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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Engaged Dharma is honored to have our root teacher Dr. Jim Eubanks Sensei (Yong Xiang Shi) offer his wisdom on the meaning and practice of contemporary Buddhism. The pragmatic view and intent, and application of Buddhist practice, as taught to him by Rugen Fisher Sensei (Shen Leng Shi) and passed to Venerable David and I is at the core of what Engaged Dharma promotes through our website and teachings at the Buddha Center in the virtual world of Second Life, through one-on-one teaching via Skype, and how we approach the experiences and situations we encounter moment-to-moment.
Dr. Jim Eubanks Sensei (Yong Xiang Shi)
From the Master’s Cushion: Being Buddhist
by Dr. Jim Eubanks Sensei (Yong Xiang Shi)
When we talk about being “Buddhist” we mean two things. The first is that we are a member of a global group of people who ascribe to the elemental teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha. Teachings which, in all their myriad forms, come back to the central role of causality, change, impermanence, selflessness and resolving the issue of unsatisfactoriness.