The Bodhisattva Stands Alone

Here is something that I posted several years ago. I’m posting it again because I may have picked up a few readers since then who missed it.

I think this is a tremendously powerful piece that captures the spirit of sacrifice and dedication central to the Bodhisattva Path and I find it very inspiring. It’s actually two passages strung together from the “Vajradhvaja Sutra” and “Aksayamati-nirdesa,” both Mahayana sutras. I first ran across this piece in an anthology, “World of the Buddha: An Introduction to the Buddhist Literature” by Lucien Stryk. I’ve adapted it from the original English source, “Shantiveda’s Sikaasamuccaya (Compendium of Doctrine)” ed. Cecil Bendall; St. Petersburg, 1902

The word “bodhisattva” means “enlightening-being.” In Tibetan Buddhism, a bodhisattva is referred to as a “mind-hero.” The bodhisattva, motivated by compassion, makes a vow to liberate all beings by taking on all their sufferings:

The bodhisattva stands alone, without a companion, and she puts on the armor of supreme wisdom. She acts on her own, leaving nothing to others, working with a will steeled with courage and strength. Strong in the strength of her own strength, she resolves thus: “Whatever all beings should obtain, I will help them to obtain.

Kuan Yin contemplating Samsara

“The virtue of generosity is not my helper, I am the helper of generosity. Nor do the virtues of morality, patience, courage, meditation and wisdom help me, it is I who help them. The actions of the bodhisattva do not support me,  it is I who support them . . . I alone, standing in this round and adamantine world, must subdue all evil, and develop supreme enlightenment with the wisdom of instantaneous insight!”

Just as the rising sun, the child of the Buddhas is not stopped by all the dust rising from the four continents of the earth or by wreaths of smoke or by rugged mountains, so the bodhisattva, the Great Being is not deterred from bringing to fruition the root of good, whether by the malice of others, or by their sin, or error, or by their agitation of mind. She will not lay down her arms of enlightenment because of the corrupt generations of men, nor does she waver in her resolution to save the world because of their wretched quarrels. She does not lose heart on account of their faults . . .

“All creatures are in pain,” she resolves, “all suffer from bad and hindering karma and they cannot see the Buddhas or hear the Excellent Dharma or know the Community of Followers. All that mass of pain and evil karma I take into my own body. I take upon myself the burden of sorrow; I resolve to do so; I endure it all. I do not turn back or run away, I do not tremble,  I am not afraid,  nor do I despair. Assuredly, I must bear the burdens of all beings for I have resolved to save them all. I must set them all free. I must save the whole world from the forest of birth, old age, disease, and rebirth, from misfortune and sin, from the round of birth and death, from the toils of delusion. For all beings are caught in the net of craving, encompassed by ignorance, held by the desire for existence; they are doomed to destruction, shut in a cage of pain. They are ignorant, untrustworthy, full of doubts, always at odds with one another, always prone to see evil; they cannot find a refuge in the ocean of existence; they are all on the edge of the gulf of destruction.

“I work to establish the realm of transcendent wisdom for all beings. I care not at all for my own deliverance. I must save all beings from the torrent of misery with the raft of my omniscient mind. I must pull them back from the great precipice. I must free them from all misfortune, ferry them over the sea of suffering.

“For I have taken it upon myself, by my own will, the whole of the pain of all living things. Thus I dare try every abode of pain, in every part of the universe, for I must not defraud the world of the root of good. I resolve to dwell in each state of misfortune through countless ages, for the sake of all beings. For it is better that I alone suffer than that all beings sink into the worlds of misfortune. I shall give myself in bondage, to redeem the entire world from the pits of hell, from the province of death. I shall bear all grief and pain in my own body, for the good of all living things, speaking the truth, not breaking my word. I shall not forsake them.

I must be the leader of all beings, I must be their torchbearer, I must be their guide to safety, and I must not wait for the help of another, nor lose my resolve and leave my tasks to another. I must not turn back in my efforts to save all beings nor cease to use my merit for the destruction of all pain.”


Meditations of the Lover

Just everything I know about Korean Buddhism comes from a couple of books I’ve read, one of which, Tracing Back The Radiance is by Robert E. Buswell, a Buddhist scholar I met briefly many years ago. His book is about Chinul, the founder of Korean Zen and his methods of meditation, which were based on the idea of “tracing the radiance emanating from the luminous core of the mind back to its source, restoring the mind to its natural enlightened state.”

I don’t know much about Korean Buddhism beyond this. I’ve found Koreans to be rather insular, and somewhat suspicious of Westerners interested in Buddhism. This is just based on a few limited attempts to gain some first-hand experience with Korean dharma here in Los Angeles, so perhaps it is not representative of Korean Buddhists as a whole.

Recently, I became aware of another interesting figure in Korean Zen and I bring him up today because he was born on this date in 1879 (died 1944).  His name was Han Yu-cheon, but he is best known by the name given to him by his meditation instructor, Han Yong-un (or Han Yong-woon), and by his pen name, Manhae. Han Yong-un was a reformer of Korean Buddhism, a poet, and from 1905 until his death, he was active in the resistance movement to Japanese colonialism.

Unfortunately, there is not a lot of information about him available in English, which is a shame because he seems very interesting. Exactly how, Han Yong-un set about reforming Korean Buddhism is not clear to me, but apparently he was a believer in Maitreya Buddhism, a populist and faith-oriented movement similar to Pure Land. Perhaps it was his efforts to support this movement which intended to move Buddhism out of the domain of the elite and make it available to common people. Maitreya is the future Buddha, and historically, Maitreya movements have tended to be messianic, as this Buddha, like Jesus, is prophesized to arrive in this world someday and offer some ultimate salvation. In the meantime, believers pray faithfully to Maitreya. Discussing Korean Maitreya movements in Korea, writer Sang-Taek Yi, in Religion and Social Formation in Korea: Minjung and Millenarianism, states, “Whereas the rulers used Buddhism to teach the mingjung [masses] to accept their fate, Maitreya Buddhism promised an end to the present world order and to the troubles of the mingjung.”

Han Yong-un was born in the southern part of South Korea. It’s said that he began to meditate and study Buddhism at the age of 16. He was 26 when ordained as a Buddhist monk in 1905, the same year the Japanese occupation began. His Buddhist name, Yong-un, means “Dragon Cloud,” while his pen name, Manhae, is “Ten Thousand Seas.”

Yong-un’s poetry dealt with the themes of harmony between human beings and nature, and love: spiritual love, sexual love, and, because he was a patriot, love of country.

In 1925, he wrote a book of poetry, Meditations of the Lover, suppressed by the Japanese Military Government and published underground. One translator of this book, Yong-hill Kang wrote,

What a learned treatise could be written on WHO IS THE LOVER? He or she, and there are two voices, male and female, are the truest of true lovers, forced into a perennial cosmic parting in which the dark forces of the world have taken a seasonal hand. There is sorrow hardly to be endured, and tears. But tears are not “idle tears” as to the Victorian poet Tennyson. Tears have their own cosmic purport and meaning, in Han Yong Woon tears are dynamic. They are going somewhere.

Ah ah when do we create
a world of love
and fill up time and fill up space
with tears?

Han Yong-un has been compared to the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore (who coined this blog’s title “the Endless Further”), owning to the often mystic and lyrical quality of his work. Here is a lovely, short poem by Han Yong-un called “Parting Creates Beauty”:

Parting creates beauty.
There is no beauty of parting
in the ephemeral gold of the morning;
nor in the seamless black silk of the night;
nor in the eternal life which admits no death;
nor in the gorgeous celestial flower that never fades.
O love, if there is no parting, I cannot come back
to life in laughter after tearful death.
O parting!
Parting creates beauty.

English translations of Han Yong-un’s poetry can be found in two collections Love’s Silence & other Poems (Yong-Un Han and Jaihiun Kim) and Meditations of the Lover (Younghill Kang & Frances Keely), which is currently out of print.


How To Become A Smarty Through Meditation

While conservatives and the religious right in this country continue with what Time Magazine’s Joe Klein recently called a “celebration of ignorance” by “denying evolution, denying the science behind climate change, the birtherism”, etc., some of us may be getting smarter without even knowing it.

I’m not sure what folks who follow a certain faith-based political agenda think of spiritual practices like meditation, but I have a feeling most of them don’t like it too much. Probably offends them somehow.

But, this week Time’s online Heathland section has an article titled “Can Meditation Make You Smarter?

Numerous studies suggest that regular meditation (about six hours a week) may actually change brain structure. Scientists have found meditation is associated with a thicker cerebral cortex and more gray matter — i.e., the parts of the brain linked to memory, attention span, decisionmaking and learning. But a year of silent meditation isn’t always necessary. One study found people who meditated at least once a week for four years showed increased cortical gyrification, the folding of the cerebral cortex that helps people process information.”

The author of this piece, Laura Schwecherl, acknowledges that no one is sure exactly how meditation changes the brain, but apparently focusing one-pointedly on a single object or thought “alters our neural networks.” Nothing is guaranteed, of course. But studies have shown that positive changes in the brain are associated with meditation. The other caveat, though, is that no one knows how long these changes last.

I have to admit that I’m a bit skeptical about any claim that meditation will make you smarter. But I recently read that Bill Clinton, who’s already pretty smart, just hired a Buddhist monk to teach him meditation. It’s true. So I plan to keep an open mind. Hey, look at what’s happened to Clinton and these other folks after just a few weeks of mindfulness meditation:

Bill Clinton decided to change the focus of his Global Initiative!

Carrot Top was awarded a Nobel Prize!

Flo, the girl in Progressive Insurance commercials, was invited to give the Harvard commencement address!

Mitt Romney found a conviction!

Prince Charles decided to apply for Muammar Gaddafi’s old job!

Unfortunately, even a three year meditation retreat didn’t seem to help this poor creature named Snooki . . .

And, as they used to say at the Warner Bros. Cartoon studios


One-pointedly Spontaneously Without Effort

Mifune as Musashi carving a statue of Kannon in Samurai III

Over the weekend I watched the “Samurai trilogy,” starring Toshiro Mifune as Japan’s legendary swordsman, artist, and philosopher, Miyamoto Musashi. The films were made in the mid-1950’s and based on the epic novel Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa, which has often been compared with Gone With The Wind. Filmed in beautiful, vibrant color, the trilogy is about dueling, of course, but it’s also the story of the two women who love Musashi, and, about the samurai’s journey to awakening. Possessing unbelievable skill as a swordsman, Musashi transforms himself from a cold-hearted killing machine to a man who comes to realize spiritual truth and what it takes to tread the path of the warrior.

In Gorin no sho (“The Book of Five Rings”) Musashi wrote that he engaged in sixty duels without suffering defeat once, and this is probably true, as he was not known to be a man who bragged or exaggerated. I’ve written about Musashi a few times before on the blog, here and here. His book is a manual that explains his philosophy of heiho or martial strategy, and this is a philosophy that has applications in many areas of life beyond swordsmanship, not the least of which is meditation.

In the chapter called the “Water Scroll,” he writes,

In the world of martial strategy you must maintain a normal, everyday mental attitude at all times. Whether it is just an ordinary day or whether you are in a combat situation, your mental attitude should in essence be the same . . . When you are physically calm you must be mentally alert; conversely, when you are physically active, maintain a serene state of mind . . . Be attentive at all times to all things without being overly anxious.”

Interestingly, I ran across something by Alan Watts yesterday that spoke of this same thing in slightly different terms. It’s from a talk he gave titled “Don’t be alert,”:

When they teach you in Japanese Zen how to use a sword. The first thing the teacher says to the student is, ‘Now, if you’re going to be a good soldier, you’ve got to be alert constantly because you never know where the attack’s going to come from. Now, you know what happens when you try to be on the alert. You think about being alert and then you’re a hopeless prey to the enemy because you’re not alert. You’re thinking about being alert. You must be simply awake and relaxed. And then all your nerve ends are working. And wherever the attack comes from, you’re ready . . .

So, in the same way, all this applies to yoga. You can be watchful. You can be watchful. You can be concentrated. You can be alert. But all that will ever teach you is what not to do. How not to use the mind. Because it will get you into deeper and deeper and deeper binds . . .  And, when you find out, you see, there isn’t any way of forcing it”

This is close to what I meant when I recently wrote that in mindfulness you should be mindful of the breath but sort of un-mindful of everything else, and I think that is true regardless of how one approaches it. The essence of mindfulness meditation is in letting go and that’s why the breath is the perfect object for meditation. The breath is completely natural and when we let go, we can fall into the rhythm of breath and flow with it.

To borrow a couple of terms from Geshe Sopa*, we can classify meditation into two broad categories, “fixative” and “analytic.” Mindfulness falls under fixative, and in this way is closely connected with samatha (calming), because the purpose is mental stabilization using an object, the breath, and as Geshe Sopa adds, remaining “upon [the] object one-pointedly spontaneously without effort (nabhisamskara).”

That’s how I was taught to meditate, to focus on the breath without effort, without forcing it. If the purpose of mindfulness meditation is metal stabilization or tranquility of mind, it seems counter-productive to chase after trance states or try to qualify and examine various objects, thoughts or feelings. Why use this meditation method as a stake to keep the monkey that is our mind from roaming, if all we are going to do is give him a long tether?

I feel that the purpose of this meditation is to keep thoughts to the barest minimum possible. Not qualifying or judging whether the breaths are long or short, or whether feelings are good or bad, but just being aware that we are breathing and we are feeling.

However, this is just one way to consider mindfulness meditation. It’s the way I was taught by Buddhist monks and priests, and it differs somewhat from what is taught in the Anapanasati and Satipatthana Suttas, and in books.

By simply following or counting the breath, we are using it to bring our body and mind together, and really, inviting the entire universe into our consciousness without forcing anything, by one-pointed awareness of this microcosm of life, the breath. Or as Watts quotes Krishnamurti, “All you can do is to be aware of yourself as you are without judgment. See what is.”

In my Niten-Ichi-ryu [Two-Heavens-As-One school], there are no basic or advanced techniques in sword usage, there is no special teaching or secret related to the positions of holding the sword. The only important thing is that one sincerely pursues the Way of martial strategy in order to attain its principle.”

Miyamoto Musashi – May 12, 1645

*”Samathavipasyanayuganaddha: The Two Leading Principles of Buddhist Meditation”, Mahayana Buddhist Meditation, edited by Minoru Kiyota, University press of Hawaii, 1978

Quotations from “The Book of Five Rings”: A Way to Victory, translation and commentary by Hidy Ochiai, The Overlook Press, 2001


Tune In to Hep C

One reader suggested to me privately that the title of my last post was over the top, and perhaps so, but as Jimmy Buffet wrote, “If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane,” and I reserve the right to laugh at my own suffering, even if I am alone in doing so. However, I do apologize if anyone thought it was in bad taste.

Coincidentally, I saw on CNN today that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning “baby boomers” to get tested for the Hepatitis C virus. In the latest issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (not the most uplifting title either), the CDC says,

Many of the 2.7–3.9 million persons living with HCV infection are unaware they are infected and do not receive care (e.g., education, counseling, and medical monitoring) and treatment. CDC estimates that although persons born during 1945–1965 comprise an estimated 27% of the population, they account for approximately three fourths of all HCV infections in the United States, 73% of HCV-associated mortality, and are at greatest risk for hepatocellular carcinoma [cancer] and other HCV-related liver disease.”

Hepatitis C is transmitted through infected blood, by sharing needles, piercings, blood transfusions, and operations. I’ve heard reports of it transmitted by snorting cocaine and other drugs. You can even get Hepatitis C from using the razor or toothbrush of an infected person.

The CDC also reports that only 55 percent of people diagnosed with Hep C have a history of risky behavior. Many infections were acquired through yet undetermined exposure.

Gregg Allman and Natalie Cole perform at the Tune In to Hep C benefit concert at the Beacon Theatre in New York on July 27, 2011. (Rob Bennett/AP Images)

The list of well-known people with Hep C is long, and includes the names of folks who might fit the profile of a “usual suspect,” such as Keith Richards, Gregg Allman, Natalie Cole, and David Crosby. However, there are others who don’t fit that profile, like Billy Graham, Naomi Judd, Frank Reynolds (ABC news anchor), and Dharmachari Aryadaka, the first Buddhist chaplain in Washington state prisons.

The Director of the CDC’s Division of Viral Hepatitis, Dr. John Ward, says, “We had an epidemic of hepatitis C transmission in the ’70s and ’80s, and we’re now seeing an epidemic of hepatitis C disease.”

The really insidious part of Hep C is that you may feel you are not at risk because you don’t have any symptoms, but most people don’t have symptoms of hepatitis C for decades after being infected, and all the while it’s stealthily destroying your liver.

Hepatitis C can be cured. There are new drugs that will clear the virus from a person’s body. They were developed a bit too late for me. My only cure is a transplant. The HVC test is a simple blood test, a liver function test to determine if your enzyme levels are elevated or not.

So, if you are a baby boomer, and I know some readers of The Endless Further are, get yourself tested. Frankly, I think everyone regardless of their age group should be tested. Why not? It’s a cliche, but it’s true: better to be safe than sorry.

Get Tuned In to Hep C.