Archive for the 'Class Series' Category

Practicing the Dharma by Rev. Helen Cummings

March 9, 2015

The following text was written in preparation for an audio Dharma talk, the fourth talk given for the Bear River Meditation Group class series in February/March 2015 on The Four Practices of Bodhidharma. The audio file of Reverend Helen’s talk is available here. Reverend Helen is a Zen monk training at Shasta Abbey Buddhist Monastery. She will respond to questions and discussion on the talk through the end of March 2015. Please scroll down to the end of the text to post your questions in the “Leave a Comment/Reply” area.  Responses will be moderated to eliminate spam and inappropriate language.

Practicing the Dharma
by Reverend Helen Cummings

The fourth of Bodhidharma’s Four Practices is practicing the Dharma, also given as union with the Dharma or accordance with the Dharma or enlightenment proved.

Dharma means the truth of things as they are, the truth that all natures are pure…

As Bodhidharma says:
The Dharma is the truth that all natures are pure.
By this truth, all appearances are empty.
Defilement and attachment, subject and object don’t exist.
The sutra says”The Dharma includes no being
because it’s free from the impurity of being,
and the Dharma includes no self
because it’s free from the impurity of self.”
Those wise enough to believe and understand these truths
are bound to practice according to the Dharma.
And since that which is real includes nothing
that is worth begrudging,
they give their body, life, and property in charity,
without regret, without the vanity of the giver, gift, or recipient,
and without bias or attachment.
And to eliminate impurity they teach others,
but without being attached to form.
Thus, through their own practice they’re able to help others
and glorify the Way of Enlightenment.
And as with charity, they practice the other virtues to eliminate delusion,
they practice nothing at all.
This is what is meant by practicing the Dharma.

The Fourth of the Four Noble Truths is that the cessation of suffering is possible through the Eightfold Path…a practical toolbox for aligning ourselves with the Dharma, with things as they are.  Through the steps on the Eightfold Path we address the causes of suffering in our lives.

The Fourth of Bodhidharma’s Practices – practicing the Dharma – addresses the fundamental question of our Buddhist life:  how do we practice the truth of how things really are?  how do we “prove enlightenment” – to find enlightenment to be true for ourselves?  And how do we deepen the realization – the making real –  of the Dharma in our daily life?  In order
to address the causes of suffering in our lives…
In the first chapter of the Shushogi, Introduction -The Reason for Training, Dogen underscores the importance of this practice:

The most important question for all Buddhists is how to understand birth and death completely for then, should you be able to find the Buddha within birth and death, they both vanish. All you have to do is realise that birth and death, as such, should not be avoided and they will cease to exist for then, if you can understand that birth and death are Nirvana itself, there is not only no necessity to avoid them but also nothing to search for that is called Nirvana. The understanding of the above breaks the chains that bind one to birth and death therefore this problem, which is the greatest in all Buddhism, must be completely understood.

“…if you can understand that birth and death are Nirvana itself, there is not only no necessity to avoid them but also nothing to search for that is called Nirvana…”  Understanding that this very human life is Buddha, all aspects of it…this is practicing the Dharma.

In his Rules for Meditation, Dogen tells us that training and enlightenment are one:  Since Truth (Dharma or enlightenment) is not separate from training, training is unnecessary—the separation will be as that between heaven and earth if even the slightest gap exists FOR, WHEN THE OPPOSITES ARISE, THE BUDDHA MIND IS LOST. However much
you may be proud of your understanding, however much you may be enlightened, whatever your attainment of wisdom and supernatural power, your finding of the way to mind illumination, your power to touch heaven and to enter into enlightenment, when the opposites arise you have almost lost the way to salvation.

“…when the opposites arise you have almost lost the way to salvation…”  Understanding that the real nature  of life is undivided, non-dual…this is practicing the Dharma.

The “undivided” life is the life of  practicing the Dharma.  When the mind is no longer dualistic it is in accord with circumstances. 

In Awakening the Mind of the Bodhisattva, Chapter 4 of the Shushogi, Dogen says:
If one can identify oneself with that which is not oneself, one can understand the true meaning of sympathy: take, for example, the fact that the Buddha appeared in the human world in the form of a human being; sympathy does not distinguish between oneself and others.  There are times when the self is infinite and times when this is true of others:  sympathy is as the sea in that it never refuses water from whatsoever source it may come; all waters may gather and form only one sea.

“…sympathy is as the sea in that it never refuses water from whatsoever source it may come; all waters may gather and form only one sea…” Understanding the interconnectedness of our human life, our human practice…this is practicing the Dharma.

Bodhidharma’s Fourth Practice  – practicing the Dharma builds on the preceding three – allowing injustice, sitting unmoved, seeking nothing.  All of these point us to the great opportunity we have to live our normal daily life as human beings, mindful and in the present moment, rooted in  Right Understanding.

The mind that is apart from things is the mind that likes and dislikes, grasps and rejects, loves and hates, Picks and chooses.  This is the mind that suffers.  This is the mind that is self-centered and separate.

Practicing being “at one with”,  practicing sympathy, this mind is not the suffering mind. Our self and our life are still there AND, in sympathy, in non-duality, we know the true interconnectedness of all things…there is harmony between inside and outside, self and other, subject and object.  Thus Bodhidharma can say there is no (impure) being, no (separate) self.  Our true self, our Buddha Nature, undivided, unstained.

We know that existence is not broken up into that which is pure and that which is defiled.  We a fundamental goodness in our Buddha Nature.  Rev. Master Daishin points out how we must utterly accept ourselves as we are to have a true understanding of this, and to do that we have to let go of the slightest move to defend ourselves or seek justification in the face
of truth.  We can be “wrong”.  We can be tired or crabby…because this very mind is Buddha.When greed, anger and delusion arise they are who we are…and we train and practice with them. This is practicing the Dharma.

In fact greed, anger and delusion are our teachers.  They have great value as our practice transforms them into compassion, loving-kindness and wisdom.  Being human is being human.  Being human fully, rooted in Right Understanding, is the practice of the Dharma.

RM Daishin Morgan says:  “An oak tree expresses itself fully as an oak tree.  Our existence seems more complicated than that, yet we too express ourselves fully as the beings that we are.  By looking into the expression of this moment we can appreciate what we have…

…by letting the dust be, its true nature is known.”

This is a most subtle seeing, one that we come to through experience.  Such experience does not come without our conscious engagement, which brings a very active dimension to our sitting.  It is true that our sitting is purposeless, and if we are seeking anything at all as we do it, we miss the point.  However, sitting is anything but a static or quietistic stillness,  sitting – our meditation –  is ceaseless practice and activity is implicit within it, and so our engagement is to discern the depths of this non-activity.  RM Daishin Yalon often points to stillness in activity and activity in stillness.  When we do this, busy as we may be, we are practicing the Dharma.

Bodhidharma talks about the Way of Enlightenment.  Thus, through their own practice they’re able to help others and glorify the Way of Enlightenment.  It is important to remember that, as RM Daishin Morgan says,  Enlightenment is not what you think…when we try to look within, our expectations become a barrier.  It is unrealistic to expect there to be no expectations  – we’re human – but we can learn to recognize them and see that investing in them only serves to obscure what we seek.  We can then begin to let expectation fade into unimportance.  Awakening begins when we learn to accept and deal with what is actually present, not matter what it is.

We’ve talked about the Three Marks in Buddhism – dukkha, anicca, anatta – suffering, the reality of change, and no-separate self.  These form the foundation of Right Understanding.  And Right Understanding, as part of the Eightfold Path, offers us a point of entry to come to appreciate the

interconnections of our “inner”  and “outer” worlds.  The Eightfold Path speaks directly to the connections between our understanding, our thinking, our speech, our action, our livelihood.

When we’re practicing the Dharma all things are our meditation cushion.  All thoughts, our words, our actions, our relationships…all things offer us the opportunity to carry out the ceremony of daily life.  Each person we meet is a sutras that we can learn from, and appreciate.  All things are Dharmas for us…all things are expressions of “the Truth”…

I read this in an earlier talk, but it bears repeating here, from Bonnie Myotai Treace: “… our emotions, disappointments, moods – every single dharma is a place we find our seat in practice. As always, this is simple, but its usually not easy. Though there is no pay-off, when we really commit to this, we may find that we’re no longer running a game, trying so hard to fix “one more matter” as he says, that we miss what’s right here: our lives. One another. The melt water raining off the roof now. And now is where everything is possible. Its the invocation to bring oneself and one another home every chance we get…That is the promise of sangha — a bond beyond performance or condition, yet not denying precepts and weather, the fact that life hurts, and we can hurt each other. Moment by moment, not an idea—a life. Let’s show up for it, honest, bare-hearted, regardless…”

This is Practicing the Dharma.

The Fourth Noble Truth offers the means of giving up craving through the steps of the Eightfold Path…Right Understanding and Right Thought (Prajna), Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood (Sila),  Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration (Samadhi), each one of these steps an exploration in itself.

In his Fourth Practice Bodhidharma invites us to build on the three preceding practices.  May I suggest that these practices closely parallel the Eightfold Path in the practices they point to.

Allowing injustice points us to seeing things as they truly are, in particular, seeing The truth of dukkha, anicca, anatta.  When we allow injustice, when we see our karma, our karmic tendencies and the way they play out in our lives, when we allow injustice, we root ourselves in the Prajna or the Wisdom practices of the Eightfold Path:  Right Understanding and Right Thought.

Sitting unmoved points us to living with things as they truly are, not being caught up in fear, aversion and delusion and the cravings they give rise to, as well as looking at what our mind is doing, purifying our hearts before we act.  When we sit unmoved, we are grounded in the Morality or Sila practices of the Eightfold Path:  Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood.

Seeking of nothing points us to an awareness of the oneness of training and enlightenment and the fundamental non-duality of our practice, certainly, and of the way things are.  When we seek nothing, we practice moment-to-moment meditation in such a way that our life is our cushion, and we live from the Samadhi or the Meditation practices of the Eightfold Path:  Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.

Practicing the Dharma is living as a Buddha lives.  Buddha Nature naturally and spontaneously practices the Precepts.  The Precepts are the mindset of a Buddha. They are the speech of a Buddha.  They are the acts of a Buddha.  These are not externally imposed thou-shalt-nots, but rather wholesome outpourings of an awakened being that acts in accordance with our true nature.  An awakened being is not caught up with thoughts of stealing or not stealing, but effortlessly leads a life of spotless integrity.  Giving and charity are done without any thought of “myself” that is doing the giving…no manipulation, no agenda.  Awakened beings help others but without any concept of helping, thus there is the natural arising of compassion…the natural arising of Buddhahood.  As Bodhidharma says, Thus, through their own practice they’re able to help others and glorify the Way of Enlightenment.  And as with charity, they practice the other virtues to eliminate delusion, they practice nothing at all.  They simply are.

Dogen says in the Shushogi, Capter 3, Receiving the Precepts:  “…Within these Precepts dwell the Buddhas, enfolding all things within their unparallelled wisdom: there is no distinction between subject and object for any who dwell herein. All things, earth, trees, wooden posts, bricks, stones, become Buddhas once this refuge is taken. From these Precepts come forth such a wind and fire that all are driven into enlightenment when the flames are fanned by the Buddha’s influence: this is the merit of non-action and non-seeking; the awakening to True Wisdom…”  True Wisdom is the Dharma.  True Wisdom  is seeing things as they are.

Bodhidharma ends by referring to the virtues or Paramitas.  The practice of generosity – charity, morality or discipline, patience, energy or devotion, concentration or meditation, and wisdom—all of these are done without any concept of “myself” doing them.  Without any sense of “myself” practicing the Paramitas, Bodhidharma can say “they practice nothing at all.  This is what’s meant by practicing the Dharma…the natural and spontaneous outpouring of our Buddha Nature, of our true being.

Accepting injustice, sitting unmoved, seeking nothing, moment-by-moment meditation, keeping the precepts and doing what needs to be done, seeing things as they truly are…this is practicing the Dharma.
Chapter Five of the Shushogi is entitled Putting the Teachings into Practice and Showing Gratitude.  Another way of saying that might be Practicing the Dharma.  So let me close here with Dogen’s “reworking” of Bodhidharma’s Fourth Practice :

You need no further teachings than the above in order to show gratitude,
and you must show it truly, in the only real way, in your daily life;
our daily life should be spent constantly in selfless activity with no waste of time whatsoever.
Time flies quicker than an arrow and life passes with greater transience than dew…
The life of this one day, to-day, is absolutely vital life; your body is deeply significant.
Both your life and your body deserve love and respect
for it is by their agency that Truth
(Dharma) is practiced
and the Buddha’s power
(Dharma) exhibited:
the seed of all Buddhist activity, and of all Buddhahood,
is the true practice of Preceptual Truth
(Dharma) .

All the Buddhas are within the one Buddha Shakyamuni
and all the Buddhas of past, present and future become Shakyamuni Buddha
when they reach Buddhahood. This Buddha Nature
(Dharma) is itself the Buddha
and, should you awaken to a complete understanding thereof,
your gratitude to the Buddhas will know no bounds.

I offer the merit of this talk, in gratitude, to all beings
that we together may fully and gratefully practice “practicing the Dharma”

Homage to the Buddha.
Homage to the Dharma.
Homage to the Sangha.

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Seeking Nothing by Rev. Helen Cummings

March 1, 2015

The following text was written in preparation for an audio Dharma talk, the third of four talks given for the Bear River Meditation Group class series in February/March 2015 on The Four Practices of Bodhidharma. The audio file of Reverend Helen’s talk is available here. Reverend Helen is a Zen monk training at Shasta Abbey Buddhist Monastery. She will respond to questions and discussion on the talk during the class series. Please scroll down to the end of the text to post your questions in the “Leave a Comment/Reply” area.  Responses will be screened to eliminate spam and inappropriate language.

Seeking Nothing
by Reverend Helen Cummings

The third of Bodhidharma’s Four Practices is seeking nothing…the seeking of nothing or no seeking.

The Buddha’s Third Noble Truth – There IS a cessation to suffering – is simple logic. Once we understand the causes of suffering, then we can completely eliminate these causes and thus be free from suffering.  From his own experience, the Buddha taught that the cessation of suffering IS possible.  We simply have to give up its cause:  craving.

Bodhidharma, in his third practice – seeking nothing – underscores that we have all that we need in our practice, in our training, and points to how we can more fully live the Third Noble Truth.  We have no need for the judgments, the expectations or the delusions that comprise much of our thoughts.  We have no need, further, to maintain that greatest of illusions that we cherish and prop up the “self”.  Our life of practice is the expression of our fundamental Buddha Nature.  We become more fully human as we live our practice, not driven by, but rather transforming, the Three Poisons of fear, aversion, and delusion.

Bodhidharma says:

People of this world are deluded.
They’re always longing for something
– always, in a word, seeking.
But the wise wake up.
They choose reason over custom.
They fix their minds on the sublime
and let their bodies change with the seasons.
All phenomena are empty.
They contain nothing worth desiring.
“Calamity forever alternates with Prosperity”.
To dwell in the three realms is to dwell in a burning house.
To have a body is to suffer.
Does anyone with a body know peace?
Those who understand this
detach themselves from all that exists
and stop imaging or seeking anything.
The sutra says “To seek is to suffer.  To seek nothing is blissful.”
When you seek nothing, you’re on the path.”

People of this world are deluded.
And the “self” is a fundamental delusion.
Separation or a separate self is a fundamental delusion.
And that there is something to “achieve” in our practice is a fundamental delusion.

They’re always longing for something
To cherish and protect the “self”…
To maintain that separate self in its isolation…
To achieve “perfection – financially, emotionally, spiritually, in terms of the laundry – there are so many areas in which we seek perfection”
And we seek perfection in our practice all too often when we seek “good meditation” or an “enlightenment” experience or just plain peace…
– always, in a word, seeking.  

The definition of  “delusion”:  always longing for something –
always, in a word, seeking…

But the wise wake up.
The definition of “wake up”:  They choose reason over custom

Waking up moment by moment, choice by choice.
Enlightenment is moment by moment, choice by choice.

They choose reason over custom. 

Custom” means “conditioning”
We can make choices that take us beyond our conditioning, karmic or otherwise
We can choose to “go against the grain” of our upbringing, of our education,  of our tendencies

They fix their minds on the sublime
the sublime” means “The One True Thing”

and let their bodies change with the seasons.
And they don’t resist the change that is inherent in this human realm

All phenomena are empty.
They contain nothing worth desiring.
We have nothing fixed to hold onto.  There is nothing the crave.

“Calamity forever alternates with Prosperity”.
Good news, bad news, who knows”

To dwell in the three realms is to dwell in a burning house.
three realms” of past, present, and future
“three realms of greed, hate, and delusion”
“the burning house” of our body, of our lives

To have a body is to suffer.
Does anyone with a body know peace?
And yet as Dogen also says:  …this body is deeply significant. It is this body that points us to the truths of anicca, dukkha, and anatta…and especially to the truth of non-duality:  through this body and its suffering, we come to an appreciation of our interconnectedness…in life and in death…

Those who understand this
detach themselves from all that exists
detach”  – yes! And we live in our bodies, we live in our own zip code, we live in our own present moment.  This is what being human is about, and this is where we train.  We detach from all that exists AND we live in the midst of it…unattached, appreciative, grateful for all the teaching that this immediate moment offers us

and stop imagining or seeking anything.
stop imagining” – give up our “story”, our “drama”
seeking anything” – give up our “acting as if” or “grasping onto”

The sutra says “To seek is to suffer.  To seek nothing is blissful.”
To not have to be worried about outcomes or affirmations.

When you seek nothing, you’re on the path.”
Suffering injustice you have entered the path…
Adapting to conditions you silently follow the path…
Seeking nothing you are on the path…

The story of the Master who was asked by his disciple what he, the Master, did when he meditated.  The Master replied:  I don’t meditate.

But wait!  Don’t we come to training “seeking?   We study “the Mind that seeks the way”.  Our entry to practice starts by looking for happiness, peace, enlightenment, or at least some relief from difficulty, pain, suffering.  Seeking appears at first to be quite worthwhile, doesn’t it?  We begin to see, as Bodhidharma says, how “calamity forever alternates with prosperity”.  We begin to see how we are driven by fear or aversion or delusion.  And we begin to glimpse that First Noble Truth and its reality for us:  that we are never satisfied.

And, as we meditate and do the practice, as we seek and gain insights, we come to realize that it’s by not looking outside for “satisfaction…however we define it” that we find true peace and steadiness.  Rather it is through our meditation practice where we sit still, watch what our mind is doing, begin to see things as they truly are, begin to suffer injustice.

It is in our sitting that we adapt to conditions, that we choose  the “inner quiet” that is contentment in some situations, steadfastness in others…where we choose a mind that neither waxes nor wans, one that neither holds on nor pushes away.

And rooted in this very practice of seeking nothing.  It’s a practice that points us to our fundamental sufficiency.  Our very lives – as they are –  are an expression of Buddha Nature.  But how many of us truly see that? and how many of us really believe it?  Rev. Master Daishin Morgan observed that “…the ending of the delusion does not come … through seeking safety
in a belief in something outside or above this life.  Rather it is a matter of seeing into the nature of what our life already is…”

This is what Dogen is talking about, too, when he says that “…to study Buddhism is to study the self…”  We need to see into the nature of what our life already is.  This is a key part of seeking nothing.

Bodhidharma says it is only when we stop seeking satisfaction in outside phenomena that we can find the true treasures of our mind and our life.  We have what we are truly looking for already: This very mind IS Buddha.  Training and enlightenment ARE one.
Again to quote Rev. Master Daishin Morgan:  It is often rightly said that in order to awaken, we need to develop the mind that seeks the way.  This is the mind of things as they are, the mind that naturally responds to the need of the moment and does whatever needs to be done because it is alive and present.  The mind that seeks the way is not concerned with affirmations of itself.

Dogen, when he first came back from China, in Rules For Meditation, addressed the question of seeking nothing.  He asked:

Why are training and enlightenment differentiated since the Truth is universal?
Why study the means of attaining it since the supreme teaching is free?
Since Truth is seen to be clearly apart from that which is unclean, why cling to a means of cleansing it?

His answer is direct and to the point:
Since Truth is not separate from training, training is unnecessary—the separation will be as that between heaven and earth if even the slightest gap exists FOR, WHEN THE OPPOSITES ARISE, THE BUDDHA MIND IS LOST. However much you may be proud of your understanding, however much you may be enlightened, whatever your attainment of wisdom and supernatural power, your finding of the way to mind illumination, your power to touch heaven and to enter into enlightenment, when the opposites arise you have almost lost the way to salvation.

no matter your achievementwhen the opposites arise…Dogen is pointing us to the heart of our practice.  It isn’t about achievement.  It is going beyond the opposite to non-duality. Non-duality is the ground of sympathy.  This is what Honshin is talking about when he says:  When we look deeply into the other we find ourselves.  We are not separate.

What we commonly think of as the self is an illusion. It is nothing in itself at all but a name we give to our continuous interaction with the environment.  We constantly see, hear, smell, taste, touch, and think, and it is this cascade of sensations, perceptions and judgments, thought after thought, that we identify as the self.  It is not the separate and constant point of reference against which all time and events are marked.  It is an interconnected thread in the flow of samsaric existence.

To say that the self is an illusion, however, is not to say that the self is an hallucination.  The self is not a mirage.  We say that the self is illusory because it is not a stable entity but, rather, a series of events that are forever changing in response to constantly changing environment.

The practice of no seeking, seeking nothing, is the practice of no self.  Yes, it’s normal for people to begin to learn and practice Buddhism for their own benefit.  But eventually, through practice, our self-centeredness begins to fall away.  We find ourselves living the Three Pure Precepts:  We cease from evil.  We try to do only good.  And we try to do good for others, in particular by purifying our own hearts.

There is a shift to kindness, compassion, and loving-kindness.  There is a commitment to living the Four Wisdoms of charity, tenderness, benevolence and sympathy.  But NOT to achieve anything.  To quote the Metta Sutra, it’s because “…this is what should be done by one who is skilled in goodness and who knows the path of peace”.

There is a commitment to the Precepts, not because of the force of “thou shalt not” and the potential consequences of not complying, but rather because as we live more fully from our Buddha Nature, we begin to choose to act as Buddhas act.  Oddly enough, it becomes more natural to act in this way…and there is much less “wake”…

As the Offertory says in describing a venerable master:  “…he simply kept the Precepts and did what needed to be done…”.   Such a person no longer even thinks about attaining enlightenment.  He simply is training.  And he is practicing seeking nothing.

In our tradition enlightenment isn’t about walking on air or radiating glowing light in the dark.  It’s more about how patient we are in the face of frustration…it’s about how we live the Four Wisdoms.  To live a life of training is to live as an expression of enlightenment.  As Rev. Master Daishin Morgan says,  Training is not a means of acquiring enlightenment.

Dogen, in Gakudo Yojinshu, quite practically invites us to start the process:  …simply let go of the selfish self for a little…for a little.   How do we do this?

Let go of the wanting, the “gotta have it”s, the insistence.

Let go of the idea of perfection…and particularly the idea that “my way” is perfection.
Let go of the self…this fixed and constant being…this excellent functionary.  What happens, though, when “you” can’t function?  Can you let that “you” go?

Rev. Master Daishin Morgan asks some key questions:

If training and enlightenment are one, then enlightenment must be here and now, so where is it?…

and
…enlightenment still has to be realized.  So what are the implications for the path of training, if the goal is already here? 

His answer?  It is necessary that we sit still with great faith.  It takes a lot of faith not to follow our fears and desires and to choose to look into their heart instead.  The momentum that will carry us into awakening is already present within circumstances as they are.  

…We do not have to wait for any special circumstances or state of mind…

When we let go of self sufficiently to “suffer injustice”…to accept what arises in our meditation and in our lives, it involves much more than might at first sight be apparent.  Rev. Master Daishin Morgan says:  It is a thoroughly selfless response in which there can be no excuses, no seeking of reassurance, no blaming, no justification.  How can it be done?

…it is a matter of NOT doing it again and again, and keeping going
anyway with all the devotion one can find, doing the best sitting meditation one can.  And still it is not “done” …There is no achievement here that we can take away

In the practice of no seeking, we continually, diligently engage in useful activity, yet when we are seeking nothing, we have no thought that this activity is for our personal gain now or in the future. We do not look for personal benefits. This is not easy.   It’s a constant process of purifying our hearts:  why am I doing what I’m doing?

When Bodhidharma asks us to look at what our mind is doing, he is essentially asking us to seek nothing.  Are we judging?  Our judgments are a form of seeking.  Do we have expectations?  Expectations are a form of seeking.   Am I picking and choosing?  Our “pickings and choosings” are a form of seeking.  What is my mind doing in this moment?  How can I purify my heart in this moment.

A teacher said:
When you have ceased to be concerned about you own attainment,
then you are enlightened.  Otherwise there will always be subtle,
wandering thoughts and attachment to the desire to do something for yourself.  If you want to free yourself from all worldly vexations and suffering and if you desire liberation, you are still attached to your self.
It is only when you have no concern about your own enlightenment
that you can be truly enlightened.  The practice of no seeking is the practice of this enlightened state.

When asked what he did when he meditated, the master said:  I don’t meditate.

I offer the merit of this talk to all beings
that we together may fully and gratefully practice “seeking nothing”

Homage to the Buddha.
Homage to the Dharma.
Homage to the Sangha.

Adapting to Conditions by Rev. Helen Cummings

February 23, 2015

The following text was written in preparation for an audio Dharma talk, the second of four talks given for the Bear River Meditation Group class series in February/March 2015 on The Four Practices of Bodhidharma. The audio file of Reverend Helen’s talk is available here. Reverend Helen is a Zen monk training at Shasta Abbey Buddhist Monastery. She will respond to questions and discussion on the talk during the class series. Please scroll down to the end of the text to post your questions in the “Leave a Comment/Reply” area.  Responses will be screened to eliminate spam and inappropriate language.

Adapting to Conditions
by Reverend Helen Cummings

The second of Bodhidharma’s Four Practices is adapting to conditions, also given as sitting unmoved, or steadfast in the face of change.

The dictionary definition of “adapting” is “becoming adjusted to new conditions”.  But in Bodhidharma’s context,  “adapting” means acknowledging Anicca – one of the Three Characteristics of Buddhism.  Anicca – change.  All conditioned things change.  All aspects of our lives change, including this being that I call myself.   “Adapting to conditions” recognizes that there is a fundamental craving in us as humans that wants things to remain intact and unchanging, particularly when it come to ME and the way that I want me to be!

Adapting to conditions means sitting still – firmly – in the midst of change, not trying to hold onto something, not trying to “fix” a situation, not trying to make something permanent.

Adapting to conditions asks us to develop contentment with what we have, not being pulled by desire or pushed by craving.  We have what we need, in the circumstances that we are in. Craving is a kind of insistence on a very narrow view of self, a view of self as fixed, permanent. Craving is the acting on that view to protect the self in ways rooted in fear or in anger or in delusion.  Fundamentally, craving is cherishing the self.

In our contemporary world we are all too familiar with various kinds of addictions.  They are compulsive and they’re an intense form of craving, and they give us a clue about the less obvious graspings that mark our daily lives.  Addictions are fundamentally unpleasant, even when we are involved in the addictive activity itself, but they’re especially unpleasant as we deal with the consequences.  Pema Chodron offers us something to consider in this regard when she says, we are primarily addicted to ME.  But I offer that it’s the consequences of that addiction that bring us to practice.

The Buddha’s Second Noble Truth – suffering has a cause and that cause is our craving – is the ground on which Bodhidharma builds his second practice – when he asks us to look at how we respond to the conditions in our lives.

Bodhidharma takes us to a deeper understanding of that Second Noble Truth.   He tells us that the cause of the frustration and suffering that are the hallmarks of NOT “adapting to conditions” is the fact that we hold onto things that are changing, that we grasp after them when they are gone, and that we continue to be attached to them even as they are no longer there.  We want what we want, and we don’t want to let go.

We do not live with an understanding and awareness of anicca, we do not adapt to the change that is fundamental in this human realm.  The Diamond Sutra says it very powerfully:

Thus shall ye think of all this fleeting world:
a star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
a flash of lightning, a child’s laugh, a phantasm, a dream.

When we know this we are adapting to conditions.

Adapting to conditions first and foremost requires us to “see things as they truly are”.  And anicca – change – is fundamental here.  Things change.  We cannot hold onto any thing, any one, not even our self.  We cannot grasp some one, some thing, no matter how precious, no matter how much we may want to.

The answer that the Buddha found to the cause of suffering is rooted in this:  craving. I want it this way! I want it otherwise! I want conditions to be different!   I want…

Bodhidharma asks other questions:
*   Can we truly see how we are driven by craving, restlessness, aversion, delusion?
*   Can we develop a steadfast heart, and strengthen our capacity to respond from that heart, from our “immovable” sitting place?
*   Can we hold anicca – seeing things as they truly are – Right Understanding as our “polar star” when we come to make choices in our daily life?

Let me read Bodhidharma’s words on “suffering injustice” as given by Red Pine:

As mortals we’re ruled by conditions not by ourselves.
All the suffering and joy we experience depend on conditions.
If we should be blessed by some great reward, such as fame and fortune,
it’s the fruit of a seed planted by us in the past.
When conditions change, it ends.
Why delight in its existence?
But while success and failure depend on conditions,
the mind neither waxes nor wans.
Those who remain unmoved by the wind of joy silently follow the path.

Before meeting the Dharma people live by reacting to circumstances.
Grasping what seems pleasurable, avoiding what seems unpleasant,
people strive to hold on to dependent pleasure and happiness.

As mortals we’re ruled by conditions not by ourselves.
The eight worldly conditions, the eight winds of change,
the eight topsy-turvy conditions, the flow of anicca is constant.

All the suffering and joy we experience depend on conditions.
And yet as we know from our talk last time,
“Conditions are not separate from the Way.”
When we see clearly, we know them for the teachers that they are.

If we should be blessed by some great reward, such as fame and fortune,
it’s the fruit of a seed planted by us in the past.
Karma…conditions today are the result of past choices, either in this life or in other lives…
and this is why our choice in each moment is so important.

When conditions change, it ends.
Why delight in its existence?
The Japanese poet says: I know this glass is already broken and so I enjoy it fully.

But while success and failure depend on conditions,
the mind neither waxes nor wans.
The steadfast mind is the mind of Achalanatha—”the immovable one”
And it’s important to remember here that Achalanatha, fierce as he is,
is an aspect of compassion.

Those who remain unmoved by the wind of joy silently follow the path.

Follow the path…having entered the path through the first practice of “suffering injustice”.

Before meeting the Dharma people live by reacting to circumstances.
Our practice results in our strengthened capacity to make choices that reflect
responses rooted in the mind of meditation, rooted in the steadfast mind,
rather than karmically-driven or automatic-pilot reactions.

Grasping what seems pleasurable, avoiding what seems unpleasant,
people strive to hold on to dependent pleasure and happiness.
However, circumstances are impermanent
and there is no way people can make circumstances
always, eternally, provide their happiness.
Don’t we know this to be true as we live our contemporary, market-driven lives!

The advice that Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and Padampa Sangye gave to the “People of Tingri” in The Hundred Verse of Advice (#74), is valuable for us as well.  They say:

“Your notions of the outer world derive from the mind within;
People of Tingri, let the solid ice be melted into liquid.”

“Lakes and rivers can freeze in winter and the water can become so solid that people, animals, and carts travel back and forth on its surface.  At the approach of spring, the earth warms up and the waters thaw.  What remains then of all that solid ice?  Water is soft and fluid, ice hard and sharp.  We cannot say that they are identical, but neither are they different—ice is only frozen water, and water is only melted ice.

It is the same with our perceptions of the external world.  To be attached to the reality of phenomena, tormented by attraction and repulsion, and obsessed by the eight worldly conditions is what causes the mind to freeze.  Melt the ice of your concepts so that the fluid water of free perceptions can flow.”

“Melt the ice of your concepts…” …this is another way of saying “adapt to conditions” Doesn’t it apply particularly well when we think of  the “ice” of our own fixed self, and of the ways that we entrench ourselves,  and ways we insist on cherishing and protect it?

When we are “frozen” – unadapting in our responses to the conditions in our lives – what actually hurts is not that we don’t have something.  It is that we don’t have it and we want it frozen in place.  What causes grief is not that we lose something.  It is that we are unable to accept the fact and let the water flow.

The “melting” that is “adapting to conditions” is when we change how we relate to the world around us in light of Right Understanding. Anicca tells us that everything is always changing…when we know this, we know Right Understanding:  The conditions we wish to maintain and “fix” will change, as will the unpleasant conditions we can all too easily believe will last forever.  If we can just find a way to give up our grabbing onto things, to find a way to accept life as it actually is, truly adapt to conditions, we’ll be able to be steadfast in the face of the inevitable changes in our lives.

RM Daizui  puts its succinctly:  Realizing all of this…makes clear that our never-ending desires to make the world “behave itself” in the way we wish cannot possibly lead us to anything other than self-frustration.

When we know this, we have a glimpse of a whole other way of being:  where we can accept anicca, where we can be at home with the flow of change of things.

It doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy things, experiences, friends, family.  But we do it in the spirit of the Japanese poem:  I know this glass is already broken, and so I enjoy it fully! Yes, take full advantage of the joy…don’t hold on, don’t push away.

Our meditation practice is so important in “adapting to conditions”.  Although it takes all we have to stay seated for the meditation, we generally don’t bound off our cushion when things get difficult in our meditation.  Those difficulties are simply the conditions of the moment and we let them arise, abide, and pass away.  This is why a regular meditation practice is so important, even if it is only 5 minutes each day.  This is the cultivation of a steadfastness that we can bring into other areas of life when we choose to “adapt to conditions”.  We can let “those” situations benefit from our ability to let things arise, abide, and pass away.

Our sitting meditation isn’t about getting it right or achieving some ideal state.  It’s really about being able to stay present with ourselves.  It’s about learning how to realize – make real –  the Invocation to Achalanatha in our own lives.  The Invocation says:  “May we within the temple of our own hearts dwell amidst the myriad mountains”.  The “myriad mountains” can be considered the myriad conditions in which we live and work.  “Dwelling” in the temple of our own hearts means “sitting unmoved” in the example of Achalanatha Bodhisattva, Fudo, the Immovable One.

In asking us to adapt to conditions, Bodhidharma asks us to deepen our awareness of the True Nature of conditioned things, and to strengthen our commitment to the One True Thing.  When we root ourselves more firmly in our meditation practice—our immovable sitting place that is available to us not just in the meditation hall, but in all arenas of our life and work – when we do that, we keep a steady mind, one that is not swayed by circumstances.

Adapting to conditions”, we choose  the “inner quiet” that is contentment in some situations, steadfastness in others…we choose a mind that neither waxes nor wans.

I offer the merit of this talk to all beings
that we together may fully and gratefully “adapt to conditions”
Homage to the Buddha.
Homage to the Dharma.
Homage to the Sangha.


Suffering Injustice by Rev. Helen Cummings

February 16, 2015

The following text was written in preparation for an audio Dharma talk, the first of four talks given for the Bear River Meditation Group class series in February/March 2015 on The Four Practices of Bodhidharma. The audio file of Reverend Helen’s talk is available here. Reverend Helen is a Zen monk training at Shasta Abbey Buddhist Monastery. She will respond to questions and discussion on the talk during the class series. Please scroll down to the end of the text to post your questions in the “Leave a Comment/Reply” area.  Responses will be screened to eliminate spam and inappropriate language.

Suffering Injustice
by Reverend Helen Cummings

Bodhidharma’s Outline of Practice—written nearly 1500 years ago— describes two essential doors that lead to the Path.  One is the entryway of reason. The second is the entryway of practice and it this doorway that I will be exploring in this talk and the three that follow. The entryway of practice provides us with four  “all-inclusive” practices that have relevance to our contemporary life and training.

The First Practice is suffering injustice, also translated as acceptance of suffering or accepting karmic retribution.  “Suffering” in this sense is familiar to those who have grown up with the King James translation of the Bible and Luke 18:  Suffer the little children to come unto me…  It means allow or permit or not  get in the way of.  So when we “suffer injustice” we allow it to be…in our awareness, in our practice, in our life.

Let me read Bodhidharma’s words on “suffering injustice” as given by Red Pine:

When those who search for the path
encounter adversity,
they should think to themselves
“in countless ages gone by I’ve turned
from the essential to the trivial
and wandered through all manner of existences,
often angry without cause
and guilty of numberless transgressions.
Now, though I do no wrong,
I am punished by my past.
Neither gods not men can foresee
when an evil deed will bear it’s fruit.
I accept it with an open heart
and without complaint of injustice”
The sutra says “when you meet with adversity don’t be upset,
because it makes sense.”
With such understanding you’re in harmony with reason.
And by suffering injustice you enter the path.”

The Buddha’s First Noble Truth is fundamental: Dukkha – suffering dissatisfaction – exists. Bodhidharma’s First Practice invites us to a deeper relationship with this First Noble Truth, to a deeper understanding of what our suffering teaches us in our practice, as well as to a deeper understanding of how we relate to that suffering.

“Suffering injustice” might also be translated as “acknowledging the existence of the unpleasant”, or as  “allowing that which we don’t like to be in our consciousness (or in our lives!) without knee-jerk-aversive reactions” This, too is fundamental in our tradition. Dogen, in the Shobogenzo chapter called “Yuibutsu Yobutsu, tells us  “The determination to see things as they truly are, free from preconceived notions, results in the emergence of true practice…” This “seeing clearly” is at the heart of “suffering injustice”

Can we truly see the suffering–injustice—adversity in our lives – and allow it to be there without holding onto it or pushing it away?

Can we truly see what choices we make in our minds, in our speech, and in our actions as
we respond to that suffering–injustice—adversity ?

Can we truly see the places where we can choose to change our relationship to the
suffering–injustice—adversity as we deepen our practice?

But perhaps a good place to start is with the heartfelt questions that all of us have asked again and again: why is this happening to me, and why is this happening to me NOW?  How do I avoid it?  Change it?  Get rid of it?

The Buddha sought to answer the questions prompted by the Four Sights – an old man, a sick man, a dead man, and a monk.  In the context of this talk, may I propose we might consider them the Four Injustices or the Four Adversities.  As he considered these Sights, the Buddha allowed himself – perhaps for the first time in his privileged life – to “see” – actually see – the suffering inherent – though not acknowledged – in his daily life.

Dukkha is one of the Three Characteristics of Buddhism.  Bodhidharma’s first practice – recognizes that dukkha exists for each of us, from the minor dissatisfactions of our normal work and family days to the truly horrific experiences that may confront us, either personally or globally on the nightly news.  And this arises because our the way our mind works.

The “normal” approach to suffering or dissatisfaction or even just boredom is that we flee uncomfortable situations and the painful feelings.  Bodhidharma is asking us to go against the grain in our relationship to those very things that we are conditioned, karmically and otherwise, to push away.

Can we allow the seeing injustice to simply “be there” and not react to it…not react from the emotions, thoughts or pain that it engenders in us?  Can we allow it to exist in our experience, but not being driven by it?  This is what we do in meditation, isn’t it? sitting with no deliberate thought, letting what comes up arise, abide, pass away…no matter how painful.  This is why meditation is so important as we commit to this practice of “suffering injustice”.  When we sit, we build our “suffering injustice” muscle.

How many of us find ourselves thinking: I do not want this to be happening…pushing away, denying, ignoring, the difficulty around us?

How many of us have echoed Star Trek’s Captain Kirk to implore:  “Beam me outta here, Scotty!”  when confronted with a hurtful situation, an unpleasant person, the dreadful diagnosis or that painful emotion?

How often do we close our eyes and one way or another affirm: “I do not want this karma, I demand something else.” We may not like “it”, but we can make space for it without acting on our likes and dislikes.  As Kanshi Sosan has said:  The Great Way is not difficult.  Just give up picking and choosing.  Just by not giving in to hatred and craving will your heart and mind be as clear and bright as the realm beyond the opposites.”  Just giving up picking and choosing is a form of  “suffering injustice”.

It is exactly when we are willing to be still and accept the difficult or the painful – when we can suffer injustice, allowing ourselves to recognize it for what it is and not try to avoid it – that we enter the Path.  And aren’t we searching for that very Path?

This does not mean we do not strive to change the things we can.  We do.  But we do it in a way that arise our clarity of vision.   We see what is truly in front of us, leaving aside our judgments, our aversions, our insistences. We see that “That person’s” behavior is not my responsibility.  “That person’s”  reaction is not something I can control.  And the universe is NOT answerable to my personal will.

Suffering does not flow into us from the pain and difficulty. It arises out of our delusion where we identify ourselves with what we think, what we feel, and then are driven to escape.

The meditative mind which recognizes that the endless flow of thoughts and feelings have
no fundamental reality is the mind that suffers injustice.

So what is our mind doing?  Generally our  “states” of mind – worry, pride, despair, fear, envy, desire – have us running from each of the traditional “six worlds:  heaven, hell, that of the hungry ghosts, that of the asuras, the animal realm, and every once in a while, the human realm.

Our practice invites us to go beyond this constant whirlwind, “stopping” to be fully present and aware of where we are right now, what we have right now. The story we weave of our past and future is problematic. The past is a memory we are grasping and repeating to ourselves and the future is a tale we are telling ourselves of what might be.

When we “suffer injustice” we see what is right in front of us, here and now.  When we are clear about the actual conditions we are in, we can respond more preceptually, more compassionately, perhaps even more effectively.  When we fully accept our present
experience, instead dreaming of a future that either entices or frightens us and dreaming of a past that we cannot let go, we are sitting on our cushion in our place of practice.  This IS the emergence of true practice.

“Injustice” is seeing within a narrow perspective and making judgments from that
perspective
.  It is seeing with blinders.  Bodhidharma invites us to broaden our perspective, reminding us that we are reaping the karmic results of past lives?  “Past lives” is a broad topic, but for now may I suggest that “past lives” be understood as “past choices”, whether in this life or otherwise.  So can we understand that we are reaping the “karmic” results of past choices?

“Karmic results” are not retribution, nor are they punishment. Karmic results are simply consequences of our choices.   If we choose to step off the roof of a 12 story building, the consequences of that choice simply accord with the laws of gravity.

By patiently accepting results from the past simply as results of our previous choices -and not punishment by an angry God or retribution from long-standing enemies – we don’t have to react emotionally to them.  We no longer “have to” react to them with anger or craving.  We can respond responsibility, perceptually, compassionately.

When we look in this way, we can more clearly see the consequences of our actions.  When we look in this way, we can make more information and responsive choices about our mind, our speech, our actions.  When we look this way, we can begin to change our relationship to “injustice” or adversity or suffering. Misfortunes will arise, but we do not have to be knocked off balance by them.  We can find a kind of equanimity, perhaps, or an acceptance, and even perhaps gratitude…we can choose to NOT be  resentful.  We can choose NOT to  suffer from disturbing emotions or be discouraged or depressed.  We can observe them without having to act on them.

“Seeing” and accepting karma in those patterns and tendencies is itself  the process of “cleansing karma”.  When we come to see our karmic patterns and tendencies we can see more clearly how karma affects our choices and how our choices affect our karma

Whether it is the fruition of karma in this life, or fruition of karma from past lives – when we can allow it to “be there” we may see our situation more clearly, more fully…and this is a doorway to understanding and acceptance, to the liberation of knowing that you can’t change others nor bend them to your will…

No, the universe is NOT answerable to my personal will!  And there’s nothing you have to prove!

We cannot – and should not – run away from our responsibilities and our karma. AND we should try to improve our conditions and karma,  If a situation can be improved, try to make it better.  If conditions can’t be changed, then we should accept them, understanding, as it says in the Scripture of Brahma’s Net, that  “Conditions are not separate from the Way.” And here, too, it is important to look at what our mind is doing.  Is our desire to change
things arising from a selfish sense of what should be?  Is our desire to change things rooted
in propping up our own sense of self?  Are we truly keeping the third of the Three Pure
Precepts:  Do good for others?  The alternate reading of that Precept is:  Purify one’s heart.  Let us not deceive ourselves.  Let us not deceive others.  Let us look at what our minds are
doing.

So yes, we do we have the opportunity to “suffering injustice”  – to cleanse our karma – in our daily lives.  There are the obvious things:

-competition and preference, in work, in love, even in practice
-perceived loss, material, emotional, psychological, even spiritual

-in fact, the “eight worldly conditions” apply to all aspects of our lives:

-gain and loss
-fame and disgrace
-praise and blame
-elation and sorrow

There are also the less obvious ones, less obvious but perhaps more corrosive:
-boredom, a form of anger, a form of rejection, wanting things to be different

-our insistence that we can change the people around us – they do what they do

-our insistence that we are responsible for others’ reactions…
-to say nothing of the weather, or our computers…
“Conditions are not separate from the Way.”  These very conditions – injustices –
adversities—are entryways to the path.

Myotai Sensei offered a reflection on Dogen’s words that I’ve found helpful.  He says: “… our emotions, disappointments, moods – every single dharma is a place we find
our seat in practice. As always, this is simple, but its usually not easy. Though there
is no pay-off, when we really commit to this, we may find that we’re no longer running a game, trying so hard to fix “one more matter” as he says, that we miss what’s right here: our lives. One another. The melt water raining off the roofnow. And now is where everything is possible. Its the invocation to bring oneself and one another home every chance we get…That is the promise of sangha — a bond beyond performance or condition, yet not denying precepts and weather, the fact that life hurts, and we can hurt each other. Moment by moment, not an idea—a life. Let’s show up for it, honest, bare-hearted, regardless…

So can we remember the Invocation to Achalanatha and consciously live “…within the temple of our own hearts…”?

Can we make our choices from the mind of meditation, seeing what our mind is doing?  Letting go of judgments and expectations?  Fears of the past?  Fears of the future?

Can we practice suffering injustice, acceptance of suffering, “acknowledging the existence of the unpleasant”, or as  “allowing that which we don’t like to be in our consciousness (or in our lives!) without knee-jerk-aversive reactions”?

So – in closing –  Bodhidharma’s words on the Practice of Suffering:

When those who search for the path
encounter adversity,
they should think to themselves
“in countless ages gone by I’ve turned
from the essential to the trivial
and wandered through all manner of existences,
often angry without cause
and guilty of numberless transgressions.
Now, though I do no wrong,
I am punished by my past.
Neither gods not men can foresee
when an evil deed will bear it’s fruit.
I accept it with an open heart
and without complaint of injustice”
The sutra says “when you meet with adversity don’t be upset,
because it makes sense.”
With such understanding you’re in harmony with reason.
And by suffering injustice you enter the path.”

Rev. Master Jiyu has said:  All-acceptance is the key to the gateless gate.

Kanchi Sosan has said:  The Great Way is not difficult.  Just give up picking and choosing.

Bodhidharma is telling us that by seeing injustice – suffering – for what it is, and by changing our relationship to it, we are not driven by it.  We enter the Path, acting perceptually, acting compassionately, living from a place of acceptance and gratitude


I offer the merit of this talk to all beings
that we together may fully and gratefully “suffer injustice”
Homage to the Buddha.
Homage to the Dharma.
Homage to the Sangha.