Thursday, November 25, 2010

Reflections: Gratitude Day Again Already?

In case you haven't noticed its Thanksgiving here in the US.. In fact, if you haven't noticed you probably won't be reading this little blog post either.

I'm gearing myself up for a big Turkey dinner with family. Yeah there's been a small change-over in persons attending, and changes in the lives of those attending, but for the most part it won't be that different from the way it was last year or the year before that. (Actually, I'm smiling because last year I wasn't even in town for this as I recall now, but still, you get the picture) Today I sat a bit longer than usual building that inner monastery...  I'm about to collect a knitting project to take along...

There's a lot of folks out there talking about gratitude, noting all the wonders of our lives we can be grateful for, and the importance of saying thanks to those folks who've helped us along the way. There's so much I'd like to say on days like this. But the weird thing is, I really feel like this most every day, though I often don't know what to do with that gratitude.

So, instead of emphasizing the gratitude and thank you part of Thanks-giving, I'm going to try to emphasize the giving part of Thanks-giving. And give in the small ways that present themselves to me today.

May your day be filled with peace and ease along the way.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Shobogenzo: Ch 12 (I) - Kesa-kudoku - Summary

At that time, there arose in me a feeling I had never before experienced. [My] body was overwhelmed with joy. The tears of gratitude secretly fell and soaked my lapels.”

Dogen had practiced for several years in Japan, but the ritual of placing the kasaya, the Sanskrit term for robe or kesa, on top of one’s head and reciting the robe verse was something he only witnessed once in China. The above quote is his description of how seeing this ritual practiced made him feelWhy did this ritual move Dogen so deeply? One way to answer that is to ask the question: What is the kesa (or in Sanskrit, kasaya)?

In short the kesa is a symbol of authentic transmission, a robe worn by monks and nuns following Sakyamuni Buddha, protection and transformation for the person wearing it, and finally, the Buddha-Dharma itself. Quotes from Kesa-kudoku that suggest this include:

1) The kesa is a symbol of authentic transmission:

When Sakyamuni Tathagata passed to Mahakasyapa the right Dharma-eye treasury and the supreme state of bodhi, he transmitted them together with a kasaya...

The ancestral masters who have authentically transmitted the right Dharma-eye treasury have, without exception, authentically transmitted the kasaya.

Such rags and [cloth] obtained from a pure livelihood are not silk, not cotton, and not gold, silver, pearls, patterned cloth, sheer silk, brocade, embroidery, and so on; they are just rags. These rags are neither for a humble robe nor for a beautiful garment; they are just for the Buddha-Dharma. To wear them is just to have received the authentic transmission of the skin, flesh, bones, and marrow of the buddhas of the three times, and to have received the authentic transmission of the right Dharma-eye treasury. We should never ask human beings and gods about the merit of this [transmission]. We should learn it in practice from Buddhist patriarchs.

2) The kesa is a robe (or, more precisely, three robes) worn by monks and nuns following Sakyamuni Buddha. Instructions for the material for, making, wearing, care, and honoring of the robe also are discussed in this chapter. E.g.,

The kasaya is said to include three robes. They are the five-stripe robe, the seven-stripe robe, and the large robe of nine or more stripes. Excellent practitioners receive only these three robes, and do not keep other robes. To use just the three robes serves the body well enough.

The method of washing [the kasaya] and the method of receiving and retaining [the kasaya] cannot be known without learning in practice in the inner sanctum of the legitimate face-to-face transmission of those methods.

 3) The kesa is protection and transformation for the person wearing it. The merits of the kesa are numberless, but Dogen quotes the Karuna-pundarika-sutra, words spoken by the Bodhisattva of Compassion and the Buddha, presenting five and ten fundamental merits of the kesa, respectively (I’m planning on putting these merits in a separate post). In addition, there are sections in this chapter that indicate even a single instance of honoring the robe or wearing it as a joke are sufficient to receive and retain these merits.

The kasaya has been called, since ancient time, “the clothing of liberation.” It can liberate us from all hindrances such as karmic hindrances, hindrances of affliction, and hindrances of retribution.

Clearly, once we have shaved the head and put on the kasaya, we are protected by all the buddhas. Relying on this protection of the buddhas, [a person] can roundly realize the virtues of the supreme state of bodhi.

Even if [the people who receive and retain the kasaya] are ourselves, we should venerate them, and we should rejoice.

Having been born to meet the spread of this Dharma, if we cover our body with the kasaya only once, receiving it and retaining it...that [experience] will surely serve as a talisman to protect us in the realization of the supreme state of bodhi.

We should throw away the view [that discriminates between] silk and cotton, and study rags in practice. …Some teachers of the Small Vehicle have a theory about transformed thread, which also may be without foundation. People of the Great Vehicle might laugh at it. What kind [of thread] is not transformed thread? When those teachers hear of “transformation” they believe their ears, but when they see the transformation itself they doubt their eyes. Remember, in picking up rags, there may be cotton that looks like silk and there may be silk that looks like cotton. There being myriad differences in local customs it is hard to fathom [nature’s] creation—eyes of flesh cannot know it. Having obtained such material, we should not discuss whether it is silk or cotton but should call it rags. Even if there are human beings or gods in heaven who have survived as rags, they are never sentient beings, they are just rags.

 4) The kesa is the Buddha-Dharma itself:

This [transmission] may be the Buddha-Dharma itself; the proof in due course will become evident. We should not liken [the transmission] to the dilution of milk with water. It is like a crown prince succeeding to the throne. …the authentic transmission from Buddha to buddha and from patriarch to patriarch is like the succession of a crown prince.

…the authentic transmission to the present of the skin, flesh, bones, and marrow of the World-honored One, is the kasaya robe.

When we dye the body and mind with a single phrase or a single verse, it becomes a seed of everlasting brightness which finally leads us to the supreme state of bodhi. When we dye the body and mind with one real dharma or one good deed, it may be also like this. Mental images arise and vanish instantaneously; they are without an abode. The physical body also arises and vanishes instantaneously; it too is without an abode. Nevertheless, the merit that we practice always has its time of ripening and shedding. The kasaya, similarly, is beyond elaboration and beyond non-elaboration, it is beyond having an abode and beyond having no abode: it is that which “buddhas alone, together with buddhas, perfectly realize.

Receiving the robe
We become Buddha-Dharma --
Old rags patterned fresh.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Reflections: Not A Kyosaku

Yep... I've been reading Kesa-Kodoku (Chapter 12 of the Shobogenzo). I know there are several folks out there eagerly await my next installment. It's a longer-ish Chapter though.

So here's an example of my whacky sense of humor. Who knows, maybe someone else will get a laugh out of it too:

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Reflections: Words for a friend

I have a friend out there who seems to be suffering. I think of that person as a friend even while I'm not sure they would consider me one, and recognizing I've used a lot of less pleasant terms in the past, and that I've made a lot of assumptions about who they are or might have been.

I'm never really sure what to say when seeing someone, anyone, suffer. Having been in that position myself in the past, I know that saying anything can be more hurtful than helpful. But it seems I haven't mastered being indifferent. (And thank goodness because I don't think of equanimity and indifference as the same things.)

I could say a lot about how their suffering came to be. For one thing I can say they have been craving a reflection without truly understanding the source of that image. But its easy for me to say, seeing things from a different perspective and is likely not what they need to hear. So what do I say?

I can say from my own experience the only way up is sometimes down and through. And while 'through' likely seems at the moment to be endless, that's not true. I can say that while the urge, for me, under those circumstances is to curl up into self in reflexive reaction, try to see the interconnectedness and beauty of all living things. If it doesn't work the first time, eventually it will.

Even as I write these words, I recognize that I may be giving them to my own self at sometime in the future, and am wondering about how I would see them. How insubstantial, inconsequential and unhelpful words are at times...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Reflections: Genzo-e!

Well, not that I think many folks noticed my absence, but if you were one of the few and you thought I died and gone to heaven you’d be close. I just returned from a 5 day retreat at Sanshin in Bloomington, not that I typically think of Indiana as heaven – although it can be pretty nice if you don’t mind flat.

The retreat was something I’ve been looking forward to for nearly a year since I first discovered Sanshin while browsing through the Antaiji website. Not only does Okumura Roshi ofter Antaiji-style 5 day sesshins there, but he also offers Genzo-es (studies of the Shobogenzo) at Sanshin and various other places around the country.

It was a good match. The topic of this Genzo-e was the Shobogenzo’s Genjo-koan. Rev. Okumura presented the material with more transparency than I thought possible. Before the retreat I had imagined writing a few posts about what I learned, but, in all fairness, since Okumura Roshi lives off of dana and much of the material is covered in Realizing Genjokoan, I’m going to suggest you buy the book (if you haven’t already) or attend a Genzo-e instead. (Don’t worry, I’ll cover the Genjo-koan with more than a haiku or two sometime, just not while this is so fresh in my mind.)

A few other notes:

Okumura Roshi managed to get through all his lectures without directly mentioning the framework of (1) idealism (2) materialism (3) action and (4) reality, which, to me anyway, was refreshing. The framework is useful, but its only one way of looking at things and in that sense is a bit of academic idealism.

I managed to pick my own copies of Realizing Genjokoan (yes, autographed), Shobogenzo zuimonki, Eihei Shingi, and Dogen’s Extensive Record. Maybe I didn’t need to do that (because who knows when I’ll have a chance to read them) but I couldn’t resist.

Okumura Roshi, at one point, admitted that he’s more of a fan of Ryokan than Dogen these days…

Even though Antaiji was a great experience, it was without doubt challenging, so it was reassuring to feel peaceful and comfortable at Sanshin.

Last but not least, How do we best reflect a beautiful and boundless reality within a limited life or self? (paraphrasing Okumura) The answer I've gotten so far is: Smile. As far as the rest, we've got the rest of our lives to figure it out... one moment at a time.