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 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)