through and dazzled everyone, and this year the teaching celebrates its 80th year and boasts 2 million followers worldwide.

Our true mission in human life will undoubtedly require courage and conviction. Therefore, we should not be concerned with our reputation because if our innate goodness is shining through others will recognize it eventually. Dark forces may try to destroy us, to persuade us to stay in line, to put aside pipe dreams, to choose to have a quiet life. But we must follow our heart and make our contribution during this limited time. We have arms and legs, we can give vocal expression to our vision, we can smile and shine, radiating our loving kindness to give form to the invisible. But in this dangerous world of form where we are capable of being monsters or angels, of creating beauty or destroying wholesale, of preserving our innocence and purity or spreading poison and lies, it is our motivation that we need to always be mindful of.

So, although you may never have consciously experienced persecution, be sure that some of your ancestors did, and it was then that they intensified their courage, their conviction, and their motivation became as clear as a bell. This is our karma and indelibly written in our DNA. Clarity rises as your Buddha Nature, your true nature, is polished by adversity, so walk straight towards it and face it head on.

You can surely do this at some moment during your day today. There is something you are avoiding – a difficult relationship or situation, a decision, or simply telling someone your honest feelings. These people and situations are exactly your best teachers, so embrace them fully.

persecution 2

Temple Chronicle: 1st February

waterfall training

Again cold and unforgiving weather today.  It is thought to be a good sign because it will help those following to truly remember what the masters did 80 years ago to found this special teaching.  Freezing weather seems to have been the appropriate time to begin austerities in Japan, like the rainy season in India in the time of the Buddha.

Waterfall training was one of the main ways to purge the ego. So today, aspirants must walk in their footsteps in their minds, up the steep narrow path along the ridge to the waterfall. They will feel the freeze of spray on their face as they get closer, then the immersion of skin habitually covered with cloth, the sound deafening arousing the dread of that first cold death.

Photographs of their waterfall training etch themselves into the memories, the consciousness, of aspirants. The blood-stained white cotton robes, the hands pressed into gassho despite the shivering, the slate-blue of feet and hands.  And they are told this teaching takes the middle-way, and that only masters need to do this hard training.  That they do it exactly so that disciples living their daily lives, ‘householders,’ do not need to.  But does this create a dependence despite its magnanimity?

Wondrous powers will be activated through the Dharma current of correctly linked streams.  The spiritual current is something seekers can plug into, connect with, through the rituals and spiritual tests.  The mandala or succession diagram for this teaching is complete, reaching far back to Shakyamuni Buddha, 2600 years ago.  So, if they go under the freezing waterfall in their minds, in their deep minds, they are assured of going further on to enlightenment in oneness with their guides.  This is the mysticism of blind faith.

The Masters were flesh and blood, warm-blooded mammals with soft eyes and physical and emotional vulnerabilities. That they were driven to take these strict actions following in the footsteps of their masters, and those before, is about tradition, validity. The further we get away from the founder of any religion or organization, the more checks and balances we need.

But it’s not what the masters did, it’s the way they did it, out of pure compassion for all human beings, for their suffering and their joy.   There was no other motive.  It is this pure intent that is so impressive, and that disciples can easily emulate.

She is feline in her enthusiasm to collect the cards which mark each day of training. They are beautiful, each with their message carefully conveyed in the hand of the Master, reproduced in their several million.  She buys a little case specifically designed to collect them in, and then as the end approaches, she feels a sense of completion.  These masters have, drop by drop during 33 years, fed her with faith. She was born not knowing the taste of it, not naturally knowing there was something for her in the invisible world.  Her innate purity stood for nothing in a culture in which merit and maleness mean everything, and their opposites nothing.

The religious treasures have amassed over the years, and now she can never be parted from them.  They enliven her spirit and allow her some action. Her complete happiness can be found in following perfect models, in belonging, in constant gratitude and humility.

Today, in a city temple under the central Osaka freeway, one long-term disciple talks of how she was saved by the teaching’s power in 2001, at the time of the aerial attack on the Twin Towers of the New York World Trade centre.  She was standing outside the main entrance when the first plane crashed into the tower, waiting to go up to a meeting on a high level floor.  In the panic, she ran for cover into the subway where she could take refuge until the emergency teams came.  Winter training is the time she can show her gratitude most.  She always tries to bring a foreigner to the sessions to say thank you to the foreigners who rescued her from that tragic disaster.  She will never forget her debt. It is her mission to expend her life paying back.

The Masters can be role models through their faultless lives devoted to all beings. But we must be careful to live out our own individuality, our own Buddha Nature, and to bring to fruition our unqiue mission.

uchu-A

Ancestral Heroes – article 3 in series ‘Visible-Invisible.’ (Universal magazine)

 

 

This series of ten articles ventures into two worlds which, on face value, would seem to be the opposite of each other: the visible – what we can see; and the invisible – what we cannot see. If you wish to read the whole series, which is a work in progress, please look in the top menu of this page for ‘Visible-Invisible.’ I am indebted to my artist Mariko Kinoshita, and my designer/publisher Samantha Yates at Universal Magazine, for making these articles so beautiful. (apologies for the split opening spread)

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Spiritual Practice for Householders

uchu-A

 

 

Once the gods walked among us in the Golden Age of humanity. The divine spark in every being was burning brightly because we were pure, and our karmic debts were as yet non-existent. We were awake, not slumbering and responding blindly to delusions and external stimuli as we are today. We had not yet retreated into the cavern of our ego-mind, separated ourselves away from our origins, and neither did we block or interfere with our deep connection to nature and the universe. In that era, we did not have or need to have opinions, and we were not addicted to gratification, so our intents were pure and rooted in the sacred. In the Golden Age, when humans were at their peak, we had no need to practice to awaken and focus our spirits through mindfulness and meditation, no need to enter monasteries and go on retreat away from the world, to use rituals to invoke the holy beings in sanctuaries or to take refuge. We wore the human form with ease, and were not weighted down and tormented by it as we were in later eras. In fact, our purity allowed us to see the whole spiritual picture instead of tiny glimpses of it or fixating on certain parts of it, and thus we were wise, an integral part of the Universe.

In short, we did not need to rehearse or ‘practice’ how to locate and connect with the divine, because we were divine ‘performers,’ not ‘practitioners,’ as we are often referred to today. The notion of ‘practice’ in modern English historically implies ‘doing’ or ‘acting,’ but post 15th century it often alluded to a profession, e.g. medicine or law, indicating that a skill had to be performed repeatedly in order to perfect it. Gradually, the practical or ‘mundane’ (worldly) human attitude came to prevail as we moved increasingly further and further away from the divine. Finally, in our present degenerate times, we so-called developed peoples are so remote from the divine, wedged tight into our secular worlds, that we have to self-consciously practice to make contact with our higher selves, and, if we are so disposed, with the divine.

Today, most of us are living our modern human lives moment after moment carrying out daily duties and rules as householders, with all their banality, social limitations and rules, their logic, their linear nature, mixed with fleeting moments of joy and rites of passage. Our backdrop, projected by the media, is the daily tragedy of war and corruption, torture and loss, oppression mixed with worldly achievements and status. How can we practice spiritually? How can we bring what we glean from rituals, meditation, teachings, texts, into this everyday life? How can we bring our spirits into play in this seemingly ‘ordinary’ and rigid framework which controls us and in which delusions thrive. Following is an eclectic list of aspects of spiritual practice:

  1. Mindfulness: during daily life guided by holy texts, teachings, or spiritual words.
  2. Meditation: various types – sitting, insight, walking, reflection, etc.
  3. Good and altruistic deeds: helpful actions in society; serving at temples; putting aside the ego and self-serving; putting others first, etc.
  4. Generosity: with materials, time and thoughts.
  5. Devotion: surrender, gratitude, humility.
  6. Interface with the spiritual/invisible world: sense of awe and bliss; realizing that we are spirit above all, and when we become flesh, we are training to become perfect compassionate beings (Bodhisattvas).
  7. Recognition of being integrated into the universe: sacred messages surround us if only we can accept and trust in them.
  8. Ever-presence of divine beings: connecting with them and placing total trust in them.
  9. Recognizing and polishing our Buddha Nature.

Gaia As hinted at earlier, in a way, the phrase ‘spiritual practice’ is a paradox because the word ‘practice’ implies human effort to acquire a skill, or a practical approach: whereas, ‘spiritual’ relates to the magical invisible world, an ethereal world of ‘ness’ or universal truth. However, it is doubtful that spirit needs to ‘practice’; whereas the determination of human beings to succeed or to overcome by acquiring skills and knowledge, requires constant reinforcement in order to perfect it. Such is the allure of the mystical and the magical for human practitioners who are determined to escape from the self-made prison of samsara, and break loose from the manacles of karma. But what if such striving was unnecessary?

Spiritualis in medieval Latin meant ‘of or pertaining to breath, breathing, wind, or air.’ The word ‘spirit’ corresponds well with ‘aspiration’ (breathing, raising), another word common to religious ‘efforts’ (exerting our strength); ‘spirit’ is ethereal, whereas ‘effort,’ which we need when we practice, is a human quality. In simple terms, etymology aside, perhaps we humans aspire to instantly recognize our true nature, our true spirit or energy, and we make ongoing efforts to live in a compassionate balanced way, aiming to create harmony in our communities and bring about world peace. ancestors

So, in this present period of what Buddhists call ‘The Last Day of the Law,’ if we are going to excel as human beings (Bodhisattvas, in a ‘state of grace’), we must deliberately or self-consciously reposition our good and innocent nature, our true nature, which the Buddha revealed and reaffirmed to us in his last teachings, The Nirvana Teachings. Before he passed into the Universal source, he encouraged us to polish this Buddha nature until it shone, until our individual brightness became apparent in the universe. This polishing of the original divine spirit leads to what the Buddha referred to as ‘enlightenment,’ an extinguishing of all craving, or a return to our divine nature or spirit.

The sad parting of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni from the human world – revered teacher and tireless devotee to the happiness and liberation of humanity from all suffering – creates a situation in which his disciples were forced to cease their reliance on him. He had appeared in the human world of suffering, or samsara (Skt), and relinquished his privileged life as a Prince, expressly to devote himself to this end. His appearance, as for any spiritual leader, in human form is highly significant. It indicates that human beings needed detailed instructions and constant support in transcending their suffering and arrogance at this time. That they needed a guide because they were becoming remote to the divine.

2600 years ago in ancient India gripped by war and power-mongering, Buddha Shakyamuni’s physical presence as a model was desperately needed. Even in his own lifetime, the entire Shakya clan (his own people) was massacred in a battle for supremacy and wealth, and his father’s kingdom appropriated.

Most of us moderns place our own sensory needs, according to our own view of the world synthesized by our human minds, first. Eventually, perhaps we lose touch with our spiritual being, our divine nature, all together. Within that human view, if we are not gratified, we indulge ourselves in delusional behavior, such as fear, anger and machinations to get what we feel we are entitled to, and more. This sense of craving – regretting the past, and anticipating a future, or longing to be somewhere we are not – is generated from our superimposed human concepts of time and space. However, our Buddha Nature is one with the universe, so it craves nothing for or of itself.

divine link 1 It is salutary to recall that once we had no fears or delusions because we were totally in tune with the love of the great universe of which we are a vital part. Our divine nature was and still is a special thread, its texture and colour vital to complete the tapestry of the Universe. In that Golden Era, we were not yet arrogant leading us to separate ourselves away to try to fabricate our own tapestry.

In this latter degenerate period, we desperately need to locate our original nature, which has become dirtied by negative karma and neglect. We need to purify and clean away this detritus, which conceals it, and so reconnect with the divine power.

The ‘spiritual practices’ or performances of indigenous people are akin to those of this Golden Age. I experienced them first-hand when I stayed with a tribe which was returning to traditional life deep in the interior Lands of Australia. Their desert lives are totally integrated with those of their creation heroes who manifest all around them in the natural environment, which is known as ‘The Dreaming.’ They consider themselves to be not separate from the universe, and view natural phenomena as they view themselves, part of the Great Mother Nature’s creation. They interact directly with the external world, never needing to put themselves apart from it by constructing their own concepts of it or filtering their perceptions. fire sticks

The climax of their lives is The Djang, the glorious death ceremony. Each of them is in love with death, longing for the moment when their spirit is freed from its physical vessel, the body. Preparations for Death ceremonies last usually for 12 days, filled with ritual dances and observances. Then, as the moment of the Djang approaches, they sit and wait for creator spirits to visit the sanctified Burial Ground, and for that moment when the deceased is released, having learned all the lessons of being human. Their spirit rises up into the sky against the backcloth of a full moon, and travels on into other dimensions. It is well attested that life conducted in full knowledge that death may come at any moment is perhaps the greatest spiritual practice of all.

In the western world, meditation has become one of the prominent and fashionable forms of spiritual practice in modern times. However, there is great danger that it becomes the be-all and end-all of spiritual pursuits, representing an end in itself. Many of us desire transformation; we are convinced that we are imperfect, that our minds need wiping clean because they are fundamentally flawed. But this is an impossible feat, our striving indicative of our tendency towards dependence: in other words, we ask someone or something else to give us a fresh start.

We must learn to accept all our thoughts, good or bad, sincere or insincere; simply stand back and witness them as if we are staring up to the surface of the iceberg from its massive body (the tip is the conscious mind and the body of the iceberg is the unconscious mind).

Nirvana Buddha by H.H. Master Shinjo ito

Nirvana Buddha by H.H. Master Shinjo Ito

So, it is inspirational to consider what ordinary people were like going about their daily lives in the early periods of so-called ‘civilisation.’ In this Golden Era of ancient India, several thousand years before the Buddha’s appearance, the gods, the Holy Beings, lived among the members of communities, making the divine easily accessible and full enlightenment possible by simply being in their presence. This notion is based on the premise that all humans born into the physical dimension are indiscriminately endowed with a divine flame, an indestructible link with the sacred.

The world view of ancient India then, long before the Buddha’s appearance, was the Buddha’s legacy, and witnessing the deterioration around him, his last teachings were intended to prepare us for the deterioration we witness in today’s world, which he predicted with his clairvoyant powers. But what had also happened among his disciples was that they had become dependent on him, literally following him around as he taught substantial congregations of seekers of the truth. This dependency on his physical presence, made them deeply fearful as his death rapidly approached. He earnestly reassured them with the following words:

A Buddha does not die. Likewise, Dharma does not perish. Only tathata (shinnyo-Jpn) is real; everything else is illusory. The substance of the Buddha is shinnyo.

In his last moments, Buddha revealed to his beloved disciples that the teachings he was leaving for them would become his body, the Dharma body, or Dharma kaya, after his physical death. In other words, to the first generations of disciples, the posthumous presence of the Buddha could be found in the form of his teachings, the Dharma. Later in the Mahayana, there are three ‘bodies’ of the Buddha; the Dharmakaya is the ground for the other two – the Enjoyment Body (Sambhoga-kaya) and the Emanation Body (Nirmanakaya). These 3 are synonymous with perfect enlightenment, transcending all perceptual forms. They have many astounding qualities: freedom from all conceptualization; liberation from defilements; and the intrinsic ability to perform all activities. In later forms of Indian and Tibetan Buddhism, influenced by tantric thought, the Dharmakaya is considered to be equivalent to the actual mind of the Buddha.

While transmitting his final teachings to the first disciples, which have flawlessly been transmitted orally up until today via the various Dharma Streams, the Buddha entreats them to become a reminder of Buddhahood, a representation of the Dharma-Body for all sentient beings to return to. In chapter 12 of the Sutra, The Nature of the Tathagata, he says:

I (the Buddha and all disciples) shall become a stupa (a repository of holy relics), a reminder of Buddhahood that other sentient beings can respect, and represent the Dharma body for them to return to…….I shall be the eyes for the blind and also a true refuge for Hearers and Solitary Awakened Ones.

This is surely testament to our divine origins, to our inclinations towards the good and moral, to kindness and compassion, which are without doubt at our core. We each have the spirit of a Buddha, an awakened one. We each have the choice of waking up from the deluded dreams contaminating our minds, of sensing the formless nature of reality, of resisting indoctrination and repression. The Dharmakaya, the Dharma body of the Buddha, walks among us today as we struggle with our delusions in a secular world of overwhelming diversity. If we connect with our true nature, letting go of our addiction to gratification and living with the courage to be our true selves, then we will find happiness in the realization of our sacred missions.

stupa We are each a stupa, a shining tower housing the essence of the Great Truth (Tathata {Skt} Shinnyo {Jpn}), but the divine can only work in us when we are empty of delusions, self-serving desires and attachments. There are numerous ways we can ‘practice’ to realize this emptiness, but there is a danger that we ‘practice’ with ego, becoming attached to the practices themselves, forcing and striving to achieve these states. This struggling against the current of the natural, this shouldering and manipulation and grasping by religious means, is perhaps burying our true nature even more deeply.

It is interesting and at the same time quite shocking that human beings often long to wipe clean the slate of their beings, to erase everything so that they can be reborn, totally transformed. Many of us view our thinking as flawed so we block it, hide it away; we experience a frisson of guilt at having such thoughts and then bury them, perhaps forever. But it is possible to just let our thoughts appear, let them surface as detritus or debris in water. We do not need to condemn ourselves for having so-called bad thoughts, in the same way as we do not condemn ourselves for having so-called good thoughts.

It is impossible to wipe the slate of our human existence and our spirit entirely clean, unless we synthesize amnesia or undergo brain-washing. Instead, we can adapt and accept – making the effort to free the flow of the water of our life. We are essentially formless exactly like water; in its natural state it flows wherever it wants to, wherever it can. Sometimes over-zealous practice can freeze that flow, fixing our nature into a glacier. Emptiness is the free flow of our waters, which are healing and cleansing, refreshing and exuberant. pouring water

As stated earlier, once we did not need to make an effort to keep our divine flame alight by spiritual practice. We were truly living out our original nature, flowing freely, merging with the fluid natures of those around us in loving harmony. Then, we learned to utilize the intellectual mind to interfere in this natural process, and our blindness began, leading us to go our own egocentric way towards the secular and personal power.

We may meditate, we may reflect, we may take empowerments and initiations, we may doggedly follow the letter of our teacher’s advice, but we must not lose sight of the truth, the suchness, which is deep inside ourselves, inside our stupa. We must not rule out the possibility that our ancestors were divine beings who handed on their divinity through the generations to us, and that in simply being, sitting with ourselves exactly as we are, that spark will burst into joyful flame once again.

We may see ourselves solely as followers of a teaching, of a guru, but being a follower implies that we are separate and different from our spiritual guide, and thus we are separate from the Buddha’s eternal presence, the Dharmakaya.

In Chapter 23 of the final teachings, Bodhisattva Lion’s Roar, the Buddha teaches the importance of observing the holy precepts, of entering into holy meditation, and of acquiring holy wisdom by first stating what they are not, an approach fashionable among religious teachers at that time:

Holy Precepts are not embraced:

  • for your own happiness
  • for the sake of profit or worldly affairs
  • out of fear that you may fall into the lower realms of suffering
  • to avoid encountering danger or unhappiness
  • to avoid being punished
  • to avoid damage to your reputation

Holy Meditation should not be practiced:

  • for your own enlightenment and benefit
  • for your own safety
  • to avoid negative things such as greed, being free from impurities, etc
  • to avoid disputes and physical violence

Holy wisdom cannot be acquired with the following thoughts: If I become wise I shall:

  • be able to liberate myself and escape the suffering realms, as no human can liberate all beings from the sufferings of birth and death
  • be able to become enlightened quickly, eliminating all delusions now I have encountered the Buddha, which is as rare as the blooming of an udambara flower (blooming once every 3000 years
  • be able to overcome the agonies of birth, aging, sickness, death and shine a light on my spiritual darkness

When we are truly practicing for the sake of others, we are not conscious of the form of wisdom, or meditation, or even the words of the precepts, for they are our true nature. The very fact that the precepts have been etched into texts, and have to be committed to memory, is testament to how isolated from the divine we have become. We do not have to be self-conscious of them. They are housed in our stupa, integral to our ancient unconscious minds, embedded in the body of the iceberg. Following is the aspiration of a truly divine being:

As one with wisdom, I wish to carry the burden of the inexpressible agony of all beings on my shoulders. I wish to remove people’s poverty, crudeness, insidious desire, and to soak up their poisons of greed, anger, and ignorance. I implore people to let go of their greed and lust, and not be bound by their desire to have a good reputation and respect. I wish to free people from the cycle of birth and death, but will stay in that cycle myself to guide every last one to Nirvana. I wish every sentient being to attain ‘perfect universal enlightenment,’ and to recognize and cherish their divine origins and missions.

Kannon

Kannon                                                                            

With each breath, each blink of the eye, each thought as it arises, we are a Buddha, an awakened one, firmly here in the centre of this moment. We are each flawless, inspirational, universal beings. We should look no further, for we are the divine if we allow ourselves to be.