Sutra of Eight Realizations – Part Three – Practice, Study, Generosity

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

The Fourth Realization:
Indolence leads to degradation.
Always practice with diligence,
Vanquish all vexations,
Subdue the four maras,
And escape the prison of the skandhas.

The Fifth Realization:
Ignorance leads to birth and death.
Bodhisattvas, and all others should always be mindful
To study and learn extensively,
To increase their wisdom
And refine their eloquence,
So they can teach and enlighten all beings,
And impart great joy to all.

The Sixth Realization:
Poverty and hardship breed resentment,
Creating harm and discord.
Bodhisattvas, and all others should practice dana,
Beholding the friendly and hostile equally;
They neither harbor grudges
Nor despise malicious people.

The 4th and 5th Realizations are calls to realize that a commitment to practice and one to life-long learning are the most effective ways to achieve and maintain a noble life, one of positive personal development and of positive social development. Siddhartha was a human being . . . he did it . . . any of us can do it. It was the human-ness of Siddhartha that is the mirror of the human-ness in each of us.

The 6th is a call to develop and practice generosity of spirit and action. The Buddhist ideal of dana, contributing through material goods and wealth, time, and skills in order to alleviate suffering and to contribute to those working toward the same is how one shows compassion and their realization of their interconnectedness with all beings.

The goal of Buddhism as expressed in the Four Ennobling Truths is the cessation of suffering, unsatisfactoriness and discontentment or the achieving of liberation, for all sentient beings. That can only be accomplished through the actions of human beings because we are the ones (as far as we know right now) with the capacity to realize, and to act upon the profound truths the Buddha offered. I want to take a moment to talk about the concept of “the Buddha offered”. He wasn’t forcing the Middle Path on anyone. He offered it as a path that in his experience worked. It was up to whomever heard his teachings to put them into practice and prove their value to themselves.

Fourth Realization:

The Fourth Realization presents the dangers to our continuing practice of the Dharma and meditation. Laziness and procrastination can arise as major hindrances to a practice. My root teacher, Eubanks Sensei says, “It is when no one is watching that we must practice the hardest.” It is a reminder that sometimes we must be our own mentor and monitor.

Like the bodymind is one, so are meditation/practice. Beware of falling into thinking that you can practice Buddhism without having a committed mediation practice. Meditation is foundation where we begin to be mindful, where we begin to be aware of our wholesome and unwholesome habits and dispositions (skandhas), and begin to develop serenity and equanimity. Meditation is the beginning but it can’t end there. All of the ideals of Buddhist practice must be taken out into our everyday lives where it can be useful and productive.

It isn’t called practice because once you think, “I’ve got it,” you can abandon the “practice mind”.

It isn’t called practice because when you’ve slipped up, didn’t meditate, got angry, ignored an obligation, or craved a cheeseburger you can say, “Alright I’m a terrible Buddhist, I’m gonna quit”.

Writers, actors and painters, anyone in a creative field would sum this stanza up with these words. “Tell your inner editor/critic/procrastinator to shut the hell up.”

Hindrances come in many forms, but they are empty of power unless we allow them to have effect. Others can be finding the time to meditate and dealing with difficult people at home/work/play. Our inner editor may say “You don’t have time to listen deeply to . . .” – Our inner critic might say, “You really don’t do that well.” – Our inner procrastinator may say, “Tomorrow, we’ll do it tomorrow.” This is where creative re-description comes in. What some would view as vexations, we can turn around and make opportunities to practice. We can take the time to listen, try again, and do today.

The four maras are negative dispositions given legendary form. The mara of the aggregates: grasping/clinging to a permanent self – mara of disturbing emotions: habitual patterns of emotions – mara of death: death/fear – mara of the son of the gods: craving. Singly or in any combination they can impede our engagement of Buddhist practice. Meditation can lead us to the realization of these “maras” so through meditation we become aware of them before they impede our Buddhist practice in everyday life.

In short the Fourth Realization is all about commitment to practice. Practice on the cushion and practice off the cushion; Buddhist practice is a holistic endeavor.

Fifth Realization:

Engaged Dharma promotes attitudes and actions directed toward “life-long learning” and that is what the 5th Realization is all about. Simply put this means be open-minded and open-hearted to any and all new information, new experiences, and new opportunities. Learning begins with gathering information. Then we transform information into knowledge by putting it through the filter of experiential verification and then decide if it works. If it does we continue to make it a part of our approach to life; if not we discard it. In this way we transform knowledge into wisdom.

Ignorance is the condition of being unaware, uneducated or uninformed. This can result from cultural conditions that don’t offer to opportunity, or allow one to learn; or, it can be a product of not being interested in learning. Birth of bad decisions, and death of opportunities result from ignorance.

Learning extensively, increasing wisdom and refining eloquence is a very Daoist goal that fits well into Buddhist philosophy. The individual who does these things develops skillful ways to connect with others. Having some knowledge of the history and teachings of other Buddhist traditions, or other faiths will help us develop connections and relationships with others whose goal is human flourishing and the alleviation of suffering. When we have committed to a tradition we learn all we can, we practice diligently and become a positive example to others.

Sixth Realization:

In the Mahayana tradition the bodhisattva-in-training practices an encompassing compassion that is offered equally to all. The well-being of others is of equal importance as that of their self. This may seem contradictory unless one recalls that the Buddha made it clear that without caring for ourselves we would not be able to extend that care and compassion to others. It is through the practice of “generosity of the spirit” that practitioners develop this skill, the ability to give of ones self in a variety of ways – material goods, wealth, time, skills.

Hunger, poverty, and disease can block or slow the realization of the dharma so material generosity is the initial step. The sutra says, “Do give gifts! For poverty is a painful thing. One is unable, when poor, to accomplish one’s own welfare, much less that of others.” (Large Sutra of Perfect Wisdom, Edward Conze translator) Material gifts includes: food, drink, clothing, shelter, land; all of these are needed to sustain life.

INTENT is a critical aspect of generosity. The intent/attitude of the giver, the intent/spirit of the gift are essential, and the knowledge that the giving will need to end must be taken into account in any situation. The donor should be prompted by the need while being mindful of the encompassing effect their generosity may have. They should not be influenced by the possible rewards, material or otherwise that may come . . . this is selflessness. Any hope/expectation/self congratulation diminishes the act and demonstrates the immaturity of the giver’s practice.

Realization of Action:

Each stanza of the Eight Realizations are calls to action.

#1 – Realize the impermanence of the self.

#2 – Realize that craving is the root cause of suffering.

#3 – Recognize our own cravings and realize their alleviation.

#4 – Practice, practice, practice.

#5 – Engage in life-long learning.

#6 – Refine generosity of spirit and action.

Sokei-An and Realizing Buddhism

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

Looking through the Dewey Decimal 294.93s in library catalog I cam across a book titled “Cat’s Yawn”. Finding it listed under Zen I was intrigued by the title and had it brought out from the stacks where all the old books are shelved. The cover, with the line drawing of a yawning cat made me smile and what I found inside opened my bodymind to a Zen Legacy Master I’d never heard of but was very happy to discover. Sokei-An Soshin Taiko Choro Zenji (1882 – 1945) was the first Zen Master to make his home in the Western world. In 1916 he emigrated to the U.S. under the direction of his teacher to bring Zen to the West. He founded the First Zen Institute of America which is still active today. Sokei-An died in 1945 leaving behind a legacy of Buddhist thought that mirrors what many Buddhist teachers today, myself included, think of as contemporary to our culture, context and time. Sokei-An was way ahead of us.

In 1940 the First Zen Institute began publishing a newsletter . . . yeah, they had newsletters in the 40s . . . in which he offered Zen in a way he felt would open the bodyminds of Westerners to Buddhist philosophy and practice.

Cat’s Yawn was first published in 1947 and is still being distributed today. After spending time reading and pondering Sokei-An’s words I came to the realization of their value now. In Volume 1, No. 1 of Cat’s Yawn, Sokei-An revealed his view of Zen as a religion and his intent in teaching it. It is titled: “The Man Who Is Not a Sky-Dweller”.

He begins by speaking about Chinese calligraphy’s three recognized styles of writing: rigid, less rigid and flowing style, then moves to three styles of deportment (behavior and manners): formal, semi-formal and informal. These serve to describe Sokei-An’s view of religious practices.

He goes on to say, “In religion also there are three styles: ritualistic sermons, preaching from the altar and discussion at the dinner-table when the priest is invited to a lay-house. In addition there is religious discussion among the monks in their own cells, when this is permitted. I am weary of talking about Buddhism in a formal attitude, as I perform the ritual under the candle lights, and burn incense in air vibrant with the sound of the gong. Since a man is a Buddha it is majestic and beautiful to discourse upon religion in a rigid, formal attitude. But since a man is also merely a man, and nothing more, he prefers to talk about his own faith in a less formal or informal attitude, or in no attitude at all.

I wish to talk about my faith in a very disheveled attitude, just as a cat vomits the breath from its mouth in yawning. In this western world Buddhism has been studied for about two hundred years, so I understand. First it was investigated by Englishmen in Ceylon in order to gain control over the natives. In the second period this religion was studied by Christians whose purpose was to disparage it in the Orient. In the third period it was studied as an odd Oriental philosophy, and in the present day, in what is its fourth period, western people are attempting to discover whether there is any element of truth in Buddhism. But in my opinion they have failed. They are merely talking about what Buddhism is; but this “What is Buddhism?” is a great question!

I was initiated into Buddhism when I was still a boy. My age is now three score years. It was only yesterday that I came to understand what Buddhism is. Let me speak, lying on the floor with my yawning cat at my side, about the Buddhism which is my very self.”

These words have given me much to think about. Sokei-An’s three styles of religious practice are parallel to my own view of the Three Refuges. The Buddha offers teachings from the altar (or cushion), the Dharma offers the intentional rituals that guide practitioners; the discussion at the dinner-table is the sangha . . . each with its own value depending on the audience and the situation. At times these practices swirl together, seeming dualities coming together as a holistic experience. When I preach from the altar it is to communicate the dharma as I comprehend it from the Buddha’s sermons presented in a ritualistic way through the Pali Nikayas and other Buddhist scriptures. Talking one-on-one with family, friends and sangha members tends to take on the flavor of a casual dinner conversation. Discussions between myself and my dharma brother, David Sensei, for example, definitely have the character of all three . . . preaching, ritual, and casual.

Sokei-An writes of being weary of the formal attitude, an attitude I feel certain was demanded of him during his years in a Japanese monastery. Coming to the West must have felt liberating in some sense to him, freeing him from those expectations. His writing shows a sense of opening up and allowing the man who is a Buddhist to be more informal yet firm in his faith.

I believe we in the West are still in, and are likely to remain in Sokei-An’s described fourth period for some time trying to decide if there are elements of truth in Buddhism. We are trying to decide if the rituals are necessary. We are trying to decide if we want to be Buddhists in America acting like Japanese, Chinese or Tibetan, or American Buddhists letting a Western way of practice evolve naturally out of the teachings of the Buddha, and the experiences of cultures before us. The proliferation of Buddhist traditions and platforms in the West offer choices of elements leaving it up to each of us to experience them as truths in our own lives. During his own time he viewed that search for truth as a failed endeavor. Still he recognized that some people were talking about what Buddhism “is” and he thought that the question “What is Buddhism” was a good start.

Sokei-An died in 1945 and since then that question, “What is Buddhism?” can be viewed as the core of the Western approach. Most of us weren’t raised in Buddhist culture so that needs to be the initial question. In nearly six decades of living it has been only in the last eighteen years have I been asking that question and striving through practice, study and experience to discover the answer that uniquely applies to me.

Each of us who currently practice or are exploring the possibilities of Buddhist practice are hoping to find out what Buddhism is to us. In time, like Sokei-An, the realization that Buddhism is our very self can arise with the falling away of our delusions.

Death of Spiritual Friend of the Buddha Center

Hello to all,

Venerable Teak “The Fool On The Hill’ Gausser, known to the sangha at the Buddha Center in the virtual space of Second Life as Teak Zenkova, died in last days of August this year.  His loss is felt deeply by Yuri Marcus (Zino March), one of the founders of the Buddha Center who was both spiritual friend and student of Teak.  Teak was also instrumental in the development of the Buddha Center and was an early dharma teacher there.  He was one of the first to realize how the virtual space of Second Life could be a conduit for the dharma to reach those unable to find a temple or teacher where they lived.

Teak leaves a legacy of compassion, humor and wisdom in the many people whose lives he transformed through his teachings, his attitude, and his commitment to the dharma.  This Sunday at the Buddha Center there will be a Puja for the Departed performed to honor his life, the lives of his family and friends, and his legacy.  It is an honor for me to be part of that legacy.


Here I offer a ‘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 arises as a result of human experience. 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 coming too soon.

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 young child came before the Buddha. She was in a state of intense grieving, refusing to believe her child was dead. 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. 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 realized that death is a part of everyone’s life, that she is not alone in her pain and grief, loss comes to everyone. Kisa gains an understanding that she is not alone in her suffering, that she suffers along with many others. All life on this planet will transition from emptiness to form and back again.

How does understanding that you aren’t the only one to suffer affect your own grieving process? For some, knowing there are others in similar situations helps ease their own pain. Pain shared is pain reduced. For some though, the same understanding can add to their own suffering as the pain of others becomes part of their own grieving process. The pain of another is my pain too. Which are you more likely to experience? That it happens to everyone can bring about an enlightened moment but isn’t all that is needed to come to terms with grief.

Grief is an emotional red balloon. Anger, pain, denial, sadness and fear is the breath that fills the balloon until it is near bursting. With the understanding that suffering is universal a little air is released. More air squeaks out when impermanence is realized. That everything arises and falls away can ease the pressure of grief. Coming to the realization that death follows birth for everyone you can get past anger and fear . . . and a little more air leaves the balloon.

Do you honestly think you are “grieving for them”? You are grieving for the loss you are experiencing. You are grieving for the loss that all that person’s loved ones, friends and family are experiencing. This person was supposed to stay around and be available when you needed them. Now how can they be there for you? Grief, like funerals and wakes are for the living. You grieve for you. Understanding the unique personal quality of your grieving allows more air to escape the balloon.

Grief over the loss of someone close isn’t shown in the same way by all people. Some rant and rave, some cry silently or hysterically, some quietly mourn, and some seem to show no emotion at all. It isn’t in the how you grieve as much as it is in how long the grieving continues. Just like you can get comfortable with negative habits you can delude yourself into thinking you find comfort in grief. Grief encompasses the dispositions of anger, fear, denial, sadness that lead to psychoemotional pain if you cling to them. You practice non-attachment when you let grief run its natural course. That act of letting go drains the rest of the air from the balloon.

In contemporary psychology there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, acceptance that are gone through with important losses. The first four mirror the negative dispositions of delusion, anger, avoidance and depression that hinder a mature practice. In Buddhist practice you learn to be mindful of the arising of these emotional phenomena and make the effort to take positive actions without their influence. Either grief will arise and be quickly recognized as not being useful in that situation and discarded, or it will fully arise as the result of a profound loss and need to be confronted. Eventually these hindrances don’t arise at all. You accept their existence but not their power. With that acceptance there can be an end to periods of grief.

In my experience dealing with the loss of a loved one my Buddhist practice could only recognize two of the five stages of grief. When my mother and father died I experienced sadness. That these two important people would no longer be among the living was a loss not only to me but to everyone. It wasn’t hard for me to accept they were dead because I’d seen the bodies put into the ground. To ease the pain of loss I could recall that what I had learned through their examples would always be a part of how I am. We might be separated in life and death but their legacy lived on in me. Being wise to the reality of impermanence I couldn’t deny their deaths. Death being a conclusion to life left me with nothing to be angry at. Death is an empty phenomena and not a being so there was no one to bargain with. Sadness is a natural consequence of loss and should be experienced for what it is. The bargain would have been based in selfishness – ‘I’ll miss them.’ – so acceptance was chosen as the most useful action.

We’re back around to the ‘ways to deal with grief and loss question.

No matter how great a loss is, if you fully accept it straight on, the loss will turn out to be a gain. The great affair of birth and death works in a similar way. If you neither attach to nor fear birth and death, but boldly accept their reality, then you will become a liberated person in the midst of an ocean of suffering. Chan Master Sheng Yen

Master Sheng is direct and pragmatic. He’s teaching us that we’ll encounter great loss but that won’t matter because we’ll apply our practice to the situation. Being aware that the cycle of arising and falling-away is a reality of this life and so it shouldn’t ever be unexpected, though it may be a surprise. We can accept the bad with the good. The action that Master Sheng is calling for is to use experiences of loss along with all our moment-to-moment experiences as a cause for engaging our practices of calm, honesty and compassion. Knowing the transitory nature of all phenomena there is no attachment to loss, attachment that can transform grief into suffering. What can be gained . . . wisdom.

I don’t want you to think that getting past grief and loss is easy. Sometimes it is harder to do than others. The philosophy of Buddhism teaches that an awareness of impermanence and of dependent origination can ease the pain of grief. The psychology of Buddhism teaches that meditative practice brings about the development of a calmer more aware bodymind able to recognize and cope with the emotions that arise in grief. Want can be the most difficult aspect of dealing with grief is severing a spiritual connection with a loved one. To get over that hurdle be reminded that we are never completely separated from anyone. All who knew or encountered the person now dead is a part of that legacy. That person had a profound effect on how you are or you wouldn’t be grieving. In you are ideas and motivations, stories and advice that will keep you always connected.

I bow with respect,

Wayne Ren-Cheng

Unique Expressions: Buddhism from the Garden

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

Awareness of the world we engage each moment, coupled with mindfulness of our own perceptions that lead to our thoughts and actions allows Buddhist lessons to arise even in the most mundane of activities or experiences. We are part of a community gardening project. In two 4′ X 8′ spaces we grow all manner of vegetables . . . but I must admit to being partial to the tomatoes. Each morning I tour them, check the progress of all the plants, water when needed, weed when necessary, and always marvel at the joy of being a farmer, even an urban one. This morning the realization that a lesson was being offered arose and I listened deeply to it. Tomato plants were the muse of realization this morning.


There is a sort of mantra in Engaged Dharma that connects to an important ideal. It is meant to act as an intentional reminder that while there are always differences, those differences don’t separate us. The mantra is ‘We are each unique expressions of the Universe . . . we are not each unique in the Universe.’ At each end of the eight foot garden space are tomato plants . . . 2 Big Boys, 2 Lemon Boys, 1 yellow cherry, 1 red cherry. The six plants on the left are growing and maturing significantly faster than the right side. They were planted at the same time; the soil is the same; they get watered with the same frequency; yet there is a clear difference in their development. The ones on the left flowered first, and have the most flowers. The ones on the right haven’t grown as tall or as bushy. They are unique expressions of tomato plants . . . but not unique in the garden. PG_TT1      PG_ST1

Each of us are like those tomato plants. There are factors that make each human being unique. Even those that ‘grow in the same soil’ have characters, skills, goals, thoughts and dispositions that make them unique expressions of the universe, that make them unique human beings. Each of us are like those tomato plants. There are factors that make each human being not unique in the universe. The Buddha teaches of the Four Ennobling Truths. Every human being in the known universe encounters moments of suffering during their lives, suffering that arises from a fundamental misunderstanding of how the causal universe works. For those human beings there is a path, a way to minimize and ultimately alleviate suffering. That way is the Middle Path, the Eightfold Path. In this era and culture there is a lot of time and effort put into proving and reveling in whatever unique expression someone may be. So many human beings are focused on what makes them separate from others that they deny or ignore what makes each human being similar. Focus on differences weakens compassion, weakens interdependence, and weakens interconnectedness. Focus on similarities strengthens compassion, strengthens interdependence, and strengthens interconnectedness. Tomato plants don’t care whose is taller, more bushy, or who has the most flowers . . . it the fruit of their actions that is important. It must be the same for human beings. PG_TT4       PG_ST4

‘We are each unique expressions of the Universe . . . we are not each unique in the Universe.’

Engaging Pragmatism in Buddhism

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

Three ethical ideals are the foundation of an Engaged Buddhist practice. They are pragmatism that arises from the Pragmatic Buddhist tradition of my teacher, the Venerable Shi Yong Xiang, and his teacher, the Venerable Shi Shen Long; pluralism as it arises from its value in connecting with others in a respectful and productive way; and in a commitment to practice as practice is the only way to experience the teachings of the Buddha as they can be positively applied to contemporary life. From these three ideals arises the moral actions that are most likely to have positive karmic consequences for the individual and for society.

Pragmatism is a multi-layered philosophical concept with Charles Sandford Pierce and William James as its roots, and the growth of the Neo-pragmatist ideas of Richard Rorty as its branch into contemporary thought and action. In Engaged Dharma those ideals can be trimmed down to the importance of language, because it is how ideas and concepts are recognized; as well as the importance of going beyond language to experience the realization of the value of a teaching when it is put into practice.

In the traditional parable of the “The Monks at the River” the language teaches a lesson on attachment, while the experience teaches one of the value of pragmatism.

The Monks at the River”

A senior monk and a junior monk were traveling together. At one point, they came to a river with a strong current. As the monks were preparing to cross the river, they saw a very young and beautiful woman also attempting to cross. The young woman asked if they could help her.

The senior monk carried this woman on his shoulder, forded the river and let her down on the other bank. The junior monk was very upset, but said nothing.

They both were walking and senior monk noticed that his junior was suddenly silent and enquired “Is something the matter, you seem very upset?”

The junior monk replied, “As monks, we are not permitted a woman, how could you then carry that woman on your shoulders?”

The senior monk was silent.

They continued on and soon the junior monk said, “But what will you tell the Master?”

The senior monk was silent.

It was against the rules.”

The senior monk said, “I left the woman a long time ago at the bank, however, you seem to be carrying her still.”

The aspect of pragmatism that arises in the parable is making practical decisions and taking practical actions in a unique situation. This requires a practitioner to set aside any dogma that declares “there is only one way” and respond to each unique situation in whatever manner will result in positive karmic consequences. To put it simply acting pragmatically is doing what is useful and productive in each moment.
In Buddhist philosophy and in American Pragmatic philosophy importance is placed on direct experience (experiential verification) rather than on theory, and it’s focus is on “what we can do right now to make things better” strengthens an engaged practice. The Buddhist worldview underwent changes, and affected changes in the worldviews it encountered as it spread from India across the continents. In the West it is important that prevalent worldviews, such as pragmatism be brought to the foreground of Buddhist philosophy so that parallels in approach can be recognized. At the core of the American psyche is the drive to “do what is best”. In Buddhism the same is true. The American psyche readily applies this to the self, “do what is best” . . . for me”. Most Americans, either through family, school or friends, arrive at the worldview that all things they do must benefit themselves in some way . . . even those actions taken to help others. This is why donors get their names in the paper, and gold medals for outstanding non-profit work are given out. In Buddhism this idea of positive self-development is the first steps on the Noble Path, later to become selfless acts performed for the benefit of all beings. This is pragmatism in action and thought.

In the parable of the “Monks at the River” a pragmatic lesson is one of detachment. It is a valuable skill to know when to detach from the letter of a rule, and instead act with the intent of an entire body of teaching. The senior monk knew the rules, but he used them as a guide to taking the most appropriate action dependent on each unique situation. Pragmatically this is known as thinking and acting situationally. The junior monk was dogmatically focused on the rule, “As monks, we are not permitted a woman, how could you then carry that woman on your shoulders?” His lack of experience wasn’t allowing him to realize that the senior monk’s decision was based on the Three Pure Precepts and the ideal of skillful action as taught by the Awakened One.

The senior monk, seeing a human being in need set aside dogmatism and achieved an appropriate view of the situation. That led him to take appropriate action to alleviate suffering.
Cease to do harm – If he left the woman stranded she would undergo the suffering of anxiety and fear and possibly drown or be injured.

Do only good – Ignoring the woman’s plight, causing suffering is not a good action.

Do good for others – Note here that this precept doesn’t add “if it isn’t against the rules”.
The senior monk did not create the situation of the woman at the river. It was a causally conditioned phenomenon that he had to choose how to react to. As human beings we don’t create the nature of the event; we have the choice of responding negatively or positively. The senior monk recognized a need and chose to act altruistically. The senior monk not only does good for a fellow citizen; he also does good for the junior monk. His actions allow the junior monk to learn the lessons of detachment and pragmatism.

Pragmatism in the Buddha’s teachings

Reading the story of the Buddha, and the teachings that followed his Awakening it is clear that the Buddha was pragmatist, he used skillful means, whatever method a situation called for to present the dharma and guide others on the Middle Path.

We can use the Eightfold Path as an example of the Buddha’s use of pragmatism. The Eightfold Path isn’t a blueprint of what we must do in given situations, instead each of the eight are guidelines that we must engage the teachings as part of how we are, be mindful of our experiences when doing so, and then use that knowledge to determine if those actions were useful and productive. What works in one situation may not work in a similar situation. Each time this is done a practitioner comes closer and closer to the arising of wisdom. Such is the challenge that a Universe of co-dependent arising presents us with.
Whether a Buddhist practitioner looks to View, Intention, Speech, Action, Livelihood, Effort, Mindfulness, Concentration . . . it is the responsibility of the individual to make an honest assessment of the situation and determine the most encompassing response. We want to take the most useful and productive course that leads to human flourishing. This is skillful pragmatism.
Does this mean we always make the right decision? Being human beings, no! And here is where pragmatism in the form of skillful means arises again. We shouldn’t berate ourselves for making the wrong choice . . . there is no sin involved . . . instead we make another honest assessment of our actions and thoughts and DO BETTER NEXT TIME.

Practice Skill-In-Means

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

It takes skill and flexibility to positively engage your life. Each moment brings with it unique situations to respond to, and unique experiences to learn from. You know from experience that you can’t act the same way around each person; or act the same way with one person every moment. The fact that causality is affecting them in each moment requires you to respond differently in each moment. The same is true for each event in life. While events may, on the surface, seem the same there are always differences and so responses and reactions must arise situationally. To live in this ever-changing world among ever-changing people and events takes skill and flexibility. In Buddhist practice this ability is known as skill-in-means (Sk., upaya).

In Buddhist philosophy and practice the Skill-In-Means Doctrine is the development and application of actions taken with the acceptance that one needs to develop infinite flexibility in adapting the teaching of the Buddha to suit changing circumstances. Skill-in-means, or skillful means is learning to “know your audience” and in addition, to “know yourself” in each moment; it is the practice of deep mindfulness and awareness. The life and teachings of the Buddha are a testament to his ability to speak to the worldview of his listeners. Was Siddhartha born with this skill? No, no one is born able to understand and adjust to any situation; it is a skill that must be learned and practiced.

The Buddha would first assess the nature of his audience and then use a variety of tactics and strategies in order to guide them out of suffering and unsatisfactoriness. As a teacher he was able to transmit the lessons of the Dharma equally well to Brahmin or householder, King or thief. On his path Siddhartha studied with the learned masters of his day and culture and through them he came to know the languages and worldviews of the various mendicants that roamed and taught around India, and how to communicate effectively with all castes. Throughout his life traveling and teaching he continuously improved his ability to speak directly to all manner of people.

The Doctrine of Skill-In-Means is not only valuable when talking to people. It can be of great value when dealing with all aspects of your life. The trick is . . . learning how to develop it.

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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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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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Pragmatic Buddhism: A Common Sense Approach To The Path Of Awakening

Pragmatic Buddhism: A Common Sense Approach To The Path Of Awakening
By David Xi-Ken Astor

The overwhelming reality that I hope emerges from the study of Buddhism from a pragmatic perspective is what does our contemporary worldview require to be cultivated from what the Buddha taught over 2500 years ago.  The primary result of walking the Buddhist path is toward cultivating awakening to how the Universe is and how we are in it.  In the 21st century we are challenged to understand what elements of Buddhist thought is of vital importance for our attention, study, acceptance, and engagement that promotes the survival of a dharma practice that is not obscured by ancient visions of how the world looked to medieval minds.  A good example of this would be the turning away from the metaphysical concepts of reincarnation, and what is the true meaning of karma that moves away from the notion of determinism producing an attitude of fatalism.  Considering the modern advancements of science that inform us of how the Universe expresses itself, any conclusion of what is a truth is still at risk of being wrong.  Yet, we work to improve our perspective of each situation we encounter recognizing our responsibility for the choices we make that have real consequences for ourselves and others.

Not only is this awakening a human endeavor, but a cultural one as well.  This cultural transformation is reflected in acts of social justice, spiritual and religious practices, situational ethic guidelines, artistic expressions, as well as how the culture interacts with others on this very diverse planet of ours.  As Buddhism has an opportunity to merge into the mainstream of a human-enriching practice both here in America and the West in general, it will assume features of our contemporary language and cultural moral and ethical norms that will vitalize specific dimensions of it’s traditional practice that will allow it to assume a perspective of legitimatization.  How this will happen is yet to be seen, but the transformation has begun.  The concern we must be conscious of is that it must not become a marginalized subculture at risk of losing it’s inner vitality.   This is a crucial period of Buddhism’s cultural transformation in the West, in which the traditional schools of Buddhism are being uprooted from their ancient environments and directly confronting the realities of modern science, communication technology, and social unrest.  It is unrealistic to assume that as Buddhism develops roots in the West, that it will remain unchanged.  It is up to those in the West that study and teach the dharma to define a Western orientated path up the mountain as Buddhism struggles to find its voice in a new language.   Perhaps the best way to accomplish this is to emphasize Siddhartha’s humanity.

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Do Not Leave Your Baggage Unattended: The Art Of Skillful Detachment

Do Not Leave Your Baggage Unattended: The Art of Skillful Detachment
Ven. Dr. Jim Eubanks, Sensei

The following Dharma talk was given by our root teacher, Ven. Eubanks, Sensei, on February 18, 2010 in St. Louis at the CPB Meditation Center.

Acculturation and Attachment: What It Is and What It Is Not
No matter how much we seek absolute personal sovereignty (what is traditionally called “free will”), a deep and honest look at the human condition reveals that existential baggage is unavoidable because we live in a causal world.   The key is to make sure that the baggage we carry is on our terms to the extent it can be, and that it contains expressions of ourselves that we can be proud of and use skillfully.  No matter how long I sit in the silence of a secluded forest, the causal conditions that converge to make me the kind of human being I am, do not go away.  The Zen master who develops Alzheimer’s will not enlighten himself out of his condition.  I am a causally-conditioned “expression of the Universe,” and there are many causal conditions that are not up to my wants OR non-wants.  No amount of philosophy cuts me off from those conditions which create me, no matter who I am or how long I’ve been sitting.  Instead, it is the goal of the reflective and considerate person to understand the major sources of influence in his or her life, to “attend” to the baggage that he or she does and must carry.  There is a term for this existential baggage: acculturation.

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