Saturday, March 31, 2012

May your heart be filled with joy

Hello All, 

Today we are looking at, "May everyone be happy and safe, and may there hearts be filled with joy." This is the affirmative side of our first vow, "I take up the way of not killing." Either of these statements might seem sweet but they are very difficult to practice moment to moment. Even when you are in a tranquil environment with good companions, if you watch your mind closely, it will insist on throwing up negative thoughts about others, the environment or about yourself at some point. This knowledge or experience of self brings us to one of the basic meditation practices in classical buddhism.

First, watch your mind-thoughts closely. The instant a negative thought begins to arise, notice it. You need, initially, to do nothing more than that. Watch how your body reacts. Pay attention to your feelings. As your practice deepens, you might notice the feeling comes first, and the thought only brings the message to consciousness.

Second, as you become more secure in this classical practice, when a negative thought arises, immediately replace it with a positive thought. Again, pay attention to the nuances of your body of feelings. Sensation and feeling is where 'we' start.

Third, create positive thoughts like the one we are looking at today in the Discourse and lastly, carry that thought-feeling with you constantly.

This is a very active way of practicing and might be a good antidote when you are feeling especially tired or bored in your sitting. When I am in either of those states, I turn up the lights in my sitting space, am more conscious of MU and do more walking meditation. However, you could just  create more activity in your mind by bringing this phrase forward to ward off the sleepiness. It is also a good practice when you are in an especially antagonistic situation or relationship that your mind is constantly returning to over and over again. When the mind is caught in this time of (re)turning, we often bring nothing new when thinking about it. We hash and rehash the story usually with us at the center of it. We might change the surface story over time so there is an 'apparent' shift in our thinking and approach but really the basis of it stays the same. However, if we can hold the above line, "May everyone..." with an open heart and stay with our feelings, a shift will happen. That shift may not happen quickly, in fact, you may feel more aroused and uncomfortable but that is because something (maybe your part in it) is beginning to show itself to you in an invisible way.

Our thought patterns are deep and subtle. When the reported author of the Shin Jin Mei, Seng-ts'an, first came to his teacher, he said "I beg you dear teacher, I am suffering from a terrible and fatal illness. Please release me from my sins." It is said Seng-ts'an was suffering with leprosy and at that time leprosy was called the karma disease. Karma literally means deed. My dictionary says 'karma is the universal law of cause and effect. The deed (karma) produces a fruit under certain circumstances; when it is ripe then it falls upon the one responsible. Since the time of ripening generally exceeds a lifetime, the effect of actions is necessarily one or more rebirths.' (The Supreme Way is not difficult, it simple precludes picking--this gives it a different twist, doesn't it?)
In this world view, karma, my karma, is certainly about past sins. This world view implies, and Seng-ts'an made explicit, the 1:1 ratio of good deeds equaling good fortune and bad past life equaling a pain filled present life. Think of Puritan and Calvinist theology to bring this view into western terms and think of aids, being poor and other santorum-gingrich-limbaugh talking points. Thus Seng-ts'an came to his teacher carrying the misery, despair and dejection of not only his illness but also of this rather concretized understanding of karma. We carry our own crooked and twisted notions given to us by our culture, family and schools and the Discourse on Love is a powerful and lovely way to bring insight and change to our most subtle and nuanced perspectives.
When Seng-ts'an came to his teacher with his plea, he did not yet know of Bodhidharma's( his grandfather in the dharma) view on karma. When Bodhidharma came to the emperor, the emperor's first question was about karma. He said, "I have built temples and authorized ordinations--what is my merit?" Bodhidharma said, "No merit at all." There was no karma in the literalized fashion that the emperor was putting on it. As Aitken Roshi said, " karma is mysterious affinity."

I had a late start this morning so I will end here. I hope this gives a boost to your practice of love...




  1. Saturday scribes report.

    Thank you for the glimpse into the practice of sitting. I too, am faced with tiredness and boredom in my sitting. Turning up the lights is something I have not tried.

    Will is reading "The Zen Teachings of Bodhidharma" translation by Red Pine, and in the "Wake-up Sermon" he states "Individuals create karma; karma doesn't create individuals." In explaining what he means he states "they create karma in this life and receive their reward in the the next." "When you create karma, you're reborn along with your karma. When you don't create karma, you vanish along with your karma." Bodhidharma's karma is complicated and subtle.

    May all beings be happy and healthy.


  2. And may your heart be filled with joy...

    I feel like have been using this practice so long that its just life. The practice is foundational to the mindfulness tradition.
    My experience at first was that I did not think this would really be effective. It would seem artificial and like a lot of work.
    Maybe that's how Mu starts too.
    Then after a time the practice of "replacing the peg," as Thay calls it, became something my mind just did. A thought of unkindness, hatred, jealousy, frustration would arise and immediately following on its heels a kind thought would arise. Unbidden and without effort. And occasionally unwanted.

    And then a realisation occured that ah love and the wish for others well-being arises because it has always been there. Sometimes It sits in the corner like a dust bunny or a neglected piece of clothing. But there it is. Where does it come from? Why is it there?
    Its not at all mechanical, artificial or contrived.
    Its just waking up, turning on the light and putting two feet on the floor.


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