31 January 2011

Contemplation: No Fear

After reviewing the guidelines for practice, take this as your object of contemplation:

Thus the bodhisattva lives Prajna Paramita with no hindrance in the mind: no hindrance, therefore no fear.

from the Heart Sutra

26 January 2011

Programming Notice

We will no longer be meeting in Room 11 of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington. Instead, we will be moving down the hall into the Nursery room for future sangha events. See you there!

25 January 2011

Contemplation: Accordance

After reviewing the guidelines for practice, take this selection as your object of contemplation:

Enlightenment originally has no duality, yet expedients are countless. The countless expedients are summarized in three. Quiescence is like a clear, bright mirror. Illusion-contemplation is like a shoot growing out of the ground. Dhyana is like the sound within the bell. Although these three dharma-gates have distinctions of deep and shallow, in their relation to Perfect Enlightenment, the are all called "accordance." The buddhas and bodhisattvas accomplish the Way based on these. The complete realization of the three is called Great Nirvana.

Kihwa's commentary on the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment, p. 181.

20 January 2011

Our Sangha is Growing. Now What?

Currently, our little group meets in a basement classroom at the Unitarian Universalist church in Arlington, Virginia. This location has been a very fortunate one for us. It is not a sustainable situation, though, because our numbers are growing and our activities are increasing in scope and in frequency. We will eventually outgrow this space: not soon, but sooner rather than later.

And would it not be most excellent for this group to settle into a permanent physical home after over four years of nomadic life?

So we are presently entertaining alternatives: other locations at the UUCA, and in the neighborhood. Also, we are raising funds in advance of increased expense that a move will involve. There are two ways you can help: you can make a donation by PayPal or otherwise in support of these teachings, or you can suggest possible venues for us to practice in. Sincere invitations will be gladly considered.

This is what we need:

*A room that can seat a dozen or fifteen people on the floor, comfortably. It should be uncluttered and tidy.

*A clean and secure place to store our shrine items (they fit in a medium-sized suitcase), a small folding table, and several zafu and zabuton. An ordinary closet works for this.

*Access to a lavatory.

*Location: somewhere in Northern Virginia, within the beltway, such as Annandale, Falls Church, or Arlington. We would really like to be accessible by Metro rail if we can be.

We are fastidious and courteous, and we pay our rent on time.

Please contact me at JikanAnderson@gmail.com if you would like to help us and in doing so, serve the Dharma in the Washington region.

Namo Buddhaya!

18 January 2011

Some Questions and Answers

This is a series of questions and answers that I had with some students recently by email. I am posting them here in the hope this approach might be of use.
What is the difference in doctrine and practice between Tendai and Zen?

Doctrine: Not much difference between mainstream Zen schools in China & Korea, or the Rinzai school of Japan. Soto Zen's a bit more unique. For our purposes, though, they're very close cousins... much Ch'an and Zen doctrine comes from the Tiantai school of China, which is where Tendai comes from too. Practice: again similar, but there's greater variety of practices in Tendai than in any Zen school. Two examples of this are Mikkyo and Kaihogyo. Mikkyo is Japanese Vajrayana (like Tibetan Buddhism); Kaihogyo... is really something special.
Do you think that a mystical experience requires ignoring scientific facts and requires a belief in religious myth?

No, I think that would be stupid. Mystical experiences are phenomena like any other. I'm not interested in mythmaking except as a means to an end, an upaya.
Is the mystical experience more valuable than observable facts?

No, a mystical experience is an observable fact (a fact of observation, a subjective experience of a specific kind).
After all, you could attain a mystical experience (an altered state of consciousness) by taking peyote, LSD or undergoing sensory deprivation. You don't have to believe in religious myth.

I'm inclined to agree, although I'm not convinced that all insights are of the same nature. Or better put: mot all paths necessarily lead to the same place or in the same way. It's easy to get lost in a muddle, and generally people get along better if they find a path that works for them and dig deep into it.

What is your definition of religion?

Religion is a social institution, like the DMV or any other kind of bureaucracy. It's neither good nor bad in itself. You can do helpful things with it, though, if you operate in good faith and with good guidance. Like a school: you can find means there to be useful to others, and less harmful. Different religions, like different bureaucracies, offer different tools to accomplish this. Some of them overlap.

However, traditions of practice persist in institutions. This is how we make the coffee. Here is how to load the truck. The same is true in religious institutions: this is how we alleviate anger. This is how we support those who are hurting. So there are different levels if you will: a doctrinal or theoretical level, a social or institutional level, and a practical level where productive work can happen.
How is Tendai different from Pure Land?

Pure Land is a practice. It can be found in all Mahayana cultures: Tibet, China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, all of them. Some schools include Pure Land practices, like one color in a spectrum. Others make Pure Land practice their entire focus. Tendai includes Pure Land practice, significantly. Some Tendai priests do Pure Land practice (nembutsu) exclusively and intensively. Some do it hardly ever; their emphasis is different. For instance: my teacher, Monshin Naamon, is primarily interested in seated meditation. That is his main practice. He also does calligraphy, nembutsu, academic study, and a host of other things. But seated meditation has been his main practice. By contrast, the head of California Buddhist Monastery, Keisho Leary, is primarily an esoteric (Mikkyo) practitioner. He also does Kaihogyo-style practice around the mountain at his temple. Both approaches are fully Tendai. There is much room to find yourself in Tendai, to find a way that is right for your needs and talents.
Thich Nhat Hanh says Pure Land emphasizes seeking salvation from what appears to be an external source. What I understand so far of "real" Buddhism is what the Buddha said when he was dying, "Be a lamp unto yourselves," that the Buddha is already within us. So should we ultimately depend on ourselves or an external source?

This is a great question. The Buddha we seek is not outside ourselves. Where would you look for it? In the Ekayana teachings, our emphasis is on the Buddha-mind within. The enlightened qualities of Amida Buddha are latent within us, as potential. Through practice and attention, we begin to manifest those qualities. That is all. Think of a river backed up behind a beaver dam. If someone methodically breaks the dam, that potential energy of the water is expressed in a rush, a flood. That metaphor might help. I repeat: no Buddha is real until you see it for yourself. When Amida manifests himself to you, it is your enlightened qualities that manifest themselves to you. Nothing "external," because there is no in or out; no corners, no center, no edges. To put it in Thich Nhat Hanh's terms, our practice is to reach out and touch it. Of course this begs the question: what is a "self" in Buddhism again? Where does a self start or stop?

Contemplation: The Display of Wisdom Mind

After reviewing the guidelines for practice, take this comment on the wisdom of skillful means as your object of contemplation:

Wisdom magic has no grasping mind. It is only a manifestation to other beings who believe in the phenomena of reality, showing what appear to be reality's activities in order to guide them beyond reality and unreality. When sublime beings appear to be wrathful, it is just the natural, limitless display of wisdom mind, occurring as sentient beings' reflections appearing in front of them. Then, through wrathful or peaceful appearances of enlightened display, sentient beings can connect to wisdom and one day attain enlightenment.

Thinley Norbu, White Sail, p. 57

10 January 2011

Contemplation: No Single Thing to Love

Review the guidelines for practice and, remembering that words are not always as they seem, take this as your object of contemplation:

It is due to attachment to the trace of self that we are deluded and unable to enter enlightenment. If you realize there is no single thing to love, you can gradually accomplish enlightenment. If you do not arise sentiments in regards to the teacher, then you are able to reach Peerless Correct Equal Enlightenment.

from Kihwa's commentary to the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment, page 216

What Is Ekayana?

Ekayana is a Sanskrit word. It means "single vehicle." Buddhism is famous for being of one, two, three, or more (up to nine in Nyingma) -yanas, or vehicles. The Ekayana doctrine claims that all these vehicles are but devices, conveniences, teaching tools, training wheels, or gimmicks: that the real intention of the teaching is single, coherent, subsuming all of the above into one logic. The Buddha's behavior may seem pranksterish in this context, but his pedagogy is relentless, as he expresses it in The Lotus Sutra:

That is why, O Shariputra, I devised the method of teaching
The way to extinguish all suffering through Nirvana.
Even though I taught Nirvana,
It is not the true extinction.
Every existing thing from the very beginning
has always had the mark of quiescence.
The heirs of the Buddhas who practice this path
Whill thereafter become Buddhas in the future.
With the power of skillful means
I have presented the teachings of the three vehicles.
Yet all the Bhagavats
Teach the path of the single vehicle.
This great assembly should now rid itself of bewilderment.
Of those hearing this Dharma
There will be no one
Who will not become a Buddha.
The original vow of the Buddhas,
Was to make all sentient beings universally
Attain the very same Buddha-path
Which I have practiced.
(from Chapter 2, as recited at the Tendai Buddhist Institute)

Fundamentally, Ekayana means that the Buddhist teaching is in its most transcendental moments a contrivance, a method, a means to an end: not a transcendent doctrine.

Practically, Ekayana means that our path is the recognition and cultivation of the Buddha-mind. One can call this "taking the goal as the path."

You should know that the Dharma
Of all the Buddhas is like this.
They teach the Dharma
With myriads of kotis of skillful means,
According to the capacities of sentient beings;
The inexperienced cannot understand this.
All of you, have no further doubts!
Let great joy arise in your hearts
And know that you will all become Buddhas!

This is what our Sangha is about: the Great River, the single stream, of the Ekayana teachings.

07 January 2011

Jikan's Office Hour: Dharma Discussion & Coffee

Some sangha members have expressed an interest in meeting to discuss the Buddhist teachings in a less structured context than our usual Wednesday night meetings. I think this is an excellent idea, and would like to give it a try. Hence:

I am calling it Jikan's Office Hour. The format: I will meet with whomever shows up and has an earnest question about Buddhism, and offer whatever help I can, on a first-come, first-served basis. Students, if you are interested in this, please come prepared with at least one good question. It might help to review this thing.

Practically speaking, if only one person is around, then I will work with that person until time is up or I am out of coffee. But I would really prefer to make sure everyone with a question gets heard. The format should be dialogic. If you feel you need to speak with me privately, that can be arranged at another time and in another venue. If you need help understanding something you are reading, please email me in advance what you would like to ask me about, so I can come prepared.

The first Office Hour will be held on Saturday, 15 January, 2011, at this Starbucks coffee shop. The address: 8104A Arlington Blvd, Falls Church, VA 22042. I will be there from about 9:30am until 10:30am or a little after.

Depending on people's interest level, this experiment may become a regular feature of our sangha's program. My intention would be to make it mobile, so that those who can't reach this cafe might be able to find us at another one.

06 January 2011

About Our Sangha: Re-Beginnings

After about two years of meeting at the Cherrydale Fire Hall, conditions and contingencies led Rev. Lissabet to move the local Tendai sangha to the Walden Room of the Unitarian-Universalist Church of Arlington.

This move was an auspicious one in many respects: for starters, many of our regular sangha members became involved on a walking-down-the-hall basis. Our association with the UUCA has been fruitful for us, and I hope mutually beneficial. We still meet at the UUCA, down the hall from the Walden Room.

I was asked to assume leadership of the Tendai sangha in Washington in the summer of 2010. Although I was not a regular attendee of sangha functions, I had maintained an affiliation with the group since its days in Cherrydale.

The rest of the beginning is here for you to see. Beginnings take time and energy. I invite you to join in an help us advance this story past the introduction.

04 January 2011

Contemplation: The Regarder of the Cries of the World

After reviewing the guidelines for practice, take this section of the Lotus Sutra as your object of contemplation:

If sentient beings are in great adversity,
And immeasurable pain afflicts them,
The wonderful power of the wisdom of the Cry Regarder
Can relieve the sufferings of the world.
Endowed with transcendent powers
And having fully mastered wisdom and skillful means,
In all the worlds in the ten directions,
There is no place where she will not manifest herself.

Lotus Sutra, Chapter 25, as recited at the Tendai Buddhist Institute

NOTE FOR STUDENTS: The Cry Regarder is a translation of a traditional Chinese interpretation of the name Avalokiteshvara. The Cry Regarder in the Lotus Sutra and Avalokiteshvara in the Heart Sutra are identical.

01 January 2011

About Our Sangha: Beginnings

Great River Ekayana Sangha began as Washington Tendai Sangha, under the leadership of Chion Ernest Lissabet. Washington Tendai initially met at the Cherrydale Volunteer Fire Department hall in Arlington, Virginia. This is where the sangha was first consecrated by Monshin Paul Naamon of Tendai Buddhist Institute on December 8, 2006: Rohatsu or Bodhi Day.

In addition to regular meetings at the fire hall for services and meditation, the sangha convened for occasional conversations about Buddhism and Buddhist practice over breakfast at a nearby diner. This was an ambitious itinerary, especially for a small group in its infancy.