Monkey Mind, Puppy Mind

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

At the Cherokee Buddhist Temple (Wat Buddhamanee Rattanaram) a couple of Sundays ago the topic was the Five Precepts. As part of that discussion Lorena talked about the ‘monkey mind’ except she used a different term, one that speaks more directly to a Western sensibility. She called it ‘puppy mind’. Wow. That metaphor made me smile then, and it still does. With some time to contemplate the concept of ‘puppy mind’ I’ve come to realize what a use of skillful means that is. Westerners have very little experience with monkeys while most have first-hand knowledge of puppies.

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Puppies are all over the place, unable to focus on one thing as they try to take in all the world has to offer their senses. A puppy must learn to set aside sense input in order to follow commands. A mind must be trained for much the same reason. A mind must learn to set aside sense input in order to follow the Middle Path.

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Self-Help Awakening

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

Below is the script for the talk I gave as part of the day-long observance of Vesak Day held at the Buddha Center in virtual world of Second Life on May 29th.  Before reading imagine this is the Buddha himself channeling a contemporary self-help guru so he can offer 2600 years of wisdom to his audience.

SELF-HELP AWAKENING

Greetings and welcome to the Main Temple at the Buddha Center in Second Life . . . my name is Sid . . . I am AWAKENED and I want you to be AWAKENED too!

All right I see some of you looking confused because you think you are awake. Others of you are looking at your neighbors and they don’t appear to be asleep either. Yes, you are awake but are you AWAKENED! Today I offer each of you the opportunity to become aware of the moment-to-moment reality you live in. You can come to see how you are in the world through a completely different lens . . . one that will empower you to make better decisions, be a better human being, and help others flourish!

You can take the first step to alleviate suffering. I am going to show you the way to get on the path to a more fulfilling existence . . . and who or what you are right now doesn’t matter. It is how you are right now and how you want to be that matters.

As I said, my name is Sid . . and like you I am a human being. I was born to a fairly well-to-do family . . . okay I was what some of you would consider a prince. Life seemed good, got an education, had a fine horse, got a wife and a beautiful baby boy, but something was missing. There was an emptiness. I thought I needed some me time so I left my home. Let me tell you now that what I thought was reality wasn’t even close.

I had no idea what was going on outside the walls. There were people starving because no one seemed to care. There were people maimed and ill because no one seemed to care. There were people dead and putrefying right on the street with family and friends wailing and crying. I’ll admit to you that this suffering was all a big shock to me. I felt compassion and wondered if others felt the same way. I was compelled to look deeper into this suffering that human beings endured.

It came to me then that surely the holy Brahmins knew about this and had a plan to alleviate suffering. With that idea in mind I went off to study and practice. I studied with some of the finest teachers around . . . Brahmin Arada Kalama who taught me about atman, the eternal soul . . . the guru Udraka Ramaputra who connected the soul, karma and morality . . . the Vedic scriptures and practice had a lot to offer but nothing about suffering . . . the Jains taught me non-action as a way for the soul to attain bliss . . . non-action and the alleviation of suffering didn’t connect for me . . . finally I choose to live as an ascetic for six years and nearly starved myself to death. One day I decided to cross the stream and so weak I fell and nearly drowned. A young woman, Sujata found me on the stream bank and brought me some rice . . . it was then I realized two things: there are compassionate people out there and starving myself just wasn’t working. I’d experienced being the pampered son of a rich and powerful man, and I had denied myself to the extreme and neither was useful in answering the question of suffering.

So, the Brahmins, the Hindi teachers, the Jains, and the ascetics weren’t able to tell me anything so what was left . . . me . . . I hadn’t tried relying on myself to find the answer. Coming across this beautiful pipa tree I sat down in it’s cooling shade and decided to sit for as long it might take and try being mindful of how I was, how the world was, and how I wanted both to be . . . I call that mindfulness meditation now. It took hours, commitment and effort before I had my AH HA! Moment.

Today I offer you the opportunity to have that same experience.

So, I was sitting under that bodhi tree and became AWAKENED but you’d be right to ask just what was I AWAKENED to? I came to the realization that there are two extremes of living that you’ve got to avoid. One is to ease up on the sensual pleasures. I don’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy a meal, a glass of wine, or a movie . . . just don’t let the pursuit and indulgence control your existence. Don’t become so attached to the temporary feelings pleasures induce because that could lead to craving them when you don’t have them. Second is don’t deny yourself the basics of life or you won’t have the energy to find the path. Avoiding extremes is the Middle Path.
TO BE A HUMAN BEING IS TO SUFFER. That got your attention didn’t it . . . it sure got mine. I, and all of you are human beings and we will each suffer disillusionment, illness, unsatisfactoriness, and death. In this ennobling truth we are all the same. This a reality that you must be mindful of and accept before any further action can be taken. I once sent a woman out to collect a mustard seed from every home in her village that had not been visited by suffering. The proof of suffering is in the fact that there was no mustard for the hot dogs that day.

WE SUFFER BECAUSE WE GET ATTACHED AND THAT LEADS TO CRAVING. When material possessions, ideas, people and ourselves change we find it hard to accept, to be aware change is inevitable, and to take action to alter how we are. We develop a craving for sensual pleasures, pleasures that don’t last. We pursue things we think we want . . . get them and feel they aren’t enough . . . or they don’t last. It is a cycle of psychoemotional stress you bring on yourself.

SUFFERING CAN BE ALLEVIATED. There has to be an effort to apply rigorous self-honesty and become aware of what causes suffering, a commitment to accept our part in those causes, and the will to take the actions necessary to alleviate suffering in ourselves and others. It is a reality that suffering can be alleviated.

Did you notice the pattern in the first three Ennobling Truths? Walk the path . . . must be realized . . . become aware . . . accept our part . . . take the actions . . . all self-initiated behavior, what I realized is a true self-help philosophy. Only YOU can do it for YOURSELF. The great thing about being human beings is that we are empowered to take the needed steps on the path. You just need to learn the path and then to make some effort to walk it.

The fourth aspect of the Ennobling Truths is the Ennobling Eightfold Path, one of experiencing reality through your own efforts. Ennobling because it is the best way I have discovered to avoid the dangers of craving sensual pleasures and to find the realization that all things are impermanent, there is no permanent self, and that for everything there is a cause and effect. These are realizations necessary for a path to a noble life of service to ones’ self and their community. You’ve got to commit yourself to a practice that will lead to the cessation of stress and unsatisfactoriness . . . and that is the Ennobling Eightfold Path of appropriate view, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness and concentration. A view that does not fear seeing phenomena as they are . . . intention directed toward doing what is useful and productive in all situations . . . speech that promotes harmony . . . action taken that promotes human flourishing . . . livelihood that contributes positively to the Universe . . . effort made to improve your own personal character and the state of the world around you . . . mindfulness that what you do matters . . . concentration on the positive aspects and actions of moment-to-moment experience . . . these are the guides on the Ennobling Eightfold Path.
I understand that the Middle Path is now named Buddhism. Interesting choice . . . and that I am now called The Buddha . . . that seems a little pretentious but whatever works for you works for me. Whatever you call it and however you practice it, religion or philosophy, it doesn’t change the core goal of the alleviation of suffering through the realization of Four Ennobling Truths and the practice of the Ennobling Eightfold Path. It also doesn’t change the fact that I am a human being and I was AWAKENED . . . you are human beings too and you can be AWAKENED.

Normally at this point my friends would circulate with dana bowls. Here in this unique world of Second Life that won’t work. Any contributions made to me or to the Buddha Center are not only appreciated but they are your first step in practicing generosity of spirit and developing compassion that begins with you and then spreads to encompass all phenomena.

We’ve got time for few questions.

Mahakasyapa, Ananda and Enlightenment

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

There is a seeming paradox that centers around the attaining of Nirvana. There is a view that it is a gradual process, while another view is of sudden attainment (satori). In truth it is a Middle Way that accepts that there can’t be the sudden without the gradual. Gradual and sudden attainment can be experienced in the story of Ananda’s quest for enlightenment

Ananda was one of the earliest disciples of the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Guatama. Some scholars say he was Siddhartha’s cousin. It is known for certain that he was the Awakened One’s right hand man up until Parinirvanna, the moment of the Buddha’s death. Ananda’s story didn’t end there though. What occurred offers insight into meditation practice from a Ch’an perspective.

One of the original disciples of the Buddha, Ananda had a intellectual mind endowed with what today we might term a ‘photographic memory’ that included remembering word-for-word what he heard. With all of his gifts, skills and effort he was unable to reach enlightenment during the Buddha’s lifetime. Ananda thought that the Awakened One would reward him with enlightenment as a result of his intelligence, actions and devotion. Ananda stood by the Buddha as he passed into Nirvana and possibly wondered if his chance for enlightenment had also passed.

Ananda then turned to the man who had stepped into the Buddha’s sandals, asking Mahakasyapa to help him achieve the goal of enlightenment. After the Buddha’s death, Mahakasyapa, set out to gather together 500 enlightened disciples to continue to offer the dharma, and legend says he could only find 499. Many of the gathered said, “Go to Ananda.” Mahakasyapa’s reply was that Ananda was unqualified because he wasn’t an arhat. He went further to state that he’d sooner disband the entire assembly then allow Ananda entrance.

Ananda returned to Mahakasyapa three more times only to be turned away. He beseeched him, “The Buddha entered Nirvana and now only you can help me to reach enlightenment!” Mahakasyapa replied, “I am too busy and cannot help you. You are on your own.” Only then did Ananda become mindful of an enlightened moment, he realized then that only through his own efforts would he attain his goal.

It is said that Ananda went to a quiet, secluded place. He prepared himself to sit in meditation and as he was about to sit, he attained enlightenment. At that moment he ceased to rely on others, letting go of his attachments and dispositions through his own efforts.

The two main characters in this tale reveal two aspects of meditation and enlightenment in Ch’an philosophy and practice, the gradual arising of sudden enlightenment. Mayakasyapa seems to have achieved sudden enlightenment; Ananda’s was a gradual achievement. Seeing the interconnection and interdependence of sudden and gradual requires a seeming duality in viewing meditation practice, and how it can become an integral part of a lay-persons’ practice in contrast to that of a monastic practice. For one committed to a traditional monastic practice it is meditation with the goal of reaching enlightenment and the ceasing of the cycle of rebirth; for the traditional lay-person a meditation practice is engaged in order to come to terms with dispositions and habits, gain control over negative emotional states, and to prepare themselves for an advanced rebirth. The seeming duality falls away when the realization arises that both a monastic and lay practice begins with personal development and matures into a socially engaged practice; the practices just develop at different levels and have different effects on the individual practitioner’s worldview. The paths are not the same but the intent surely is.

In the Pragmatic Buddhist tradition, the core of Engaged Dharma Insight Group, as monastics we live and practice with the ideal that “life is our monastery”. A deeply focused meditation practice is engaged on the cushion, but equally important is that we extend that meditative state to all aspects of how we interact within the causal Universe. It is the experiences and situations encountered throughout each day, and each moment that practice matures and becomes more useful and productive. For a contemporary lay-person the focus for meditation practice is similar to the traditional in that rigorous self-honesty is applied to dispositions and habits, and negative emotional states so that Buddha-nature can be recognized. Rebirth is set-aside and practice is directed toward HOW one is between birth and death. The recognition of not-self leads directly to the realization of the value of being a social engaged person, Buddhist or not.

From this arises what is critical in either worldview, sudden or gradual . . . be a better human being. A regular, focused meditation practice is a powerful tool for becoming that better human being you imagine you can be.

Back to the two characters:

Traditionally it is said that Mahakasyapa achieved enlightenment by viewing a white lotus flower held aloft by the Buddha. In the Silent Sermon given on Vulture Peak, the Buddha held up a white flower, its roots dripping with water and mire. He slowly turned so that all the assembled disciples could view it. Only one, Kasyapa, “got it”. At that moment it is said he attained enlightenment and stood ready to lead the Buddha’s disciples after the Awakened One’s parinirvana. Ch’an Buddhism’s foundation in mysticism is said to arise from this event, Mahakasyapa’s “sudden enlightenment” (Jp., satori).

Ananda spent his adult life as the Awakened One’s main attendant. He traveled across India with the Buddha, learned from him through word and example, performed daily duties that enabled the Buddha to teach, and with all that, engaged his own practice with the goal of reaching enlightment. Then, with the death of the Buddha he finds himself on a plateau of practice and learning. No teacher, no direction, but still with his goal not reached he beseeches Mahakasyapa to help him. His enlightenment, in contrast to Mahakasyapa is an example of “gradual enlightenment”.

In accord with the Buddha’s teaching in the Uposatha Sutta, gradual learning occurs in all situations, even when phenomena seems sudden.

Just as the ocean has a gradual shelf, a gradual slope, a gradual inclination, with a sudden drop-off only after a long stretch; in the same way this Dhamma & Vinaya has a gradual training, a gradual performance, a gradual practice, with a penetration to gnosis (knowledge and wisdom) only after a long stretch.

Neither Mayaskayapa or Ananda experienced “sudden” or “gradual” enlightenment. In Ch’an the acceptance of ‘sudden enlightenment preceding gradual cultivation’ comes with understanding. One gradually cultivates a spiritual/religious life after sudden realization of need, gradually developing wisdom refined through practice and experience.

Both Mahakasyapa and Ananda spent many hours with the Awakened One, hearing the teachings and practicing the ideals of the dharma before one experienced a flower, the other experienced death. In any instance, for any person enlightenment will seem sudden when it happens because one moment it is not there, the next it is. No matter how sudden an experience seems there is always a gradual chain of causal factors that contribute to any experience. This is the Middle Way of understanding. There can be no sudden enlightenment without gradual training in the dharma.

COURAGE: A TOOL OF TRANSITION

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

Courage is not something many people credit themselves with. It is a disposition that most people find difficult to recognize in themselves. We each face challenges and the need to make hard decisions in our lives and doing those things takes courage, courage as a tool of transition from how things are to how you imagine they could be. You look at the definition of courage and it says that courage is the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear. Looking at courage more pragmatically will show that it is facing difficulty, danger, pain, etc. while setting aside fear. The fear is there, it is just not allowed to play a damaging role. Fear manifests in the form of procrastination, of avoidance, and of denial when we face challenges and difficult decisions. The arising of courage is also a transition to action. Courage arises and fear falls away as a result of challenges and decisions being faced and actions taken.

The ability to face fear, to respond with courage is a fundamental part of the Buddhist refinement of energy. Courage is not only needed to face some of the moment-to-moment aspects of daily life, but it is critical when faced with “spiritual weakness”. When, in practice we come to the “Plateau of Great Doubt” it is easy to quit, to let spiritual weakness have its way. Applying the energy of courage we can see past that doubt to a continuing path. We can employ courage to delve deeper into study, to find new commitment to practice, and to ask those questions we’ve may have hesitated to ask before. It takes courage to set-aside what we think we know in order to learn. Courage is a positive character trait. To risk our current status and stability in order to pursue a greater purpose or goal, to expose ourself self to risk, humiliation and even physical danger takes courage. Courage allows us to met challenges head-on and make appropriate decisions even when they are difficult ones.

The life and actions of Mahatma Ghandi offer one example, from many, of courage in the face of challenge. Ghandhi said about courage, “Who acts courageously and for what purpose? One could be courageous for the sake of a woman and, even for the sake of wealth. However, all this is like being courageous in order to jump into a well. Courage should be shown for the purpose of swimming across to the other shore. The supreme effort should be made for the sake of self-realization.” Ghandi’s courage in promoting and acting with non-violence changed the face of India and of the world. You might say, “I am no Ghandi.” That is true, but then Ghandi was no you either. As Ghandi applied his own unique expression of courage to the issues of his day and culture, so too can each of us apply a unique expression of courage to the challenges we face in our moment-to-moment experience.

Who acts courageously? Anyone who is faced with a challenge and strives to overcome it does so with courage. For what purpose? That depends entirely on the situation one is in. It ranges from soldiers deployed in Afghanistan facing hostile forces and an unforgiving terrain in order to protect themselves and others, to someone who has made the decision to enact real positive changes to how they are. We can also employ courage for reasons of self-regard and self-aggrandizement, for selfish pursuits. This can be a waste of a powerful tool for engaging in positive thoughts and actions. Courage is an act of energy and of intent that is better performed when the outcome of a situation will add to human flourishing of both the practitioner and the world around us.

There are individuals in our society who perform jobs that automatically credit them with possessing courage: law enforcement, military (especially those in direct combat situations), and firemen are examples. These career paths involve the moment-to-moment possibilities of death or bodily injury while protecting the lives and property of others. To choose dangerous lines of work takes courage and then courage is further developed through training and practice. Such vocations involve spontaneous acts of bravery arising from a strengthened disposition and habit derived from continuous practice. Then there are courageous individuals who, in one particular moment they set aside regard for personal injury or death in order to save a life or defend another from being harmed. These are the ones we rightly call heroes.

Nyanaponika Thera

The ancient teachers of the Buddhist doctrine were well aware that courage is an essential feature of true faith. They therefore compared faith to a strong and courageous hero who plunges ahead into the turbulent waters of a stream to lead safely across the weaker people who timidly stop at the shore, or, excitedly and in vain, run up and down the bank engaged in useless arguments about the proper place to cross. This simile can be applied to the social as well as to the inner life. In the case of social life, the “weaker people” are those who are willing to follow and support a leader but who cannot make a start by themselves. In the case of the inner life, the “weaker people” are those qualities necessary for spiritual progress which are either undeveloped or isolated from their supplementary virtues.

Such a powerful tool as courage should be used to achieve positive objectives. Buddhist practice is not easy but when we recognize the value of the lessons of the Four Ennobling Truths, and the values of acting with compassion and altruism we come to realize that reaching the “other shore”, that by living the noble life of the Middle Path we will contribute positively to our lives and the lives of others.

It takes courage to engage in a meaningful Buddhist practice. It takes courage to ‘go first’. Too act with compassion when no one else is . . . to act with patience when no one else is . . . to offer respect and trust when no one else does . . . these are acts of courageous faith in our experience with the Way. An Engaged Buddhist goes first, we openly offer respect and trust, and approach the commitments of others with the ideal of pluralism. It takes courage to set aside the fear that respect may not be returned, that trust may be broken and abused, or that our own commitments might be attacked or ridiculed. We know that what we do matters and by acting and thinking positively we will have an encompassing and corrective effect . . . the causal nature of Universe offers us proof through our own experiences. Courage is a Tool of Transition for a practicing Buddhist.

Developing an rigorously honest awareness of how we really are and how the world around us really is takes courage. It isn’t easy to be honest about our negative dispositions and habits, nor is it easy to change them. These are the first challenges anyone faces in their Buddhist practice. Negative dispositions like fear, hatred, anger, ignorance and others may have been part of one’s modality for so long that they are comfortable ways of being. We may even have realized that they aren’t “good” ways of being but we haven’t had the courage to face the difficulty of changing them. In the face of inevitable mistakes it takes courage to really practice generosity, situational ethics, and tolerance . . . to engage in deep meditative practice and to act with wisdom. In the face of fear it takes courage to apply rigorous self-honesty to ourselves, revealing weaknesses of character; then to have the courage to work toward a real and honest change to a stronger more compassionate character. This is the supreme effort that Ghandi referred to. It takes that kind of effort to achieve the self-realization that allows the whole of Buddhist practice to encompass how we are in relation to the causal Universe.

Learning to engage our courage comes with experience. Like any other aspect of practice we come to recognize the value of an action by the causal effects generated. With each application of courage to overcome thoughts of procrastination, avoidance or fear, and experiencing the positive outcomes both to ourselves and others, then wisdom will dictate that acting with courage is useful and productive.

I often say, “Is Buddhist practice easy? No. Is Buddhist practice worth it? Yes.” To put effort into a practice that isn’t easy, that may bring up negative emotions and memories, and that requires commitment also takes courage. Whenever we stand firm to our commitments to positive self-development, to compassion, to human flourishing, and to the alleviation of suffering even when our experience shows us that others don’t understand it or accept it . . . we do so courageously.