Update: OMG. Scarily apropos of the following, I was just
wasting time playing with this anagram generator, and discovered that my full Buddhist name, Thubten Konchog Norbu, is an anagram for "Beckon Unborn Thought." This is a vast improvement over my Western name, which yields "Ashram Fray Month" and "Fart Harmony Mash." If you go play, and I know you will, use the advanced search to limit the possible results; otherwise you get, like, 50,000. And please share yours!
Original post: So how’s this for bizarre? My yahoo email account is working fine. Everyone’s getting the messages I send, except for one: my reply to the query from my mother’s Buddhist study group about ultimate reality (wish they’d just asked for the recipe for mutton dumplings!) and the story behind tomorrow’s Buddhist holiday, Lha Bab Duchen. Neither could she retrieve the file when I sent it through Skype. So I have no choice but to post it here, also honoring Lama Kunzang’s request (though maybe he was being facetious; he’s vastly more learned than I) in previous comments. I feel quite shy about this, since I know so little and can only mouth the words I’ve heard from good teachers. Therefore, I offer this with the caveat that any of you are welcome to challenge or correct my words in the comments:
“Hi Ma (and everyone),
It was great to connect with your group last Tuesday. I hope it’s a regular date! Remember to tell Pete, or whoever, that you need to get your external speakers functioning, and to hook up an external microphone, with long enough cables so both reach into the living room. Explain what it’s for; it’s really not difficult to hook up. Then we can all meet in ease and comfort.
Regarding Joan’s query concerning ultimate reality, emptiness, the absolute, Buddha Nature (many names for the same thing), I always start with a quote from Shantideva:
‘Relative and absolute,
These the two truths are declared to be.
The absolute is not within the reach of intellect,
For intellect is grounded in the relative.’
In other words, we can talk about ultimate reality all we like, but so long as there is an ‘I’ (the subject) thinking about a separate object termed ‘ultimate reality,’ we’ll never really get it, cuz there’s no ‘it’ to get. Nevertheless, we can approach the subject like this, quoted from the Heart Sutra:
‘Form is emptiness; emptiness also is form. Form is no other than emptiness, emptiness is no other than form.’
Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche’s comparison with modern quantum physics was simply pointing out, I think, that as physicists study phenomena in more and more minute ways, they are coming closer to understanding what the Buddha understood: there have never been any fundamental, irreducible building blocks to matter. Everything arises in dependence on something else, so there is no fixed reality. If there were some fixed element, seen from the opposite angle, we would never see things change. But of course things change all the time. Impermanence is the rule because things are empty; empty of inherent reality.
Now this is important to realize so we can reduce and finally eliminate our attachment to the things around us. We can relax into the truth of impermanence, no longer falling into frustration and depression when things change, as they inevitably do, or cling to what we consider the positive parts of our experience. But perhaps more importantly, this same principle applies equally to us and our minds.
We must examine the ‘I’ that we cherish so much, that we seek to adorn, parade around, defend, and accumulate pleasurable experiences for – our slave-master, in other words! This ‘I,’ according to the Buddha is simply a mental concept we project onto the temporary, and ever-changing, complex of our body and mental states. We can, and should, verify this for ourselves through our own contemplation and meditation. Every arisen aspect of our physical and mental being is dependent of something else; no aspect of our personal reality has unchanging, independent existence. If it did, we would not experience change in our bodies or our minds. But can we agree that we do? I hope so!
Therefore, look closely. Where is this ‘constant’ we term ‘I’ and then extend to ‘my,’ with all the grasping and trouble that comes from that? Look at every element of your body and ask, ‘Is this “I”?’ Look again and see if you can identify an ‘I’ that might be separate from the body, or one that somehow pervades the body. Do you find it?
Sit, as Rinpoche suggests, and calmly observe the arising and passing away of thoughts, moods, feelings, sensations. Where do they come from? Where do they go? What is their essence? Is ‘I’ this mind? What is mind? Where is mind? Try to identify a ‘thing’ that you can definitely say ‘this is mind and it looks like this and it resides right here all the time.’
Such timeless and crucial contemplations serve to bring us closer to the experience of ultimate reality. It’s a state free of the false concept of ego, or ideas of separate phenomena, that, as the Buddha said, are at the very root of every problem we have ever experienced or will experience. If we want stable happiness, and an end to suffering, which is completely possible for all of us, we absolutely must consider these matters, and meditate.
Then, we must consider that such slavery to the ego-concept is the plight of all unenlightened beings, exactly the same as us, in fact inseparable. From this point of view, a strong steady flow of compassion arises, fueling our quest for the enlightened state, with all of its power to bring about the liberation of others. But this is another topic; maybe that’s enough for you guys to chew on for now.
As to Lha Bab Duchen ("The Great Time of the Buddha's Descent from the God's Realm"), the 10,000,000 Day coming up this Wednesday, the story is as follows:
The queen of the Shakyas, Mahamaya, gave birth to Prince Siddhartha, in the pleasure grove at Lumbini, now just inside Nepal on the modern Indian border. Amazingly, she passed away seven days later. But, due to the strong merit of being the conduit for a future Buddha to enter the world, she was reborn in the very highest of the god realms, called the “Heaven of the 33.” This is a place of great pleasure, and nearly perfect contentment, except for one thing: it’s still a dependently arisen state within samsara. So while life there is extremely prolonged, it is ultimately impermanent, with the next rebirth likely to be much less nice. And because of the constant pleasure and length of life, beings there aren’t very motivated at all to pursue the path to enlightenment. They think things are mostly fine as they are.
So. At one point after the Buddha’s enlightenment, he considered his mother with compassion, and formed the resolve to bring about her liberation, as well as the others in that realm. To accomplish this, he simply disappeared from this world and reappeared in this god realm to teach and lead the beings there to enlightenment.
Needless to say, his disciples here on earth were pretty freaked out by his sudden disappearance. They prayed and prayed for his return. After three months of our earth time (time is apparently experienced quite differently in the god realms), the Buddha did return. The texts say three ladders appeared from the sky, the Buddha descending on one made of lapis lazuli, flanked by the gods Indra and Brahma of ladders of gold and silver, fanning the Buddha and issuing praises.
Whether or not you choose to believe the story as told, the holiday on Wednesday commemorates the Buddha’s return to complete his teaching career on earth, after this brief sojourn to liberate his mother and her companions. As such, it has a special place in my heart. I call it the Buddhist Mother’s Day!
Due to the power of the merit accumulated by the Buddha on this day, those connected to him with faith (like us) who accumulate virtue on this day are said to store merit multiplied to a factor of 10,000,000. Now, be careful! The opposite is also true, with non-virtue also increasing greatly in strength. I will spend the whole day in practice, and hope you too can find the time for some prayer, mantra accumulation, meditation, and/or ordinary acts of kindness.
In any case, at least be mindful of how you speak and act with others; generate compassion and good will as much as possible. Your future lives will thank you!
I’m really looking forward to being with all of you again through the magic of the internet!