29 July 2010

Six Paramitas: Virya or Perseverance (5 of 7)

Virya implies a kind of energetic perseverance, actively going the distance without succumbing to distraction or dismay. You have an aim and you hit your intended target, not some other thing. Think of the little engine that could, and did.

In virya there is a very strong sense urgency, like the undistracted mood of a grandmother pulling a child out of highway traffic (no compromises, you just get the kid out of there). Virya feels and sounds like this:

Get up and do it. Now do it. Up and doing it.
Just keep going. Just keep going. Just keep going.
Fall down, get up, keep going. Fall down, get up, keep going.
Just keep going. Just keep going. Keep going now.
Keep going.
Keep going.
Keep going.
Keep going.
Keep going.
Keep going.
Keep going.
Keep going.
Keep going.
"Only go straight."

Virya finishes twelve-year isolation retreats. Virya completes the thousand-day kaihogyo. Virya raises the kids and heals the sick. This is virya expressed in action.

But virya can also be expressed in non-action, in the refusal to give in to a bad habit or to any kind of excess. Just keep going without a cigarette break. Just keep going without being drawn into a temper tantrum. Just keep going in your great work without sleeping in or daydreaming about whatever. In this sense, virya implies strength of character and commitment as it does vigorous or energetic activity. Both are expressions of the same category of wisdom, the perfection of virya or perseverance.

28 July 2010

Six Paramitas: Ksanti, or Patience (4 of 7)

The great Tibetan master Gampopa, in The Jewel Ornament of Liberation (trans. H.V. Guenther), presents the perfection of patience or ksanti paramita in a striking way:

The essence of patience is to be prepared for any event (p. 174).

Now, this begs the question: what does it mean to be prepared, and what is meant by any event in this context?

Being prepared means having cultivated a mind broad, deep, and stable enough to accept the situation at hand as workable: not to get swept up in it as an object, like a wad of trash in a tornado, but instead as a subject aware of his or her responsibilities and capable of carrying on with them regardless of the tempting lures of desire and fear or other volatile emotions. In short, to develop patience (and here I am leaning on Gampopa again), one must deepen and broaden one's compassion to include all conceivable situations (thus, being prepared for any event): even if chased by a horde razorback hogs and a regiment of enraged rhinoceroses at full gallop over a cliff into a burnin' lake of fire, remember the precepts, remember mindfulness, remember the sufferings of others.

Here, compassion is understood as actively identifying with the sufferings of others.

Approached differently, to be patient means to meet people and all other living creatures where they are, not letting one's hangups get in the way of your great work. It is a quiet practice, not a performance at all. Pet peeves can be a particular test of patience in this context. You can't afford to ignore someone's dying words simply because she has the worst halitosis you've encountered, or because her socks don't match, or because she likes the wrong kind of music. More to the point, suffering beings are often unpleasant to be around for more than one reason, and can really push your buttons. You are responsible for your response in such a situation; it is up to you to make something out of it. Patience is a condition of possibility for skillful action.

In this way, you let the light of Dharma that is within you shine int all corners and all the hearts you meet, leaving sparks behind that may well grow in time. Most days, you need not say a word. Each instance of impatience gives you an opportunity to catch yourself, redouble your commitment, and try again again again ("again" is patience too, but it also anticipates the next paramita, that of persistent and vigorous energy).

27 July 2010

Contemplation: Not holding back

After reviewing the instructions on how to practice contemplation, take up this excerpt from Kihwa's commentary on the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment (page 75):

Although the moon does not withhold any of its luminosity, only still water can reflect it, and although the Buddha's voice is perfectly impartial, it cannot enter a scattered mind.

May all beings enjoy the merit of our practice.

26 July 2010

Six Paramitas: Sila or Ethics (3 of 7)

Sila (ethics) has to do with action: doing the right thing at the right time in the right way. Specifically, it refers both to action directed toward a goal, and toward ethical living in a day-to-day, moment-to-moment sense. Both simultaneously. The idea is to orient every thought, word, and deed toward your Mahayana intentions, and to subsume all activities in the contemplative project.

Some ways of doing things are naturally helpful; some are not. That is, some kinds of actions lead to helpful states of mind and produce wholesome results, while others produce the opposite, and some are mixed. It follows that one should cultivate the helpful and cut away the harmful.

To make a start with sila, you should first make a vow to accord your actions according to your Mahayana commitments, which is to say, to live an ethical life in order to accomplish the great work. (It helps to take precepts, and not only as a gesture of commitment.) Then, you have to go about doing it.

It is very demanding training.

First, the negative task: not doing harmful and useless things, simply abstaining from being an idiot. The rotten consequences of harmful actions are avoided simply by not having cultivated them to start with. Further, a clear and uncomplicated mind arises, without regrets or resentments; meditation develops readily. If you want to improve your meditation, start by paying careful attention to what you say, do, and apply your mind in everyday situations.

Second, the positive task: actively doing helpful, useful, beneficial things as they are appropriate to the situation at hand. Here, one builds momentum (I'm using "momentum" as a cipher for the generic Buddhist term of "making merit"), one builds confidence and trust in oneself, and in the process cultivates positive mental states. Auspicious consequences of helpful actions inevitably arise, which also support practice.

Third, the broader context: It is impossible to engage fully in the path without engaging in sila paramita in a rigorous way. Ethical life is a precondition for realization; living ethically makes realization possible. Practice starts on your feet, not on your cushion. (As an aside, one should note that distinguishing the rotten from the real in this context demands a kind of wisdom: sila paramita presupposes prajna paramita [wisdom].)

I would like to recall to memory the five precepts, which are very useful for this kind of training. These are "blameless," which means that no reasonable person could possibly find fault with you for taking any one of these up. So you have nothing real to lose. Further, following the five precepts can go a long way toward purifying the mind and the karmic stream of anyone who gives it a legitimate shot. So, beginners and seasoned hands together, let us all remember these precepts and cooperate harmoniously on the path:

1. Avoid taking life.
2. Avoid taking anything not freely given to you.
3. Avoid sexual misconduct.
4. Avoid speech that is false, harmless, or pointless.
5. Avoid clouding the mind with intoxicants.

These are a rather free rendering of the five traditional precepts. Each one could be the topic of a long discussion; the question of what counts as sexual misconduct and what does not, for instance, is one that can be debated at length. Instead of just giving you the answers as I understand them, I will instead ask you to reflect on each one of these in particular contexts: is this action helpful or harmful to myself and to others, those present and those not present?

Carry on!

24 July 2010

FreeSangha: An Appreciation

Washington Tendai Sangha would like to express deep gratitude to the good people at the FreeSangha Buddhist Discussion board. Members and administrators at FreeSangha have contributed materially to the success of our sangha, and for this, we express our thanks.

FreeSangha, may the merit be yours. Thank you for your help.

22 July 2010

Six Paramitas: Dana or Generosity (2 of 7)

Dana or generosity of spirit is listed first among the six paramitas for a practical reason: it should be practiced first. Authentic practice starts with it.

The intentional act of generosity, of renouncing something you think and feel is your own and of yourself for the good of something you value more than your own personal thing, is fundamental to beginning and maintaining any kind of Buddhist practice. Once again: the moment of generosity is the moment of renouncing samsaric habits of clinging and identification, and instead taking up the conscious practice of care. This spirit of generosity, leading from the heart outward, is a basis for a full spectrum of Mahayana practices.

Those are big claims. Let me unpack them.

It is easy to think through the consequences of generosity in everyday life. One gives of oneself for the good of others; simple enough. But in doing so, one discovers an insight into personal selflessness because it is impossible to insist on the same boring 'personal narrative' or mirage of the self as it is expressed through brand preferences or force of habit or family conditioning while at the same time valuing someone else's needs more.

That bit about value and valuation is very significant because one can also describe the devotional practices so characteristic of Mahayana as a form of generosity of spirit. You value the free availability of the teachings and opportunities to practice more than you value anything else, so you offer your time and energy and material wealth to the sangha and your teacher. This is a reordering of priorities: remember that selfish people insist on getting the right brand of cigarettes above all else, on being served first. I value the teachings more than I value brand X booze. I want to ensure that others have a chance to benefit from hearing these teachings.

Material offerings are expressions of gratitude; gratitude and devotion are healthy, expansive, nonviolent states of mind, much more useful than their opposites of disengagement and selfishness or self-satisfaction. Consequently it is said that the Buddhas and bodhisattvas and teachers of Dharma in our world function as a field of offerings. Part of their job is to help students cultivate these useful mind states and karmic relationships based on good intentions by accepting their offerings, material and otherwise. (This is why any discussion of the paramitas in general and dana in particular must begin with a discussion of karma as it relates to the practice of Dharma.) The point: through dana, one builds a durable connection to the teachings and the sangha, and one actively breaks down the selfish habits that Dharma practice is supposed to undermine. And while you are at it, you are helping to make sure the Dharma can carry on in a sustainable way.

Mahayana practice is characterized by devotional practices: offerings of prostrations, lights, incense, recitations beginning with the word "homage!", building stupas and statues and then circumambulating them, copying texts by hand. To ordinary reasoning this seems ridiculous: do the Buddhas really need or want your puny stick of incense or your yak-butter candle, if the Buddhas really are complete in themselves and without desires? No, the Buddhas do not need or want whatever offerings you make or visualize. They extend the invitation for you to make those offerings, however, in order that you will actually do it and in the process drop the useless habits that dominate your body, speech, and mind and instead take up a more fruitful way, to help you build karmic momentum and create opportunities for the future through dependent origination. Notice that there are offerings of body (prostrations, stupa veneration, sutra copying), speech (recitations), and mind (visualizations, contemplations); this is hardly an accident.

Dana is a context in which devotional practice stops seeming so exotic and impenetrable, and starts having real meaning and practical application for convert Buddhists. It does not exhaust the full spectrum of devotional practice, of course, but it is an excellent way in.

Please make a vow to practice dana in concrete ways every day, and hold yourself accountable for your successes and failures at it. If you mess up, redouble your vow and your efforts and carry on. Remember, this is also a mindfulness practice, arguably a complete path in itself.

Six Paramitas: Intention, Commitments, and Karma (1 of 7)

This is the first in a series of seven posts explaining some aspects of the Six Paramitas, which are a set of characteristics to be cultivated in Buddhist practice. The Sanskrit word "paramita" is usually translated as "perfection," but it also carries the connotation of completion or fulfillment.

Before treating each of these six, however, it is necessary to establish some context: specifically, to review some aspects of the basic Buddhist teaching of karma. To fulfill or complete something means to do something; to practice a paramita means to be active about it, to act on it. Karma means action. Things in the world arise due to causes and conditions; they persist due to causes and conditions, and change over time; they fade away, decay, over time due to causes and conditions. And these causes interact with each other in particular ways (this is called "dependent origination," of which more later).

Generally in human life, actions follow intentions. If my intentions are out of control, my actions are too. If I wish to make some changes in the pattern of my activities, then I need to work with my intentions, and in particular I need to firm up that intention to make a change in order first to break the old pattern and establish a new way to work in its place. Buddhists make vows to accomplish this. The "Verse of the Kesa" is one example: a contemplation intended to deepen one's commitment to practice.

Similarly, vows also serve to bring people together around their good intentions, to make a community of good intentions (which is to say, to build a durable sangha). By the logic of dependent origination, making vows together makes a kind of continuity on positive terms that will bear particular fruits in future activity, like tying many life-rafts together in a seastorm for security in numbers. This is another reason why it helps to practice with others who are seeking to fulfill or complete in themselves the same aspirations you seek to perfect.

Consider, for instance, an item from the morning service we use at the Tendai Buddhist Institute. This is called "Shichi Butsu Tsukaige," and it is beautiful:

Wishing together with all sentient beings:
Do not commit evil,
Do everything that is good,
Purify the mind.
This is the teaching of all the Buddhas.
I bow to the sacred clouds.

At the very beginning is a vow made here, a together-vow if you will (and this part of the service is recited by everyone present, with conviction). Also conspicuous is the offering at the end, which speaks directly to the first paramita, which is dana or generosity.

To make this a bit more concrete, it helps to think of the example of learning a new skill or breaking an old habit (both amount to the same thing on principle). You see the harmful consequences of keeping this habit, and you see why it would be better for everyone if you just cut it out and used your time and energy in another way, but the force of that habit keeps you in the same cycle again and again. This is an object lesson in karma for you. How do you break into that? You have to start with the intention to quit smoking cigarettes or to cut back eating so much sugar or whatever it is. You need to identify the causes and conditions that keep you doing this, and work with those (and this may mean seeking out specific resources to help, or removing yourself from situations that will guarantee the failure of your intention). As you can imagine, the logic of karma involves a logic of connection and interconnection; a simple vow sweeps up into itself a very involved web of consequences. You make a vow to stop smoking. You work at it, you try, and you fail. You renew your vow. You try again with more energy and adjusted tactics. You fail. You learn from that and, again, renew your vow, give it everything you have, last a bit longer and build more confidence before failing a gain. And then you do it again, and again, and again until you finally get it right or you die trying (or, more likely, die not trying very hard).

Buddhist practice amounts to learning how to stop doing the stupid and start doing the useful, just like quitting smoking or learning how to ride a motorcycle or make a decent batch of chilaquiles. The principle is the same but the methodology is much, much more comprehensive. The paramitas are a way to keep that methodology clear in one's mind.

As a practical matter, I find it helpful to reflect on intentions in the morning, in particular to review the kinds of commitments (samaya) I have made in the past, with an eye toward keeping to those with energy and spirit. And in the evening, a frank and honest assessment of the day's events and my own actions of body, speech, and mind offers a fine window into the condition of my own condition as it were. This is how learning can happen in an everyday way.

Remember that meaningful commitments are difficult to keep. Help is available; no one's case is hopeless or lost. There are Buddhist methods to help people deal with their own shortcomings and to strengthen their sense of purpose. Notice how even repentance verses the intention of getting the bodhisattva's work done (this is the General Repentence Verse, also from the Tendai morning service):

For the sake of all the sentient beings in the Dharma realm, let me cut off my three attachments and repent my transgressions by invoking the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and by praying for all sentient beings.

Counterproductive action can be counteracted by the right kind of productive action, properly applied. That is the logic behind this methodology.

21 July 2010

Meditation is Not an Anaesthetic

Returning again to the theme of so-called Western Buddhism:

One provocative criticism made of it (most famously by Slavoj Zizek) holds that Western Buddhism is not a systematic practice designed to bring about meaningful change in people or in cultures (Aloha Amigo!), but is instead a gimmick for reducing stress so that suffering individuals can accomodate themselves better to untenable situations at home, at work, and in society at large.

Now, if a situation is uncomfortable and stressful, that may be a sign that it is in need of bodhisattva activity: perhaps it is unkind, unjust, or unwise. It may also be that one is the author of one's own stress, or that one's hangups or habits are in fact introducing problems into an otherwise a-okay situation. This, also, is a call for rigorous practice. This is why some take it be a problem: a practice intended to tackle in a systematic way the complex of one's problems from the root of their causes through their expression in the world of sentient beings becomes instead a kind of avoidance strategy, a squirt of subjective novocaine to get you through your shitty office job or your husband's hurtful incompetence or whatever is troubling you that you cannot bear to deal with.

So, if I understand Zizek's argument properly, it may be at least more honest and productive to fully face the discomfort of an uncomfortable situation than to imagine it to be the manifestation of evolving Spirit or the endless march of Providence, especially if this moment of exposure motivates one to authentic transformational practice.

I would like to make a related point: meditation makes a direct perception of any situation possible, which is a precondition for wise activity. A sad situation is sad; in an unfair situation, one sees directly the injustice and its consequences for all involved. You see it for what it is, like it or not. And you feel it diamond hard; this is anything but an avoidance strategy or a peaceful at-one-ness with the sufferings of others. To borrow one of Trungpa Rinpoche's words, it is indeed very "tender."

But through this tenderness, the unacceptable thing becomes workable. Because it also makes the mind broader, clearer, and less disruptive, proper meditation prepares one to work with the situation perceived from a position of wisdom and compassion rather than habit, emotional reaction, prejudice, or personal gain (will-to-power). Through active meditation, one becomes increasingly capable of independent and creative action (independent of habitual training and emotional baggage). In this sense, authentic Buddhist meditation should be understood as an engaged Buddhist practice (a situational engagement) in teh sense Ken Jones describes in his book The Social Face of Buddhism.

A question for the gallery: If your practice is motivated by a desire to reduce stress, is this a desire to make your own situation less uncomfortable (avoidance) or as a means to be more useful to the world at large, or at least to introduce less of your own stress into the world?

20 July 2010

Diamond Path Podcasts by Tamarack Garlow

My Dharma brother Sansho Tamarack Garlow recorded some podcasts some time ago for the purpose of introducing basic Buddhist teachings to the street and the countryside. Many people have found them useful. They are available for free here: Diamond Path Podcasts.

19 July 2010

Aloha Amigo! or, hypertrophical eclecticism

Earlier this summer I was making the drive from Moscow, Idaho (my adopted hometown) across the Palouse and the Plateau to Portland, Oregon (my hometown hometown). I stopped for coffee in a well-dressed town called Hood River. And I found this item, laminated, and pinned to a cork board in the stylish and well-appointed cafe:

I do not know Adi, and had not heard of him or her before encountering this notice; I don't even know Adi's gender, so I'm being careful with the pronouns. This is a link to Adi's blog, for those who might be interested. I am sure Adi's intentions are pure and I make no claims about his or her teaching practice. The coffee in Hood River was fantastic and the service, superlative--let the record show it.

On with it. Adi's program presents a really interesting paradox. On one side, you have a singular, unique intersection of diverse and divergent spiritual practices: Zen, the "Fourth Way" of G.I. Gurdjieff, yoga, and the ancient Chinese oracle of the I Ching. Any one of these disciplines could take a life well spent in committed practice to master; Adi suggests him or herself capable of all of them. (Teaching Zen in individual and group settings alone is very demanding work...). So one side of the paradox is uniqueness, singularity, and to be direct about it a very bold claim to advanced spiritual accomplishment and attainment.

On the other side is the perfect banality of the item. Everyone on the "Eastern Spirituality" guru book tour circuit, from Esalen to Kripalu, is doing it or has done it. This kind of gesture is so ordinary that we have had a term for it in Buddhist circles since the mid-1970s: Aloha, Amigo! The earliest written reference I could find to Aloha Amigo was published in 1974 in Loka, a kind of yearbook for the Naropa Institute's summer events of that year. In it, a Hindu monk and anthropologist named Agehananda Bharati offered an essay called "The Future (if any) of Tantrism." The sum (page 129):

I can say there is one cultural disease in this country [the United States], and that is what I call hypertrophical eclecticism. To give you an example, in a record store the other day, I saw an LP named "Aloha Amigo." This is all wrong. Deep down, many of you think it is nice. But it isn't. It's either "aloha" or "amigo." Now, just because something is different from Mommy and Daddy, and different from Richard Nixon and Billy Graham, that alone doesn't make it good. Just because it has an Indian accent doesn't make it good. There have to be other criteria. The trouble here is that anything that's different from home is put together and looks like something real. Unfortunately, in a very refined and sophisticated manner, this tendency is even represented in what I saw in your program print-out here. Weaving and karate and T'ai Ch'i don't have to appear together just because they are Asian. There is a tradition, there is a rule, there is a lineage that you must be able to trace. But sitar and tabla and saxophone and escargo and tatami--that's just Aloha-Amigo. I don't think it leads anywhere.

You don't hear Oprah asking questions about lineage. And you don't hear many monks referencing old Arthur Lyman records. "Bim Bam Boom!" More directly to the matter: recall this thing on Western Buddhism where I observe in some of the sanghas a tendency to dismiss methodological or doctrinal aspects of Buddhist practice, which makes a gap that is immediately filled in with other stuff (C. Jung, C. Castaneda, or whatever else is on the tube)? Well, here it is in Adi's flier: no belief system is needed, but the whole thing is predicated on things you have to believe in, a "self," a "Source," and the credibility of the person who is making all these claims. Aloha Amigo! is about filling in that gap. A remedy would be to attend responsibly to methodological questions in Buddhist practice: not too loose, not too tight, but enough to keep the moving parts clean.

My point is that Adi's advertisement at the cafe, surely earnest and posted in good faith, is one of many many many artifacts of a broader cultural phenomenon that has a name: Aloha Amigo. My purpose in bringing it up is to encourage those of us who engage in Buddhist practice or identify as Buddhists to think critically about such claims as these, and to ask the very important question about lineage, about any particular teacher's relationship to his or her teachers and temples, and so on. I ask you not to be hostile or aggressive, but to be curious and to ask probing questions. Remember, a good student has "an active edge."

And yes, I'm willing to stand fire with whatever questions you may have of me, with the understanding I may ask you a few in exchange. Fair is fair, yes?

I will be returning to this theme because it is the cause of much needless confusion about what Buddhism is and does.

Contemplation: Verse of the Kesa

We recite the "Verse of the Kesa" with some frequency at the Betsuin. It is simple, direct, and far-reaching in its scope.

After reviewing yesterday's teaching on how to practice contemplation, contemplate the "Verse of the Kesa."

Vast is the robe of liberation
A formless field of benefaction
I wear the Tathagatha's teachings
Saving all sentient beings

May all beings benefit!

How we practice contemplation

It has come to my attention that some readers of this blog live nowhere near Washington, DC and may have very little experience with Tendai Buddhism, but still might like to try the contemplations I post here for the local sangha. I say: Yes, please join in, you're welcome here, I'm delighted and humbled to have you, there's coffee in the kitchen and a seat with your name on it in the main room.

Now what?

Please allow me to explain how we do contemplation practice in our school, so you can get some use out of these things. These are instructions that are tailored for individual practice but the principles are the same for group practice too.

First, you cultivate an attitude appropriate to practice: reviewing the bodhisattva vows is one useful approach. The idea is to do this with purpose and conviction, so put your work face on and get ready mentally. Be seated in meditative posture: not too loose, not too tight, find the sweet spot where your hips support your shoulders and your heart is lifted up a bit in a gesture of generosity. You'll be here for a while, so be steady.

At the start you are given a prompt. This may be just a few spoken words, or an image, or a slightly longer text in written form. There it is. What to do with it?

Drink it in like mountain spring water. Dissolve yourself into it. Let it shine through you like sunlight through a canopy of treetops, like sunlight through a clear windowpane, like a lightning flash through the blur of a rainstorm. That is all: do not accept or reject, do not make something out of it, do not make nothing out of it, just return to the words at regular intervals and let them wash over you. Refrain from believing or disbelieving in the object of contemplation. Does a tuning fork evaluate its own pitch when it is struck, or does it do the smart thing and just resonate? Does a thunderhead stop to check or critique or deconstruct or recontextualize or emote over worst of all make personal the gush of lightning that illuminates it and burns it up from the inside out? Just let 'er rip!

Contemplation may provoke emotional or mental or even physical responses. Faith, gratitude, confusion, boredom, aversion, arousal: it all comes up. You may laugh or weep or sleep. These come and go.

A practical point if you are contemplating on your own: budget at least thirty minutes of active practice time. Be sure to read the text out loud in a clear voice and at a slow, gentle pace. You might imagine you are reading to a sleepy child or trying to get through to someone on a bad telephone connection. Do it in your natural everyday voice, though. Don't be dramatic about it, don't try to sound profound or meaningful or important, just get the message through as you are (because you are profound and meaningful enough just as you are, as you were born). Keep going, come back to it when you lose the thread.

When you finish, dedicate your merit to the great work of enlightenment on behalf of all sentient beings without exception. Endeavor to carry this contemplation-mind throughout your daily activities and into your dreams too.

16 July 2010

It helps to practice with others.

Consider a traditional analogy:

A man leaves his village on horseback with a definite destination in mind. He rides furiously through rough terrain. On his back is a leather bag of sharp volcanic stones: maybe shards of obsidian, chunks of granite. [note in passing: why is he carrying around a worthless bag of rocks like this? An earnest question!]

When he arrives in the other country, the horseman empties his pouch and finds sand, which he discards, and a collection of well-polished and useful stones: the obsidian can be fashioned into arrowpoints, say, and the granite can be used for hand tools. They shine.

Group practice is like this bag of rocks, shaken around mercilessly, with no escape: each occasionally agitated participant wears off the others' rough edges, which fall away like sand from the eyes upon awakening, until everyone whispers and glides among each other harmoniously, smoothly, becoming useful in the process. The teacher, in the analogy a horseman, contrives all this for a reason. As I asked before, what is his reason?

My point is that sangha offers an opportunity to learn and grown that individual practice cannot provide. It draws out hidden sides of one's mindstream, one's karma, and makes them very visible and therefore workable. Positively, it generates deep karmic relationships over time that keep you involved at a helpful level in practice. It keeps you honest. It shakes you out of your habitual ways of doing things, facilitating your task of doing things another way. It helps you see how the aspects of Buddhist practice fit together in a coherent methodology (as distinct from the jumble of lists that some beginners perceive Buddhism to be). There are other reasons, too.

What is "Western Buddhism"?

My comments here are intended to be a bit provocative, in the sense of seeking to provoke a closer look at a phenomenon many of us may take for granted.

There are two ways to answer the question, "What is 'Western Buddhism'?": one definition concerns the phenomenon of convert Buddhism in the global north (the "west," or Europe and North America), where non-Asians whose families and cultures did not traditionally practice Buddhism convert to one or another Buddhist tradition. Convert Buddhist sanghas in this sense are necessarily sectarian to some extent, because you have new people becoming integrated with extant Buddhist communities that are themselves dispersed among different sects as a historical fact. This does not preclude good relations among different streams and traditions, of course. And it does not mean there are no significant differences between the practices of Western converts and those of their Asian counterparts, because there often are. My point is that the essence of the traditional practice is passed on. Consider the examples of Chagdud Gonpa, Kwan Um Zen, and of course the Tendai Buddhist Institute: these are traditional schools who have accommodated themselves to North American logistics without compromising anything effective in the traditional pedagogy. The pedagogy works and we know this because these schools have achieved good results in students who have applied themselves to the practice. There are many other examples.

A second definition for "Western Buddhism" concerns the arising of a distinctly "western" form of Buddhism, a new tradition of practice by and for non-Asians ("novayana"). Here, the emphasis is on nonsectarianism, and sanghas are organized around the practice of meditation more specifically than the practice of traditional Buddhism as a complete methodology, as a whole. The leadership structure differs significantly as well: where traditional Buddhist schools are led by trained and ordained clergy or monastics, the "Vipassana Sangha" is often led by a layperson or is entirely absent of centralized or hierarchic leadership. This is, indeed, something new.

I am not convinced this trend is sustainable, however. By shedding any traditional affiliation or concern for doctrine or methodology and emphasizing in an egalitarian way the unity of all spiritual efforts, the sangha is left struggling to identify a clear sense of purpose or continuity. I have seen this happen to the extent that the mystical speculations of Carl Jung or Ken Wilber are treated as though they are as authoritative on the question of what Buddhism means as any traditional Buddhist text, and debates ensue over whether Paul Atrides or Yoda is a superior guide on the path. Similarly, in decoupling meditation from its role in a balanced Buddhist diet and making it the organizing principle of the sangha, an end in itself that needs no justification, meditation becomes available to any purpose at all: not a way to accomplish the bodhisattva's path but as a means to cope with your dysfunctional family and your crappy office job: lifestyle management rather than bodhisattva activity [more on this forthcoming]. To be clear, stress reduction in itself is fine, but it is not an end in itself for Mahayana practice.

My point is that in this form of "Western Buddhism," your method becomes whatever you want it to be, whatever you have at hand to fill in the gap, instead of a methodical engagement with your desires and the gaps of your learning. In the end, your teacher is a deluded person: you. And in a related irony, in the attempt to eschew the thicket of metaphysics by rejecting Buddhist methodological questions, the bus is driven much deeper into the weeds, into endless evaluations and comparisons of Meister Eckhardt and Joseph Campbell... perhaps these are interesting books, but they are more an avoidance strategy in this context than a shortcut around Nagarjuna or the sutras.

To sum all this up, the term "western Buddhism" is a contradictory one. It refers to at least two different kinds of practice, different kinds of motivation, different situation, arguably different cultures. A more systematic treatment of this question would be a useful project.

15 July 2010

Sangha Planning Meeting & Coffee Talk

I am calling a planning meeting for the sangha: Thursday, July 22, 7:30 pm. We should be done by 9 pm.

Everyone who cares about this sangha is welcome. I intend to share some plans for our future development, to discuss some decisions we have ahead of us in the hear future, and to get to know each other a bit better in a more informal environment.

Let's meet at the Cosi restaurant near the Ballston metro station, not far from the Arlington UU church where we have been holding sangha meetings. The address for Cosi is 4250 Fairfax Drive, Arlington, VA‎ - (703) 527-9717‎.

(I'll be the one dressed as a Buddhist priest.)

What makes a good student a good student?

There are many ways to be a good student. People bring a great diversity of strengths and aspirations to the path with them, and the different kinds of obstacles people face as they undergo the path lead them to cultivate new ones. While my comments here may seem a bit scattershot, they are intended to reflect the spectrum of "good" in the phrase "good student." Some themes come back, like a reprise. My hope is that at least one or two these comments will resonate with anyone and will encourage stronger practice. So, a good student should:

Commit to practice completely in thought, word, and deed. When you do something, do it as a part of your practice and once committed do not hold back, just jump in without reservation and go for it one hundred percent. Heard the one about the guy who practices like his hair is on fire? Be like that dude in everything you do, focused and active. This is no time for half measures.

Don't be evasive. Don't avoid praise or criticism, don't sneak around your teacher or your mistakes, don't imagine you can hide. [Avoidance strategies like this just postpone the inevitable. You'll have to deal with your karma sooner or later, so you might as well just rip the band-aid off the fast way instead of making yourself and others suffer more by playing make-believe.] It is said that one should practice in every moment as though the Buddhas of past present and future are watching your every word, deed, and thought. This is a helpful attitude to cultivate. It feels like complete exposure. It takes courage. Find the courage in yourself. It's there, you know.

Don't pick and choose. When you come to the teaching, you come to learn; Buddhism is not a fashion statement or a career choice but a learning situation. This means you recognize that you have something to learn: you begin to face your own shortcomings and seek guidance on how to amend them. You begin to face the possibility that you have something real and good and helpful to offer the world. In this context, your teacher's job is a bit like a physician's, since he or she needs to prescribe specific medicines to help seal the cracks, pull the bolts, and knock the crazy out of you. Your prescription may surprise or even nauseate you at first, depending on your karma. Again, don't pick and choose. Example: Prostrations can be an antidote to excessive pride. So do not, in your excessive pride, assume that prostrations cannot be of use to you. Practice is difficult anyway, but it is most difficult at that point where it most effectively cuts the knots of your accumulated karma. Whatever you most dislike in practice is likely the place to start digging in and drilling down. [In my own case, I found it very very challenging to overcome my fear of performing before others to become a competent leader, specifically to sing the service and lead the chants: my preference is to be Ringo instead of John or Paul, but here I am...]

Remember that the most important teachings are often the first ones you hear, the most fundamental ones. Attend the the basics (bodhicitta!) again and again to keep the knife sharp and your aim in sight.

Put yet another way, have a positive attitude. Be game to try new things, especially things that seem to be out of your range or foreign to your experience so far. You might even like green eggs and ham. Endeavor to do a good job without a fuss, be willing to learn. Be curious and inquire. Have an "active edge."

Be prepared to travel and put some time and energy into it if you really want to learn. Ask me about gyo sometime for an object lesson in this.

Finally, it helps a lot to practice with others, for dozens of reasons [of which more later]. Foremost as an antidote to self-delusion and the gaps-in-education all autodidacts experience. If you want to be a well-rounded student, expose yourself to all the teachings and all the sangha.

This is all a tall order, obviously. "It don't come easy." Be prepared to fall, dust yourself off, apologize as appropriate, and get back to work. Learning from mistakes and persevering through to the end is all part of the practice too.

I hope everyone becomes a good student of the path and accomplishes it quickly.

14 July 2010

Keisho Leary and the California Tendai Monastery

If you haven't yet, be sure to check out Keisho Leary's blog. Keisho is the abbot of the California Tendai Monastery, one of the most beautiful places I have ever set my eyes on. The photos on the blog speak for themselves.

Is this a Buddhist Teaching?

If we understand Buddhism as a particular kind of method for accomplishing the aim of enlightenment for the relentless and uncompromising benefit of all sentient beings without exception, as I have proposed already, then we are left with the question of how one can recognize an authentic Buddhist teaching among the sea of practices in different spiritual traditions (all of which having something useful to offer the world) and various species of snake-oil.

To address this question, I will adopt some terms used in mainstream Tibetan Buddhism, which is more familiar to English speakers and therefore expedient to use here and now; in parentheses I'll give the Sanskrit or Pali equivalents too. The gist: a Buddhist teaching is characterized by four features or "seals"; if a teaching or a method is absent any one of these seals, then it should be questioned and examined further.

The four seals are: 1. All things (dharmas) are impermanent (anicca); 2. samsara is unsatisfactory or characterized by suffering (dukkha); 3. what we take to be a unitary self is really a composite, a mirage, a burst bubble (anatta); 4. Buddhahood or nirvana is beyond the extremes of eternalism (or substantialism) and nihilism (or nothingness); this is sometimes expressed as "beyond existence and nonexistence." The first three seals concern explanations of the stub-your-toe world of sentient beings (provisional truth); the last concerns explanations for enlightenment (absolute truth) for sentient beings. [This distinction between provisional and absolute truth, the "two truths" of Mahayana, is a subject I'll explain later.]

Now, what does all that mean? Let's take the seals one by one.

Impermanence. On my desk is a coffee mug. It came into being due to causes and conditions. It is not an accident but a product of certain kinds of historical processes that one can analyze, out of other materials (iron ore, petroleum) that are also not accidental but produced by causes and conditions. A thing like this mug persists in the world for a while and decays into some other state or condition, also due to causes and conditions. (I trust my coffee mug will not spontaneously combust or transform into a hill of magic beans when I look away from it.) Consequently, we say that this mug, like everything else compounded out of other things, is impermanent. It cannot be trusted not to change in particular ways. Buddhist teachings do not present impermanent things as though they are permanent and eternal.

Dukkha. Listen: be a sentient being means to be born, get sick, and eventually die. All these can be difficult to deal with. A teaching that denies the obvious fact of the saltiness of the world is not a Buddhist one.

Anatta. The infamous "selflessness" of the Buddhists: what you ordinarily or conventionally take to be yourself is not a done deal and should not be taken at face value. When investigated with care, the human subject proves to be an impermanent thing for one (not eternal but fictional, contingent, in flux and disoriented), and also a composite of different processes that seem to coincide for a while but lack an authentic center. You are your body in a sense, but you are not only your body, and besides, is your body at age 40 the same as your body at age 12? You are your emotions in a sense, but you are not only your emotions, and besides, is your emotional state the same this morning as it was two weeks ago when your sister was diagnosed with...? The same logic applies to thoughts and sensations and the like.

The most important thing about anatta is that Buddhist methods are rigorously critical, taking nothing for granted, "radical" in the etymological sense of getting down to the root premises of things and uprooting them. Now, this teaching is not the same as "denying the self" or "negating the self" as though it already existed and Buddhist analysis simply makes it disappear. On the contrary, this is an unmasking of a fraud: what passes as a coherent "self" is a counterfeit, not at all what it imagines itself to be, according to Buddhist reasoning.

Nirvana is beyond extremes. First, let me clear aside a common misperception: this seal has nothing to do with "extreme views" as understood in contemporary American culture. Put aside whatever political views you may identify with for the moment and focus instead on two different kinds of mistakes at issue: on one side assuming an eternal or substantial identity in any conventional sense (eternalism), or assuming a total negation or nothingness on the other (nihilism), as the Final Answer.

Both these positions have distasteful and counterproductive consequences. If one takes an eternalist view and insists that enlightenment is a product of something, is something personal, then a form of narcissism ensues: my self is unique and durable, our God is on our side, our path has all the answers and will prevail in the end. So many such views proliferate in contradiction with each other, and one has to ask: can they all be right? And if not, does it seem plausible to think that only one of them is among the crowd, like the winner of the Lottery of Metaphysics?

Similarly, if one assumes a nihilistic view, one is led to conclude that since all is nothing and nothing is real in the last analysis, then in reality one's actions are inconsequential and that contemplative practice and ethical living are totally pointless because nothing can change. By contrast, Buddhists observe the law of karma in action. We see that actions do have consequences (telling a lie will hurt someone, stealing from the helpless causes suffering, &c), and further, that learning is possible.

Consequently, we just admit that Buddhahood obeys a different set of laws from the samsaric world and propose it is neither real nor not real, neither eternal nor not eternal, and not at all bound by the predicates and presumptions of reason or emotion. It is not as though Buddhism somehow compromises between or "integrates" the two extreme views; instead, Buddhists cut a path right between them, pulling the premises right out from under them. Imagine a road between two enormous mountains. Should one attempt to synthesize these mountains together and then tunnel through or climb over the mess of rock? No, silly! One should just take the ready road between them, avoiding the thicket of metaphysics and clinging to fantasies about the Spirit.

The four seals offer a straightforward tool for methods as Buddhism or as something else. If you want to know how Buddhism differs from other traditions, including the all-traditions-are-the-same tradition indigenous to American popular culture, then start here. A reminder is in order, though: there are plenty of useful methods in the world, and not all of them are Buddhist. Shakyamuni never taught the importance of flossing your teeth, but you should still do it. Similarly, there are authentic Buddhist practices and teachings that, as near as any historian can tell, the historical Buddha Shakyamuni never taught, including popular ones like ngondro and spectacular ones like kaihogyo. Please try to have an open, curious, and generous mind about all this. Who wants to be a sectarian, a zealot, or a bigot while aspiring to a path of compassion and wisdom?

13 July 2010

Buddhism? (reprise)

As I implied earlier, there is no small amount of confusion and in the English-speaking world about what the word Buddhism means. For this sangha's purposes, I defined Buddhism in the first instance as a way to do things, a thing to do informed by thousands of years of committed practice. This particular thing to do or way to do things has specific characteristics that set it apart. I will address those differences, but first I would like to tackle an immediate objection:

Isn't Buddhism really an institutional religion (a religion and a set of religious institutions)? A historical phenomenon indigenous to South Asia? A culture or set of cultures? A stream of absolute wisdom given from on high to alleviate the sufferings of the deluded masses below? A liferaft for suffering individuals in need of a refuge? A scheme for selling Himalayan kitsch and New-Agey-Self-Helpy gizmos?

Any of those definitions are plausible, although I take issue with some of them (start here if interested). But the definition I give above is not necessarily in conflict with the spirit of these questions above. For instance, there are Buddhist doctrines that are distinct from non-Buddhist ones. The Buddha's teaching on rebirth (disputed by some) is one example. These doctrines and their mastery are in themselves a method of practice; to reject a Buddhist doctrine out of hand is in a sense an avoidance strategy, an attempt to evade an important aspect of practice. Careful study and contemplation of the teachings is one method, one way to shovel the stuff, one of many. How about the difficult double-negations of Madhyamika reasoning? A method, a means to accomplish something. Mumbling mantras, performing mudras, visualization? A method. Walking laps around the stupa, doing prostrations, copying and reciting sutras, sitting meditation, and the rest? Methods. Seung Sahn Sunim's famous (and brilliant!) "only go straight"? A method, a means.

These methods are embodied in very diverse cultures, earnestly practiced and promoted by committed people, transmitted with care and at great self-sacrifice by the same. To paraphrase Peter Hershock, Buddhism is not a commodity but a kind of learning context: Buddhist communities are particular kinds of learning communities. But what kind of learning is this? Is it really learning in the last analysis? I invite you all to contemplate this question before I guide us through the matter of how Buddhist methods can be distinguished from other methods.

* * *

Worth noting in passing: this explanation of Buddhism as a set of methods applied to a particular purpose is a good way around the knotty question of whether Buddhism is or is not a religion in the same way this or that version of Christianity might be, or Eckankar, or even Flying Spaghetti Monsterism: a kind of institution identified with a set of objects (tropes, doctrines, experiences, symbols, stories) one must identify with. What has Buddhism to do with object-identification, with clinging to things? I mean this earnestly, even if a certain kind of pranksterism is taken for granted here.

Contemplation: Torei Zenji on the Bodhisattva Vow

Here is a contemplation that drives home the considerations on real wisdom and skillful means I have been reviewing here. It is particularly appropriate to carry into everyday life in moments when you are facing someone in full-on meltdown mode, but the logic of the teaching applies in all situations and can bring benefit at all times. I think right now is an opportune moment in our sangha's development to put this one into practice.

So, please reflect on Torei Zenji's affirmation of the vow of the bodhisattva (text courtesy of A Buddhist Library):

I am only a simple disciple, but I offer these respectful words:

When I regard the true nature of the many dharmas, I find them all to be sacred forms of the Tathagata's never-failing essence. Each particle of matter, each moment, is no other than the Tathagata's inexpressible radiance.

With this realization, our virtuous ancestors gave tender care to beasts and birds with compassionate minds and hearts. Among us, in our own daily lives, who is not reverently grateful for the protections of life: food, drink, and clothing! Though they are inanimate things, they are nonetheless the warm flesh and blood, the merciful incarnations of Buddha.

All the more, we can be especially sympathetic and affectionate with foolish people, particularly with someone who becomes a sworn enemy and persecutes us with abusive language. That very abuse conveys the Buddha's boundless loving-kindness. It is a compassionate device to liberate us entirely from the mean-spirited delusions we have built up with our wrongful conduct from the beginningless past.

With our open response to such abuse we completely relinquish ourselves, and the most profound and pure faith arises. At the peak of each thought a lotus flower opens, and on each flower there is revealed a Buddha. Everywhere is the Pure Land in its beauty. We see fully the Tathagata's radiant light right where we are.

May we retain this mind and extend it throughout the world so that we and all beings become mature in Buddha's wisdom.

Please take this in, mindfully turn it over in your head, affirm it, commit to it without reservation, and come back to it in the morning and evening. Once settled, be a mountain: do not waver. Then, watch what happens when you bring this recognition into your interactions with others.

* * *

To the best of my knowledge, Torei Zenji was a great master of the Rinzai Zen school, one of Tendai's daughter traditions (meaning that Rinzai developed in a certain way from Tendai institutions and people, arguably starting out as a form of Tendai that included koan practice, and over time established itself as a potent Dharma stream in its own right). So it should be no surprise that this Rinzai teaching expresses very clearly and beautifully a view that has its roots in Tendai. Let us remember Torei Zenji with gratitude.

12 July 2010

A Bit More on Method

While our sangha's physical location and other logistical matters are still sorting themselves out, I think it appropriate to take this as an opportunity to explain a bit more in this space on the earlier topic of method and wisdom working together in Buddhist practice. As I suggested before, this is a way of doing things that comes directly from the Lotus Sutra.

As it happens, the Lotus teaches this through the skillful means of parable and poetry. I'll touch on two examples here.

The first is the parable of a son who has forgotten his identity (this in Chapter 4 of the sutra). In truth, he is to be the inheritor of limitless wealth and capacity for action. He takes himself to be something very different, a wretch suitable only for the worst of tasks. Two kinds of truth apply in this man's case: his ignorance has created a kind of reality for himself (he is, in truth, a very poor man); his fundamental nature is very different from that reality.

In his wanderings, this poor man stumbles into his father, who recognizes him immediately. This recognition business is significant: ignorance cannot recognize wisdom or itself, but wisdom recognizes ignorance and itself for what they are. This seems natural, on par with the Peter Principle. The wise one is compelled to help the poor man, who responds with fear and aversion. Consequently, the wise one devises a scheme to bring the ignorant one into recognition of the reality of the situation and bring him to his original inheritance, which is his already.

The wise elder sets the poor man to work on a task he could accept, shoveling shit for years on end, slowly giving him greater responsibility on his estate until the ignorant man is no longer ignorant but fully competent to learn the truth about himself. He does, he gets it, and inherits the whole thing. Was it necessary to do all that dirty work in order to come into that inheritance? Yes and no. No, he was the heir to the estate the whole time regardless of his state of mind or his beliefs about himself. Yes, because he would have rejected it otherwise, in effect avoiding his education or his responsibility to his situation. The father's wisdom led him to contrive this pedagogy, this method, to achieve a specific end. Buddhist methods are like this. Wise ones intervene in particular situations to achieve particular ends. We practice those interventions until our wisdom recognizes our ignorance for what it is, and also recognizes itself as wisdom.

Later in the Lotus, we learn of the bodhisattva activities of Avalokiteshvara, whose name is sometimes translated as the Regarder of the Cries of the World (this is Chapter 25, especially great for chanting & reading out loud). I think if you just read the thing you'll see just what I'm getting at here; it's a fine piece of literature in its own right. The lesson is repeated again and again: however a situation needs to be met, the bodhisattva meets that situation in just the appropriate way. If someone needs to be taught by a man or a woman, then as a man or a woman the bodhisattva will manifest. The logic of the interaction is the same in each case: wisdom recognizes ignorance and understands its needs, then meets it head on, drawing deluded beings toward a recognition of their own situation for what it is. Why am I standing here waist deep in my own detritus, with this shovel in my hand? Who put me up to this?

The moment of wisdom is that recognition of one's inherent nature as inseparable from the Buddhas, of one's own capacities as inseparable from the enlightened capacities of the Buddhas. The moment of skillful means lies in transforming a crappy situation into a context for this recognition, or for preparing the ground for that recognition. Just keep going.

To tie all this up, I would like to add that there is a certain kind of comic timing to all this. Brook Ziporyn in many of his writings explains the teaching of the Lotus Sutra through an analogy to a joke: first there is a set-up that sets out a pattern ("three guys walk into a bar..."), and second comes a punchline that changes the meaning of the set-up while exploding the expectations that its pattern established ("the Aristocrats!". Imagine this in the voice of your uncle Louie: So this guy's shoveling this crap for all these years and then come to find out he's a prince the whole damned time! It is not an exaggeration to consider this teaching as a very serious pedagogy of pranksterism, of a particular kind of situational self-awareness.


I would like to sketch out what I mean when I say Buddhism, and what the practice of Buddhism as we understand it here entails. A useful way to do this is to consider a traditional summary, which can be rendered like this:

Refrain from evil. Only do good. Purify the mind. This is the teaching of all the Buddhas.

...or like this:

Avoid what is not helpful. Cultivate what is helpful. Purify the mind [so you can tell the difference]. This is the teaching of all the Buddhas.

In both of these, you can see the interaction of two functions: skillful action in the world (do this and not that with your body, speech, and mind), and wisdom (which makes the former possible). The practice of purifying the mind is an integral part of the path insofar as it makes purposive action in real time possible.

Many questions follow from this.

How to purify the mind? There are many, many methods for this. One of the most popular is seated meditation. We do this at the Washington Tendai Sangha. It is a good method for many people. It is not the only method, and it is only a method, not the entire path itself. There are other methods available in Tendai: recitation of sutras, chanting, esoteric practice (mikkyo or Vajrayana), body practice, devotional practice...

Take a step back though. What is this about doing something, about having a purpose? Tendai is a Mahayana school. We are not doing this for our health, our wealth, or anything personal. This is not about self-realization or self-aggrandizement (or worse, self-realization as self-aggrandizement). This is not a career. We are doing this out of service to the totality of other beings who are struggling, suffering, or screwing it up in any given situation, particularly the situation you find yourself in. This is the point of practice: to be useful for the sake of being useful, not to earn bodhisattva brownie points or however else one may imagine it. I think Taigen Leighton once remarked (loosely paraphrasing here) that the real bodhisattva is the neighbor who silently lets you borrow his lawnmower. That comment hits the mark in my opinion.

Returning to the main theme, this relationship between skillful means (upaya) on the one side and transcendent or discerning wisdom on the other side (prajna) constitutes the core of Tendai methodology. This is how we work: we cultivate wisdom through methodical practice so we can spontaneously bring light to whatever situation we face. And since any situation we face is itself an opportunity to cultivate wisdom, a virtuous cycle begins: the left hand and the right hand strengthen and correct each other when they cooperate.

The core teaching of the Tendai school comes from a teaching called The Lotus Sutra. If someone spent his or her lifetime understanding the relationship between skillful means and the transcendent wisdom of the Buddhas in the Lotus Sutra, and put that into direct practice all the time, that person's efforts would surely not be wasted.

Let us do the right thing and avoid the selfish thing.

Let us work in a disciplined and methodical way, and not become blinded by our own capacity for deluding ourselves.

Let us bring the light of all the Buddhas to all the dark corners.

DC Tendai Yahoo Group

Another useful resource for Tendai activities in the Washington area specifically and for Buddhist practice generally is our yahoo group. Sign up here if interested. Stay informed and join the conversation.


Best to start at the beginning, yes? So, please allow me to introduce myself, this blog, and the work we are trying to accomplish with it.

Me? My name is Jikan. I am a doshu priest in the Tendai tradition of Mahayana Buddhism. I live in the ring of suburbs that surround Washington DC, and in no strict sense out of choice: I attend graduate school in the area (ask me later if you care) and this is a convenient spot to put a desk. So here I am.

And? I have been asked to assume leadership of the Washington Tendai Sangha. This group was founded several years ago by a priest named Ernest Lissabet. He continues to teach in the area, but is no longer affiliated with Tendai in any way (of which more in a moment). I would like to thank Ernest Lissabet for his years of effort in starting this sangha and keeping it going as it developed. My intention is to build on the foundation Ernie established for this group. Babies and bathwater sort themselves out over time.

Tendai? Tendai Buddhism is a unique tradition of Japanese Buddhism with a long and variegated history, and a very broad compass of practices. Our headquarters in North America is established at the Tendai Buddhist Institute in Canaan, New York. If one is practicing Tendai Buddhism in North America, one is doing so at minimum under the administrative oversight of Monshin Paul Naamon, the head of the Institute. Monshin is also my teacher. He asked me to take over here in Washington.

Sangha? Buddhists know what "sangha" means, but for those who are new to the lingo, the term "sangha" in this context refers to a group of people who practice Buddhism together with a common purpose. It implies a continuity of relationships, of intentions--it demands long-term commitment and authentic friendship. In this transition, there will be much continuity but some changes, primarily in logistics (meeting times and meeting frequency). Please check here for further announcements in this regard.

Buddhism? Big one. I will have more to say on this, specifically on the topic of how we practice Buddhism here at the Washington Tendai Sangha. I am defining Buddhism in terms of practice because it is, in the end, very practical. It is something we do, and we do it with purpose.

Introductions? Come and gone already. The beginning is past. Thank you for your time; I look forward to sharing this thing with you.