Monday, September 1, 2014

"Transmission of the Dharma," or, "Why the Buddha Smiles"

Dharma Transmission--the authentication of a student's insight into the Buddhadharma, in which the student and the teacher's mind are identical--is very important in Zen. It verifies that students have received the approval of their teachers, as well as guarantees that the Dharma the Buddha transmitted 2,500 years ago is the same as the one that the student understands.

In a metaphorical and symbolic sense, it's a passing the torch of sorts. The Mind Seal, as it is also known, recognizes that the Dharma has been fully and authentically transmitted to the student. That's formal Dharma Transmission, usually recognized by a public ceremony. 

But "Dharma Transmission" is redundant. Let me explain. 

In Zen, the Dharma is understood to be IT, the Absolute, and it is always available to us. It is the coffee mug by my side, my computer, the air I breathe. It is both the individual--you, me, the Buddha, Barbara Streisand--and the totality, Neil deGrasse Tyson's Cosmos.

We are all IT. There is no escaping it; separation is an illusion.

But unlike the Absolute in other spiritual traditions, the Buddhist Absolute is not eternal; it is always changing, or rather, it is change itself.

It's not that there is some hidden being, entity, force, or spirit that is changing its shape as the manifest realm; rather, there is only process of change, with no substratum. Nothing is hidden. 

There is no bottom in Zen. Like Pee-Wee's big discovery at the Alamo, there is no spiritual basement.


The thing is, this Dharma is always being transmitted. That's what the Dharma is, what all of reality actually is, a transmission!

There is only transmission, not from one being to another, but TRANSMISSION. Period. Dharma is transmission. Reality is transmission. In fact, there is no way not to transmit the Dharma. That's what reality is, transmission. 

Here it is, complete, perfect, lacking nothing. Always available, in front of us, around us, as us. 

Emptiness means that there is no substratum, no basement; there is only perpetual change. That is the Dharma. 

Transmission. Impermanence. Emptiness. Bottomlessness. These are all synonyms. 

"Dharma Transmission" is redundant because the Absolute is always transmitting itself. The Absolute is Transmission.

I guess that's why the Buddha is always depicted with a subtle smile playing across his face. It's the cosmic, inside joke:

Teaching or transmitting the Dharma is redundant because that's what reality is always doing, revealing itself.
Have a wonderful Labor Day.



Thursday, August 28, 2014

No Sanctuary - Dharma talk

We don't need any sanctuary from our lives. Zen practice is about fully embracing our lives just as they are.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

L.I.V.I.N' - Dharma talk

Modern culture--with its amenities, luxuries, conveniences, and leisure time--has taught us that life is about something more than living. That "life" is more than what we do; that it's about more than "toil" and labor; that life is about "finding out who you are."

This is an abstraction that Zen rejects. We "are" what we do. When we paint the bedroom, there is only painting--no "I" or "room." Just painting. Reality is right here; we don't have to go somewhere special to find it! Enlightenment is mowing the lawn and driving the kids to soccer. Life is not about anything else or more than living.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Leaves of Concrete


I was powerwashing my patio yesterday, spraying away decades of grime, mold, mildew, and plain old dirt. Each sweep of the nozzle, blasting a scouring fan of water, stripped away sheets of filth, revealing the clean concrete hidden below. The process was slow and required that I inspect each area to make sure that I didn't miss any spots.

During the project, I discovered something amazing--impressed inside of the concrete was the outline of a small leaf. At some point, when the patio was laid, a leaf must have fallen onto the soft, impressionable concrete, and left its outline.

Although the leaf itself had long since disappeared, its impression remained.

The leaf, like all things on earth, is impermanent. We all come and go; our lives flicker into existence, shimmer for (perhaps) a few decades, and then fade away. Our legacies, however, survive us. Our choices, our children, friendships, art, teachings, these all continue like that leaf in the concrete, sending countless ripples throughout history.

While everything is impermanent, some things do last longer than others. This is important to remember: what we do matters. The Dharma that the Buddha taught 2,500 years ago continues today. Its form and shape have changed but its heart, its marrow, is still alive.

This reminds me: be mindful and act skillfully. Everything we say and do leaves impressions.

Take care.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Changing, changing, changing

My entire summer has been centered around moving--obtaining boxes, packing, repairing, filing for township permits, and my least favorite, waiting. We moved on Wednesday, two house closings in one day; and the mover arrived on Thursday morning.

Life is always changing; the only difference is how visible the flux is. In my case, this summer has brought a lot of apparent change. But the truth of the matter is that our lives are always in motion. We conceal life's unreliability and uncertainty by setting goals, pursuing our desires--all of which is well and good, provided we don't get lost in the chase and believe that we have constructed anything permanent or reliable.

We haven't.

In Fight Club, Tyler Durden sums desire up perfectly: "The things you own, wind up owning you."

In our attempt to give our lives meaning and solidity, we chase things. Objects, people, relationships, status, emotional states, and on and on. For instance, I just mowed my new lawn yesterday, and realizing that the property might be a little too large for a push mower, I'm considering buying a used ride-on mower.

That's how life works: no sooner have we attended to one detail, when another surfaces. With a more complex mower engine comes more responsibility. And on and on life goes.

The thing is, we can be honest and open to the nature of reality--impermanent and uncertain--and the human condition--insatiable--and then the struggles of life transform into a dance. When we know what to expect from life, including ourselves as desirous beings, then we can open ourselves up to it. Stop resisting our circumstances (or fighting, is more like it), and lose ourselves in the magnificent flow that is reality.

I think that the best word to describe this is gratitude.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Two Dharma Talks

Zen: The Watercourse Way*

We can learn a lot about how to live by watching water. Water adapts, changing form according to circumstances. It does not cling. It is sometimes gentle, sometimes fierce. In this talk, Doshim explains how Zen practice teaches us how to live like water.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.

*Title adapted from Alan Watts', "Tao: The Watercourse Way."



In Thus We Trust

Reality is right in front of us. In fact, we are Reality. There is no need to seek some mystical Being, Source, or Soul--we are it. Learning to trust in that can alleviate a lot of our suffering.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Horror in Gaza

A Palestinian man carries the lifeless body of a child to an emergency room
at Shifa hospital in Gaza City last week. 
(Credit: AP/Khalil Hamra)
I have sat in mute horror over the past several weeks watching the death tolls rise in Gaza. Civilians are being murdered by rocket fire. I feel physically sick at the knowledge that my tax dollars fund this atrocity, and that my government not only sits passively because of long-held political alliances, but actually condones this inhumanity.

Despite Buddhism's unanimous commitment to peace and nonviolence, I see very little response from the Western Buddhist community. I don't understand this at all. Some argue that Buddhism should remain a-political, solely dedicated to helping people awaken; that it's influence does not (or should not) extend to the sphere of politics.

I see that as a luxury afforded to people who live in a country not immediately threatened by the very violence it endorses. It is indifference disguised as equanimity, laziness in the guise of wisdom.

Even Zen groups dedicated to promoting peace sit idly by, mute as Buddha statues, more concerned with sitting meditation retreats than addressing the gross violation of human rights and mass murder occurring in Gaza.

Innocent people are being murdered. Period. Schools and hospitals are being bombed, for crying out loud!



Where is the outrage in the Western Buddhist community? Why are followers of the Buddha--a man who literally sat in the path of an army in order to prevent war!--silent about this? Why are we more interested in sitting Zen retreats at World War II death camps than preventing more senseless death occurring at this very moment?

These are important questions that need addressing. If Western Buddhism, now beyond its infancy stage, is to fully mature, it must transcend its own self-preoccupation and address the needs of the world.

Innocent people are being killed with U.S. tax dollars. The time for silence has passed. We have meditated long enough. Now is the time to act.