Friday, August 24, 2012

Zen Mirror: Jogye Order publishes bilingual series on Korean B...

Here's a great article my teacher, Zen Master Paul Wonji Lynch, published on his blog, originally written by Claire Lee.

Zen Mirror: Jogye Order publishes bilingual series on Korean B...: Jogye Order’s newly published English-language series on the teachings of Korean Buddhism, “Collected Works of Korean Buddhism.” (Jogye Or...

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Celebrating Seon Master Chinul

I'm reading currently The Collected Works of Chinul, translated and edited by Robert Buswell. I read half of the book last year, and like before, I feel refreshed by Chinul's inspiring words. Chinul was the founder of the Chogye Order, the largest Zen order in Korea today. He lived in the 12th century and is celebrated for unifying the rift between the rival scriptural and Seon schools. His influence on Korean Buddhism cannot be overstated. 

What I love about his writing is that it is very practice-oriented. Chinul doesn't have time for philosophy or metaphysics; he has more pressing matters on his mind--helping people wake up. When he does delve into philosophy (like samadhi and prajna), its aim is always practice-related. Like his great Chinese predecessor Tsung-mi, Chinul's work focuses on integrating the seemingly disparate East Asian Buddhist sects. The result was the founding of the Chogye Order in the early 13th century.

It's unfortunate that such a prominent and influential Seon Master like Chinul is so obscure in American Buddhism. I encourage anyone--not just Korean Buddhist students--to study his work. His writing is clear, straight-forward, and encouraging. Chinul, who had all three of his awakening experiences while reading scriptures or their exegeses, writes with precision and earnestness. He is the Korean version of the Japanese Soto-founder Dogen, although I find the former's writing much for approachable.

I hope you find his teachings helpful too.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The universe doesn't revolve around humans

One of the many things I love about Buddhism is the fact that it doesn't maintain that the world revolves around humans. There are far too many people--either encultured to this view, or just plain old narcissistic--who believe that the world was created for them. I'm no ecologist or social scientist, but I believe that one of the reasons our world is on the brink of so many crises is because humans are anthropo-centered, meaning they think that the world revolves around humans.

People think that not only do others see the world they way they do--a gross cultural fallacy--but that their brains organize the world is the way that the world actually is. What they commonly overlook is that perception is interpretation. We organize how we see the world according to a host of influencing factors,  including, but not limited to, culture, language, race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. All of these determine, in their own way, how we experience the world.

And they're all relative.

I sincerely doubt that my world is the same as a Golden Retriever's, let alone a Buddha's. But most people are under the naive assumption that reality is somehow "out there" just waiting for us to perceive it. But that's far from the truth. Modern science is realizing what Buddhists and other contemplative traditions have know for millenia.

The Buddha taught that ignorance colors how we experience the world, and so our perception is clouded by a scrim that obscures true reality. And yet, most people treat the world like a diaper, assuming that their ego-, human-centered point of view is actually the way things are.

The other day a friend of mine was telling me a story about how when he was a kid, he and his friends were lighting some firecrackers. They walked to the bay to experiment whether a firework would explode under water. After a few tries, they proved their hypothesis correct when they saw a flash under water, followed by a big bubble. They, being adolescents, cheered and gave each other high fives, when out of nowhere, a dead fish floated to the surface.

"It was hilarious," my friend said. I didn't laugh, or even respond for that matter, because I didn't find anything funny about a fish pointlessly dying.

Each of us represented a different worldview. To him, like most to people, animals and the entire planet were made for us to use. This is even perpetuated by religious and political factions throughout the world.  Buddhists, on the other hand, don't see things this way.

According to the Avatamsaka Sutra, the entire universe is one elegantly balanced symphony of interrelated and interpenetrating relationships. From the perspective of the Absolute, a fish is just as marvelous as a human; a blade of grass just as important and worthy of respect as a treasure chest filled with gold.

But that's not how most people see things. They think that people are better than frogs and fish--and implicitly, rich and famous people are the most important of all. And that's what's really dangerous and scary, the unstated view that some people are better than others, for it easily serves as fertilizer for prejudice, racism, injustice, and ultimately, tyranny.

We as a species need to radically shift our perspectives, to cut through all of these views and see clearly. This is the aim of Buddhism. I don't know what society needs.

I try my hardest to be the best Bodhisattva, father, husband, and priest, I can be. We do what we can, when we can. Sometimes that means not laughing at a crude joke, other times it means teaching the Dharma. In the meantime, the best advice I can give to combat such ignorance is, "Only go straight, don't know."

Image borrowed from Creative Commons flickr user: Bluedharma.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

You may never get a second chance

I know this sounds like a Head & Shoulders commercial, but when life gives us the opportunity to do something positive, if we can do it, we should. 

For instance, I was walking into CVS yesterday when I passed a paper towel lying in a parking spot. It was several feet behind me before I realized it, and figuring I would look pretty strange if I backtracked in the parking lot just to pick it up, I walked inside.

As I was making my way to the back of the store, the paper towel kept nagging at me. I should have picked it up, my conscience scolded. Okay, I admitted, I'll get it on the way out, and stood in line at the pharmacy department. My sense of guilt was relieved as I waited.

But when I made my way out of the store, there was a car parked over the paper towel! Drats!

What was I to do? Wait? Who knows how long that would take? And I certainly wasn't going to climb under the car to get the paper towel.

A couple of years ago, while I walked my dog around the block, I'd place all of the litter I found in a plastic bag. But I stopped because I started getting obsessed with picking up trash--attached, to use Buddhist terms. Really, I was way too interested in neighborhood trash; I couldn't walk three feet without stopping to fill my bag. I think there's a fine line between keeping your neighborhood clean and indulging in obsessions. Now, when I pass some garbage I'll pick it up if I can, but I won't go bonkers about it.

But the "paper towel incident" wasn't a waste; it taught me that if you have the chance to do something good, do it. Don't check, and at the risk of now sounding like a Nike ad, just do it.

Photo borrowed from Creative Commons flickr usr: shaggyshoo.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Fazang's Mirror House

I'm preparing to teach a course on Hua-yen Buddhism for the fall term at the Buddhist Studies Institute - Los Angeles, and so last night I was trying to find some cool resources. I stumbled upon this video, which I saw about a year ago. I figured I'd share it. It illustrates the marvelous, interconnected wonder that Hua-yen Buddhism describes. Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Dharma at 45 mph

On the way home from my daughter's karate class on Monday, she said, "Do you see the air, Daddy?" I knew that she was kidding, and so I naturally played along.

"Yeah," I said, not realizing the full import of what I had just said. And then out of nowhere it hit me--I did see the air. I can't put the realization into words because it will sound too philosophical, and the experience was much more immediate than that.

Looking at the houses whir by, I realized that I was seeing the air. The houses and trees and grass that I saw were only visible because of the air's transparency, so when I saw, say, a car, I was seeing the car and the air and all of the other conditions that were present which allowed me to see. I was seeing my eyes and my mind and the sun and earth.

It was all there. All of it, the whole darn symphony. And none of this occurred on an intellectual level; it was all unmediated. Just whoosh! 

Later, when I told my wife, the scientific skeptic, she disagreed and rattled off some scientific answer about vacuums, space, and air.

But that was beside the point. The point is, in the moment I saw the air in those houses zooming by. It was all there, unobstructed. Still later, this made me think of Huayen Buddhism and the Avatamsaka Sutra, which teaches that all dharmas, even the smallest atoms, contain the entire cosmos. Everything is the Absolute.

In my car on Monday, I stared in wonder at the universe unfolding in front of me in the form of 60's-style Cape Cods and speeding traffic.

And then I arrived home and ate dinner. Perfectly spectacular and perfectly ordinary at the same time.

Photo borrowed from Creative Commons flickr user: Dave Bleasdale.