Tag Archives: Order of Engaged Buddhists

It’s Always Best To Start At The Beginning

By: Venerable Dr. Brian Shen-Jin Kenna

“It’s always best to start at the beginning – and all you do is follow the Yellow Brick Road.”1

As Buddhist monks when we begin to start to engage the Scriptures it can seem a daunting task.The common thoughts that arise in one’s mind could be: Where to begin? What should be the first book and where should we begin reading? Should we start at the “beginning?” Where exactly is this ‘beginning’?

This is not only a practical problem, it is also a conceptual and interpretive problem. Wherever we choose to begin sets in motion a way of seeing, one which inevitably will highlight some aspects of what we explore and push some others into the shadows.

So what is a monk or teacher to do? How do we learn to understand this information before we can ever consider transmitting it to our students?

In Christianity the Bible is often referred to as the Word of God. As Buddhists we too can take this approach to scripture seeing them as the word of the Buddha or Buddavacana. Certainly a good first place to begin studying would be with the life of the Buddha. We can find scriptures detailing how he lived, what he thought, what he taught to his followers. By taking a scholarly approach we can begin to see the Buddha’s life and times not only from Buddhist sources but also other historical and religious sources that characterized the time in which he lived.

Within the scriptures themselves there are many biographies of the Buddha that one could start with. In the Ariyapariyesana sutta,“The Noble Search”, we hear from the Buddha himself as he recalls the start of his own journey down this path we are all traveling.

“I, too, monks, before my Awakening, when I was an unawakened bodhisattva [a buddha-to- be], being subject myself to birth, sought what was likewise subject to birth. Being subject myself to aging… illness… death… sorrow… defilement, I sought [happiness in] what was likewise subject to illness… death… sorrow… defilement. The thought occurred to me, ‘Why do I, being subject myself to birth, seek what is likewise subject to birth?’ Being subject myself to aging… illness…death… sorrow… defilement, why do I seek what is likewise subject to illness… death… sorrow…defilement? What if I, being subject myself to birth, seeing the drawbacks of birth, were to seek the unborn, unexcelled rest from the yoke: Unbinding [Nirvana]? What if I, being subject myself to aging… illness… death… sorrow… defilement, seeing the drawbacks of aging… illness…death… sorrow… defilement, were to seek the aging-less, illness-less, deathless, sorrow-less,unexcelled rest from the yoke: Unbinding?”

“So, at a later time, while still young, a black-haired young man endowed with the blessings of youth in the first stage of life — and while my parents, unwilling, were crying with tears streaming down their faces — I shaved off my hair & beard, put on the ochre robe and went forth from the home life into homelessness.”

“Having thus gone forth in search of what might be skillful, seeking the unexcelled state of sublime peace, I went to Alara Kalama and, on arrival, said to him: ‘Friend Kalama, I want to practice in this doctrine discipline.’” Continue reading


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Tools For Engagement: Head + Heart + Hands = Bodhisattva Ideal

By: David Xi-Ken Shi 曦 肯

In order for us to have an engaged practice we must recognize the importance of community. That seems to be an obvious given. An interesting thought-experiment could be to imagine going into the woods for an extended stay, or in a 90 day retreat without contact with others for that time period, then emerging back into our bustling world once again and see if what you value has changed. To discover the importance of community we often must step away from it far enough to really see it’s full dimension. And only then can we develop a sense of the relation our practice must have to it to know how our interests and talents are best employed to promote human flourishing. We must work to find what we truly value, discover or re-discover what motivated us to come to Buddhism in the first place that resulted in the current state of our practice, than re-focus our motivations toward finding ways to reflect social justice in meaningful ways to make a difference. Even if it is one person at a time. But remember that we must spend time in the beginning for ourselves, no matter how long it takes, for us to really be effective in community.

I do not devalue the importance of living a traditional monastic life, because it is also in community. For me I choose to engage a wider and more diversified community, hence I live a monastic disciplined life outside the confines of a temple, yet under a monastic rule. But no matter your life experience and accommodations, it is almost impossible to avoid interaction with the community around you. The challenge is to look at it in a new light. Your practice will teach you to see opportunities for social engagement that you may not have seen prior to developing a Buddhist worldview. Continue reading

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A Father’s Birth: Part 2

This is the second article in this series by our Sub-Prior Shi Yao Xin.  It was first published on the “Zen Buddhist Order of Hsu Yun”  website.  The link is http://zatma.org/new-wp/?p=374. We are pleased to acknowledge their permission to use it on ours. Yao-Xin shares with us his memories, guts, and imagination as he learns what it means to balance the responsibilities of becoming a father with those of a Zen Priest.

Part 2: Vespers in the night

Still in Crete, we went down to the village and walked across the square and faced the entrance of a small church. The sound of hymns and the scent of incense floated from its open doors, inviting us to enter. We could see that there were flickering candle lights inside the church; but outside, standing in the moonlight, we both felt that strange sensation of kensho, of being between two worlds.

We entered the church and something unimportant caught my attention and I precisely lost… my attention. I drifted past the icons at the entrance, nodding an homage, and then I became aware again of the church. It was very old, but well preserved with beautiful ornaments and murals painted on the walls. My wife was getting a little tired, so we sat in a rear pew.

Suddenly a change in the liturgy occurred. A group of men, local farmers, formed a circle around a high rotating table on which was placed an open book of hymns. Each man took his turn to step forward and sing a part of the hymn in his own style, reading the text or reciting it from memory. We could see that the men’s role in the ceremony was central – their expressions were not the fake piety we often see in paintings – but were rather like the expression of a messenger who has to convey important information. Every few moments in each man’s recitation, he’d glance up at one of the icons as if the message was meant specifically for the spiritual entity that had inspired the artwork. It was as if something inside the man was singing to something inside the statue. I knew that feeling. Often when chanting “Amitabha” – sometimes letting it sound like “Ah-mi-tow-fo” – I’d stare at a statue of the Buddha Amitabha and my voice did not seem to be my voice, but just a sound made by someone inside me that was meant for the marble or the brass to hear.

Behind the main altar, a curtain separated and a man clad in a long ceremonial robe and golden kesa appeared. The words of the hymn seemed to change, as if they were cues to make a certain mudra, chant a certain line, or strike a certain bell. The man, who I assumed was the head priest or, as one villager called him, “the pope,” became an integral part of the whole. The singing circle of men and the man in ceremonial robes could no longer exist without each other. And then the liturgy ended. A blessing was given and the people began to disperse.

It was late and I knew my wife was tired. We had done a lot of walking in the mountains and it had felt good to sit down in the church, especially in that strangely holy atmosphere. We were glad we waited to the end of the ceremony.

As we stood up to leave, one of the men who had been in the circle, spoke to us in English. He welcomed us and explained a few things before he could introduce us to “the pope” who had just removed his golden chuddar or kesa from around his neck. He reverently kissed it and folded it just as any Zen priest would have done with his rakusu or kesa. I watched him and it occurred to me that he was now completely alone… or at least alone with his God. And then I remembered something my grandmother used to say: “Religion is what you do when you are alone.”

The priest approached us with a silent calm, and then he noticed my wife’s swollen belly and he smiled broadly and picked up the wooden cross from his rosary and held it against her belly, whispering a prayer. Then we began to talk. He spoke a bit of English and some words of French that one of the men who had chanted could assist in translating if we needed it.

He asked if we were Orthodox and I told him that I was a Zen Buddhist but that I respected the Orthodox way and knew it quite well because I had practiced in small retreats that had been founded by Hesychast Orthodox monks from a French community associated with an Athonite monastery. Athos, or Mount Athos, is a sacred mountain in Greece; and our conversation quickly began to talk about spiritual practices, the role of Silence, the wonders of repeating certain prayers. To the Orthodox Catholics it was particularly The Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I told him that in Buddhism, although it could be expressed in slightly different ways, it was “Namu Amida Butsu” or “Namo Amitabhaya Buddhaya.” We both agreed that there was a inexplicable power that came from repeating these mantras. We also agreed on the meditative peace of Perfect Silence, the silence that comes when body, mind, and breath are in harmony. I quoted Lin Ji, that this state “Gives the mind what it needs to attain Oneness.”

Finally we talked about a modern saint I had come to respect from reading his works. The priest had met this saint several times at Mount Athos. We were speaking of Saint Father Paisos and the priest or “pope” and I became quite animated talking about him. We forgot all about the pregnant woman standing next to us. And then, perhaps because the candles behind her had burned down to a critical level, her shadow was cast on the wall. He and I noticed it at the same time. And he murmured that Mary must have looked the same as the shadow on the wall.

I thanked him and took my wife’s arm and we started to leave the church when he suddenly called out to us, “What have you named your son?” Startled, I said in a voice that was more question than answer, “Eliott?” It was the name my wife and I had recently decided upon.

“Ah yes,” he said. “Did you know that the village’s monastery is called, “Mouni Profiti Ilyas” (Monastery of the Prophet Elyha). Elyha is the root name of Eliott. He added, “You should both visit the monastery and the monk who is in charge of it.” He blessed us and we thanked him and then got in our car and drove to our little inn in the hills.

During the drive, I began to wonder about odd coincidences. What in the world had made us decide to name our baby Eliott? My wife and I both live in Belgium and our main language is French. Eliott isn’t a common name at all here where we live. It was, at best, I had thought, a name we heard on a TV sitcom or in some movie. There were hundreds of names we could have chosen. I knew the name of Saint Father Paisos, but I had not associated it at all with any monastery. As to Athos, that name is well-known as one of the Three Musketeers. We both would have steered clear of giving our boy any name associated with an adventure story. It would have been like calling a child, “Clark-Kent” or “Samson.” So I cannot answer what has become a koan to me. Why did we choose the name Eliott?

yao xin

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Zen Priest: A Father’s Birth

We are pleased to post this series of articles written by our Sub-Prior, Shi Yao-Xin, on his experience of becoming a parent from a Zen’s priest perspective. Not all Zen monks are celibate either in the East or the West. This series is originally being published on the “Zen Buddhist Order of Hsu Yun” website. The link is http://zatma.org/new-wp/?p=374. We are pleased to acknowledge their permission to use it on ours. Yao-Xin shares with us his memories, guts, and imagination as he learns what it means to balance the responsibilities of becoming a father with those of a Zen Priest.

A Father’s Birth

Part One : Grand-daddy owns a “Taverna” By: Shi Yao-Xin

The title may seem pedantic, and the subtitle a bit over-reaching; but my series will give you, I hope, a Zen look at giving birth and facing death in a very short life. Maybe these are just my views on “being and non-being” as seen through the astonishing image of giving birth from the “nothing important” act of just having sex.

It won’t be anything earth-shaking. I’ll try to present a series of small articles on moments shared with my wife and first boy.

This introduction will be a small episode in itself. It was inspired by an event I had in the Greek island of Crete in July 2014 when my wife was seven and a half months pregnant.

She puts more wood on the fire, and he serves me another glass of his home-made wine. “Kallo Krassi” (“the wine is good,” one the few things I know in Greek), I answered. Our hosts were the humble owners of a beautiful “Taverna,” a typical kind of cafe in the Cretan village of Rustika.

My wife and I chose the place for two reasons, first, it was recommended, second, it was the only one we could find. We were told the villages in the area were not that beautiful, but that the mountains were charming and very accessible. It looked fine to us. We didn’t want to spend our holiday in this part of the Mediterranean lying on beaches or sitting in night clubs.

No, we wanted to go high in the hills and visit monasteries and holy places. The atmosphere of Orthodox Easter coming a few days later was in the air, and in this very religious, spiritual region, we were absorbed into the atmosphere. Although it was late in her pregnancy, my wife was full of energy and looked forward to driving through the mountains to stop at holy places in our tiny rented car that seemed easily able to drive us anywhere. But this was, after all, our first baby, and despite the energy and the enthusiasm we felt visiting mountainous holy places, we both felt an increasing anxiety about the coming birth. Especially me. It’s scary when you know how many things can go wrong.

When we first entered the Taverna, a bearded old man was setting a fire in a big fireplace and his wife was cleaning tables. As the sun was setting, the place had a reddish and gold glow that made it feel cozy and friendly… and it was quite empty. We sat down and quickly understood that there was no menu and that couple’s English language skills were limited. But their words were said with simple and open smiling faces and we had no problems communicating. Continue reading


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Right Listening: Companion To Right Speech

By: David Xi-Ken Shi 曦 肯

I want to speak to you today about one of the most important dimensions to the Eightfold Path’s element of Encompassing & Corrective Speech. I am thinking about the learned skill of listening. I say learned skill, because it is truly a skill that requires special development. It seems, we are not born with this particular tool for communication. Listening requires taming the ego-driven addiction to being center stage, and always trying to overcome another’s “air time”. To speak is to articulate words that convey meaning, and to listen is to be aware of the words being spoken. Human speech is a process then that requires both speaking and listening simultaneously in order to express ideas, emotions, instructions, desires, and other quite human expectations to others. It is of great importance in human relations. So, when Siddhartha Gotama spoke about Right Speech, he was including both sides of the communication equation; listening as well as skillful means of intentional speech.

When we think of all the ways we can cause trouble between individuals, it can be due to refusing to talk with someone, not making ourselves clear when we speak to them, or not listening to them undistracted so we can respond back in an intelligent fashion. If we speak to others and listen when they talk, we develop the possibility of mutual connection, understanding and acceptance. Speech and listening are like all other phenomena in the Universe, they are subject to the rules of causality. In the ordinary way of experiencing things, when something good appears, we have a positive reaction, and when something bad appears, we have a negative reaction. When we listen to others we experience a body-mind moment, that over time, will effect our actions, either knowingly or unknowingly. Thus, the Buddha’s concept of Right Speech pertains mainly to the ethical dimensions of speech, to the importance of the subject matter of what we have to say. But the Buddha was also concerned with how we speak, with those qualities that can make our words a positive and productive means of human communication. The Buddha always talked in a way that was ‘serious and beneficial for opening the mind’ as we hear expressed so often throughout the Pali Nikayas. He instructed his monks to speak without rambling and in a gentle tone, and to use language that is polished, clear, free-flowing, meaningful, comprehensive and unbiased. As we speak it is important to connect with whom we are speaking in order to gauge their reaction that gives us clues to how we are being understood. In other words, how are they listening. Speaking in such a manner makes ordinary social interactions more pleasant and harmonious, and teaching the dharma in such a way makes it more attractive and convincing too, I might add. Continue reading

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Spiritual Practice: Potential For Inner Change

By: David Xi-Ken Shi  曦 肯

All over the world engaged individuals are actively living an intentional spiritual practice. In some areas of the world, dedicated monastic’s are living the spiritual life in secret, while others are directly engaging their spiritual or religious beliefs for the selfless benefit of others. Spiritual practice assumes many forms. In my own Order, for example, we say that the world is our monastery, as we have taken vows to engage the dharma outside the walls of a traditional temple, yet live under a monastic rule. Many Buddhist and Christians monks and nuns rise at 3am every morning to begin their day. Trappist Christian monks are completely dedicated to the inner experience, pursued through community prayer in the chapel, and private contemplation in their monastic cells. Jewish contemplatives keep aware of their god on the Sabbath and daily acts of engagement in remembrance of and conversation with him. The Dalai Lama wakes every day between 3:30 and 4 am to meditate and perform his prostrations. Stephen Batchelor told me once that he often wakes at 4 am to meditate for two hours, exercise, eat breakfast, and then write for the next six hours on subjects that are awakened in his mind during those early morning periods of contemplation. It is not just those that have dedicated their lives to a full-time traditional practice that develop spiritual-based lives, but many lay people have also found ways to engage their beliefs and practice too. And in doing so, they have enriched not only their own quality of life, but those of others as well. But it does start with an awakening that you also can do this. It is not just Buddhist or Christian monks or nuns that have found this particular path of commitment. The common thread of all these diverse practices is the inner work that is slowly changing them from within. Each has embarked on the journey to the place of realization that promotes human flourishing. All are exploring who they really are beyond mere social identities and roles assigned by society, family, or even their faith. The vast majority of them will not give up the struggle but will press on until they are freed from within and set loose from this world of illusion. Set loose even from the need of a structured traditional platform, which only acts as a supporting frame until the spiritual structure is established. As for myself, I have been on this journey for a long time, in fits and starts. Constantly seeking the path even if it was not in the forefront of my consciousness. And after years of searching and study, I have found the answer I have been looking for, and have taken the step onto the path up the mountain, a mountain with many paths. And in the end, for me, it was a natural step, and an easy one at that. My Buddhist practice, and the various ministries I pursue, is as natural as breathing. You do not need to take vows to have a spiritual life, but you do need to have a clear vision of your inner landscape that awakens you to action. This is the task for each one of us. We are all challenged by the call to plunge into seeking the ultimate roots of our identity in the great mystery which is sometimes called “our true natures.” Continue reading

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The Buddhist Canon Is Not An Inflexible Source Of Knowledge

By: David Xi-Ken Shi

My Dharma brother, Wayne Shi, has spent a considerable amount of time in the study of ancient Buddhist history and the Buddhist Canon in order to understand the differences between myths, magical practices, mysticism, and metaphysical principles as they are presented in the various practices within Buddhist schools and traditions. All this in order to scholarly consider how the ancient mind and our contemporary mind comes to understand the realities of the universe as we come to experience them. Ancient Buddhist traditions were nourished in the metaphysical world while the modern world has science to guide our exploration using developed Buddhist thought as our practice. How we teach Buddhism has changed a great deal from the time of the Buddha, as it should have considering the causal nature of our world. The Buddha himself would bow to this reality. There is a different character, however, between an academic study and the spiritual human dimension of contemplation that modern science is less equipped to engage.

There is an additional consideration I would like to present to you that gives meaning to how we come to study and practice the dharma. History is the key to understand how we got to where we are now within space and time. Without history we are condemned to walk in ignorance of many things that just might require us to spend a great deal of time repeating acquisition of information that can grow into knowledge. The study of history, our Buddhist history, adds to this transformation from knowledge to wisdom, and by this act we become ready to walk with confidence the middle path toward human flourishing. But there is a problem to avoid when we engage the history lessons from the past.

The Mahayana tradition is full of legends that explain how some of its history was shaped. These legends our full of images and explanations surrounding the Buddha that defy how our contemporary understanding of the natural world functions. Take for example how Buddhist history tells us that the Buddha determined that his students were not yet ready to hear the dharma, and as a result he hid his teachings in serpent-like creatures who dwell under the sea until the time came for a great master named Nagarjuna to retrieve them. Other examples in the Buddhist historical achieves tell of the magical events surrounding the conception and birth of the Buddha. These accounts, and many others, have been passed down as though they are factual history, but we know they are not of course. Yet today, we have some contemporary students, and some teachers even, that repeat this history in a way that might leave some beginning students to consider them to be real. What historical research informs us is that these Mahayana texts gradually emerged way after the death of the Buddha. In fact, over centuries.

Let me bring to your attention one of the foundational sutras in our Mahayana tradition and central to Ch’an and Soto Zen schools of practice, the Heart Sutra. Many still view this sutra as being an accurate account of the Buddha’s words. In other words, the Heart Sutra is an historical document for them. But it can’t be considered as such because history is empirical by nature and it can not be proven that the Heart Sutra is a factual narrative. The Heart Sutra, as well as the countless mystical accounts, is not to be considered as history, but a story, a lesson that points to a greater reality when our mind is ripe to engage. The word “story” is a more encompassing category than is “history”. Both are types of narrative, but historical narratives derive from validated facts, while stories are not limited by the demands of factual accuracy. In our present day literature we have various forms of story telling – novels, films, and theatrical performances for example. While these can be entirely fictional, they can still convey values and ethical teaching that gives meaning to our lives. We just have to work to find the meaning. It is the meaning of the story, not the facts as presented that we should take away and ponder. When we get caught up in the fantasy and magic we can miss the point altogether.

Some Buddhist traditions, maybe many, claim its literature, doctrines, practices, and sources come from unimpeachable authority. Some even identify Siddhartha as a Universal Teacher whose realization of the dharma is unsurpassed and perfect, staking their authority directly from the Buddha. All the Buddhist traditions, including my own, have lineage scrolls that are traced back to Siddhartha. Therefore tradition itself becomes a kind of unimpeachable source. I honor my tradition and those masters that have gone before me and as legacy teachers have passed down wonderful teachings based on their experience of encountering the dharma. All traditions have this treasure in there history. But we must not accept legacy teaching as anything other than building blocks that we now stand on to support our practice. We must avoid thinking that the sources of our study are inflexible sources that are not subject to the causal laws of the universe. As our knowledge continues to grow, we work to effect change that works to improve our understanding of how the Universe is. We have great history and stories to rely on. But we must never forget our responsibility for shaping Buddhist practice for the new century. Our technology now gives us the ability to record the historical march of Buddhism into the West. We must avoid making the mistake that myths are history, and miss the opportunity of finding the lessons within the story that is not about the story but about the reality it reflects. I am reminded of the Zen lesson that the finger pointing at the moon is not about the finger. The finger, in this case, is the tool not the lesson itself. The Buddhist canon and all the legacy teachings are fingers pointing to a greater reality. We are challenged to take the leap from the oral and written traditions in order to find the lesson. Only then will our practice stay on the path to awakening. When we are able to do this the story becomes valuable and sits in its place in Buddhist history reflecting the flexibility inherent in all Buddhist thought.

Warrior Monks Of Shaolin Temple

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Allowing Personal Truth’s To Distort Experiencing Realities

By: Mn. Dr. Brian Jin-Deng Kenna

“Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?” These words are played out on a daily basis in courtrooms all over the country. Every time a witness takes the stand they say these words or some version of it. So what is truth? Why it is two witnesses to the same scene can have very different details in their versions? Is one of them lying or is it perhaps the filters in their own lives have influenced their version of events to suit their own realities? So again what is truth?

Is something true simply because enough people believe it to be true that it gains popular acceptance,or are there better criteria against which to gauge it? This is a problem that many grapple with, and many have difficulty working around. The way to break down this question comes not from popular acclaim, but from what can be observed repeatedly, what evidence outside the thing being claimed true says, and from our own human history. Our personal experience cannot be used as a yardstick for empirical claims of “truth”, any more than just standing o solely on the rationalist view under which reason or reflection alone is considered to be evidence for the truth or falsity of some propositions.

The problem about “truth” is that it’s subjective, not in the traditional sense, but in a cycle of circular reasoning and personal biases. It’s “subjectively subjective”, meaning that “truth” is often described as “true” according to what a person believes to be “true”. Not only are the truth claims themselves subjective, but the very criteria against which the truths are measured are also subjective. And down the rabbit hole we go.

In the news we often hear of people who claim to have seen the face of a religious icon such as Jesus or the Virgin Mary or a loved one that has passed away in an object. There a thousands upon thousands of accounts of people who can attest to the truth of their claims. But this does not mean their truths are actually true in an empirical sense. What it means is that people believe they saw a vision, and that belief translates as true. In many cases like these, the person experiencing the vision already believes that they will experience the vision before they actually experience it. People expect what they believe to be true to actually be true, so it becomes self-fulfilling.

Those who find images of Jesus in tree-stumps, toast or a freshly cut pumpkin, already believe that such a thing is possible, and are greeted with the spectacle of seeing Jesus’ face in ordinary objects, rather than thinking it looks vaguely like a human face. If you are predisposed to a belief, the likelihood that you see that belief played out in your lifetime is much stronger. The mind has a way of stitching together small pieces of information and creating an answer from what it can gather.

Not only is the human brain an excellent pattern seeking device, it is also intuitively looking for answers to the questions it creates. This is one of the bases of human nature, human cognition, human adaptability, and human ingenuity. When used correctly, without the many biases that we all hold in our minds, the brain is an excellent problem-solving machine. Used incorrectly, it is the creator of many an illusion, and the upholder of “personal truths”.

From a Buddhist perspective a strong practice is one based validating our experiences. While we may experience something once, and our senses may tell us that it is a “reality” unless it is verifiable it is nothing more than a “personal truth.” The same is true concerning things we read or hear. We must be cautious as we seek to gain knowledge, that we do not take another’s experiences for empirical truths. We often see this pitfall in the student teacher relationship. A student may blindly follow his or her teacher and not test and verify the lessons for themselves. We all come from varied backgrounds with varied belief systems, and life experiences which can color the way we view the Universe around us. As practicing Buddhists we must always match the teachings to our own experiences and make sure we are not looking through someone else’s rose tinted glasses.

Finally, we should be cautious to not grasp to tightly to realities. All things in this causal universe are subject to change, so what are truths today might very well be false tomorrow. Our challenge is to gain wisdom from knowledge and experience of the things we can know, and to let go of and accept that some things we cannot know.

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Impermanence And the Psycho-physical Personality

By: David Xi-Ken Shi

One of the core principles of Buddhism that is accepted by all traditions is that of no-self (anatman). It is an essential teaching of Buddhism that states that there is no permanent enduring substance within any entity. The Buddha taught that the notion of a self is just an idea. In our contemporary language when we consider “who we are” we encounter the term psycho-physical personality that introduces us to all kinds of interpretations. No matter the complexity surrounding coming to terms with no permanent self, we also must reconcile that this impermanent universal nature is also of a non-dual nature too. When we say we have no permanent self we are rejecting the metaphysical self which presents a problem that man has two distinct entities in the form of a personal transcendent element and matter. The Buddha was skillful in not speaking of man’s having a dual nature. This is not always clear when we read many of the legacy teachings, especially when they seek to explain how conscientiousness interacts with the psycho-physicality of what it means to be human.

What is clear though, is that the Buddha was not willing to consider that a “mind” can have independent existence. When he spoke of human nature, he did so by always associating the body and mental capabilities as making up a single physical personality; there could be no consciousness unless it was associated with a living physical entity. He said that consciousness is nothing more than the act of being conscious. Both at the time of the Buddha, as it is now in our time, there was/is a universal tendency to look upon the mind and the body as two distinct entities both existing independently. Based on the Buddha’s personal experience he came to consider this notion to be unsubstantiated logically, unless you move toward the realm of theology. To take the opposite view would be to surrender to an unknown faith that “something” is of a permanent nature in each of us that is hidden to scientific investigation.

Siddhartha (the Buddha) was centuries ahead of his peers in empirical reasoning. When considering the interplay between the body and mind he referred to the material body as “contact with resistance” (patigha-samphassa), and the mind as “contact with concepts” (adhivacana-samphassa)1. In doing this he was reducing both the mind and body to contact elements and processes of experience, and avoiding making them both have material characteristics. This also avoids any metaphysical entanglements. It is an example of the Buddha abandoning any metaphysical notions that would result in the doctrine of Dependent Origination (causality) being put into question.

For Siddhartha, any thought of something that has permanence although hidden, even though subject to metaphysical theories and the evidence of the “creativity of man” to try to explain the unexplainable, does not hold strong against validated personal experience, either subjective or objective. The psycho-physical personality considered by the Buddha emphasizes the dependence of consciousness on the physical personality as well as the interconnectiveness of the body-mind that answers to how the causal universe is expressed in us as we strive to be positive agents for change. This change is effective at the same time as having the properties of impermanence too. How we humans effect change is dependent on our dispositions. Not only our personalities, but how we live, what we find of interests, the art we create, our culture and civilization, what drives our exploration toward new horizons, is all dominated by our dispositions. Our dispositions, not our consciousness as a substantial entity, drives the human contribution to the causal-chain. We also use language to inform us of the world-realities that surround us, this notion brings into play allowing our everyday mind to consider that words our themselves truths. We use words in our thinking process, and those words have the ability to either inform us of accepted truths or can add another level of delusion to our personal filters that we use to see the world around us. Another reason for us to study and refine our dispositions as we struggle to understand the power of a non-permanent self in a world that matters.

1 Digha Nikaya 2, 62

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How Truths Are To Be Experienced

By: David Xi-Ken Shi

I often think how wonderful it would be to be one of those persons that truths are communicated directly to them with little effort without the means of symbols or words, but by their very nature. These types of truths, or what I prefer to call realities, often seem to me to be more like shadows that take a lot of time to study and consider in order to make manifest to an awakened mind. But for some, they seem to consider recognizing realities to be a simple process. This should be a warning to the rest of us to be cautious of those that give little considerations to what is real or not real. The Universe is a complex place to live in, not to mention the complexity of the very world around us. By taking the short route in the thinking process is putting one in the weeds. A strong practice is working to guide us away from the swamp of clouded views.

In my teaching experience I often engage students that try to split hairs about all sorts of mysterious problems which do not concern us greatly, especially in the beginning of confronting Buddhist thought and the core principles. It is not our job to solve the bigger philosophical problems before we can clear away our mind’s filters that distort how we see the world around us in this very moment. We humans are so easily distracted we forget the questions which should really matter to us in our search for personal and social flourishing, but concentrate instead on what is mere curiosity and a waste of time.

We should avoid the busy work of dividing up things of curiosity or interest trying to find the “right classification” in which to place them, and just open our mind to how the Dharma is speaking to us in each moment when we work to clear the mind of these unnecessary thoughts, and just listen in silence. Just sit in silence and really listen. All Universal expressions our interconnected and interdependent (Dependent Origination) and have one voice for us if we can only practice to hear. Without this, understanding that helps to approach wisdom is next to impossible. Until all things become one, it is tricky to deal with the two. In a way, it is about one act of vision, seeing with the mind’s eye through all kinds of individual forms so we can see the unity of all things. When that is possible, the clouds of illusion are lifted and we can experience the unity of realities that are shining all around us, in their individual forms. Not just things.

So I would say to those that want to expound on what truths are without the profound process of a dedicated practice to the study of dharma, not just from a Buddhist perspective or the metaphysical, hold your tongues you learned folks. I honor science greatly, but science alone is only good for answering the how and what, but not the why. Once we can integrate our disciplined practice with the study and validated experiences of the external realities will our inner life become simplified and richer in the deeper knowledge of knowing. This in turn will simplify our intentions in seeing Dharma beyond the use of language to gain understanding. We move away from the distractions of the intellectual process alone. We need more then just thinking we know realities, we must experience them, and thinking alone is not it. But there is also a danger here to be aware of. There is no worse enemy to our understanding of realities as they are revealed to us than the undisciplined affections of our own heart. Humans love to fall in love, and falling in love with the notion of Dharma is dangerous. It may lead to one of the most critical of delusions, and thus, suffering. We must learn to craft the skill of right reason. This is one of the critical skillful-means skills a student of Buddhism must learn. It is a skill that is encompassing and corrective in it’s very nature.

In our causal world where all things are subject to change, there is no such thing as “the perfect.” Perfecting, yes, but the notion of perfect suggests something is above change, no. We find no absolute perfection in this world, always realities are subject to change. So our guesses at the truth can never be more than light obscured by shadow. There is no reason why we should quarrel with learning or with any straightforward pursuit of knowledge. It is all good as far as it goes, but remember Dharma is about change. Realities are true until further understanding changes their parameters. We should approach learning and teaching about realities with a clear conscience that recognizes Universal expressions are ultimately unknowing.

How often the worldly pursuit of less important knowledge has brought man to ruin by distracting others from actual awakened understanding. The only educated man is one who has learned to abandon his own self-nature in order to awaken to Universal-nature. And that is not an easy process.

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