Vassa: A blog for SCUBA

Friendships by Oz
August 31, 2007, 5:56 am
Filed under: Buddhism, Experiences

By Oz

In all my limited readings on Buddhism, only once have I ever come upon a writing on friendship and dharma practice. I find this strange since my short time of Buddhist practice has been almost completely through friendships. Maybe it is not so strange to not see anything written on paper about friendship and dharma practice since writing it down limits a changing subject to the reflected squiggles on dead trees. Still, I see people who have taken refuge together refer to each other as dharma brothers and sisters, and I myself am inspired by friends, Buddhists or not.

For some, I am inspired by their kindness and sincerity. Others, through their experience or dedication. Some, just because they listen and keep me level-headed. Reciprocally, I am my brother’s keeper; I am my sister’s keeper. Good friendships keep us together, keep our spirits lifted, and keep us firmly on the path, like something out of the Wizard of Oz, the fellowship the Lord of the Rings, the Journey to the West or any other narrative of companions. Common to all of these stories, I think, is the power of friendship to uplift, heal, and strengthen in the face of adversities.

The Buddha himself had a cadre of fellow practitioners who abandoned him but eventually rejoined after his awakening. This following grew to include his family members such as his cousin Ananda, people from the bottom drudges of the social castes, and even royalty. This came to comprise the Sangha, the community of practitioners, and I would imagine, a brotherhood and sisterhood, or a fraternity of disciples. The Buddha declared that after his death, the dharma would suffice as the Sangha’s teacher, so the fraternal relationships must have become even more important.

While early monastic life was characterized as eremetic, there were also periods of settled of living, such as during Vassa. During these times, fellow wanderers would meet up again to share experiences and learn from each other, mutually supporting each other in their practice. The Sangha comprised of only these people, this nomadic lifestyle and nothing else. It was not until settled village monks were patronized with plots of land did it become more or less a permanent fixture. Still, the buildings and lands were only there to support the practice and without the community of people, these buildings would be empty, in more ways than one.

If off on an adventure, working for a common goal, or just seeking camaraderie, friendships naturally crop up. Maybe that’s why not much has to be written on it. More just needs to be done for it.



Beginning meditation experience by Oz
August 26, 2007, 4:00 am
Filed under: Buddhism, Experiences

water drop on leaves

A moment of raptness…




Dropped off my homework for my T.A. Bill…

Bills have to be paid…

David hasn’t paid me back yet…

Oh right! meditation…

Breathe In…Out…In…Out…



Jazz is like throwing paint against the wall and getting paid $5000…


Blowing in…breathing out…




Sooo close!

Anyone want to share a meditative experience they’ve had?

How did you become interested in Buddhist practice? by Oz
August 24, 2007, 4:25 am
Filed under: Buddhism

I always find these stories interesting. Sometimes they reveal motivations behind spiritual practice, bits of family history, or attitudes towards religion.

For me, I grew up in a Buddhist household, though not a very influential one. My mom would go to temple every month and I would go along every now and then. My dad very rarely went, but he says he likes Buddhism because it doesn’t aggressively push and prod it’s followers into belief. Buddhism didn’t really mean much in my life. There were big, bronze statues, incense, prayers, and vegetarian food. It wasn’t until I went to college did it start being relevant.

During my freshman year, I was on my way to class. On that day, the school put up a religious fair that allowed the religious groups on campus to table together. It was poorly planned because it was held on Lent, so some group, such as the Muslim, protested. I did see the Buddhists though. I walked by and figured why not check it out. I thought maybe I could figure out what all those statues and prayers mean.

It’s been over a year since then and the big bronze statues, incense, and prayers still don’t figure much in my life. What has changed since then is my mindset. I can’t claim to accurately describe what I was like before since I’m always editing the past in my head to make sense of it. I can only say I’m more calm, more open, and more receptive. I have not been to a retreat or take refuge yet, so I don’t claim to be Buddhist in any official sense, only as my closest religious affinity.

What has been your experience?

Disappear into usefulness by Oz
August 20, 2007, 7:19 pm
Filed under: Buddhism, Dharma

By Oz

The other day in my philosophy class, we came upon a phrase that struck a chord in me. We were discussing Heideggar’s “equipment”, which is a thing that exists as a tool with an intention. This tool, for example a hammer, exists with a clear intention, to pound in nails. We can sit here and consider the wood and metal that the hammer is made out of, it’s strength, and the technique with which to use it, but in the end it is meant to be used to pound nails. When using the hammer, we may stammer the first few times, hit our thumbs and scream in frustration and agony.

“This is not working! I don’t like using the hammer!”, we may say. But with enough practice and band-aids, our attention is directed less ferociously at the hammer and more at the nail. As we get better at hammering, the hammer becomes less important than action of using it. Eventually, we become so good at using the hammer that it becomes an extension of our arm and “disappears into usefulness.”

The Buddha also considered his dharma as a tool. He compared it to a raft used for crossing over. On our side of the shore, the waters are dangerous. The waves of experience keep crashing in while on the other side, the waters are peaceful, as is the island. In order to cross to the other side, a raft must be built, so grasses, leaves, mud, sap, and lumber is gathered, and effort must be exerted to cross the waters. Upon reaching the other shore, the Buddha believed that the raft should simply be left at the beach, even though it was very useful. If we carried the raft with us on the island, it would become a burden. So just as the raft should be left at the beach, so too must meditators leave the dharma once they have made it across. The raft, just as the dharma, only has a practical use.

This practical use, I believe, has to do with allowing the dharma to disappear into usefulness. Taking the time to study it is very important to understanding what the teachings are saying, but they have no life in sutras. When we make religion a part of one’s very being we come to the heart of a religion, which is it’s profoundness and practice in our everyday lives. The essence or heart of a religion is not found in dogma; it’s found in the living tradition and actions of its practitionersยน. The dharma’s intention is to make us more reflective, aware, and inspired to change our lives for the better. Attention is directed less at the dharma itself, and more at life and how to best live.

I’m still at the stage where I’m stumbling and hitting my thumb with the dharma. Band-aids help, my favorite colors of which are kindness and patience.

1. Stephen Batchelor Dharma talk: Zen Is Not A Finished Product

Ullambana, Obon, Vu Lan, Yu Lan Pen, but NOT ghost festival by pemadorje385
August 20, 2007, 6:00 am
Filed under: Buddhism, Dharma, Events

By Michael

So what is it about all of this Ullambana business in the month of August that makes many devoted Buddhists so busy? It’s summer time, it’s hot, it’s sunny, why even bother?

Well, it was this time of year, during the Buddha’s time, that the monks that have been going on a three month meditation retreat completed the retreat and reported their progress from the retreat. The Buddha was very pleased because many of the monks attained the state of enlightenment. The day was the full moon day of the seventh moon.

There’s another story leading to Ullambana…luckily Wikipedia did the work for me…so here you go…

The Buddha’s happy day

To Buddhists, the seventh lunar month is a month of joy. This is because the fifteen day of the seventh month is the Buddha’s joyful day and the day of rejoice for monks.

The origins of the Buddha’s joyful day can be found in the scriptures. When the Buddha was alive, his disciples meditated in the forests of India during the rainy season of summer. Three months later, on the fifteen day of the seventh month, they would emerge from the forests to celebrate the completion of their meditation and report their progress to the Buddha. Because the number of monks who attained enlightenment during that period was high, the Buddha was very pleased.

The Buddha speaks of Ullambana Sutra

Thus I have heard, at one time, the Buddha dwelt at Shravarsti in the Garden of the Benefactor of Orphans and the Solitary.

Mahamaudgalyayana had just obtained the six penetrations and wished to cross over his father and mother to repay their kindness for raising him.

Thus, using his way eye, he regarded the world and saw that his deceased mother had been born among the hungry ghosts, having neither food nor drink, she was but skin and bones.
Mahaudgalayana felt deep pity and sadness, filled a bowl with food and went to provide for his mother. She got the bowl, screened it with her left hand, and with her right hand made a fist of food. But, before it entered her mouth, it turned into burning coals which could not be eaten.

Mahamaudgalyayana called out and wept sorrowfully, and hastened to return to the Buddha to set forth all of this.

The Buddha said, “your mother’s offenses are deep and firmly rooted. You alone do not have enough power. Although your filial sounds move heaven and earth, the heaven spirits, the earth spirits, twisted demons, and those outside the way, Brahmans, and the four heavenly king gods, are also without sufficient strength. The awesome spiritual power of the assembled Sangha of the ten directions is neceessary for the liberation to be attained.

I shall now speak a dharma of rescue, which causes all those in difficulty to leave worry and suffering, and to eradicate obstacles from offenses.

The Buddha told Maudgalyayana: “The fifteenth day of the seventh month is the Pravarana day for the assembled Sangha of the ten directions. For the sake of fathers and mothers of seven generations past, as well as for fathers and mothers of the present who are in distress, you should prepare an offering of clean basins full of hundreds of flavors and the five fruits, and other offerings of incense, oil, lamps, candles, beds, and bedding, all the best of the world, to the greatly virtuous assembled Sangha of the ten directions. On that day, all the holy assembly, whether in the mountains practicing dhyana samadhi, or obtaining the four fruits of the way, or walking beneath trees, or using the independence of the six penetrations, to teach and transform sound hearers and those enlightened to conditions. Or provisionally manifesting as bhikshus when in fact they are great Bodhisattvas on the tenth ground–all complete in pure precepts and oceanlike virtue of the holy way–should gather in a great assembly and all of like mind receive the pravarana food.

If one thus makes offerings to these Provarana Sangha, one’s present father and mother, parents of seven generations, as well as the six kinds of close relatives, will escape from the three paths of sufferings. And at that time attain release. Their clothing and food will spontaneously appear. If the parents are still alive, they will have wealth and blessings for a hundred years. Parents of seven generations will be born in the heavens. Transformationally born, they will independently enter the celestial flower light, and experience limitless bliss.

At that time the Buddha commanded the assembled Sangha of the ten directions to recite mantras and vows for the sake of the donor’s family, for parents of seven generations.

After practicing dhyana concentration, they then may accept the food. When first receiving the basin, place it before the Buddha in the stupa. When the assembled sangha has finished the mantras and vows, then they may accept it.

At that time the bhikshu Maudgalyayana and the assembly of great Bodhisattvas were all extremely delighted and the sorrowful sound of Maudgalyayana’s crying ceased.

At that time Maudgalyayana’s mother obtained liberation from one kalpa of suffering as a hungry ghost.

Maudgalyayana addressed the Buddha and said, “this disciple’s parents have received the power of the merit and virtue of the triple jewel, because of the awesome spiritual power of the assembled Sangha.

If in the future the Buddha’s disciples practice filiality by offering up the Ullambana basins, will they be able to cross over their present fathers and mothers as well as those of seven generations past?”

The Buddha replied “good indeed, I am happy you asked that question. I just wanted to speak about that and now you have also asked about it.

Good man, if bhikshus, bhikshunis, kings, crown princes, great ministers, great officials, cabinet members, the hundreds of officers, and the tens of thousands of citizens wish to practice compassionate filial conduct, for the sake of the parents who bore them, as well as for the sake of fathers and mothers of seven lives past, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, the day of the buddhas’ delight, the day of the Sangha’s Pravarana, they all should place hundreds of flavors of foods in the Ullambana basins, and offer them to the Pravarana Sangha of the ten directions.

They should vow to cause the length of life of the present father and mother to reach a hundred years without illness, without sufferings, afflictions, or worries, and also vow to cause seven generations of fathers and mothers to leave the sufferings of the hungry ghosts, to be born among men and gods, and to have blessings and bliss without limit.

The Buddha told all the good men and good women, “those disciples of the Buddha who cultivate filial conduct should in thought after thought, constantly recall their present fathers and mothers when making offerings, as well as the fathers and mothers of seven lives past. Every year, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, they should always, out of filial compassion, recall their parents who bore them and those of seven lives past, and for their sakes perform the offering of the Ullambana basin to the Buddha and the Sangha and thus repay the loving kindness of the parents who raised and nourished them. All Buddhas’ disciples should respectfully receive this dharma.”

At that time the bhikshu Maudgalyayana and the four-fold assembly of disciples, hearing what the Buddha said, practiced it with delight.

End of the Buddha speaks of Ullambana SutraSo what else goes on during this season? the Japanese Temples perform the Obon dance rituals, the Vietnamese temples have their mother’s day celebrations and offerings, and the Chinese temples will always have their Repentance ceremonies…why? because it’s a very good opportunity for ourselves to reflect on our karma and repent any negative defilements on us and our loved ones, and all sentient beings. The Emperor Liang Repentance gives a good example… (thanks Wikipedia)

The Emperor Liang Repentance

The emperor is probably best known for being one of the co-authors of a major scripture in Chinese Buddhism. A major Buddhist repentance service is named after the emperor. Titled the Emperor Liang Jeweled Repentance, the repentance records and details the reasons behind his wife’s transformation, examples of people affected by karma, stories about people receiving retribution, and what one can do to prevent it. The repentance also involves prostrations to a number of Buddhas.

Historically, Emperor Liang initiated this ceremony approximately 1500 years ago. His wife, Chi Hui, died at age of thirty after leading a life marked by jealousy and anger. After her death, she turned into a giant snake and purgatory . She came to recognize that she needed prayers from the sangha to expiate her sins and release her soul from the lower realms. Through great generosity, Emperor Liang requested Ch’an Master Bao Zhi and other high monastics to write ten chapters of the repentance. As a result of performing this ceremony, his wife’s soul was indeed released from its suffering.

Today, it is performed annually in many Buddhist temples081606-01.jpg

Buddhist monks now going clubbing by Oz
August 19, 2007, 4:35 am
Filed under: News

By Oz

Never thought I’d see a headline like that.

Next Vesak Day, we need a Buddhist remix of “In da club”: Go buddha, it’s your birthday, we gon’ party like its your birthday…

Wheel of Life by Oz
August 19, 2007, 3:45 am
Filed under: Buddhism, Dharma

By Oz

I’ve always found the Tibetan Wheel of Life striking in it’s representation of many Buddhist ideas. Although there are many aspects of the wheel we could talk about, I feel the most important are the bodhisattvas in each realm of existence.
Wheel of Life

In each realm are bodhisattvas performing actions to help the beings move to higher stages of existence and eventually towards awakening. In the Hell Realm, characterized by self-caused pain, suffering, and torture, the bodhisattva holds up a mirror, showing each inhabitant the root of their anguish. The Animal Realm, characterized by an ignorant instinctual drive for gratification, the bodhisattva holds a book, representing the capacity for intellectual thought and reason. In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, characterized by beings with tight throats and bloated bellies, the bodhisattva brings nectar to soothe their throats and fill their stomachs.

In the Titan Realm, jealous gods have an aggressive, relentless ambition, usually directed with envy at the more pleasant God realm. The bodhisattva appears with a flaming sword, commanding the titans to redirect their powerful energy towards breaking their delusions. In the God Realm, beings who have accumulated enough good karma live for eons in utter bliss. Still, the realm is within the jaws of Yama, the lord of death, and still subject to passing away. The bodhisattva plays a lute, reminding them to not simply rest on their laurels. In the last realm, the Human Realm, people are driven by ego and ignorance. The bodhisattva appears as a wandering mendicant with a begging bowl, giving each of us the opportunity for selflessness and compassion.

For me, each bodhisattva is a call to action, sensitive to, and tailored to the specific needs of each realm of existence. Living in each realm requires different methods to transcend to the next realm, and eventually towards awakening. Talk of teachings and dharma are good initial tools if they engender compassionate existence. Beyond that, dharma goes from being words on a page to actions in a person.