Sunday, February 24, 2013

Celebrating the Dharma

Yesterday, 2/23/13, the Original Mind Zen Sangha performed its first ever Precepts ceremony! It was a small, intimate celebration as two students took Precepts (see photo below), thus formally declaring their commitment to practicing the Dharma, and taking the first steps towards formal ordination in the Five Mountain Zen Order, of which OMZS is a member.

It was an honor to perform the rites, to walk in the footsteps and utter the words of our Dharma ancestors. During the ceremony, there was a moment when I was chanting "The Mantra Welcoming the Triple Gem" that I was truck by the complete timelessness of the ceremony. The declarations that we make to maintain the Buddhist Precepts transcend time; they--like all of our actions, words, and deeds--are pure expressions of our Buddha Nature.

I was filled with a solemn sense of gratitude and honor to be able to participate in such a sacred ceremony.

Thanks to my wife Jackie for all of her support as I walk this marvelous Dharma path; I couldn't do this without you.

And countless bows to all of our Dharma ancestors for delivering these teachings to us, especially to my teacher Zen Master Wonji Dharma. None of this would be possible without them.

 Hyonjeong, Doshim Dharma (me), and Chokyi Drayang.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Dharma talk - "Lost in the map"

We're a little out of order here; this is last week's talk, delivered on 2/10/13. The one from 2/3/13 is on its way.

In this talk I discuss the delusional world that most sentient beings mistake for reality, and how they are "lost in the map" of concepts. I offer the Yogacara "Three Natures" teaching as a tool to help us see through delusion.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Let it grow!

Photo courtesy of flickr user: Fellowship of the Rich.
Here's something I don't get--why it's okay for Buddhism to adapt to native cultures in Asia, but that process is for some reason prohibited here in the West. It's no surprise that Korean Buddhism looks Korean, Tibetan Buddhism looks Tibetan, and Japanese....well you get the picture. But for some reason, in order for American Buddhism to be considered "authentic," people expect it to look Tibetan or Japanese--basically Asian.

Why is that? Perhaps it's growing pains, or because many Western Buddhists, if they're not culturally Asian, feel insecure (or maybe "inadequate" might be a better word) about practicing a spiritual tradition whose ancestors hail from another part of the world than their own biological ones. I don't know.

As if Buddhism were exclusively an Asian birthright. It's not, at least not any kind of Buddhism whose aim is genuine Awakening. Buddhism is everyone's inheritance, for it points the way to our true, universal nature--Buddhahood.

Which means--at least from this perspective--that Buddhism is basically composed of a variety of skillful means aimed at helping people realize their true nature. The forms should always take back seat to waking up, not in the sense that we objectify our practice by reducing it to mere means to an ends, but in that we don't reify or become attached to the practice. We don't make it special.

When sitting meditation, sit in meditation; when driving, drive; when eating, eat.

What I am critical of is the Western Buddhist tendency to slavishly venerate the cultures that Buddhism hails from, as if everything Eastern is sacrosanct and everything Western is spiritually primitive. Part of this, at least in the Zen community, is attributable to D.T. Suzuki and his mythologizing Zen and Japanese culture. I hate to admit it, because I love his work, but Alan Watts is guilty of this too.

Too often I hear Buddhists comparing the idyllic happiness of Tibetans with the alienated, despondent plight of the American, as if Asians are somehow happier by virtue of their cultural worldview or heritage.

That's nonsense.

The Buddha identified the universal human condition as being suffused with dukkha. It's part of being human. Period. Japanese people have problems, perhaps unique to the Japanese experience, but they're not exceptions to the human condition. Neither are the Swiss or Russians or Chinese. That's what it means to be human.

But I digress.

My point is that there's a tendency in Buddhism to bash the West, and perhaps I'm guilty of this myself on this blog. In Buddhism's attempt to assert itself in America, I see two phenomena occurring: 1.) a blatant rejection of all things Western, and thus an adoption of all things Eastern; or 2.) a skim milk attempt to integrate Buddhism into Western religious traditions as if their goal or teachings are always the same.

Both irritate me, but I'll deal exclusively here with the former.

The first refers to those people in your Buddhist group who know all of the Japanese or Korean terms, and drop them ad nauseum, especially when there is a perfectly good English counterpart. Instead of kneeling meditation, it's "seiza"; instead of interview it's "dokusan."

Besides sounding pretentious, the problem is that this habit reeks of Western Buddhist anxiety, as if in order to really be considered Buddhist we need to pose as being Asian.

Here's my point: Buddhism needs to find its own course(s) in the West. Buddhism grows and adapts; it always has. So why is that process so anathema here in the West? Why is that process halted here in America? Why is America, or more broadly, the West, the exception?

I'm not proposing that we jettison the vast wealth of spiritual traditions we have inherited from our Buddhist ancestors, but I do think that organic growth is natural and necessary for the continued evolution and downright survival of Buddhism.

That means allowing Buddhism to grow in the West. Which is not to say that it won't be rife with conflict, because it will be. Take one look at Asian history and you'll see that Buddhist sects have often competed and quarreled. That's human.

But that's part of the process. It's my opinion that Buddhism needs to find its own authentic Western idiom and identity if it hopes to thrive on this soil; the alternative is an insecure, toddling Buddhism too fearful to step out of its Asian ancestors' shadow.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Neither in nor out

Here's my latest Dharma talk, delivered on 1/27/13. Hope you enjoy.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Inspiring Buddhist art

As you all know, in addition to being a book junkie, I'm addicted to Buddhist art. As I am with Buddhist literature, I'm always on the prowl for new artistic expressions of the Buddhadharma. Cruising around on Etsy, a great site for handmade items, I found a wonderful sculptor; his name is Adrien Miller and if you like Buddhist- or spiritually themed art, definitely check his work out.

Here are a couple of his sculptures that I find particularly inspiring:

This is a more traditional Buddha. It clearly represents Shakyamuni, but in a very humble, human way that tends to be lost in most Buddha statues. For instance, he has a topknot instead of the classic protuberance. This is a man, not a spiritual icon. And yet he is still serene, modest, and graceful.

And for the more modern practitioner, a female Buddha: 

This one brings to life the calm still point in all of us. It captures the equanimity we all possess as our original nature, even in the midst of our street clothes. As you can tell, Adrien is an original artist. He adopts a traditional genre and breathes fresh life into it. This is exactly what American Buddhism needs--a fresh, modern artistic voice. 

Adrien has plenty more to choose from. He has paintings, wall art, and yoga themes as well. Here's a ceramic relief sculpture I think is amazing:

If you are at all interested in Buddhist or spiritual art, please go visit Adrien's store at Etsy. His statues would really look great on an altar. And he makes custom art as well. 

It's important to support small business owners, especially in the arts. So if you enjoy one-of-a-kind Buddhist art for yourself or as a gift for someone special (hint, hint: Valentine's Day is coming!), go check out Adrien Miller's work; you'll love it.