Going Beyond : Buddhist and Cathar

self-knowledge 1

I have recently written a book based on my experience of Catharism while living in the remote Pyrenees, south-eastern France. The title is ‘Veil’ and it is in fictional format, but actually it is a work of creative non-fiction. In other words, it actually happened to me and to my partner at the time. You can watch the short video explaining a little more about it in a general sense here. But in the wider context of Buddhism I would like to elaborate.

As mentioned in the articles I have made into a portfolio on this site, and am busy making into a non-fiction book to be released in July this year, 2015,  called Buddhists and Cathars and the People of the Earth, I have been chosen to lead a revival of the Medieval mystical sect of Christians known as Les Bonnes or Les Parfaits. Many people may consider that I have jumped ship and am turning my back on my Buddhist training and benefits, but this is not the case as I am not a benefit-seeker.

To qualify that term ‘benefit-seeker’ a little more, I am not looking for personal benefit from my spiritual seeking. I live in Japan where I am surrounded by Buddhists who pay homage to numerous and varied deities and put great energy into practising and donating simply in order to receive benefits for themselves and their loved ones.  This way of seeking is rooted in superstition and goes way back to the original religion of Japan, Shinto. A clapping of hands accompanied with a bow while standing in front of an image, or the throwing of a coin into an offering box placed before the deity, is meant to bring good fortune in a land where fortune-telling is still a valid way of looking into the past and the future. Of course, this kind of activity is wonderful as long as we are not attached to it. The deities and holy energies exist unconditionally to balance and harmonize – we do not need to bribe them by begging and offering. If we are not separate from them, we merge into that balance and harmony.

Of course, this kind of superstition is practised across the world and the world’s religions. Humans in their fearful helpless mode, recognise that there is something greater and so as they navigate samsara, the world of transience and suffering, they offer money or food and drink in return for constant and helping power. I have ceased to do this recently because instead I offer myself and my human life in all its aspects. I no longer need a witness, a public moment of dedication, and I make no distinction between myself and all beings, my life and that of all sentient beings.

Beliefs are a type of thought, and I have ceased that kind of thinking, because I have woken up to the fact that my so-called beliefs make me either separate from others, or bring me closer to those with the same beliefs. In either case, I exclude someone by such a thought. Beliefs serve to separate us from others and from the spiritual/invisible world. As the Cathar Creed for The Church of Love, strongly advises, ‘It’s members shall know each other by their deeds and being, and by their eyes and by no other outward sign save the fraternal embrace.’

The Cathars were Buddhists, just as Moslems are Christians, and Sikhs are Taoists. There is no difference between these subdivisions! Can you remember or imagine a time when the human race started out and had only one faith; it is said that in this Golden Age, the gods were not separate because they walked among us. Diversity and pluralism create too many options to choose from until the point where everything becomes splintered and we feel we are forced to choose. Some choose not to have any beliefs, but surely that also creates a separation. I am the Buddhist and Cathar teachings. I embody them.

I do not choose. Instead I listen. Buddhist and Cathar teachings found me, and they are merely a means whereby. In other words, they have brought me to this very place where I can say I simply ‘am’ like the trees and flowers, the animals and other natural organisms.   I no longer use my thoughts to contrive beliefs according to a particular guru or doctrine. I am cradled in my being. My altar or butsdudan (Japanese home altar) is my life. I live it, breathing and smiling and loving unconditionally.

The Buddha taught me that I must go beyond all form, all thinking. I have no need for benefits to be bestowed. One teacher asked me why I believed in the Buddha and his power, and I answered that I just did. He said, ‘but the Buddha is beyond all form, so please stop blocking your own formlessness by imposing images. Turf all images and thoughts away to take up your proper place standing in the Cosmic Stream.’ He had realised ’emptiness’ at the time, and I had not.

Going beyond! Disposing of all blocks so that the friction which causes us to stop, to get stuck, does not occur. This smooth eternal flowing of being and beings, without beginning or end, is beyond Nirvana, the ceasing of all craving.  It is beyond words, so I must not say more.

My gratitude is eternal to all my teachers whatever they taught me. But now there are no more lessons because my mind and my body are not separate from the Great Truth.

incense smoke

 

Article 10: All Rivers Flow into One Ocean

the moon

This is the last article in a series of 10 devoted to presenting the little known Nirvana Teachings, the final instructions of the Buddha given from his deathbed. The series has looked at various fundamentals for all Buddhist practice: Buddha Nature; Emptiness; The True Self; Chunda and the possibility of anyone whether lay or monastic reaching Nirvana and going beyond it within their lifetime; the importance of the mystical; how to get to the Land Immovable; the importance of and truth about meditation; and the eternal existence of the Buddha’s teachings in the Dharmakaya, or Body of the Dharma. In this article, I would like to go beyond all duality to a situation in which all paths of faith unite into one enormous ocean, the great ocean of Nirvana, by alluding to my recent personal experience brought about by practicing the Nirvana teachings for the last 9 years.

Dharmakaya 1We are often told by our masters to accept everything as practice. At first, it is impossible to understand this in logical terms. Should we walk away from injustice or unfairness? Should we lie down and get trodden on by bullies, corporate giants or dictatorial organizations? Should we tightly control ourselves and behave like robots? How can we accept everything and every situation when we are up to our neck in the delusions of samsara? When we look at this instruction logically it does seem enigmatic, but of course, it is connected to the mystical aspects of Buddhahood which range far outside any logic or reasoning.

Recently, through meditation training and dealing with everyday life as a lay practitioner, I have found myself in a difficult place, which is a challenge to describe, but I will try. The following may not be logical or comprehensible to your rational mind because it is based in the spiritual or tantric, but it may touch something in your heart.

We are taught that profound gratitude and humility are central to reaching Nirvana or complete liberation. Repentance and confession are also deemed important. We are also warned that we should continue to practice one teaching with one master. We can understand that constancy and mindfulness in every second of our existence will help us to overcome our shortcomings so that we can move closer to realizing the Bodhisattva ideal and releasing ourselves from all cravings.clairvoyrant Buddha

All of these elements of practice are important, but I believe that one can easily become attached to practice and be unaware of it. In my case, I think that has happened recently.

When we have practiced in earnest a great deal there may come a time to be less self-conscious of our practice. It is important to remember that 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 spiritually awake, not slumbering and responding blindly to delusions by becoming attached. The notion of uchu-Apractice in modern English implies doing or acting, but in post 15th century it often alluded to a profession, e.g. medicine or law, implying that a skill had to be performed repeatedly in order to perfect it. Gradually, the practical or ordinary human attitude prevailed as we moved increasingly further and further away from the divine. Finally, in our present degenerate times, we so-called developed people are so tightly wedged into secular lives that we have to obsessively practice in order to make perhaps faint contact with our remote higher selves, our connection with the divine.breath

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 the word ‘spiritual’ relates to the invisible world or some kind of universal truth. It is doubtful that spirit needs practice in the same way as humans do – using determination and physical power to overcome adversity, to acquire skills and knowledge which requires intellectual effort and often repetition. The spirit can transcend effortlessly through mystical connections. Spiritualis in medieval Latin meant ‘of or pertaining to breath, breathing, wind or air.’ It relates well then with ‘aspiration,’ another term for religious effort. Aspiration implies breathing, raising; whereas effort is a human quality. Perhaps we aspire to instantly recognizing our true nature, our true spirit or energy, and we make efforts to live in a compassionate balanced way, aiming to create harmony in our communities.

So today, we must deliberately and self-consciously reposition the spiritual at the centre of our lives as it once was in order to excel as human beings or Bodhisattvas. In my case, I feel I have through dogged habituation reduced my ‘practice’ to human effort made from human motivation, so quite suddenly I found it necessary to stop practicing and to carefully examine my motivation. By ceasing my strenuous daily practice I immediately felt a huge release, which served as proof that I had in some way been practicing for practising’s sake.

blink

Another factor in arriving at this watershed in my process of transformation relates to the Tibetan Spiritual leader, the Dali Lama. The last 20 years have seen a great deal of suffering among Tibetan practitioners as a result of the ban on the practice of Dorje Shugden, Dharma Protector, as spirit worship proclaimed by the Dali Lama himself. As a Tibetan Buddhist I briefly experienced this practice, and many of my friends are in turmoil as a result of it. This is without doubt a strong sign of the disintegration of the Dharma predicted by various Holy Beings over time, and it has deeply disturbed me.

Dorje Shugden

Dorje Shugden, Dharma Protector

It seems that our age of seething diversity and the gratification of the senses mentioned above, has become compounded by this unjustifiable and high-handed behavior of one of the greatest spiritual leaders of our time. The inflicting of such a breach on good Buddhists, of leaving them high and dry without their protector, is harsh and intolerable and I believe meant to shake all our foundations of faith. Can one of the chief exponents of the Buddha Dharma defy his own gurus and actually intentionally destroy it? Such acts force us to look at our faith, to place ourselves on one side or the other of the arguments. They test our unconditional compassion and our pacifism as Buddhists.

To try to see clearly, I went on brief retreat at the beach full of a mixture of my new freedom and my concerns for the survival of the Dharma. There where the sky and the ocean meet I realised that everything was one and I too was one with it. It was a remarkable moment during which everything and everyone in my life suddenly merged into one, which I recognized as the Dharmakaya, or God, or the Universal source, call it what you may. In this state, there was no separation at all, and no questions. I deeply understood that I was not separate from or different to my gurus, especially the Dali Lama, or the range of my spiritual teachers across the religious gamut, and that I was deeply loved and blessed by all the holy beings exactly as I was. I no longer had to arduously strip away all the badness and imperfections, but simply rest still in the great silence. In that state, I could see clearly that the Dali Lama’s behavior was my behavior too.

all rivers flow into the ocean

The vast ocean of Nirvana was there before my eyes, and all the rivers of the faiths I have been connected to in my life filled with diversity, were flowing freely into it. I have never been more convinced that all faiths are one and should become one again as they once were. Imagine all the people of the world as divine beings of one faith, one heart, one mind, with united sacred missions. This is how people lived in the Golden Era long before the deterioration into diversity and secularization that we witness today, and long before the Buddha Shakyamuni or Tibetan Buddhism’s foundation.

In Chapter 23 of the final teachings, Bodhisattva Lion’s Roar, the Buddha teaches the importance of observing the Holy Precepts (laws of moral discipline), of entering into Holy Meditation, and of acquiring Holy Wisdom by first stating what they are not – an approach fashionable among religious teachers in India at that time:

Holy Precepts are not practiced:

  • 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 precepts, for they are our true nature. We do not have to be self-conscious of them. They are housed in our stupa, (a repository of holy relics) integral to our ancient unconscious minds. Through sincere practice in each moment of our lives combined with the ripening of past karma I believe we may reach a point where the massive storehouse of all our experience of visible and invisible worlds, outside the limitations of the artificial concepts of time and space, is purified or transformed to enable our foundations to no longer be undermined. That day on the beach I had the sensation that the tiniest grain of gravel preventing my foundations from sinking squarely into the earth was removed. I felt the unwavering heart of eternity beating in my chest along with huge compassion for the Dali Lama, his exiled people and all practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism across the world..

I believe that in my busy householder’s life I had practiced intermittently in form only with the vague idea that as long as I completed the ‘targets’ of my practice, I would not fall off the path or from grace. This is an entirely human way of practicing. I had forgotten my solemn vow as follows, and misplaced the joy of living a life filled with the blessings of all holy beings.

‘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 wishes, and to soak up their poisons of greed, anger, and ignorance. I implore people to let go of their greed and lust, and not to 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.’

spiritual practice

So, through the ever-presence I have once more experienced the flooding of pure joy into my being. My divine spark is flaming steadily again, and when I do practice it is done with my total sincerity. In other words, my practice is not separate from me, and it is for the most part formless as I go about my busy life.

With each breath, each blink of the eye, each thought as it arises, we are a Buddha, an awakened one, here in the centre of the moment. We are each flawless, inspirational and universal beings. We should look no further, for we are the divine. To make our Buddha or True Nature shine for the sake of others should be our true mission.

Interfaith Harmony and Unity

Interfaith Harmony and Unity

 

The next series of posts will be called ‘Beyond Dualism’ and will explore the works of Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986) – Indian philosopher; Moshe Feldenkrais(1904-1984) – movement specialist; and F.M.Alexander (1869-1955) – body re-education specialist, in the light of Buddhism. They were three free thinkers who glimpsed something beyond duality and greatly touched my life and my faith.

Krishnamurti

Moshe Feldenkrais

Moshe Feldenkrais

F.M.Alexander

F.M.Alexander

Article 9: Becoming the Dharmakaya

spiritual practice 1

So far in this series of articles based on the final teachings of the Buddha, the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, the focus has been the final instructions the Buddha gives before he dies. For this article however, I would like to write more generally about broader notions of spiritual practice from my experience as a long-term Buddhist practitioner moving systematically through the early, middle and later teachings, and reaching the last teachings in the evening of my life. But also from the point of view of all spiritual practices, their forms, the motivation behind them, and the fundamental reason for their existence.

The sad parting of the historical Buddha Shyakyamuni 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 end 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 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. It is often proclaimed in the Buddhist sutras and scriptures of other religious traditions, that a spiritual leader appears in the human dimension when people have all but lost their spiritual direction. I believe that his presence as a model was desperately needed in an ancient India which was gripped by war and power-mongering. 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.

anceint IndiaIt is interesting and inspirational to consider what ordinary people were like going about their daily lives in the early periods of so-called ‘civilisation.’ In what was known as the 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 endowed with a divine flame, an indestructible link with the sacred; that, unlike today, in the Latter Era of the Dharma or Law, when our societies are in serious decline and our karmic debts on a colossal scale, we were originally sacred beings, with natural faith born of our closeness to the divine.

The situation in ancient India was similar in Ancient Greece where the gods were constantly present, tangible, as they were in greek godsmany other European civilizations. In other areas of the world, we can see today that surviving indigenous peoples, e.g. native Americans and Australians, unexploited African tribes, et al, also live in the constant presence of their divine creation heoresbeings, their Creation Heroes as they are often known.

So, when the gods lived among us, our divine spark was burning brightly. We were awake, not slumbering and responding blindly to delusions as most of us are today. We had not yet retreated into the self-made cavern of our ego-minds, and did not habitually block and interfere with natural processes. There was no need to assert our ego in the form of opinions or flattery, deceiving or telling lies, etc., because we had not yet become attached to and distracted by gratification: our intents were pure and rooted deep in the sacred. Unlike in modern life, we had no need to practice to wake ourselves up with perpetual meditation and mindfulness, an endless schedule of rituals and goals and empowerments. Our spirits simply were, and so they wore the weight of the human form with ease. As mentioned above, our karma was also pure, virgin and untarnished, so its negative form did not ripen forcing us to behave in a delusional way or to manifest illness or suffering, which is often the case today.

Imagine the world of ancient India then, long before the Buddha’s appearance. This was his legacy, and so witnessing the clairvoyrant Buddhadeterioration around him, his last teachings were intended to prepare us for the deterioration we witness in today’s world, which he predicated 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 as it 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.’

Dharmakaya 2In 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 Dharmakaya (see previous article Dharmakaya at http://wp.me/p3O6mn-4P), 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 and so not possible to perceive. 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 in 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.’

stupaThis is testament to our divine origins, to our inclinations towards the good and moral, to kindness and compassion, which I believe are 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.

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.

transformationIt 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. I have learned to let my thoughts appear, let them surface as detritus or debris in water. I do not condemn myself for having so-called bad thoughts in the same way as I do not condemn myself for having so-called good thoughts.

It is impossible to wipe the slate of our human existence and our spirit entirely clean; 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 in a glacier. purityEmptiness is the free flow of our waters. They are healing and cleansing, refreshing and exuberant. They are not made to flow by our human effort alone, but by our spiritual permission.

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 are misguided in learning 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 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, and that by simply being, by sitting with ourselves exactly as we are, that spark will burst into joyful flame once again.

religious followersWe may see ourselves merely as followers of a teaching, of a guru, but being a follower may imply 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 observing the holy precepts, entering into holy meditation, and acquiring holy wisdom by first stating what they are not:

Holy Precepts are not observed:

• 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

meditation then wisdomWhen we are truly practicing for the sake of others, we are not conscious of the form of wisdom, or meditation, or even the precepts, for they are our true nature. We do not have to be self-conscious of them. They are housed in our stupa, integral to our ancient unconscious minds. This 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.’

breath

With each breath, each blink of the eye, each thought as it arises, we are a Buddha, here in the centre of this blink

moment. We are each flawless, inspirational, universal beings. We should look no further

for we are the divine.

 

universal beings

(My deep gratitude to Karen Armstrong for her masterpiece ‘The Great Transformation’ (2005, Anchor Books) which taught me so much about the ages of man.)

Article 8: The importance of meditation

 

Siddharta

Siddharta

In today’s stressed and frantic world, meditation is often practiced to release the mind from its never-ending dialogue and its tendencies towards negative and narrow views. This kind of meditation is often silent, sometimes guided with visualizations, and may focus on no particular religious object. It has a secular form, used to promote a serene mind amidst the adversity of Samsara. But what is the origin of meditation? Here is a brief history to show that most religious/mystical traditions have developed techniques to subdue the noise of the intellectual mind, and to connect with the mystical. It is useful also to look at the approach to life of indigenous peoples, as they use many mental techniques for understanding the invisible world and connecting with the Universe.

Dhyana

In antiquity, traditions of meditation called Dhyana (mind calming) existed in 1500 B.C.E. in ancient India. The Hindu Rishi, or seers, learned to hold themselves in a state of constant readiness to receive inspired words, which appeared in visions or from other dimensions. Thus, they had found a way of reaching into their vast unconscious minds via concentration, cutting themselves off from usual distractions of the mind in everyday life. They were connected strongly to their personal divinity, the divinity we all have which in turn connects us with the universe. In modern life, we are mostly distracted, so few of us can reach easily into the unconscious mind and access the clairvoyant skills of seeing beyond the conceptions of time and space. Techniques of deep concentration existed in ancient China, but to date, the Buddha was perhaps the first ‘seer’ to mention meditative techniques in detail. (see Pali Canon-1st century BCE).

In these pre-historic times, a need to be liberated from suffering, to be lifted away from the mundane, arose even when the gods walked among men and karmic debts were few. There were four stages involved to reach liberation: moral discipline; contemplative concentration; knowledge; and finally liberation. The Vimalakirti Sutra is perhaps the best-known Buddhist scripture devoted to the subject of meditation. Vimalakirti sutra

Ancient India was not the only centre of this practice which seemed to meet a deep need in people. In Greece, ‘spiritual exercises’ were championed by Plotinus on Mount Athos; in ancient Israel, meditation and reflection were central to studying the Hebrew Bible, the Tanach; and along the Silk Roads, as Buddhism was transmitted, meditation was adopted enthusiastically in China to later become the basis of the Zen tradition.

In the Middle Ages, in the 8th century, Dosho brought Buddhism from China to Japan, and created the first Meditation Hall in Nara. Then Dogen established the Zazen style of meditation in 1227. In Eurasia, Jewish traditions utilized Kabbalistic prayers and insight techniques, while the Sufis (Islāmic mystics) began breathing control and the repetition of Holy Words in 11th century. Orthodox Eastern Christian traditions perfected sitting postures for meditation, but in general, Christianity did not wholly adopt meditative techniques. They favoured reflection on Holy Texts. The Lectio Divina consisted of 4 stages: lection, meditation, oratio, Doshocontemplatio. In 16th century however, Ignatitius Loyala and St Teresa of Avila did reach states of ecstasy as a result of meditation or single-pointed concentration. From 18th century onwards, Buddhism became a subject of philosophical interest and Yoga traditions, and Transcendental Meditation became highly acclaimed.

From the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, Milarepa (1040-1123) is inspiring on the subject of meditation. He was born into a rich family, but his greedy aunts and uncles schemed and took everything away from his parents. As a result of their poverty, his mother begged Milarepa to learn black magic and put a curse on them, bringing about the death of several people. Milarepa, understanding well the laws of karma, was terrified of the consequences of his evil deeds, so searched frantically for a spiritual teacher to help him. He found Marpa, who instructed him to live in a cave and practice solitary meditation, and as a result, he attained full enlightenment in his lifetime, which was a rarity in Tibet at the time. Here is an excerpt from his view on meditation.

‘Look up into the sky, and practise meditation free from fringe and center. Milarepa

Look up at the sun and moon, and practise meditation free from bright and dim.

Look over the mountains, and practise meditation free from departing and changing.

Look down at the lake, and practise meditation free from waves.

Look here at your mind, and practice meditation free from discursive thought.’

(Religious Biography of the Master Milarepa, pp 49)

When looking at the history of this type of life practice, we can see that humans desired to be close to the beings of higher consciousness, perhaps regretting their departing from the suffering world. These beings embodied the singular truth of existence, beyond duality and the petty concerns of the self. They had risen above the consequences and concept-bound games of acting as a human being in the world, to become the formless embodiment of Truth, the Great Truth of the universe. So-called mortals, those trapped in samsara, wished to emulate them and so be liberated from the steady encroachment of the ordinary mind.

Buddha's first meditationOne day 2600 years ago, the Buddha in the human form of the young Prince Siddhartha, accompanied his father King Shuddhodana to an agricultural festival to celebrate an Earth deity. It was Spring and a golden plough turned the earth ready for planting seeds. It was at this time that he noticed a small bird pecking at a worm turned up by the plough, and he felt pain in his heart that most living creatures kill each other to feed. On feeling this sadness, he promptly left public view to hide in a secluded grove. It was here that he entered into a deep meditative state, and attained the fourth dhyana, which allowed him to see everything objectively with equanimity. It is said that during this time, although the shadows were shifting as the sun sank in the sky, the tree he sheltered under continued to shade him to keep him cool. His father praised him saying that his countenance was like a flaming torch on a mountain summit in a dark night.

During the Buddha Shyakamuni’s ministry, meditation was an essential element taught to his disciples. He warned that it was totally ineffectual if practiced in a self-serving way. In other words, it must be a state of total mindfulness, of pure faith, fully concerned with the well-being of others, of protecting the Dharma, and being able to perceive one’s own Buddha Nature and that of others (see article 2 ‘Buddha Nature’ at http://wp.me/p3O6mn-bx). He also indicated that if we are truly practicing for the sake of others, then meditation is not a self-conscious state but completely without form. We are not aware of either what it is to be meditating, or what the outcome of the meditation may be. Another way of looking at this is that the greatest form of meditation will only come about if we pursue it with no notion of acquiring anything; and this is what separates it away from prayer in which we supplicate or beg or earnestly request something. True meditation is completely empty (see article 3 ‘Emptiness’ at: http://wp.me/p3O6mn-ck).emptiness

Detailed instructions on correct meditation were given by the Buddha to his half-brother, Nanda. This is the final metaphor he uses:

‘When one washes dirt from gold, one first gets rid of the largest pieces of dirt, and then the smaller ones, and having cleaned it one is left with pieces of pure gold. In the same way, in order to attain liberation, one should discipline the mind, first washing away the coarser faults, and then the smaller ones, until one is left with pure pieces of dharma.’ (Saundarananda chs. 14, 15)

When he was a weak old man, as he delivered his final instructions from his deathbed, which later took the written form of the mighty Mahaparinirvana Sutra, he proclaimed that it was impossible to understand correctly what happens in everyday life without entering into a meditative state. Without meditation, it was probable that we would become deluded, uttering the wrong words, going down the wrong path of faith, and would be unlikely to receive enough merit meditation then wisdomand blessings to reach enlightenment.

‘First there is meditation; and then there is wisdom.’

In the tradition of Shinnyo Buddhism, my Master, Shinjo Ito, interpreted the final teachings on meditation given from the Sala Grove in a unique way once they became the central scripture of the teachings. The Buddha gives many allusions to the power of meditation to take us to enlightenment, and as mentioned earlier, it should not be self-conscious if it truly is a meditative state. Thus, our sangha has been taught to meditate without ceasing, not only in serene sitting posture; this is the interpretation of mindfulness. Here are the eight comparisons Buddha makes:

First, the eradication of invasive weeds, is most effective if the gardener works methodically, removing all the roots of the weeds. So, with mindfulnessmindfulness at every moment of our lives out in worldly life, we can develop wisdom, and when every weed, every shortcoming or delusion is removed, we will become enlightened.

Taking a deep-rooted tree out of the ground is more easily accomplished if the ground around the roots is first shaken loose. We must undermine our doubts and delusions through meditation; and then pull out the tree with our wisdom.

When washing a dirty cloth, we should first wash it in detergent (ash water at the Buddha’s time), then rinse it with clear water to thoroughly cleanse it. Meditation is the cleaning agent, and pure water the wisdom.

When trying to understand a text, first we must read it and recite it so that its meaning can be understood. Meditation is the reading several times and the reading aloud; wisdom is the understanding and overall meaning the words convey.

armour of meditationIf a warrior wishes to defeat his enemy, first he must fit himself out with armour and then defend himself with weapons. Meditation is the fitting of armour; wisdom is engaging with the enemy. Thus meditation is a protection.

A skilled metal worker first makes his metal molten in a pot on the fire, then he uses tongs to stir and shape the object he is making. Meditation is the melting or reduction of everything; wisdom the reshaping.

Next, the Buddha says,

‘O good disciples! An untarnished mirror clearly reflects one’s face and body. The same applies to meditation and wisdom of Bodhisattvas. (see previous article ‘Bodhisattvas’:http://wp.me/p3O6mn-6r).’ Meditation is looking into the mirror; wisdom is being able to see the blemishes and change them.

Finally, farmers plough the ground and then plant the seeds, as students first learn from their teacher and then study more deeply the ploughingmeaning of what they have been taught. Meditation is receiving the teachings; the wisdom is the meaning.

So, meditation is not only the stillness and silence of sitting. We can meditate in every moment of our life using the tools of mindfulness and reflection, and such application in normal daily life, is a speedy way to reach Nirvana, the state of true emptiness. In the Shinnyo tradition we are greatly helped in cleansing our Buddha Nature through the power of sesshin, which means in Japanese ‘to touch upon the essence.’ We practice two types of sesshin (meditation): structured or formal sesshin, and unstructured or informal sesshin.

In structured sesshin, a spiritual guide (reinosha) gives Holy meditationpersonal spiritual words which are then reflected on and put into practice. This is made possible through the Shinnyo spiritual faculty and the essence of the Mahaparinirvana Sutra. Unstructured sesshin is the application of this holy guidance in daily life, combined with the aspiration for enlightenment and awakening to insights or messages which surround us, thanks to the Dharma Protectors and the ever-presence of Buddha and our gurus from the spiritual world.

These are the final instructions the Buddha gave on holy meditation. Practising in this way in every moment of life is a pursuit of great joy. We can take a complete rebirth of the heart and realize how flexible our minds are, and how thinking is just one small part of the mental continuum. Indigenous peoples often live in this state not limited by concepts, and as a result, they are not separate in anyway from the Universe. In my experience, they remain close to their divine origins. They are above all ‘spirit made human,’ and aspiring constantly to live in harmony with nature, as the gods of antiquity did.

fire sticks

 

Article 9: Becoming the Body of the Teachings.

Article 7: The Land Immovable

immovable immovable 1

The assembly of distinguished monks and dignitaries under the twin Sala trees implored the Buddha for his final instructions and blessings about how bodhisattvas in the Land Immovable (in Nirvana) attain wisdom and become masters of great virtue. He states them from the clarity of his pure treasure mind, stipulating exactly those who may be reborn in the Land Immovable (Nirvana).

The important requirements are:

  • not to harm any living being
  • to abide by the precepts
  • to accept the Buddha’s teachings without question
  • to not steal from others but instead to give to others indiscriminately

He then gives instructions for living in human life and not monastic, which as we saw from the last article, was a departure from all previous teachings aimed at monastics. But now, by accepting lay Chunda’s offering and praising his sincerity above his knowledge or religious practice, he broadens the field so that all beings may become enlightened to Nirvana.

Chunda

He cites the building of living quarters and lodges for monastic practitioners, and the creation of Buddha images. If great joy is taken in these undertakings it is a sure way to be reborn. And those who do not seek worldly profit, or harbour fears or tell lies about themselves or others, are good candidates. Those who do not hurt or harm teachers of the Dharma, stay away from unwholesome circles, and try to harmonise with everyone they come into contact with in their interactions, will become enlightened. The Buddha stresses the importance of choosing and saying proper words to the appropriate people at all times.

reciting sutrasHe wishes his disciples to be able to stand whole-heartedly in the shoes of others, to share their pain and their joy, and for them to avoid making others worry or suffer through their behaviour. Also, to speak always in a kind way to their parents, and to avoid having wrong views of life in general. Reciting sutras every day for the welfare of others, and observing the precepts (8 precepts- the usual 5 and the 3 monastic precepts on certain days of the month) are essential.

legacyThen he implores his disciples not to violate the precepts in daily life, or to mingle with those who violate them, and he strongly requests that they should speak sternly to anyone who slanders the sutras. All Buddhist paraphernalia should be protected and cherished, and the ground around monasteries should be cleaned regularly. Those who give their wealth to Dharma teachers, and copy and recite the profound teachings of all Buddhas will, without doubt, be born again in the Land Immovable.

This is the legacy that the fading Buddha leaves, entrusting it to his disciples, and instructing them to go forwards into the future, scrupulously handing down the wisdom and compassion to their own disciples so that the Dharma can be preserved forever. This is also the legacy that we have been handed from our gurus and masters today. It has been flawlessly transmitted through the lineages and adapted to new cultures and epochs. Today, in the 21st century, Buddhists follow his last instructions still, though various schools emphasize earlier teachings.

turtleIt is a truly marvelous and auspicious privilege to be connected to the Buddhadharma, and especially so today when the beings in the world are mostly intent upon satisfying their own self-centred needs. To repeat a sentiment from an earlier article, encountering the Buddha’s teachings is tantamount to a sea turtle poking it’s head through a hole in a piece of drift-wood on the surface of a vast ocean (see Hearing the Dharma article). I personally could have no physical connection with Buddhism in working class northern Britain, and yet I heard a radio feature in my childhood introducing the rareness of encountering the Buddha’s teachings, and so developed an aspiration to find the Buddha and his Dharma. You can read more about my spiritual journey into Buddhism in ‘My Path So Far.” (see may article, http://wp.me/P3O6mn-i)

In respect of Holy Precepts, Holy meditation, and Holy wisdom, the Buddha a little later goes on to advise against straying from the correct path. He benefit seekerswarns that the precepts are to be followed for the happiness of others, not primarily our own, so that the Dharma may be protected for eternity. Neither must we vow to keep the precepts out of fear of falling into the lower realms of existence. They should not be practiced in order to gain benefits and to access the superb power to be liberated from all happiness. He warns too about not mindlessly heeding the precepts in order to avoid damage to your reputation.

True practice of the precepts then is to generate Bodhicitta, the force which will liberate all beings from suffering and protect and uphold the Dharma and the Dharma still to come, to enlighten the unenlightened, and coax people back to the sacred, their natural state. In one respect, as chronological time moves in a linear way always forward, we humans are getting further and further away from our original state of Grace. Once, before the Buddha’s time, Indian having already started to decline when he started to teach in this way, the divine was near at hand. It is said that in the Golden Era, the gods walked among men so there was no distance between the secular and the sacred, no dualism. All beings were sacred and quickly attained enlightenment. Nowadays, many of us are far from the sacred, and the divine spark which we are all blessed with, is virtually extinguished. We need to approach the sacred once again and polish our true nature. (see my article, http://wp.me/p3O6mn-cF)

Gaia

He also tells his disciples that those who truly abide by the precepts are not aware consciously of doing so. When they are sincerely practicing for the liberation of all sentient beings at every possible moment, their practice is not self-conscious. In other words, they are not aware they are doing anything special or unusual. They have naturally connected with their divine nature and are able to accept everything that occurs in their lives with natural practiceequanimity, and to live with sincere joy.

In terms of Holy Meditation, his instructions are also very clear. Again, if the motivation to meditate is to achieve one’s own enlightenment and to gain benefits, then this is not the correct way. If, on the other hand, the aspirant is practicing for the sake of other beings or the protection of the Dharma, and to stay away from the impurities of the body, greed, disputes, and physical violence, then this is the correct way. Focused meditation in these last teachings is defined as ‘altruistic action that benefits others.’

Another way of expressing this is through mindfulness. If we practice mindfulness at every moment of our daily lives as householders, we can: preventfor the sake of others regression into lower states of mind; have pure faith; work for the sake of others; protect the precious Dharma; encourage all beings to aspire to become enlightened; be free from delusions; achieve an unwavering state of mind; acquire merit by reciting dharanis (mantras); be able to expound the Dharma freely; and finally, to perceive our Buddha Nature or True Nature.

It is clear that the motivation or intent to meditate must be pure. It should be conducted at an unconscious level, without attention to form or even to be aware of meditating, and certainly to have no outcomes in mind. If our conscious state shifts when we meditate, approaching a state of emptiness, then we can truly connect with the flawless Dharma stream directly to the Buddha, the Dharmakaya or body of the unconscious mindteachings.

Holy Wisdom follows a similar vein. It should not be conscious or self-serving. If the aspirant is seeking an aim to or level of wisdom, then they will never acquire ultimate wisdom. True wisdom is closely dovetailed with compassion. We can vow to take on the agony and suffering of others, to release them from their negative wrong views and from the cycle of perpetual rebirth in the lower realms. The wise are able to put aside their own needs and wishes entirely and be willing to stay in samsara expressly to help to liberate others who are trapped in their delusions. In conclusion, the wise wish all beings to attain perfect universal enlightenment – in Sanskrit – anuttara-samyak-sambodai-shin.

If we are truly wise, we do not recognize the acquisition or form of that wisdom. There should be no conditions placed on attaining wisdom. We train wholly for the sake of others, and eventually the mundane ego-mind entirely disappears. To put this more succinctly, someone who observes the precepts, meditates in the fashion described, and acquires wisdom unknowingly, is called a Bodhisattva. (see my article -http://wp.me/p3O6mn-6r)    Kannon

As an aspirant myself, I try to abide by this advice. I have found it useful to keep the following in mind when aspiring. To help us to aspire in the right way, we might remember that our origin, before our appearance in the physical dimension as a human of flesh and blood, was spirit. And when our human body decays, as the Buddha’s did, we will return to the spirit world. We take on the form of a human being to learn how to become a Bodhisattva, how to become consistently compassionate and unconditionally loving. We can easily connect with our spiritual pathway if we open our hearts and empty our minds, then devote ourselves to the Bodhisattva’s Way for the sake of all sentient beings.

spirit origins

 

Article 8: The Importance of Meditation.

Article 6: the Mystical

spiritual practice

As practitioners of any religious discipline, we can fill our lives with spiritual practice: serving others without expectations of them serving us. We can give of our wealth and time to others without expecting anything in return. We can share the Dharma with as many people as possible without expecting them to listen attentively or understand. We can chant regularly from the heart and adopt the sutras and teachings as our guidance in daily life. Of course, all of the Buddha’s disciples were engaged totally in such practices by the time he lay down in the Sala grove to pass into Parinirvana, many of them enlightened or very close to it.

wake up to the universe

However, as human beings marooned in samsara, distracted by self-serving needs and ego, the Buddha felt his spiritually elevated disciples had become complacent, even arrogant, their joy muted. Perhaps it is possible to become too attached to a lifetime of dedicated practice, and feel that we are doing all we possibly can to reach enlightenment. The Buddha wanted to wake them up to new insights, to ignite their exultation once again. Chunda, on the other hand, as we saw in the last article, was wide-awake by comparison. He was a simple beginner with a sincere heart who recognized and was in awe of the Buddha, and wanted to bring his friends to mark his passing into Great Nirvana. It was his sincerity that was impressive; a living example of Buddha Nature shining out, without training or knowledge, and without the Buddha’s direct teachings unlike his disciples. The Buddha accepted his offerings because he recognized in him his ‘true nature.’ (see my article at http://wp.me/p3O6mn-cF)

The Buddha knew his last moments were approaching and that he had to comfort and reassure his grieving disciples. During his enlightenment he had confronted the suffering of humans, and had realized that nothing could be done in actual terms to change the nature of suffering. He had gained understanding of what he called the ‘Four Noble Truths: what suffering is; what causes it; what it means to end it; and what path to follow in order to do so. Through his determination to not leave his seat until he reached Enlightenment and his deep meditation, he had shifted himself out of samsara (the world of spiritual darkness, ignorance, and other negative emotions) and passed into Nirvana, a realm where all cravings and fears cease. His focus had been greatly tested by an onslaught of terrifying delusions conjured up by Mara, the King of Delusions, but every obstacle was transformed by his empty mind in single-pointed focus, and they fell at his feet in the form of beautiful blossoms. By shifting into Nirvana, the cause for his being further reborn into samsara had been eradicated.blossom at his feet

When he first started to teach the findings of his enlightenment to others, he said,

I have now found the cause of delusion that could not be found before, and which had caused me to endlessly repeat lives of suffering. But now, I have uncovered the cause. Oh Delusion, you have been vanquished and I have entered the state of Nirvana. Where once there was delusion, there is now the wondrous balm of Nirvana.’

Then, at the end of his long ministry, the final teachings were revealed for the first time exactly to bring out the Buddha Nature (see my article) of all attending. Buddha referred to it in another memorable phrase as, ‘the hidden essence of tathagatas (fully enlightened beings), something ever-present and unchanging.’ This is the mystical universal element of the Buddha’s teachings, which he deliberately revealed before his physical death so that the body of the teachings were perfected and would live on in the Dharmakaya – the body of the Buddha’s teachings, tantamount to the Buddha’s physical body.(see my article athttp://wp.me/p3O6mn-4P)  He lists the numerous benefits of being able to encounter and hear such Dharma (see my article) at the time of his Great Parinirvana.

mystical universal

Here are just a few. He compares the Nirvana teachings to the sun, which will make any fog vanish. If the teachings reach the ears of sentient beings, all ills and unrelenting negative karma will be extinguished. Because of this final teaching, the Dharma will never cease, and the sangha (spiritual community) will overcome any obstacles. The Nirvana teachings lead to attaining ‘immeasurable merit and inexhaustible enlightenment.’

As the culmination of his human existence, this teaching was the Buddha’s final gift to the world of samsara so that all sentient beings, without discrimination, could reach Nirvana and the extinguishing of all suffering.

the moonPerhaps the most surprising and magical benefit of this teaching is that even if seekers of enlightenment cannot actually hear this wonderful Dharma, it will radiate through the 84,000 pores of their skin, and cause all beings to aspire to attaining supreme enlightenment. This is a truly mystical aspect of the teachings that had never been presented before. Once the teaching passes in through the pores of the body, the aspiration for enlightenment is strengthened in a wondrous way.

There is a mystical aspect to most religions, but when a spiritual leader dies, this is the time that certain powers are activated so that the teachings can continue onwards, and the faith of its believers is deepened and made unwavering. But, what is the mystical and why do human beings need it to deepen their faith? By its nature, the mystical is often not logical or visible to the naked eye, and concerns powers locked in the storehouse of the universe, which only the initiated can access. Some call it Universal Truth.

I myself have encountered the mystical while practicing these Nirvana Teachings. Through my training I have learned to discern signs and indications, which give me an insight into the vast invisible world of which the visible is only a tiny part, and into the past, present and future. If we view difficult or painful situations in everyday life with human eyes, then often we cannot apprehend or perhaps accept them. But if we are able to open our spiritual eyes, through practice and guidance from our Masters, then we can discern a bigger picture, more extensive conditions which have precipitated the perplexing event or situation.

sylvanusA 1st century Christian mystic Sylvanus said,

Knock upon yourself as upon a door, and walk upon yourself as on a straight road. For if you walk on that path, you cannot go astray; and when you knock on that door, what you open for yourself shall open.’

This is another mystical hint. Because we each construct the world in our own minds and we are convinced it is real, then our capacity to catch the mystical depends on our ability to step outside that construction and experience reality, experience the actual weather and quality of the air for ourselves instead of interpreting it with our minds through concepts. Therefore, the first step is to take control of our minds and touch our self-honesty, because the mystical cannot be accessed if we are not totally sincere in our beliefs and practices. As we are architects of our own worlds, we are the only ones who can deconstruct them and start to connect directly with the Universe.

architects of our worldIn the case of indigenous tribes, which as mentioned in previous article I have had direct experience of, it really is clear from they way they live their daily lives that they do not make concepts or interpret the world as we do, but instead live in direct commune with the spiritual, the mystical. In our so-called ‘developed’ civilisations, we have become distant from the sacred, the divine spark. It has been replaced by the secular, diversity, layers and layers of thinking, speculating, measuring and comparing. Indigenes live directly and retain the skills that we all once had when the gods walked among us. I have seen this with my own eyes. The Dreaming Lands of Australian aboriginals is the invisible world, it is the mystical, in which they are totally immersed. There is no duality for them as there is for us. (see my experience in Easy-Happy-Sexy which is being serialized on ValidLit.com at http://wp.me/p3PG1V-3m)

dreamtimeWe humans relate to the mystical, to the boundless and eternal, because we are originally spirit. We are born flesh in order to learn the lessons of becoming an excellent human being, who can love unconditionally and live in true happiness. We may try to convince ourselves consciously that we cannot possibly believe in something formless, invisible, which we can have little control over. But the bulk of the iceberg of consciousness that lies below the water, craves the formless, the welling up of feelings, the unwavering belief that our spirits are indestructible and pristine and bright. That goodness and light are natural; evil and darkness, the handywork of delusions; and that words are crude tools to attempt to describe the fundamental presence or ever-presence of the spirit. Human life without true awe and humility is shallow and weak, and often declines into a self-serving and limited existence. We are each inseparable from the divine.

The supreme power of the universe once extended to us weak sense-bound humans makes anything possible. In Shinnyo Buddhism, which places the Nirvana teachings at it centre, by tapping into the storehouse of power of the MahaParinirvana Sutra, my Master H.H. Shinjo Ito released 3 such powers which benefit sincere practitioners: Shouju – the power of embracement beyond barriers of culture, creed, race or religion; Saisho – compassion with no distinction between friend or foe; and Bakudaiju – which protects people from death, disease and accident.  Such transcendent powers (Skt. superstitionAbhijna) are not easily accepted by modern people who seem able to find sufficient magic in technology and science, in consciousness-altering substances, in wealth and fame. They view such phenomena with superstition.

Regarding these transcendent powers, the Buddha pointed out to his devotees that:

Since these bodhisattva-mahasattvas dwell in great nirvana, they will manifest various kinds of transcendent powers limitlessly.’

Nirvana is also the dwelling place of tathagatas, so we are able to directly experience the remarkable power that Buddhas manifest there. They can further help us to open our eyes of wisdom. This is the legacy the Buddha left as he shifted back to the spiritual source, having perfected the teachings during his time in human form and made keys available to unlock the treasure house of the MahaParinirvana Teachings.

final teachingsArticle 7: The Land Immovable

 

Article 5: Chunda

the sala grove

Under the twin sala trees, among all the dignitaries and enlightened monks gathered to say farewell to the Buddha Shyakyamuni, 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 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. Then 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, 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 clergy man 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 spiritually destitute in the same way. 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)

His 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 (see my previous article: http://wp.me/p3O6mn-64)  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 and connected him to the ever-presence. In other words, he was enlightened on the spot.

look within

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. This was a crucial part of the Buddha’s last will and testament as he moved back to the spiritual source.

monastic rules

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 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 Brahmin belief at the time.

Kushinaga

Kushinagara site, northern India

The Buddha’s acceptance of humble Chunda’s offerings was symbolic of the fact that we all are endowed with Buddha Nature (see my previous article: http://wp.me/p3O6mn-bx) 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 appreciation of the Buddha’s acceptance 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, the special Nirvana a Buddha enters. His final teachings on impermanence and detachment followed, known as the Dharmakaya (see my previous article: http://wp.me/p3O6mn-4P), which he left in place of his physical body, to be eternal and 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 (my article: my path so far – )http://wp.me/P3O6mn-i). As a young child in urban Britain, I heard this maxim on a radio program, and retained it as I searched for a way in to 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 no Buddhist friends or any contact with the religion in northern working class Britain in the sixties, and yet, I was certain that I would be like the turtle, and that one day I would find the Buddha.

Chunda is also reputed to have said in the Sala grove, to express the rareness of meeting a Buddha,

‘An udambara (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.’

udambara flower

udambara flower

The Buddha’s revelation that even lay people 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. Finally, the Nirvana teachings have found me, and I am fulfilled and engaged in normal human life while serving as a priest at the Temple.

Shinjo Ito, Great Achariya

Shinjo Ito, Great Achariya

In Japan, for historical reasons, Buddhism has been and continues to be perceived as 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 truly humble people to have the confidence to practice rituals that were once only available to the Imperial family. Kobo Daishi was responsible for single-handedly bringing Buddhism to Japan from China in 9th century, but at that time the national popular religion was Shinto. In modern times, Buddhism has become the main means of conducting funeral rites within society, but the main emphasis on Buddhism still lies in monastic practices at a distance from general society.

Shinto Priest

Shinto Priest

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 is one of our objects of devotion. It is truly inspirational. As Mahayana Buddhists, the welling up of or generating of Bhodicitta (see my article: http://wp.me/p3O6mn-6K)  – 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 Buddhhood 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.

Chunda

The Buddha’s acceptance of the final offerings of a lay householder and untouchable signaled the very final instructions, which could not be 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 a poisonous viper. 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.

Arrogant Monks at Parinirvana

Arrogant Monks at Parinirvana

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 practicing as a true Buddhist 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 (see my article: .http://wp.me/p3O6mn-6r) 

Article 4: The True Self

Gassho

The self. Buddhism in general teaches that we should dissolve the ego so that we can be sincerely altruistic and unconditionally loving of all beings. Accordingly, if we cease to be attached to our ‘self,’ which incidentally exists only in our minds, then we can be liberated from all suffering.

We all have ideals for ourselves, our image, our happiness and love, and most human beings naturally want to be popular and loved by those around them. But such an ideal can create conditions for unhappiness or disappointment if we become attached to it and manipulate those around us to believe we are something or someone that actually in all honesty we are not. We may exaggerate, or tell fascinating stories which are not wholly true, or worse, lie, in order to make people think well of us, respect us, like us. A common way of describing this is ‘to reinvent’ ourselves, building a new identity for ourselves, which we want to take all the credit for.

self

There are common misconceptions about aspiring to spiritual pathways or a spiritual life. The notion of ‘path’ tends to create the impression that we have to go somewhere moving steadily along an unknown path until we reach the end and are transformed. The idea of arriving at an unknown destination fraught with problems along the route, the travel time unknown, the certainty of arriving also unknown, appeals to the ordinary mind, which tends to become fixed and lacking in stimulation from outside. But if we accept that rather we are unique spirits traveling eternally and internally through a timeless space-less continuum until we reach the realms of the Buddhas or Gods, having learned all the lessons we need to, then it is easy to see that being born a human is difficult, and is just one small part of a process.

spirits

Our spirits manifest as flesh so that we can learn particular lessons, especially those concerning unconditional love, and so it is not a spiritual pathway we are seeking, but a human one. We are aspiring to become better, even perfect, humans, or Bodhisattvas (see previous article – https://lindenthorp.wordpress.com/2013/09/21/bodhisattva/) as Buddhists refer to them. The Nirvana Sutra teaches us that we do not have to search very far to find a perfect training ground to hone our humanity among our nearest and dearest, our professional contacts, the public at large, and in our own minds.

spiritual training

In the final teachings, the Buddha introduced a new goal for our training as humans: to attain ‘permanence, true self, bliss and purity.’  Three of these aspirations – permanence, bliss and purity – are fairly obvious, but ’true self’ might be more difficult to grasp. We become so attached to our likes and dislikes, our desires, even our character traits which other people take delight in pointing out to us, that our ‘self’ becomes concrete, fixed, and perhaps we are proud or ashamed of it. But this self is synthetic, and we and our close ones, families and communities, are responsible for synthesizing it. Our true self is our spiritual self.  It belongs to no-one and is eternal and of the universe. It is the self, which is faultless, permanent, and intrinsically good. The self that is wise and all-knowing. Therefore, part of our lesson to be learned in pursuit of being an excellent human, is to resist proliferating this synthetic self; the self that strays from the truth and has distorted views of reality.

The human mind is a marvelous tool, but in this era of deterioration, when we have become distanced from the divine, needing intermediaries to connect us to them, we tend to use it to create in our own right dictated by our egos, instead of in line with the divine and the universe. Creativity is a gift when it comes to human creations, but it is the sacred dimensions which possess the ultimate power,  superior compared with our tiny flickering minds. This tool of the intellect is adept at making concepts, ideas, formulae, etc., and all manner of mental images and contraptions, which sadly put us always at a distance to reality. The synthesized human self is a similar contraption, which we cling to, making it more and more fixed throughout our adult lives and which becomes a source of suffering.

beauty nad balance

This self we construct, supplying it amply with our chosen cultural, social and linguistic morays, is, as mentioned above, often flawed and distorted, and to make matters worse, it is a vehicle, the most recent model in the linear range, for the negative and positive karma (or actions) of all our ancestors and related spirits. Everything and everyone is connected, so what an ancestor did 300 years ago will affect you today in your life in some way. These laws of karma demand that we atone for our ancestral karma and perhaps national karma, so that all is purified and we are then in the position to help others to purify their negative karma. Some people have less negative karma and less fixed ‘selves’ than others, so this would account for why some of us do enjoy happiness, and our lives seem smooth and blessed, or ‘lucky.’

laws of karma

What if there was a way to know your past and your future, to step outside the human concepts of space and time? What if it was indicated in religious meditation with a spiritually evolved being that your ancestors were certain beings with certain karma: healers, cruel dictators, priests and nuns, beautiful children who died in infancy, explorers and settlers of new lands, missionaries, the devout, etc…spirits who had struggled along the human pathway, made effort to be Bodhisattvas, some of whom had succeeded, some failed. Then you could feel reassured that the human lessons had been learned by predecessors, and that in retrospect, it is easy to see that it was their unique spirit and its determination to survive unimaginable hardships and conditions which made them great. If they had not survived, then we would not be here. I am very fortunate that I can experience such unique meditation developed by my masters, Shinjo and Tomoji Ito, and so can eliminate negative karma relatively rapidly.

shinnyo parents

The Buddha’s  earlier wisdom sutras, or Heart sutra as it is known, taught that we should eliminate this self, getting rid of our ego and all our self-serving desires. But then the Buddha on his deathbed taught that we should build up the self. This confused everyone assembled to say farewell, especially the enlightened disciples who had become complacent. This self is the one that recognizes its shortcomings and inadequacies, and is willing to make the effort to be a better human being. In addition, this self can learn to identify and then accept the shortcomings in others exactly for what they are – a projection of the false or worldly self, and so generate unconditional compassion and universal Bodhicitta  (see previous article: https://lindenthorp.wordpress.com/2013/10/07/bodhi-mind-and-mindfulness/) for all beings.

shortcomings

These final teachings also proclaim that anyone, regardless of their level of negative karma produced by their ancestors or by their own actions during their lives, can be liberated and purified, and eventually find their true self. At the time approximately 2,600 years ago, the spiritually evolved gathered in the Sala Grove, Buddha’s final resting place, were shocked at hearing this because earlier in his ministry the Buddha had insisted that only the ordained monastics could reach full enlightenment, and that they must live by strict rules and give up their ordinary life to do so. But finally, in the Great Parinirvana sutra, the sutra of all sutras, universal compassion for all living beings surfaced on the lips of the Buddha. He  said,

“Those who study other sutras will never be at the end of their quest. They will keep looking for something that can help them more, something that works more for them. Once they discover the wisdom of Mahaparinirvana, their search will cease, and they will realize they have come to the end of their aim. Mahaparinirvana enables all beings to free themselves of all delusions and illusions.”

Chunda

So, as a result of this final teaching, lay practitioners were able to strive towards enlightenment without giving up their daily life. Today there are many lay orders, their practices designed for busy working people with families. My own sect is such, but we may be ordained and elevate spiritually while taking the fundamental principles of the final teachings of the Buddha out into our communities and families. I believe such a training in daily life is the most difficult with all its temptations and choices. Daily life is the best training of all for developing unconditional love. It is tested at every turn!

The final teachings also decreed that the lessons learned in any faith were compatible with the teachings of Great Parinirvana. All pathways of faith flow into the great Ocean of Nirvana and coalesce to create world harmony and universal peace. This collection of true selves, beings of faith, no matter which faith, must come together in one heart to rebalance the earth and its peoples.

interfaith

Finally, it is interesting that few Buddhist denominations today have the final teachings of the Buddha as their core. In Japan, the Shinnyo teaching is the only one. Now is the time for these final teachings to be activated globally.

Nirvana Buddha by H.H. Master Shinjo ito

Nirvana Buddha
by H.H. Master Shinjo ito

Article 3: Emptiness

emptiness

Having a supple mind means that we can transcend the realm of worldly truths valid only in the human realm. Emptiness allows us to surpass the cycle of birth and death, eliminate delusion, and attain the great truth of permanence-bliss-self-purity. This is the official definition from a Buddhist perspective.

Buddha;s enlightenment

Emptiness is one of the elements of enlightenment the Buddha mentions in his final teachings. To be empty means to be released from all attachments, and to live in an enchanted undistracted state in the midst of the world of samsara. This ‘emptiness’ is the state the Buddha attained during the lead up to his enlightenment. He was determined to achieve such ‘emptiness’ saying ‘I will not move from this seat until I have obtained enlightenment.’ Mara, the demonic presence during this time, conjured up all manner of distractions and temptations to break Prince Siddharta’s concentration, envisioning them as distinct armies: The army of Greed, of Grief, of Hunger and Thirst, of Attachment, of Laziness, of Fear, of Doubt, of Obstinacy, of Fame and Fortune, and of Conceit, one by one, they were systematically defeated. In their place, the Buddha took hold of his principal weapon ‘wisdom’ declaring that from that moment on, he would let it fill him ‘just as water fills a jar.’

massive diamond

Emptiness, like Buddha nature, (see article  https://lindenthorp.wordpress.com/2013/10/01/bodhi-our-true-nature/) is hidden, although it is there inside us all the time. We simply need to let go of everything and everyone and merge with the divine. For me emptiness is the beauty of the silence when my human eyes close and my spiritual eyes open. And this sublime silence is something, the last thing, perhaps the only thing, I desire. If one practices abiding in this state often, then eventually it is not something even to desire because it is perpetual. With practice and with purification, all craving and attachment ceases.

The Buddha earlier in his ministry said,

‘As the fletcher whittles

And makes straight his arrows,

So the master directs

His straying thoughts.

Like a fish out of water,

Stranded on the shore,

Thoughts thrash and quiver.

For how can they shake off desire?

They tremble, they are unsteady,

They wander at their will.

It is good to control them,

And to master them brings happiness.

But how subtle they are,

How elusive!

The task is to quieten them,

And by ruling them to find happiness.

With single-mindedness

The master quells his thoughts.

He ends their wandering.

Seated in the cave of the heart,

He finds freedom.

How can a troubled mind

Understand the way?

If a man is disturbed

He will never be filled with knowledge.

An untroubled mind,

No longer seeking to consider

What is right and what is wrong,

A mind beyond judgments,

Watches and understands.

Know that the body is a fragile jar,

And make a castle of your mind.

In every trial

Let understanding fight for you

To defend what you have won.

For soon the body is discarded.

Then what does it feel?

A useless log of wood, it lies on the ground.

Then what does it know?

Your worst enemy cannot harm you

As much as your own thoughts, unguarded.

But once mastered,

No one can help you as much,

Not even your father or your mother.

(Dhammapada:3; Mind)

the intellect

To busy intellectually dominated beings, thinking is compulsive, often leading to anxiety or arrogance or even premeditation, so that we cease to live our lives directly. We become convinced that this is reality, when it is in fact just a space in our minds filled with thoughts combined with our experience, culture, etc.  We could say that such thinking achieves nothing, like playing games. It can consume our waking hours, making time pass quickly, because to those who dislike contemplation or reflection in silence time goes slowly and is like an empty box which must be filled to be meaningful. We are living always in a self-made zone of concepts and notions distanced from our feelings and from the divine spark.

I first became acquainted with how to avoid this zone deep inside the south Australian desert about 25 years ago  (see “My Path So Far.”) when I lived briefly with some indigenous Australians.  ‘The Dreaming’ is a well-known aspect of their traditional life, which I came to recognize as reality. I was taught by Ninija, my spirit guide and traditional landowner or spiritual custodian of a huge tract of land in the desert, that I used language to make concepts, and that these concepts placed me always at the side of reality.  A common example of this cited by others who have also reaped the harvest of indigenous wisdom, is ‘stars.’ Ninija asked me why I was staring up at the incredible canopy of stars one night, and I told her that I had never seen so many stars before.  She had quibbles with the word ‘stars’ insisting that she did not know what I meant, and that they were the campfires of the travelers in the sky. Indigenous peoples believe that after they die their spirits rise up into the heavens and start traveling on to their next spiritual challenge, and if they get cold they stop to light a little fire and warm themselves. I later found out that there was no word for ‘star’ in aboriginal language.

Linden/129156587260233">Nirvana Linden.

Indigenous peoples, if living a wholly traditional life, are completely integrated into their lives in close communion with nature. They are not separate from it or from the Universe, but see themselves as an essential component of the fabric of the universe, each with a distinct mission. They do not think but instead fill their time with gratitude and joy for their human existence. Their environment is made up of the physical manifestation of their creation heroes and heroines, which they celebrate and make offerings to. Ninija’s main purpose was to watch the natural environment for new stories and then inform her people so that they could add the new story to their daily observances. Their partnership with the spiritual world or the invisible world in this way allowed them to live in reality and to live in full joy, or ‘fully integrated,’ as I later came to refer to it as.

intergationAchieving the state of emptiness also means that there are no fears. The Djang, the death of the physical body, is the absolute climax of their physical lives. They long for it.  It is symbolic of their having learned the human lessons, which they need to, in order to move on to the sky and the next stage. Ninija’s son Ginger died as a young adult as a result of alcohol and substance abuse, a common way for indigenes to die when they are corrupted by white-man ways. His wasted body was found in a telephone box in the alien city and he became a young hero when his spirit was released at the Djang, the most mysterious of all the rights of passage. As a result of receiving such wisdom, I too learned to long for my Djang so that I could rise into the sky and continue on with my spiritual journey.

sky heroes

Reading this, you may find it difficult to reconcile Buddhist beliefs with those of indigenous peoples, but I believe there is a huge spiritual connection. After I had received Ninija’s wisdom, my Buddhist pathway became totally clear, so I always include the Sky Heroes of the indigenes of the Pydjinjarra tribe in my pantheon of deities. It is our close connection with the great ‘Mother Nature’ that we have lost and/or abused, and I believe this can be interpreted as our connection with the Universe according to the Lord Buddha’s creed.

Emptiness then is something we achieve when we put aside all our concepts, notions and thoughts, and get back to a direct relationship with our origins in the natural world. Meditation and spiritual reflection, which are in tandem with our higher self, will help take us to that state. Of course this stripping away of concepts, notions and thoughts will open us to more spiritual aspirations and experiences until we are empty.

Emptiness is control and concentration, a return to our divine origins as beings of unconditional love. For me, unconditional love in the Mahayana way when we become able to put all living beings before ourselves, is the way to emptiness. As the Buddha said, what goes on in our own minds if controlled and enlightened can help us more that even our parents. Mastery of our minds is the key to our enlightenment , to our emptiness.

Permanence, bliss, self and purity image

Just a word about ‘Permanence, Bliss, Self and Purity,’ as mentioned in the last teachings of the Buddha Shakyamuni.  Of course, ‘permanence’ refers to the fact that our spirits are indestructible so that if we sincerely take refuge in the Buddha or indeed any qualified spiritual guide, we can work towards this liberation from the fears of temporal death. “Bliss’ means entering into the joy of being in one with all the holy beings, the state of grace or awakening or oneness with God , ‘Self’ means our true nature, our Buddha Nature, the fact that we need to be ourselves at all times, not blocking or pretending at any time, being totally honest first with ourselves and then with all others. Finally, ‘purity’ means that we work to purify our karma through ritual, and to develop merit through pure acts. We are, after all,  all pure beings when we enter our human manifestation, so there is a need to return to that state through practice.

Article 2: Buddha Nature

Buddha Nature

In the great Nirvana teachings of the Buddha, enlightenment is clearly described. What is central to this enlightenment is one’s Buddha Nature, in other words, one’s true self. Another way of expressing it is the aspiration to become enlightened, which is often described by Buddhists as a seed, which with practice and devotion, will eventually ripen. Buddha Nature is in some ways a mystical phenomenon the Buddha had never mentioned in any of his previous teachings. He had clearly reserved it for this final moment as his parting gift. This is highly significant if we consider that among the enormous gathering of well-wishers present were highly trained and revered monks who had already attained enlightenment under the Buddha’s supervision. Naturally, they were perplexed by this revelation and found it difficult to correctly perceive their hidden Buddha Nature. The Buddha recognized that they had become arrogant and complacent.

Tofukuji, Kyoto

Tofukuji, Kyoto

To discover one’s hidden Buddha nature needs spiritual training and a spiritual master, so it is not possible for me to comment on this aspect of it here. In Esoteric Buddhism, the transmission of teachings from Master to Pupil is the central core, so it is not appropriate to try to render it in words in public. But the notion of Buddha Nature is I believe universally inspiring in this age of competition and cut-throat attitudes, when power-mongering is at its zenith across the globe. It can help us to re-connect with the Universe and humanity, to find confidence if we have lost it, and to shed the dry skin of arrogance if we have acquired it. I will try to express my image of it and how it figures in my daily life. But first, there’s a very famous story, which will speak to the unconscious mind as only story can.

hiiden gem‘Once there was a man – father, son and husband – who could no longer support his family due to loss of work. He had no choice but to go elsewhere to work, so he packed his belongings and left home causing his family great sorrow. He arrived in a new land, quite quickly found work and was soon able to send money home. He developed more and more trust with his employers, and eventually they gave him more responsibility, a house to live in, and opportunities to become wealthy. He enjoyed this new status and became wealthy providing for his family amply. But then he became arrogant, and one day made a mistake which caused his employers to lose all trust in him. His status vanished and he frittered his wealth away on drinking and gambling to find comfort. Finally, he was destitute having only the clothes on his back and no prospects, as he had lost all respect. He suffered, starving and sleeping rough, desperately searching for food and work, but not able to find any. In the end, he was forced to return home to his family, sick and weak.

One day, as he was recovering, his mother asked him what had happened, and he told her that he had lost everything through no fault of his own, and so had eventually given up searching. She smiled and went to bring his ragged cloak, which he had no idea of the significance of. Her fingers searched in the lining of the garment until they found some familiar stitches, which she quickly and carefully tore open, and there from the secret pocket, she brought out a tiny perfect diamond. He was so amazed that self-piteous tears welled-up and he sobbed. His mother said, “ My son, what you were searching for so desperately was close to you all along. You looked everywhere except inside your own heart. You need only that to live a contented and satisfied life, so look no further.” His mother has provided for him all along.’

look within

This story has a very happy ending and teaches us that in our human lives, we have a tendency to look outside ourselves for what we need or desire, somehow either trying to be proactive in engineering happiness, or waiting for it to fall into our laps. But, like the jewel sewn into the man’s cloak, happiness is within us all along. It is hidden, submerged, or covered over with our ignorance and misguided way of living. Each spirit or soul made flesh in the universe is endowed with goodness and purity at birth, our jewel of pure love, our true nature, but it becomes contaminated by our ignorance, our false ideas of self, our self-enforced separation.

In my view, there are two aspects or stages to locating or uncovering one’s Buddha Nature: Firstly, it is our human potential, and if polished, like a tarnished gem, it will shine gloriously allowing all our unique talents and dreams to be manifested; and secondly, when it shines it will serve as a beacon for others who are stranded in spiritual darkness, enabling them to see the way to realizing their own potential, to locate their own gem sewn into their clothing. So, if we can accept that each human is different from the next, in appearance and in temperament, in terms of DNA and Karma, and accordingly has a unique mission in human life which no-one else can bring to fruition, then we can understand the importance of locating our own inner jewel and making it shine. This second stage is altruistic in that we shine for others so that the entire human family can find happiness and fulfillment in the bright light of our united future.

In practical terms, as is evident from the popular trends of meditation and going-beyond-your-mind philosophies in the secular world, we become attached to our thoughts, our desires, our self-image, so need techniques to detach from them to find a calm resting place. We need the courage to accept what comes up in everyday life in the full light of the truth unearthed by Shakyamuni during his enlightenment, ie. that life is the suffering of birth, sickness, aging and finally death. Once we accept the reality of this, no longer trying to deny it, then our spiritual challenge lies in how we deal with these eventualities. I believe that polishing our potential born of universal love enables us to accept everything and to live with pure unconditional joy.

acceptanceThere are two other facets of Buddha Nature which I will touch upon briefly here and develop in a later articles in this series. The first is ‘emptiness’ – a fundamental principle of Mahayana Buddhism – briefly cutting attachments with all transitory phenomena so that we can find our true nature. The second is ‘ever-presence’ – the strong belief that if we engage in the process of polishing our Buddha Nature for the sake of other beings, then our spirits or Buddha Natures will never perish, and the Buddha and our gurus will be with us always guiding and cherishing us. We cannot change what happens to us, but we can change the way we react to it. We cannot deny the reality or magically transform it on sight, but if our Buddha Nature is shining and we are on the way to recognizing that nothing in our lives is permanent except for unconditional love and all things invisible, then we can overcome anything! The mind is strong and clear and unattached to negative human emotions. If we enter into the process of polishing our Buddha Nature with purification, meditation and mindfulness, gradually we can change our destiny. I speak from experience, and from a desire that all beings embark on this path no matter what their faith or beliefs.

change your destiny

There is another important point behind the Buddha’s revelation in the final teachings about this hidden Buddha Nature. Throughout his ministry he had trained and nurtured many illustrious monks who had gone beyond all craving to Enlightenment, and in a state of deep grieving, they were assembled to say their farewells to their Master. Until that point, it had only been possible to follow the Buddha’s path and attain enlightenment as a monastic practitioner, renouncing everything in normal life. In addition, following on from Brahmin tradition in India at that time, only male aspirants were admitted into training. It was in the final teachings of the Buddha that he invited all beings, whether male, female, cleric or lay, to set about revealing their Buddha Nature. As imaginable, this was a further shock to his close disciples who had renounced everything to follow him, but it is of cardinal importance to the way Buddhism developed later.

people

In most religious disciplines, monastic and lay practitioners are separate. I believe the Buddha was warning that such discrimination should not be so, and that we can learn our best lessons from ordinary daily life, out in the world of humans, once we have got some control of our minds through constructive practice. Every day is an acid test of how we can maintain the shining condition of our true nature surrounded by diversity, temptations, and other beings consumed by ignorance and negative emotions in the thick of samsara. It is so vital that we are our true selves at all times so we can honestly interact with others and become a model fort hem, a beacon to help light up their spiritual darkness.

So, how exciting is it to realize that all sentient beings can polish their Buddha Nature and attain enlightenment in their own lifetime? The Nirvana teachings are the ultimate in unconditional love, and I believe that they demonstrate how essential such boundless love is at perhaps the most deteriorated time of human existence, ‘The Last Days of the Law.’ The Buddha knew that these teachings would be essential as the nightmare of samsara intensified.  I am so deeply grateful to my gurus, Masters Shinjo and Tomoji Ito, for devoting their lives entirely to the teachings of the Nirvana Sutra on 8th February, 1936, 78 years ago. They also could forsee the future, and insisted that ‘the time is now!’

Nirvana Buddha by H.H. Master Shinjo ito

Nirvana Buddha
by H.H. Master Shinjo ito

Article 3 will be based on Emptiness, a central element to reaching the shores of Nirvana.