Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Kindness, the Precepts and Skillful Means

     "My religion is kindness".  That's what the Dalai Lama says.  When we give that statement some thought we can wonder why the Dalai Lama considers kindness to b so powerful,  what kindness is and how do we embody it.  The three Pure Precepts urge kindness in their vast ways.
The ten Grave Precepts each point to a different aspect of living kindness.  Skillful means are the myriad ways in which we implement these guidelines.  And "skillful means" is just another way of saying kindness.
      It's good to put the idea of kindness and the idea of skillfulness together because to be kind is to be skillful.  Maybe we think of kindness a a kind of attitude, a kind of generalized good will.  There is something of that but there also needs to be intelligence at work, the wisdom of the moment.  And the skill that comes from practice, from acting as best we can and then assessing our actions as best we can.  Kindness is a wise and friendly habit.
     Kindness implies a gentleness, a caring for the other person or group or situation in which you are acting.  Compassion is a great and lofty word.  We aspire to enacting compassion but it is a bit daunting.  Kindness is a humble word for a great practice.  We can think of people we know who are kind.  They can be our models.  They are all around us.  Kindness is a root human characteristic.  It can be covered over with all kinds of inattention and self-involvement but it is there in us waiting to be offered.
     We know kindness when it is done to us.  If we are attentive we know the warm flash of gratitude, maybe the lifting of a heaviness we had not even known was there.  We feel seen in the moment of kindness.  For that moment we are valued  and attended to, we are not isolated.  We feel kindly in return.
     Kindness is done in matters large and small.  It does not denigrate anyone or anything.  Skillful means are applied in the discourse among great nations and is the cheerful distracting of a child from a mud puddle.  In either case there is the need for respect and caring.  There is the need for  awareness of what is going on and the nature of the players in the action.
     To act with kindness is to be who we truly are.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Skillful Means and the Precepts

Apologies to all who looked for the missing post.  I guess I lost it. This is another try.
So, the Precepts point the way.  First we take refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.  We join the Buddha-mind in which no killing, no stealing, no lying, etc. takes place.  We join the Dharma, the reality of all things, free from delusion.  We join the Sangha of all beings in complete harmony with no separate self getting in the way.  That is our intention.
Then we formulate that intention in the Pure Precepts; to do good, to avoid evil, to save all beings. Sounds simple, right? But Robert Aitken tells a little story in Taking The Path Of Zen .It's a little conversation between PoChu-i, the governor of the province and Bird's Nest Roshi who practices zazen sitting in a tree.
 PoChu-i calls up to Bird's Nest,"Oh, Bird's Nest, you look very insecure to me up there."
Bird's Nest replies, "Oh, Governor, you look very insecure to me down there".   Meaning that a political position was just about as insecure as sitting in a tree.
Then PoChu-i asked, "What is it that all the Buddhas taught". and Bird's Nest replied,
     "Never do evil;
       always do good;
       keep your mind pure--thus all the Buddhas taught.".
PoChu-i wasn't impressed, he said he had know that since he was three.
Bird's Nest said, "Yes, a three year old child can know it but even and 80 yr. old man cannot put it into practice."  Maybe not, but we can sure work on it.  We can refine our practice day by day.  And that is where the Ten Grave Precepts and Skillful Means comes in.
The Grave precepts give some specificity to the Pure Precepts but don't guide us in what to do moment by moment.  That is up to us.  That is why we sit zazen, in order to study the self. Then, as Dogen says, we can forget the self and bring forth the ten thousand things.  Be one with everything with no self boundary.  Yes but we practice on and off the cushion.  We study the self in every situation to see where we are deluded and self involved and not in line with reality.  Then as we met the situations of our day we know were our hang-ups are, our blind spots and we can correct for those.
When we practice Skillful Means we study ourselves and the situation of the moment. We try to see as clearly as we can, past our everyday delusions, into the situation. Then  we can try our best to do good, not do evil, and free beings.  We try to do nothing that would hinder beings from attaining the freedom of enlightenment.
Remember, Dogen says that practice and enlightenment are one.  when we practice the precepts we are practicing our enlightened self and helping to ''take self and others across.''
Skillful Means are the way we bring harmony to the sangha, the way we meet the dharma, the way we become Buddha's way.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Taking Refuge, Studying the Precepts

This Sunday we are beginning our formal study of the Buddhist Precepts. We start with the Refuges:
I take refuge in Buddha
I take refuge in Dharma
I take refuge in Sangha
Taking refuge means joining our intentions to that of the Buddhas and Ancestors, vowing to live our lives as the Buddha that we really are. We take refuge in the wisdom and harmony of the Universe and of each other. We study the precepts together because we can learn so much in shared discussion with each other.
So, we take Refuge.
Then we take to heart the three Pure Precepts: Do no Evil, Do only Good, Embrace and Sustain all Beings. These are literally as deep and as vast as the Universe. They are the ground on which we live our lives.
And finally the ten Grave Precepts, vast in their own way, are the more spelled out guidelines on how the live and learn to live the life of the bodhisattva.

Affirm life--do not kill
Be giving--do not steal
Honor the body--do not misuse sexuality
Manifest the truth--do not lie
Proceed clearly--do not cloud the mind
See the perfection--do not speak of others' errors and faults
Realize self and other as one--do not elevate the self and blame others
Give generously--do not be withholding
Actualize harmony--do not be angry
Experience the intimacy of things--do not defile the Three Treasures

These precepts are not commandments. They are meant to assist us in our practice not condemn us in our failures.
John Daido Loori says: When you break a precept, you acknowledge that, take responsibility for it, and come back to the precept again. It's just like when you work with your breath in zazen.
The precepts are like wise and compassionate teachers with whom we can study for our whole lifetime. They encourage us to continually deepen our understanding, question our thinking and our desires, act in the most skillful and compassionate ways we can and then evaluate how we did.
We study together to pool and share our experience and our insights. We are each others' teachers and companions along the way. As we study the Precepts we take Refuge in Buddha and Dharma and most especially Sangha.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Suziki Roshi says "Zen Practice is the direct expression of our true nature.

Of course, whatever we do is the expression of our true nature, but without this practice it is difficult to realize."
When Suzuki Roshi says Zen practice he means the practice of Zazen which we do without trying to achieve anything or thinking that we are doing something special. He says Zazen "...is the activity which appeases your inmost desire." That's a pretty great claim. Great as is huge and great as in powerful and amazing. For me it is a motivator to sit still, and, as Dogen says, "learn the backward step that turns your light inwardly to illuminate yourself."

That's plenty to think about, don't you think.

We will be talking about the how and why of Zazen during our fall meetings. Whatever comments you would like to add to the post will be gratefully received.

Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness
"The Buddha said Bhikkhus, there is a most wonderful way to help living beings realize purification, overcome directly grief and sorrow, end pain and anxiety, travel the right path and realize nirvana. This way is the Four Establishments of Mindfulness.
What are the four? Here, monks, in regard to the body a monk abides contemplating the body, diligent, clearly knowing and mindful, free from desires and discontent in regard to the world.
In regard to feelings he abides contemplating feelings, diligent, clearly knowing, and mindful, free from desires and discontent in regard to the world.
In regards to the mind he abides contemplating the mind, diligent, clearly knowing, and mindful, free from desires and discontent in regard to the world.
In regard to dhammas he abides contemplating dhammas, diligent, clearly knowing, and mindful, free from desires and discontent in regard to the world."