We might ask, how is faith to be protected? Another way to ask the same question is to ask, what does faith want? If we want something to be big and strong, we should feed it the right food. The right food for anshin is what are called the Four Sukhas. The word sukha means bliss. We have already looked at how faith is connected with innocence and simplicity. The Four Sukhas carry this idea further. The word sukha also occurs in the word Sukhavati which is the Indian word for the Pure Land of Buddha - the sukha land.
The first sukha is renunciation. This is something that faith wants. Faith is, in many respects, the opposite of compulsiveness. When we do not have faith we cling to things. It might be some addictive behaviour or it might be possessions or status or other things that feed the ego. Either we feed faith or we feed the ego. Dogen, in one of his talks, says that practitioners of the way do not treasure possessions or rank or sensual indulgence, they just treasure time. That is a profound observation. When we are caught in compulsivity, time starts to blur. The spiritual practitioner "does not waste time" as it says in the Most Excellent Mirror Samsdhi. So renunciation is clearing a space where our time can be totally experienced and we do not miss a moment of our life.
The second sukha is seclusion. Faith likes solitude. When there is opportunity the practitioner likes to retreat. This does not mean that he or she does necessarily spend a lot of time alone - she might or might not - but she or he is not clinging to people. The spiritual teacher is able to give disciples a lot of space because he has no particular interest in controlling them. Each has their own life. The teacher helps, but much of that help consists in helping the person to find their own space. So faith frees one from co-dependency. This also means that the person of faith can be decisive. This is another face of innocence. When one's motive in in accordance with Heaven there is nothing to fear.
The third sukha is peace. Faith loves peace. Faith means not being at war, either with oneself or with others. A person of faith does not stir up trouble, does not add energy to conflict. This does not mean, however, that he or she is a wimp. Peace requires active care. As was said in an earlier teaching in this series, we should work at peace with the same commitment and energy as people work at war. My mother would say that the war years were the best years of her life. She meant that it was a time when people naturally and willingly co-operated and supported one another, there was great goodwill and friendliness, and people were united. Of course, it was for a destructive purpose. The ideal is to have those same qualities for a constructive one.
The fourth sukha is bodhi - awakening. Faith loves to be awakened, loves to discover. The idea that faith is a dogmatic attachment to fixed beliefs and a refusal to look at evidence is not at all what is meant by faith in Buddhism. Actually it takes faith to be open enough to look at ideas that challenge one's pre-established position. It takes faith to doubt. Dogmatism and clinging to fixed positions is more a symptom of fear than of real faith. The person of settled faith take things in their stride and discovering that one has been wrong about something is always helpful - how else can one learn, grow and improve? When once we are awakened to faith, we go on being awakened by all the miscellaneous circumstances of life that we then run into. The person of faith has the faith to be willing to take risks with their life. It is for this reason that they do not fear finding things out that shatter their previous world. They have confidence that the newly emerging world will also be fine.
Back to the Forest
The Buddha wanted that we renounce the things that tie us down. However, we no longer live in a society in which one can simply go to the forest and live off the fruit of the land. Society has become immensely more complex and there is no free space left. Therefore, we have to create little pure lands where such a life can be lived.
Eleusis is a forest retreat. When I was young and grown-ups asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up I would tell them that I wanted to be an eccentric and live in a wood. This would make them laugh. However, my dream has come true.
One is only safe in company if one is completely content being alone.
One can only safely say yes, if one would be completely happy to say no.
One can only live fully if one would be quite content to die.
One can only handle being in authority when one knows how to serve.
Completely contentment means to be without hankering. Loneliness, for instance, is a hankering for company whereas a person who is free is happy in solitude. A person who has no hankering for possessions can be trusted with things. A person who has no hankering for position can be trusted with authority. A person who has no hankering for particular states can be at peace in his mind.
Starting on 28th June we have a five day retreat on the topic of Anshin. In preparation, I'd like to say a bit about the topic here.
The term anshin is Japanese. It is commonly translated as 'settled faith'. As such it is one of several forms or aspects of 'faith'. Other aspects are shinjin, bodaishin, and another for which I do not know the Japanese term, but which, in the language of India is called abhilasa. Each of these is worth a teaching in its own right, but we can briefly define them as follows.
Shinjin is the dawning of trust, the opening of the heart. It involves a 'turning around' or change of heart, often springing from contrition or inspiration or a juxtaposition of the two.We can think of Shakyamuni seeing the 'Four Sights'. In such an awakening one is seized by new light and/or driven by a sense of having gone astray but seeing new possibility and feeling new verve. in a sense, and sometimes literally, shinjin precedes anshin and can be its foundation. Then we can say that anshin is the maturing of shinjin.
Faith in Action
Abhilasa and bodaishin can be thought of as flowing from anshin and so as being subsequent, at least in a logical sense. Abhilasa is something like 'willingness', the willingness to do whatever is for the general good. Bodaishin is really the mind of enlightenment, or, at least the condition of heart that conduces to it, sometimes called 'the Way-seeking mind', a great compassion toward all sentient beings. So we can understand anshin as nested within these wonderful spiritual qualities. When we call out toward what is sacred to us, that calling is truly spiritual if and when it is touched by such qualities. These are what we worship and aspire toward, hoping that they will be granted to us, will bless us and hold us. This is what we pray for.
Although I have described them somewhat as a sequence in the last paragraph, all these dimensions of 'faith' really function together. They are its modes or moods. Insofar as one's life is grounded in faith, at any one time one or other of these aspects will be showing.
Trust in the Heart
'Faith' in Buddhism is perhaps not identical to faith in other religions, since here there is more emphasis upon a state of 'heart' or 'mind' and less on belief or assertion. Buddhism is not so much adherence to a creed and more a journey of exploration and grace, and faith, here, is the willingness to wholeheartedly entrust oneself to that journey irrespective of where it may take one. The obstacle is attachment. Faith is like letting go of the rail on the side of the swimming pool whereas attachment is like adding more and more rails. Soon the rails, that each seemed so necessary and fine, have become the bars of the cage in which one has ones limited existence. Inside one's cage one may read about the wonderful life of liberation, but it lies beyond one's reach.
Entering Upon the Path
Even if we manage to leave our cage, squeezing out between the bars and slipping away, we may still be bring some attaqchment with us. We may think that we are going to develop these qualities as personal characteristics, we are going to get and possess them, and (secretly hoping) be admired for them. They are going to displace the characteristics that have been given to us by our immemorial karmic history, most of which are nothing like so noble, and we shall then be more perfected beings. Such is the pride we carry into our spiritual life..
However, what we gradually or suddenly learn or realise is that it does not work quite like that. It is not really that any part of what we are is given up, but it all comes to be bathed in a new light. That light may be thought of in many ways - the light of the Buddhas, the Divine Light, the Light of Truth, whatever. This thing we call 'faith' that brings peace to us like a miracle, is not something we manufacture, nor own, but is a kind of grace that alights when we start to take ourselves less seriously.
To Know the Self is to Forget the Self
This diminishing seriousness is a function of familiarity. As we come to know ourselves better, to see ourselves more clearly, we perhaps start to realise that we are not actually as special as we always wanted to think we were. We find in ourselves much the same characteristics - good and bad - in varying degrees as we find in everybody else. Their joys and sorrows, pride and shame, anxiety and relief, peace and panic, are all rather similar to our own, and our own to theirs. As this obvious truth become real to us, much of the mesmerising fascination of our own story fades. It is not that it vanishes, but it becomes less compelling, less central to the meaning of life. A good example of how our attitude to our favourite self stories can change is given by Sujatin in her teaching yesterday.
When we start to recognise our common humanity more authentically, something deep within us relaxes. It is as if a cosmic grandmother had soothingly said to us, "It's alright." That is 'faith'. Realising that we are never going to be self-sufficiently perfect or self-justifying, whether in rightness, saintliness, victimhood, vengeful heroism, or whatever other role we might fall into, we start to rely upon something that is vaster, pervasive, and beyond our grasp. This 'realisation of alrightness' is shinjin. When it is established in an enduring way deep within us, that is anshin. When it expresses itself in action, that is abhilasa. When it transforms our perception of the world, that is bodaishin.
Such anshin faith provides a kind of bedrock in one's life that is independent of condition or circumstance, which is why it is called 'settled'. Although the vicissitudes of conditional existence in a world of impermanence continue, when one's heart has been touched in this way one can face whatever may come and not lose faith.
To Be Continued
Over the next few days I hope to say some more things about this subject from different perspectives.
Some years ago I read a Dharma teaching in which the teacher used the slogan: “Where there is hurt, there is self.” The teacher said that this was one of the most useful “rules of thumb” that he had come across in all his spiritual training. I know what he means.
In fact, spiritual training depends upon us being willing to look at our self, not as a precious thing to be defended, but as the probable source of most of our own troubles. Of course, mostly we are unaware of it doing so. In modern parlance, we say that there are unconscious motivations. However, these subterranean rumblings have symptoms on the surface and near the surface, a bit in the same way as magma below throws up volcanoes above. Volcanoes can remain dormant for periods of time and then erupt periodically. We are much the same.
In the teaching on Ashvagosha I said that Buddha taught effacement and Ashvaghosa practised it. I have since been asked to say more on the matter of effacement.
The Salekha Sutta
The eighth sutra in the Majjhima Nikaya is called the Salekha Sutta, which means the sutra on Effacement.
The sutra is basically in four parts which seem mildly in contradiction of one another, so it is possible that a degree of irony is intended. I am inclined to think that the Buddha was rather a master of irony, but it was sometimes lost on his more pious followers. However, it is evident that the sutra is about good character.
The scene is a conversation between the Buddha and an enquirer called Cunda. Cunda wants to talk about doctrines about the self and the world and he asks if those who are beginners can possibly understand these teachings. It is a reasonable surmise that by beginners, Cunda means those who have not attained high proficiency in meditation.
A Modern Question
Cunda, therefore, is not unlike many modern people who come to Buddhism. He is primarily interested in meditation and in abstruse doctrines and thinks that the height of attainment is to be proficient in meditation and to understand the nature of the self or the non-self doctrine and the nature of the world or reality. Many contemporary books on Buddhism are preoccupied with these topics. The implication of Cunda’s question is that those who do not do so cannot understand the important matter.
This is Not Me
The Buddha’s reply is to say that in order to have the right view of the world or of the self one needs to see what one is talking about in a certain way. What is that way? It is: This is not mine, this is not me, this is not myself. The Buddha says that is a person sees things in this way then they understand all that they need to (whether they are a beginner or not). “This is not mine, this is not me, this is not myself” constitutes effacement.
Dhyana is Peace & Pleasure Here and Now
The Buddha then rubs the point in by going through a description of all of the degrees of dhyana (meditation), starting from the first dhyana:
“It is possible that, secluded from sensual distraction and unwholesome states, a bhikkhu enters into and abides in the first dhynana, which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought, rapture and pleasure, born of seclusion. He might think ‘I am abiding in effacement’ but this is not what is called effacement in the discipline of noble ones; this is called, rather, a pleasant abiding here and now.”
The Buddha then goes on to the second dhyana in similar fashion. then the third. If this is the first time that you have read the sutra, you probably tend to assume that effacement is going to be the final and highest dhyana. However, when the Buddha gets to the eighth and highest dhyana he says, “but this is not what is called effacement in the discipline of noble ones; this is called, rather, a peaceful abiding.” He calls the first four dhyanas pleasant and the second four peaceful, but neither set, not even the highest, constitutes effacement.
In the morning service at Amida Shu temples and gatherings there is a passage that begins “Your radiant face, like a mountain peak catching the first burst of morning light, has awesome and unequalled majesty.” It is the first verse of a short text called Tan Butsu Ge, which is a section of the Larger Pureland Sutra.
Tan Butsu Ge literally means Song in Praise of the Buddha. In this case it is the Buddha Lokeshvararaja who lived an immense time ago in an altogether different world, perhaps a different universe. The song is sung in the sutra by Dharmakara Bodhisattva who subsequently, much much later, becomes Amitabha Buddha. It expresses his delight and astonishment on meeting the Buddha and tells how he is inspired by this meeting to enter the Buddha Way.
This story of Dharmakara meeting Lokeshvararaja is told by the Buddha Shakyamuni to Ananda. The incident reflects the opening of the encounter between Ananda and Shakyamuni themselves. Ananda similarly has been struck by the radiant appearance of Shakyamuni. He says, “Oh Blessed One, I do not ever recall seeing the Tathagata so serene, purified, cleansed and radiant as I do today. This thought occurs to me ’Today the Tathagata dwells in the sphere of the most rare Dharma! the sphere of the Buddhas! … The Buddhas of the three times contemplate one another. Could it be that you are now bringing to mind all the other Buddhas? Are you gazing upon the tathagatas, arhats, Samyak Sambuddhas of the past, the future, and the present? Is that why your august presence shines with such radiance today?” and the Buddha replies, “You are right, Ananda, you are right.”
You can tell a lot from a face. My companions here tell me that they can tell when my illness of worse and when it is less bad because they can see it in my face. When I am bad, my energy withdraws inside and the face darkens. When I am well the opposite happens. Sometimes we see somebody that we are familiar with and we think, “Either he is in love, or he just won the lottery.” A radiance is evident to everybody.
Such radiance tells us the inner state of a person. It is also infectious. In the famous Fred Astair song, They Can’t Take That Away From Me, one of the things he treasures is “The way your face just beams.” When somebody has that radiance we all benefit, feel lifted and liberated. This is the effect that a Buddha has.
In Mahayana Buddhism there is a teaching common to all schools called the Trikaya. Tri means three. Kaya means body. So the Three Treasures, in which Buddhist’s take refuge, have these three bodies or manifestations.
Master Keizan wrote: “In the Three Treasures, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, there are three merits. The first is the true source of the three treasures. The second is the presence in the past of Shakyamuni Buddha and the third is the presence at the present time.”
The first is the true source, which is the Dharmakaya, the Tao, the Unborn, that which is not impermanent, endlessly functioning, ceaselessly giving rise to pure inspiration. This is Dharma in its absolute mode, without beginning and without end. It is the fundamental truth of the universe and all possible universes. It is true, was true and will be true whether anybody knows it or not. Still it needs expression. It invites us but is not coercive. It is an open field within which all wonders appear. Those with few desires sense it and feel its wonder. Those with many desires see the surface of things, but even for them the Dharmakaya is mysteriously working.
The second is the appearance of Buddha in the world, the nirmanakaya, concrete physical manifestation in the material world of the sage who teaches the Dharma to all who have but little dust in their eyes and who is compassionate indiscriminately to all beings. A Buddha appearing in the world is born at a certain time, enlightened at a certain time, teaches in particular places and times, and dies when the time comes. This kaya is a historical event. Such a happening, however, is shot through with Dharmakaya. The Buddha does not live for self. He is a mortal body but inflated by the spirit of all the Buddhas of all times. In the Larger Pureland Sutra, Ananda asks Shakyamuni how it is that he looks so radiant and asks if it is a sign that Shakyamuni has been communing with all the other Buddhas of past, present and future, and Shakyamuni affirms that this is so. Buddha is a mortal, but an extraordinary one. What had he got that others lack? The inspiration of the true source and communion with all those who manifest that source no matter where or when.
The third is the appearance at the present time. This is the sambhogakaya, the spiritual manifestation of the Three Jewels in manifold forms, visions, dreams, and signs. This is what has been put into the world by the appearance of a Buddha in the past. Buddha does not die when Buddha’s body dies. Thus, where Dharmakaya is without beginning or end and nirmanakaya has a beginning and end, sambhogakaya has a beginning but no end. Once the Dharma is in the world it is forever, appearing in innumerable ways. Sambhogakaya is the bridge between the Dharmakaya and the foolish being. It is Shakyamuni still with us. It is Amida Buddha’s all acceptance. It is the solace of Quan Shi Yin and Samantabhadra, the wisdom of Manjushri and the saving power of Kshitigharba. Sambhoga means enjoyment. This is how we ordinary beings of the present enjoy the spiritual life. The nirmanakaya died long ago and the Dharmakaya is only directly perceptible to the enlightened. It is through the sambhogakaya that Buddhist religious consciousness is made manifest. The central figure on the main altar of most Buddhist temples in the orient is some representation of the sambhogkaya.
In Buddhism, and in many spiritual communities, a key role is ascribed to teachers and to those who study and train with them. The former are transmitters of the Dharma and the latter are receivers of it. However, the terms transmitters and receivers does not here mean exactly what the worldly mind tends to make of it. Disciples are also vitally important supports to the life and work of the teacher.
The Dharma is not simply a set of ideas. It is a lived life and a mystic way, a Tao. Nor is it a stereotyped life. Not all teachers sit under bodhi trees. We could say that it is a fullness of life. This fullness is transmitted, but in such a transmission there is no thing that is given - no commodity is involved. The traditions of India, whether Hindu, Jain, Sikh or Buddhist all emphasise darshan. Darchan means being in the presence of the teacher. One acquires the Dharma directly from being with the teacher just as he or she has acquired it by contact with other former teachers. It is a contagion of spirit.
Teacher-Disciple & Teacher-Student
For this reason there is a crucial difference between students and disciples. Students are consumers of what a teacher teaches. They do seek and receive a commodity. Furthermore, they take what they like and leave the rest. Their commitment is temporary and instrumental. There is nothing wrong about this, but it is a limited function. Typically a student is somebody who does a course. There is a beginning and an end to the course. When the course is over the student goes his own way. I have been a student on many courses. Mostly I cannot remember the names of the teachers. I acquired knowledge or skills and I, or somebody else, paid for me to study. Essentially the relationship is similar to a customer in a shop.
A disciple is something else. A disciple is an adopted child. When the scriptures refer to "a man or woman of good family" they mean the family of the Dharma. The child will carry on the family farm. His or her investment is different from that of a hired hand.
Just as there are students and disciples, there are two different meanings to the word teacher. There are teachers who teach, perhaps in schools or universities, who might not even be Buddhist, but who teach Buddhism in an academic way. A student going to such a teacher may learn a lot about Buddhism. This is quite different from having the Dharma transmitted to one. It is an academic exercise. It may even be an advantage for such a teacher to not be a Buddhist. From the point of view of the academy, one can do religious studies more objectively if one is not a devotee or believer.
Since the word guru has been debased by popular usage and the term lama is restricted to the Tibetans, we currently have no good single word noun for a spiritual Buddhist teacher. For learners, the term disciple does still work. We can describe the two modes, therefore, as teacher-disciple relationship and teacher-student relationship.
The relationship between disciple and teacher lasts forever - “through all bardoes, through all lives”. This is true even if, in this life, there were to be only one meeting between the two people. It is a heart to heart connection in which Dharma is transmitted. Once there has been such, there is karmic affinity. Of course, when such a connection exists, the disciple wants to be with the teacher as much as possible, but what really is possible depends on circumstances. The idea of contagion is a good analogy, though. One can get infected by a short encounter, or a long one.
Teachers are Each Unique
Teachers are not all the same. When I think of my teachers, Kennett Roshi established an order of celibate monastics and used the terminology of medieval Christianity. Saiko Sensei ran a three generation family temple and stressed always the close connection between Dharma and psychology. Trungpa Rimpoche made massive adaptations to Tibetan tradition in order to make the Dharma available to people living in the materialist society of contemporary America. Nai Boonman taught tranquil abiding. Thich Nhat Hanh reformulated the whole of Buddhism into the idiom of mindfulness.
My heart to heart connection with each of these great figures was, in each case different, yet, in another sense, always the same. The inspiration was the same. The style was always different. There is not one single way of being Buddhist and Buddhism is not a standard from of institution. Buddhism generates many institutions - organisations of many kinds - but they are vehicles, not a destination. Those who think that the vehicle is the important thing may play a part, but they have missed the essence of what is happening. The purpose of a teacher is not to create a perfect organisation. Teachers may, therefore, create many organisations, or none at all, and what they create may follow a pattern, or might not, but, whether it does or not, the Dharma is not the pattern - that is merely superficial.