My email this evening brought news of three people close to or having just died. This post is for them, and for all who are grieving, caring and letting go. Which includes me too.
There are few things in life more inconstant and more elusive, both in the fist of language and in the open palm of experience, than happiness. Philosophers have tried to locate and loosen the greatest barriers to it. Artists have come into this world “born to serve happiness.” Scientists have set out to discover its elemental components. And yet for all our directions of concerted pursuit, happiness remains mostly a visitation — a strange miracle that seems to come and go with a will of its own. “Those who prefer their principles over their happiness,” Albert Camus wrote in contemplating our self-imposed prisons, “they refuse to be happy outside the conditions they seem to have attached to their happiness.”
The following poem titled happiness is copied from Brain Pickings where you can read the full post that came with this poem.
There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.
And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.
No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep mid afternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.
It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basket-maker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.
It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.
The service Samaritans offer is so amazing. Here is a snippet of what it’s like to be at the other end of the telephone. The link I’ve provided is to the UK organization. They need volunteers.
It’s often challenging. Sometimes it’s desperately sad. Sometimes it’s uplifting. Every now and then it’s very funny. It’s one of the most satisfying things I do, it’s made me a better listener and I’m now a lot more grateful for all the good things in my own life. It’s put me in contact with the most extraordinary range of people and every so often I go home after a shift knowing that someone has been helped at a crucial moment in their life by hearing me say, “Do you want to tell me a bit more about that?
Today at Shasta Abbey, Northern California, we celebrated the Festival of Bhaisajya-guru Tathagata, the Healing Buddha. I was honoured to be asked to give the Dharma Talk after the ceremony. The title is: Exercising Faith – The Bodhisattvas’ Path.
Towards the end I mention three people by name: Michael Stone (who died mid July), Will Pegg and Rev. Master Meiten all from (or near) Vancouver Island British Columbia Canada. I dedicated the merit of the talk to them, and although I didn’t say it at the time, the merit extends to all those who have supported them, learnt from them and continue to be inspired by them. All three clearly exercise faith and walk the Bodhisattva Path. The world is full of people, Bodhisattvas’, who each in their own way inspire others to live a life of faith and generosity.
So. Bhaisajyaguru is known as the (“King of Medicine Master and Lapis Lazuli Light”), and is the Buddha of healing and medicine in Mahāyāna Buddhism. Bhaisajyaguru then is a ‘doctor’ who cures dukkha (suffering) using the ‘medicine’ of his teachings. participating in a ceremony, or other kinds of religious devotions or practices does not cure physical or mental aliments or pain. Not in the ordinary sense of the word cure anyway. That’s magical thinking. The ‘illness’ that’s cured is dukkha (suffering or unsatisfactoriness).
The intention when attending a ceremony is not to get something for oneself or for others, a healing for example. It’s an offering, an act of generosity. The offering is actually spiritual ‘merit’ generated when entering into and participating whole heartedly – in anything really. At the end of a ceremony the merit is offered for the benefit of all beings. And you may well ask. How does that work? The short answer is that merit ‘works’ because of the teaching of Anatta, non-self. Non separation of selves. No gaps.
What is the medicine? What is the teaching of this particular Bodhisattva? I’ve been looking into it! There’s a lot to get through and I’d not claim to have studied in depth. The subtext of the teachings coming out of the Medicine Buddha Sutra is that devotees shall be relieved of all that they do notwish to have (suffering caused through natural disasters, starvation for example.) and to have all that they wish for (“to have the inexhaustible things that they require, and relieving them from all pains and guilt resulting from materialistic desires”). One of five aspects of suffering is described thus: union with what is disliked is painful, separation from what is liked is painful, not to get what one wants is painful. There it is – suffering, or an aspect.
Understood from the point of view of faith, the teaching that cures suffering is to know, while heading into daily life challenges, there is nothing fundamental wrong, missing or out of place. Life is not a mistake nor is death. We already have within ourselves what is need to take the next step. And, and especially AND meditation and devotional practices, be they Buddhist or not, are not a panacea.
And don’t you love this? The ancient Aryans who brought the Sanskrit language to India were a nomadic, horse- and cattle-breeding people who travelled in horse- or ox-drawn vehicles. Su and dus are prefixes indicating good or bad. The word kha, in later Sanskrit meaning “sky,” “ether,” or “space,” was originally the word for “hole,” particularly an axle hole of one of the Aryan’s vehicles. Thus sukha … meant, originally, “having a good axle hole,” while duhkha meant “having a poor axle hole,” leading to discomfort. Copied from here.
Note from Mugo: Thank you folks for your patience. It has been about a month since I last posted on Jade Mountains. I’ve stopped counting how many places I have stayed at since leaving England 11th July, I’ve certainly been contemplating the meaning of ‘home’. I landing initially in Seattle then moved over to Victoria Vancouver Island for two weeks, then a brief trip to Vancouver, (as it turned out it was an aborted trip to the interior of British Columbia). Returning then to Victoria for another two weeks and more emergency dental work! Thanks to everybody who hosted me and supported me with Dana, food, and transport (and much MUCH more). Words fail. Such kindness and generosity.
Now at Shasta Abbey in Northern California preparing to help out on a retreat titled The Teaching of Our Tradition. On Monday I’m kicking off with a talk on Zen Master Dogen’s Fukanzazengi. What an honour!
Why leave behind your proper place, which exists right in your own home, and wander aimlessly off to the dusty realms of other lands? If you make even a single misstep, you stray from the Great Way lying directly before you.
The above is taken from a translation of the Fukanzazengi written by Zen Master Dogen and is an allusion to the parable of the lost son from the Lotus Sutra: An only son left his home and family to live in a distant land. He experienced great hardship, totally unaware of the increasing wealth his father was accumulating in the meantime. Many years later, the son returned home and inherited the great treasure that was his original birthright.
Importantly the son had to prove himself before his father recognized him as the one to inherit what was his true birthright. Here below is a longer version of the story.
THE PRODIGAL SON – a Story from “the Lotus Sutra”
This parable was told by one of Buddha’s senior disciple Maha-Kasyapa:
Once upon a time, there was a man who had a son. As a teenage, the son took his father’s money and ran away from home to lead an extravagant life. After he had spent all his money, he became very poor, and had to wonder from town to town, begging for a living.
Many years had passed and the father had been looking for him but failed to find him. As time went by, the father became very rich, having a big house with numerous treasures, gold and silver, a large herd of cattle and goat, a group of servants and employees, and a large fleet of elephant and horse drawn wagons.
One day, the son was wondering into his hometown and begging for a living as usual. He came across a fleet of luxurious wagons, accompanied by a group of servants. When he saw the procession, he thought, “he must be a king or some noble knight. Well, I should not have come here. It is difficult to approach someone very high in society to ask for help.”
As he was turning around and going away, the father recognized him and ordered his security officers to get him. As the son was approached by the security officers, he cried out in despair, “I had not committed any crime. Why do you want to arrest me?” The security officers became suspicious. They tied him up and brought him to see the father.
The father looked at him carefully to make sure that he indeed was his son. He knew that his son had a very strong will and it would not work if he tried to lure him back with money or riches alone. So, without saying a word, he ordered his release and let him go. The son was glad that he was free, but he returned to the ghetto and continued to beg for a living.
The next day, the father sent two of his senior employees to the ghetto to look for his son. The two employees found him and said, “our boss is operating a big business and he is looking for someone who is trustworthy to work as a janitor. We will offer you a good salary and benefits. Are you interested in taking the job?” Having been wandering from town to town looking for work, the son was happy that someone offered him a job. He accepted it immediately.
As the son took on a low ranking job as a janitor, the father did not say anything about their relationship to any other employees, customers, suppliers, friends or relatives. However, the son proved himself to be a good worker and soon earned the respect of his fellow employees. As time went by he was promoted to a senior position.
One day, his father got sick, and, knowing that his days were soon over, his gathered every employee, friends and relatives to announce his will. He disclosed the father-and-son relationship to everybody and announced that his son would inherit his business. The son, by this time, a fairly senior employee, had proven his ability to take over his father’s business operation.
Maha-Kasyapa (Buddha’s senior disciple) concluded that the father represented the Lord Buddha and the son represented the followers.
NOTE: Although a similar story appears in the Christian Bible (Luke Chapter 15, 12 to 32), there is a very significant philosophical difference between Buddhism and Christianity. In the Christian Bible, the father forgave the son immediately and gave him all his heritage as soon as the son admitted his sin – that means: you have sinned, therefore, success is a grace from God. Here in the Lotus Sutra, after the reunion, the son proved his ability to take over his father’s heritage – that is, success is largely a result of your own effort. However, the reader is free to interpret the story in anyway he/she wants. Copied from a .pdf from the following book. The Heart of Dogen’s Shobogenzo, by Norman Waddell (Translator), Masao Abe (Translator)