Thrill Seeking and Profound Ignorance

Monk-250x300 mettaAll of us have seen the interview conducted by admiring journalists after someone has run up to a cliff and jumped off it into the abyss with nothing but a hang glider to hold onto. Or after jumping off that nine hundred feet high bridge in West Virginia on Bridge Day with a bungee cord tied to an ankle. And they say the same thing. “I feel so alive when I leap from the cliff (or jump from the bridge). It’s a thrill I can’t live without.” Then they tell us that we should be like them, that getting thrills is the primary purpose of life.

They don’t know what Buddhists know. Maximum ignorance may be defined as the belief that the objective world is very real and definitely worth exploring intensely through thrilling adventures in it, coupled with the belief that the subjective world is real because it is what experiences the thrills but isn’t worth looking at because all the fun is in the action and excitement, and the subjective self is just the passive beneficiary of all that fun.

Maximum enlightenment (if there is such a thing) is then defined essentially as the opposite, i.e., the belief that the objective world is illusory, coupled with the belief that one’s ultimate subjectivity is also illusory. Thus, both object and subject are empty at maximum enlightenment, i.e., there certainly is no independent self that obtains enlightenment.

Enlightenment is the realization that the objective world and the subjective world are the creation of a deluded self that cuts reality into those two worlds.

So the thrill seekers looking for maximum enjoyment in the objective world by withdrawing from the subjective world share something in common with those looking for maximum enjoyment in the subjective world by withdrawing from the objective world. Both believe that reality is divided into outside and inside.

Enlightenment is to go beyond subject/object (and to go beyond concepts such as going beyond). The nature of reality, the dharmakaya, is indivisible. Until we see that there are no two things we will continue jumping off cliffs and meditating in caves. But the former leads to deeper ignorance, and the latter leads to awakening. The thrill seeker can look for bigger and more frequent thrills and can find them. The meditator can look deeper and deeper for the self and will never find it.

Both begin their search for fulfillment filled with stupidity, believing in the subject/object delusion. One of them gets stupider, the other gets wisdom.

Disney and Darkness

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Walt Disney called Disneyland in California “The Happiest Place on Earth.” Walt Disney World in Orlando uses the same slogan. But having visited WDW scores of times, I can’t help but notice the crying children, the crowds spending their time in long lines to buy food (typically, huge turkey legs, burgers and other food cruel to both the slaughtered animals and the heart attack-to-come people stupidly eating such trash), people standing in line an hour for a sixty second ride, getting a Fast Pass and looking for something else to do until the Fast Pass time arrives, and otherwise demonstrating that visiting the happiest place on earth requires a lot of physical stamina, a lot of money, and a willingness to overlook the absence of happiness in the faces of the visitors.

The happiest place on earth is inside us all and we visit it every time we sit in zazen. There are no meditations cushions, no quiet spots on any Disney property. Or at Universal Studios, Busch Gardens, Six Flags, Coney Island…Such places are designed to satisfy sense desires and of course all they do is create more of such desires. They say come again, come again and come again.

But no theme park will ever deliver the promise of happiness. They take us all in the opposite direction, deeper into the darkness of sense desires. They have even created a class of people who think they are unhappy unless they are at a theme park or some other vacation destination. Millions of people know about theme parks yet are unaware that meditation halls even exist.

The good news is that the people who run these parks are people of good will who really do want to deliver happiness to their customers. So look for meditation rooms to start appearing in theme parks (and other public places) before this decade ends.

Christianity and No Self


The Buddhist doctrine of no self is often misunderstood even by some Buddhists. People with low self esteem are known to embrace it: See, it is a good thing to have no self!

But of course the doctrine does not mean that the self does not exist. It means that the self that does exist is a transient something that never stays the same even for two consecutive moments. Therefore, there is nothing stable enough to point at and say: There it is! We cannot nail Jell-O to a tree and we cannot identify a self. It’s a moving target that can never be hit.

The Buddhist doctrine of no self also means that no independent self can stand apart from the rest of the world. We live in the net constructed by the Hindu goddess Indra where every part of the net is reflected in every other part. We can’t live without plants and plants can’t live without earthworms and earthworms can’t live without soil which is made by plants that have decayed and so on forever.

Nothing stands apart from everything else and that’s how we know that the Christians err when they create a god who stands outside of existence in judgment on it. Nothing lives outside of Indra’s net and the Christian god is a part of everything else just like we are.

The Christian mystic Meister Eckhart, who was god-obsessed, said this of no self:

“Start with yourself therefore and take leave of yourself…Truly, if someone were to renounce a kingdom or the whole world while still holding onto themselves, then they would have renounced nothing at all…”If anyone would follow me, he must first deny himself” (Matt. 16:24). This is the point which counts. Examine yourself, and whenever you find yourself, then take leave of yourself. This is the best way of all.”

Davies, Oliver, Meister Eckhart, Selected Writings, pps. 6-7, Penguin Classics (Boston 1994).

So we conclude that Meister Eckhart’s understanding of no-self is not the Buddhist understanding. Meister Eckhart merely wanted each individual to deny the self in order to accept the selfhood of Jesus. This misses the mark completely, merely re-establishing the abandoned self for the self of another.

We Buddhists don’t abandon our self. We just understand that it is not a static thing and it changes every moment just like the universe does because it is a part of the ever-changing universe which also lacks a self.

And we also understand that what Meister Eckhart called God or Jesus is nothing other than our inherent Buddha nature. It makes no sense at all for us to worship ourselves.

Tweeting, blogging and meditating


The more I tweet, the less I meditate. The more I blog, the less I meditate. I just finished an hour of meditation. Even the idea of communicating thoughts seems ridiculous. Tweets and blogs disrupt the silence, infringe upon the silence, make a mess of the silence. Those who tweet don’t know and those who know don’t tweet. The best tweet is silence and the best blog says nothing.

The First Precept of Buddhism

The first precept of Buddhism, the one that drives many people away from Zen practice because they can’t keep it, is a call for not killing.

It doesn’t say not to kill people. It says not to kill, period. See the Lankavatara Sutra.

Following a precept results in a calm, soothed mind. The average vegetarian is a little less agitated, a little slower to anger than the average meat-eater. And not even slightly supportive of wars of aggression that the meat-eaters wildly applaud.

Those who do not care about animal life also do not care about human life. They think war is cool and that soldiers are admirable people who “serve” us. But they serve no one but the arms merchants, the bankers of the arms merchants, and others who desire the profits that war can generate.

People who eat animals argue that vegetarians also kill carrots, bacteria, etc. and that, therefore, no living being can avoid killing.

True, but there is a difference between killing a sentient being with a central nervous system that can feel pain and killing a carrot that has no central nervous system and that therefore has no means for feeling pain.

Meat-eaters like to say: “You can’t hear the broccoli scream,” as if killing a broccoli plant is the same as killing a cow or a human being. Nice try, but a broccoli plant is not a sentient being.

So the animal killers argue that Buddhism teaches that all things are one, that there are no distinctions between life and death, killing and non-killing, and so on.

They argue that a liberated mind could kill a cow or a human without karmic retribution, by maintaining a pure mind, just like killing an ant as one walks down a sidewalk absorbed in meditation and generating thoughts of goodwill towards all living things.

That is what Japanese Buddhists practiced during the Rape of Nanking (Nanjing). They beheaded people with “the life-giving sword.” They were merely sending the Chinese off to a better world. “We kill them because we love them so much,” said a Japanese commander.

The argument that it is OK to kill people because they are merely being sent to a better world has a major flaw. The same flaw exists in the argument that it is OK to kill animals for food because Buddhists are free of distinctions such as good and bad, right and wrong.

Only an enlightened Buddha has transcended right and wrong. The rest of us have not and therefore we have no license to kill. And no enlightened master chooses to kill people, animals, or insects.

Master Hsing Yun

But the Buddha ate meat! Sure; he was a beggar, a mendicant who ate whatever was placed into his bowl. He would not eat the body of an animal if it had been killed for him; he merely accepted whatever leftovers people gave him.

When we walk into a grocery store, we are not a beggar who has to go to the meat freezer in the back of the store.

Although it is true that a broccoli plant, like all plants, lacks a central nervous system and thus lacks the ability to feel pain (we hope), nothing in the universe, not even an inanimate object, is dead.

The Buddha taught that there are no two things – the life/death dichotomy, the form/emptiness dichotomy, simply doesn’t exist. That is the meaning of the enigmatic Heart Sutra, perhaps the most famous of the Mahayana texts. (The Heart Sutra is chanted daily in almost every Zen monastery, temple, or meditation practice center in the world.)

How could the life/death dichotomy not exist? The Buddha spent forty five years of his life explaining that only suffering arises and only suffering passes away. This thing we call “living” is just a string of thought moments. There is no thinker of the thoughts.

In the early years of World War II, before U.S. involvement, the Japanese bombed many Chinese cities and towns. Master Hsu Yun (Empty Cloud), who lived to be nearly 120, the teacher of master Hsuan Hua, founder of the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association, lived in one of those towns. Witnesses reported that bombs landing near the Master’s house fell silently, like snow flakes. Not a single one exploded. Even a bomb knows when it is in the presence of a Buddha.
Hsu yun
Master Hsu Yun

Years later, after founding The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas near Ukiah, California, Master Hsuan Hua visited a student who neglected to tie up his dog. The dog charged up to the Master, and came abruptly to a stop. He bent his front legs and dropped his head, performing a bow. Even a dog knows when it is in the presence of a Buddha.

When the venerable Dau Sheng spoke the Dharma, dull rocks nodded their heads.

When Zen masters advise us to shun meat and fish eating as a part of our compliance with the first precept, we should at least be as smart as a bomb, a dog, or a dull rock.

Being a vegetarian, or better yet, a vegan, is not just a Buddhist stance. All Jains and many Hindu sects have long been vegetarian. Even Christians are slowly coming around. See the Christian Vegetarian Association.

Delightful it is to see that some Christians understand that “dominion” implies “stewardship,” and is not a green light to kill.

Buddha Name Recitation

Chin kung
Master Chin Kung and the Archbishop of Brisbane

The Buddha spoke repeatedly of the Pure Abodes in the Pali Canon and taught that the sentient beings of the Pure Abodes were safely beyond the reach of the desire realm, never again to be reborn as a hell-dweller, a hungry ghost, an animal, a god of strife, a human, or an unenlightened god.

The Mahayana practice is to  recite the name of Amitabha Buddha, the Buddha of infinite light and life. We don’t count the number of recitations.

Buddha Name Recitation niemphat 1

Buddha Name Recitation in Viet Nam

Pure Land practitioners teach that Buddha Name Recitation is the only practice one needs to ensure re-birth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss, i.e., the Pure Land. They recommend recitation practice for people who have trouble with meditation.

With daily Buddha Name Recitation, we assure rebirth in The Pure Land, never again to descend into the lower six realms.

We are not reciting the name of Amitabha Buddha. Amitabha Buddha is reciting Amitabha Buddha.

The sixth fold of the eightfold path is right effort. The Buddha divided right effort into four efforts: 1) Nipping evil/unwholesome thoughts in the bud as they begin to arise; 2) Abandoning evil thoughts that have arisen; 3) Planting wholesome thoughts if our thoughts are neutral; and 4) Nurturing wholesome thoughts that have already arisen.

Buddha Name Recitation practice is an ideal way to practice the four right efforts.

1) Whenever we notice our thoughts taking a negative turn, we recite the name of Amitabha Buddha.

2) If we fail to notice that moment and are already awash in negative thoughts, we drop them by reciting the name of Amitabha Buddha.

3) If we notice that our thoughts are neutral, we recite the name of Amitabha Buddha.

4) If we notice that our thoughts are wholesome, we maintain those wholesome thoughts by reciting the name of Amitaba Buddha.

Amitabha Buddha is not an “other.” We are reciting our own name, remembering who we are.

With whole-hearted and unbroken daily practice of Buddha Name Recitation, we leave the realm of the unenlightened gods and thus leave the six worlds referred to in Master Hakuin’s chant, i.e., the tenth, ninth, eighth, seventh, sixth, and fifth dharma realms, the realms of desire.

The four upper dharma realms are the heavenly dharma realms. The sentient beings in the heavenly dharma realms can never fall back into the six worlds, the bottom six realms.

I once attended a Buddhist Summer Camp in Orlando and after a monk-delivered talk on Buddha Name Recitation, a member of the audience said her practice was to chant One, One, One. She asked the monk if that was a good practice and he said:

“You can chant something that you have developed for your personal use, but you will be chanting alone.”

Buddhism is flourishing in the Republic of China (Taiwan) as well as in the People’s Republic of China (the mainland) so if we chant the Mandarin Namo Amituo Fo, we will not be chanting alone.

Very few people chant Namo Amitabha Buddha, the Sanskrit version, but millions chant Namo Amituo Fo.

The fourth dharma realm, that of the Pure Land or the Pure Abodes, is the lowest of the four heavenly realms, but the step from the fifth to the fourth dharma realm is the second biggest step of all because it is the step from the six worlds to the heavenly realms, it is the step of no return. Buddha Name Recitation helps us make that leap.

Moreover, making the effort, every day, to practice Buddha Name Recitation as much as possible by following the four right efforts, samma vayama, helps us to develop the sixth fold of the eightfold path. Whenever we catch ourselves daydreaming or singing a catchy pop tune in our head, we switch to singing Namo Amituo Fo instead. If we are stuck in traffic, we know what to do instead of getting peeved.

Turning to Buddha Name Recitation whenever we can remember to do so gradually clears out the mental cobwebs created by the onslaught of pop culture.

If we practice with diligence, every day, we learn that the dharma realms are real. The Pure Abodes is not a fantasy land.

Amitabha Buddha (Amida Butsu in Japanese)
 The Pure Land or the Pure Abodes is the Pure Lotus Land to which Master Hakuin refers in his Chant in Praise of Zazen.

The Pure Land sect, like Zen, is a Mahayana  sect and therefore is practiced primarily in the Mahayana countries of China, Japan,  Korea,  and most of Viet Nam.

The Buddha mentioned the Pure Land when he discussed the four levels of enlightenment in the Pali canon: the stream winner, the once-returner, the nonreturner and the fully enlightened one.

Venerable Ajahn Brahm in Mindfulness, Bliss and Beyond cites the commentary on the Anguttara Nikaya for his observation that:

“Nonreturners have advanced even further to completely eliminate all desire within the world of the five senses and ill will. Should they not win full enlightenment at the time of their death, then they will arise in the pure abodes (suddhavasa) to attain full enlightenment there. They are never again reborn in the human world.”

This passage from the Pali canon, and many other passages that refer to “the pure abodes” did not inspire the Theravada school to speculate at length about the pure abodes where one may practice until full enlightenment, samyak sambodhi, is attained wihout fear of falling back into the six worlds.

But the Buddha’s multiple references to the Pure Abodes inspired great interest in the Mahayana school.

Since there is nothing outside us, we make our own world. We take ourselves to the hell worlds, the heavenly realms, the human dharma realm, the animal realm, and so on. As practitioners, we might as well take ourselves to the pure abodes, the Pure Land, the Land of Ultimate Bliss.

The Pure Land is described in the Mahayana sutras as a place that sounds to westerners like the Christian heaven. However, instead of sitting around singing hosannas to the King as in the Christian heaven, the beings in the Land of Ultimate Bliss are cultivating Buddhahood.

Unlike the earth, where cultivation is not always easy, practicing zazen and other forms of cultivation is said to be easy in the Pure Land where everyone is a cultivator.


The Pure Land

Pure Land practice requires Faith, Vows, and Practice. The following vow to be reborn in the “Western Pure Land” is  recited at the end of a practice period:

“I wish to be reborn in the Western Pure Land, with the nine grades of lotus blossoms as my parents. When the lotuses are in full bloom, I shall see Buddha Amitabha and be enlightened to the Absolute Truth, with non-retrogressing Bodhisattvas as my companions.”

Such a recital strikes us Westerners as bizarre but with repetition it becomes beautiful.

By the way, the term “western” does not refer to the western hemisphere which was of course unknown to easterners when the Pure Land School developed, long before 1492.

Here is my non-scholarly theory of why they called the Pure Land the Western Paradise:

It is known that the ancient Chinese preferred to build their homes facing the south to derive maximum  benefit from the sun. Facing south, they knew that the Pacific was to their left and straight ahead so they assumed the Pure Land was to their right. And the west is to the right when facing south.

That’s my theory, but like the lady chanting “One,” I probably hold it alone.

The real reason is that the sun sets in the West, and the setting sun represents the end of sense desire or the cessation of ignorance. Thus the sun goes to the Western Paradise each night.

The  practice or reciting the name of Amitabha Buddha is reminiscent of the Biblical injunction to “pray without ceasing.” The practice is usually called Buddha Name Recitation or simply Buddha Recitation. English speakers are sometimes encouraged to chant in Sanskrit: “Namo Amitabha Buddha.” The term “namo” looks like the forerunner of the English work “name” but scholars translate it as “praise.”

Amitabha Buddha is not Shakyamuni Buddha, the historical Buddha who announced the Four Noble Truths and taught The Anapanasati Sutta. According to the Mahayana sutras, Amitabha Buddha is a prehistoric Buddha, a Buddha of times that were ancient even during the lifetime of the historical Buddha. Amitabha Buddha vowed to help all sentient beings to awaken if they would but call upon his name.

In Japanese, the Buddha Name Recitation is “Namu Amida Butsu.”

Chinese Buddhists (and others influenced by Buddhism as developed in China) routinely greet and say goodbye to one another with hands palm-to-palm and the words “Amituo Fo.” (“Fo” is Mandarin for the Buddha).

So “Amituo Fo” is used among Chinese Buddhists in the same way as is “Aloha” in Hawaii. A good translation of “Aloha” is: “May you be well, happy, calm and peaceful.”

Worldwide, practitioners of The Pure Land school outnumber Zen practitioners. Some observers conclude that The Pure Land  School is for the masses and Zen is for the elite. Au contraire!

Such observations are made by those who recite the Hsin Hsin Ming and still cling to their opinions.

Some Zen writers have said that the Pure  Land school violates the basic principle of Buddhism that there are no two  things and that we will never find the Buddha outside ourselves. (“If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!” means that if you think the Buddha is outside yourself, kill that notion).

Accordingly, some Zen scholars equate Pure Land practice with Christian practice: Calling on a Savior to come and save us is reliance on an “other” whereas Zen teaches self-reliance because there is no other.

In Japan, the practice of Zen is characterized as “jiriki,” meaning “self power,” and the practice of Pure Land is characterized as “tariki,” meaning “other power.” Suffice it to say that even those who think they are reciting the name of someone other than themselves will eventually learn that they have been reciting their own name.

Even though Pure Land practitioners outnumber Zen practitioners, there  are still very few serious Pure   Land practitioners.

A Pure Land practitioner is not really calling  upon an “other” for help. Amitabha Buddha is our true Buddha nature; when we  practice Pure Land chanting, we are reciting our true name, remembering our beginningless beginning. It was we who  vowed to save all sentient beings. When we chant the name of Amitabha Buddha or Amituo Fo, we are merely calling ourselves to  ourselves, remembering our ancient vow. There is no “other” and there is no “out there.”

When we recite the name of the Buddha, the Buddha is reciting the name of the Buddha.

Ch’an Master Hsuan Hua encourages Pure Land practice because it does not conflict with Zen practice in any way. He often assigned to students the koan: Who is reciting the name of the Buddha?

As our Buddha Name Recitation practice matures, we begin to remember who we are.

Speak one sentence less of chatter;

Recite once more the Buddha’s name.

Recite until your false thoughts die,

And your Dharma body will come to life.


The Great Buddha of Kamakura

Cursing like a Christian

Judy Dai Shin Harmon and Bonnie Bussho Hobbs

I had a politically liberal friend, recently passed away, who said Jesus God! many times per day. Did you here what Rush Limbaugh said today? he would ask. Jesus God! What does that man use for brains?

The Yankees beat the Rays 10-0 last night. Jesus God!

And so on. He was proud of his atheism and I would remind him that he cursed like a Christian. Expressions like Jesus God, or damn or dammit or hell or to hell with that or goddammit, all that stuff doesn’t bother most people but it does give credence to the Christian outlook.

I have always been offended by people who support wars of aggression, who think nothing of killing animals for food and for “sport,” who applaud executions, who call black or gay people names, who want all Mexicans deported from the country that was taken from them by murderous force, but who bristle if someone “takes the name of the Lord in vain.” Such superficial, obnoxious Christian morality always makes me think of throwing up.

For that reason, I was happy for many years to take the name of their lord in vain whenever I felt like it, out of sheer disrespect for self-righteous Christians.

But it slowly dawned on me that I was playing their game. 

One way to root out Christianity and the horrors it now stands for (I’m not a big fan of abortions – no one is – but the Christians who applaud the murder of abortion doctors are monsters) is to stop using its words. As Buddhists, we can remove Christian curse words from our vocabulary as an exercise in Right Speech.

I don’t know any Buddhist curse words, so dropping the Christian ones is a step in the direction of Right Speech and provides much-wanted space between me and the Christians who invented such cursing.

One of Zen Master Thick Naht Hahn’s affirmations (not to be confused with Stuart Smalley’s) concludes with “…and when my mouth is fragrant with Right Speech, a flower blooms in the garden of my heart.”  When we curse like a Christian, our mouths stink of Wrong Speech and mean thoughts grow in the darkness of superstition. 





The Four Stages of Enlightenment


The Buddha identified the four stages of enlightenment: Stream Entry (sotapanna), the Once Returner (sakadagamin), the Non-Returner (anagamin), and Buddhahood.

The Buddha taught that Stream Entry is attained when the first three of the ten fetters are overcome (the belief in an independent self -sakkaya ditthi-, doubt, and belief that chanting, rites and rituals alone could lead to Nirvana).

Modern people can easily agree that chanting, rites and rituals alone cannot lead to enlightenment.

We also find it easy to overcome doubt in the Buddhadharma; practice rather quickly removes such doubt. Sakkaya ditthi is the biggest hurdle for most of us.

A once-returner is one who has cut the first three of the ten fetters (thus attaining stream entry) and loosened the fetters of sense-desire (greed, lust, aversion), and ill will. Notice that these two powerful fetters need only be loosened to graduate from stream entry (sotapanna) to once-returner (sakadagamin) status!

We loosen the fetter of sense desire with Present Moment Awareness and Silent Present Moment Awareness. We loosen the fetter of ill will by practicing metta.

Our Beginning Zen practices are important.

A non-returner (anagamin) has cut the five fetters of belief in a self, doubt, belief that chanting, rites and rituals alone can lead to awakening, sense desire, and ill will.

Our daily practice of metta/loving kindness reduces our ill will. Our daily practice of Present Moment Awareness, and Silent Present Moment Awareness reduces our sense desire and our daily Mindfulness of the Body, the Feelings, the Mind and Mind Objects eliminates our sense desire.

The path that leads from ignorance to Stream Entry is the Eightfold Path and the path that leads from Stream Entry to the Once-Returner and to the Non-Returner is the Noble Eightfold Path according to Venerable Ajahn Brahm, because now it is a noble one who is following it.

And full enlightenment requires dropping the desire to experience the world of form, attained through the jhanas (fetter number six), and the world of formlessness, attained through the immaterial attainments (fetter number seven). And then conceit (fetter number eight), restlessness (fetter number nine), and ignorance (fetter number ten) must still be overcome.

When we drop all of the fetters, we discover that we created the fetters.

And we discover that we created the notion of a self that needed to drop fetters.

Phooey on Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction


Buddhism is not involved in a rivalry with any religion. It is a religion, as Roshi Philip Kapleau explained, only to the extent that we have to have faith that the practices lead to increasing wholesomeness.

That’s almost like saying doing push-ups is a religion. We have to have faith that our muscles will develop if we do the work. But no increased wholesomeness awaits those who persist in their push-up practice.

The Buddha also said that speculation was a waste of time.

Buddhism is a practice that develops mindfulness and results in liberation from the wheel of birth, death, and rebirth. Heavy stuff, but we really can’t ignore that aspect of Buddhism.

Some entrepreneurs travel the world, promoting Buddhism as a means for stress reduction, anger management, and other cool results. They make money holding seminars, selling a product.

But the Buddhism they preach is far from authentic Buddhism. People can practice yoga for stress reduction and anger management; they can take long walks in the sun to treat depression or excessive worry.

But the practice of Buddhism reaches places untouched by the mundane world. To demote it to just another stress or anger management program is a ludicrous waste of its teachings.

Buddhism is practiced by ordinary people of all religions and all cultures. People who lack faith in their religion or philosophy may fear it, but those who don’t do not.

Buddhism has no supreme God that sits in judgment on human beings.

Therefore, Buddhism has no sacred texts that are the word of a supreme God.

Buddhism recognizes that the Great Chain of Being does not end with us humans, i.e., the human dharma realm is not the highest dharma realm (it’s the fifth of ten according to the Mahayana school and fifth of thirty one according to the Theravada school!)

Buddhism has no gurus, no one to worship, no quarrel with science and nothing to fear from past or future scientific developments.

Buddhism respects the great teacher who was known as The Buddha, The Enlightened One, but does not worship him.

As we progress through the howtopracticezen course, we’ll understand what happened when Moses went up to the top of Mt. Sinai and conversed with a bush that was burning but not consumed by fire.

Every visitor to that website who practices the ten steps of that course with diligence will climb that same mountain and have the same conversation with the same burning bush.

A year from now, we won’t be the same person we are now. Of course, that will happen whether we take the howtopracticezen course or not! But the change will be for the better even if we just practice the first three steps of Beginning Zen and never get to koan practice.

If you’re a Catholic, a Protestant, a Mormon, a Jew, a Scientologist, an atheist, an agnostic, a contrarian, a Hindu, a Jain, a hater of all religions, or whatever, we invite you to take the course and develop the super power mindfulness taught by the Buddha.

But phooey on using Buddhism to become a better artist, a better athlete, or whatever.

To those who tour the world, selling mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) seminars, reducing Buddhism to just another self-help program, we offer three cheers, in Chinese:

Phooey! Phooey! Phooey!

OK, so phooey is not really a Chinese word, but it ought to be. And I like the joke.

Actually, I have met only one teacher of MBSR and he is a great guy who is very sincere and doing a lot of good work (far more work in the field of Buddhism than I have ever done). So I hereby acknowledge that the above Chinese version of the hip-hip-hooray cheer doesn’t apply to all MBSR teachers.

And in penance I offer this link to his website.

But we practice Buddhism for one reason only: To wake up for the benefit of all sentient beings, not to attain the personal, sakkaya ditthi side effects of lower blood pressure and all that mundane stuff the MBSR programs offer.

Tranquil Wisdom Meditation and Mindfulness of Mind Objects

Ajahn Sumedo
Venerable Ajahn Sumedo

The Mahayana school of Buddhism recognizes but ten dharma realms whereas the Theravada school recognizes thirty one: The eleven sense-sphere or desire realms and the sixteen form or fine material realms. That makes a total of twenty seven dharma realms. Thus we know there are four more.

These final four dharma realms are in the immaterial realm and are  the “objective counterparts” of the four immaterial attainments. These four highest realms are named accordingly:

The realm of infinite space (4);

The realm of infinite consciousness (3);

The realm of nothingness (2); and

The realm of neither-perception-nor-non-perception (1).

Again, unlike the Mahayana school, Nirvana/Nibbana is not counted as the first dharma realm in the Theravada school; it is not a dharma realm under the teachings of  the Buddha as recorded in the Pali Canon.

Thus we see that development of the four jhanas leads to  rebirth in the fine-material realm whereas development of the four immaterial  attainments leads to rebirth in the immaterial realm. And that development of all four jhanas and all four immaterial attainments falls short of Nibbana.

The Buddha said that the final four steps of Tranquil Wisdom meditation, i.e., steps thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen, are the stages of contemplating infinite space, infinite consciousness, nothingness, and neither perception nor nonperception, respectively. These final four steps, he said, also constitute the practice of the fourth foundation of mindfulness, i.e., mindfulness of mind objects.

However, the steps of experiencing infinite space, infinite consciousness, nothingness, and neither perception nor nonperception are supplied to The Anapanasati Sutta by another sutta, i.e., The Anupada Sutta. Scholars of the Pali Canon have made the connection between the two suttas.

The Buddha in The Anapanasati Sutta used the words “impermanence, fading away, cessation, and relinquishment” as the objects of contemplation of the four final steps. However, in The Anupada Sutta, he used the terms “infinite space, infinite consciousness, nothingness and neither perception nor nonperception” so those terms are typically used in commentaries on The Anapanasati Sutta.

There is no direct one-to-one correspondence between the terms “impermanence, fading away, cessation, and relinquishment” as used in The Anapanasati Sutta and the corresponding terms “infinite space, infinite consciousness, nothingness and neither perception nor nonperception” as used in The Anupada Sutta.

Venerable U. Vimalaramsi explains that “impermanence” includes both “infinite space” and “infinite consciousness.” The term “fading away” includes “nothingness.” The term “cessation” includes “neither perception nor nonperception.” The term “relinquishment” thus includes the cessation of all thoughts and feelings, Nirvana.

Venerable U. Vimalaramsi thus teaches that the final four steps  correspond to the four immaterial attainments and Nirvana and Venerable Ajahn Brahm says that the four final steps are not the four immaterial attainments because the four immaterial attainments are experienced after the four jhanas in step twelve of the sixteen steps of Tranquil Wisdom meditation.

He concludes that the final four steps are for contemplation with super power mindfulness after the meditator has emerged from the four jhanas and the four immaterial attainments.

These two understandings of the teachings of the Buddha can be reconciled from a Zen Sect perspective. The Buddha used words to point at the moon and it is easy to fall into the quagmire of words and to miss the moon.

It  doesn’t matter if all four jhanas and all four immaterial attainments arrive at step twelve of the sixteen step meditation as taught by Venerable Ahajn Brahm, or if they are spread out (the first jhana of joy arising at step five, the second jhana of serene happiness arising at step six, the third jhana of tranquility arising at step seven, the fourth jhana of equanimity arising at step eight, and the four immaterial attainments arising at steps thirteen through sixteen) as taught by Venerable. U. Vimalaramsi.

It doesn’t matter because one teacher reports his experiences and another teacher reports his and we will never find the Buddha outside ourselves.

No doubt there are other teachers with still further explanations of the Buddha’s sermon as recorded in The Anapanasati Sutta. All we can do is to follow the steps as best we can, and forget about ambiguities caused by words. We can study both teachers, digest their words, and aim for the moon that both of them, as well as the Buddha, want us to see.

Obviously, practice of this sixteen step meditation requires “diligent, ardent and resolute” practice, as the Buddha so often says in the suttas/sutras.

The Buddha’s words were open to interpretation and he probably wanted it to be that way, understanding that no two people would practice the sixteen steps in the same way and have the same experience at each of the steps.

It’s easy to see how Venerable U. Vimalaramsi could teach that the joy and serenity of steps five and six could be the first and second jhanas, respectively, and how Venerable Ajahn Brahm could teach that the joy and serenity of those two steps are merely harbingers of the real joy and serenity that arrive at step twelve. (The Buddha called the twelfth step “liberating the mind”).

It’s just as easy to see how Venerable U. Vimalaramsi could teach that the tranquility and equanimity of steps seven and eight could be the third and fourth jhanas, respectively, and how Venerable Ajahn Brahm could teach that the tranquility and equanimity of those two steps are merely precursers of the real tranquility and equanimity that arrive at step twelve.

The Buddha did not specify which of the sixteen steps  represented attainment of a jhana or an immaterial attainment, so both teachers  can present convincing arguments.

Our practice is to follow the sixteen steps and to investigate our own experience as to whether or not we attained the jhanas and immaterial attainments.