winds of joy, light at my feet

From Bodhidharma Anthology by Jeffrey Broughton: Entering through practice – equanimity

The second entrance to the path is through the practice of following conditions or (Red Pine) adapting to conditions.  

(S)entient beings lack a self and are all whirled around by conditions and karma; suffering and joy are to be equally accepted, for both arise from conditions.

When life throws up these dust storms that blind me or the days grow darker and darker, my support circles point to the light at the end of the tunnel.  I understand that in their love for us and their wish to speed up the journey through the dark or bumpy parts, they’d like us to look into the distance and grasp that this experience is impermanent.  However, it’s a risky process which can carry us too quickly away from the reality of what is right here.

The light at the end of the tunnel is actually more useful when it shines right here in tunnel at my feet.  

Bodhidharma’s teachings suggest that we are vulnerable to being swept away by the winds of joy and the dust storms of suffering.  To attach to each one unduly makes no sense because the conditions that created them are not sustainable.  (Oh yes, I can definitely continue to make myself miserable but that’s not the same misery I started out with.  Check it out for yourself!)  To reject either unconsciously is dangerous because this creates a loss of intimacy with ourselves and others.  To become confused about the origins of them is pointless because the causes and conditions lie in an intricate and oft-times tangled web of action and reaction.

Unmoved by the winds of joy*, one is mysteriously in accordance with the path.

Now you may thank that this reduces you to zombie-like blob, careening off the walls and lamp posts of your path.  At their extreme, all statements are untenable and likely false.  To be unmoved is to be steady in the experience of joy, to be connected deeply with it.  So deeply that there is a spaciousness that arises which can contain the entire spectrum of variability in each joy, sorrow, contentment, pain, love, and anguish.

The adaptability we practice is not to the great brush strokes of impermanence.  It is to the rhythmic variation in the winds of joy and woe.

Auguries of Innocence
William Blake 

It is right it should be so:
Man was made for joy and woe;
And when this we rightly know
Through the world we safely go.
Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine.
Under every grief and pine
Runs a joy with silken twine.

*”Winds of Joy here may refer to the eight winds or eight worldly conditions.  For a brilliant story read here.

the five fears of the beginning bodhisattva

Sprout discovers The Thing.  It doesn’t fill him with as much fear as the Five Fears that assail bodhisattvas.  I found this a fascinating tidbit about bodhisattvas in Red Pine’s commentary (and there are innumerable delicious morsels in his translation of the Heart Sutra).

First a bit a backtracking.  The problem with studying, learning, and  writing is the time for consolidation isn’t always available.  After Rohatsu in December, I committed to taking on the various commentaries on the Heart Sutra and have been delighted by some I didn’t know about.  Coincidentally (or not), a copy of Red Pine’s translation arrived from Counterpoint Press and that just sealed the deal to dive into the sutra.  (I have Ken McLeod’s contribution on the shelf but may not get to it until later this year!)

Second, a bit of history.  The first book on the Prajnaparamita I tackled was Lex Hixon’s Mother of All Buddhas.  The outcome was the same as I would have had as a fair-to-middling Elementary School student trying to read about Quantum Physics.  Then came Thich Nhat Hanh’s work, The Heart of Understanding from which I extracted the magical nature of the mantra: gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha.  That seemed to suffice with regular chanting of his translation of the sutra and admonishment to simply let it seep into my bones.  Unfortunately (or not), I’m not much given to blind belief and kept returning to and becoming discouraged by Hixon’s tome.

Over time, I think I fell into the common experience that the Heart Sutra is one part faith healing, one part penetrable only by advanced scholars, one part confounding of terms and language, one part apostolic creed, one part…  You get the idea.  It seemed to be the elephant many blind wise persons were trying to describe to equally blind audiences.

Before you buy my version of the elephant, do listen to Kaz Tanahashi’s commentary on the Prajnaparamita.  The recordings are from Rohatsu at Upaya Zen Center and are in the first 20 minutes of each dharma talk.  Listen to rest of the talks too but Kaz’s description of the origins and the intent of the sutra are invaluable to clarifying this tangle that arose out of scriptural, doctrinal, and cultural contacts.

Now to Red Pine.  This translation and commentary is painstakingly written and expresses the tangled history with luminous clarity.  You can read various tidbits from it in the previous posts of this week.   However, what really stands out for me is the way Red Pine puts into perspective the historical backdrop and the doctrinal intent of the sutra – with a dollop of rollicking Buddhist mythology.  As he walks through the sutra, we learn about the intentional way it is set up to deconstruct (as a deconstruction itself!) the teachings of the ancients which lay stuck in objectifying experience.  He takes us through to the meaning of being a bodhisattva and the challenges.  That was worth the price of admission.  And finally, there is a lovely flourish that draws the circle of going inwards into practice so we can emerge from the womb of the Prajnaparamita as buddhas (hence the sutra’s epithet, Mother of All Buddhas).

Back to the teaser: what are the five fears of the beginning bodhisattva?

We fear survival – what if I give all and that generosity depletes me?

We fear criticism – what if we are censured, undermined by the dis-ingenuousness of others?

We fear death – what if we back away from that ultimate sacrifice, of giving up our life for another, for all others?

We fear a bad existence – what if the teachings are not available just as we come into being and need them to guide us?

We fear speaking before others – what if we fail in relaying the urgency of practice if we are all to realize being buddhas?

This is the holding back in the early stages of bodhisattva-hood.  When we cannot extend our practice beyond these fears, it gives birth to a refusal time and again to engage in this very life that is our own.