The Language of Burdens

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

The Awakened One came to realize that human beings weight themselves down with unnecessary burdens as they walk the path of life. Once a physical or mental phenomena becomes a burden than it naturally becomes a source of discontentment and anguish as one struggles to carry it even when deep in the sub-conscious mind there is recognition that it has little or no value. He used a parable to offer a teaching on those burdens.

Once there was a man on a long journey who came to a river. He said to himself: ‘This side of the river is very difficult and dangerous to walk on, and the other side seems easier and safer, but how shall I get across?’ So he built a raft out of branches and reeds and safely crossed the river. Then he thought to himself: ‘This raft has been very useful to me in crossing the river; I will not abandon it to rot on the bank, but will carry it along with me.’ And thus he voluntarily assumed an unnecessary burden. Can this man be called a wise man?

This parable teaches that even a good thing, when it becomes an unnecessary burden, should be thrown away; much more so if it is a bad thing. Buddha made it the rule of his life to avoid useless and unnecessary discussions. The Teaching of Buddha, Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai (Society for the Promotion of Buddhism), 1966, pg. 106

These are the words that over twenty years ago changed my perspective on how I was living my life, and provided the impetus to transform it. Before these words I felt trapped in a cycle of being that was debilitating, dangerous and destructive. It was my introduction to the Buddhist ideal of craving and attachment but I didn’t discover that until many years later. In that moment an attachment to a relationship that I viewed as necessary for my being manifested as a craving to do whatever it might take to have it continue, even at the cost of the contentment of myself and others, was causing suffering for all involved.

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Letter to the Grief Stricken

To the Grief-Stricken,

You’ve lost someone very close to you and you are grieving. No shock there, grief is an emotion that comes along with the human condition. It’s perfectly normal to experience denial, anger, and sadness when you’ve suffered a loss. You asked me what does Buddhism offer as ways to deal with grief and loss. To come to an acceptance of loss and a relieving of grief after the death of a loved one you first have to accept the reality that death inevitably follows birth. What can suck is death too soon sometimes follows birth.

There is a Buddhist parable, The Mustard Seed, that speaks to thinking one is alone in their suffering after loss. In a condensed version a young woman named Kisa, carrying the body of her deceased young child came before the Buddha. She was in a state of intense grieving, refusing to believe her child was dead, that such suffering could be dealt to her alone. She was confused, angry and sad all at the same time. The emotion of grief dominated her bodymind. Kisa demanded of the Buddha that he cure her son, bring him back to life. He tells her that to do as she asked he would need a mustard seed from a house in which there had been no death or suffering. At every door she was offered mustard seeds but when she asked if anyone had died there she heard, “Yes, my . . . died here.” Spending the day knocking on door after door she finally came to realize that death was a part of everyone’s life, that she was not alone in her pain and grief. Loss comes to everyone. Kisa gained an understanding that she was not alone in her suffering, that she suffered along with many others.

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Suffering Calf — Future Buddha Jataka Tale

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

The traditional Jataka Tales, stories of Siddhartha’s previous lives before awakening, are meant to teach lessons in moral thought and ethical action. Siddhartha was viewed as having lived lives as beggar and king, holy man and untouchable, eagle and hummingbird, lion and rabbit, water nymph and deva; in each he learned lessons of wisdom, wisdom that would eventually lead him to his life as Siddhartha, then as the Awakened One.

Siddhartha is the historical Buddha of our time. What about the future Buddha? The Awakened One told us, “I am not the first Buddha to come upon this earth; nor shall I be the last. Previously, there were many Buddhas who appeared in this world. In due time, another Buddha will arise in this world, within this world cycle.” Viewing this as a truth then those previous lives have been, or are currently being lived right in this moment.

What are the lives of the future Buddha? What lessons have the future Awakened One learned?

With all this, I will endeavor to write some Future Buddha Jataka Tales. Like the traditional tales the bodhisattva can arise as any sentient being because all sentient beings might be a Buddha.

Traditional Jataka Tales often begin with the words, ‘Once upon a time when . . .’, to denote events and people from their past. These Future Jataka Tales will begin with ‘In this time . . .’ to show their more immediate connection to our present moment.

Future Buddha Jataka: Suffering Calf

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Shattering the Links of samsara

Cycling Through samsara to nirvana II

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

Last week we talked about samsara as a lack of mindfulness from birth to death of the suffering we all experience, and that finding ways to break that cycle will lead us to bodymind states of nirvana in our moment-to-moment existence. We used the definition from John J. Holder as a bridge to understanding the concept of samsara and its value in our Buddhist practice.

samsara: cycle of birth, death, and rebirth; mundane, unenlightened existence; escape from samsara constitutes liberation or nibbana.

To “escape” from samsara and experience awakened (or liberated) moments you need to know what the aspects of the samsara state of mind are that will hinder you from those experiences. I ended the talk last week with these words, “It is up to you to get on your bicycle and ride.” So, let’s do it.

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The Language of Pluralism

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

A talk given at the Buddha Center in the virtual space of Second Life.

 

The Engaged Dharma philosophy of pluralism, that arises from the Order of Pragmatic Buddhists tradition and the Harvard Pluralism Project, acknowledges that there are different ways to live lives directed toward the promotion of human flourishing (happiness, health and harmony) and the alleviation of suffering. We acknowledge that there is more than one path to any goal. There is no one “true” approach to living, only ones that work well, or ones that don’t. It is important that we are aware that there are “acceptable” and “unacceptable” paths and develop the wisdom to know the difference. Whether it is a scientific approach, a philosophical approach, a religious approach, or an ideological approach; those that are focused on positive personal and social development have value and we must be willing to set aside differences in favor of combining skills and resources to relieve suffering.

Viewing the world through a pluralistic lens takes practice and commitment. We verify through experiential verification (our own experience proves the validity of a practice or idea) and social consensus (practices and ideas found to work on a societal level) what is useful and productive practices (pragmatism) without attacking another’s belief system (pluralism), and by being aware that blind adherence to dogma can limit positive transformations (philosophy). Professor Diana Eck of the Harvard Pluralism Project clearly describes four aspects of thinking and acting pluralistically.

First, pluralism is not diversity alone, but energetic engagement with diversity.

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Cycling Through samsara To nirvana

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

Venerable David Xi-Ken Astor wrote in his book, ‘Pragmatic Buddhism: Reflecting Contemporary Vitality’ that, “the Buddha’s arising occurred during a time of metaphysics, and as a result his teachings have metaphysical elements used to describe them and to realize them. Now those teachings are arising in a time of science and it is up to us to realize them through a lens of modern society, science and cultural influences in order to harness their potential of positive transformation.” This is a view that can be applied to much of what can be confusing philosophies in this ages old system of beliefs, a system of beliefs that the Buddha himself made clear must change with time, culture and context so that the intent of the dharma could be realized and valued. The Four Ennobling Truths were a reality before the Buddha awakened to them, they have been a reality ever since. Along the way, the mutability of the Dharma allowed it to effectively change dependent those cultures and times.

The Buddhist concepts samsara and nirvana are metaphysical ideals as they are difficult to prove, and can be difficult to understand and find the value of in a contemporary practice. Samsara is often experienced as the imperfect world of suffering discontent and anguish that human beings spend their existence in. Nirvana is the meta-physical place where ultimate liberation is found. What if these are not places WHERE one is, but are instead viewed as HOW one is? Can we pull away the traditional veil of metaphysics to reveal the contemporary value of these millennia old concepts that initially arose from Siddhartha’s (and his earliest disciples) Hindu beliefs?

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Agnostic Religion . . . Atheist Philosophy

EGGNOSTIC CARTOON

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

There are some who view Buddhism as an agnostic religion, and some who view Buddhism as an atheistic philosophy. Agnosticism can play a vital role in Buddhist practice but not a central role. The concept of Buddhism as atheistic comes from a deep misunderstanding, or in some cases a complete misrepresentation of Buddhist philosophy.

Setting aside the question of an Ultimate Cause, a God that directs all phenomena that is how most people relate to agnosticism brings us to the more pragmatic view of this philosophy. Awareness, and acceptance of causal conditioning (dependent origination) subtracts the concept of an Ultimate Cause from any consideration. That the essential nature of things cannot be known has long been an ideal in Buddhist philosophy as no phenomena has an inherent existence, no essential nature to be known. In Buddhism this is not agnosticism . . . it is reality. What firmly grounds a Buddhist practice is that knowledge is gained through experience, and if something cannot be directly or indirectly experienced it is not knowledge, it is theory and speculation. In the Kalama Sutra the Buddha teaches: “When you know in yourselves: These things are wholesome, blameless, commended by the wise, and being adopted and put into effect they lead to welfare and happiness, then you should practice and abide in them . . . “ (translation by Nanamoli Thera)

One lesson of this sutra is directed toward a common occurrence in the India of the Buddha’s time. There was a proliferation of religious teachers wandering the countryside extolling the virtues of their Truths and Practices, that they alone taught the True Way, the only way to their vision of salvation. In Western society, right this moment, folks are facing the same problem, and some of the teachers are Buddhist.

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