teachings of buddha

I listened to a great Buddhist sermon on TV just now:

once upon a time, there was a father whose son was always getting angry at the smallest things. he just couldn’t control his anger.

one day, the father said to his son, “every time you get angry, hammer a nail into the wall.”

the son was confused, but did as he had been told. several times a day, whenever he got angry, he took a hammer and hit a nail into the wall. soon, his arms were aching and he had gotten thoroughly tired of hammering all those nails.

he saw how ugly the wall had become with all those random nails, and painstakingly removed them all.

his father came and watched him, then pointed out all the holes in the wall that needed to be fixed.

he said something along the lines of, “son, it took you only a few minutes to hammer those nails into the wall, didn’t it? but look how long it is taking you to remove them. and even if you patch up all these holes now, the wall will never look the same.”

i think you all realise what the moral of the story is: anger harms only the one who gets angry…and the damage of angry words, once spoken, can never be undone.

Buddhism and the First Korean Unification

Unified Silla, a period in Korean history, began when Silla conquered the neighboring Baekje and Goguryeo kingdoms. The new rulers justified their rule with the concept of protecting the country through Buddhism. Buddhist leaders argued that if the Silla dynasty governed with the teachings of Buddha in mind, their people would be safe from misery. The religion became the driving force behind Korean progress and (to a degree) united its people. (Shamanism was still practiced as well.) Unified Silla also led to a flowering of Buddhist art, commissioned by the government to further the ideology and reinforce their royal authority.

The peninsula of Korea remained under Silla control from 668 to 935. In the 900s, aristocratic conflict and peasant uprisings led to the overthrow of the Silla dynasty and its replacement by the Koryo Dynasty. But Buddhism was here to stay, and continued to be the most powerful religion on the peninsula through the Koryo Dynasty.

…I see whatever Buddha I wish in whatever world in whatever direction. I see whatever Buddha I wish to see in whatever time in whatever abode involved in whatever past practice, whatever Buddha I wish to see in whatever miraculous performances, in whatever teaching activity: and yet the buddhas do not come here, nor do I go there. Without discerning any coming from anywhere on the part of the buddhas, without discerning any going on the part of my own body, knowing the buddhas as like a dream, knowing my own mind as dream-like thought, knowing the buddhas as like a reflection, knowing my own mind as like a vessel of clear water, knowing the buddhas as like magically produced forms, knowing my mind as like magic, knowing the nature of voices of the buddhas as like reverberation of the sound of echoes in the mountains, knowing my own mind as like an echo, I realize, I am mindful, that all the enlightenment principles of bodhisattvas are based on one’s own mind, that all their purification of buddha-lands, all enlightening practices, all development and guidance of sentient beings, all undertaking of the vows of bodhisattvas, all attainment to the ocean of omniscience, roaming in the inconceivable liberation of bodhisattvas, attainment of the enlightenment of buddhas, spiritual communion with the cosmos, and knowledge of the subtle communion of all ages, all are based on one’s mind.“

Avatamsaka Sutra - 1196

Note on the image: Four Armed Avalokiteshvara mandala.

The Sunlight of Awareness

by Thich Nhat Hanh

Observe the changes that take place in your mind under the light of awareness. Even your breathing has changed and become “not-two” (I don’t want to say “one”) with your observing self. This is true of all your thoughts, feelings and habits, which, together with their effects, are suddenly transformed.

From time to time you may become restless, and the restlessness will not go away. At such times, just sit quietly, follow your breathing, smile a half-smile, and shine your awareness on the restlessness. Don’t judge it or try to destroy it, because this restlessness is you yourself. It is born, has some period of existence, and fades away, quite naturally. Don’t be in too big a hurry to find its source. Don’t try too hard to make it disappear. Just illuminate it. You will see that little by little it will change, merge, become connected with you, the observer. Any psychological state that you subject to this illumination will eventually soften and acquire the same nature as the observing mind.

Throughout your meditation, keep the sun of your awareness shining. Like the physical sun, which lights every leaf and every blade of grass, our awareness lights our every thought and feeling, allowing us to recognize them, be aware of their birth, duration, and dissolution, without judging or evaluating, welcoming or banishing them.

It is important that you do not consider awareness to be your “ally,” called on to suppress the “enemies” that are your unruly thoughts. Do not turn your mind into a battlefield. Opposition between good and bad is often compared to light and dark, but if we look at it in a different way, we will see that when light shines, darkness does not disappear. It doesn’t leave; it merges with the light. It becomes the light.

To meditate does not mean to fight with a problem. To meditate means to observe. Your smile proves it. It proves that you are being gentle with yourself, that the sun of awareness is shining in you, that you have control of your situation. You are yourself, and you have acquired some peace. It is this peace that makes a child love to be near you.

Having cultivated extensive difficult practices,
Diligently working day and night,
Having crossed the hard to cross, with a lion’s roar,
Teaching all beings—this is THE practice.

Sentient beings whirl in the sea of craving and greed,
Shrouded by the web of ignorance, terribly oppressed;
The Most Benevolent bravely cuts it all away,
We vow to also do so—this is THE practice.

Worldlings have no control, attached to sense desires;
Falsely discriminating, they suffer myriad pains.
Practicing the Buddhas’ teaching, always control the mind,
Vowing to cross over this—this is THE practice.

Avatamsaka Sutra - 295

Note on the image: Avalokiteshvara emanating OM MANI PADME HUM for the sake of all beings.

To be angry at people means that one considers their acts to be important. It is imperative to cease to feel that way. The acts of men cannot be important enough to offset our only viable alternative: our unchangeable encounter with infinity.
—  The Teachings of Don Juan - Carlos Castaneda
The question has often been asked; Is Buddhism a religion or a philosophy? It does not matter what you call it. Buddhism remains what it is whatever label you may put on it. The label is immaterial. Even the label ‘Buddhism’ which we give to the teachings of the Buddha is of little importance. The name one gives is inessential…. In the same way Truth needs no label: it is neither Buddhist, Christian, Hindu nor Moslem. It is not the monopoly of anybody. Sectarian labels are a hindrance to the independent understanding of Truth, and they produce harmful prejudices in men’s minds
—  Walpola Rahula, (1907 -1997) Sri Lankan Buddhist Teacher

Mandala of Avalokiteshvara.

Avalokiteshvara, or Chenrezig as he is known in Tibet, is the Buddhist deity who personifies the ideal of compassion. He can be portrayed in several different forms, two of the most popular being as a white deity with either four arms or 1000 arms; the extra arms symbolize his ability to help many beings simultaneously.

The Mandala can be described as being the residence of the respective deities and their retinues. The sand Mandala of Avalokiteshvara was originated from the tantric teachings of Lord Buddha Shakyamuni. Although depicted on a flat surface, the Mandala is actually three-dimensional, being a “divine mansion” at the center of which resides Avalokiteshvara, surrounded by the deities of his entourage. Every aspect of the Mandala has meaning: nothing is arbitrary or superfluous. The four outer walls of the mansion are in five transparent layers, representing faith, effort, memory, meditation, and wisdom. The four doorways, one in the center of each of the four walls, represent the Four Immeasurable Thoughts: love, compassion, joy, and equanimity and there are decorated with precious jewels. The lotus flower in the center of the Mandala represent the lotus family, one of the Buddha families that correspond to the five psychophysical components of a human being, and which purify specific impure states of mind; the Lotus family purifies passion into discriminating awareness. The white thousand arms, thousand-eyed Avalokiteshvara is standing in the center of the lotus flower, on a white moon disk. In the four directions are seated his retinue seated on white full moon disks. The deities arise from the unity of; the wisdom of emptiness and great bless of the principle deity Avalokiteshvara. Seated on the eastern petal is the purified aspect of Hatred in the form of a blue deity Akshobhya, on the southern petal is the purified aspect of Misery in the form of a deity Rathasambhava and likewise, the purified part of Ignorance & Jealousy are represented by the deity Vaivochana at the western and the deity Amogasiddhi at the northern petal respectively. The central deity Avaloketishvara represents the freedom from attachment. The lotus itself symbolizes the mind of renunciation. To protect the residence from negative conditions, it is surrounded by a Vajra fence, which also symbolizes the continuous teaching of the Vajrayana (Tantric Teaching) by lord Avalokiteshvara. In the outmost part, it is circled with burning flames radiate with intense light are not only for protection but also to burn away or to get rid of delusion and the dark nesses of the ignorance.

In general, the Mandala shows a method of bringing peace and harmony in our world, through genuine practices of the mind of Great Compassion, the Wisdom of Emptiness, and the meditations of Mandala with their respective deities. We can generate the respective qualities as mentioned and thereby bring about a positive change in this world of ours. For a practitioner who meditate on the Tantra of Avalokiteshvara, one would familiarize oneself with every detail of the Mandala and the deities within it, engaging in repeated exercises based upon visualizing the pure beings and pure environment which symbolized one’s own being and environment in purified, sublime form. Such exercises, carried out within the basic Buddhist framework of developing wisdom and compassion, bring about a profound transformation of the psyche. Just to glimpse the Mandala, however, will create a positive impression on the mind-stream of the observer, who for a moment is in touch with the profound potential for perfect Enlightenment, which exists within the mind of all beings.

At the end of ritual ceremony, the Mandala will be systematically dismantled and the sand powder of the Mandala will be thrown into a clean river or a sea to remind the impermanence of the world. In fact, it serves to enrich the soil and the mineral resources and to eliminate the untimely death.

Wisdom peerless, teaching boundless,
Gone beyond the sea of existences, reaching the other shore,
Lifespan and radiance without compare:
This is the power of the Victorious One’s skill.

Clearly understanding all the Buddha’s teachings,
Always observing all times tirelessly,
Even when perceiving objects, not discriminating:
This is the power of the Inconceivable One’s skill.

Contemplating sentient beings without any concept thereof,
Observing all existences without such ideas,
Always abiding in meditative stillness yet not binding the mind:
This is the power of skill of unhindered wisdom.

Skillfully comprehending all things,
With right mindfulness diligently cultivating the path of nirvana,
Enjoying liberation, divorcing partiality:
This is the power of skill of the peaceful, dispassionate one.

If any can exhort to complete enlightenment,
Heading for all-knowledge of the cosmos,
And influence beings to enter into truth:
This is the power of skill of dwelling in the Buddha-mind.

Able to enter into all truths the Buddhas teach
With vast knowledge and wisdom unobstructed,
Able to arrive at every destination:
This is the power of skill of cultivation of freedom.

Always abiding in nirvana, like empty space,
Able to transform and appear anywhere at will:
This is creating form based on the formless,
The power of skill of the one who reaches the hard to reach.

Day and night, day and month, year and era,
The signs of the beginning and end, formation and disintegration of the worlds:
Remembering and thoroughly knowing these
Is the power of skill of knowledge of the measures of time.

All living beings have birth and death;
Material and immaterial, thinking or unthinking:
Knowing all the various names
Is the power of skill of abiding in the inconceivable.

Of past, present, and future times, Understanding all that’s said,
Yet knowing all times are equal:
This is the power of skill of incomparable understanding.

Avatamsaka Sutra - 293, 294

Note on the image: Detail of Buddha mandala.

The mahasattva bodhisattva Samantabhadra said, “Great bodhisattvas have ten kinds of extraordinary thought. What are they? They think of all roots of goodness as their own roots of goodness. They think of all roots of goodness as seeds of enlightenment. They think of all sentient beings as vessels of enlightenment. They think of all vows as their own vows. They think of all truths as emancipation. They think of all practices as their own practices. They think of all things as teachings of the Buddha. They think of all modes of language as the path of verbal expression. They think of all buddhas as benevolent parents. They think of all buddhas as one. These are the ten: if great bodhisattvas rest on these principles, they will attain unexcelled skillful thought.”

Avatamsaka Sutra - 1026

Image credit: Detail of a statue of Guru Rinpoche.