Three Little Pigs - middle way
Rev. Matthew 20mar16
Once upon a time, far far away, in India there were three little pigs. Their names were Tandita, Devadatta, and Gotama. They enjoyed dancing and singing and living outdoors together, but sometimes it was rainy or too sunny and they wished that they had a house.
Tandita built a house of straw. It was easy to bundle up the straw and he finished his house in only half a day. It looked a lot like a pile of straw, but Tandita didn't care. He was done so quickly he spent the rest of the day singing and dancing - he was a little lazy.
Gotama - the second pig - built his house with wood. He built the house at a steady pace and sang while he worked. He spent a whole week building the little house. He built the house so that it could easily be repaired. It was a handsome house that would last a long time if it was cared for. When he was done he danced and sang with Tandita - it was his favorite.
Devadatta was very worried about everything. What if a monsoon storm came? What if a flood came? What if a big bad wolf came to their neighborhood? “I will make my house the best of all the piggies’ houses” - It will be perfect in every way.
Devadatta worked very hard for two weeks and built his house with bricks. He would sing his favorite Simon and Garfunkel song - “I am a Rock - I am an Iiiiiiiland”. The materials were costly and he was so worried about his house being strong that he didn't eat or rest. Eventually they were all finished building their houses. The piggies sang and danced - it was their favorite.
Interestingly, a big bad wolf named Mara saw the three little pigs dancing and singing and thought, “What a juicy tender meal they will make!” He chased after the three pigs and they ran and hid in their houses.
The big bad wolf went to the house of straw and thought that if he huffed and puffed he could blow the house down. Mara is a pretty special wolf, in fact he is a demon of sorts so he could summon the power of a hurricane to blow the house down. Naturally - He huffed and puffed and down came the straw house. Just a flattened pile of straw was left, but Tandita had run away. Saying “run away, run a away, run away….”
The frightened little pig ran past Gotama’s wood house to Devatatta’s brick house. But the big door was locked, so he ran to Gotama’s house where he was welcomed. Mara - The big bad wolf followed to the brick house. And he huffed and puffed blew a great wind! But the bricks could withstand the wind. Mara got a little angry and thought about the brick house.
What is a brick house like? It is Heavy, Solid. Rigid! So Mara the wolf summoned an earthquake to roll through the neighborhood. The very ground rolled up and down like a big wave, the brick house broke to pieces and when Mara searched the pile of bricks, he did not find piggies Devadatta or Tandita. They had run away. Saying “run away, run away, run away…” They ran to Gotama’s house where they were welcomed.
Then Mara, the big bad wolf, went to Gotama’s house. He huffed and puffed but the wind blew through the wood house’s boards and the few boards that did come loose Gotama quickly replaced. Gotama taught Tandita and Devadatta to do the same. Mara the wolf tried again, but eventually ran out of breath. Gotama could fix the house as fast as it got damaged. It took good mindfulness and awareness of the present moment, but with Devadatta and Tandita’s help he could keep up.
Mara got a little angry and thought about what had worked on the brick house. Earthquake! Mara the wolf summoned an earthquake to roll through the neighborhood again. The very ground rolled up and down like a big wave, the pile of straw flew up in the air and the pile of brick rubble rumbled a bit. But the Wood house flexed and swayed as the ground moved and it didn't fall down. I think it was because Gotama used screws and not nails to build his house [that is a running argument Rev. Matthew used to have with his dad - nails - screws - nails - screws ] - anyway - Gotama fixed the boards that came lose and the house was ok, just as it was.
He kept trying for hours but the house was very strong and the little pigs were safe inside. He tried and tried and eventually - as is the way with Mara, be became bored with tormenting the piggies and moved on to someone else who needed tormenting.
Through all of this Tandita realized that being lazy was not good. And Devadatta realized that being too rigid and worried all the time was not good. They saw the Gotama’s house was safe because it was able to change, it could flex and move when needed and it was easy to fix up if anything did break. The other two piggies both built wooden houses and they all lived happily ever after.
Dharma Talk: Finding Life's Balance - Spring Equinox
20mar16 Rev. Matthew
*** Namandabutsu - Namandabutsu - Namandabutsu ***
Good Morning, I would like to welcome everyone to Reno Buddhist Center on this morning - New visitors and old friends you are all very welcome here.
We celebrate the Equinox today. A very special day when the Daylight and Nighttime are equal. This has always been an important time of year for Buddhists. Nature shows us a peaceful balance today. In the story the piggies examined the two existential extremes of indulgence and perfectionism, but real life lives in between. Are we like one of these piggies sometimes? Which one? Sometimes we are guided to the middle way by seeing the extremes.
Three Little Pigs and the Middle way was a Buddhist adaptation of a story we all know. We shared it with the children to encourage them to see life as an ongoing series of challenges that we can handle. Sometimes we will get bumps and bruises, but we can handle life.
In the story the Piggies are building houses. Constructing an abode. The space we live within. The Buddha talked about this house building process when he was enlightened...
"Seeking but not finding the house builder,
I hurried through the round of many births:
Painful is birth over and over
O house builder, you have been seen;
You shall not build the house again.
Your rafters have been broken up,
Your ridgepole is demolished too.
My mind has now attained the unformed - I see reality as it is - Nibbâna
And reached the end of every sort of thirst."
Is this house what we construct around us? - our life - do we really construct that? The causes and conditions that lead to our life are so many, that we can hardly take any credit or authorship for our life. Really what we construct is our way of looking at the world. Our refuge. The protective but permeable bubble we live within everyday.
Who is the house builder the Buddha is speaking to? The self? Mara?
When the house builder is seen - it disappears. Ignorance? The Self. Clining, thirsting, and wanting. They all swirl around ignorance. With seeing. With Deep Hearing ignorance melts away. That is what the Buddha’s enlightenment is all about.
Our friends the piggies build their houses as shelters against the cold and the hot. We all need refuges at times. A balance between activity and contemplation is important.
What about the piggies?
We all know the first piggy - Tandita is pretty laid back. Actually his name means lazy in Pali language. He finds the minimal amount of work he can get away with and goes right back to his favorite - singing and dancing - after that. We have all been this little piggy. At times -we’ll for me - most times we put in that minimal effort and then move on. It is strange but we think because we are so “busy” all the time, we think that everything else will fall apart of we devote an appropriate time and effort to our present moment, this activity, or this relationship. It is quite the opposite.
Tandita’s little house is barely a shelter. It falls apart so easily. It lacks a foundation. It lacks structure. It lacks the discipline of a life well lived. It looks a lot like a haystack.
The Buddha described three kinds of laziness.
First, there is the kind of laziness that tandita shows: we don't want to do anything, and we'd rather stay in bed than get up and go with the sun.
Second, there is the laziness of thinking we are unworthy or unable, “they have more ability than me”, “other people are kind and generous but I don’t have enough to be generous”. This thinking often has the phrase “I can't” in it. Lazy thinking doesn't really see life, it just labels and moves on - "I'm just an angry person;" "I've never been able to do things in my life" ; “I'm bound to fail." This laziness is one of Mara’s snares.
The third kind [of Lazy] Buddha describes is being busy with worldly things. How can being busy be a kind of laziness? We can just overfill fill our time by keeping so super busy. Constantly having many tasks on a list can even make us feel virtuous. But usually it's just an escape. When feelings and thoughts come up, we are too busy now - we’ll get to it later. We can’t be troubled with being face-to-face with who we are. If we fill the cup to the brim there is no room for Right Action, Right Contemplation, there is just the “I’m too busy escape”.
We are all regular people with regular lives. Our days are very busy, our days can be frantic, it feels like we never have any space to sit for even a minute and just be. That escape is an easy way out. Because if we did take the time and make the effort we would be confronted with real life work. As Gotama the piggy did - mindfully fixing the boards in his house as they change and needed attention. Right now.
And the Piggy Devadatta is too strict. Too worried. He’s wound very tight. He worries and worries. And his house is very rigid. In his fear he constructs a life that can not accommodate change. Brick and mortar can’t adapt. A view of life that is too rigid is destined for trouble.
The Piggy Devadatta is full of fears and they drive him to build the brick house. Ultimately we can see that fear of death is what drives his actions. This at the expense of life. Building a rigid view seems safest, but it really shows a lack of faith in life. It is vulnerable to change and lacks flexibility.
When we build a refuge to live within we are at risk when we don't allow for change. Changfulness is the nature of the universe. The downfall of all perfectionists is delusion. This attitude comes from clinging to the self. The “I-Me-Me-My” experience we talked about last time. We think that by perfecting the self - by purifying or honing or training - we will be OK, happy, and joyful. The Buddha tried that and it almost killed him. It makes for a very tense and difficult life.
In the sutras Devadatta was a real person - Gotama's cousin. He was often second guessing the Buddha and always pushing for more. When the Buddha allowed the monks to stay in huts for the rain retreat Devadatta thought that was too easy. As the Buddha got older Devadatta suggested that he should be the Buddha’s successor. He would do away with the robes, and begging, and the Dharma halls. The students would live in the forest eating insects. This is very similar to the extreme asceticism that the Buddha rejected before his enlightenment. He knew it didn't work. It does not allow us to openly examine life and hear deeply the Wisdom and Compassion of the universe.
Gotama piggy’s wooden house is an example of the middle way. It is Juuuust right? It is strong but flexible. The wind can blow through its boards. The roof keeps the rain off. The earthquake shakes it but it moves and gives as the earth wave passes. The wind blows a piece off here or there, but it is easy to repair and return to juuust right in the moment. It is not perfect but it is juuuust right. As we follow the Middle Way along the Eightfold Path we are not seeking perfection and we are not seeking escape. We are present in life’s ups and downs. We are able to hear deeply the wisdom and compassion of the universe. We can sit with the silence and simply be grateful - Naturalness is there for us. We can let go the struggle and striving, the guilt and doubt melt away. We can be happy in our little house with our little piggy friends.
In the story, the middle way is the way of the wooden house. That’s different than we usually think. Usually we think the big solid massive unyielding thing is the best. In a vast ever changing universe, this is a pure delusion. An externalization of the desire expressed in Devadatta’s favorite song - I am a rock. The fallacy of strength.
He sings... A winter's day
In a deep and dark December;
I am alone,
Gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
I've built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It's laughter and it's loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
Don't talk of love,
But I've heard the words before;
It's sleeping in my memory.
I won't disturb the slumber of feelings that have died.
If I never loved I never would have cried.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
I have my books
And my poetry to protect me;
I am shielded in my armor,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries.
In that song, he desires to avoid pain and brokenheartedness so he builds a fortress. He doesn't want to be hurt, so he shuts out his friends, he'll be isolated in a fortress - a prisoner. Maybe it sounds determined to build a strong house, really sounds like he’s walling himself in. This isolates him from real life. He is only fooling himself into thinking he can. It is a just brick delusion of self.
The last two lines express this; he's not a rock, he's a piggy that can be living life. Life is a bumpy road and it supposed to be. That is natural. It is Ok.
The "island never cries" line brings home the feeling. As he sings this, he is really crying out for love. A rock doesn't feel anything. An Island can’t be connected. We do feel, we are connected to everything. The vast love and compassion and wisdom of the universe is here for us. We are part of it. And so we live in the middle between indulgence and escape.
We celebrate the Middle Way of the Spring Equinox today - a juuust right balance between daylight and darkness occurs on this day - it is natural. For Buddhists in particular, this is a significant happening. Dr. Matsunaga would say that it can reminds us of the natural balance of life. We can try to maintain that sense of equanimity every day.
In our Japan this day is the holiday we call Ohigan - which translates as The Other shore...day. In the Ala-gadu-pama Sutra the Buddha describes the Dharma as raft - when grasped correctly we cross from this shore [the eastern shore of our Saha world] to the Other Shore the western shore of clarity and understanding and acceptance and gratitude and compassion. The metaphor of the Other Shore is common in Buddhism - meaning the non-dual state of seeing reality as it is - wonders and warts and all.
The Other Shore is reached by making a new habit of living. Not one of selfish isolation, not a fortress, but an open and giving habit of life. This is done by active application of our energy. By following what we call the six Paramitas. In Sanskrit ‘paramita’ literally means ‘having reached the other shore.’ It also can mean ‘transcendence,’ or ‘clarity of vision.’ Practicing the paramitas is to practice in accord with selflessness and non-attachment, for the dual benefit of self and others.
What are these six paramitas that I speak of?
Generosity Dana Paramita
Ethics Sila Paramita
Patience Kshanti Paramita
Joyous Effort Virya Paramita
Concentration Dhyana Paramita
Wisdom Prajna Paramita
So let’s consider these the six Paramitas with our minds on the activity of the three pigs...
Dāna pāramitā: generosity or selfless giving. This is the first Paramita, we give what is helpful and good and give without “I-me-me-my” in the mixture. We talked a lot about this last time.
Remember there are many ways to be generous: (1) giving material things to support the Dharma (2) giving loving protection, and (3) giving loving understanding. Participating in the Men’s Group or Women’s group is a good example. True generosity is giving whatever we possibly can with pure motivation and enthusiasm like when Gotama welcomed the other piggies into his house.
Śīla pāramitā, the 2nd way to the other shore, is virtue, morality, discipline, good conduct. We refrain from negative actions. We habituate what is positive, and and we help others. Gotama the piggy build the wood house and shows the others its strength - Modeling and practicing virtue and aiding others in their development is what Sila Paramita is all about.
Kshanti pāramitā : is the 3rd way to the other shore - Patience, tolerance, forbearance. Living life with acceptance, endurance [sometimes], and gratitude always. Two aspects of Kshanti I would mention -
The first, the patience of not being offended when someone hurts us. We patiently understand that the action did not come out of the blue - it’s the result of causes and conditions (karma) created in the past – causes and conditions we all contribute to. Of course, this is easier said than done!
And, patience in having confidence in the supreme qualities of the Three Treasures. Confidence arises through taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha and develops through practicing the teachings that we receive. Buddhism takes time and patience. Kshanti is a very difficult practice for all of us.
Vīrya pāramitā : The fourth paramita is joyful endeavour Good effort, exertion, and perseverance toward understanding and supporting the Dharma. The Piggy Gotama had this as he built his wooden house. We earnestly feel that we are beginning anew with every tiny step toward understanding and acceptance.
Dhyāna pāramitā : 5th paramita. One-pointed concentration, contemplation or meditation. Meditation and deep contemplation can be practiced in many forms: a long, peaceful walk in nature, gardening, chanting and sitting in stillness either alone or with the combined positive energies of others at Golden Light Meditation on Wednesdays. Piggy Gotama focused as he built his wooden house.
Prajñā pāramitā : the 6th paramita. Wisdom or insight. Piggy Gotama wisely built his house from wood - to make it easy to repair and flexible in the face of life. Studying the Dharma with curiosity, asking questions, reading Buddhist texts, attending Dharma talks and book discussion group or talking with sangha members are wonderful ways to gain wisdom and insight into reality as it really is. Ultimately wisdom is seeing clearly.
These are ways for finding the middle way. Being mindful of the Paramitas and naturally practicing them in our daily life is the Buddhist way. We are so blessed to have been born as human beings in this life. As humans, we have the ability to Give, behave well, have Patience, expend Joyous Effort, Concentrate deeply, and gain Wisdom. We will reach the Other Shore. Please remember and practice these six paramitas.
The Noble life is life is a life lived with our struggles not an escape from them. A joyful life not in spite of difficulty but because of the challenges we face and surmount and endure. The Middle way is to live life fully, with its struggles and joys - Not too lax, not too constricted. Remember our piggy friends. And occasionally ask, “Which piggy am I today?” It is a choice we can make with wisdom.
Our sincere wish for all sentient beings in the universe on this Equinox day. [Just say after me]....
May all beings be happy;
May all beings free from harm:
May all beings receive boundless compassion;
And may peace and harmony fill their heart
--- Namandabu - namandabu - Namandabu ---
Self Help for Non-Self
Welcome all - Many fun things happening at RBC. Chanting, Meditation and Book group. Men’s group was last week and women’s group is next week. We made progress on the new sign. Re-modeled much of Hiroma Kitchen and weeded! Sometimes Rev. Shelley suggests we rename RBC - “Our lady of the perpetual project”. But stuff’s gotta get done- Right?
Starting with a story - The apricot and plumb blossoms remind me of growing up in Marin county. In the Spring we used to climb and climb among the blossoms. One time we wanted to make a rope swing. The only rope we could find was tied and tangled on another branch. I remember sitting there and trying to untie the rope. I was in 2nd grade so it was like trying to untie the Gordian Knot. Anyway no short cuts, I had to untie it to have a long enough piece to swing by. I tried pulling and prying with a stick. That didn't work - I think it made things worse. Then I tried working the rope back on itself. I was in mid knot so that didn't work. Then I tried working it backwards from the free end. That seemed to do the trick. And we made the swing. The puzzle of non-self is like a knot. Forcing and pushing doesn't solve the puzzle. Gently loosening is the best.
The Buddha taught about Anatta - non-self - In a world where all other world-views assumed a permanent eternal unchanging soul was in every being. Buddha realized that what we feel is actually a delusion of self. When we live this way we are not joyful. He taught that if we wake up to the true reality of things - realize selflessness - troubles will fall away and joy flows in. Why is this so and what can we do about it?
The selfie-ness is the cause of Anger - Craving - Jealousy- Pride and Ignorance. Ignorance is the worst - the root cause of the delusion. We don’t know who we are. We are ignorant of who we are and we identify with this presumed “self”. Right now we all have the feeling “we are here and we are listening to the Dharma talk” - what we call identity is formed around our name, our job, our likes and dislikes - we strongly identify with this construct. It drives our choices in life. The trouble is identifying with the attitude of I-Me-Me-My divides us from reality. We feel as though there is duality in the world - us and them - When really there is oneness. In large part we believe in the self. The self is the experiencer of pain and pleasure. As long as we believe there is someone - Me - here who experiences the pleasure and pain we will continue to have difficulties. Under the feeling of self we are in a state of constant bouncing between the two - between the wanting and the not-wanting. This makes for a very agitated being. Constantly bouncing back and forth between the two. Always waiting for the next shoe to drop is a hard life. We can’t find peace Joy or- Equanimity that lasts.
The Buddha recommended that we examine life. Why do we feel this way? Where does this “I-me- me-my” that we feel reside?
Is our name our self?
We are very attached to names - we are frustrated when someone misspells it, or when another person has the same name - its a little befuddling. “Hey - buddy that’s my name”. Its almost like we lose our identity if someone has the same name as us. Well - yes - identity is separate and the world is not. The Buddha wants us to look at things - closely and calmly - are we really our names? No.
Many people have changed names and they are still apparently the same person? When I was ordained as a priest I got a new name - Shaku Shu Nen - it means Wisdom of the Nembutsu - having this other name doesn't really change who I am. It didn’t make me wise when I got that name. Maybe they wanted me to work toward that and I do try.
What about the Body? Maybe the body is the place where the “I-me- me-my” resides. When we look at a picture of our selves 15 years ago. Is that the same you that is you today? Well the cells are all replaced - blood cells last about four months. The grandad cells are the bone cells they live for about ten years. My point is that after 15 years there is very little - of that previous you alive there any more. And don't forget. there are more living organisms in and on your body than there are people on planet earth. They live and die every day. Is this colony “me”? With constant change how can the body constitute the permanent self?
The Buddha saw that we are actually constantly re-constituted from five categories of stuff - really they are Heaps-of-Stuff - what he called the 5 skandas...
form feeling consciousness perception mental-formations
Say them with me …
form feeling consciousness perception mental-formations
He taught that when a sense organ comes in contact with a sense object - like when your nose comes in contact with the aroma of fresh baked bread - consciousness arises. Once this happens we have a feeling about it - feelings come in three types Pleasant feeling, Unpleasant feelings, and Neutral feelings. Notice this is before we know what is is. The we experience perception - nose consciousness recognizes the smell as baking bread. Then we experience what the Buddha called Metal formations - all the ways we react to a sensation process - mentally - so our wholesome or unwholesome intentions that arise in response to the sensation process. “I want bread”, “I want the bread with butter”, “Where’s the butter”. These metal formations are the habitual intentions that lead to actions of body speech or mind - they lead to our Karma. This Metal formations stuff is where we develop all our ideas, opinions and prejudices - it is the place where we develop positive qualities of mind - or not. This is where we have some measure of ability to shape our metal habits and the person we want to become. The Buddha described about 51 different metal formations we experience. [not going to list those]
This is important because the Buddha shows us that we are not at the mercy of our previous actions, we have a measure of control to influence our impulses and intentions as they arise. But habits of mind are hard to break. These five aggregates all occur interdependently and are changing from moment to moment. No one of these is the self. The self we identify with is really the confluence of these five heaps of stuff. And my five heaps of stuff are at times intermingled with the heaps of stuff that constitute you. And the room and the world and the solar system all intermingling and inter-being together.
If we develop some awareness of this process of the becoming of the self in each moment, we can change and direct our self in a wholesome way. We can decide whether or not to we act-out when someone at work makes a snide comment - or we can develop the habit of responding with forgiveness when faced with a challenge. If we understand this teaching, we kind of de-personalize the thought. We won’t see the thought as “my thought”, instead it is the thought arising. If its not my anger, then I don't have to go to the mat for it. Do I. I can walk away. Or engage constructively.
This teaching shines the light of day on the workings of the false self - the delusion of self. And the great thing about delusions is that they are like vampires - they wither in sunlight. This helps us see thoughts and impulses for what they are just the heaps of stuff happening and not “our precious identity” that must be defended. We can become peaceful observers of the unfolding of the mind. This brings calm and joy where there was agitation and difficulty. Belief in this permanent and inherently existing self brings suffering. Freedom from this delusion brings joy.
The Buddha used the common example of a car - well he said chariot - A car is made from different parts - chassis, wheels, engine, glass - there is no real one thing that is CAR there. It’s just an assembly of parts. The self is like that - its all these different processes happening together that seems like something solid and permanent - but its not - really. We are bound by this delusion. We are constrained by the misperception that we are a self. We can only go so far. We can’t grow and become as sentient beings. Because we are bound to the “I- Me-Me-My”. Believing like this we are limited and constrained in a world that is open and free. Being limited in a free world is not joyful. We can be joyful if we let go the self and leave the self behind. That is what the Buddha wants us all to do. He wants all sentient beings to do that.
All of them. Everywhere. Yes - You too.
We are not our body. We are not our thoughts. We are not our feelings. We are not our perceptions.We are not our mental formations. If realize that, we can be freed from clinging to the idea of self - and the difficulties of life end.
“HE hurt ME” “YOU took MY thingy away” “THEY forgot MY promotion”. “THEY did this to ME”- none of these work anymore. They stop making sense. If you remove “I- ME-ME-MY. In fact the seem pretty silly. Equanimity comes and joy flows in. We can be at peace. When we focus on these thoughts, we spend all our time agitated, clinging to the “I- ME-ME-MY”. Imagine trying to hold onto the water in a stream - hands clenched and grasping onto the water that slips between our fingers at every instant - a very frustrating experience - add to it that we actually believe our life depends on this grasping and the opportunities for Joy are far between. Stress tension, and anxiety comes from this clinging - grasping - suffering and Dhukka result. If we can let go that clinging. Open our hands in the cool water of the stream - feel it flow over us - Real clarity flows in. Peaceful and calm become easy and accessible. This has happened to us all from time to time for brief periods. Our judgement becomes realistic instead of skewed. Relationships become whole instead of “sided” and dualistic - Us and Them goes away. One Buddhist teacher in Thailand says it this way...
If you let go a little, you will have a little happiness.
If you let go a lot, you will have a lot of happiness.
If you let go completely, you will be completely happy. -Ajahn Chah
Sometimes when we talk about letting go the self. People worry that this is somehow dangerous or suicidal. “If my clinging to self was gone would would I have reason to eat? or even get up in the morning?”
The example of the Buddha is clear. He didn't disappear or turn to smoke. He became a wonderful compete person. Joyful and kind. He still had form - feeling - perception - mental formations - and consciousness. He just didn't identify with them. The thought that I am this body, or I am this thought, or I am this gender...I am this whatever was gone. From the Bahuna Sutra...
"Freed, dissociated, & released from form, the Tathagata dwells with unrestricted awareness. feeling... perception... fabrications... consciousness... birth...aging... death... stress... defilement, the Tathagata dwells with unrestricted awareness.
"Just as a red, blue, or white lotus growing in the water, rises up above the water and stand with no water adhering to it, in the same way the Tathagata — freed, dissociated, & released from these ten things — dwells with unrestricted awareness." -Bahuna Sutta
The Buddha lives like we do, but without clinging to the self ideas. Freed and aware in joy and compassion. We aspire to this realization. We are all capable of this realization. We all have this Buddha nature inside of us.
How do we get there? What is the path?
The path has eight aspects - like the spokes of this wheel - Understanding Thought Speech Action Livelihood Effort Meditation and Concentration.
This constitutes what we call Buddhist practice. Living life in a Buddhist way. What we find is that the illusory self - really a delusion of self - when it is looked at with any effort, tends to weaken. It wilts a bit when examined. It fries in the bright light of understanding. Dogen Zenji said it this way…
“To study the Path is to study the self.
To study the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things”
― Dōgen Zenji
Applying Buddhist teaching is an ongoing process. Untangling and untying the knot of self takes time. Being a Buddhist is not an end, its a process. Sometimes in my interactions with folks from other traditions I run into the Rabbi. The Rabbi is always after me about not being a good Buddhist. I should do this and I should be active for that cause. He seems to not understand that I am not The Buddha, I am a Buddhist. I am not responsible to perfection, rather I completely acknowledge my bombu nature and walk a path toward wisdom and compassion. We need to recognize this is a very difficult process. It goes against our programming. Modern culture is absolutely opposed to the Buddha’s insights. We walk this way against the stream.
The “Self Help” the title of this talk refers to is this process. Help the self melt. We engage in the process of gently and compassionately calling-the-self-out for its actions and habituating away from “I-Me-Me-My” mode in a real human life. That is the Buddhist path.
How do we do it? Sometimes we say that the first practice in Buddhism is Dana - Selfless Giving. Generosity is a self melter - Self grows through possessiveness. Like a knotted fist: when you open the hand to give, there’s no more fist—no more self. Giving untangles the knot of self.
We can give so much in our life - many opportunities to untangles the knot of self. For example, you can give time, helpfulness, donations, restraint, patience, non-contention, and forgiveness. Any path of service - raising a family, caring for others, many kinds of work - incorporate generosity. We also give to the temple. A lot of traditions do.
I asked an LDS friend how they did Dana in their tradition. He said they had an institutionalized tithe. They bill the members 10% of their annual income on a monthly basis. He said it was from the bible somewhere. I’m not a bible scholar, so I take him at his word. But 10% - ouch.
So then I asked the Imam at the NNMC how Dana was handled in their tradition. He explained that zakat was a Pillar of Islam. All things belong to Allah, wealth is just held by human’s in trust. Zakat means ‘purification’. The Kor’an is quite technical. It says the percentage a believer should give is calculated as follows - Of the gold, silver, and cash funds that have reached an amount of 85 grams of gold and are held in possession for one lunar year; 2.5% percent and should be given those in need. “We can also give more if we like” he said...Pretty clear.
In Buddhism we have our tradition of Dana. We give our gift of money or time and value flows from our regular life to the spiritual realm of the Dharma. It is a selfless gift received selflessly. We see selfless giving in many forms throughout our community. Members are fixing things, improving things every week. Selflessly giving their time and skills. We saw Mike and Steve and Chris this week - Thank you. Giving untangles the knot of self.
Selfless giving also happens when temple members give money to the temple. Yes, I did use the word ‘money’ and NO, religion is not just about money. I know that some of you probably left their old spiritual home because of money talk that got out of hand. But, we have to occasionally talk about...it. New people often ask - How does this place sustain? Some assume we are supported by the HQ temple in Tokyo. We are not. And we do not pay annual tribute to them either. We are independent.
Remember, money is not thought of as evil in Buddhism. It represents value and opportunity to support the Dharma. Everything we have in the temple is the result of members and friends sharing some of their money with the rest of us. That is why we have heat in the temple. Someone gave so we could pay the heating bill. The same for the water and the lights. Even the priests small salary is the result of members and friends practicing Dana. Every single thing, even the tiny push-pins in the bulletin board, are there because of Dana. When I look at this place and think about that, I’m humbled and grateful to be with you.
Doug Erwin was kind enough to spearhead getting the little payal “donate” button on the website. So its even easier to give Dana. As a matter of fact there are new QR codes on the Dana boxes to make a small donation with your phone super easy. If you don’t know what a QR code is…..just don’t worry about it.
The point is that members donate regularly and that sustains the temple. All the members make a simple pledge for annual Dana, some give this at one-go in December, others through monthly gifts. Even if we do an annual donation, we still give something in the Dana basket each time the basket is out. At meditation, or at the service, or book group or at Shin Buddhism 102 Class [next week]. When we receive something from temple, we always give back in this way. Buddhists have always chipped away at the self in this way. Self help for non-self.
In my examples of other traditions they had ready formulas on how much is right. We have our system of juuuust right to guide us. Like the tuning of a guitar string. If I give so much that I am short on money in my everyday life that is too much. If I give an amount that is inconsequential, that that is too little. It will have no self-melting effect at that level. Juuust right is in the middle there and has the best effect. Not too much, but it should be noticeable to have positive effect on the self.
Another self help for non-self - Healthy Humility - that is a self melter.
Most of all, self grows through promoting self-importance; it’s antidote is healthy humility. Being humble means being natural and unassuming [not being a doormat, ashamed, or inferior.] It just means you’re not setting your self above others. Humility feels peaceful. You don’t have to work at impressing people, and no one is at odds with you for being pretentious or judgmental. When we bow. We are briefly experiencing this humility. We bow to the Buddha nature in the other person. Some folks are uncomfortable bowing more than ever so slightly. Try it. Its ok - its good. Nice big bow from time to time. When we offer incense, the bow there is bowing before the Wisdom and Compassion of the UNIVERSE, go ahead and bow.
In the Shoshinge chant we repeated the line - “Namua Amida bu” many times. And each nembutsu section ends with an extra Namu. This is the act of bowing down and taking refuge in the wisdom and compassion of the universe. Something like…
I take refuge in the wisdom and compassion of the universe.
I take refuge in the wisdom and compassion of the universe.
I take refuge...
This is a self-melter.
There are many of these traditional practices….
Let go of being “special”.
See the big picture in mundane moments
Stop identifying with objects
Relax About What Others Think
We will look at these another time. I want to conclude with a quote from Albert Einstein. He wrote to a father who had lost his son…
A human being is a part of a whole, called by us “universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest... a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. “
The Buddha’s teaching does not justify the self. But neither does it demean or suppress self. We don’t make self special - it’s just another mental pattern arising in our mind stream - not different or better than any other mind-object. When we ease off on the selfi-ness we center on openhearted spaciousness, goodwill toward our own thriving, and contented peaceful relationships with all other beings. With a substantially diminished self we are free to be healthy and strong and live. To be caring and kind. To awaken, abiding as radiant, spacious, loving consciousness. To feel protected and supported by the universe. To be happy and comfortable, serene and fulfilled. To live and love in peace.
Let's do a little self melting by wishing well to all sentient beings in the universe - just repeat after me...
May they be happy;
May they be free from harm:
May they receive boundless compassion;
And may peace and harmony fill their heart ...