The Maijishan Grottoes

The Maijishan Grottoes (麦积山石窟), formerly romanized as Maichishan, are a series of 194 caves cut in the side of the hill of Majishan in Tianshui, Gansu Province, northwest China.

This example of rock cut architecture contains over 7,200 Buddhist sculptures and over 1,000 square meters of murals. Construction began in the Later Qin era (384–417 CE)…

#Buddhism #China

Three Great Minds

It’s interesting that approximately 2500 years ago three men were born who would change the world, in three distinct parts of the world that would have no interaction with each other. Confucius, The Buddha, and Socrates were born within 100 years of each other whose lives would overlap:

Confucius 551-479 B.C.
The sagacious Confucius, Kongzi, or Master Kung (551-479 B.C.) was a social philosopher whose values became dominant in China only after he died. Advocating living virtuously, he put emphasis on socially appropriate behavior.

Buddha c. 563-483 B.C.
Siddhartha Gautama was a spiritual teacher of enlightenment who acquired hundreds of followers in India and founded Buddhism. His teachings were preserved orally for centuries before they were transcribed on palm-leaf scrolls. Siddhartha may have been born c. 563 B.C. to Queen Maya and King Suddhodana of the Shakya in ancient Nepal. By the third century B.C. Buddhism appears to have spread to China.

Socrates c. 470-399 B.C.
Socrates, an Athenian contemporary of Pericles (c. 470 – 399 B.C.), is a central figure in Greek philosophy. Socrates is known for the Socratic method (elenchus), Socratic irony, and the pursuit of knowledge. Socrates is famous for saying that he knows nothing and that the unexamined life is not worth living. He is also well known for stirring up sufficient controversy to be sentenced to a death that he had to carry out by drinking a cup of hemlock. Socrates had important students, including the philosopher Plato.

#Confucius #Buddha #Socrates

Zen Glossary

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Bodhisattva – An awakened or enlightened being who renounces the experience of nirvana in order to remain with unenlightened beings and work for the liberation of all.

Ch’an – The Chinese word for zen.

Densho – The large bell used to announce services and lectures.

Dharma – The dharma is thought of variously as the Way, the Path, Cosmic Law and Universal Truth. The dharma is often thought of as the teachings of the Buddha, and this is a legitimate view, but it’s important to note that the Buddha didn’t create the dharma; it was always there.

Dojo – Literally: the room or hall (do-) of the way (-jo). Dojo is often used interchangeably with zendo, however, the ‘way’ referred to by ‘dojo’ does not necessarily have to be zen.

Dokusan – A private interview between a student and a zen teacher or master.

Eightfold Path – The Eightfold path was given by the Buddha as part of the Four Noble Truths and as such, as the main way out of suffering.

right understanding
right thought
right speech
right action
right livelihood
right effort
right mindfulness
right meditation

Four Noble Truths – The Buddha’s motivation for leaving his home and taking up a spiritual life was to understand duhkha (suffering) and find a solution to suffering. The Four Noble Truths are the answer that came to the Buddha as part of his enlightenment.

All life is suffering.
The cause of suffering is desire.
Suffering can be ended.
The way to end suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path.

Gassho – A mudra or bow with palms together, it signifies gratitude.

Gatha – A short sutra.

Jukai – Taking the precepts, taking refuge in the precepts or taking up the way of the bodhisattva

Karma – The Buddhist doctrine of cause and effect. The effect of an action taken today (or thought or word spoken, etc.) might not occur today. The effect, whether good or bad, may come to pass many years from now or even in a subsequent lifetime.

Kensho – An enlightenment or awakening experience.

Kinhin – Walking meditation.

Koan – Originally: a public record. A zen paradox, question or episode from the past that defies logical explanation. Koans are sometimes thought of as zen riddles, but this is not entirely accurate since most riddles are intended to be solved through reason.

Kyosaku – Wake-up stick or encouragement stick. Used during long periods of zazen (mainly during sesshin) to strike practitioners on the back or on the part of the shoulders close to the neck.

Mahayana – Literally: “Great Vehicle”. One of the three main branches of Buddhism.

Mindfulness – Awareness; remembering that all things are interrelated; living in the present moment.

Mokugyo – The red lacquered drum used as a “heartbeat” for chants.

Mondo – A short zen dialogue between master and student, usually from the past. The student asks a question that is troubling him or her, and the master responds not with theory or logic, but instead in a way that encourages the student to reach a deeper level of perception.

Mudra – A position of the body which is symbolic of a certain attitude or activity, such as teaching or protecting. Although mudra technically refers to the whole body and the body does not have to be that of the Buddha, in common usage this term most often refers to the hand positions chosen for statues of the Buddha.

Nirvana – Literally: cessation or extinction. Although nirvana is the ultimate goal of many Buddhists it should never be confused with the Western notion of heaven. Instead, nirvana simply means an end to samsara. In the Mahayana tradition, the bodhisattva eschews nirvana until all sentient beings are saved.

Oryoki – This has come to mean a certain kind of formal, ritualized eating, but the word oryoki actually refers to the specific collection of napkins, utensils and especially bowls used for this style of eating.

Raihai – Also known as deep bows or prostrations.

Rinzai – One of the two main schools of zen still active in Japan,

Rohatsu – The day set aside to commemorate the enlightenment of the Buddha, which traditionally is celebrated on the eighth of December.

Roshi – Venerable master of zen.

Samsara – In Buddhist thought this is the continuing cycle of birth, death and rebirth. All beings are trapped in this unpleasant cycle until they reach enlightenment.

Samu – Work Practice.

Sangha – Zen family, community or group practicing together.

Satori – A very deep state of meditation in which notions of duality, self and indeed all concepts drop away.

Sensei – A recognized teacher of zen.

Sesshin – Most easily translated as a meditation retreat.

Shikantaza – “Just sitting.” An intense form of zazen where no mental aids such as counting the breath are used.

Soto – One of the two main schools of zen in Japan.

Shuso – The head student for a practice period.

Soji – A brief period of mindful work

Sutra – A Buddhist canon written in prose form.

Vesak – The celebration of the Buddha’s birth, which traditionally is set in May on the day of the full moon.

Zabuton – A rectangular, flat cushion used for zazen, usually found underneath the zafu.

Zazen – Seated still meditation, usually on a cushion on the floor. Unlike meditation done in some other spiritual traditions, zazen usually does not involve concentrating one’s mind on a subject, nor is the aim to blank out one’s mind completely.

Zafu – A round cushion used for zazen.

Zendo – Meditation hall.

Book Review: Buddha & the Borderline

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This book is atypical of the type I will normally review or discuss, but it is a phenomenal book that tangentially discusses Buddhism.  The book is really about a woman who suffers from borderline personality disorder and her journey through the depths of the disease and into recovery.  Buddhism plays a fundamental role in her recovery, but if you are looking for a deep discussion of Buddhist thought look elsewhere.  What you will find here is an inspiring story that will make you laugh out loud for real, cringe and possibly cry in spots.  There are parts of the true story that are just plain ugly and scary.  This is one of my favorite quick reads which gives you a sense of the importance of Buddhism in the life of a pained individual as she struggle to redefine herself.

The Buddha and the Borderline is a cross between Girl, Interrupted and Bridget Jones’s Diary.While reading it, I found myself admiring Kiera’s talent for vividly describing borderline hopelessness and pain while keeping me laughing with her tales of life as a ‘lonely and increasingly horny receptionist.’ While this book has something for everyone, Kiera’s detailed account of how she recovered from this deadly disorder will be enormously inspiring to people with borderline personality disorder and their family members.” (Randi Kreger)

“Kiera’s book is destind to become a classic in the growing literature on borderline personality disorder. I expected to get a somber account of a transformation from suffering to enlightenment,but the book I read was not only entirely entertaining and revealing, but also had me up way past my bedtime in stitches. The Buddha and the Borderline is seriously funny, authentic, and sublime in its wisdom. The book embodies the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism and integrates the world of core unrelenting suffering with the world of freedom from suffering. Transcendent stuff.” (Blaise Aguirre,MD, medical director of the Adolescent Dialectical Behavior Therapy Residential Program at McLean Hospital in Belmont, MA)

Book Review: The Eight Gates of Zen

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This volume has had a profound influence upon my life as I keep returning to it over and over again.  After my illness (liver transplant) I had lost a lot of my faith in Zen and was only practicing once in a while.  A received this gift from a friend who had lived at Zen Mountain Monastery for a time.  I placed in my queue of books to read and there it sat for a few month, but I kept having this nagging feeling that reading this volume would have an immediate impact on my life.

I finally read it through in a couple of days and I have never regretted that decision, as a matter of fact it was one of the best decisions I have made.  The book presents an, “accessible introduction to the philosophy and practice of Zen Buddhism includes a program of study that encompasses practically every aspect of life.”  Soon after I finished reading it I found myself seeking a teacher.  Living in Jacksonville, Florida that task proved difficult as I could not find someone that met my requirements.  I ended up turning to the internet and listening to the dharma talks of Thich Nhat Hanh, John Daido Loori, and others.  This in no way is  a substitute for having a teacher, but it was the best solution available for me.

This small volume has taught me much and when I find my faith wandering I pick it up and read either excerpts or the whole book again.  I recently was going through one of these spells and decided to read the book.  Since completing it I have found myself a sangha, started this website and am rededicated to walking the path.  I have never felt stronger about my beliefs and I owe a debt of gratitude to John Daido Loori and his book.

The program of study developed by John Daido Loori at Zen Mountain Monastery, from their website:

Zazen

Zazen is the cornerstone of Zen training. Za means “sitting.” Zen—which derives from the Sanskritdhyana—means meditation. In its beginning stages, zazen is a practice of concentration, with a focus on following or counting the breath. More than just meditation, however, zazen is a powerful tool of self-inquiry, boundless in its ability to reveal the true basis of reality. Through zazen, we realize the unity of the self with the ten thousand things, which has the potential to transform our lives and those of others.

Study with a Teacher

Zen is an ancestral lineage that traces itself back to Shakyamuni Buddha. Because it relies on the mind-to-mind transmission of its teachings, personal study with an authentic teacher is pivotal to training. Although fundamentally, teachers have nothing to give, they are indispensable in helping students navigate the difficulties we encounter along the way, directly pointing to our original perfection. In dokusan, private interview, students deal with the questions and insights that emerge out of zazen.

Buddhist Study

The founder of Zen, Bodhidharma, said that Zen does not rely on words and letters. However, most western Buddhist practitioners are not familiar with the historical, philosophical and psychological underpinnings of the tradition, so Buddhist Study is critical to establishing a sound religious practice. Though words are not the same as the reality they describe, when used skillfully, they can act as a medium for direct realization.

Liturgy

Liturgy makes visible the invisible, bringing into awareness the shared experience of a group. In theistic religions, liturgy reaffirms our relationship with God. Zen, by contrast, is nontheistic, so its emphasis is on realizing our Buddha nature, or the nature of the self. All of Zen’s rituals point to the intimacy between the self and the ten thousand things. For an introduction to Zen liturgy, see Celebrating Everyday Life by Daido Roshi.

Right Action

Right Action is the study and practice of the Buddhist Precepts, the moral and ethical teachings of the Buddha. Though the Precepts are based on the experience of no-self, they are designed to function in the world of differences. Thus they define how a Buddha lives in the world. See Daido Roshi’s book on the moral and ethical teachings of Zen Buddhism, The Heart of Being.

Art Practice

From its inception, training at Zen Mountain Monastery has taken up both the traditional Zen arts as well as contemporary arts to deeply study the self. Art practice encompasses the entire creative process: artist and tools, the relationships between artist and subject, artist and object, and object and audience. Together, these interactions show us that creativity is an inherent human process. See Daido Roshi’s book The Zen of Creativity.

Body Practice

Our physical body is our vehicle of self-realization, an experience that encompasses our whole being. The search for self-knowledge is often reduced to a purely mental pursuit. Body practice helps us to unify body, breath and mind through activities ranging from refined practices like Tai Chi to mundane activities like washing our face or eating breakfast.

Work Practice

Work Practice is a reminder that our spiritual practice must move off the cushion and translate into the sacred activity of living and working in the world. A daily caretaking period and formal work practice give us the opportunity to explore labor that is nourishing to ourselves and others. Starting with simple, repetitive tasks, and gradually increasing their complexity, we learn to see how our minds respond to the task at hand.

Dambulla Cave Temple

Dambulla cave temple, also known as the Golden Temple of Dambulla is a World Heritage Site in Sri Lanka. Dambulla is the largest and best-preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka. Major attractions are spread over five caves, which contain statues and paintings. These paintings and statues are related to Gautama Buddha and his life. There are a total of 153 Buddha statues, three statues of Sri Lankan kings and four statues of gods and goddesses. The latter include Vishnu and the Ganesha. The murals cover an area of 2,100 square metres (23,000 sq ft). Depictions on the walls of the caves include the temptation by the demon Mara, and Buddha’s first sermon.

The temple is composed of five caves of varying size and magnificence. The caves, built at the base of a 150m high rock during the Anuradhapura (1st century BC to 993 AD) and Polonnaruwa times (1073 to 1250), are by far the most impressive of the many cave temples found in Sri Lanka. Access is along the gentle slope of the Dambulla Rock, offering a panoramic view of the surrounding flat lands, which includes the rock fortress Sigiriya, 19 km away. Hindu deities are also represented here, as are the kings Valagamba and Nissankamalla, and Ananda – the Buddha’s most devoted disciple.

#GoldenTempleOfDambulla #Buddhism #SriLanka

Longmen Caves – (龍門 石窟) Henan, China

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The Longmen caves (in Chinese: 龍門 石窟, which means “dragon door caves”) are a series of rock sanctuaries located in Henan province, China. These caves dot the Xiangshan and Longmenshan mountains, and represent one of the best examples of Chinese Buddhist art. The construction of the caves began in 493. The complex consists of 2,345 caves and over 100,000 statues of the Buddha and his disciples. There are also 2,800 inscriptions, 43 pagodas and different steles. Some of the caves date back to the Wei dynasty, but most of them were built at the behest of the Tang dynasty. In 2000 Longmen caves were included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Zen Compassion

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“When you produce a thought that is full of understanding, forgiveness, and compassion, that thought will immediately have a healing effect on both your physical and mental health and on those around you. If you think a thought that is full of judgment and anger, that thought will immediately poison your body and mind and the people around ”
~ Thích Nhất Hạnh

#ZenBuddhism #Compassion #ThichNhatHanh

Thich Nhat Hanh Faces Death With Dignity and A Lesson in Mindfulness

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“Please do not build a stupa (shrine) for me. Please do not put my ashes in a vase, lock me inside and limit who I am. I know this will be difficult for some of you. If you must build a stupa though, please make sure that you put a sign on it that says, ‘I am not in here.’ In addition, you can also put another sign that says, ‘I am not out there either,’ and a third sign that says, ‘If I am anywhere, it is in your mindful breathing and in your peaceful steps.’”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh