Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Burning the Buddha

Americans like to refer to one of the old Zen stories about how a master took a wooden Buddha image, chopped it up, and made a fire, warming himself by its flames. Seeing this, a monk asked, "What are you doing, setting fire to the Buddha?"

The master replied, "Where is Buddha?"

The opposite goes on in America. In America we want to burn the Buddha images to begin with. You see, that monk was stuck on the form. In America, we are antiform, so the pointing goes in another direction. If you're attached to neither existence nor nonexistence, you manifest a sixteen-foot golden Buddha in a pile of rubbish, appearing and disappearing.

John Daido Loori in Essential Zen, edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi & Tensho David Schneider (HarperCollins)

Received as
Daily Dharma from on the 27th of June 2009


And not just in America, also in England and many other places. Perhaps as a rejection of the religion we were brought up with (directly or indirectly) and coming from a cultural situation where religion and it's associated forms
have lost meaning and trust.

Form and formless, internal and external are inseparable. When I saw this, I started shaving on retreat, folding my clothes before sleeping, minding my body as well as my mind. Not everything is always as tidy as it could be but my attention is a little more balanced and not so focussed on the formless at a cost to the form.

Training the Heart

Often we hear the adage, “Follow your heart.” But having practiced and looked at all the things that have arisen in my heart, I’ve seen that while some things were fine and beautiful, many were not so noble. The heart is not only driven by love, kindness, and compassion; it is also driven by desire, greed, and anger. We need to train the heart, not simply follow it.

Joseph Goldstein, from A Heart Full of Peace (Wisdom Publications)

Received as
Daily Dharma from on the 13th of June 2009


In the guise of Bodhisattva Manjusri, Joseph Goldstein slashes directly through so many spiritual niceties. And does so with compassion.

What is the Mind?

You should not consider the mind to be that which reflects upon visual forms, sounds, tastes, and tactile sensations. Many people think that the mind is simply that which reflects upon what is seen and heard and is able to distinguish between good, bad, and so forth. Thus they regard the sixth sense, the intellect, to be the mind. But such views are just delusive thinking. Before seeing, before feeling, and before thinking: what is the mind? This alone is what you have to search for and awaken to.

Kusan Sunim, translated by Martine Batchelor, from The Way of Korean Zen (Weatherhill)

Received as
Daily Dharma from on the 29th of May 2009


When I first read this my mind just stopped and went blank. Re-reading it has the same effect. What is the mind?

A few moments later I realise just how much precious meditation time I spend indulging the intellect! And the same applies outside formal meditation also.

More practice.

How to Make Fewer Mistakes

We all make mistakes from time to time. Life is about learning to make our mistakes less often. To realize this goal, we have a policy in our monastery that monks are allowed to make mistakes. When the monks are not afraid to make mistakes, they don’t make so many.

Ajahn Brahm, from
Opening the Door of Your Heart (Lothian Books)

Received as
Daily Dharma from on the 23rd of March 2009


I post this with gratitude for such a brilliant teaching that applies to all areas of life.

Simple Pleasures: Not So Simple

Sometimes we look to children to provide us with a model of pure attention or complete absorption in the moment, and we fantasize that practice will restore us to a state of lost simplicity or immediacy. When I watch my son eat ice cream, it’s easy to imagine that his whole world is nothing but pure sensuous delight. But if I inadvertently put his ice cream in the wrong-colored dish or don’t give him his favorite spoon or try to make him eat over a place mat, the picture changes. It turns out that his simple pleasure was not so simple after all. That “pure” childhood act is revealed to have many layers of opinion, likes, and dislikes already built into it (by age two!) that are required to make the experience just so.

Barry Magid, from Ordinary Mind (Wisdom Publications)

Received as Daily Dharma from on the 18th of March 2009


This email struck a chord with me and I kept it in my in-box so that I could reflect on it further. I think there is much we can learn from children but Barry Magid makes a very good point. Noticing that we have started fantasizing about some lost state is a clear opportunity to redirect our attention back to the practice, back to our life as it is now.