Yorktown Zen http://yorktownzen.com/index.html Authentic Zen Practice in the Hudson Valley of New York Sat, 28 Nov 2020 22:13:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 SitePad No Finger, No Moon http://yorktownzen.com/blog/no-finger-no-moon.html http://yorktownzen.com/blog/no-finger-no-moon/#respond Sat, 28 Nov 2020 21:54:35 +0000 http://yorktownzen.com/blog/no-finger-no-moon.html
Finger to Moon

 

Tesshin used his talk this week to caution us about “elitism” in Zen.  This particular delusion comes in many shapes and sizes.  In the West there is a certain sense of spiritual superiority associated with Zen practice.  In Asian Buddhist societies there is also a kind of exclusivity where certain practices are associated with a “Greater Vehicle” and other practices and traditions are associated with a “Lesser Vehicle.”  Both of these delusions can be amplified by racial and class overtones.  For instance, in the West, Zen practice has historically been concentrated in white upper middleclass groups.  In the East, Mahayana is concentrated in the richer northeast Asia (China, Japan, Korea) whereas Hinayana, or more properly called Theravadin Buddhism is concentrated in the poorer southeast Asia.  (Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Laos, etc.)   Unfortunately, it seems that the delusion of practicing a “better class” of Buddhism has infected both east and west.  This should not be a surprise, however, as all people suffer from the same types of delusion!!

 

Tesshin paused at this point to be very clear – there is not a better or worse vehicle of Buddhism, or for that matter, any spiritual tradition.  They are all valid means of gaining insight and liberation from suffering.  What is really important is a student’s intent and how “far along” they are in practice.  To illustrate this point, Tesshin returned to the parable of the master pointing at the moon and discussed how different students at different places on the path would experience the master’s finger.  Tesshin’s goal here is to “redefine” greater and lesser vehicles away from what tradition you follow and more about OUR mind and the state and strength of OUR practice.  

 

Tesshin invited us to imagine we were alive 2500 years ago and Shakyamuni Buddha was teaching his disciple Ananda.  He points at the moon and says …

 

“You still listen to the Dharma with the conditioned mind, and so the Dharma becomes conditioned as well, and you do not obtain the Dharma-nature. It is like when someone points his finger at the moon to show it to someone else. Guided by the finger, that person should see the moon. If he looks at the finger instead and mistakes it for the moon, he loses not only the moon but the finger also. Why? It is because he mistakes the pointing finger for the bright moon.”  

 

Tesshin then asked, how would someone at the most basic level “Lesser Vehicle” experience the master’s message.  The easiest way to think of this level is when you entered a Zendo for the first time.  Everything was amazing and otherworldly.  The Sensei comes out accompanied by his attendants.  You mind is racing and you know something different is happening.  The first reaction is veneration and perhaps a bow or even prostration is in order.  Many practitioners of Buddhism are at this level.  Is this a bad level to be at? – NO!  If one travels through Asia, you will see devotion everywhere.  (northeast and southeast)  Our Western egos look down on devotion as inauthentic practice – but we must remember that the sixth patriarch of Zen was instantly enlightened by hearing the Diamond Sutra!!  Devotion is a totally viable vehicle to Nirvana if practiced correctly.

 

Tesshin next asked us to imagine someone using the “Middle Vehicle.”  This is where many of us are in the West and it can be the most dangerous vehicle!  He we go beyond ritual and devotion and try to understand the Dharma at its deepest levels.  The challenge is that we are doing it intellectually.  We are reading books and studying instead of experiencing the Dharma directly.  We are trying to find out how we can “utilize” the Dharma to make our lives better.  Someone here would see the master pointing at the moon and may ask him why he is pointing at the moon and not a tree.  They may think that the master is pointing at a crescent moon and a full moon would be so much more effective.  This person is lost in detail.  However, if the intention is pure – namely to really live and experience the truth –  than the act of studying can be a type of meditation which prepares the student for higher achievement and is not a total waste of time.

 

Tesshin next described the “Great Vehicle.” Here a student realizes that the Dharma is not something out there to learn, but rather something which is already internal.  You are not practicing Zen – you are Zen manifest!  It is alive and breathing in every act you are doing.  Here the student winks at the Master and completely disregards the finger.  It is the Moon and the moonlight shines everywhere throughout space and time.

  

Tesshin asked the group, what is greater than the Great Vehicle of Liberation?  This state, of course, is Nirvana.  Here there is no moon, teacher, or student.  Nothing needs to be said or asked.  All that is present is [X]!

 

So, when we become smug in our confidence in choosing the right practice and having the right knowledge – it is important to realize how far away we really are from the goal.  The tradition does not matter, the teacher does not matter, the books do not matter.  All that matters is reality and our experience of it.  

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Sankhara http://yorktownzen.com/blog/sankhara.html http://yorktownzen.com/blog/sankhara/#respond Sun, 22 Nov 2020 15:53:03 +0000 http://yorktownzen.com/blog/sankhara.html
Sankhara

 

Tesshin used his talk this week to discuss the concept of “Saṅkhāra” which is fundamental to Buddhism.  This is a tricky word to translate.  The formal definition is “formations,” but this does not fully explain it.  Tesshin prefers the definition of “that which has been put together and that which puts together.”  Stated differently, we can contemplate Saṅkhāra as considering all the phenomena which come together to make something and how that very something contributes to everything else in the universe.  This definition should make you immediately think of the unending chain of Karma and codependent origination.  Simply stated there is nothing in the universe which is not comprised of other things and everything in the universe contributes to the formation of other things.  

 

Tesshin mentioned that this is what the Heart Sutra is saying when it states that everything is empty.  It is important to remember this, because the western term “empty” means something much more negative and this is one of the reasons people new to Buddhism consider it very nihilistic.  

 

So how do we work with Saṅkhāra?  First, we should realize that there are no absolutes in our existence.  Things are always changing and transforming.  However, in the West, we have been conditioned to think that we have complete, or near complete control over conditions.    If you steal consistently, you will probably be having a conversation with a policeman.  Alternatively, if you study hard, you will probably end up with a well-paying job.  Even an infant can see that it has ‘control’ over things in its environment.  It can cry and see its mother come running.  

 

But if we think a bit deeper, we realize this is only an approximation of reality.  We quickly realize that there are facts outside of our control.  One may study hard, but if you are in a war zone, you may not end up with that “plum job.”  In that same war zone, you may be forced to steal because there is no food available.  Even in our life today, one may have studied hard but graduated into the Covid economy with far fewer jobs.  We quickly see that we don’t control the situation entirely.  Tesshin reminded us that these examples are not provided to make us depressed, rather they serve to remind us to look at the deeper karmic conditions which brought us to a given place.  We are invited to go deeper than simply assuming we have complete control of everything.

 

Tesshin continued that there is even a deeper level than this.  This is larger than anything we can directly and casually perceive.  It is understanding absolute reality.  It is the moon which the master’s finger keeps pointing at.  It is the point where we simultaneously understand ALL the conditions in life and reality.  It is so wide and deep!  For most of us, our feelings, emotions, and state of being determine our world.  The Buddha taught that our immediate condition drives our karma.  If we want to step off the cycle of karma, we must remember that there is so much more than what is directly in front of our nose!  This is really where our agency or control lies.  This is the practice of working with Saṅkhāra.

 

Tesshin next used a personal example to illustrate this point.  He commented that he is a pretty “mean” chef and looks forward every year to Thanksgiving.  He was looking forward to a “properly socially distanced” gathering this year with family and friends.  However, only a few days before the big holiday he learned that one of his children had contact with another child who tested positive for Covid.  This means that Tesshin’s entire family must now quarantine.  Furthermore, he learned that the infected child’s family knew of the condition but did nothing to prevent the spread.  Needless to say, Tesshin’s immediate reaction was disappointment and anger as his holiday is now all but cancelled.  He asked, how do you really sit with this?  Like much in our tradition, it is deeply inspecting the situation honestly…

 

•Why am I angry?  

•What are the conditions which led to this situation?

•What can I control and what was outside of my control?  

•What are my attachment delusions?

• … and lastly, how do I choose to deal with the situation in this moment?

 

When we explore these questions, we see the depth of Saṅkhāra and we realize that our scope of agency is very small.  Tesshin asked us to explore that this week.

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Recipe for a Balanced Life http://yorktownzen.com/blog/recipe-for-a-balanced-life.html http://yorktownzen.com/blog/recipe-for-a-balanced-life/#respond Sun, 15 Nov 2020 17:20:52 +0000 http://yorktownzen.com/blog/recipe-for-a-balanced-life.html
Life Balance

 

Tesshin opened his talk this week pondering on how we can proceed on the Bodhisattva path in the middle of so many challenges.  The days are now getting shorter and colder and Covid is forcing us to self-isolate again.  It is a natural reaction to pull in a bit and ‘hibernate.’  Needless to say, this is not what we want to do!  So, how can we be empowered and happy and balanced in our training during this challenging time?

 

Tesshin mentioned that a Zen minister friend of his has a simple recipe for this exact situation.  Basically, it consists of three ingredients:

 

Bearing Witness:  This is the act of being able to sit with equanimity and without judgement.  This step encourages us to take in all the aspects of the world, both positive and negative. 

 

Tesshin noted, that if we don’t have a practice, it is so easy to become overwhelmed with everything going on.  The cup is full – there is no capacity to grow and help others.  Tesshin mentioned that this is the point of our work on the cushion.  We need to calm the mind so that we can open up and see what really “is” without the ego constantly judging, categorizing, and forming detailed plans.  The challenge is to simply experience everything directly and authentically.

 

Taking Care:  This is the step of actually taking action in the world.  

 

Zen has often been criticized as being a wholly theoretical practice.  This is actually incorrect!  Once we have actually experienced the world impartially, we have the chance to take the “skillful” or correct action.  The main point here is that with a clear and stable mind, our decision-making process is much more robust.  Decisions are less governed by emotion or stories from our past, rather they are grounded in a clear understanding of the present situation in front of us.

 

Make the World a Better Place:  What are the guiding principles driving action?  

 

Properly apprehending reality and having clear decision-making processes is not enough.  What is the goal of right-action?  Zen teaches the importance of all sentient beings and that the alleviation of suffering must be our highest aim.  How do you make the voice of universal compassion heard?  Can you go out into the real world and actually change karma?  This is something we should ask every day.  It is important to remember that the laws of karma are not always obvious.  What may seem like a small act of kindness will echo through reality with the sound of thunder due to how karma works.

 

Tesshin next related this to a situation in his own life.  He started a book called “Caste” which about race relations in America.  He wondered out loud how he could “bear witness” to something deeply disturbing like this with everything else going on in his life.  It is not enough to simply read a book and acknowledge facts.  One must read, understand, and take affirmative steps to change karma.  This is a tall order!  Tesshin admitted he was overwhelmed even though he has a strong practice.  Part of the Bodhisattva way is understanding yourself as you really are in this moment!   Tesshin admitted that right now he could not even properly bear witness to this work.  The best and most clearheaded decision was to shift to “self-care” in order to recharge.  How can you change karma when your own life situation is demanding immediate attention?  The Buddhist tradition and many other spiritual traditions remind us of this fact.   Universal compassion includes the self.  You too are a sentient being.  This is part of bearing witness to reality with absolute authenticity and then making skillful decisions.

 

Tesshin wrapped up the talk by reminding us that, first and foremost, a strong and consistent practice is key to happiness.  This is because it allows the mind to settle which allows us to see reality and properly bear witness.  Once we have that, we can apply universal compassion to actually start improving the karma of the world which is not a bad goal for us to take into this period of time.

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Keichu’s Wheel http://yorktownzen.com/blog/keichus-wheel.html http://yorktownzen.com/blog/keichus-wheel/#respond Sun, 08 Nov 2020 22:18:49 +0000 http://yorktownzen.com/blog/keichus-wheel.html
Keichu's Wheel

 

Tesshin used this week’s talk to discuss the Mumonkan (Gateless Gate) case number 8 – also known as Keichu the cart maker.  The koan, as usual, is short but loaded with a punch …

 

Keichu, the first wheelmaker, made a cart whose wheels had a hundred spokes. 

 

Now, suppose you took a cart and removed both the wheels and the axle. What would you have? 

 

Mumon’s Verse:

When the spiritual wheels turn,

Even the master fails to follow them.

They travel in all directions, above and below,

North, south, east, and west.

 

As a bit of background, according to legend Keichu invented the wheel and the Chinese cart.  So, for our purposes, it is safe to assume that he coined the word “cart” and assigned it to the device he crafted.   It is also reasonable to assume that others started using the word when referring to this same class of objects.

  

The koan asks us what happens if we take off the wheels and axle – what do we have now?  Is it still a cart?  The pieces of wood are still present?  Were these pieces of wood ever a cart?  In one moment, a person assigns a label “cart” and in the next moment they assign the words “pile of junk” – did something change?  What was this pile of molecules before we put the label cart on it?  So, did Kitschu even invent the cart?  Did the concept of cart exist before Kitschu?  

 

Tesshin mentioned at this point that the koan is asking us to distinguish mere words from reality.  Language allows us to communicate person to person, but it has the disadvantage that it puts reality into a box.  “This is a cart!”  Ok, but everything else it could possibly be is suddenly foreclosed.  We have limited ourselves in a very basic way.  This is what our practice is trying to avoid.  We walk through life labeling everything, judging everything, and putting everything into neat little boxes.  While this is very useful in the day to day world, we lose so much of the wonder and beauty.  A good way to think about this would be to ask whether a chemical analysis of the scents and color frequencies of a flower capture the lived experience of a flower?    

 

So how do we turn off our “labeling mind?”  Tesshin explained that he was a young monk when studying this koan.  He tried and failed many times to present the correct answer.  What was interesting, however, is that when he finally broke through, he was in a state of total exhaustion.  Why is exhaustion important here?  Why did it help Tesshin crack this koan?  There is a reoccurring theme in Zen where we are told that the key to practice is simply “chopping wood and carrying water.”  Tesshin mentioned that as a monk you wake up early, prepare breakfast, perform work practice, meditate throughout the day, and study.  It is a packed day!  By the end of the day, a monk falls into bed and quickly goes to sleep.  The key here is that the mind is not given time to wander and ruminate.    

 

Keichu makes carts until exhausted.  A monk practices until exhausted.  Tesshin was clear here – we should do the same, as our nature is living – not contemplating!!  This koan is asking us not to get tied up in words and ideas.  How do we do this – we do it by living life until exhausted.  You must experience your life – not over think it.  We say in the west that you cannot learn the secret of life from a book.  This is the exact same sentiment.  Tesshin mentions that he judges the quality of his day by how tired he is at night.  

 

So, stop thinking and labeling your life and live it already!!  Moment to moment.

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Chih Men’s Lotus http://yorktownzen.com/blog/chih-mens-lotus.html http://yorktownzen.com/blog/chih-mens-lotus/#respond Sun, 01 Nov 2020 16:32:44 +0000 http://yorktownzen.com/blog/chih-mens-lotus.html
ChenMenLotus

 

Tesshin used his talk this week to discuss a koan from the Blue cliff record –  case #21 or Chih Men’s Flower.  

 

A monk asked Chih Men, “How is it when the lotus flower has not yet emerged from the water?”

Chih Men said, “A Lotus flower.”

 

The monk said, “What about after it has emerged from the water?”

Chih Men said, “Lotus leaves.”

 

Tesshin commented not to discount the short koans.  This one is really just two lines, but really packs a punch!  The monk is asking what is a flower before it emerges from the water, and the master responds with one answer.  What about after it emerges for all to see – and the master responds differently.  We already know never to take these answers at “face value!!”   The core question is whether there is any difference in “flowerness” before and after it emerges.  The master seems to say yes, but we need to dig a bit deeper.  Tesshin likened this case to another more familiar koan:  “What was your face before your parents were born?”  

 

It is not enough to say that the flower is one thing before it emerges and another thing after.  However, if we give a trite answer like before and after are identical, we are also wrong!  After all only a blind man would say a leaf and flower are the same.  Lastly, we cannot resort to clever play on words either.  It is not correct to say that the empty water is “potential flower” and the bloom is “realized flower” but both are states of “flowerness.”   What we are really seeing here is the tension between relative and absolute reality.   Our challenge is to understand sameness of both states at the deepest level and then express it.

 

Tesshin next remarked that what this koan is asking us to do is cultivate a state of mind by taking all of reality in but not being taken in by any of it.  Yes, you can simply observe the water, then flower, and then the leaves.  There is a natural change in nature.  This is the nature of impermanence and co-origination.  Things change and interrelate.  What is the Lotus without the observer to realize it?  What does the physical manifestation of the flower really mean?  Tesshin remarked that we have molecules in our body which were once comprised Mother Theresa and Hitler.  They, the Lotus, us, and the ten thousand things embody everything.  There is nothing to judge, nothing to label, it is just “IT.”

 

So how do we express the lesson of Chih Men’s flower?  Tesshin talked about the US election occurring this upcoming week.  The question to ask is what does this election mean?  Will it have an effect on us?  Elections naturally put us in the mindset of “this or that.”  It puts us into a very dualistic way of thinking.  After this election there could be a transition into another state of being – but perhaps not.  What was the country before – what will it be after?  Chih Men tells us that this is really a trick question!!  Is it one thing and then something else – no!   Any answer you give to this is dualistic and wrong.  It is asking you to take a side – to split up the world.   – There is nothing to split when you really get down to it.

 

Tesshin admitted that this sounds very abstract.  He reminded us that touching the absolute does not mean we do not need to act in the relative world.  If that was the case, there would be no reason to get out of bed!  So, can an election change reality?  In the absolute sense no.  The atoms will still spin and the planets will still orbit.  Does this mean we should vote our conscious?  YES.  True understanding does not excuse us from right action – it means we need not to be taken in by it.  It must not hijack us.  Tesshin remarked that if more people adopted this perspective, things would be much calmer in the country than they currently are.

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Evolution http://yorktownzen.com/blog/evolution.html http://yorktownzen.com/blog/evolution/#respond Sat, 24 Oct 2020 18:43:10 +0000 http://yorktownzen.com/blog/evolution.html
Evolve

 

Tesshin used his talk this week to discuss the concept of evolution.  Normally when we think about evolution, we think of fish evolving into land animals or apes evolving to humans.  Tesshin wanted to take a more expansive view of the concept.   Is there a broader process which explains how all phenomena change over time?  Tesshin challenged us to think about the similarities between cultural, social, biological, and cellular evolution.  What is that similar action?  It is nothing more than the absorption and integration of reality.  In biology, life forms absorbs environmental signals and adapts.  Humans also evolve and change over time.  For instance, a baby is born and it is completely helpless.  As it absorbs input from the world around it, the infant grows and matures.  Lastly, this same process happens for an entire society as well.  As new discoveries are made, societies incorporate that knowledge and evolve.  For instance, our country is very different today than it was even fifty years ago.

 

Tesshin pointed that evolution is not about disposing of the past and substituting the present.  For instance, in biology, evolution does not mean a complete change – it means aggregating the new upon the established old.  A good example is that humans have many structures and characteristics which were useful for monkeys in trees a million years ago.  However, these same characteristics are not so useful to us in a modern technical society, but they persist.  A good example is our hardwired response to prefer high calorie foods.  In our distant past, food was scarce and a high fat high sugar morsel was a rare gift.  Today, the situation is different, but those old “circuits” remain.  

 

Tesshin was clear, however, that evolution is, for the most part, a forward moving process of improvement.  Systems integrate new facts from the environment and integrate them to thrive.  Yes, there are times when there are brief periods of “regression,” but these are rare when we consider the scope of biological history or even human history.  It is the same with culture.  We don’t throw away the past, we absorb the new and grow.  Society gets bigger and more sophisticated.  While this year has been challenging with Covid, if we think critically, we must conclude that progress is still occurring.  People are generally living longer and more healthy lives.  Poverty in the world is steadily declining.  Even in our fractious political climate, it is clear that the numbers of people living under absolute tyranny is at an all-time low.   

 

So, what does evolution have to do with our practice?  Tesshin was clear that all wisdom traditions have the ability to speed up the process of personal and societal evolution.  2500 years of history has shown that our path is particularly effective in this regard.  If you take two people and have one contemplate the reality of life and suffering their level of compassion rises over a person not asked to consider that.   It is akin to a person who travels to a foreign land.  Their perspective opens up and becomes much more expansive.  They evolve and become so much more understanding.  If nothing else, they become less certain of their own closely held assumptions.  Simply stated, deep contemplation changes one’s perspective.  Stated differently it accelerates evolution!  One becomes much less certain about things and quickly realizes that reality is not so simple and dualistic.    

 

As we start a sitting practice, we experience pain, distraction, and frustration.  This struggle alone, if taken seriously, naturally builds compassion.  Given time, the evolution grows and expands.  It starts with the deconstruction of our own precious assumptions.  Over time we realize the oneness of everything and a more universal compassion sets in.  We have visited the foreign land and have come back changed.  Tesshin was clear here, our practice is our own personal evolution.  Day by day and minute by minute.  Our job is to participate whole-heartily in this evolution through our practice.  It starts with us and then grows out to the community, country, planet, and universe. 

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The Matrix http://yorktownzen.com/blog/the-matrix.html http://yorktownzen.com/blog/the-matrix/#respond Sun, 18 Oct 2020 16:09:18 +0000 http://yorktownzen.com/blog/the-matrix.html
The Matrix

 

Tesshin used his talk this week to muse whether our existence is nothing more than a simulation.  He recounted a recent discussion by a group of scientists trying to either prove or disprove this theory.  The line of thought is that if you compare the difference in cognitive power between a house fly and a human and then project that to the difference between humans and a super intelligent civilization – it may be reasonable to image a technology which could put us in a simulation.  

 

Tesshin then went on to remind the group that ideas like this have been with us for a long time.  For instance, the “Brain in a Vat” thought-experiment is most commonly used to illustrate a strain of philosophy called Cartesian Skepticism.  We also see ideas like this in the Bible where stories imply that God created multiple versions of life before us.  There are also clear messages in the Bible that we are in the mind of God – which could be interpreted as existence within a simulation.

    

What is the Zen perspective on whether we exist in a concrete reality or a simulation?  Our tradition talks a lot about Karma.  We understand Karma to be the sum of cause and effect which brought you to this very point in time.  Tesshin asked us to consider if this is similar to a “dynamic computer program” in which previous effects control how the program progresses.  In other words, we are being asked to imagine Karma as the main program of a potential simulation.  

 

Tesshin next asked the group if this line of thinking is skillful?  If we were living in a simulation would it affect our practice and path?  The Buddha always said that all he preached were useful practices to alleviate suffering and dispel suffering.  Evidence over 2500 years show that meditation is an effective tool which prepares the mind for deeper insights.  If we are living in a simulation, perhaps practice allows us to tweak the parameters of the model in order to affect the outcome in a positive way?  We can ask a very basic question – does it matter if enlightenment is part of the simulation or is it liberation from the simulation?  If we reflect deeply, we come to the conclusion that it really does not make a difference.  Our “job” is not to see beyond the simulation – our job is to see beyond our own delusions.  Tesshin was clear here – intellectual thought experiments like “Brains in Vats” are fun and interesting, but they are just another distraction along the path.  When the Buddha was about to die, the gathered students asked him about the nature of gods and life after death.  He smiled and stated that these topics are nice to ponder but are distractions from the great matter at hand.  It is the same in the modern world – we can debate the existence of the Matrix, but we must understand that this is “philosophical TV watching.”  Nice to do for a bit, but then it is time to get back to the work at hand.

 

Tesshin wrapped up by relating a story in his own life showing how practice can tweak Karma and actually change deep patterns in our life.  A week ago, Tesshin was doing a fund raiser at his house against hunger and one of the neighbors got upset because he and the neighbor share a common driveway and the neighbor did not appreciate the crowds.  It became a rather large and uncomfortable conflict.  It became clear right away that deep-seated patterns of thought really drive how conflicts occur and are resolved.  Tesshin could think, “How dare some ignorant person interferes with my good deed – after all who could object to feeding hungry people?!”  The natural next step is loud shouting and insensitive statements about the other person.  However, 30 years of introspection clearly told Tesshin that we are ALL the same thing – the neighbor is not evil, broken, or crazy – they suffer too.    This is the change of perspective which changed the Karma!!  According to Tesshin – this is getting down into the “code of reality” and making necessary changes.  Is it the code of human psychology?  Is it the code of Karma?  Is it the code of a nuero-interactive simulation we call the Matrix?  IT DOES NOT MATTER!  What does matter is that Tesshin was able to change the outcome.  This is why we practice.

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Breaking Concrete http://yorktownzen.com/blog/breaking-concrete.html http://yorktownzen.com/blog/breaking-concrete/#respond Sun, 11 Oct 2020 15:52:51 +0000 http://yorktownzen.com/blog/breaking-concrete.html
Breaking Concrete

 

Tesshin is very active in the Boy Scouts.  One of the scouts named Eric Song recently completed his “Duty to God” emblem/badge.  He is a 9th grader at Yorktown Heights highschool.  Tesshin invited Eric to give the Teisho (Dharma Talk) to the group this week.  Below is the transcript of his talk…

 

Good morning everyone, How is everybody doing?

 

So a little bit of an introduction: My name is Eric, and I am in the 9th grade. Half a year ago, I started learning the fundamentals of Buddhism under Mr. Silverman, and since then, these lessons have literally changed my life. I became more confident, more positive, and more understanding of people. These teachings have given me more insight and a deeper understanding of life.

 

Today I want to share with you some of the most important things I learned under Mr. Silverman, the first being looking for the sun beyond the clouds.

 

Optimism is one of the most important qualities to possess in my opinion. Many people today disregard optimism, believing it isn’t as important as many say it is. However, a happier mind leads to a happier life. Instead of focusing on the bad things, always remember that there is a sun behind the clouds. This doesn’t just affect you, but also the people around you. There is a story about a man who was a stock trader. He was always a grouch, he never smiled, and people didn’t like him for this. However, he decided that for one week he would try and smile as much as possible to see its effect. The result? When he woke up the next morning, the first thing he did was smile at his wife and tell her how much he loved her. She was bewildered, this was different from the grumpy man she once knew. She was happy, and he was happy. Next, when he arrived at the trading floor, he noticed something. Whenever he smiled, people would smile back. Not only that, but the people he worked with slowly grew to be more fond of him. This change also enabled him to treat the people around him with more respect, and not to ridicule them. Ever since then, he has made many new friends. 

 

While this may seem common-sense to the people here today, for other people, especially teenagers, this is not as obvious.

 

I’m not saying that people should be happy and cheerful all the time. Sometimes you feel sad and sometimes you feel angry. But in those situations, always remember somewhere behind the clouds there is a sun. Even in the darkest of times, there is a sun. Be optimistic and smile, and I guarantee people will smile right back. 

 

But looking for the sun beyond the clouds isn’t entirely optimism, it can apply to many different things as well! In Buddhism, clouds are a distraction from the sun: delusion. This can be feelings of greed, hate, and anger. Despite these feelings, purity still exists. No matter how thick the clouds, this part of you will never be affected. Buddhism is based on breaking up the clouds to get closer to your purity. It’s like an onion. To get closer, you keep peeling off layers. To get closer to yourself, you need to look for the sun beyond the clouds. 

 

Imagine this: A man comes up to you and says some very hurtful things. How would you feel initially? Most people would feel angry. To many people, everything seems concrete. The insults are very real, the attacker is very real, and you feel like an attackee. This causes people to give in to the anger: possibly hurting the attacker and themselves in the process. 

 

How would one defuse this situation? This is called breaking up the concrete: using wisdom to address these thoughts. Take a look at the words attacking you. In these sounds, where can you find the insult? Do any of the individual sounds coming out of his mouth contain an insult? Keep breaking it apart like this, and you’ll never find an insult. It wasn’t so concrete after all. The insult is part of what the words mean to you, not the words themselves. 

 

Now take apart the attacker. In his physical and mental makeup, where is the attacker? Is it in his face? His jeans? In his many thoughts/emotions that go through his mind? The more you break the attacker up, the less of a bad guy he appears.

 

Finally, where are you? Can you find where the sound waves entered? In which part of your brain did the sound come through? Maybe in your body? Somewhere else? 

 

The more you analyze a situation, you realize things aren’t as concrete as you initially thought. Instead of being things with hard edges, they are actually “loosely organized phenomena.” They are your thoughts, your feelings, and so on. They rely on how you interpret them. By looking at it through a different lens, there is no option for aversion.

 

That’s all I’m going to share today, if you want to share any of your experiences, please feel free to do so.

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Punched in the Face http://yorktownzen.com/blog/punched-in-the-face.html http://yorktownzen.com/blog/punched-in-the-face/#respond Sun, 04 Oct 2020 15:05:16 +0000 http://yorktownzen.com/blog/punched-in-the-face.html
Punched in the Face -2

 

Tesshin opened his talk this week by sharing a few thoughts from this past turbulent week in the United States.  A quick read of the newspapers recounted the president being stricken by Covid, the death of a supreme court judge, continuing economic turmoil, protests, and so on.  How are we to react when events seem to come at us faster and faster?

 

Tesshin first noted that the Buddha constantly reminded students of the simple fact that all beings want to be safe, happy, and secure.  This is always a good touch base to come back to – even when there is so much conflict in the world.  It reminds us that we are all the same “thing.”  This is our common ground!!  We all suffer as events batter us.  We may express the suffering in different ways and have different opinions on the cause – but it is important to remember that we all suffer.  Nobody gets a pass!

 

People on the path can serve as a stabilizing force, however.  We understand that attachments to emotions, fears and expectations are what “amps” everything up.  Tesshin wondered where people can go in the “secular world” to find relief from pain.  One can’t go to the media, or the community, or institutions.  It appears that everywhere we turn there is “an agenda.”  Tesshin exhorted us to be a source of compassion in the chaotic world.  Even if you don’t agree with people on the issues, we must be mindful that people are simply clinging to their ideas like a drowning person clinging to a life ring.    We can be the force of compassion and equinity in the world.  We take vows to save ALL beings – not ones we like or agree with.  We make no conditions on our vows!  Even the most “horrible” person in the world must be saved.  Do you take that seriously or is it just words?

 

Tesshin also reminded us that one of the beings we must save is ourselves!!  We must be conscious of our pain and suffering.  This is why we practice.  If we have no compassion for ourselves, how can we help others?  “Compassion starts at home.”  This is a fact that many of us forget.

 

These are hard times, but it is only in hard times where we learn and grow.  During good times, it is easy to play the part – there is no learning and growth there.  Tesshin gave the example of the Dalai Lama who commonly shows reverence to the Chinese even though they are bent on killing him and destroying his tradition.  Why do this?  First and foremost, the Dalai Lama understands that we must save all beings – even the ones who are out to destroy us.  Next, he also understands that opponents are your greatest teachers.  However, it is also important to remember that compassion does not mean to submit to your destruction.  It is no coincidence that great teachers call life the “Supreme Koan.”   Doing the right thing continuously is hard to figure out – which is why practice never ends.

 

Tesshin wrapped up by providing the story of a public entertainer who was walking down the street of a major city.  Suddenly and randomly, someone walked up and punched him in the face!  There was no reason or logic behind this attack.  It is doubtful that the attacker even knew his victim.  How do we deal with this?  Practice is about dealing with situations like this.  When you got punched in the face, what did you do?  How do you respond?  We are getting punched more and more of late?  What do you do?  How do you express it?  

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The House is Burning http://yorktownzen.com/blog/the-house-is-burning.html http://yorktownzen.com/blog/the-house-is-burning/#respond Sun, 27 Sep 2020 15:00:01 +0000 http://yorktownzen.com/blog/the-house-is-burning.html
Burning

 

Tesshin opened his talk this week with the Lotus Sutra.  This is one of the foundational teaching of Mahayana Buddhism.   Tesshin admitted that the Lotus Sutra can be quite long and dense and reminded us that the Heart Sutra serves as a good distillation.  However, there are many parables in the longer document which can serve as fine teaching tools.  This week Tesshin focused on the story of the “Burning House.”

 

In this story there is a wealthy man who owns a large house with many children inside.  All of the kids are in the house totally absorbed with their toys.  At some point a fire breaks out in the house.  The children do not notice the fire, but the parent does and knows he must save his children.  The father needs to figure out what to do right away to accomplish the rescue!

 

The father’s first idea is to simply go in bodily remove the children.  The problem with this approach is that the fire blocks the way and it would take too long to rescue all the children.  Some kids would still be trapped in the house and would not make it.

 

His next idea is to yell to the kids that there is a fire and to run for it.  The problem is that the kids do not even look up from what they are doing!  They have heard the father cajole them about “important” things in the past – what a ‘killjoy!’  Can’t he leave us alone for a few minutes to play?

 

What now?  The father suddenly has an inspired idea – He smiles and tells the children that outside of the house that are even better surprises than their tired and boring old toys.  This piques their interest.  He continues, that there is a carriage led by a goat, another led by a deer, and a third led by an ox.  The kids are totally surprised and their curiosity drives them quickly outside of the house just before the fire completely consumes everything.  

 

When the kids emerge, they immediately see that the three carriages are not present.  Thinking that this was some trick, they start crying and whining to the father.  They accuse him of tricking them to cut off their play time.  The father smiles again and points at a single bejeweled carriage.  The kids eyes go wide and mouths go agape.  Wow!  They asked – why did you not simply tell us about THIS?  The father states, that you have to see it to believe it.  Words could not describe it!

 

Tesshin then proceeded to explain the symbols in this parable.  

 

The house is samsara or the world of birth and death and the five aggregates of form, sensations, perceptions, mental activity, and consciousness itself.  The house on fire is an allusion to the fact that everything in the phenomenal universe is impermanent – So the house has always and will always be on fire!!

 

The children represent all of us in the pheromonal world caught up in our desires and delusions.  We are so fixated on our ego that we cannot see reality all around us.  So, what are our toys or delusions?  Tesshin mentioned social media as an example.  How many of us stare at our devices for hours to keep up with ‘friends’ we never speak to in the real world?

 

We see the father as the spiritual teacher.  It could be the historical Buddha or any accomplished teacher or Bodhisattva.  However, we could also simply consider the Dharma teaching themselves as the father.  We see in the story the father trying different ways to accomplish this difficult of creating awakening.  The story is clear that direct approaches like pointing at the door or laying out the simple facts rarely work.  If they did, we would not need a lifetime of practice.  The dad is figuring out a way to save the kids.  The Buddha historically talked about Upaya, or skillful means.  

 

So, what is the skillful means being pointed to in this story?  Tesshin implied that impetus to the spiritual path cannot be a cold logical argument.  It also cannot be forced through guilt or anger.  In the story, the father piqued the interest of the children with something they could relate to.  I have better toys over here!  This got the children to “look up!”  Once they were ready to look at something new – the real bejeweled carriage became apparent – this, of course, is the realization of true reality – which is the goal of all of us!!

 

Tesshin wrapped up by asking us to be mindful of the toys which keep us in the burning house.  He asked us to consider those obsessions which our ego cannot let go of.  What keeps you from running out of the burning house?

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