Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Fourteen Precepts of Engaged Buddhism

I absolutely LOVE Hanh's Fourteen Precepts of Engaged Buddhism. If I could completely I would be an enlightened soul. I hope you like them!



By Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh (From the book Interbeing)

Thich Nhat Hanh 1
Do not be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. Buddhist systems of thought are guiding means; they are not absolute truth.

Do not think the knowledge you presently possess is changeless, absolute truth. Avoid being narrow minded and bound to present views. Learn and practice nonattachment from views in order to be open to receive others' viewpoints. Truth is found in life and not merely in conceptual knowledge. Be ready to learn throughout your entire life and to observe reality in yourself and in the world at all times.

Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education. However, through compassionate dialogue, help others renounce fanaticism and narrow-mindedness.

Do not avoid suffering or close your eyes before suffering. Do not lose awareness of the existence of suffering in the life of the world. Find ways to be with those who are suffering, including personal contact, visits, images and sounds. By such means, awaken yourself and others to the reality of suffering in the world.

Do not accumulate wealth while millions are hungry. Do not take as the aim of your life fame, profit, wealth, or sensual pleasure. Live simply and share time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need.

Do not maintain anger or hatred. Learn to penetrate and transform them when they are still seeds in your consciousness. As soon as they arise, turn your attention to your breath in order to see and understand the nature of your hatred.

Do not lose yourself in dispersion and in your surroundings. Practice mindful breathing to come back to what is happening in the present moment. Be in touch with what is wondrous, refreshing, and healing both inside and around you. Plant seeds of joy, peace, and understanding in yourself in order to facilitate the work of transformation in the depths of your consciousness.

Do not utter words that can create discord and cause the community to break. Make every effort to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.

Do not say untruthful things for the sake of personal interest or to impress people. Do not utter words that cause division and hatred. Do not spread news that you do not know to be certain. Do not criticize or condemn things of which you are not sure. Always speak truthfully and constructively. Have the courage to speak out about situations of injustice, even when doing so may threaten your own safety.

Do not use the Buddhist community for personal gain or profit, or transform your community into a political party. A religious community, however, should take a clear stand against oppression and injustice and should strive to change the situation without engaging in partisan conflicts.

Do not live with a vocation that is harmful to humans and nature. Do not invest in companies that deprive others of their chance to live. Select a vocation that helps realise your ideal of compassion.

Do not kill. Do not let others kill. Find whatever means possible to protect life and prevent war.

Possess nothing that should belong to others. Respect the property of others, but prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on Earth.

Do not mistreat your body. Learn to handle it with respect. Do not look on your body as only an instrument. Preserve vital energies (sexual, breath, spirit) for the realisation of the Way. (For brothers and sisters who are not monks and nuns:) Sexual expression should not take place without love and commitment. In sexual relations, be aware of future suffering that may be caused. To preserve the happiness of others, respect the rights and commitments of others. Be fully aware of the responsibility of bringing new lives into the world. Meditate on the world into which you are bringing new beings.

From the book 'Interbeing': Fourteen Guidelines for Engaged Buddhism, revised edition: Oct. l993 by Thich Nhat Hanh, published by Parallax Press, Berkeley, California

Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh is a Buddhist monk, poet, peace activist, and the author of Being Peace, The Miracle of Mindfulness, and many other books. He lives in a monastic community in south-western France called Plum Village, where he teaches, writes, gardens, and works to help refugees world-wide. He conducts retreats throughout the world on the art of mindful living, and has conducted special retreats for American Vietnam War veterans, psychotherapists, artists, environmental activists and children.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

#3 of the Eightfold Path

I have found a beautiful interpretation of the Eightfold Path. Number Three, Right Speech struck me as especially poignant. Maybe it's just where I'm at today. In any case, I find it beautiful.

3. Right Speech

We are often judged by our words. Long after we leave this world, our words shall remain. Words can often be sharper than the blade of the sword, bringing harm to the spirit of a person which can cause wounds that are deeper and last longer than that of a dagger. Therefore, we must choose our words carefully. The Buddha realized 4 methods of speech that bring peace to our lives and the lives of those who surround us.

Words of Honesty: Speaking without truth can be a means to our end and to the end of others. Therefore, honesty is always the best policy.

Words of Kindness: Speaking words of kindness, we will never be the cause that divides hearts or puts brother against brother. We become peacemakers. Our words are cherished and valued and shall bring peacefulness to ourselves and to those surrounding us.

Words that are Nurturing: Words that comfort rather than harm the heart, shall travel to the heart, and bring long lasting peace.

Words that are Worthy: Speaking only what is worthy and valuable for the moment, our words will always be found sweet to the ears of others and shall always be considered in a peaceful manner. Words of gossip, untruth, and selfishness do not return to us with peace. The worth of our words is measured by how much they improve the silence.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Notes on Gassho and Bowing

I found this helpful if you do not know the significance or even the meaning of Gassho or bowing, this article will help you immensely.

Notes on Gassho and Bowing
By Taizan Maezumi Roshi with John Daishin Buksbazen

Visitors to the Zen Center often ask about the gassho and about bowing. What, they inquire, is the meaning of these gestures? Why are they done? And why is it necessary to do them so precisely and uniformly? These questions deserve careful consideration.

Although we are Zen Buddhists, it should be noted that the gassho and the bow are common to all sects of Buddhism, both Mahayana and Theravada. These two gestures date from the earliest days of Buddhism, or even earlier than that, and they have moved from India throughout the Orient, finally arriving recently in the Western world.

When Shakyamuni Buddha's enlightenment occurred, he went to see five of his former comrades with whom he had practiced various austerities and spiritual disciplines prior to his enlightenment. These five men, who were very devout monks, felt that their companion had gone astray when he abandoned their customary practices. "Come," they said to each other, "Let's not pay any attention to poor Gautama, he no longer is one of us." They were dismayed to find that he had seemingly stopped his spiritual practices, going so far as to even drink milk and take a bath (two forbidden acts according to their tradition). They could not understand why he seemed only to sit quietly, doing nothing of any value.
But when the Buddha approached them, it is reported that these five monks were so struck by the transformation of their former friend, by his serenity and the radiance of his personality, that they spontaneously placed their palms together and greeted him with deep bows. Perhaps it is a little misleading to say that they greeted HIM. More accurately, it should be said that they were bowing not to their old friend Gautama, but rather to the Buddha
-- the Enlightened One.

What the Buddha had experienced was the Supreme Great Enlightenment (in Sanskrit, anuttara samyak sambodhi): the direct and conscious realization of the oneness of the whole universe, and of his own unity with all things. This is what enlightenment means. This very realization is actually in itself the act of being the Buddha. And it was to this enlightened state that the five monks bowed.

When the Buddha was enlightened, the first thing he said was: "Wonder of wonders! All sentient beings have the same (enlightened) nature!" What this implies is that in bowing to the Buddha, the monks were actually bowing to themselves, and to all beings. These monks were recognizing the great unity which their former companion had directly and profoundly experienced.

Let us examine the gassho and the bow more closely.

The word GASSHO literally means "To place the two palms together". Of all the mudras (symbolic hand-gestures or positions) we use, it is perhaps the most fundamental, for it arises directly from the depths of enlightenment. Its uses are many, but most commonly it is employed to express respect, to prevent scattering of the mind, to unify all polarities (such as left and right, passive and dominant, etc.) and to express the One Mind -- the total unity of Being.

Although there are many types of gassho, in the Soto sect we are primarily concerned with these four:

1. THE FIRM GASSHO. The most formal of the gasshos, this is the one most commonly used in our daily practice. It is the gassho we use upon entering the zendo, and upon taking our seats. We also use it at least sixteen times in the course of a formal meal, and during all services. It is made by placing the hands together, palm to palm in front of the face. The fingers are placed together, and are straight rather than bent, while the palms are slightly pressed together so that they meet. The elbows are held somewhat out from the body, although the forearms are not quite parallel with the floor. There is about one fist's distance between the tip of the nose and the hands. Fingertips are at about the same height from the floor as the top of the nose. This gassho has the effect of helping to establish an alert and reverential state of mind.

2. THE GASSHO OF NO-MIND. This is the next most commonly used gassho. It is basically used in greeting one another or our teachers. In this position, the hands are held a little more loosely together, with a slight space between the palms, although the fingers still touch. The elevation of the elbows from the floor is not so great as in the Firm Gassho; forearms should be at approximately a 45-degree angle to the floor. This gassho has the effect of deepening one's state of samadhi.

3. THE LOTUS GASSHO. This gassho is used primarily by officiating priests on special ceremonial occasions. It is made like the GASSHO OF NO-MIND, except that the tips of the middle fingers are held one inch apart. Its name derives from the resemblance of this hand position to the shape of a just-opening lotus bud.

4. THE DIAMOND GASSHO. This gassho is also known as the GASSHO OF BEING ONE WITH LIFE. Like the LOTUS GASSHO, it is used by officiants in services. Although the hands and arms are in basically the same position as in the GASSHO OF NO-MIND, the DIAMOND GASSHO is made with the fingers of each hand extended and interlocking, and with the right thumb on top of the left.

In each of these gasshos, we keep the eyes focused upon the tips of our middle fingers. But regardless of the style or variety of the gassho, and in whatever setting it is being used, the fundamental point of the gassho is to be one with the Three Treasures: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.

Of course, we can look at the Three Treasures from many perspectives, and with varying degrees of depth and clarity. At perhaps the most superficial level, the Three Treasures are seen as external objects of supreme reverence for all Buddhists. Unfortunately, in this view, the Three Treasures tend to be perceived as something other than oneself. But as our vision opens up, we experience that each of us is, in fact, the Buddha.
We see clearly that everything we encounter in the world is none other than the Dharma -- the functioning of underlying enlightenment.
And, realizing the oneness of all beings, we come to realize that the Sangha -- the all-embracing brotherhood of practice -- is simply all composite things, including each of us.

Having this awareness we become -- or rather, we ARE -- one with the Three Treasures.

So, joining our hands palm to palm, we simultaneously create and express the absolute, the oneness which goes beyond all dichotomies. It is from this perspective that we make the gassho, and that we bow.

It is no ordinary person who bows; it is the Three Treasures recognizing itself in all things. If anyone thinks of himself as "just ordinary", he is, in effect, defaming the Three Treasures. And as we place our palms together we unite wisdom and samadhi, knowledge and truth, enlightenment and delusion.


Dogen Zenji once said: "As long as there is true bowing, the Buddha Way will not deteriorate."

In bowing, we totally pay respect to the all-pervading virtue of wisdom, which is the Buddha.

In making the bow, we should move neither hastily nor sluggishly but simply maintain a reverent mind and humble attitude.
When we bow too fast, the bow is then too casual a thing; perhaps we are even hurrying to get it over and done with. This is frequently the result of a lack of reverence.
On the other hand, if our bow is too slow, then it becomes a rather pompous display; we may have gotten too attached to the feeling of bowing, or our own (real or imagined) gracefulness of movement. This is to have lost the humble attitude which a true bow requires.

When we bow, it is always accompanied by gassho, although the gassho itself may not always be accompanied by bowing. As with the gassho, there are numerous varieties and styles of bowing, but here we will deal only with the two main kinds of bow which we use in our daily practice.

1. THE STANDING BOW. This bow is used upon entering the zendo, and in greeting one another and our teachers. The body is erect, with the weight distributed evenly and the feet parallel to each other. The appropriate gassho is made (see above). As the bow is made, he body bends at the waist, so that the torso forms an angle with the legs of approximately 45 degrees. The hands (in gassho) do not move relative to the face, but remain in position and move only with the whole body.

2. THE DEEP BOW (FULL PROSTRATION). This bow is most often used at the beginning and end of services, and upon entering and leaving dokusan. It is somewhat more formal than the standing bow, and requires a continuous concentration during its execution so that it is not sloppily done.

The bow itself begins in the same way as the STANDING BOW, but once the body is bent slightly from the waist, the knees ben and one assumes a kneeling position. From the kneeling position, the movement of the torso continues, with the hands separating and moving, palms upward, into a position parallel with the forehead. As the bowing movement progresses, the backs of the hands come to rest just above the floor and the forehead is lowered until it rests upon the floor between the hands. At this point, the body is touching the floor at knees, elbows, hands, and forehead. The hands are then slowly raised, palms upward, to a point just above the ears. Then the hands slowly return to the floor. This action is a symbolic placing of the Buddha's feet above one's head as an act of reverence and humility.

There should be no sharp, abrupt movements of the hands or arms, no bending of the wrists or curling of the fingers when executing this gesture. When the hands have been raised and lowered, the body then straightens as the person bowing gets to his feet once again and ends in gassho, just as he began. In kneeling, actually the knees do not touch the ground simultaneously, but in sequence; first, the right and then the left knee touches the ground. The same is true for the right and left hands and right and left elbows, in that sequence. In practice, however, the interval between right and left sides touching the ground may be so minute as to be unnoticeable.

In bowing, movement should not be jerky or disjointed, but should flow smoothly and continuously without either disruption or arrested motion.

Master Obaku, the teacher of Master Rinzai, was famous for his frequent admonition to his students. "Don't expect anything from the Three Treasures." Time after time he was heard to say this. One day, however, Master Obaku was observed in the act of bowing, and was challenged about his practice.
"You always tell your students not to expect anything from the Three Treasures," said the questioner, "and yet you have been making deep bows." In fact, he had been bowing so frequently and for so long that a large callus had formed on his forehead at the point where it touched the hard floor. When asked how he explained this, Master Obaku replied, "I don't expect. I just bow."

This is the state of being one with the Three Treasures. Let us just make gassho. Let us just bow.

[from ON ZEN PRACTICE, Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi and Bernard Tetsugen Glassman, ed., pp 54-61. 1976. ISBN: 0-916820-04-1.]
Reproduced in GASSO vol 1 no 1 (ISSN: 1072-2971) with permission of the Zen Center of Los Angeles, 927 South Normandie Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90006. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Definition of Om Mani Padme Hum

There seems to be some confusion as to the true meaning of the most popular mantra/chant in the world "Om mani padme hum." Ask any number of individuals from Buddhist scholars to your buddy at yoga class and you'll get as many slants on the definition as the day is long. So here are three of the best definitions I could find. They work for me...but that's just me...

In Gassho,


H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama's definition:

"It is very good to recite the mantra Om mani padme hum, but while you are doing it, you should be thinking on its meaning, for the meaning of the six syllables is great and vast...

The first, Om [...] symbolizes the practitioner's impure body, speech, and mind; it also symbolizes the pure exalted body, speech, and mind of a Buddha[...]"

"The path is indicated by the next four syllables. Mani, meaning jewel, symbolizes the factors of method: (the) altruistic intention to become enlightened, compassion, and love.[...]"

"The two syllables, padme, meaning lotus, symbolize wisdom[..]"

"Purity must be achieved by an indivisible unity of method and wisdom, symbolized by the final syllable hum, which indicates indivisibility[...]"

"Thus the six syllables, om mani padme hum, mean that in dependence on the practice of a path which is an indivisible union of method and wisdom, you can transform your impure body, speech, and mind into the pure exalted body, speech, and mind of a Buddha[...]"
-- H.H. Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama, "Om Mani Padme Hum"[7]

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche's definition:

"The mantra Om Mani Päme Hum is easy to say yet quite powerful, because it contains the essence of the entire teaching. When you say the first syllable Om it is blessed to help you achieve perfection in the practice of generosity, Ma helps perfect the practice of pure ethics, and Ni helps achieve perfection in the practice of tolerance and patience. Pä, the fourth syllable, helps to achieve perfection of perseverance, Me helps achieve perfection in the practice of concentration, and the final sixth syllable Hum helps achieve perfection in the practice of wisdom.

"So in this way recitation of the mantra helps achieve perfection in the six practices from generosity to wisdom.

The path of these six perfections is the path walked by all the Buddhas of the three times. What could then be more meaningful than to say the mantra and accomplish the six perfections?"
— Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Heart Treasure of the Enlightened Ones[8]

Karma Thubten Trinley's definition:

"These are the six syllables which prevent rebirth into the six realms of cyclic existence. It translates literally as 'OM the jewel in the lotus HUM'. OM prevents rebirth in the god realm, MA prevents rebirth in the Asura (Titan) Realm, NI prevents rebirth in the Human realm, PA prevents rebirth in the Animal realm, ME prevents rebirth in the Hungry ghost realm, and HUM prevents rebirth in the Hell realm."
—Karma Thubten Trinley[citation needed]

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Running on the Ocean and becoming part of everything.

I am in Wildwood, New Jersey on the Jersey Shore for three weeks of playing shows (for those of you who don't know I am a professional musician). If you follow this blog you probably know that I like to run and it is very much part of my meditation practice. Like walking meditation, I anchor my attention on the step, my breathing and/or envisioning a candle or blue light in my mind.

I went for a run today on the beach of the Atlantic Ocean. I NEVER experienced anything like it...I started with my steps and often I will "zone out" and not notice my surroundings. I have not wanted to have a goal in mind or somewhere to run to. I realized today that much of that is wrong. Part of being present is being TOTALLY AWARE OF MY PRESENT STATE AND SURROUNDINGS. It was a beautiful day...the sun shining, the sky crystal blue, birds, children, dogs, people running, walking...smiling. The ocean is so alive in the morning. I anchored my attention on the sound of the ocean and the feel of the sand beneath my feet...Then I looked at the immense ocean. Instead of looking down I felt I didn't want to miss the beauty. I was present because of my focus on the sound of the ocean, then the ocean itself...Then it occurred to me, much like becoming the sound of the meditation bell before a sitting, I actually knew I was the ocean. I was the beach, the sand. I am in the Divine and the Divine is in me. If all living things are in the Divine and I am in the center of all that then all that is in the Divine is part of me...Get it? Pretty amazing. That allows me to see truthfully clear, sincerely. It makes it easier to follow a path of loving kindness because I must love all that is part of me and the Divine....YOU!

Try it, walk today, fold something you would normally do but do it VERY slow. Be aware of everything you are doing. If it's laundry, feel the fabric, smell the freshness, even how the light feels on your face and neck...You will be clearer, more sincere in the moment and truthfully present with no preconceived notions of how that time and space "should" be.