FOCUS | From the Editor
Spirit in the World, Volume 38, Number 1, Spring 2013
Few people in modern times know the steps of the noble eightfold path as well as Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi. In 1972, as his fellow young Americans protested the Vietnam War and sought a way out of the confining materialism of the age, he left Western culture entirely, entering a Theravada Buddhist monastic order in Sri Lanka. Believing the best way to help the world was to work on himself, he lived in a monastery in Asia for decades. A master of Pali, the ancient Indo-Aryan language in which the earliest Buddhist texts are preserved, he translated, taught, and lived the way the Buddha called “the way to the cessation of suffering.”
Yet as he relates in a galvanizing essay written for this Spring 2013 issue of Parabola, his perspective changed as he progressed on the path: “Our task today, in my understanding, is to complement the ascending spiritual movement with a descending movement, a gesture of love and grace flowing down from the heights of realization into the valleys of our ordinary lives.”
Returning to the United States after decades in Asia, the eminent monk learned more about global issues and observed how Buddhism was being assimilated in the West. He was struck that “Buddhist practice was narrowly understood in terms of one’s personal meditation, which served a largely therapeutic function.” It seemed to him that Buddhism “was being taken up as a path to personal fulfillment rather than a means of tackling the deepest roots of suffering both for oneself and others.”
The fruit of his concern, expressed to friends and fellow Buddhists, was the founding of Buddhist Global Relief, a nonprofit organization dedicated to eradicating hunger, developing sustainable food production, and educating and improving the lives of women and girls. Allowing that such activities may not square perfectly with the Buddhist orthodoxy that nurtured him, Ven. Bodhi writes “that sometimes one must give priority to one’s deep intuitions.”
“Spirit in the World” investigates and celebrates many other journeys, inner and outer. Among its highlights are a reflection on embodiment, a Hasidic story about the gift of giving, a visit with G.I. Gurdjieff, and an epic, healing ride for a wounded people. Some of these journeys arise from the heart of tradition; others leave the established map of higher truth for the wild territory of our own experience. May all of them inspire you.
[Cover Illustration: Flying Bald Eagle, Alaska Chilkat, Bald Eagle Preserve, Alaska. © Sergey Uryadnikov/Shutterstock]
Click here to subscribe.
We have never lost Paradise, but human consciousness tells us we have lost it and that we have to regain it. But in fact, Paradise has never been lost, Paradise is never to be therefore regained. We are in Eden, just as we are now.
Be, and at the same time, not be. To be or not to be, but then, to be and not to be. Both at the same time. The best thing is to be living, and yet not living. Dying yet not dying. That is the object of Zen discipline.
Zen is a floating cloud…unattached.
What characterizes Zen is this: simplicity and sincerity, and freedom. This is the one most important. Real freedom to see things in their “suchness,” I would say. That is freedom.
Sometimes so-called facts are not so important. But what scholars call imaginations or legends, they are more important in the study of human nature.
Zen masters tell us that the answer is in the question itself, you look into your question yourself. My answer only leads you farther away from the question.
Who are you to ask that question?
–Daisetsu Teitarō Suzuki (October 18th,1870 - July 12th,1966)
(via: Myoan Shakuhachi)
I am learning to see. I don’t know why it is, but everything enters me more deeply and doesn’t stop where it once used to. I have an interior that I never knew of. Everything passes into it now. I don’t know what happens there.
—Rainer Maria Rilke, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge (1910)
Image: Hamzeh Carr, Lord Buddha, 1926. Frontispiece from Sir Edwin Arnold. The Light of Asia. London: John Lane The Bodley Head Ltd, Limited edition of 3,000 copies
SEEING OFF A FRIEND ON FOOT
Do you remember how when we were young we soared.
Now, we’re old and hobble around on foot.
Then, we were so full of ideas and bold
We even put water in the clouds.
Now we poke at the snow with our walking sticks,
And worry about frost and wind.
Well… you’re famous now.
Your literary works are widely known.
Your reputation has reached all the way to the Palace.
The king, I understand, is quite impressed.
Now, living in the mountains meets all my wishes.
I can boast about having known you “then”…
So send me a letter to prove it - and don’t forget
To include some of your poignant verse.
–Hsu Yun (1840-1959).
With thanks to Bamboo and Plum Blossoms.
Indeterminacy means, literally: not fixed, not settled, uncertain, indefinite. It means that you don’t know where you are. How can it be otherwise, say the Buddhist teachings, since you have no fixed or inherent identity and are ceaselessly in process?
…Life is filled with uncertainty. Chance events happen to us all. Each of us must take responsibility and make decisions. None of us should be imposing our ego image on others.
…there’s another way to live. Accept indeterminacy as a principle, and you see your life in a new light, as a series of seemingly unrelated jewel-like stories within a dazzling setting of change and transformation. Recognize that you don’t know where you stand, and you will begin to watch where you put your feet. That’s when the path appears.
Those who just throw their bodies and minds into Buddhism and practice without even thinking of gaining enlightenment can be called unstained practicers. This is what is meant by ‘not stopping where the Buddha is and walking quickly past where the Buddha is not.’
Everything is a teacher. When we talk about the dharma we’re talking about the phenomenal universe, but we’re also talking about the teachings. The word dharma means teaching. But we likely don’t see it as teaching. That takes a certain degree of maturity. For years I studied with my teacher and then he transmitted to me, and I came and started this Monastery. Questions would come up, problems would come up, and I would either go visit with him, do sesshin with him, or call him up and we’d talk. So, even though I was finished with my training, I was still learning from him. Then came a point when he died, and I didn’t have him to turn to anymore. But it didn’t mean the teachings stopped. When a question came up, I would hear Roshi. Or something would appear before me that was a manifestation of Roshi’s teaching. In addition to that, I turned to my own students to help me solve the problems that I would have normally gone to my teacher for. So my students became my teacher, just like all things became my teacher. It continues that way.