Tuesday, April 01, 2008

No Time to Lose: Chapters 2,3

A long time ago, I began taking seminary classes at my zen center. I just got too busy bringing my practice out into the world to actually study bringing my practice out into the world. heh. I thought I'd just take this Wednesday class on No Time to Lose: A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattva because I'm interested in the book. After I spoke to the teachers, who assured me that many others have done the same thing...taken classes but not turned in papers...I decided why not? I'll do this as a seminary class. Because of that whole not-turning-in-papers thing, they said they'd be open to suggestions we had for our final project. I asked if my blogging about it would work, and they liked the idea.

So I'm on the 15-year plan for finishing Seminary classes. I need to talk to my advisor (who is my Zen teacher) about other stuff. Like maybe I've written enough about other denominations in Buddhism that I might, I don't know, test out of some requirement or another?

The Way of the Bodhisattva is divided into 3 main sections. The first 3 chapters make bodhichitta clear to us. Chapters 4-6 teach us how to keep bodhichitta live, to nurture bodhichitta. Chapters 7-9 tell us how to make it a way of life.

Chapter 2: Preparing the Ground

1. Making offerings. Pema Chodron takes care to explain this tradition. "This practice consists of three parts: the special object of offering, the special intention, and the special offerings themselves. The special object is the Three Jewels... The special intention of making offerings is to gain the precious attitude of bodhichitta."

Shantideva offers every fruit and flower, every mountain, the fragrance of the realms of the gods, wishing trees...

Lakes and meres adorned with lotuses,
All plaintive with the sweet-voiced cries of water birds,
And lovely to the eyes, and all things wild and free,
Stretching to the boundless limits of the sky;

I hold them all before my mind, to the supreme buddhas...

We talked some in class about his offerings of things he did not own. I thought the key phrase was "I hold them all before my mind." Holding such things in my mind, and offering them to others, I create a certain attitude of mind that is beneficial to others, my own spirit can lift the spirit of others. I was thinking of a day I spent last week with two girls. We went to the movies, and while on the bus ride I was entranced by all the white flowers on the trees. Against the looming grey sky, the white was especially glowing in the pre-storm light. I pointed it out to the girls. They weren't as entranced as I was, but it was there, it was something I could share with them.

Another person in the class said, "We can also look at it that the river is offering itself through you."

Shantideva: "I'll go beyond the evils of my past/ And ever after turn my face from them." Pema Chodron: "Making offerings frees us from the pain of self-absorption. Are we willing to offer something as precious as our time, energy, and anything else we're hanging onto? Are we willing to loosen up habits of selfishness, fear, and small-mindedness?"

I have seen this pain that is clustered around a fixed view from self outward. It can be very difficult to suggest another view. It can be very difficult to explore solutions that move beyond that self-absorbed focus. Before we can do as Pema Chodron asks, first we must acknowledge the pain that exists. If someone thinks they are being objective, that too can be difficult to do. It helps first to acknowledge and accept the pain that is there. I see this so clearly among activists for peace.

And Shantideva says this, in the two lines previous: "For if you will accept me, I will be/ A benefit to all, and freed from fear." I think of my own doorway into my own pain many years ago, my own self-absorbed judgment of a sangha member, and the truthful but accepting response from my teacher and her. Together they helped me crumble the walls of fear, opening this doorway to be of benefit.

Non-acceptance creates a wall that buttresses the fear that is a wall. I see this so often with the "spiritual" view of peace activism, the one that "wishes they weren't so angry." Holding apart, this is not the acceptance of a bodhisattva. Now I see it. Do you see it? It is through acceptance that a bodhisattva allows for enlightenment for all, because it is through acceptance that self-absorption and fear can be dissolved.

According to P. Chodron, offering of...
  • flowers: increases our ability to feel love and compassion
  • incense: increases the capacity for self-discipline
  • beautiful palaces resonant with song: symbolizes creating harmonious, uplifted communities
  • ceremonial parasols: associated with the ability to benefit beings
  • music: increases our capacity to communicate the dharma
  • rains of every precious thing on the Triple Gem: aspiration for anything that supports our practice
  • following the example of our teachers and practicing what we've been taught: the most sublime of offerings

I like that list. I am comforted that my own Zen tradition resonates so well with Pema Chodron's Vajrayana tradition. We offer flowers to remind us of the fleeting nature of life. We offer incense to remind us of the effort of practice. Smell serves as a powerful mnemonic. We too use chant to communicate the dharma, and we practice with it, trusting the words to resonate with our personal spiritual needs.

2. Bowing.

  • Prostrations overcome arrogance.
  • Prostrations connect us with our own sanity.
  • Prostrations serve as a way to overcome resistance and surrender our deeply entrenched neuroses and habits. Each time we bow, we offer ourselves: our confusion, our inability to love, our hardness and selfish ways.

The physical act of bowing opens up the body and the heart. That has been my experience.

3. Confession

In the class, G. brings into focus the roots of the word "sin." She said, "Sin actually means 'to step off the path." This completely fits with our notion of wrong actions.

It is liberating to confess. To keep it to yourself is to be bound by it, and subject to self-deception. Confessing, and thus releasing, our mistakes and our participation in harmful karma, allows us to move forward, letting go of that. It allows us to look forward to a fresh self capable of refraining from those mistakes and participating in beneficial karma. Pema Chodron says, "We can transform the regret that we're basically bad and wish we weren't into the understanding that we're basically good and don't want to keep covering that over."

Verse 2.31 is quite similar to our own confession verse.

All the evil I, a sinner, have committed,
The sin that clings to me through many evil deeds;
All frightful things that I have caused to be,
I openly declare to you, the teachers of the world.
Four powers of confession:
  1. recognition of misdeeds with "positive sadness"
  2. reliance on basic wisdom
  3. remedial action
  4. the resolve to do our best to not keep making the same mistakes

The TV show My Name is Earl is all about a man's direct intuitive experience of understanding karma. He creates a list of all the bad things he's done, and goes about remedying them. Through his quirky, not quite getting it remedial action, he flushes out the truth of the dharma of confession, and karmic cleansing. Through his pure intentions, even if not always skillful, the people around him are changed and lifted up. Not only his own sins are cleared away, but the habits of others.

4. Impermanence

Life is short. We leave our habitual karmic footprints behind us. Best to start cleaning them up now. I like Pema Chodron's quote from the Sixteenth Karmapa to her teenage kids: "You are going to die; and when you do, you will take nothing with you but your state of mind."

5. We leave a wake

I also like her quote from Trungpa: "Karma is not punishment; it's the consequences that we're temporarily stuck with. We can undo it by following the path." Somehow, that always works out quite well for Earl to learn his lesson.

6. Understanding cause and effect, we can stop the negative effects

Pema Chodron: It's extremely difficult to resist the seduction of habits, even knowing how unsatisfying the end results will be. We persist in the same old patterns, which illogically hold out the promise of comfort. To rid ourselves of inevitable suffering, it's crucial to acknowledge on the spot how we repeatedly get hooked.

That's the practice. Practice is enlightenment in our school.

Chapter 3: Transcending Hesitation

Shantideva celebrates with joy "the virtue that relieves all beings." Pema Chodron says, "Rejoicing generates good will."

The intention, ocean of great good,
That seeks to place all beings in the state of bliss,
And every action for the benefit of all
Such is my delight and all my joy. (Shantideva 3.4)

When bodhichitta is strong, this is easy. It is a delight. When self-absorption is strong, the delight is hard to find.

Chodron says, "People who are clear about their commitment become like mountains, remaining steady even when the weather gets wild. It is important to keep this in mind, and not to think we can't go forward until the storms completely subside."

In my experience, the practice itself pulls the commitment forward. It's not that I could be a mountain in spite of the weather, but that I am a mountain thanks to my practice, whatever the weather.

Chodron introduces shenpa, a Tibetan dharma word for "attachment." She says, "Dzigar Kongtrul describes it as the 'charge' behind emotions: the charge behind "I like and I don't like," the charge behind self-importance itself. ...it is the feeling of getting 'hooked'." I wonder if this is the same as klesha. [in the next chapter, I find out it isn't.] Looking at the link above, it seems more to be like the way we talk about 'rebirth' in our lineage. Something triggers a conditioning, a habitual pattern of emotion, and we follow it down that 'hook.'

The final verses 3.21 through 3.34 are the bodhisattva vow. Parts are very similar to ours. Yep, I took the bodhisattva vows when I became a lay disciple. I'm not sure I fully knew what I was getting into then. Now I cannot turn away.

One thing she gives us that I haven't come across in my lineage are the 3 approaches to working with the bodhisattva vow.

  1. King/queen: we work on ourselves first
  2. Ferryman: we are in the same boat as all beings, crossing the water together "like me, they're enslaved by attachments and aversions, hopes and fears. ...We all want to feel safe and free from fear."
  3. Shepherds: we aspire to put others before ourselves. K said in class, "I am not separate from you, so I am doing this for me."

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