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Posts from the ‘Contemplative care’ Category

28
Sep

Meditation Facilitator Training

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13
Mar

Chod, internal wastelands and the Gowanus Canal

At the end of my post on performing Chod at Greenwood Cemetery (which you can read here), I wondered about doing Chod at the Gowanus Canal; the recently designated superfund site that divides Carrol Gardens from Park Slope in Brooklyn.  This toxic body of water is an artery of death and decay that is both close to my home as well as my heart.  As a legendary repository of dead bodies (the detritus of organized crime), flood waste from higher elevations in Brooklyn, and just about every kind of heavy manufacture imaginable, the Gowanus canal seems a ghost-like symbol of where we put things that we want to forget.

Before I packed my bags with the things needed for the practice, I spent some time contemplating the Gowanus as a symbol.  It is a body of water, a canal specifically, connected to the larger harbor by Buttermilk channel.  The water in the canal stagnates as a result of a broken ventilating pump system at the far end of the canal.  It is a remnant of the larger heavy industry that once existed in this part of Brooklyn and received all of the shipments of brownstone from up the Hudson that made most of Park Slope’s beautiful brownstones.  The canal also became a dumping-ground; it is not uncommon to find all manner of  things floating in the water that at times resembles muddy anti-freeze.  It is a miraculous canal as well, several summers ago I came to notice that dozens of red jelly fish made the canal their home.

As I began the sadhana (ritual text) I felt that I wanted to offer myself to the inner-demon who most represents the Gowanus Canal.  In fact, I specifically tried to make this session an offering to the local gods associated with this area.  I imagine that the god-demon of this particular place is one of the lords of places that are ignored; places where we leave, or even dump things that we no longer want, places of stagnation, where oxygen is literally consumed by the waste that we store; of things unwanted yet unable to be fully let go of, a ghostly world of secrets.  For me, the god-demon of the Gowanus Canal is the lord of inner-wastelands.


The wonderful thing about Chod is the way in which we can access, face, and pacify all of our internal demons.  It is very powerful, if that is, you choose to try to really look for these painful and frightening demons.  It is also possible to do the practice while not particularly looking that hard; and then while you may make nice sounds with your bell and damaru, not much else happens.

The term “demon” is mostly taken to represent an internal neurosis or emotional focal point that distracts and provides an ability to obsess in a way that makes direct experience of the mind very difficult.  These demons, while self-creations, can feel so real that they tend to paralyze and create huge amounts of suffering, indeed they can be considered the agents of samsara.  They exert great power upon us in the form of fear, jealousy, hatred, pride, and in this case, secret internal toxicity.

Machik Lobdron, the female 12th century Tibetan founder of the Chod lineage, created a practice based in prajnaparamita literature as well as within tantric Buddhism.  Part of this practice involves offering a mandala offering of one’s body:

The trunk and head serve as Mt. Meru in the center, the four limbs serve as the four continents, the sun and moon are the right and left eyes, the ground is our freshly flayed skin, and the fingers and toes are arranged as a great mighty chain of iron mountains that encircle the whole mandala.

The more realistic the visualization the better- we are after all butchering this prized body of ours, ornamented with the pearls of ego fixation, self-nature, and pride.  But after the reluctance, and after the discomfort, what is there?  What remains?  In offering freely to the assembly of god-demons who terrify us most so that they may benefit, so that they may turn their minds to the dharma and become buddhas in their own right there is a chance to experience our original nature.  This is a way of experiencing prajnaparamita.

So how do we touch the inner demon of stagnation?  Where is the place within ourselves where we dump things that we don’t want, the place that holds our secrets, our inner wasteland?  This place exists. It is in all of us.  Like a black pearl made from an initial irritant that has  grown many protective layers meant to distract and soothe the oyster that is it’s container.  How can we bring this to light?  These fears are in reality great strengths- they are pearls…

So here I found myself, in a modern charnel ground surrounded by  condom wrappers, dead rats, crushed beer cans, and other things left behind.  While at first glance it may appear different from the charnel grounds of old, where bodies were burnt or left to decay, places frequented by wild animals, a place that elicits fear, but upon looking a little closer, this place is no different.  It is a place where illicit things are done, where illicit things have been done- it is a dangerous place.  It is a place of fear.  The canal is off the radar.  Once a place of great beauty it is now easily overlooked, as if we don’t want to have any personal relationship with it.

Perhaps the Gowanas Canal is one of the eight great charnel grounds of India reflected in our daily lives here.  In the New York area I am certain that it is.  In my post on sacred geography (here is a link), I mentioned the historical importance of internal and external geography as it relates to the practice of Buddhist tantra.  It seems that the Gowanus Canal occupies a place internally that can offer real growth and healing.  What does it feel like to make an offering to, and thereby appreciate the parts of us that we have very willingly forgotten, the parts of us that are stagnant?

As I performed the chod sadhana, made sang offerings (smoke offerings) to the beings that live in the canal and all the beings that the canal represents, and while I hung prayer flags, I found myself recalling all that I have tried to hide, the parts of me that lay stagnant internal dumping grounds; my own inner pollution.  I also recalled patients who I have met as a chaplain for whom these dynamics were in play, and prayed that we could all, every sentient being, bring honor and offerings to the inner demon that presides over this type of activity.  May they be satisfied.  May this offering pacify these demons.  There is a line at the end of the sadhana which speaks to chaplaining these demons:

The roots of virtue from this practice of freely offering my body, the roots from caring for god-demons with my bodhicitta, and further however many roots of virtue that have been accumulated throughout the three times-all of this I dedicate for the benefit of living beings in the three realms, malevolent god-demons, and others.

With this kind of caring in mind, our own inner chaplaincy, may we know our inner demons and plant the seeds of buddhahood in our own inner wastelands so that they become purelands!

May any merit from this blog post be dedicated to all beings, especially those who are suffering in Japan after the recent earthquake and tsunami.

Gewo.

3
Feb

ordinary everyday teachers


The other day I posted about the importance of the spiritual teacher in a general kind of way.  The three texts that I drew from, by the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, Milarepa, and Gampopa respectively, all highlight different approaches to how we benefit from out teachers.  These are our ‘ecstatic’ or extraordinary teachers.  What I would like to focus on today are the ordinary teachers, our everyday teachers.

Recently I met a patient in the hospital where I’m doing my clinical chaplaincy training.   He had undergone extensive surgery several months ago to remove cancerous tissue that was spreading throughout his abdomen.  He had also received radiation to help destroy any last bit of the cancer.  He was young, only forty years old, and had only recently had the chance to experience life outside of the hospital.  His cancer had gone into remission, he went home for the holidays and spent them with friends and family.  All of the sudden, quite recently, he had begun to feel pain in his abdomen and went to his doctor to have it checked out.  His doctor suggested that he come into the hospital for some tests.  This is where I met him.  He was laying in bed, his mother sitting by his side expectantly.  As we started talking he described all of the tests that had just been done on a variety of his organs all of which presented the possibility of cancer.  He was thin and animated despite being hooked up to a morphine drip to control his pain.  As our conversation continued he started to cry and describe how angry he was with god about his present situation.   As we spoke I asked him how not knowing, how the uncertainty of his present situation made him feel, and this lead to his anger with god or whatever force put him in his present situation.  I asked him if he could share with me all the ways in which he was pissed off, to which he offered a lengthy, articulate and powerful list of feelings that lead to his anger.  One of the feelings that he described involved his relative youth and what the reason for his being on earth actually was.  He was afraid that he would never truly help others, that his desire to be a positive force for change in the world would be cut short by his illness.  I was struck by his openness and the kindness with which he shared his fears, his pains, and also his joys, his hopes as well as his dreams.  I felt so included by him in his life and in his story that I told him that I found him to be a graceful, compassionate and caring teacher- someone who I will never forget, who has touched me with gentle simplicity.  I also mentioned that his mother may feel similarly, at which she started to cry as she said, “Yes, yes, he is wonderful.”

This patient has become a profound teacher for me.  Part of his impact may have come from his circumstances, his illness and vulnerability, as well as his clarity and honesty with which he could share his feelings with me; but I tend to feel that we connected.  His heart was open towards me, and mine towards him: we entered into relationship.  It was meaningful for both of us.  Towards the end of our meeting we seemed connected and full, we gave to, and supported one another.

There are an estimated 6,897,395,150 people on Earth, and the person who I just described above is just one of them.  How amazing it is that we feel transformed in connecting with just one person, and yet there are so many others that we don’t or can’t open up to.  I find this very humbling.  Perhaps this is what an open heart truly is.

I am reminded of a portion of a text on mahamudra that was composed by Kyabje Bokar Rinpoche; it was his distillation of a much larger text by the ninth Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje,  entitled the Ocean of Certainty.  In his text (Opening the Door to Certainty) Bokar Rinpoche describes the different types of lamas, or teachers.  These are, the lama as a human being belonging to a lineage, the lama as awakened word, the lama as appearance, and the lama as ultimate nature.  The lama of appearance is described as appearance as teacher; that all that we see, hear, touch taste, and smell, all of our thoughts are all our teachers.  How do we react to them?  What do they cause to arise in us?  There is a beautiful simplicity in appearance as teacher; it is loose and freeing; it allows us to go out and interact with the world around us; it allows us to enter into relationship with everything around us.  This is wonderfully special.  We are constantly surrounded by countless ordinary, everyday teachers, all of whom offer us the possibility of connection and growth.

2
Jan

Sacred geography: external, internal and in-between

As part of my CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) training with the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care we have been exploring aspects of Jungian psychology especially as it relates to symbols and images.  We recently finished a great week of classroom experience which included a conversation with Morgan Stebbins, the Director of Training of the Jungian Psychoanalytic Association, a faculty member of the C.G. Jung Foundation of New York, and a long time student of Buddhism.  Stebbins’ presentation on Symbol and Image was dynamic and quite moving- he embodies a depth and conviction that I find compelling.  In addition to this, Stebbin’s visit to our class came at a point when I’ve been playing around with writing a blog post about sacred geography. Very timely indeed.

“What does sacred geography have to do with me?” one might ask.  I would answer, “Everything”.

Within the framework of Buddhism geography and therefore pilgrimage, has come to be something of an important phenomena.  Certainly this is not anything unique to Buddhism; we have a tendency to want to return to places that are significant for us.  Sometimes there is spiritual significance, sometimes it is societal, and most often it is interpersonal.  An example of these would be making the Hajj if you were Muslim, perhaps visiting Washington D.C., or taking your children there so that they could appreciate the way that our nation governs itself, and perhaps the place where one’s parents were born, or where they died.  Geography allows us to honor the meaning that we value in our lives.  We live within time and space, and within the latitude and longitude that time and space afford us, we intentionally (and even unintentionally) plot the course of our lives and identities within their dynamics. How many times has a particular season or even date reminded us of an event that occurred in the past around the same time?  My root teacher passed away on Christmas eve over a decade ago, and I am always reminded of that great loss whenever Christmas approaches.  On the other hand, the Fall months feel like a time of rich growth for me- they always have, and for some reason these months continue to prove to be significant for me.  These are two examples of how I plot meaning within my experience of time.

In most faiths pilgrimage has become something that one engages to touch the past; it is a means to feel the link of those who have come before us and charge the present moment with their power.  It can be the Wailing Wall, St. Peters, the Kabba, Bodh Gaya, a sacred mountain, river, the ocean, a tree and it can also be imagined- something symbolic, a living pulsating image such as a mandala.

According to the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, the Buddha predicted that students of the path would visit the place of his birth, his enlightenment, where he first taught, and where he would die.  He stressed that this may be something that one does if they want to, if it brings meaning, inspiration, and context to their path.  It was a suggestion, not a directive, and ultimately a very insightful reading of how we relate to time and space.

Within Vajrayana, or tantric Buddhism, pilgrimage appears in a more visionary manner.  In addition to the four major sites associated with the Buddha’s life, various pithas, or ‘seats’ (places of power and meaning associated with the dissemination of Buddhist tantra) became included into various lists of sacred places.  For example, there are twenty-four pithas throughout the Indian sub-continent that are associated with the places where the Buddha revealed himself as Chakrasamvara and taught the cycle of Chakrasamvara and related practices.  The pithas, while relating to actual places, also correspond to places within our bodies that have an internal energetic significance.  The exact location of these pithas vary from tradition to tradition, but there is a relative constancy of the mirroring of external and internal meaning in relation to these sites.  In some ways, and according to some teachers, pilgrimage can be done without ever leaving where you are as all of the major pithas exist within the matrix of our energetic body.  This approach is touched upon by the Buddhist Mahasiddha Saraha who in once sang:

This is the River Yamuna,

This is the River Ganga,

Varanasi and Prayaga,

This is the moon and the sun.

Some speak of realization having traveled and seen all lands,

The major and minor places of pilgrimage.

Yet even in dreams I have no vision [of these].

There is no other boundary region like the body;

I, virtuous, have seen this for good and with certainty.

Stay in the mountain hermitage and practice self-restraint.[i]

 

This could be considered the more essentialist approach to pilgrimage and sacred geography; wherever we are, we are sitting on the vajrasana under the Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya.  I feel that this is a great place to be.  This approach is excellent.  However it can be important to recognize that we are constantly changing, and that there will sometimes be times when we don’t feel connected in that essentailist kind of way.  What then?  Well, then there is the benefit of pilgrimage.  One could go to a place of significance to try to touch upon the inspiration that such places offer us.  But perhaps, they may not have to be in India…

In his book Sacred Ground, Ngawang Zangpo has addressed in a very detailed manner the thoughts of Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye on the importance of sacred geography.  Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye lived in Tibet from 1813 to 1899.  He was a famous meditation master of the Kagyu, the Nyingma and Sakya Lineages.  Through his wide and open attitude Kongtrul helped define and spread the Rime, or non-sectarian view of the dharma, in response to a general atmosphere of sectarianism amongst all schools of Buddhism in Tibet at the time.  He was a compiler of termas (revealed treasure teachings) and was a terton (treasure discoverer) in his own right.  A real renaissance man, Kongtrul not only helped shape and preserve the Kagyu lineage, but all forms of Dharma in Tibet.

Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye identified a variety of places in Tibet as reflections of the twenty-four pithas in India.  This change in perspective had the effect of being quite dynamic in that it placed Tibetans directly in the center of their own world of sacred geography.  Of course some brave souls still made the journey to the twenty-four pithas in India, but many visited the sites that Kongtrul and his dharma friends Chokgyur Dechen Lingpa and Jamyang Kheyntse Wongpo felt were equivalent.  For some, this type of translation/re-orientation was too much; indeed the great Sakya patriarch Sakya Pandita took issue with the possibility that several pithas could be located in Tibet.

Sacred Ground is an excellent book for exploring the thoughts and teachings of Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye on the subject of pilgrimage and inner spiritual geography.  Ngawang Zangpo translates Kongtrul Rinpoche’s Pilgrimage Guide to Tsadra Rinchen Drak [or Pilgrimage Guide to Jewel Cliff that resembles Charitra (the union of everything)]- an amazing text that treats in great depth the nature of that particular pilgrimage location as well as it’s inner and secret significances as it relates to various energetic centers found throughout the body.  Zangpo includes a chart listing the manner in which the pithas correspond to the body according to the Chakrasamvara tantra, an appendix that includes three fascinating texts one by Kongtrul and Khyentse Wongpo, one by Chokgyur Lingpa, and a compiled list of sacred sites in Tibet by Ngawang Zangpo.  Of particular interest is a reference to a note found in Mattheiu Ricard’s translation of The Life of Shabkar:

It must be remembered that sacred geography does not follow the same criteria as ordinary geography.  Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (1910-91), for instance, said that within any single valley one can identify the entire set of the twenty-four sacred places.  Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche (1903-87) also said that sacred places, such as Uddiyana, can shrink and even disappear when conditions are no longer conducive to spiritual practice.  The twenty-four sacred places are also present in the innate vajrabody of each being. (p.442, n.1)

A similarly fascinating book on this subject is the collection of essays edited by Toni Huber entitled Sacred Spaces and Powerful Places in Tibetan Culture.  These essays offer a rich exploration of issues surrounding pilgrimage sites, sacred geography and geomancy.  Of particular interest is the essay by David Templeman entitled Internal and External Geography in Spiritual Biography in which he explores the relationship that the mahasiddha Krishnacharya with the twenty-four pithas, especially that of Devikotta.  Templeman considers the importance of these sites as internal locii and suggests that while pilgrimage to these sites was indeed important, there is little evidence to support that many siddhas visited all of them.  In fact, Templeman suggests that some sites more than others are of particular significance and have been over time, while others are dangerous, home to subtle harmful beings (wild flesh eating dakinis) that need to be appropriately tamed before one can occupy that particular location.  In the case of the mahasiddha Krishnacharya, his untimely end occurred at the site of Devikotta, as this site had a reputation for incredible unpredictable volatility that was well known throughout India at the time.

I tend to wonder where this place of volatility, with beings that need to be subjugated, resides within me.  A three paneled chart provided by Templeman in his article listing the twenty-four pithas according to the Chakrasamvara Tantra, the teacher Jonang Taranatha and the Sakya master Kunga Drolchok, indicates that Devikotta -this very powerful site- is located within my energetic body around both of my eyes.  I wonder where it’s mirror locations are?

What I find most compelling about these books, and this subject in general is that it has a lot to do with how we relate to the world around us, how we import meaning to this world, and what we allow of ourselves in being in relation to time and space.  The essays in Huber’s book and the work by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye describe both the Tibetan cultural, as well as the general vajrayana approach to sacred geography- these two are not by all means identical as Huber points out in his essay. Huber suggests that Tibetan culture influenced vajrayana making it distinct from the Tantric Buddhism that developed in India which then spread to Tibet.  While the distinction is subtle, it speaks to how meaning is translated.  It is arguable that there can never be a one-for-one  translation of a text from one language to another, and perhaps, a one-to-one translation of a religion is similarly unlikely.  That said, without straying into the soft edges of hermeneutics, I would like to wonder out loud, “How does Buddhist sacred geography translate to Buddhism in the ‘West’?”  I think that a great response to such a question is, “That’s a silly question, Buddhist sacred geography is as present in the west as it is in Tibet or India”.  I’d also add that we should map it, live within it in a more open way, and make it ours.

If Jalandhara is a site that corresponds to the crown of my head, Oddiyana a site that corresponds to my right ear, and Devikotta my two eyes,  all the while representing sacred places reflected upon the Indian Sub-continent and or the Tibetan Plateau, where would they be reflected upon the geography of the United States for example?  Or more playfully perhaps, Brooklyn?  It seems that some of this has to do with fully owning and bringing vajrayana home.  In so doing, I would love to see how this type of re-orientation occurs.  Can we do for ourselves what Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye did for Tibetans?

As Buddhism takes root here in the U.S. and continues to flourish I would love to see all of the twenty-four pithas of the India subcontinent reflected here.  Perhaps as we learn to slow down and notice our relationship with our surroundings this will be more evident.  I’m very curious to see how this aspect of vajrayana in particular translates to western culture; it seems like there is great potential.

[i] Schaeffer, Kurtis R. Dreaming the Great Brahmin: Tibetan Traditions of the Buddhist Poet-Saint Saraha. Oxford University Press,  2005. Pg. 151.

12
Nov

New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care on TV!

This weekend a segment of the television show Religion and News Ethics Weekly will broadcast a taste of the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care chaplaincy training program on PBS which you can also watch here.  NYZCCC is a rich and rigorous CPE training program that is truly unique.  I am constantly challenged by the depth of the curriculum as well as that of the instructors, Koshin Paley Ellison, Robert Chodo Campbell, and Trudi Jinpu Hirsch.  Currently I am half way through my first of two units of CPE through NYZCCC’s year long extended unit program, was a participant in their Foundations in Contemplative Care program last year, and look forward to more training with them in the future.  I can’t say enough wonderful things about the program and how wonderfully rare it is.

I invite you too to explore NYZCCC here

30
Sep

On the importance of Prayer

A friend and classmate in my chaplaincy training program recently alerted our class to a newly conducted study led by Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard University on the efficacy of prayer for people who are ill.  Dr. Benson is no stranger to the world of prayer and meditation, in fact he has built an entire career around studying the physiological effects of meditation and prayer.  His findings have generally supported the belief that beyond the spiritual benefits of meditation, the meditator experiences a whole host of benefits ranging from a decrease in stress levels, lower blood pressure, and a general slowing of the body’s metabolism.

In the past Dr. Benson studied a variety of Tibetan monks, including the meditation master Bokar Rinpoche, while they meditated.  Dr. Benson focused upon meditators who were practicing Tummo, a vajrayana completion stage yogic meditation that fuses a form of pranayama (breathing exercises) with visualizations of the body’s internal energy matrix. He relates in a documentary based upon his findings, that he could not believe what he discovered: breath and heart rates decreased dramatically, and measured brain activity appeared completely unlike that of a person in waking state.  Recent interest in exploring the relationship between meditation and neuroscience by the scientific community, especially in collaboration with H.H. the Dalai Lama and H. H. the 17th Karmapa will undoubtedly clarify the benefits of meditation, and thereby help many people who may become interested in including meditation within their daily lives.

Here is a link to a Harvard Gazette article on the subject:

www.news.harvard.edu/gazette/2002/04.18/09-tummo.html.

Additionally, I would like to share a link to a short video clip of Dr. Herbert Benson’s research: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WajTafbG7II.

The efficacy of prayer seems much harder to measure than that of meditation.  The results of the study of meditation upon the physiology an individual meditator seem clear; they are easy to quantify, and allow for useful comparison of data recorded in studying a variety of meditators.  The study of prayer in this way seems immensely difficult by comparison.  Here is the link to the article that my friend emailed us last week:

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/31/health/31pray.html?scp=1&sq=long%20awaited%20medical%20study%20prayer%20is%20no%20good&st=cse.

Many salient points are raised by this study, and perhaps the most important one revolves around how such studies are structured.  Prayer is a mysterious subject and it seems that it will take a number of attempts to be able to skillfully measure it’s effects.  I do tend to agree with Dr. Richard Sloan’s warning in the New York Times article linked above that we must be careful not to destroy what prayer is about by deconstructing religion to “basic elements that can be easily quantified”.  It would be ideal if future studies could honor the place and importance of science as well that of religion and sensitively examine where and how they overlap.


The vajrayana perspective on prayer is fairly clear: prayer is vital.  Generally, ritual is included within prayer- often they are interwoven.  The performance of  prayer in this multi-dimensional way helps to form an active identification with the historical transmission lineage (from the Buddha directly to you), and allows you to rest in your basic-state as a particular buddha in body, speech, mind, as well as in essence.  All of these coalesce around acting to benefit others (based upon our pledge to liberate all sentient beings).  So important is this type of activity that most recensions of the Hevajra Tantra and Chakrsamvara Tantra, as well as most other root tantras, have chapters dedicated to engaging in the actions of Pacifying, Enriching, and Subduing.  These kinds of actions can be best described as psycho-spritual activities to alleviate suffering, promote peace, and plant the seeds of liberation for others; prayer in this context, I would suggest, is quite important.  Within the framework of Tantric Buddhism there is an active application of visualization, prayer, ritual and mantra recitation that help the individual to loosen up their conception of the ordinary identification of oneself as an independent being living in opposition to the external world with which they interact, so that one can glimpse the rich wealth of their buddha-nature which is deeply interconnected with the world around oneself.  The tools: meditation, prayer and ritual help to clarify the recognition of our basic-state.  In this context, prayer is a means to center oneself, to remain intimate with one’s teacher, a particular buddha or protector, or as a means to rest in the mind’s essential nature.  It  is also an offering; an act of generosity and kindness.  Prayer also focuses the mind, making it a support of meditation, it can function as a means of clarifying doubt, as well as a means to receive inspiration.  I am sure that this is not unique to vajrayana, or even Buddhism, but lies at the core of prayer regardless of one’s faith.

From the perspective of chaplaincy, specifically around the application of pastoral care in which prayer is requested, the exact physical result of prayer may not be the central goal as much as what the prayer does for the individual requesting it.  The relationship between the person conducting the prayer and the person receiving it is a sacred and intimate relationship.  Prayer may be directed towards aspects of the self that have little to do with the individual’s physical condition.  Prayer can help relieve fear, a sense of separation from others, or help reinforce the inner ground that provides greater support for dealing with one’s particular situation.  These factors, and a great many others may indeed lead towards an ability to heal more effectively, but it might have less to do with the actual prayer and more to do with the inner process that prayer energizes, relaxes, empowers, or clarifies.  Perhaps it is this inner process that contributes to recovery from illness.  Prayer and the use of ritual for a person who is actively dying may also help promote a greater sense of connection and meaning to a life that is transitioning into the experience of death- this can be profoundly important.  Ultimately, prayer may not be best approached from the perspective of what it can do with regards to only physical responses, for surely prayer is mysterious, and some of the beauty involved in prayer is how it can return deeper meaning to various moments in an individual’s journey through life, creating a point of orientation that is more imaginal, timeless, and transcendent.

19
Jun

Bodhidharma says…

I suppose that as a gathering, this ganachakra has been a little himalaya-heavy.  I’d like to include other voices.   Essence-dharma cuts deep and clean no matter what tradition it comes from, and I often find that the difference in presentation of a different lineage hits me in a way other than what I have become habituated to- that’s a good thing.

Since I’ve been walking the foot path of training in contemplative care through the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care I thought that I would turn to Bodhidharma’s Bloodstream Sermon.  The direct and clear presentation of the Zen tradition is very refreshing.  Bodhidharma is credited with bringing Chan/Zen Buddhism to China.  Little is known of the details of his early life, but it is believed that he came from India where he left his life as a prince to become a monk and receive dharma transmission.  Bodhidharma is counted as the 28th Patriarch of a lineage line that goes back directly to Buddha Shakyamuni himself.  What is presented below is from The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma, translated by Red Pine.

Bodhidharma says:

…The mind’s capacity is limitless, and its manifestations are inexhaustible.  Seeing forms with your eyes, hearing sounds with your ears, smelling odors with your nose, tasting flavors with your tongue, every movement or state is all your mind.  At every moment, where language can’t go, that’s your mind.

The sutras say, “A tathagata’s forms are endless.  And so is his awareness.”  The endless variety of forms is due to the mind.  Its ability to distinguish things, whatever their movement or state, is the mind’s awareness.  But the mind has no form and its awareness no limit.  Hence it’s said, “A tathagata’s forms are endless. And so is his awareness.”

A material body of the four elements is trouble.  A material body is subject to birth and death.  But the real body exists without existing; because a tathagata’s real body never changes.  The sutras say, “People should realize that the buddha-nature is something that they have always had.”  Kashyapa only realized his own nature.

Our nature is the mind.  And the mind is our nature.  This nature is the same as the mind of all buddhas.  Buddhas of the past and future only transmit this mind.  Beyond this mind there’s no buddha anywhere.  But deluded people don’t realize that their own mind is the buddha.  They keep searching outside.  They never stop invoking buddhas or worshiping buddhas and wondering Where is the Buddha? Don’t indulge in such illusions.  Just know your mind.  Beyond your mind there’s no other buddha.  The sutras say, “Everything that has a form is an illusion.”  They also say, “Wherever you are, there’s a buddha.”  Your mind is the Buddha.  Don’t use a buddha to worship a buddha…