Sunday, May 19, 2013
The Diamond in Your Hand
Lately I have taken a short break from reading Buddhist literature and turned my attention to other nondual spiritual traditions, namely Vedanta and Taoism. I think that it's important to understand how these different systems understand and organize the Awakened mind.
I'm not so much interested in the fact that Vedanta's interpretation of the unified universe (as Brahman, the eternal Ground of Being that is the true nature of all phenomena) starkly contrasts with Buddhism's position that everything is empty of that very same essence.
This is because two more-immediate topics interest me: first, that Vedanta's Self or Atman is virtually identical to the One Mind or Buddha Nature of Zen Master's like Mazu and Huang Po. The Mind or Self is bare and infinite nondual awareness. This should come as no surprise since both Zen and Vedanta can arguably be understood as expressions of the same reality, REALITY.
The second facet that intrigued me was how these two systems understand the relative world, and more specifically, what an Awakened person looks like in each of the these traditions. The difference lies in how these two interpret identity and the world of differentiation that we live in every day, the world where you live in one house and I in another.
On one level Vedanta explains the world of multiplicity as sheer illusion, maya or ignorance. According to this perspective, the truth is that all reality is the infinite, eternal Brahman, so any appearance of change is illusory. Obviously, this approach does not place much value in living inside of maya. This undervaluing of the relative world has always been hard for me accept.
Zen, on the other hand, understands that everything is an expression of the Dharmadhatu, and thus everything has ultimate value. This is the Taoist element in Zen, a gift from Zen's Chinese ancestors.
It is only fair to acknowledge that not all forms of Vedanta dismiss the relative world. Two amazing Vedanta teachers that I highly encourage you to read are Papaji and his student Gangaji.
I stumbled upon Papaji while reading a book about modern Vedanta masters, and he blew my mind. Papaji is a great Zen Master. I honestly cannot praise his teachings enough. The way that I see it, he and Zen Master Seung Sahn could easily have been Dharma brothers! Papaji's style is warm, grandfatherly, and direct. In my opinion, he is second-to-none as an Enlightened being of the 20th century. (I know what you're thinking: what about Sri Ramana Maharshi? Papaji was his student!) Read anything you can by him; it's all great.
His student, and the person I planned to write this whole post about, is Gangaji. She is an American teacher based out of the West Coast. About a year ago my mother gave me a copy of Gangagi's The Diamond in Your Pocket. Totally consumed with my own Buddhist studies at the time, I put the book off to the side. I read it about a month ago and was amazed.
Earlier I mentioned that there are Vedanta teachers who emphasize life in this world. These Vedantists understand that the realm of form is illusory in the sense that form is not an absolute in and of itself, as most people unconsciously assume it to be, but rather Brahman is its true nature.
This understanding emphasizes the need to awaken to our true nature, followed by a lifetime of service in this world. This is the Bodhisattva Vow and what appeals to me so much about Papaji and Gangaji's teaching.
The Diamond in Your Pocket is a true masterpiece; it's a veritable diamond in your hand. I seriously considered rereading right after I finished it; that has never happened to me before. There is so much practical wisdom in the book that you have to reread it to absorb it all, like Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind or Dropping Ashes on the Buddha. Please, if you haven't already, do yourself the favor and read these two amazing teachers.
Thanks Mom for giving me the book. Many bows.