Meat and Meditation – Part One

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

PART ONE

There are two aspects of what Westerners understand of Buddhism that are likely to deter them from pursuing its philosophy and practice. These constitute engaging in a regular meditation practice and foregoing the eating of meat; sitting with themselves quietly and changing their diet. It is one or the other, or both of these reasons that many Westerners give for not wanting to be Buddhists. The question then is can a person be a Buddhist and do neither, meditation or be a vegetarian? In this moment we’ll delve into the diet issue; in the next moment it will be sitting.

For a Nikayan Buddhist, one who looks to the earliest written down discourses of the Buddha it is clear that the Buddha allowed the eating of meat by his disciples (in these early discourses disciple is what we now call monks). There are strict stipulations but the intent is clear. These are found in the Jivaka Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya #55). Jivaka, a disciple, asked the Buddha about the consumption of meat. The Buddha’s reply was that meat would be unsuitable if the living animal had been chosen by the disciple, if the living animal had been mistreated or mishandled, if the intent was the animal was slain specifically to feed that monk, if the living thing was frightened, or if knowing any of these things to be true the disciple/monk consumed it anyway. In any of these instances either the consumer, the provider, or both would engender negative karmic consequences.

Zen Master D.T. Suzuki in his commentary on the Lankavatara Sutta (an important Mahayana sutra) states that the chapter dealing with eating meat was added in later versions of the sutta and was likely not the authentic words of the Buddha. There is ample evidence in the Pali Nikayas that show that this total rejection of meat as part of the diet was not part of early Buddhist philosophy.

In the article ‘What the Buddha Said About Eating Meat’ on the Urban Dharma website (urbandharma.org) Ajahn Brahm, a British Theravada monk offers insight into this subject. Here are some excerpts:

Since the very beginning of Buddhism over 2500 years ago, Buddhist monks and nuns have depended on almsfood. They were, and still are, prohibited from growing their own food, storing their own provisions or cooking their own meals. Instead, every morning they would make their day’s meal out of whatever was freely given to them by lay supporters. Whether it was rich food or coarse food, delicious or awful tasting it was to be accepted with gratitude and eaten regarding it as medicine. The Buddha laid down several rules forbidding monks from asking for the food that they liked. As a result, they would receive just the sort of meals that ordinary people ate – and that was often meat.

However there are some meats which are specifically prohibited for monks to eat: human meat, for obvious reasons; meat from elephants and horses as these were then considered royal animals; dog meat – as this was considered by ordinary people to be disgusting; and meat from snakes, lions, tigers, panthers, bears and hyenas – because one who had just eaten the flesh of such dangerous jungle animals was thought to give forth such a smell as to draw forth revenge from the same species!

The Vinaya, then, is quite clear on this matter. Monks and nuns may eat meat. Even the Buddha ate meat. Unfortunately, meat eating is often seen by westerners as an indulgence on the part of the monks. Nothing could be further from the truth – I was a strict vegetarian for three years before I became a monk.

It is recommended that you read the entirety of the article and search out other insights on the web and at your local library.

So, to be a Buddhist one doesn’t have to be a vegetarian. The question then arises why are so many Buddhists vegetarian, or at least claim to be? There is a good reason.

Some followers of the Mahayana tradition cite, among others, the Brahmajala Sutra, the Brahma’s Net Sutra as a Buddhist text that calls for the abstention of the eating of meat of any kind. This text was written in the 5th century by an unknown author, later translated into Chinese by Kumarajiva. It is considered apocryphal (not accepted as part of the canon) by some, while most Mahayana scholars and monastics hold to the opposite belief, that its words were spoken by the Buddha. This writing offers that abstention from eating meat is part of the broader intent of the first of the Bodhisattva Precepts, Not to kill or encourage others to kill. The idea is that by consuming meat one is requiring others to kill. In the Mahayana version of the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, the Buddha is quoted in a final teaching before his death, “the eating of meat extinguishes the seed of Great Kindness”, that compassion falls away if one eats meat. Later Mahayanist texts like Lankavatara Sutra strongly favor a vegetarian diet. This likely arose through cultural changes as Buddhist monks began to gather in fixed location monasteries and monks no longer performed alms rounds. Before that the Buddha instructed all monks to wander, to visit the towns and villages, to accept the alms they were given, to teach and to examples to others. Once the monastics spent the majority of their time in monasteries the local lay people became responsible for supporting them. This meant that any meats were most likely killed and butchered by the lay people specifically for the monastic community, one of the Five Instances to be avoided in the consumption of meat that the Buddha explains in the Jivaka Sutta. This precipitated a spiritual need to choose a vegetarian diet.

The most common reason that a Western Buddhist will give for not eating meat is that it strengthens their compassion and loving-kindness. It may do just that. That the eating of meat does encourage industries that treat animals in cruel ways and kill millions of animals is undeniable and that abstention eases some small part of that suffering cannot be denied.

The Buddha Gate Monastery website (buddhagate.org) offers eloquently this view. There are many expedient means to help us attain purity of body, speech, and mind. Expedient means can be thought of as a bridge or a pathway. Whether at work or in spiritual cultivation, it will not be easy to succeed without using expedient means. In cultivation, a first expedient means is to practice vegetarianism. The spirit of Buddhism is compassion and equality. If we wish to attain a mind of compassion and equality, first, we should not kill; second, we should save and protect lives; third, we should practice vegetarianism. If we can accomplish all these, our compassionate mind will manifest. A compassionate mind is the Buddha’s mind. Therefore, even though practicing vegetarianism seems ordinary, its significance is profound and far-reaching.

It is a fact though that many Mahayanists around the world do not follow a vegetarian diet.

Again, find other views on the web or at your local library concerning Buddhism and vegetarianism.

In our own time and culture there are Buddhists, and those of other world-views who are smug vegetarians who negatively judge others for eating meat. In the view of both traditional and contemporary Buddhist thought a monk or lay person who claims spiritual superiority because they are a vegetarian is considered to have an immature practice, one where the ego is still prevalent.

In the Frequently Asked Questions section of the Accesstoinsight website in answer to the question: “Do Buddhists have to be vegetarian?”, the answer is that the choice of whether or not to eat meat is a personal choice in Theravada Buddhism. Though many who choose to follow the Middle Path may eventually decline to eat meat out of compassion for animals, vegetarianism is a choice not a commandment.

This is a complicated issue whether one is a Buddhist or not. Buddhist philosophy doesn’t demand that one be a vegetarian but it does offer us ways to make that decision on our own.

Whichever we choose, herbivore or carnivore or omnivore we must remain mindful of our interconnection with everything around us. As part of our daily practice we must develop mindfulness of those connections and what we eat can be an opportunity to practice. Before each meal take a moment to respect the journey what you are about to eat took to get to you.

“Let us be mindful of the journey this food took to reach us. May the energy we derive from consuming it be used to promote human flourishing.”

It isn’t diet that makes, or unmakes a Buddhist. Does meditation? That discussion comes in the next moment.

Advertisements

Setting Up a Buddhist Altar & Sacred Space

 

 

Setting-up A Buddhist Altar & Sacred Space
Rev. David Xi-Ken Astor

This guide is meant to assist in creating a home sacred space with an altar for your Buddhist practice.  It is intended for the Ch’an/Zen practitioner, as the various Buddhist schools have different practice intentions that are reflected in how the various elements of a space and altar are utilized.   As contemporary Zen teachers that work to find pragmatic lessons in all we do in life, we feel that how we approach our intentional ritual practice should be no exception.   It is not what we do, but how our body-mind is during practice that matters.

An altar is one element of creating a sacred space where we retreat to quite the mind and sit in awareness.  The environment associated with this special space is what matters, not what is in it.  However, having meditation cushions, items that act to remind us of the importance of what we have dedicated ourselves to practice, and a consistent location is of importance.  How we go about fulfilling these requirements will be different for each of us, depending on the various demands our private lives require.  There will be as many options and materials to use as there are creative ideas.  There are very few rules to follow.

Consider taking a chair/stool/cushion into different areas of your home or office and sit.  Let your bodymind quietly experience each space.  It may be the light, the noise level, the view, or just a vibe that makes a specific area “click” as the spot for your meditation practice.  —- Wayne Ren-Cheng Shi

So, enjoy the project and send us pictures of what you have accomplished.  While Wayne Shi and I will not be able to visit your space in order to bless it, if you ask us to, we will do so with intentional mindfulness during one of our daily monastic services.

The Space:

Choose a location that is away from the more active areas of your home.  This is often a bedroom.  However, if you use a bedroom that is shared with a loved one, make sure you talk this over with them in order to obtain a consensus.  It is quite OK if the space is shared with others.  The area should be able to be shut off from the other spaces in the home during meditation/practice periods, if possible.  A space with limited or low light, and that is well ventilated, is preferable.   The idea here is to limit distractions, and create a space that is comfortable and inviting.

As mentioned, it is not necessary that the space be permanently set-up.  You might keep your supplies in a container and the cushions stored in a closet or under a bed, for example.  You can also acquire a wall altar that has doors that shut when not in use.  This is an excellent alternative for small spaces.  Many altars have been set-up on a bookshelf, and the meditation cushions brought out during practice time.   So be creative.  But the one basic requirement is that the space be consistent.   As we train the mind to be quiet, having a familiar space helps.

Altar:

A home altar is difficult to define.  It acts as a focal point of our practice space.  It is an anchor, and in many ways, represents our intentions.  As such, it can be very personal, and what we bring to it gives special meaning as we practice with it.  There are very few necessary elements that may be considered necessary; everything else are personal touches.

We recommend that your altar consist minimally of three tea candles to represent the Three Jewels, an incense burner, and a representation of an Universal expression.  The Universal expression is where your creative imagination comes into play.   Most often it is a statue of Buddha.  But that element is not necessary.   Other iconographic images can replace the image of Buddha.  They can be an eight-spoke Dharma Wheel, an image of the mudra hand, a specific image of a column, a throne, flowers – especially the lotus, something like a fan with the Heart Sutra printed on it, maybe a rock or other natural element even.  Perhaps a nice scroll or print on the wall behind your altar is something that you already have that you enjoy.  Some altars have a ‘minimalist’ look with the candles, an incense bowl and a few flowers.   Unlike the Tibetan or Pure Land Buddhist schools, it is not necessary to face your altar in a specific direction or level of the house.  A basement space is fine, and often preferred.  Don’t think your altar must be like what you see in temples and practice centers.  A home altar should reflect your own needs for achieving a bodymind state of peace and contentment.

The layout of the altar can vary, but the one we use that is more common to Ch’an Buddhism and adopted by EDIG is: the Universal expression such as a Buddha should be placed in the middle.  The three tea candles are placed one to the left and right sides, and one in the center of this image.  The incense burner is placed behind the central image.  If you don’t have space behind the Buddha image, place it in front but behind the central tea light.  Other items can be placed on the altar but in a way that does not disrupt this basic layout.  For example, I keep a picture of my three teachers to the far left, with a red votive candle in front of my late teachers picture.

Place your altar along a wall or in the center of a room.  Put your meditation cushions in front of it about five feet back giving you room to light the candles and perform the incense offering ritual.  If you have a chan bell, it should be placed to the left of the cushion, and a fish-drum to the right.  This is not necessary at all.  But as your practice matures, you will want to add these to your practice space in order to do bell meditation and chanting.

 

Have fun putting your altar together, but be thoughtful.  Maybe your altar is going to be a “work in progress” until you find the right elements that express your personal practice intentions.  Use the pictures below for some ideas.

If you are interested in obtaining an EDIG Practice Manual, please send us an email at engageddharma.ig@gmail.com

/\

Reciting the Three Refuges as Intentional Practice

Engaging the Three Refuges

by Wayne Ren-Cheng for a talk at the Buddha Center, Second Life – 030317

Across Buddhist traditions the Three Refuges (P., tritratna) is the initial step for all on the Noble Path. In the Chinese Ch’an tradition reciting the Three Refuges (also known as the Three Treasures or Three Jewels of Buddhism) is how a person “becomes” a Buddhist, it is known as Taking Refuge (P., sarana). It is a recognition that at any time, when needed a Buddhist can return to, or find sanctuary in the Three Refuges. It is not an act of conversion. It is a choice. We can choose approach the Noble Path with the knowledge that Siddhartha was a human being like ourselves, one whose example we can follow. We can approach the Noble Path with the realization that the dharma is a dynamic reality. We can approach the Noble Path alongside others who have similar goals and are searching for similar experiences.

The precise meanings of each of jewels, their interconnectedness, and how to honor each differs between traditions, while the intent remains steadfast. The intent being that once on the Noble Path the practitioner can return to the ideals of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha whenever needed to reinforce and strengthen practice needed to deal with the realities of human existence.

In the Buddhavagga Sutra is found these verses about refuge:

They go to many a refuge, to mountains and forests, to park and tree shrines: people threatened with danger.

That’s not the secure refuge, not the supreme refuge, that’s not the refuge, having gone to which,

you gain release from all suffering & stress.

But when, having gone to the Buddha, Dhamma, & Sangha for refuge, you see with right discernment the four noble truths —

stress,the cause of stress, the transcending of stress, & the noble eightfold path, the way to the stilling of stress:

that’s the secure refuge, that, the supreme refuge, that is the refuge, having gone to which, you gain release

from all suffering & stress.

Buddhavagga Sutra

In Engaged Dharma the Three Refuges are recited before any session, whether at home in front of a personal altar or with the sangha.

THE THREE REFUGES

I go for refuge to the Buddha, the teacher.
I go for refuge to the Dhamma, the teaching.
I go for refuge to the Sangha, the taught.

I take refuge in the Buddha.
I take refuge in the Dhamma.
I take refuge in the Sangha.

I have taken refuge in the Buddha.
I have taken refuge in the Dhamma.
I have taken refuge in the Sangha.

SVA HA!

Sutta Pitaka, Khuddaka Nikaya, Saranagamana Sutta

The three repetitions follow the traditional Ch’an ritual of intent. The first recitation is to remind us that we made the choice to walk the Noble Path by going to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha for shelter. The second, that we accept the Refuges as moment-to-moment ideals that must be engaged in the reality of the world we live in. The third, that we realize that refuge, serenity and equanimity can always be returned to. Once the recitation ceremony is completed then the intent of the Three Refuges becomes part of our consciousness, and with repetition the Three Refuges become firm in our unconscious mind and become a foundational cause of HOW we are. It is a simple act of intentional recitation, deep listening, and solemn reminder of a chosen path. It is a ritual done with the intent to transform how we are.

The Buddha – The Physical Body

At times in life we may become disillusioned or be assailed by doubt that one human being can have an appreciable effect on the unsatisfactoriness and suffering we recognize around, and within us. We can feel ourselves stepping back from our commitment.

Siddhartha Guatama, the historical Buddha lived and died as a human being. He encountered the same experiences as any other person of his place and time. He was simply a man who wanted to find a way to relieve unsatisfactoriness and suffering and committed himself to finding a way. He is the personal, human component in Buddhist philosophy and practice.

Siddhartha didn’t come to realize a path out of unsatisfactoriness and suffering by hiding out in a cave or sequestering himself in a monastery. He sat under a bodhi tree in full view of anyone walking by and meditated until he awakened with the realization of the Four Ennobling Truths. Then came Siddhartha’s moment of doubt . . . was this realization too much for others to understand? . . . do I have the skills necessary to get the message to others? . . . he ultimately decided that it would be selfish to keep this knowledge to himself because with the knowledge came the responsibility to tell others.

Each of us have moments of doubt. Can we do it . . . whatever it is? We can look to Siddhartha as our example, and go on to be an example to others. Then we take refuge in the Buddha.

The Dharma – The Teaching Body

Traditionally the dharma (P., dhamma) in Buddhist philosophy has three manifestations. The Dharma recorded as the words of the Buddha in the Nikayan texts are scriptural dharma. Realized Dharma arises when the practitioner puts information into practice and comprehends its positive transformational effects. Third is the dharma that is the reality of the world we live in. It is the realities of causality, the not-self, and of impermanence. We take refuge in all the manifestations of dharma. Through the Dharma the Buddha presented us with ways to live in harmony with the world around us, ways to live in harmony with the people around us, and to live in harmony with ourselves.

To take refuge in the Dharma has other interpretations as well. It can mean to take refuge in the truths that have been revealed by our everyday experiences, the laws of nature, or the principles that govern our individual and communal lives. Beth Ross, Tricycle Magazine Website, Family Dharma: Taking Refuge (On the Wings of Angels)

As Ms. Ross writes, we have to look to everyday, moment-to-moment experiences and learn from them. We have to learn to be aware and accept the causal process of the Universe and take action within it to create and maintain human flourishing. While we have individual lives we must realize they are never separated from the communal living that goes on around us, what we do has its effect.

When faced with situations we can take refuge in the Dharma to direct us toward positive transformation.

The Sangha – The Community Body

In the Mahayana tradition there is less of a distinction between the monastic and the lay people; all are considered the sangha. The sangha is important because Buddhist philosophy and practice isn’t meant to be only an individual pursuit, it is meant to have a strong socially engaged aspect. From the earliest incarnations of the Noble Path the Buddha made it clear to his disciples that they must travel around and spread the Dharma through example.

The EDIG sangha at the Buddha Center in Second Life is a support network that offers friendship and the shared experiences of members. A sangha provides a fertilizer to help each practitioner grow into a socially engaged, socially relevant Buddhist. All sanghas allow the brain to think on a more encompassing scale as connections between members reveal that each are representative of the whole sangha. As a representative each practitioner becomes more than themselves, they realize themselves as a piece of everyone. This does not mean a loss of personal identity, only that there is no duality between individual and member.

It is through interactions and personal connections developed within the sangha that social selves arise. We discuss relevant issues and the effect of applying the teachings of the Buddha to them. Through social consensus decisions are made on the value of actions we have taken, and how we can better react to situations that didn’t turn out so well.

The sangha is a place we must be able to “air our views” without fear of judgement. We grow to trust the members of the sangha and this trust is a refuge.

Engaging the Three Refuges

Buddhist practice is all about re-wiring the bodymind, strengthening the positive practices we already engage in, and discarding or transforming the negative ones. This isn’t mind control or brain washing. No one, deity or otherwise is coercing you or can force you to change; it is up to you to choose your path.

Reciting the Three Refuges is a reminder that no matter what situations we face there are places of sanctuary. We can go to the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha to refresh our awareness that we must accept the world as it is, and that we can take actions necessary to make it better on a personal and societal level.

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.