29 April 2013

Contemplation: The Bodhisattva who is Ill, 3

After reviewing the guidelines for practice, take the following as your object of contemplation:
"This ailing bodhisattva should also think to himself: 'This illness of mine has no reality, no existence, and the illnesses of other beings likewise have no reality and no existence."
Vimalakirti Sutra, Watson translation, p. 70

24 April 2013

Lotus Sutra Study Questions 20

Lotus Sutra chapter 20 tells the story of a bodhisattva called Never Despising (a previous incarnation of Buddha Shakyamuni).  This bodhisattva's life describes a helpful and profound practice that benefits oneself and others.  I encourage everyone to work with this practice.  Here is the gist of it:

Bodhisattva Never Despising responded internally to anyone he met in the same way, regardless of whether they agreed with him or treated him unkindly:
"I do not despise you
Because you will practice the Way
And become Buddhas."
Lotus Sutra, p. 289, Murano translation.
What does this mean?  It means that in all situations, Never Despising refused to give up on anyone as worthless, valueless, or hopeless.  He refused to assume anyone was, in the last analysis, his enemy, or some source of evil.  Instead, he recognized in everyone without exception their capacity for awakening, a capacity he himself was cultivating.  Put differently, he understood the spiritual unity of all life, and made it his practice to recognize this in everyone.

How is this helpful?  Well, for starters:
Those who were attached to [wrong] views
Were led into the Way
To the enlightenment of the Buddha
By this Bodhisattva.
Lotus Sutra, p. 290

Through this practice, Never Despising helped those around him transform hatred and ignorance into wisdom. 

This week's study question is rhetorical:  are you willing to give this practice a try?

22 April 2013

Contemplation: The Bodhisattva who is Ill, 2

After reviewing the guidelines for practice, take the following as your object of contemplation:
"What is meant by realizing there is nothing to grasp at?  It means having done with dualistic views.  What is meant  by dualistic views?  It means viewing this as internal, or viewing that as external.  [Have done with such views] and there will be no more grasping at things."

Vimalakirti Sutra, p. 69

17 April 2013

Lotus Sutra Study Questions 19

Lotus Sutra chapter 19 describes the merits of someone who teaches the meaning of the Lotus Sutra to others.  These merits involve an extraordinary refinement of the five senses and the discriminative mind (citta).  For instance, such a one can gain unusual kinds of knowledge through the sense of hearing, including the voices of beings that people do not ordinarily hear. 

This chapter suggests that teaching is itself a kind of spiritual practice, and that this practice bears certain kinds of fruit:  from teaching comes knowledge, that is the pattern.  Thinking back on earlier chapters in this Sutra, where do you see ideas about teaching and learning develop?  What kinds of knowledge is valued in this Sutra?  How does this chapter fit into that context?

15 April 2013

Contemplation: The Bodhisattva who is Ill

After reviewing the guidelines for practice, take the following as your object of contemplation:
Then Manjushri asked Vimalakirti, "How should a bodhisattva go about comforting and instructing another bodhisattva who is ill?"

Vimalakirti replied, "Tell him about the impermanence of the body, but do not tell him to despise or turn away from the body.  Tell him about the sufferings of the body, but do not tell him to strive for nirvana.  Tell him that the body is without ego, but urge him to teach and guide living beings.  Tell him of the emptiness of the body, but do not tell him of its final extinction.  Tell him to repent of former offenses, but do not tell him to consign them to the past.  Tell him to use his own illness as a means of sympathizing with the illness of others, for he should understand their sufferings throughout the countless kalpas of their p ast existence, and should think how he can bring benefit to all living beings.  Tell him to recall the good fortune he has won through religious practice, to concentrate on a life of purity, and not to give way to gloom or worry.  He should cultivate constant diligence, striving to become a king of physicians who can heal the ailments of the assembly.  This is how a bodhisattva should comfort and instruct a bodhisattva who is ill so as to make him feel happy." 
Vimalakirti Sutra, trans. B. Watson, pp. 67-68

10 April 2013

Lotus Sutra Study Questions 18

The topic of Lotus Sutra chapter 18 is rejoicing in practice and in learning.  Rejoicing is a spiritual practice in its own right.  It also has a role in magnifying, if you will, the energy or effect of the activities one rejoices in.  Karma is like that:  for an action to be complete, one first forms an intention to do something, then carries out the intended act, and finally takes satisfaction in having done it.  Two thirds of all karma (at least) is mental and volitional, having to do with intentions regarding future actions and attitudes regarding past actions.

All of this means that intentionally and earnestly celebrating the attainments of others amounts to participating in that attainment, karmically-speaking.  Rejoicing in one's own virtuous actions, one's Buddhist activities, redoubles the strength of the seeds planted.  Seeds bear fruit:
Needless to say, boundless will be the merits
Of the person who hears this sutra with all his heart,
And expounds its meanings,
And acts according to its teachings.
Lotus Sutra, Murano translation, p. 268

I encourage you to rejoice in the wholesome deeds and activities of others, and the good qualities of the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. 

Having heard much of the Lotus Sutra and hopefully taken it to heart, what is to be rejoiced in?  Reflect on what you have learned so far:  How can you incorporate these teachings into your spiritual practice?  Into your everyday conduct with others and on your own?

08 April 2013

Contemplation: Inherent Baselessness

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

The inherent baselessness of physical and mental objects is called reality.

Li Tonxuan, Entry into the Realm of Reality, trans. T. Cleary, p. 21

05 April 2013

Coming Attraction: Introduction to Buddhist Practice

Mark your calendars:  on April 21, we are presenting an Introduction to Buddhist Practice.  You can find out all the details on where and when at this link.  We hope to see you there!  Please spread the word...

03 April 2013

Programming notice: Nembutsu practice next week

At next week's meditation, I will give an introduction to nembutsu practice; our regular Lotus Sutra programming will return the following week.

If this is new to you, consider having a look at a post I wrote on it some years back, or perhaps at Thich Nhat Hanh's helpful book on the subject.

This is an accessible, joyful practice that anyone can take up and benefit from.


01 April 2013

Contemplation: Shoya

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

I expound the transient verse
in the early evening--Listen!
Illusion  is deep enough and bottomless;
the ocean of life and death has no limits.
The ship that takes us from this life's suffering
is not yet departing;
now is not the time to sleep.

Shoya, as recited at Tendai Buddhist Institute.