Never a dull moment.

May 28, 2017 § Leave a comment

I am intrigued by the following description of Mae Chee Kaew’s inner activity before her enlightenment, found in “Mae CheeKaew. Her Journey to Spiritual Awakening and Enlightenment.” By Bhikkhu Silaratano.

The author writes that Mae Chee Kaew “began to meticulously scrutinize her mind’s extraordinary radiance, looking for any signs of imperfection. The luminous mind appeared unblemished, untroubled and exceedingly pure at first. But when she looked at it more closely she began to notice that an equally refined dullness occasionally emerged to tarnish that radiant, crystal-clear essence of knowing.”

Although it may not be readily apparent, what the author describes is essentially the same meditation practice that you or I undertake each time we sit.

Mae Chee Kaew’s meticulously scrutiny is analogous to the mental alertness that we aspire to in meditation. Her search for imperfection is our endeavor to wake up from distracting thought. And the dullness that tarnished her ‘crystal-clear essence of knowing’ is just a highly refined or subtle thought. Unlike Mae Chee Kaew, our thoughts are less subtle and our own knowing not crystal-clear. Nonetheless, when we sit in meditation we examine the same Buddha mind she did in the same way.

Whether a thought is coarse or refined, it still dulls awareness of the present moment. Whether the mind is clear or murky, it is still Buddha mind. Your mind is the radiant, luminous mind. All you need do to see this is wake from the thoughts that dull your awareness, the crystal-clear essence of knowing.

To quote Mumon from The Gateless Gate, if one sees this clearly “there is no Shakyamuni Buddha before him and no future Buddha after him.” That is to say, all concepts obscure the ever-present Buddha Mind, even the concept of Buddha. So when you sit, drop all expectation of ‘something else’ because the very mind you have right now is Buddha mind.

Dropping all expectation is returning to the present moment. In the present moment there is delusion and realization, practice, life and death, buddhas and living beings. When we sit with simple awareness, flowers die and weeds grow without clinging or aversion. When we stray into thinking, we return once again to the present moment, expecting nothing, seeking nothing.

Realizing that practice is simply stepping back on the path each time you step off, with no expectation of anything happening, may make you feel a bit like King Sisyphus. In Greek myth he was forced, over and over for eternity, to roll an immense boulder up a hill only to have it roll back down upon him. But if we awaken to the fact that this simple returning to the path each time we step off is the actualization of our own Buddha nature, then we are firmly on the path to realizing the luminous Buddha mind.

Upon her enlightenment Mae Chee Kaew’s said,

“Body, mind and essence are all distinct and separate realities. Absolutely everything is known — earth, water, fire and wind; body, feeling, memory, thought and consciousness; sounds, sights, smells, tastes, touches and emotions; anger, greed and delusion — all are known.

“I know them all as they exist — in their own natural states.

“But no matter how much I am exposed to them, I am unable to detect even an instant when they have any power over my heart. They arise, they cease. They are forever changing. But the presence that knows them never changes for an instant. It is forever unborn and undying.”

To quote Mumon, again, “If you understand this intimately, you yourself can enter the great meditation while you are living in the world of delusion.”



December 31, 2016 § 2 Comments

dongyu-gatsal-ling-nunnery-calendar(Click on image to go to Dongyu Gatsal Ling website.)

Practice is the continuous movement from distraction to the present moment. Awakening from distraction to the reality of the moment is enlightenment. As Kosho Uchiyama said, “The only true enlightenment is awareness of the vivid reality of life, moment by moment.”

We only know life as vivid reality when we attend to it fully, without distraction. Until that moment, it seems as if life has placed a pane of glass between it and us. This feeling of separation comes from having attached qualities to the self that it does not properly have, like anger or loneliness. As these qualities are distinct and discrete it is falsely supposed that the self is, too. There arises the fiction of a separate body with its own life and own needs.

The belief that awareness requires a ‘somebody’ who is aware is, in the final analysis, just another thought. Like other thoughts, it distracts from the immediacy of the present moment with questions like, “How will this affect me? And, “What’s best for me?”

We can take that thought, that sense of self, into practice and observe it, just as we do with any other distraction. In observing what we thought was our self, the question will necessarily arise as to who is doing the observing. “Who am I?” we ask.

I, as observer, will ultimately be revealed to be no self, at all. As we step further back from what was thought to be a permanent, separate self our consciousness empties of thinkable content. To quote Tenzin Palmo, “the further back we go the more open and empty the quality of our consciousness becomes. Instead of finding some solid little eternal entity, which is “I”, we get back to this vast and spacious mind which is interconnected with all living beings. In this space you have to ask, where is the “I”, and where is the “other”.”

As Sri Aurobindo wrote it in the poem “Liberation”,

I have thrown from me the whirling dance of mind
And stand now in the spirit’s silence free,
Timeless and deathless beyond creature-kind,
The centre of my own eternity.

I have escaped and the small self is dead;
I am immortal, alone, ineffable;
I have gone out from the universe I made,
And have grown nameless and immeasurable.

My mind is hushed in a wide and endless light,
My heart a solitude of delight and peace,
My sense unsnared by touch and sound and sight,
My body a point in white infinities.

I am the one Being’s sole immobile Bliss:
No one I am, I who am all that is.

Dream. Illusion. Delusion.

January 17, 2016 § 2 Comments

A butterfly falls to a leaf 2

Whether sitting in meditation or practicing mindfulness, the alert mind may spin into daydreams or a state of dreaminess that is marked by a dimming awareness. At other times thoughts and images arise that arouse intense emotions of fear, anxiety or depression. These feelings mar the meditation by impelling the ego to defend itself against a perceived threat to its integrity. Where the first obstacle to practice is dreaminess, the second is illusion that involves a false version of the self and its relationship to the world. Examples of this latter state are the belief that one is being judged as bad or under threat when no actual threat exists.

To believe that dreams and illusory states are true representations of reality is delusion. However, dreams and illusion may arise without one being deluded as to their true nature. Just as it is possible to enter a lucid state while asleep and know that one is dreaming, it is also possible to be lucid during the day while daydreaming or suffering illusory thoughts. As in sleep, the range of this awareness may vary from pre-lucid states where one wonders if his or her thoughts are true, to full lucidity where one knows his or her version of reality isn’t real at all.

In one way we may say that Buddhist practice aims to create a state of unbroken lucidity where dream illusion has lost its ability to confuse and delude the practitioner with its false version of reality. However, this lucid state should not be confused with the truly enlightened state that transcends thought entirely.

Many begin their spiritual path when life’s obstacles start to get the better of them. It is understandable that in such circumstances much attention is given to stilling troublesome thoughts. There comes a time, however, when it seems that with each thought stilled, another arises. At this point the practitioner may feel like the child that plugs a leak in a dyke with one finger only to have two more open beside it. Experiencing this, the realization dawns that further tinkering with thought will not lead to true peace of mind.

Buddhism recognizes that the very nature of thought creates fundamental problems that cannot be solved by further thinking. Buddhist practice therefore aims to break the human addiction to thinking by having the practitioner focus on one point. Be it the breath, a koan or mindfulness all effort is made to attend to one object to the exclusion of all else. In doing so, as already mentioned, thoughts will seem to arise innumerably one after the other, however, the aim is not to engage these thoughts by trying to shut them down but simply to return the attention again and again to the meditation object. In this way thought is allowed to fade into the background just as outer sounds did at the beginning of one’s practice.

Through continuous practice all illusory thought and accumulated knowledge is cut away. Everything that muddies and obscures clear awareness is dropped. As extra thinking is let go your efforts come to fruition. There is no more illusion or delusion, no more heaven and earth, no more self. Just freedom. But this is still not the complete picture for then comes the return where your true self is actualized. As the poet Moritake wrote:

A fallen flower

       Returning to the branch?

         It was a butterfly.


December 24, 2013 § 5 Comments

Star angel 0128

Bodhi-mind is the name given to a mind in which an aspiration to attain enlightenment has been awakened.  The Star of Bethlehem represents this mind.  But that light, which leads us to Christ Consciousness or Buddha Mind, is always with us, shining brighter than a thousand supernovae.  It is, in fact, our own true nature not yet recognized.


September 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

Bamboo 0048

Smoke from a pipe drifts in the September air.

All about, monks are engaged in rigorous training.

For some time a servant in the temple has been neglecting his main job of preparing meals.  He’s been doing zazen.

Some days ago he entered a deep Samadhi.  Other monks kept an eye on him until finally, after three days; he got up from his zazen cushion.

“He had penetrated the heart and marrow of the Dharma,” writes Hakuin in a 1734 letter.  “And had attained an ability to clearly see the karma of his previous lives.”

He went to the head priest but before he could set forth his entire realization the priest said, “Stop!  Stop!  The rest is something I have yet to experience.  If you explain it to me, I’m afraid it might obstruct my own entrance into enlightenment.”


Hsiang-yen was quite learned in the Buddhist sutras but for years he made little headway in his meditations.  He made up his mind to leave the temple and take up residence in a solitary hermitage.  When he left, his teacher Kuei-shan didn’t even look at him.

One day a tile picked up by the broom hit a bamboo stalk and Hsiang-yen was immediately enlightened.  After this he said, “It is not my late teacher’s religious virtue I revere.  I revere the fact that he never once explained everything to me.”


It is with these events in mind that I pray the blunderings written here in “August Meditations” not lead you off the path.

Buddha Nature.

June 23, 2013 § Leave a comment

Doorway to the sky of mind

Enlightenment, as I use the word, is where the inner light of your own being shines unobscured in and through you out into the world.  Technically, that light is always shining just as the sun is always shining.  But as clouds of water vapor can obscure sunlight so, too, can clouds of ignorance and misunderstanding obscure the inner light.  In “August Meditations” I have been exploring clouds that appear in the sky of mind with the hope that through such exploration they will dissolve and fade away.

An obscuring cloud that seems to affect everyone is the belief that what we think about the world is, in fact, the world.  At best, though, our thoughts only represent the world somewhat accurately.  At worst, they can be complete delusion and fallacy.  To explore this I have touched on both Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the Buddhist concepts of form and emptiness.  PTSD, to show the brain reacts to past trauma as if it exists in the present.  Form and emptiness, to show the emptiness of psychological form, i.e., thought.

There are two aspects of “form is emptiness”.  One is the more common meaning that nothing has any inherent nature.  That is, that objects whether of thought or that perceived through the senses, do not exist by themselves but are dependent for their existence on everything else.   The second is emptiness in the context of Buddha Nature.  This latter aspect sees emptiness as endowed with qualities of awakened mind like wisdom, compassion and clarity.

For the most part I have been writing on emptiness with the meaning of this second aspect.  Specifically, that such emptiness is realized when the obscuring clouds of mind are cleared away or, at least, a break in the cloud appears.  To me, a major obstacle to enlightenment is the false belief that our thoughts are self-existent things that have power to influence and harm us.  We see in PTSD how viewing the world as a dangerous place leaves an individual always on the defensive.  But even experienced meditators can fall prey to delusory thought.

The various meditations that aim to enlighten, especially in Tibetan Buddhism, are designed to awaken an individual from delusory thought.  They seek to have the meditator realize that thoughts are produced by mind and have no existence other than what the meditator has lent them.  “Gods, demons, the whole universe, are but a mirage which exist in the mind, springs from it, and sinks into it.” Writes Alexandra David-Neel in “Magic and Mystery in Tibet.” p. 287.

In meditation we are therefore told not to attach to whatever arises.  As our practice deepens we are to take this attitude out into the world, letting things arise and fall without being attracted or repelled by them.

If you believe some particular thought represents some real threat it will be difficult to do this.  But if you develop the attitude through daily practice that thoughts that create fear, depression, anger, lust, etc., have no substance, then those thoughts will gradually weaken.  The clouds will begin to thin and disperse.  Then, you are open to the emptiness of an awakened mind that shines with wisdom, compassion and clarity.  You will awaken to your true nature.  Buddha Nature.

Blind Men Crossing the Bridge

December 2, 2012 § 4 Comments

Hakuin Ekaku's painting titled, "Blind Men Crossing the Bridge".

Hakuin Ekaku’s painting, “Blind Men Crossing the Bridge”.

Hakuin Ekaku’s “Blind Men Crossing the Bridge” is often described as a visual representation of crossing over to enlightenment.   All Buddhists are familiar with this metaphor of crossing over through the Heart Sutra’s end chant that may be interpreted as, “Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone to the other shore, all hail.”  Hakuin wrote in his commentary on the Heart Sutra that, “The Chinese translation for this is ‘reach the other shore’.  But where is that? The place where the Treasure is lies near at hand—take one more step!  Is there a soul on earth who belongs on ‘this other shore’?  How sad to stand mistaken on a wave-lashed quay!”

A simple interpretation of Hakuin’s painting is that the blind men are moving from right to left and to reach the other shore they must make a leap of faith as the bridge does not quite reach all the way.  It is atypical of a Buddhist master, however, to represent enlightenment in the dualistic manner of “this” shore and “that”.

If we were meant to believe the other shore was on the left of the painting would Hakuin ask in his commentary where this other shore is and who belongs there? If the “place where the Treasure is lies near at hand” would we expect it to be at the end of some almost bridge, separate from us and not near at hand?

Examining Hakuin’s painting we see that all the artistic tension is in its centre.  The blind men are struggling to cross a bridge.  One holds sandals in his hands while reaching out with his staff, another reaches out with his fingers, the third is crawling forward with his sandals tethered at the end of his staff for balance.  Tension is added with the viewer’s knowledge that the men in their blindness will take that “one more step” and fall into oblivion.

In light of this tension; the left and right shore with the suggestion of pine trees, the mountains floating in air and Hakuin’s own calligraphy, these seem more like borders, frame or a vignette for the central image of the men struggling to cross the bridge.  It is the centre of the painting that holds our attention, not the “other shore” that the bridge fails to reach but, we may ask, is this really a bridge?

A bridge is a crossing that works to connect one side of a chasm to another.  But the log in the painting does not reach the other side, so it is more like a jetty or a wharf than a bridge.  And in spite of the painting’s title Hakuin identifies this log as a wave-lashed quay when he laments, “How sad to stand mistaken on a wave-lashed quay!”  So is the log a bridge or a quay?

Incongruities between Hakuin’s commentary and his painting can be resolved by understanding that this great Zen Master’s painting is an invitation to question and directly bring us face to face with reality.  If a log can be a bridge and then again a quay, then things truly do not exist independent of our concepts or from each other.  As the Buddhist says, all things arise together and have no independent self-existence.  Form, is the form of emptiness.

But “Blind Men Crossing the Bridge” is more than a statement of Buddhist philosophy.  It is a depiction of our own (thought) wave-lashed mind at those times when life presents us with chaos and change.  When we can’t decide if it is right to step into the unknown or better to choose the safe and the familiar.  When fear grips our next step.

To help resolve such dilemmas Hakuin presents us with a koan. “Is there a soul on earth,” he asks, “who belongs on ‘this shore’?”

The answer to Hakuin’s question is an expression that realizes emptiness is not separate from us, that it is here and now in the midst of form.  “Blind Men Crossing the Bridge” is such an expression showing that, like blind men struggling to grasp emptiness that is all around them, we need only stop thinking in the midst of thinking and emptiness in form is realized.

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