Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Perfection of Wisdom - Prajna Paramita

Prajñā (Sanskrit) or paññā (Pali) has been translated as "wisdom," "understanding," "discernment," "cognitive acuity," or "know-how."

In some sects of Buddhism (three guesses!), it especially refers to the wisdom that is based on the direct realization of the Four Noble Truths, impermanence, interdependent origination, non-self, emptiness, etc. Prajñā is the wisdom that is able to extinguish afflictions and bring about enlightenment.

I think that it is vitally important to understand that each of the six paramitas, not only Prajna Paramita, is an enlightened quality of the heart, a glorious virtue or attribute—the innate seed of perfect realization within us.

The paramitas are the very essence of our true nature. However, since these enlightened qualities of the heart have become obscured by delusion, selfishness, notional thinking, pre-conception, desire, aversion, and other karmic tendencies, we must develop these potential qualities and bring them into expression. In this way, the six paramitas are an inner cultivation, a daily practice for wise, compassionate, loving, and enlightened living.

My teacher is fond of saying that Zen is a ‘practice’, rather than a philosophy or a religion, although it has similarities to both religion and philosophy.

The thing is, you cannot just ‘think’ about life or live it from a distance... you must ‘be there’ completely and entirely... it is also true of Zen. In order to be a practitioner of Zen, you must, well, practice... Life. Zen. Subject. Object. You. Me. All are one. No separation.

Prajna is most often translated as ‘wisdom’, at least in the tradition that I practice.

So, what is wisdom? Wisdom is a part of all of the paramitas, which is why I decided to save it for last. It is the ground they stand on, so to speak. To be wise is to be charitable, disciplined, patient, determined, mindful, and the result is the development of wisdom.

Wisdom comes with time. It cannot be hurried, though we are all wise within our own understanding each moment. This sense will evolve as we take each step of our lives. We will become wise when we see our truth, our failures, our successes, our efforts, and so on as just what they are, impermanent moments of our being. Letting go of these is the fruit of our wisdom.

In previous posts, I have made mention that the word 'Paramita' (Parami in the origninal Pali) actually means, "To cross to the other shore." So, the paramitas are also the ways by which we cross away from the Three Poisons (anger, greed and delusion) to live a better life. – I keep repeating this and hammering away at it, and this is with good reason (at least *I* think so..); You see, the other shore isn’t ‘over there’... you can’t swim to it, or row to it or fly to it.... it is already here! You are *on* it... you always have been.

All of the perfection, all of the wisdom, patience, generosity, ethical steadfastness, concentration, joyous effort, all of it... is already yours! It isn’t something that you have... or something that you can find, or get, or take... it is a part of you... it *IS* you... you will never ‘get there’ because you are always arriving... always coming and going, coming and going... from moment to moment in the everlasting, eternal never ending beauteous moment that is NOW.

And *that* is wisdom.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Just Sitting

Dhyāna (from Sanskrit ध्यान dhyāna) or jhāna in Pāli refers to a stage of meditation, which is a subset of samādhi. It is a key concept in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism. Equivalent terms are "Chán" in modern Chinese, "Zen" in Japanese, "Seon" in Korean, "Thien" in Vietnamese, and "Samten" in Tibetan.

Dhyāna is very important in the Mahayana tradition. It is the fifth of six pāramitās (perfections). (Some traditions record ten rather than six paramitas)

It is usually translated as "concentration," “absorbtion,” “contemplation,” "meditation," or "meditative stability." In China, the word dhyāna was originally transliterated as chan-na (禅那; Mandarin: chánnà), and was later shortened to just chan (禅) in common usage.

Externally, Dhyana Paramita shows up as presence of mind or collectedness, meditation, contemplation. Internally, the practitioner strives to remain focused and centered and aware and see what is going on, rather than being heedless, mindless, absent-minded and distracted. This practice enables the practitioner to avoid becoming lost in fabrication, and to really see what is going on, right here and now, in the present moment. We can all do this, simply by applying a little attention and focus to the task of training the mind, body and spirit.

Innately, we are all totally absorbed. We are not capable of being anything but absorbed. We often may feel as though we are lost; that we are looking out through our eyes at the world, and at others in the world, but that we are somehow lost. But, this is not accurate. You are not lost at all! You are found! Innately, there is total presence, in practice, we often waste this presence; We miss the point entirely! We are side-tracked by issues that ultimately have no meaning in our lives, we overlook our mindful sense of presence, we detract from it with distorted views, notional thinking and preconceived opinions and idea, and therefore often miss the point entirely! It is as though we are looking at the world as though it were a reflection passed to us through many cracked mirrors - it is distorted and confusing. But, we have the ability to cease this useless sort of activity, to put an end to all of the distracted, pointless activities that we allow to take over our life and our world. When we allow these types of things to take center stage in our life, we end up feeling as though we are living our lives ‘part time’, or as though we are hearing or reading about our own lives, rather than living them, first hand. We feel like we are only operating on one or two cylinders. But we are just using the other cylinders to hold ourselves in. All the cylinders are going all the time. We ourselves are actually present at all times.. totally and continually. It is only through deluded thinking that we end up feeling otherwise. This is worth paying attention to, and taking the time to give some thought to, is it now? How can we not meditate on, contemplate upon, and reflect upon our lives?

It seems odd that sitting and doing what amounts to essentially nothing at all would have any relevance or value to our lives. But, it is often the ‘nothingness’ that makes a thing valuable - it is the nothingness in a hole, a door, a cup, and between the spokes of a wheel that lend value to those items. With us, it is the ability to re-connect with our silence, to dissolve our ego-selves to absolute zero, to find our center, and thus give ourselves a place from which we can more skillfully navigate the world that gives added value to our lives. When a glass is filled with muddy, silted, cloudy water, we cannot see anything clearly through it. However, if we simply leave it be.. and do not touch it or move it for some period of time, everything becomes clear.

Whether doing sitting meditation, walking meditation, chanting, visualization, yoga, martial arts, breathing exercises, prayers, or whatever, the joy of meditation rewards us deeply.

Dhyana, usually under the related term of samadhi, together with the second and sixth paramitas are also known as the three essential studies, or threefold training, of Buddhism: moral precepts (sila), meditation (dhyana or samadhi), and wisdom (prajna). In Mahayana Buddhism no one can be said to be accomplished in Buddhism who has not successfully trained in all three studies.

When Buddhism was brought to China, the Buddhist masters tended to become more focused or primarily adept in one of the three studies. Vinaya masters were those who specialized in the monastic rules of discipline and the moral precepts (sila). Dharma masters were those who specialized in the wisdom teachings of the Sutras and Buddhist treatises (shastras). Dhyana or Chan masters were those who specialized in meditation practice and states of samadhi. Monks would often begin their training under one kind of master, such as a Vinaya master, and then transfer to another master, such as a Dharma master or a Dhyana master, to further their training and studies. At that time there was no separate school known as Chan.

According to tradition, Bodhidharma brought his lineage school of a line of dhyāna masters from India to China. After a somewhat disappointing interview with an Emperor in the south of China, Bodhidharma went into the north and resided in relative obscurity at the Shaolin Temple until several disciples found him. As it became more and more independent, popular and politically influential, the lineage school that was attributed to Bodhidharma became known as the Chan school in China and was transplanted to Korea as Seon, to Japan as Zen, and to Vietnam as Thiền.
Arguably the most influential figure in Chinese Chan is Huineng who, beginning with Bodhidharma, is considered the sixth in line of the founders of the school of Chan Buddhism. Huineng is credited with firmly establishing Chan Buddhism as an independent Buddhist school in China. In the Platform Sutra Huineng says:

Learned Audience, what is sitting for meditation? In our School, to sit means to gain absolute freedom and to be mentally unperturbed in all outward circumstances, be they good or otherwise. To meditate means to realize inwardly the imperturbability of the Essence of Mind. Learned Audience, what are Dhyana and Samadhi? Dhyana means to be free from attachment to all outer objects, and Samadhi means to attain inner peace. If we are attached to outer objects, our inner mind will be perturbed. When we are free from attachment to all outer objects, the mind will be in peace. Our Essence of Mind is intrinsically pure, and the reason why we are perturbed is because we allow ourselves to be carried away by the circumstances we are in. He who is able to keep his mind unperturbed, irrespective of circumstances, has attained Samadhi. To be free from attachment to all outer objects is Dhyana, and to attain inner peace is Samadhi. When we are in a position to deal with Dhyana and to keep our inner mind in Samadhi, then we are said to have attained Dhyana and Samadhi. The Bodhisattva Sila Sutra says, "Our Essence of Mind is intrinsically pure." Learned Audience, let us realize this for ourselves at all times. Let us train ourselves, practice it by ourselves, and attain Buddhahood by our own effort.

In my own lineage, the Sixth Chinese Patriarch, Huineng, who is quoted above, is known as Eno Taikan. He is the 33rd Lineage holder in an unbroken line from the Historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, (also known as Shakyamuni Buddha {The silent sage of the Shakya Clan} down to my Roshi, my teacher, and myself.

Rinzai Gigen, after whom my order is named is number 38, and my teacher is number 82. We liken the mind to mind transmission of this Dhyana or Zen as being similar to pouring water from one vessel to the next. The water takes the shape of the new bowl, cup, or jar.. but it remains essentially unchanged.

Dajian Huìnéng (慧能 or 惠能; Japanese: Daikan Enō; Korean: Hyeneung, 638–713) was a Chinese Chán monastic who is one of the most important figures in the entire tradition. Huineng is the Sixth and Last Patriarch of Chán Buddhism.

He is said to have advocated an immediate and direct approach to Buddhist practice and enlightenment, and in this regard, is considered the founder of the "Sudden Enlightenment" (頓教) Southern Chan school of Buddhism. His foremost students were Nanyue Huairang (or sometimes Huaijang -- in Japanese, he is known as Nangaku Ejo, and was the student that passed Master Huineng’s lineage down thru later students, and ultimately to me... and now to you!), Qingyuan Xingsi, Nanyang Huizhong, Yongia Xuanjue and Heze Shenhui.

So.. you can see how these Paramitas are passed, with great care and perhaps even greater love, from one hand to the next. It is a great gift that has been passed down, from master to disciple, generation to generation, over the years... coming, to my great joy, to me at long last.

Dhyana Paramita is, perhaps, the very essence of Zen practice, although this is not to say that the other five paramitas are not important; of course they are.. but, it is Dhyana from which Zen takes its very name! It is the central focus which affords us the ability to ultimately open our heart/mind to all of the others. There is wisdom in this, and wisdom is what I will be discussing with you next time, when the topic will be Prajna Paramita.

Credit to Wikipedia for excerpts about various Zen Masters in this post

Thursday, May 14, 2009


Vīrya (Pali: viriya) is a Sanskrit word which can be translated into English as "effort," "vigor*," "diligence," "zeal, and "energy." * Our English word ‘vigor’ actually stems from the same Indo-European root as does the Sanskrit ‘Virya’.

The practice of Virya is a practice in which we exert ourselves to the fullest in whatever task we undertake, giving our all to whatever it is that we are doing, no matter how seemingly mundane or relatively unimportant it may seem. The teachings of the 'Historical' (Shakyamuni) Buddha admonishes us not to approach whatever we do halfheartedly, but, rather, to put everything we have into it. Approach each and every undertaking with a full heart, dig down deep, and put your guts into it!!

From the Indo-European Rootword “w -ro-“, we derive not only the Sanskrit ‘Virya’ but also the following Englisha nd Latin words; ‘virago’, ‘virile’, ‘virtue’, ‘virtuosa’, and ‘virtuoso’.

In Buddhism, we use the term Vīrya in a number of instances, which may cause some confusion to new practitioners, or to those who have only a passing interest in Buddhism or Buddhist thought.

Vīrya is:

  • One of the five controlling faculties (indriya).

  • One of the five powers (bala).

  • One of the six (or ten) paramitas.

  • One of the seven factors of enlightenment (bodhyaṅga), and;

  • Is identical with right effort of the Noble Eightfold Path (Pali: aṭṭhaṅgiko maggo; Skt.: aṣṭāṅga mārga).

  • It stands for strenuous and sustained effort to overcome unskillful ways (akusala dhamma), such as indulging in unmoderated sensuality, ill will and harmfulness (see, e.g., ahimsa, nekkhamma).

  • It stands for the right endeavour to attain dhyāna.

  • Vīrya does not stand for physical strength.

  • It signifies strength of character and the persistent effort for the well-being of others. In the absence of sustained efforts in practicing meditation, craving creeps in and the meditator comes under its influence. Right effort known as vīryabala is, thus, required to overcome unskillful mental factors and deviation from dhyāna.

* Zen is a ‘School’ or ‘Tradition’ of Buddhism, there are various schools or traditions which have their own focus and perhaps slightly different methods. Zen is 'a' way. There are many paths to the top of the mountain.

There are, more or less, three phases of Zen Training; Virya paramita: energy, effort, exertion, is called in Japanese ‘Shojin’. Thus then, the Fourth Paramita is actually the First Phase of the Three Phases of Zen, which are;


There are three phases or stages of training typically found common to Zen:

  • I The First Phase is shojin, the period of training in which the will and conscious effort are involved, and may take three to five years of diligent practice.

  • II The Second Phase is the period of concentration without conscious effort. The disciple is at peace. He can become an assistant to the master and later become a master himself and teach others in his turn.

  • III The Third Phase the spirit achieves true freedom, Enlightenment. Over and over it is found Zen historians citing the experience of full liberation being brought about by (but not limited to) hsing-chiao (also Un-Sui – lit. ‘Clouds & Water’ ((also a term for a monk)) ) whichch consists of sending the learner traveling from one hill to another, from one school to another, studying under one master and then another.
The Japanese word for the First Phase, Shojin, translates as "ceaseless effort" or "constant effort." Said to be from the Sanskrit word "Virya" (in Pali: Viriya).
There are many cases where Buddhist monks have accomplished amazing things simply by applying this attribute of ceaseless effort to their lives and to their practice.

Dharma Master Cheng Yen Fa-Shi, is one such Buddhist nun. In 1966, she founded the Tzu Chi Foundation after she witnessed the devastating poverty experienced by many Taiwanese people. She persuaded 30 housewives to form a group and to save 50 cents a day from their housekeeping money. This money was then used to help the poor. In one year, these 30 housewives helped 15 families. The foundation grew from there to its present size of more than 5 million supporters and 30,000 trained volunteers.

The organization also includes a Buddhist order of nuns, who further the work of the foundation. One thing I find fascinating about this order is that, unlike most other forms of Buddhism, they don't take any money from anyone for their own support.

Buddhist monks from Thailand's Sisaket province wanted a temple but had no money or much in the way of resources with which to obtain building supplies. Rather than lament what they were lacking, they took matters into their own hands and collected a million bottles to build the Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew temple.

Dying practice teaches us that time is passing, life is fleeting, and that living authentically and completely can only be achieved by being entirely present in the present moment. This means giving each and every moment everything that we have got to give, and holding nothing back at all. What might *you* do if you apply Virya Paramita to your daily life and practice?