Posts Tagged ‘Practicing the Dharma’

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.