Wednesday, November 30, 2016


O Ch'an empty spot. There is no thing which you are and nothing you are not.

---Ch'an Master Yunmen Wenyan---

The Practice: Day-by-Day

Can the First Cause Be Known?

It is rather difficult for us to understand how the world came into existence without a first cause. But it is very much more difficult to understand how that first cause came into existence at the beginning.

According to the Buddha, it is inconceivable to find a first cause for life or for anything else. For in common experience, the cause becomes the effect and the effect become the cause. In the circle of cause and effect, a first cause is incomprehensible. With regard to the origin of life, the Buddha declares, "Without cognizable end is this recurrent wandering in Samsara (cycle of birth and death). Beings are obstructed by ignorance and fettered by craving. A first beginning of these beings is not to be perceived." (Anamatagga Samyutta in Samyutta Nikaya.) This life-stream flows on ad infinitum, as long as it is fed by the muddy waters of ignorance and craving. When these two are cut off, only then does the life-stream cease to flow, only then does rebirth come to an end.

It is difficult to conceive an end of space. It is difficult to conceive an eternal duration of what we call time. But it is more difficult to conceive time when there is no time. Likewise it is rather difficult for us to understand how this world came into existence with a first cause. And it is more difficult to understand how that first cause came into existence at the beginning. For if the first cause can exist though uncreated, there is no reason why the other phenomena of the universe must not exist without having also been created.

As to the question how all beings came into existence without a first cause, the Buddha's reply is that there is no answer because the question itself is merely a product of man's limited comprehension. If we can understand the nature of time and relativity, we must see that there could not have been any beginning. It can only be pointed out that all the usual answers to the question are fundamentally defective. If it is assumed that for a thing to exist, it must have had a creator who existed before it, it follows logically that the creator himself must have had a creator, and so on back to infinity. On the other hand, if the creator could exist without a prior cause in the form of another creator, the whole argument falls to the ground. The theory of a creator does not solve any problems, it only complicates the existing ones.

Thus Buddhism does not pay much attention to theories and beliefs about the origin of the world. Whether the world was created by a god or it came into existence by itself makes little difference to Buddhists. Whether the world is finite or infinite also makes little difference to Buddhists. Instead of following this line of theoretical speculations, the Buddha advises people to work hard to find their own salvation.

Scientists have discovered many causes which are responsible for the existence of life, plants, planets, elements and other energies. But it is impossible for anyone to find out any particular first cause for their existence. If they go on searching for the first cause of any existing life or thing, they point certain causes as the main cause but that never becomes the first cause. In the process of searching for the first cause one after the other, they will come back to the place where they were. This is because, cause becomes effect and the next moment that effect becomes the cause to produce another effect. That is what the Buddha says, "It is incomprehensible and the universe is beginningless."

---Dr. K. Sri Dhammananda, in What Buddhists Believe---


I do not say "this is true," which is what fools say to each other. They make out their own way to be true, therefore, they regard their opponent as a fool.


A Delicate Balancing Act

As comforting as it may be to imagine Gotama as a man far removed from the chaos of the world, wandering along the dusty roads of the Gangetic basin accompanied by his saffron-robed mendicants, stopping regularly to deliver inspiring talks on the dharma, and passing much of his time meditating quietly in forests, the story that we can pierce together from the canon presents a far more complex picture. Here we have a man who was intimately involved with the most powerful political figures of his time, many of them brutal, unreliable, and unpredictable, who had to be kept sweet so that Gotama could realize his project of "establishing the dharma and the community" in this world. That he succeeded in this delicate balancing act for more than forty years is a tribute to his political instincts and social skills as much as his "enlightenment."

---Stephen Batchelor, in after buddhism---

An Autumn Evening in the Hills, by Wang Wei

Through empty hills new washed by rain
As dusk descends the autumn comes;
Bright moonlight falls through pines,
Clear springs flow over stones;
The bamboos rustle as girls return from washing,
Lotus flowers stir as a fishing boat casts off;
Faded the fragrance of spring,
Yet, friend, there is enough to keep you here.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Let it Rain

If anyone asks,
"How's that recluse?" I answer:
If the rain falls
    from the far sky, let it rain.
If the wind blows, let it blow.


This World

Our life in this world—
to what shall I compare it?
It's like an echo
    resounding through the mountains
        and off into the empty sky.


In the Mountains

                         With the true emptiness of nonactions,
                         I nap on a stone pillow among rocks.
                         Do you ask me what is my power?
                         A single tattered robe through life.


Eric the Magic Penguin

Can you prove your god exists? I don't think you can. Can you prove your god exists?

I'll do you one better: You prove Eric the Magic Penguin (peace be upon him) does not exist, because I believe he ate your god.

Unless you prove Eric (peace be upon him) does not exist, it follows, your god does not exist because Eric (peace be upon him) ate your god.

Now, go away. Educated grown-ups are speaking.


A man is not called wise because he talks and talks again; but if he is peaceful, loving, and fearless. 
---The Buddha---

Buddhism and Ch'an

Buddhism is the knowledge, understanding, and experience of dukkha. The knowledge, understanding, and experience that dukkha exists. The knowledge, understanding, and experience that there is freedom and liberation from dukkha.

Buddhism is a knowledge of, a practice of, and an experience of the Path that leads to the freedom and liberation from dukkha.

Buddhism is the knowledge and the experience of the freedom and liberation from dukkha.

Ch'an (Zen) is a personal experience of Reality without the interference, the distraction, or the distortion of opinion and desire.

Twofold Insight

Conditioned Arising

         When this exists that comes into being.
         With the arising of this that arises.
         When this does not exist that does not come into being.
         With the ceasing of this that ceases to be.


         Freedom from greed, hatred, and delusion.

The Withering of Reactivity

Mara, the personification of reactivity, is overcome not by eliminating every last reaction from one's mind but by finding a way to become impervious to his enticements. We experience freedom from reactivity without the reactivity ceasing to occur.

If we observe the incitements and do not feed them they will wither from hunger and neglect. This withering does not mean they will never reoccur. It does mean the occurrences will be less frequent and. perhaps, less enticing.

As long as we are are beings of flesh and blood and emotions, Mara, reactivity, will be part and parcel of what it means to be a human  being.

The Lay Practitioner of the Buddha Dharma

Mahanama, the most prominent adherent of Gotama's teaching in Kapilavatthu, asks the Buddha to explain what it means to be an adherent rather than a mendicant. The answer he receives would still serve to describe adherents in most Buddhist countries today. An adherent is "one who has gone for refuge to the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha"; an adherent accomplished in virtue is one who "abstains from killing; stealing; sexual abuse; lying; and psycho-active substances that lead to carelessness"; an adherent is endowed with "faith in the awakening of the tathagata," "dwells at home with a mind devoid of stinginess, freely generous and open-handed," and "possesses understanding directed to arising and ceasing, which is noble and penetrating."

---Stephen Batchelor, in after buddhism---

Coming to China

                                                     I originally came to China
                                                     to transmit the teaching and save deluded beings.
                                                     One flower opens five petals,
                                                     and the fruit ripens of itself.

                                                                 ---Bodhidharma, According to Huineng---

Hongren, the Fifth Ch'an Patriarch, Requested a Verse

The body is the Bodhi tree,
The mind is like a clear mirror.
At all times we must strive to polish it,
And must not let the dust collect.


                                                                                    Bodhi originally has no tree
                                                                                    The mirror also has no stand.
                                                                                    Buddha nature is always clear and pure;
                                                                                    Where is there room for dust?

                                                                                                                    the Sixth Ch'an Patriarch,
                                                                                                                    in Response
                                                                                                                    to Shenxiu's Verse---

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Faith Needs a Foundation

One strong in faith but weak in wisdom has uncritical and groundless confidence. One strong in wisdom but weak in faith errs on the side of cunning and is as hard to cure as one whose sickness is caused by a medicine. When faith and wisdom are balanced, one has confidence only where there are grounds for it.

---The Buddha---

Ignorance and Delusion

Ignorance and delusion can interfere with our experience of reality. They both distort. They're similar, but not the same.

Ignorance is the lack of information or experience.

Delusion is the wrong information.


Through the practice of meditation we can learn to stop, to rest in a non-reactive state, and from there we can train ourselves to respond to life with a greater awareness instead of our usual habits.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Pain and Suffering

Pain is inevitable,  

                                                      suffering is not.

                                                 ---Bhante Henepola Gunaratana---

Wholesome Sleep

If you can cultivate wholesome mental states prior to sleep and allow them to continue right into sleep without getting distracted, then sleep itself becomes wholesome.

---His Holiness the Dalai Lama---


When one is free from attachment,
all things are as they are,
and there is neither coming nor going.

                  ---The Hsin Hsin Ming---

Starving-Student Tomato Toast

Tomato juice
Sugar Freshly ground black pepper

Heat the tomato juice and add the sugar and pepper to taste.

Add a lump of butter to taste.

Once the butter has melted pour the juice over toast.

Note: you can place sliced tomato or onion on the toast before pouring on the juice.

Vegetarian Caviar

1 large eggplant (about 1 pound)
1 medium onion, peeled and left          whole
1 tablespoon of olive oil
2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive      oil
2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon of tomato paste
2 large cloves of garlic, finely             chopped
1 teaspoon of balsamic vinegar
Cayenne powder to taste
Salt and freshly ground black
   pepper to taste

To serve: toasted baguette rounds, toast points, and/or assorted raw vegetables.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Pierce the eggplant in several places with a fork.

Rub the pierced egg plant and the peeled onion with olive oil. Place both vegetables on an ungreased baking sheet and roast for 40 to 50 minutes or until the eggplant has collapsed and the onion is nicely browned. While baking, turn the vegetables frequently with a pair of tongs.

Carefully remove the eggplant stem. Cut it in half lengthwise; drain, cut side down on several layers of paper towel.

When the eggplant is cool enough to handle strip away and discard the skin. Cut the flesh into quarters and transfer it to a food processor.

Quarter the onion and add it to the eggplant in the processor with the extra-virgin olive oil, the lemon juice, the tomato paste, the garlic, the vinegar, the cayenne, the salt and the pepper.

Process until the mixture is very smooth.

Transfer to a serving bowl, cover, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours to allow the flavors to blend.

Before serving, take the "caviar" out of the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature.

The Eightfold Path

To say the Eightfold Path is to be cultivated means it needs to be created and sustained from moment to moment. the path does not stretch out ahead waiting for you to walk along it. It requires ongoing care and application.

Grounded in as complete a view as possible, practitioners aspire to think, to speak, to act, and to work at an occupation that responds appropriately to the situations of life in which we find ourselves. These are the tasks of practitioners who have made the Eightfold Path their own. As such, the tasks are expressions of a core commitment to realize the values of Awakening, of the Dharma, and of the Sangha, the Community of Practitioners.


If you care for something, you will guard and protect it. Whether the object of your care be a moral virtue, a child, or an endangered species, in each case your care manifests as a yearning to keep it safe and free from harm. Care, in this sense, is equivalent to the principle of non-harm (ahimsa) that lies at the heart of Buddhist ethics. 

---Stephen Batchelor---

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Eightfold Path

The Eightfold Path is a mirror, a measure. The Path may be likened to the banks of a stream that keep the water within the channel.

The Eightfold Path is a guide to the living of an integrated life.

A Garden

The practice of the Buddha Dharma may be likened to a garden. The work in a garden is never finished. You prepare the soil, you plant, you tend and weed. You harvest. After the harvest you prepare for the next season. Even in the seeming quiet of winter, you and the garden each are doing things in preparation for the spring.

No goal, no ending.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Eightfold Path — To Lead an Integrated Life

This path, which Gotama calls a "middle" or "centered" path, outlines a way of life that includes every aspect of a persons' humanity. Here is the classical definition:

.........And this path: the path with eight branches: complete view, complete thought, complete speech, .........complete action, complete livelihood, complete effort, complete mindfulness, complete .........concentration.

I translate samma as "complete" rather than as the more usual "right." It is what the term literally means; the phrase samma sambuddha, for example, means a completely awakened one, not a rightly awakened one. "Complete" lacks the moralistic overtones of "right" and suggests how each element of the path can be an integral part of a whole ("integral" is from the Latin integer - entire). The eightfold path is a model for a centered life, which is balanced, harmonious, and integrated instead of imbalanced, discordant, and fragmented. It is not a recipe for a pious Buddhist existence in which the practitioner does everything right and gets nothing wrong.

---Stephen Batchelor, in after buddhism---

Abundant Life

"Deathless" (amata) is another word for abundant life. If we think of Mara as death (the words amata and amara are both rooted in the Vedic mr = death), then to no longer be constrained by his armies is to be freed to live fully. Gotama does not think of the deathless as immortality—as the term is understood in Brahmanism—but as the positive absence of reactivity. Perhaps he is playing on the mythic sense of amata (like the Sanskrit amrta and its Greek cognate ambrosia) as the divine nectar that grants eternal life.

---Stephen Batchelor, in after buddhism---


By and large this world is bound to its prejudices and habits.

---The Buddha---

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Lay Adherent

In the Samyutta Nikaya, we read where the Buddha is asked to explain what it means to be a lay adherent rather than a monk or a nun.

The Buddha explained a lay adherent is "one who has gone for refuge to the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha"; an adherent accomplished in virtues is one who "abstains from killing; stealing; sexual abuse; lying; and psycho-active substances that lead to carelessness"; an adherent is endowed with faith in the awakening of the Buddha," "dwells at home with a mind devoid of stinginess, freely generous and open-handed," and "possesses understanding directed to arising and ceasing, which is noble and penetrating."

A Dharma of Two Dimensions

The Buddha taught a Dharma of two dimensions, one he referred to as Conditioned Arising and the other as Nirvana. These two dimensions are equally fundamental and primordial.

Conditioned Arising discloses the causal unfolding of life and Nirvana discloses the possibility of a life no longer determined by reactivity or habitual inclinations.


Let be the past, Udayin, let be the future. I will show you the dharma: when this is, that comes to be; with the arising of this, that arises. When this is not, that does not come to be; with the ceasing of this, that ceases.

---The Buddha---

Saturday, November 19, 2016

A First Insight

Whatever is subject to arising is subject to ceasing.


An old man loved is winter with flowers.

                              ---German Proverb---


It is not sufficient for religious people to be involved with prayer. Rather, they are morally obligated to contribute all they can to solving the world's problems.

---His Holiness the Dalai Lama---

The Buddha Dharma

Whatever is subject to arising is subject to ceasing.

The Fourfold Task:
To understand dukkha.
To let go of the arising of dukkha.
To behold the ceasing of dukkha.
To cultivate the path to dukkha's cessation.

The Dhammapada 183:
To avoid all wrong,
To do only the good,
To purify one's mind—
This is the teaching of the Buddhas.

Compassion and wisdom in equal measure.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Defeating Mara

The Buddha said to Mara, "That army of yours, which the world together with the gods cannot overcome, I shall destroy with understanding as if smashing an unfired pot with a pebble. Having brought my thoughts under control, and established mindfulness, I shall wander from country to country, training many followers."

Stephen Batchelor, in after buddhism, says: This passage acknowledges that Mara's army cannot be defeated by conventional or even divine powers. The Buddha is fully aware that these forces cannot be excised by performing a kind of spiritual lobotomy. The key to overcoming Mara lies in the use of one's intelligence: the ability one has to change how one thinks and imagines. If we represent Mara's forces as an invading army, then we are liable to see ourselves as vulnerable and defenseless. But if we imagine them as unfired pots, we picture ourselves in a different way. Instead of being cowering wimps, we could be transformed into people with a well-honed skill in throwing stones.

Note: Please remember, Mara is not the Buddhist equivalent of Satan. Mara is one's own anger, greed, delusion, inertia, fear, reactivity, and unwillingness to act.

A Noble Environment

The entire cosmos is a cooperative. The sun, the moon, and the stars live together as a cooperative. The same is true for humans and animals, trees, and the Earth. When we realize that the world is a mutual, interdependent, cooperative enterprise -- then we can build a noble environment. If our lives are not based on this truth, then we shall perish. 

---Buddhadasa Bhikkhu---

Like a Butterfly As It Moves From Flower To Flower

A Buddhist Practitioner acquires what is necessary for survival, yet with a sensitivity that leaves no trail of destruction in its wake.

Engaged Buddhism

The term 'engaged Buddhism' was created to restore the true meaning of Buddhism. Engaged Buddhism is simply Buddhism applied in our daily lives. If it's not engaged, it can't be called Buddhism. Buddhist practice takes place not only in monasteries, meditation halls and Buddhist institutes, but in whatever situation we find ourselves. Engaged Buddhism means the activities of daily life combined with the practice of mindfulness. 

---Thich Nhat Hanh---

Mara Whines

"Like a crow attacking a rock and becoming despondent," says Mara to himself. "I attack the Buddha and despair."

Note: Please remember, Mara is not the Buddhist equivalent of Satan. Mara is one's own anger, greed, delusion, inertia, fear, reactivity, and unwillingness to act.

Conversion to Buddhism

The conversion to Buddhism entails making the Path one's own.


The Buddha's authority with his students was not that of one who imposes his views on another. The Buddha consistently debated with and persuaded those with whom he was speaking through the use of reason. Because his concern was to change the way people live, his reason was practical rather than theoretical.

The Buddha used reason to help others decide how to think, to speak, and to act. He had no interest in pursuing an abstract argument to demonstrate a purely theoretical truth.

The Buddha's practical reason was ethical.

The Buddha's first principle could be stated:

                  Do no evil,
                  Take up what is good,
                  Purify the mind—
                  This is the teaching of the buddhas.

                                       ---The Dhammapada 183---

To Leave Home

To "leave home for homelessness" to become a wandering mendicant therefore means to relinquish a particular way of relating to one's home or place rather than actually repudiating them. How many idealistic young men (like my younger self) have left behind their family and homeland in a grand display of renunciation to become a monk in a foreign land only to find that they have transferred all their delight and reveling in a place to something exotic? To detest one place only to delight in another does not, from Gotama's point of view, solve anything. Without a genuine change of heart in one's core relationship to life itself, pursuing a "spiritual" vocation will be a waste of time.

---Stephen Batchelor, in after buddhism---