Vassa: A blog for SCUBA

Awakened to what? Pt. 3 by Oz
November 19, 2007, 1:01 am
Filed under: Buddhism, Dharma, Philosophy

When this is, that is;
This arising, that arises.

All things exist in a complex set of conditions that give rise to its coming to being. On the night of his awakening, Siddartha Gotama claimed to have observed the causes and conditions that gave rise to good rebirths as well as bad rebirths, linking the quality of our thoughts and actions with the quality of our lives in the present and the future. On that same night, Gotama’s observation led to his seeing and experiencing the entire round of birth, age, death, and rebirth in all things. On that night, Gotama probably focused on the rounds of mental states and actions that led to our dis-ease, anguish, and suffering and freed himself from this.

He later expressed it as 12 links in a chain: (1) ignorance of the causes and conditions of life, the complex matrix that we all exist in begets formation of volitional actions (karma). (2) Formation of volitional actions of the body, speech, and mind begets consciousness of feeling, perception, and mental formation. (3) Consciousness begets (6) Contact begets feelings of pleasure and pain (7) Feelings beget attachment. (8) Attachment begets existence. (9) Existence begets becoming. (10) Becoming begets arising. (11) Arising begets (12) decaying and passing away. In short,

All experience is preceded by mind, led by mind, made by mind. Speak or act with a corrupted mind and suffering follows as the wagon wheel follows the hoof of the ox…Speak or act with a peaceful mind, and happiness follows like a never-departing shadow.

And while this formula seems linear, it does not have to be. Conditioned things are also conditioning other things into becoming. This wheel of cause-effect-cause rolls on incessantly. Whatever began this original wheel rolling is not of importance, what is of importance is freeing ourselves from it.

Outside of Gotama’s expression of what he saw, we see the interdependent arising in ourselves and in everyday life. As people, we are comprised of a complex set of interacting atoms, cells, organs, and biological processes. We think and act with our thoughts guided by culture, ideologies, philosophies, the way we were raised, our family and friends. We also imprint ourselves onto these same factors. When we are aware that we are not just ourselves, not just I, and see others in ourself and ourselves in others, compassion bursts forth.

When this is not, that is not
This ceasing, that ceases.

Whatever is dependent on something else cannot last forever, and everything that is conditioned is impermanent. Our happiness that arises from being with loved ones can be blissful yet we know it can’t last. While we can put the right conditions into place to be happy, it becomes impossible to maintain and our joy that depended on the right people and the right things go away. We learn to enjoy it while we can and to let go when we must.

For Gotama, this impermanence also meant that dis-ease, anguish, and suffering could end as well. Any break in the links meant an end to the entire rounds of birth, aging, and death. The traditions have simplified this to the end of ignorance/delusion, aversion/hatred, grasping/attachment and the arising of awareness/understanding, tolerance/compassion, giving/letting go.

On the night of his awakening, Gotama experienced all of this. It was not just an intellectual seeing and acknowledgment that all things are interdependent and impermanent. It was also beyond just an emotional or non-rational feeling of the same things. What he experienced passed through his very being and it affected the way he thought, sensed, felt, and saw himself and the world around him. It penetrated into his self and completely altered him in a way that he described as beyond words and expressions and accessible only through direct experience. This is what was awakened to and this is what needs to be cultivated.


Awakened to what? Pt. 2 by Oz
November 16, 2007, 12:55 pm
Filed under: Buddhism, Dharma, Philosophy

In a previous post, I wrote that the Siddartha Gotama awoke to the arising and falling of things. Things come and things go, “this too shall pass.”

When this is, that is
This arising, that arises
When this is not, that is not
This ceasing, that ceases.

While this formula for what the Buddha awakened to seems simple enough, it’s implications for our lives are anything but simple. Enlightenment or awakening is both close to us and far away. It is close because the material for our awakening already lie within us: our day-to-day experiences, compulsions, habits, memories, attachments, intentions, attitudes, ways of thinking. We find this material all around us as every moment of awareness becomes a teachable moment. There is no shortage of teachers if we see one in every sunrise and sunset or every smile and hurtful cry.

But the path is also far away because the material for our awakening is difficult to discern. “What’s a sunrise but a sunrise? It just comes up every day and goes back down at the end of the day. So what?” If we adopt this attitude we lose the present moment beauty of a sunrise or the potential of another Spring day where the flowers bloom. But the sun sets and flowers wilt, so we can only recognize it and enjoy it while we can.

The process for our awakening can also be long and difficult. The material of our awakening can also be difficult to deal with. They are conditioned by events and people we may not remember or prefer not to remember. They may be disturbing, hurtful, traumatizing, and something we would rather avoid. But they always return to our lives somehow, either through a conversation, a dream, or triggered by an event, similar or not. Can we tolerate and be open to this? I have faith that we can if we accept this for what it was as well as see this in everyone else.

So awakening is both close at hand and far away. It’s closeness is encouraging because it is within our grasps. It is also chastening and humbling that we have not yet grasped it. But this is all strange in itself because there is nothing at all to grasp. How silly we are.

Medicine Buddha Wishes by pemadorje385
November 8, 2007, 11:53 pm
Filed under: Buddhism, Dharma, Events, Experiences, history, Stories

Tonight was the start of the Medicine Buddha Function at Hsi Lai Temple.  Passing through the large array of oil lamps at the Longevity Hall, those little flames on top of each lamp shine like stars in the sky.

This time of year is when we as Buddhists honor the Healing Buddha, or the Medicine Buddha, or Bhaisaijyaguru Buddha.  He established a pure land called the Eastern Lazuli pure land, and made 12 great vows to benefit all sentient beings:

12 Vows of Medicine Buddha

1. I vow that my body shall shine as beams of brilliant light on this infinite and boundless world, showering on all beings, getting rid of their ignorance and worries with my teachings. May all beings be like me, with a perfect status and character, upright mind and soul, and finally attaining enlightenment like the Buddha.

2. I vow that my body be like crystal, pure and flawless, radiating rays of splendid light to every corner, brightening up and enlightening all beings with wisdom. With the blessings of compassion, may all beings strengthen their spiritual power and physical energy, so that they could fulfil their dreams in the right track.

3. I vow that I shall grant by means of boundless wisdom, all beings with the inexhaustible things that they require, and relieving them from all pains and guilt resulting from materialistic desires. Although clothing, food, accommodation and transport are essentials, it should be utilised wisely as well. Besides self-consumption, the remaining should be generously shared with the community so that all could live harmoniously together.

4. I vow to lead those who have gone astray back to the path of righteousness. Let them be corrected and returned to the Buddha way for enlightenment.

5. I vow that I shall enable all sentient beings to observe precepts for spiritual purity and moral conduct. Should there be any relapse or violation, they shall be guided for repentance. Provided they truly regret their wrong-doings, and vow for a change with constant prayers and strong faith in the Buddha, they could receive the rays of forgiveness, recover their lost moral and purity.

6. I vow that all beings who are physically disabled or sick in all aspects be blessed with good health, both physically and mentally. All who pays homage to Buddha faithfully will be blessed.

7. I vow to relieve all pain and poverty of the very sick and poor. The sick be cured, the helpless be helped, the poor be assisted.

8. I vow to help women who are undergoing sufferings and tortures and seeking for transformation into men. By hearing my name, paying homage and praying, their wishes would be granted and ultimately attain Buddhahood.

9. I vow to free all beings from evil thoughts and its control. I shall lead them onto the path of light through inculcating them with righteousness and honour so that they will walk the Buddha way.

10. I vow to save prisoners who have genuinely repented and victims of natural disasters. Those who are sincere will be blessed by my supreme powers and be freed from sufferings.

11. I vow to save those who suffer from starvation and those who committed crime to obtain food. If they hear my name and faithfully cherish it, I shall lead them to the advantages of Dharma and favour them with best food and eventually lead a tranquil and happy life.

12. I vow to save those who suffer from poverty, tormented by mosquitoes and wasps day and night. If they come across my name, cherish it with sincerity and practise dharma to strengthen their merits, they will be able to achieve their wishes.

Extracted from The Sutra of the Master of Healing.

Lamp offerings during this observance are important as well, as stated in the sutra which some of us will get a chance to experience on Saturday.  Here is an excerpt on the lamp offering from the Tibetan eight offerings:


Fifth is light or a lamp, which signifies the stability and clarity of patience, the beauty which dispels all ignorance. Light offering is made to the eyes of all the enlightened beings, who see clearly without mistake. Some people feel patience is showing weakness or pessimism. But, actually, patience shows the strength and clarity of mind, which are based on wisdom and compassion. Without proper wisdom and compassion, one cannot practice patience. So light shows that the strength of the mind, the clear, stable nature of the mind, achieved through the practice of patience. Because the mind is not disturbed by other forces, it has such great qualities: clarity knows what is to be done, which is necessary, which is not necessary. That dispels ignorance.

Patience can be practiced in all different forms, different ways, not just when people are faced with anger. For example, there is patience in Dharma practice and study. First, this is based on wisdom, so we should have such wisdom to really know how Dharma is, what quality it has, the depth and vastness of Dharma, and how we can achieve these qualities. Seeing those great qualities, then we need patience to study and practice. When we have that, there is a mind of clarity, of stableness.

On the other hand we should not be patient with our afflictive emotions. When we have anger, desire, jealousy, pride, don’t practice patience with these! This is the wrong way to practice patience. Even if it is hard or painful, these are subjects to get rid of or purify; they don’t do any good thing. Without sacrificing something, there is no chance that we will have peace and happiness. So no matter what kind of pain we face, what difficult circumstances we face, we have to go thru it. Even if we have to sacrifice this life, it is worthwhile to sacrifice. A lot of people commit suicide to get rid of all these afflictive emotions. They are overpowered by the afflictive emotions and they kill themselves. That is the wrong way to sacrifice this life. We have to sacrifice this life the other way around. Buddha said that if we have to lose our life to keep the moral discipline, it just finishes this life, but next lives will be higher and higher, better and better. But if we do it the other way around and sacrifice this life for the afflictive emotions, then we will go worse and worse.

In Shantideva’s text it is said that we should not commit suicide or give this body without much purpose. Rather, we should cherish this precious human life. An explanation is given. When a medicinal tree is very small plant, it has to be protected in order to grow into a huge tree. If you pick it up when it is small, it will benefit only a few and then it is finished. But if you protect it well with many fences, it will grow into a huge tree that will bring fruits, flowers, roots, leaves, branches for the benefit of many, many sentient beings. Similarly we have a fragile mind at this time. We must protect this precious human life with all these antidotes, fences, and let it grow big. Then we can benefit many sentient beings. By the practice of patience, all the 112 major and minor marks of a Buddha will come. Of course, we should not expect it, but the result of patience is a healthy, good body, to which all people are attracted, which is respected and admired. All this comes from the practice of patience.



Awakened to what? by Oz
September 8, 2007, 2:03 am
Filed under: Buddhism, Dharma


During one of our meetings, a question was raised, “What is Buddhism to you in one word?”

We went around the room and came up with about three general answers: compassion, awareness, and awakening or enlightenment.

After that we went around explaining our answers. Compassion, although definitely a part of Buddhism, was thrown out as not being exclusive to practice. We can be compassionate and be Christian, atheist, or whatever faith we want to bring up. There really wasn’t such a thing as Buddhist compassion, as much as there was simple empathy for our neighbors.

The other two, awareness and awakening were generally agreed to be unique to Buddhism, but we were unsure exactly what it meant. I went with awareness, awareness of my actions, impulses, compulsions and how they affected myself and others. I was pretty satisfied with this answer for a while but felt that it still wasn’t complete. With such an awareness, I could choose to be more compassionate, although it was not necessary. Without the goal of compassionate living, a person can be very self-aware but still act maliciously. Awareness or awakening in itself was only part of the answer.

So now I’m wondering, aware of what? Awakened to what? What was it that the Buddha was awakened to, that led to his freedom from suffering, his turning of the wheel of dharma, and the beginning of his teachings that still persist 2500 years later?

I put off answering this question, but came up on something during my summer reading that could answer it. On the night of his awakening, the Siddartha Gautama awakened over the three watches of the night. In the first watch he gained knowledge of his past lives and of the cycle of death and rebirths. In the second watch, he awakened to karma and the effects it had on people’s rebirths. In the third watch he awakened to dependent origination. Since I don’t have much of a penchant for the supernatural, I only garner significance from the last two. Gautama, in the second and third watch of the night, became aware of the karmic conditions of suffering and to dependent arising, or dependent origination, or the contingency in everything. From there, Siddartha was awakened and declared himself the Tathagata.

These conditions of suffering came from the karmic result of our actions, of which the Buddha put emphasis on our intentions. He puts so much emphasis on intention that he equates it to karma. Awareness of our selves, of the mind, then becomes of prime significance to living a good life. Ethics and morality are centered more in the quality of our intentions, which we each can have control over, rather than in ritual deeds over which a priest-class has monopoly.

The third watch makes the most sense to me, not only because it is lacking any overtly supernatural cause, but because it puts the whole message of Buddhism in an understandable context. Karma, emptiness, impermanence, interdependence, the four noble truths, and other things make sense in light of the awakening in the third watch. They all seem to be ways of stating the doctrine of dependent origination which is nothing more than this:

When this is, that is
This arising, that arises
When this is not, that is not
This ceasing, that ceases.

What could be simpler than that? So this is what I think the Buddha awakened to. Of course, I could be overlooking something. But that’s what this blog and teachers are for.

Ksitigharba Bodhisattva Root Vow Sutra recitation by pemadorje385
September 5, 2007, 9:32 am
Filed under: Buddhism, Dharma, Experiences

By Michael

Earlier today I was at the Buddha’s Wisdom Center, hidden in my area, to pay respects as Ullambana season comes to a close.

During Ullambana, the center recites the Ksitigharba Bodhisattva Root Vow Sutra on and on for thirty days. So I decided to go and help them with their recitations. Unfortunately I arrived in between sessions, but I was invited to do my own recitation of the sutra, and so I did.

Ksitigharba Bodhisattva…the brave Bodhisattva that will not attain enlightenment until the hell realms of existence are empty…

At first I had a little bit of difficulty keeping my focus since the shrine room is quite warm and sweat rolling down my face and onto my robes while trying to turn the pages of the sutra text and striking the wooden fish to maintain the flow of recitation at the same time.

After the first session I decided to take a break and sat outside in the patio area. I then realized even though the area was so crowded, noisy, and humid outside the gates of the center, I felt this cool breeze and this calm, peaceful state of being. I might not have been sitting in the proper position but this sure was a good opportunity to go into meditation, but I do have two more sessions of the sutra to finish.

I decided to do the last two sessions in one sitting, that way I can save a little more time. as I started chanting, it didn’t feel so warm anymore, and bursts of cool wind were bowing into the room, could it be that the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas knew of my efforts and blew in a few cold shots of air to cool me off during my chanting? I don’t know.

Has anyone else had that type of feeling while chanting or meditating?

Ksitigharba Bodhisattva at Mount Jiu Hua in China

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 practitioners¹. 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