This morning I gave a talk at Oasis. I spoke about Shantideva and his famous text on the Way of the Bodhisattva. In particular, the text, like most Mahayana texts, begins with a homage to the Buddhas and bodhisattvas. It is possible that many western readers skip over this as if it were a kind of polite preliminary, like saying 'How do you do?' In fact, however, the whole purpose of such a text is to inculcate and attitude and the first essential character of that attitude is homage. Shantideva's whole purpose in creating the work is homage. Teaching the Dharma is his way of expressing his devotion to the Buddhas. Homage is also a form of gratitude. It is from the Buddhas that we have received the Dharma.
Then Shantideva goes on to say that the text may be of use to those who hear or read it, but more importantly he has written it in order to clarify his own understanding. So here there is a kind of modesty and this modesty is the other side of homage. In order to put the objects of devotion on a high place it is necessary to abase oneself. Unless one recognises one's deficiency, how can one fully feel gratitude to the Buddhas?
A little further on, there is the famous verse in which he says that receiving illumination is like being in the darkness of a night time when the sky is completely clouded over and then suddenly there is a flash of lightning and, for a moment, all is clear and bright. This kind of occurrence brings a sense of astonishment. Why me? Here Shantideva is talking about sudden illumination in a manner quite like Zen. The lightning flash is spectacular because of the darkness. The same flash occurring in the day time would not have the same impact or sense of revelation. Shantideva writes about it saying he has no idea why he has been granted some access in this way.
What we can take from this is the importance of being aware of the darkness. We cannot make the lightning flash, but we can be aware of our own obscurity. This is the same attitude of modesty. Then when some insight arises, one feels great gratitude and realises the precious nature of what has been bestowed.
Too often in Buddhist groups there is much bandying about of concepts like emptiness and nonduality in a hifaluting way that yet does not evidence the attitude that Shantideva is trying to inculcate. His objective is not that one arrive at a better intellectual understanding than the next person, but that he and we may have the right attitude of reverence, homage, modesty, gratitude and even surprise that anything of the precious Dharma at all should have fallen into our laps.
A Dharma talk given at the regular Friday morning service at Oasis.
Faith evidently plays a significant part in psychotherapy. Whatever school one follows, the 'therapeutic alliance' is important. In some forms of therapy it is virtully the be-al-and-end-all of the work. Such an alliance rests upon the faith that the client has in the therapist and this substantially reflects the faith the the therapist has in the client. In fact, therapy substantially consists in a relationship in which the therapist has faith in the client, often in ways and to a degree that the client himself does not have.
When we say 'has faith in the client' we are referring to the client in his life. A person is always situated. All the ordinary aspects of life are conditional. In practice, therefore, this means that the faith that the therapist has in the client is a faith that the client can cope with the circumstances that are arising for him, no matter how extreme of grievous they may be. This is what is sometimes called 'unconditional positive regard'. In order for this faith to have credibility, the therapist must enter into the life of the client to such an extent that she has an easy familiarity with and feeling for the 'world' of the client. In effect, therefore, the work is quite object related. The therapist 'stands alongside the client' as the client goes forth into his life.
However, from a spiritual point of view it is worth distinguishing between ordinary circumstance and eternal things. When we talk of anshin we are not just talking about ordinary confidence. We are talking about a faith that transcends the ordinary. In reality, only such a faith can really be 'unconditional'. In practice, ordinary human beings such as ourselves are not totally unconditional. However, if we life a spiritual life we do have confidence in something beyond, something that, perhaps, remains mysterious to us, but, nonetheless, we regard as ultimately, not merely circumstantially, reliable. This is what is called taking refuge.
So it is because the therapist takes refuge that she is able to provide unconditional support. This does not mean that she will be perfect in every response or accomplish some amazing ideal. It means, rather, that there is something deep within the meeting that cannot be explained in ordinary ways.
These two levels refer to what in Buddhism is sometimes called 'the two truths' which are 'relative truth' and 'absolute truth'. This is not really a philosophical notion, it is more an experience. The two levels do interact. It is her faith in the transcendent refuge that enables the therapist to let go to a sufficient degree and really enter into the client's 'relative world" and it is because she can and does do so that the client subliminally picks up that there is something more than just ordinary 'relative' confidence operating here. In the best case this results in the client also finding a refuge that transcends ordinary life circumstance. When this happens, therapy and spirituality merge. In lesser cases, the therapist's faith in the holding power of refuge is sufficient to give the client ordinary confidence so that he goes through whatever life trial it is in a way that brings him to growth and constructive change rather than defeat.
In either case, the client emerges with more faith than he had before. He might or might not have words for this, might or might not have a spiritual practice of his own. If he does, then he will have a vocabulary for talking about such things. However, even if he does not, still the increase in faith operating in his life will be an asset that will benefit him in many ways, not just in the matter discussed in therapy, but in all dimensions of life.
Note: I have referred to the therapist as 'she' and the client as 'he' for simplicity and clarity, but the principles apply whatever the gender of each party.
Dharmavidya's Teaching at Oasis de Longue Vie
27 May 2016
recorded & transcribed by Annette
Dharmavidya: I was reading a passage of Dogen - Dogen Zenji, the great Zen master. It says when you are enlightened, you are getting more enlightened all the time. When you are in the midst of delusion, you are getting more deluded all the time. Si vous êtes illuminé, vous êtes de plus en plus illuminé et si vous êtes au centre de beaucoup d'illusions, vous avez de plus en plus d'illusions. It is very interesting because you can take this, both at an individual level and at a collective level, and perhaps also one to one level. When you consider these three ways, it says something about how Buddhism - transmission of the dharma - works.
On an individual level, here you probably have how people understand it when they first read it. At an individual level, when you are enlightened, then everything you encounter, enlightens you more. In this sense we can see that being enlightened - having satori – is, among other things, a facility in learning. A good teacher is somebody who is good at learning, always curious, always interested, always investigating. When a good teacher finds that he has made a mistake, he or she is very pleased: "Oh goodie, goodie! Learned something new!" When an ordinary person finds that he has made a mistake: trouble, confusion, shame, hiding and so on. While as the enlightened person is only interested in learning, where as ordinary persons are interested in their own reputation, their presentation for the sake of their image. The enlightened person just learns, has an interest: "What are those birds saying?" The only difference between being enlightened and not being enlightened is that in not being enlightened, the self gets in the way - préoccupation, réputation aux yeux des autres et pour soi-même, c'est la priorité. Pour l'éveillé c'est autre chose - In a certain way, enlightened persons are always alone, because they are not concerned with the social presentation. Enligthened persons are alone with the birds, or alone with the trees, and the same in their attitude to other people. Things are just as they are. This is at the level of the individual.
But then when we think about it more collectively - l'aspect collectif - the person in the middle of delusion - l'illusion n'est pas seulement la mienne, c'est celle de nous tous, de tout le monde - We feed each other's delusion. You give me your illusion. I give you my delusion. We live in a soup of delusion. We delude each other. So this is why sangha is important. We might say : well it all comes from within, but this is not entirely true. When you look at Buddhism, you see that Buddhism is very much concerned with creating the right environment. Here we have a special room. We are surrounded by (pictures of) teachers, great beings. We have a particular atmosphere. We have put the Buddha where we can bow and so on. So we create an environment and even deluded persons coming into a beautiful temple garden - nice little flowing river, a japanese bridge, and so on - they feel something. When you are amongst people who are peaceful and happy, it has an effect. You still have your own troubles and your delusions, but still you are touched, you are affected. So in the middle of delusion - pas seulement dans mes propres illusions mais au milieu des illusions sociales, les illusions du monde. Some of our work as Buddhists is to create a wonderful environment. Maybe we cannot create Pure Land exactly, but still something. When you have refuge in the Pure Land in your heart, then naturally you create Pure Land in your environment. This is not just for yourself, it starts for yourself like a mirror, but then it is for everybody else. Sangha means we help each other. It doesn't mean necessarly help like a social worker - sometimes perhaps - but just by our way of being, our ordinary kindness, well, just our 'ordinariness', by not making unecessary fuss, we create a clean environment - un environement pur, propre - so there is not so much self, not so much contamination. So this is refuge in the Sangha, collectively being in the middle of illumination, instead of in the middle of delusion. Often the Buddhists say: "What should we do?" He (Buddha) says: "Keep good company, be among good people". Good in the West is much in the sense of doing good, quite active, but in Buddhism, good is more in the sense of pure. It's more just having this clean space where there is no aggravation, where no new karma is created. So, keep good company!
So if we then look at the third level: the level of one to one. Good company is very important. It is very important in a good relationship. We are being good for one another and of course the epitome of this, is the disciple and the teacher or the practioner and Buddha. There is transmission. Transmission: you think the teacher gives you something. But in a way, he takes something away. Transmission is giving something or taking something away because what is transmitted is peace. What is transmitted is that cleanliness, purity. I try out my delusions on him, but he does not respond. I push forward, but there is nobody pushing back. So experience of working with a teacher is often like that. You push with your delusion, and you just fall over. There is no push back. So Buddha is good, kind and wise. Buddha is not caught up in my games and yet he is still there, he still loves me. At first you think, "He is not going to play my game", and you can be upset, if the other person doesn't play your game. But when you discover that the other person does not play your game, but still loves you, some new possibility arises in life. You see something is possible you didn't think was possible before, because you only played your game because you thought you had to, but you don't have to. Ego is just made up of these games and these heaps of stories (we tell ourselves that make us keep playing artificial games). We don't have actually have to do. So, one to one, there is this kind of very special friend. Ordinary friends often support our delusion. We have trouble – the ordinary friend says: "Have a drink! Three glasses of whisky and you will feel much better!" But this makes matters worse. Following morning, you have the same problem and you've got a headache as well. So we say, kalyana mitra - skillful friend, special friend. So we think of him as a little like that he is my special friend. We think we are receiving, but actually it is a two-way street, we help each other. The disciple helps the teacher and the teacher helps the disciple.
So this is what Dogen is talking about. When you are in the middle of delusion, either collectively, one to one, or on your own, you just make more and more. Everything you take, you take as food for your delusion. But when you are in the milieu of enlightment, illumination, awakening, then you just have more and more. There is a new exciting discovery. This it true in yourself, in your relationship and in your community.
Namo Amida Bu
Dharmavidya's teaching at Oasis de Longue Vie
Friday, 20th may 2016
recorded & transcribed by Annette
Sometimes, we say Buddhism is shila, samadhi and prajna.
Shila is the moral precepts, behaviour, right behaviour. Samadhi is meditation and prajna is wisdom. That's all! But how we understand it?
You can say there is a superficial level and there is a deep level. The precept indicate the superficial: behaviour, how the things appear in the world. So the Buddha says, « What would an ordinary person who knows nothing about Buddhism notice? They will notice the good behaviour. » So it is said the behaviour is what appears on the surface. We can say that meditation - samadhi - is what is underneath, what supports the good behaviour. So meditation is the cultivation of the mind - l'entraînement du coeur - In this way, we can understand Buddhism quite simply.
But Buddha says that that there is something else, beyond this: there is prajna, there is wisdom. But wisdom may not be quite the right term. Wisdom is 'wise'. If I am wise, I know a lot. I have got a lot. I have a lot to give. But in buddhism, prajna is emptiness. I have got nothing. So, in a way, shila and samadhi are states of fulness, they are same. But prajna is a state beyond these two. With the cultivation of behaviour - shila - you can go on and on and on. There is no end to it. You can always do better. However good you are, improvement is always possible, you can always do better. There is no natural end. This is like 'gradual cultivation'. The same is true for meditation. You can train your mind. It may be even more difficult. Training your behaviour is like training an ox, training your mind is like training a monkey. You can go on and on. You can always do better.
Prajna is not like that. It is like switching the light on and off again. Prajna is emptiness. Empty is empty, it cannot be more. So we have these two aspects. In a sense there are three aspects of Buddhism - shila, samadhi and prajna - but in a way there are only two: shila and samadhi on one side and prajna on the other side. Normally people cultivate shila and samadhi and maybe they have prajna. But some people have prajna, without having done the other side at all. They are kind of natural. They have that all-acceptance, or ,we can say, complete faith, complete trust. Emptiness is like that. Whatever comes along, you receive it. It is like the great earth. The earth doesn't mind what you put on it: you can put gold on it, you can put rubbish on it, it just accepts it. It is all alright. You can put the most delicious food on it or the excrement later on. So, in this sense, the earth is empty. It is all the same. It doesn't matter. Emptiness is like that. Spaciousness.
You have told me about a monk being asked about his sickness and he says: "Sun face Buddha, moon face Buddha". Sometimes sun face, sometimes moon face. Sometimes you are well, sometimes you are sick. Whatever comes, from the position of emptiness - sunyata - it is all the same. Sometimes monkey face Buddha, sometimes ox face Buddha, sometimes Buddha is the cat. From the Buddhist point of view, emptiness - prajna - is the most important. When we read the text, Tan Butsu Ge it says: there are many excellencies: meditation, virtues, but prajna is at their head.
Prajna is the spirit of Mahayana. Prajna paramita goes beyond, it is that which goes to the other shore. On this shore, we can cultivate meditation, many meditations, we can do many things but when on the other shore, you have a different perspective. Everything appears in a different perspective. When you are trying to be good, you are all the time measuring how good, you tend to be a bit judgemental, you tend to be a bit proud or sometimes demoralized: "Oh! I didn't mean to do that! Terrible!" But from the point of view of prajna, sometimes you are terrible, sometimes you are good, sometimes bad, it is human. There is the famous story of Takuan and Baso: the tile and the mirror. Baso has been meditating for 10 years. Takuan comes along and says: "What you are doing?" Baso says: "I am meditating." "Well, what you are meditating for?" "Meditation makes the Buddha" and Takuan picks up a tile and afer a while Baso asks him: 'What you are doing?" "I am polishing a tile to make a mirror." and Baso says "You can"t make a mirror with a tile and Takuan says: "You can't make a Buddha by meditation." This is a challenge to Zen people, because Zen is all about meditation. So this is the one side of the river. Baso thinks: "If I do enough, I can accumulate enough merit to be a Buddha?" it is not like that. Enlightment of the Buddha cuts through. It is not a matter of getting a bigger stack of merit, it just cuts through, and Baso is enlightened. In a way, we can say that the tile is a mirror because the tile shows Baso his nature. Baso looks at the tile and he saw himself. So, it is a mirror. When you are in a state of emptinesss, you are a mirror and everything else is a mirror. We are all mirroring each other. My stupidity shows you your stupidity and for your stupidity, well, some thing we don't talk about:-)
So emptiness, wisdom, faith, mirror-mind are all the same thing.
Namo Amida Bu!
The End of Awareness
The first stage of Buddhism coming to the West is about finished now. This first stage is the consciousness stage. It has been all about awareness, mindfulness, consciousness, attention, and alertness. We should all be very tired by now. If we have been doing all this attention practice for all these years, then a big part of us must be craving for sleep by now.
it would be better to dream more
To sleep, to sleep, perchance to dream. Ever since Hamlet, modern humans have feared the unconscious. We know that Buddhism is about overcoming the ego, but all this consciousness training is essentially just drilling ourselves in more and more clinging to the ego-ideal. it would be better to dream more.
The Unconscious Stage
The next stage, therefore, is the unconscious stage. Some people have already got a little bit of this but mostly the consciousness movement has just got more and more extreme. The idea that consciousness itself is the goal is a kind of madness. Saying that consciousness is the answer to the spiritual problem is like saying that words are the answer to the problem of literature or numbers are the answer to economics. It does not really mean anything. Consciousness is part of life, not the answer to it, a tool, not a goal.
Nearly all the important things in life go on unconsciously most of the time. We meet somebody. “Hello, who are you?” “I’m John.” “Nice to meet you, I’m Jane.” What does it mean? John is not conscious of who or what John is and Jane is not conscious of who or what Jane is. These are just labels. Also, ‘nice to meet you’ is a secret code, but does anybody consciously know what it means? They are players on an unconscious stage.