A most essential question

What convergence is there between the journey of the ascetic Tibetan yogi Milarepa and that of the little-known great French mystic of the Seventeenth Century, Madame Guyon ? between Ramana Maharshi and the famous sufi Al-Hallaj ? What is the common denominator between these extraordinary beings who, in such apparently dissimilar ways, climbed the rungs leading to the ultimate realization ? Is it not a question of the greatest importance, to conjecture about what is essential and what is of incidental value, about what is truly the core of a practice and what relates to a cultural context and epoch ?

Chaos and Harmony by Trinh Xuan Thuan

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It is a cliché, perhaps, but so true. It can spring up around any street corner and find its way into ordinary objects in our everyday lives, provided we are receptive.

A simple flower, a tree that only yesterday was completely unremarkable because we were preoccupied with other issues, suddenly evokes an overwhelming aesthetic sense.

As the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) put it so eloquently, at such times we consider “neither the place, nor the time, nor the why, nor the purpose of things, but quite simply and purely their essence”; we do so because we then allow “neither abstract thought nor any principle of reasoning to clutter our conscience; instead, we turn all the power of our mind toward intuition.”

Schopenhauer went on to argue: “When we are completely engrossed by it and our conscience is filled by a natural object, be it a landscape, a tree, a rock, a building, or anything else; … the moment we forget our own individuality, our own will, and we remain as pure subject, as a clear mirror of the object, in such a way that everything happens as though the object existed in and of itself without anyone being able to perceive it, when it is impossible to distinguish between the object and intuition itself, when they both merge into a single entity, a single conscience completely filled and dominated by a unique and intuitive vision; in short, when we sever all ties with will: that is when what we grasp is no longer any particular thing in its individuality but, rather, the idea, the eternal form.”

from Chaos and Harmony: Perspectives on Scientific Revolutions of the Twentieth Century by Trinh Xuan Thuan

Are Nirvana and samsara one ? Huxley, the Perennial Philosophy

That nirvana and samsara are one is a fact about the nature of the Universe; but it is a fact which cannot be fully realized or directly experienced, except by souls far advanced in spirituality. For ordinary, nice, unregenerate people to accept this truth par hear-say, and to act upon it in practice, is merely to court disaster.

Nature and grace, samsara and nirvana, perpetual perishing and eternity, are really and experientially one only to persons who have fulfilled certain conditions. Fac quod vis (do what you want) in the temporal world — but only when you have learnt the infinitely difficult art of loving God with all your mind and heart and your neighbour as yourself. If you haven’t learnt this lesson, you will either be an eccentric or criminal or else a respectable well-rounded-lifer, who has left himself no time to understand either nature or grace. The Gospels are perfectly clear about the process by which, and by which alone, someone may gain the right to live in the world as though he were at home in it: he must make a total denial of selfhood, submit to a complete and absolute mortification…/

The Pharisees reproached Jesus because he ‘came eating and drinking,’ and associated with ‘publicans and sinners’; they ignored or were unaware of, the fact that this apparently worldly prophet had at one time rivaled the physical austerities of John the Baptist and was practising the spiritual mortifications which he consistently preached. The pattern of Jesus’life is essentially similar to that of the ideal sage, whose career is traced in the ‘Oxherding Pictures,’ so popular among Zen Buddhists.

The wild ox, symbolizing the unregenerate self, is caught, made to change its direction, then tamed and gradually transformed from black to white. Regeneration goes so far that for a time the ox is completely lost, so that nothing remains to be pictured but the full-orbed moon, symbolizing Mind, Suchness, the Ground. But this is not the final stage. In the end, the herdsman comes back to the world of human, riding on the back of his ox. Because he now loves, loves to the extent of being identified with the divine object of his love, he can do what he likes; for what he likes is what the Nature of Things likes. He is found in company with wine-bibbers and butchers; he and they are all converted into Buddhas.

For him, there is complete reconciliation to the evanescent and, through that reconciliation, revelation of the eternal. But for nice ordinary unregenerate people the only reconciliation to the evanescent is that of indulged passions, of distractions submitted to and enjoyed. To tell such persons that evanescence and eternity are the same, and not immediately to qualify the statement, is positively fatal – for, in practice, they are not the same except to the saint; and there is no record that anybody ever came to sanctity who did not, at the outset of his or her career, behave as if evanescence and eternity, nature and grace, were profoundly different and in many respects incompatible.

As always, the path of spirituality is a knife-edge between abysses. On one side is the danger of mere rejection and escape, on the other the danger of mere acceptance and the enjoyment of things which should only be used as instruments or symbols.

The versified caption which accompanies the last of the ‘Ox-herding Pictures’ runs as follows:
Even beyond the ultimate limits there extends a passage-way,
By which he comes back to the six realms of existence.
Every worldly affair is now a Buddhist work,
And wherever he goes he finds his home air.
Like a gem he stands out even in the mud,
Like pure gold he shines even in the furnace.
Along the endless road (of birth and death) he walks sufficient unto himself.
In all circumstances he moves tranquil and unattached.
It is in the Indian and Far Eastern formulation of the Perennial philosophy that this subject is most systematically treated. What is prescribed is a process of conscious discrimination between the personal self and the Self that is identical with Brahman, between the individual ego and the Buddha-womb or Universal Mind. The result of this discrimination is a more or less sudden and complete revulsion of consciousness, and the realization of a state of no-mind which may be described as the freedom from perceptual and intellectual attachement to the ego-principle.

To achieve it one must walk delicately and, to maintain it, must learn to combine the most intense alertness with a tranquil and self-denying passivity, the most indomitable determination with a perfect submission to the leadings of the spirit.

If an eye never falls asleep,
all dreams will cease of themselves;
Il the Mind retains its absoluteness,
the ten thousand things are one substance.
(The Third patriarch of Zen)

Gerta Ital : Sudden Enlightenment

Temple Zen week 47-2012

Unfortunately, most people who have decided to start working on themselves are usually too impatient. They want to see ‘successes’ as soon as possible, otherwise they feel that Heaven hasn’t taken note of their efforts. It is a strange paradox: nobody objects to the long years of training and study which are necessary for most professions (in the case of academic professions this period of study never really ends), nobody finds it strange that famous actors, writers and artists have to sacrifice their lives to their vocations, but everyone seems to expect instant success on the spiritual path, which is the most difficult and arduous undertaking in the world. It is extremely important to nip such wildly unrealistic expectations in the bud, for they present a very serious obstacle to progress.

A frequent objection raised at this point, even by very well-educated people, is that ‘one often reads that it (enlightenment) happens terribly suddenly, just like that, even in the case of children…’

It is important to point out that what is often described as ‘sudden enlightenment’ in Zen literature is not something which is ever attained suddenly, or even quickly, not even in the case of children who become enlightened. It is always the result of hard, untiring spiritual work, in many many incarnations.

Not even the Buddha of our age, Gautama, was an exception to this rule. Even in his last incarnation he had to devote many lonely years of struggle and unbelievable sacrifice to ascetic exercises and meditation before he could attain the perfect, cosmic enlightenment which finally made him a World Teacher.

Bodhidharma, who brought Buddhism to China from India in the year a.d. 520, and who lived a life of almost inconceivably strict asceticism himself, made no bones whatsoever about the discipline necessary on the path. When Eka, a very wise and scholarly monk who was later to become his successor came to him for instruction, under exceedingly difficult circumstances, Bodhi­dharma is reported to have said the following words to him:

The incomparable doctrine of Buddha can only be understood after a long and hard training, through bearing that which is hardest to bear and through the practice of that which is the hardest to practice. People of limited virtue and wisdom whose hearts are shallow and full of self-conceit are not capable of realising the truth of Buddha. All the efforts of such people are certain to be wasted and worthless.

There is no end to the examples one could cite of the extreme hardships which the great Chinese Masters, and the Japanese Masters who were to follow them, voluntarily bore for the sake of their great goal. But even such examples, legion though they may be, are not enough to convince those who stubbornly cling to the occasional reports of ‘sudden enlightenment’, and who are not capable of understanding that such breakthroughs can only be the culmination of endless years of rigorous spiritual discipline. This discipline is an absolute precondition, there is no way around it.

If this were not the case there would be nothing to prevent the fortuitously enlightened individual from leading a dissolute and worldly life, for he would not have the maturity which one needs in order to be able to cope with the ultimate experience.

Even after their enlightenment all the great Masters have lived very simple, strictly ascetic lives. Nor is it enough to dive into the sea of enlightenment once only, and then never again. After the first experience of enlightenment the connection with Eternal Wisdom must be refreshed every day thereafter, in order to ensure that it is never ever broken, not even for a single day. This does not mean that the actual moment of ‘contact’ with the Original Source, something which only takes place after a long period of incredibly strenuous and sincere spiritual exercises, is repeated again and again; it simply means that the seeker’s connection with this eternal and absolute plane of Being must be deepened and made more complete and perfect by daily meditation.

It is only through this ceaseless process of deepening one’s connection with the Absolute that one is able to become, and remain, a vehicle for ‘That’, or ‘It’. The objective is not one’s own happiness and bliss but to create a stage on which ‘That’ can manifest Itself in this world, no matter how small that stage may seem to be in relative terms. Becoming a vehicle for the Absolute means that although one still thinks, one is no longer the thinker, and although one still acts one is no longer the doer. The confidence and detachment from worldly matters which are associated with this state of consciousness are something which can only be fully understood by those who are themselves in the same state.

Gerta Ital – On the way to Satori

Jack kornfield : The 2 Essential truths

How the Buddha answered to insults

I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying near Rajagaha in the Bamboo Grove, the Squirrels’ Sanctuary. Then the brahman Akkosaka Bharadvaja heard that a brahman of the Bharadvaja clan had gone forth from the home life into homelessness in the presence of the Blessed One. Angered & displeased, he went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, insulted & cursed him with rude, harsh words.

When this was said, the Blessed One said to him: “What do you think, brahman: Do friends & colleagues, relatives & kinsmen come to you as guests?”

“Yes, Master Gotama, sometimes friends & colleagues, relatives & kinsmen come to me as guests.”

“And what do you think: Do you serve them with staple & non-staple foods & delicacies?”

“Yes, sometimes I serve them with staple & non-staple foods & delicacies.”

“And if they don’t accept them, to whom do those foods belong?”

“If they don’t accept them, Master Gotama, those foods are all mine.”

“In the same way, brahman, that with which you have insulted me, who is not insulting; that with which you have taunted me, who is not taunting; that with which you have berated me, who is not berating: that I don’t accept from you. It’s all yours, brahman. It’s all yours.

“Whoever returns insult to one who is insulting, returns taunts to one who is taunting, returns a berating to one who is berating, is said to be eating together, sharing company, with that person. But I am neither eating together nor sharing your company, brahman. It’s all yours. It’s all yours.”

[The Buddha:]

Whence is there anger
for one free from anger,
tamed, living in tune —
one released through right knowing,
calmed & Such.

You make things worse
when you flare up
at someone who’s angry.
Whoever doesn’t flare up
at someone who’s angry
wins a battle hard to win.

You live for the good of both
— your own, the other’s —
when, knowing the other’s provoked,
you mindfully grow calm.
When you work the cure of both
— your own, the other’s —
those who think you a fool
know nothing of Dhamma.

When this was said, the brahman Akkosaka Bharadvaja said to the Blessed One, “Magnificent, Master Gotama! Magnificent! Just as if he were to place upright what was overturned, to reveal what was hidden, to show the way to one who was lost, or to carry a lamp into the dark so that those with eyes could see forms, in the same way has Master Gotama — through many lines of reasoning — made the Dhamma clear. I go to the Blessed One for refuge, to the Dhamma, & to the community of monks. Let me obtain the going forth in Master Gotama’s presence, let me obtain admission.”

Then the brahman Akkosaka Bharadvaja received the going forth & the admission in the Blessed One’s presence. And not long after his admission — dwelling alone, secluded, heedful, ardent, & resolute — he in no long time reached & remained in the supreme goal of the holy life, for which clansmen rightly go forth from home into homelessness, knowing & realizing it for himself in the here & now. He knew: “Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for the sake of this world.” And so Ven. Bharadvaja became another one of the arahants.

Samyutta Nikaya – Brahaman Samyutta SN 7.2
(Akkosa Sutta : Insult translated from Pali by Thanissaro Bikkhu°

Tierno Bokar : White birds and black birds

Tierno Bokar was a Sufi, a spiritual guide, sage and teacher. He lived in the first half of the twentieth century.

“In relation to one another,” he said, “humans are comparable to walls located facing one another. Each wall is pierced by a multitude of small holes where white birds and black birds are nested. The black birds are bad thoughts and bad words. The white birds are good thoughts and good words. Because of their form, the white birds can only enter into holes for white birds and the same for black birds who can only nest in holes for black birds. Now, imagine two men who believe they are enemies of each other. Let us call them Yousef and Ali.

One day, Yousef, persuaded that Ali wishes bad for him, feels full of anger for Ali and sends him a very bad thought. In doing this, Yousef releases a black bird

and at the same time liberates a corresponding hole. His black bird flies towards Ali and looks for an empty hole adapted to his form to nest in. If, from his side, Ali has not sent a black bird towards Yousef, that is, if Ali has not emitted any bad thought, none of his black holes will be empty. Finding no place to lodge itself, Yousef’s black bird will be obliged to return to its original nest, taking with him the evil which he was burdened with, an evil which will end up eroding and destroying Yousef himself.

But let us imagine that Ali too has emitted a bad thought. By doing this, he has liberated a hole in which Yousef’s black bird will be able to enter in order to deposit part of his evil and accomplish there his mission of destruction. During this time, Ali’s black bird will fly towards Yousef and will alight in the hole freed up by Ali’s black bird. Thus, the two black birds will have obtained their goal and will have worked to destroy the men whom they were each destined for.

But once their task is accomplished, the birds will each return to their nest of origin because, it is said: ‘Everything returns to its source.’Since the evil they were burdened with is not exhausted, this evil will turn against their authors and will end up destroying them. The author of a bad thought, of a bad wish, or of an ill-spoken word is therefore attacked by both the black bird of his enemy and by his own black bird when this latter returns to him.

The same thing happens with white birds. If we emit only good thoughts towards our enemy, whereas the enemy only addresses bad thoughts to us, the enemy’s black birds will not find any place to lodge themselves with us and will return to their sender.

As for the white birds who bear good thoughts that we have sent to him, if they find no free place with our enemy, they will return to us charged with all the beneficial energy which they are carrying.

Thus, if we emit only good thoughts, no evil, no ill-spoken words can ever reach into our being. That is why one should always ask for blessings on both one’s friends and one’s enemies. Not only does the benediction go towards its objective to accomplish its mission of pacification, but also it comes back to us, one day or another, with everything with which it is laden.

This is what the Sufis called “desirable egoism”. It is the valid Love of Self, likened to respect for oneself and for one’s neighbor because every man, good or bad, is the depository of a part of the divine Light. That is why the Sufis, in conformity with the teaching of the Prophet, do not want to soil either their mouth or their being by bad words or bad thoughts, even by apparently benign criticisms.”

from : Teaching Stories from Tierno Bokar
Gathered and Rendered into English by Jane Fatima Casewit

Reincarnation : troubling testimonies – Video –

Some testimonies are particularly strong, like this boy remembering of a young american pilot during the second world war, and Barbro Karlen, whose testimonie about Anne Franck is more than troubling.

Meister Eckhart : There is no yesterday nor any tomorrow

There exists only the present instant… a Now which always and without end is itself new. There is no yesterday nor any tomorrow, but only Now, as it was a thousand years ago and as it will be a thousand years hence.

“ The beginning, in which God created heaven and earth, is the primary simple now of eternity … exactly the same ‘now’, where Himself exists eternally, where also the progress of the divine persons [of the Trinity] eternally was, is, and will be.

“ God could not have created the world earlier, because earlier than world and time there was no ‘earlier’.”

“ Dedication to prayer, to fast, to vigils and to all sorts of external exercises and mortifications, dedication to whatever work, denies you the freedom to serve God inside this present now and to follow Him, Him alone, in the light in which He guides you what to do and what to leave – in each now free and new, as if you had not, nor wanted, nor could do anything else.”

Meditation techniques – Levels of enlightenment and Satori – video

When one succeeds in staying focused, there is an outcome. But this outcome can only be achieved when I lose my ordinary individuality as I know it usually… Edward Salim Michael gives some important clues for meditation.

Ajaan Kao : After death is there just voidness ? nothingness ?

“Especially important is the idea which some people have that after death there is just voidness, nothingness. This view is fundamentally wrong.

The heart of the Lord Buddha and those of all the Arahants who have got rid of the kilesas which would otherwise lead them into birth and death, have hot been annihilated and reduced to nothing. They simply do not go wandering about searching for a place to be reborn; in contrast to the hearts of all others who have kilesas, which are the seeds that lead them to further birth and death.

The hearts of the Lord Buddha and the Arahants are still their hearts, but they are in the state of Nibbana without remainder (Anupddisesa-nibbana) of those who have completely got rid of all their kilesas.

There are various ideas such as: after death there is just nothingness; there is no such thing as evil; there is no such thing as merit; there is no such place as hell; there is no such place as heaven; there is no such state as Nibbana.

All of these are doctrines taught in the textbook of the kilesas that rule the Triple Universe. Having mastered these doctrines, the kilesas use them to govern the hearts of all living beings.

No matter how severely they oppress living beings, they are not in the least afraid or concerned that anyone will dare to challenge their authority. Because their schooling is good and up-to-date, people accept it fully without reservations. All the knowledge that is learned from the textbook of the kilesas is bound to be knowledge which wipes out the truth of Dhamma. For example, the truth of Dhamma shows us that after death one is born again, whereas the knowledge which comes from the textbook of the kilesas teaches the opposite, that after death one is annihilated. In a similar way, Dhamma teaches that evil exists, merit exists, the hells exist, the heavens exist and Nibbana exists, whereas the teaching of the kilesas immediately denies all of them by teaching that the opposite is true.

(Kilesa : the mental defilements based upon greed, hate and delusion.)
Arahant : One who attains the ultimate state of Nibbana).

From “Venerable Ajaan Khao Analayo”  a Forest Dhamma Publication