Buddha nirvana

Buddha Ashoka Nirvana

Posted in Buddha Nirvana by buddhanirvana on August 25, 2009

Measuring the present U.S. social safety system by Buddhist standards, the greatness of a country is to be judged by how it uses its wealth, that is, whether it is used for the benefit of all or not. 

Turning back the pages of history, looking at the achievements of the great Indian Emperor Ashoka, third century BCE, who supported the central aims of Buddhism, we learn that he created an extensive social safety system for the benefit of his people and in fact, all creatures. 

Among Emperor Ashoka’s many humanitarian achievements, he built universities for the benefit of all.  He constructed roads and extensive water systems for such things as irrigation.  Perhaps most importantly, he created, by modern standards, an advanced health care system for all people, including animals.  Health care professionals were also trained to staff these facilities.

With regard to health care for his people, no one can say of Emperor Ashoka that he was a friend of a for profit health care system.  It seems likely the thought never occurred to Emperor Ashoka that profiting off the misery of others was moral.  Of the vast wealth Ashoka controlled, it was used for the benefit of all—not just the rich or his family. 

When compared against Emperor Ashoka’s health care achievements, the U.S. appears to have very little humanitarian interest in using its great wealth to create a system of universal health care for all.  Indeed, such a lack of interest is one of America’s more shameful traits.

When we look back at the creation of Social Security Insurance and Medicare, U.S. history has shown there is always been an acrimonious war of ideology going on between the forces of capitalism and those who champion the exploited victims of capitalism.  But what this really boils down to is a continuing war in the American psyche between greed and compassion.  But perhaps there is hope when the forces of compassion are courageous enough to push back against those who want to profit from suffering.

Maybe Buddhism Nirvana

Posted in Buddha Nirvana by buddhanirvana on August 25, 2009

It is not infrequently mentioned that Buddhism is a philosophy and not a religion.  I might agree since the typical dictionary meaning of ‘religion’ has to do with a personal commitment to serving God.  In the Oxford English Dictionary the first definition of religion I read was this one:

“A state of life bound by monastic vows; the condition of one who is a member of a religious order, esp. in the Roman Catholic Church.”

Would I be wrong in harboring the opinion that Christianity has hijacked the word religion and made it its exclusive property?  I think not.  But it wasn’t always this way, not when I thumb through my old Cassell’s Latin Dictionary.  Spotting the word “religo” I found two good definitions.  The first one is respect for what is sacred.  The second one to catch my eye is respect for conscience

I have to admit both definitions seem adequate.  Both are universal enough to include Buddhism, yet specific enough to exclude any kind of irreligious notion or attitude. 

Philosophy, too, might be included under religion if we regard it as the love and pursuit of wisdom or truth which is fundamentally to be found through knowledge in oneself which is one of the Latin definitions of conscience found in the above mentioned definition of religion.  But now, let’s look at a rather remarkable definition of philosophy given by Hierocles of Alexandria who taught around 430 A.D.  It has much in common with Buddhism’s praxis.

“Philosophy is a purification and perfection of human life:  a purification from our irrational, material nature and the mortal form of the body, a perfection by the recovery of our proper happiness, leading to divine likeness.”

Using Hierocles’ definition of philosophy as a standard, Buddhism chimes philosophical.  It teaches purification and perfection of one’s true nature.  It also teaches purification from ignorance, conditioned existence, and from the Five Aggregates so that the Buddhist adept might eventually attain nirvana.

I think it is fair to conclude that Buddhism is not far from philosophy as was understood in Rome around 500 A.D.  It also falls within the scope of religion—at least religion as an educated Roman citizen might have understood the term.

Changing gears, I like the Latin definition of religion because I think it is important to have respect for what is sacred.  And there is much that we should regard as sacred, for example, our planet and all that lives upon it—and the very principle of life (prana) itself.  We should also regard ourselves as sacred if we strive, above all, to realize wisdom and truth; not just living, day to day, to acquire material possession and indulge in sensual pleasures.

What I find unsettling with the modern definition of religion, in which God is made sacred, is that everything else, by implication, is not sacred.  And anyway, why should I hold God sacred?  I’ve never met the guy.  For all I know he is a figment of some prophet’s wild imagination.  At any rate, I choose to see the sacred as being potentially within me and in others.  The sacred also includes the earth and all its creatures.  This is a better definition of religion.

Lion Budha nirvana

Posted in Buddha Nirvana by buddhanirvana on August 25, 2009

The Lion Capital of the Ashokan Pillar in Vaishali by Shubh M Singh.

Probably the only Ashokan pillar in pristine state in India today. It stands at the sight of Kutagarasala Vihara which is the monastery where Buddha most frequently stayed while visiting Vaishali. Lord Buddha announced his decision to enter Nirvana at this location. The lion faces North to signify the direction the Buddha took on his last journey.

Zen Buddha Nirvana

Posted in Buddha Nirvana,Buddha Zen by buddhanirvana on August 25, 2009

Pivotal to a deeper understanding of Zen’s message is grasping the importance of Mind (which I will capitalize when I use it in an absolute sense).  This is something the great majority of modern Zen teachers shy away from or remain in the dark about, having insufficiently studied the Buddhist canon and especially Zen literature.

When I heard my first lecture on Zen Buddhism in 1964 (I think that was the year), our teacher knew Dr. D.T. Suzuki well enough to have had ice cream with him, one of Dr. Suzuki’s favorite dishes.  In other words, the professor I was taking a class from  knew the subject of Zen Buddhism better than most of his peers.  The course was interesting to say the least.  I even went out and bought several books by D.T. Suzuki.  I read them hastily and enjoyably, although looking back, I didn’t learn anything profound about Zen.  During the class, the importance of Mind was never discussed.  Not a word. 

When I went on to study Zen with a teacher and living with him, did the importance of Mind come up?  No it did not.  I was basically being taught how to do funerals for the Japanese community in the U.S.

During this same period, it is important to keep in mind that in 1964 you could find John Blofeld’s two great books in most good bookstores.  The first was The Zen Teaching of Huang Po, published in 1958.  The second was The Zen Teaching of Hui Hai which was published in 1962.  In addition, in Fun Yu-lan’s A History of Chinese Philosophy, published in 1953, there is a good helping of material on Mind in volume II for the Zen student.  It wasn’t a difficult book to get a hold of in a library.  What I want to emphasize is that texts already existed before I took up Zen which were about Mind in Zen.  But the important place of Mind in these books was never given the great weight it deserved in Zen centers which were beginning to spring up in the U.S. 

What took possession of U.S. Zen was zazen.  Mind was left out in the cold while Zen practitioners fluffed up their zafus and sat in zazen.  At least one theory behind the growing popularity of zazen was that sitting, for as long as you could stand it, was getting you closer to enlightenment.  In this respect, it had appeal and selling power so that it could be easily marketed to the public. 

When I first caught a glimpse of Mind back in 1969 having been steered in the right direction by, of all people, a Nichiren Bishop by the name of Nippo Shaku, I was flabbergasted to realize what I had been missing, without which Buddhism—and Zen—made very little sense.  This realization, however, put me outside of mainstream Zen.  I could see that not only was modern Zen going fundamentally nowhere, but so was Buddhism, in general, if it didn’t grasp the importance of Mind.

Presently, a lot more material has been translated which addresses Mind.  I hasten to mention that Tibetan Buddhism has added its vast stores of knowledge about Mind (sems) to modern Buddhism, especially through the teachings of Mahamudra and Dzogchen.

While this is good news, much of Buddhism and Zen is still focused on meditation as if the only thing that the Buddha taught was zazen!  But in truth, meditation does little to bring us closer to seeing Mind—which has nothing to do with whether or not you sit or stand.  Meditation’s importance comes after one has attained a glimpse into Mind.  It is a way to remove the thick plaster of internal dialogue, picture thinking, emotional turbulence, and anxiety, so that Mind’s inherent luminosity becomes more apparent.

Buddha Nirvana Zen

Posted in Buddha Nirvana by buddhanirvana on August 25, 2009

I blew the dust off of Zen master Joko Beck’s book, Everyday Zen (1998) and opened it to find I had underlined in green ink this part.

“Wisdom is to see that there is nothing to search for.  If you live with a difficult person, that’s nirvana.  Perfect.  If you’re miserable, that’s it.” (p. 151).

It came back to me why I had underlined it.  I thought Beck’s advice was off the wall and counterproductive—especially for a beginner.  Moreover, Beck’s remarks trivialized nirvana and the Buddhist notion of wisdom this being prajñâ

Perhaps Beck assumes that the Buddha’s teaching, which aimed at the beyond (param), which is treated as being synonymous with nirvana, is some kind of clever teaching strategy.  But what kind of strategy is it, in the context of religion, to tell a person that nirvana is simply about living with your ornery husband and your toddler?  Or that it is about being miserable?  It doesn’t make any sense; not if you’ve read much of the Pali canon and the major Mayahana Sutras.

So what’s going on here?  Why does someone like Joko Beck wish to oversimplify Zen Buddhism to the point where it has, essentially, nothing to do with the fundamental teaching of Zen or Buddhism in general? 

Unfortunately, I can only guess.  And one of my guesses is that Zen is easy to mistake for a religion that is telling us to live in the here and now while, at the same time, we must learn to accept things the way they are—not really changing but adapting. 

My next guess is that Joko Beck is presenting Zen as she sees it from her own personal history; not according to what the Buddha actually said or what Bodhidharma said, but what she finds in their teachings that chimes with her own set of ideas and values.  This, alone, is not a bad thing.  It becomes problematic when what Beck teaches and what the Buddha taught are not even on the same page.

There is always a human tendency to take what we find unfathomable, at the time, and attempt to simplify it—even oversimplify it.  But in religion, you can’t really do this because the religion is established on something other-worldly, of extreme subtlety.  Especially with Buddhism, the Buddha’s awakening sees what is truly deathless and untouched by suffering.  It is a profound reality (dharma); a very subtle reality (saddharma) of which he was reluctant to teach to us mortals.  He was also aware of the consequences of teaching such a profound and deep reality, in particular, that it might easily be misconstrued eventually leading to unforeseen problems down the road.

When you actually study the lineage of Joko Beck, namely, Sanbo Kyodan (Three Jewels Organization), reviewing its seminal text, The Three Pillars of Zen, by Philip Kapleau, the importance of Mind is gone over extensively in the section entitled, Bassui’s Dharma Talk on One-Mind and Letters to His Disciples.  But in the subsequent works of Joko Beck, Mind is not treated in the same way Bassui treats it.  In fact, from what I can tell, it is not treated at all which is astonishing given that Mind is the centerpiece of Zen—at least Zen before it lands in the U.S.  Incidentally, Bassui (1327–1387) belonged to the Japanese Rinzai school of Zen who was celebrated as a religious genius (he surely was because of his emphasis on Mind).

For me, Zen master Joko Beck’s treatment of Buddhism and specifically Zen underscores how easy it is, once you are in a position of authority, to go your own way forgetting the fact that you were transmitted to carry forth your founder’s lineage, in the case of Joko Beck, Sanbo Kyodan.  You are only permitted to deepen the lineage, that is, to take its elements and enrich them—but not ignore them or oversimplify them.  I see very little evidence that Sanbo Kyodan Zen made any radical changes except to permit Zen to be more open to the lay population.  Given this, Joko Beck’s teaching is quite different as is the teaching of those whom she transmitted.

Buddha on Mind (citta) and Matter (rupa)

Posted in Buddha Nirvana by buddhanirvana on August 24, 2009

Sabbo pajjalito loko, sabbo loko pakampito. The entire universe is nothing but combustion and vibration. (Buddha)

With this awareness, one can observe and realize that the entire pancakkhandha, the five aggregates, are nothing but vibrations, arising and passing away. The entire phenomenon of mind and matter has this continuously ephemeral nature. This is the ultimate truth (paramattha saccaparamattha sacca) of mind and matter -permanently impermanent; nothing but a mass of tiny bubbles or ripples, disintegrating as soon as they arise (sabbo loko pakampitosabbo loko pakampito).

This realisation of the basic characteristic of all phenomena as anicca (impermanent) leads one to the realisation of the characteristic of anatta (not ‘I’, not ‘me’, not ‘mine’, not ‘my soul’). The various sensations keep arising in the body whether one likes it or not. There is no control over them, no possession of them. They do not obey our wishes. This in turn makes one realize the nature of dukkha (suffering). Through experience, one understands that identifying oneself with these changing impersonal phenomena is nothing but suffering.

Sourced from ‘Significance of the Pali Term Dhuna in the Practice of Vipassana Meditation’, Vipassana Research Institute

As you experience the reality of matter to be vibration, you also start experiencing the reality of the mind: vinnana (consciousness), sanna (perception), vedana (sensation) and sankhara (reaction). If you experience them properly with Vipassana, it will become clear how they work.

Buddha discovered the way: whenever you experience any sensation, due to any reason, you simply observe it. Every sensation arises and passes away. Nothing is eternal. When you practice Vipassana you start experiencing this. However unpleasant a sensation may be – look, it arises only to pass away. However pleasant a sensation may be, it is just a vibration-arising and passing. Pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, the characteristic of impermanence remains the same. You are now experiencing the reality of anicca. You are not believing it because Buddha said so, or some scripture or tradition says so, or even because your intellect says so. You accept the truth of anicca because you directly experience it. This is how your received wisdom and intellectual understanding turn into personally experienced wisdom.

Only this experience of anicca will change the habit pattern of the mind. Feeling sensation in the body and understanding that everything is impermanent, you don’t react with craving or aversion; you are equanimous. Practicing this continually changes the habit of reacting at the deepest level. By observing reality as it is, you become free from all your conditioning of craving and aversion.

(Sourced from ”Buddha’s path is to experience reality” by S N Goenka OCT 95 Vipassana english news letter, ”Samma Samadhi” April 95 hindi Vipassana patrika, discourses of Sayagyi U Ba Khin-Sayagyi U Ba Khin Journal-VRI Igatpuri)

The Buddha Nirvana described everything as made from mind and matter. He described the parts of the mind and the qualities of matter. These are called "elements" which is confusing today when we use the same word for chemical elements and I prefer the translation to be "properties". The 4 properties he described were likened to earth, air, fire and water (the Greeks must have got this from him as he sent arahants to all the known lands) but are to be understood as the qualities of hardness, cohesion, vibration and expansiveness. These are a correct description for a tensile aether, just like Maxwell arrived at later and which I was also convinced lay behind the structure of cycles and of the wave nature of matter. (Ray Tomes)

The Abhidhamma Pitaka investigates and analyses Mind (citta) and Matter (Rupa), the two composite factors of the so-called a being.(Pali term ‘Abhidhamma’ is composed of two words ‘Abhi’ and ‘Dhamma’. Abhi means subtle, higher, ultimate, profound, sublime and transcendental, and Dhamma means Truth Reality or Doctrine)


According to the Buddhist conception, all inanimate objects are aggregates of the following five inherent elements, namely:

(1) The Element of Solidity (Pathavi),
(2) The Element of Fluidity (Apo),
(3) The Element of Heat (Tejo),
(4) The Element of Vibration (Vaya)
(5) The Element of Space (Akasa) .

In the case of animate objects, all living beings are also aggregates of six inherent elements, i. e. , the above five with addition of mind.

1. What is the Element of Solidity?

Whatever in one’s own body there exists of hardness or softness, such as the hairs, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, etc, is called one’s own solid element.
By realizing the true nature of the solid element, there cannot be found one’s own I’ness or personality or ego (Atta), but only the element of solidity which is ever arising and passing away from growth to decay, from decay to death. In reality, this is not mine; this am I not ; this is not my ego, but only the atom of physical phenomena.

2. What is the Element of Fluidity?

Whatever in one’s own body there exists of Liquidity or fluidity, such as blood, sweat, fat, tears etc, is called one’s own fluid element.
By realizing the true nature of the fluid element, there cannot be found one’s I’ness or personality or ego (Atta), but only the element of fluidity which is ever changing from one form to another. In reality, this is not mine; this am I not; this is not my ego, but this is only the atoms of fluid phenomena.

3. What is the Element of Heat?

Whatever in one’s own body there exists of hotness, such as that whereby one is heated, consumed, scorched, perishable, whereby that which has been eaten, drunk, is fully digested or wasted and so on, is called one’s own
heating element.
By realizing the true nature of the he heating element, there cannot be found one’s own I’ness or personality or ego (Atta), but only the element of that which is ever warming (usama), digesting (pacaka), decaying (jirana), going up and down of temperature (santappana) and burning (daha) . In reality, this is not mine; this am I not; is not my Ego, but this is only the atoms of firing phenomena.

4. What is the element of Vibration?

Whatever in one’s own body there exists of wind or vibration, such as the upward-going and downward-going winds, the winds of stomach and intestines, in-breathing and out-breathing and so on, is called one’s own Vibrating elements.
By realizing the true nature of the vibrating element, there cannot be found one’s own I’ness or personality or ego (Atta), but only the element of vibration which is ever moving, supporting and permeating from place to place. In reality, this is not mine; this am I not, this is not my Ego, but this is only the atoms of vibrating phenomena.

In the case of the Element of Space, there is, of course, the space between any two phenomena or elements, such as bone and flesh, or skin and flesh and so on.
Here we realise that Ancient Indian Philosophy did not understand the true connection between the One Thing, Space and the many things, matter. They believed Space / Akasa is what exists between matter, rather than matter existing as a spherical standing wave in space.

By taking the whole view of the physical phenomena to one-pointedness, one should understand, discern and realize that the body composed of hairs,bones, teeth, blood, sweat, wind etc, is nothing, but the particles or atoms of these four primary phenomenal element which are for ever and ever arising and passing away without any stop even a very short moment.

Being so, the so-called body named such and such with a conventional term is, in the sense of ultimate reality merely proton, neutron and electron of physical phenomena, but not infinite soul; nor mine; nor am I, nor my personality nor ego or self.

Regarding the mind, there is no place where mind can be located. Evidently mind is not static thing, but a moving phenomenon. It is therefore, in reality, the process of consciousness arisen between sense organs and objects. When mind comes in contact with an object through any one of six sense-doors, a new mental phenomenon or consciousness arises and immediately it passes away. Even during such a very short moment of consciousness, the mental process has happened many times very swiftly.

So the comprehensive discernment of physical and mental phenomena in its real nature is called (Vipassana Ñ ana) Insight knowledge.

By realizing the true nature of the ultimate reality, one in able to be contented; contentment leads to lesser and lesser desire for sensual pleasure, from lesser desire to delight, then to rapture, absolute purity, happiness, one-pointedness of the mind, discernment in insight as it really is, banefulness in craving, will for emancipation from craving,realization of insight in absolute emancipation and then finally leads to the attainment of Ultimate Peaceful Happiness of Nibbana.

Therefore, a Buddhist must not only view these two conceptions correctly, i.e.
(1) (Kammassakata Nana) Insight knowledge in the nature of action and its results
(2) (Vipassana Nana) Insightful knowledge into the true nature of physical and mental phenomena i. e. , the three characteristics of impermanence, etc, but also he devotes himself to the actual practice of the Teaching in order to attain the Ultimate Happiness of Nibbana.