26 September 2012

Surangama Sutra Study Questions, part 8

 "The Surangama Mantra," pages 279-307.

In this passage, the sutra turns once again:  from exhortations on ethical purity, to the essentially esoteric matters of establishing a ritually pure space, and the recitatin of the Surangama dharani (also called a mantra). 

*Rather than attempting to probe these matters of faith analytically, I would invite you to consider them as means to an end.  These practices, particularly the recitation of mantra and dharani, have a long history as spiritual practices, which is to say, as methods, as means.  The  best way to find out how such practices work is to give them a good-faith try.  How?

*The Order of Buddhist Contemplatives, a soto Zen group, has prepared an English translation of the dharani.  It is chantable and elegant, although some of the word choices are unconventional (what exactly is a "daemon" and what has it to do with Buddhism?).  If you are interested, you can find it here.  I have recited and copied this translation myself, and found it beneficial.

24 September 2012

Enjoy Thanksgiving Together at Jikan's House

This Thanksgiving, we would like to invite anyone who would like to come for a warm meal together and good conversation. If you would like to bring a vegetarian dish, dessert, or drink, or if you have never been to our home before, please let me know (jikananderson at gmail.com).  You can RSVP to me by email, in person, or at our Meetup group:  22 November 2012 at 5:30pm.

Contemplation: Wondrous, Fundamental, Luminous

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

All in the assembly became aware that their minds pervaded the ten directions and that they could see everything throughout space in all ten directions as clearly as one might see an object such as a leaf in the palm of one's hand.  They saw that all things in all worlds are the wondrous, fundamental, enlightened, luminous mind that understands, and that this mind, pure, all-pervading, and perfect, contains the entire universe.  They looked back on their own bodies born of their parents and saw them to be like minute particles of dust drifting about everywhere in the air, arising and perishing, or like solitary bubbles floating on vast, calm seas, appearing and then vanishing without a trace.  They fully understood that the fundamental, wondrous mind is everlasting and does not perish.
Surangama Sutra, p. 135

19 September 2012

Surangama Study Questions, part 7

Back to the heart of the matter...

"Four Clear and Definitive Instructions on Purity," pages 263-276

*How would you characterize the Buddha's ethical teachings in this section?  What is emphasized?  Is there anything one might expect to find here that is not definitely indicated?

*For whom are these teachings given (i.e., monks, nuns, laymen, laywomen...)?  For anyone and everyone under all circumstances?

17 September 2012

Contemplation: You Don't Worry

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

You don't worry.  You do your best.

Chogyal Namkhai Norbu

12 September 2012

Surangama Study Questions, part 6

Back to the heart of the matter...

Surangama Sutra, part 6:  "Twenty-Five Sages," pages 205-259

*This section opens with another of Ananda's particularities.  What is Ananda after here; what is he trying for?  How does the Buddha respond?

*Once again, Buddha Shakyamuni adjusts his teaching method to suit the needs of his students.  What does he do in this chapter?

*There is a certain symmetry or correspondence  between Part 6 and Part 3, "The Matrix of the Thus-Come One."  How does this later section develop, or reinforce, or recontextualize (choose the verb you like) that earlier section's teachings?

*What are the unique capacities and practices of "the Bodhisattva who Hears the Cries of the World," Avalokiteshvara (also known as Kanzeon, Kannon, Guan Yin, Kwanseum)?  Why does Manjushri recommend this path for Ananda, and for beings in "the Dharma's ending-time"?

*We will discuss what is meant by the Dharma-ending age, and its relevance to this Sutra and our tradition of Buddhism, Tuesday evening.

10 September 2012

Contemplation: Untouched by Conditions

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

When you remain entirely untouched by conditions, whether or not they are present in combination, you bring to an end all the causes of coming into being and ceasing to be.  At that moment, you will awake to perfect enlightenment, which is your true nature and which neither comes into being nor ceases to be.  It is the pure, fundamental mind, the fundamental, everlasting enlightenment.

Surangama Sutra, p. 83

05 September 2012

Surangama Study Questions, 5

Back to the heart of the matter...

On Part 5:  "Instructions for Practice," pages 169-201.

*Here, the Buddha seems to shift tactics in teaching the Sangha.  He relies less on elaborate logic than in previous sections, and more on concrete analogies:  objects such as a scarf or the sound of a bell that can be experienced with the senses of those present.  Why do you suppose the Buddha takes this approach at this point?

*What are some of the Buddha's specific instructions for the practice of the Path?  How do these emerge from or relate to the material presented previously?

*This may be a good time to consider the elements of the supernatural that are described in the sutra.  The Buddha's hands are webbed and his skin appears as purple-toned gold; at one point, the light of all the Buddhas in all directions floods the hall.  How does this impact you as a reader?  How do your values, preconceptions, and expectations interact with this spectacle?  By contrast, how might the members of a Chinese farming village in the year 1000 respond to hearing it, do you imagine?

03 September 2012

Contemplation: "So it is"

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

Ananda said, "In fact, I do not think that anything I see, as I look around Prince Jetri's Grove, is separate from my awareness.  Why?  If the trees were separate from my awareness, how could I be seeing them?  But if the trees were identical to my awareness, how could they still be trees?  The same is true of every other perceived object and of space as well.  If space were separate from my awareness, how could I be seeing it?  But if it were identical to my awareness, how could it still be space?  Having reexamined this--having considered in detail the myriad sights around us, I realize that not even the smallest of them is separate from my awareness."

The Buddha said, "So it is.  So it is."

The Buddha's words stunned everyone in the assembly who still needed instruction.

from The Surangama Sutra, pp. 67-68