Category Archives: Transmission Lineage

More to death than dying

Faith traditions invariably have teaching, based on faith/belief, around what happens when somebody dies. Hopefully such teachings bring comfort to those who are grieving as well as strengthened faith in those approaching death themselves. Buddhism has a number of schools or traditions with similar yet different teachings around what happens. Personally I don’t feel a need to know!  However I’m able to offer meaningful thoughts to the grieving which tend to focus on living and the departed persons life.

I was out walking just now pondering on this whole subject. It would seem we (in the West) are held in a dynamic tension between verifiable scientific proof as to what happens and real-time imaging/the visionary (including visionary dreams). My experience around death, which I do not take as fact, tends towards the visionary. This all is coming to mind since there seems to have been a lot of death in the family lately.

Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett, my teacher, died eighteen years ago on the 6th November 1996 here at Shasta Abbey. She’d had a really bad cold for three days and finally on the third day around 2.00 in the afternoon her system gave out. On that day and generally around that time a number of us noticed how up-beat we seemed, joyful even. We refer to one who has died such as Rev. Master Jiyu as entering Eternal Meditation and in a certain way we all joined her there. How could there not be collective joy and celebration?  Yes, and at the same time there was sadness at the person of our Masters’ leaving us.

Around this time of year there are ceremonies held within our religious order remembering Rev. Master Jiyu and Shasta Abbey was no exception. Invariably memories of that time are very personal as is the case around any death of somebody close, or one of our animal companions too for that matter. These are my memories.

Last Sunday morning a Memorial was held for Rev. Jiyu which included a separate ceremony at the site where she is buried, marked by a majestic white stupa with a smooth paved area  surrounds the stupa. Everybody present, lay and monastic, went out in procession to the stupa site and sang scriptures as we walked around (circumambulated) the stupa a number of times in honor of the one interred beneath. As we sang together in the crisp sunny morning air I was taken back to the actual burial ceremony, eighteen years ago.

I was one of the two officiating monks for the burial and chose to wear the black novice monk kesa Rev. Master wore when she was a novice in Japan. It was a huge honour to wear her robe and of course being asked to be one of the celebrants. It was freezing cold, I had a well developed cold as did several other monks. I felt like death! A monk stood close by with extra tissues and cough sweets as we stood on the uneven newly dug earth facing the end of the ceremony hall with Mt. Shasta behind. The ceremony went on for perhaps two hours with scriptures being repeated over and over as everybody, quite a crowd, put a spade full of earth on the coffin. I might have been a bit delirious by the end of it all, possibly during the ceremony as well! Was I seeing things?

Returning now to last Sunday. I was standing in much the same place I’d stood at the burial with the tip of Mt. Shasta white with snow peeking out from behind the meditation hall building with blue sky above. Around me I sensed a crowd gathering among the surrounding trees, larger than the one physically present. In the sky there appeared a lively sense of beings riding on large birds, flying freely and joyfully. I didn’t look up. Didn’t feel the need to. Didn’t concern myself as to whether or not I was seeing things, again.

Yep, there is more to death than dying and I guess we will all know what that is when our time comes. Until then let us fully appreciate the lively sense of being physically alive while going about our day, and when in repose too.

This post is for the brother of one of the monks who is getting closer to death by the day. May he find true peace.

Audio Recording: Rev. Master Koten Prior of Lions Gate Buddhist Priory British Columbia, Canada gave a talk after the ceremonies last Sunday. The title of the talk is: To View The Morning Star. The Reverend speaks about Rev. Master Jiyu; giving teaching about training with a master and about training generally. It lasts just over one hour and rich with Dharma and best listened to while sitting quietly. Not for example when out jogging or driving or while doing the dusting or washing the dishes! Just a thought.

Great Master Bodhidharma – Remembered

1Bodhidharma

Beyond this mind there’s no Buddha anywhere. The endless variety of forms is due to the mind, but the mind has no form and it’s awareness no limit. Unaware that their own mind is Buddha people look for a Buddha outside the mind. To seek is to suffer. When you seek nothing you’re on the path. To give yourself up without regret is the greatest charity.

Words drawn from: The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma, Translated by Red Pine

Today we remembered Bodhidharma during a ceremony dedicated to him and his teachings. The above was read out at the start of the ceremony for all to hear. It struck a chord.

Nothing to Seek

From the Eihei Koroku – Dogen’s Extensive Record. Another gem from this huge tome.

Zazen within Desire and Stumbling
I can remember, Dharma Teacher Dayi of the Tang dynasty asking Master Ehu, “There is no dhyana in the realm of desire, how can we cultivate the samadhi of dhyana?”
Ehu said, “You only know that there is no dhyana in the realm of desire. You do not yet know that there is no desire in the realm of dhyana.”
Dayi had no response.

and that, you might think, was the end of that but no…
After a pause Dogen said:

Within seven tumbles and eight falls we still take up and use [meditation]. Both “no desire” and “no dhyana” are not true. In steadfast immovable effort there is nothing to seek. How can this be equated with the three realms [of desire, form, and the formless]?

We are constantly being pointed to ‘going on beyond’. No resting place and no ‘stumbling’ place it would seem.

Living Buddha Life – No Beginning, No End

'Passage' Eden Benchmarks, Stenkrith Park, Kirkby Stephen. Crumbling.
‘Passage’ Eden Benchmarks, Stenkrith Park, Kirkby Stephen. Crumbling.

It’s a long time since I made myself a new day robe. Years possibly. Time passes and one doesn’t necessarily see the frayed cuffs and faded fabric. Imperceptibly, day by day material things age. A rip does get ones attention signally something needs to be done however for the most part the everyday wear and tear goes unnoticed. If the garment does the job that’s good enough and with a weekly wash appropriate smartness is maintained.

Yesterday was almost entirely devoted to making myself a new robe. That involves measuring the old one and then cutting out new fabric ready for sewing. So I’ve been taking a closer look from the outside at what I’ve been wearing every day. The fabric is not at its best, several seams need a few mending stitches and the sleeve cuffs are worn through and overdue for repair. I’ll be giving it some TLC after the new one is finished and then it will become my second best.

And I love that robe! Anything used, worn and handled daily builds a loyalty and a caring and a cherishing which forges a bond. One could say this is just attachment and in part that is true. Recognizing this dynamic between oneself and items of personal use though doesn’t mean the next step is to get rid of, or lower ones regard and gratitude. Not at all. In fact items of personal use that once belonged to revered masters and teachers are highly valued as an object of remembrance. I’ve several things which my late teacher used. In fact I have a brown small kesa made out of fabric from one of her day robes!

What’s stuck in my mind is a conversation from yesterday. I’d been chatting generally to an acquaintance and mentioned what I’d been doing all morning. Oh, are you going to put in part of the old robe? she asked. Why would I do that? I replied. For continuity, was her response.

Now pondering on this business of continuity generally I’m left thinking the marks we make in the world, which gradually crumble and eventually decay, are the visible marks of the life of the Buddha having been lived. I love my old robe because it has given me shelter to live this life, which has no beginning and no end!

The day in and day out living the life the Buddha taught is that which lives on. Unbroken continuity?

Field Of Merit Revisited

I just wrote a comment in response to one left by Chris Y. I’d got more and more to say and the comment has turned into post length so I thought I would elevate it to the front page as a post. Here is my response to the comment left by Chris:

An Explanation
By Rev. Mugo – Posted on July 1st, 2012

Thanks Chris for giving me the opportunity to write more on field of merit. What you wrote made me smile even though I am not familiar with either the film you mention nor the quote from it.

It was not my intention behind writing that short piece about field of merit to reference the film Field of Dreams, that is build it, and they will come nor the inspiration behind what I wrote. Although you may have caught in the wind that I do have a ‘project’ lurking in the background not entirely unconnected to the field of merit!

The term is not my invention either although I found out AFTER I used it in a, for me, significant talk referring to the Order as a field of merit which I am committed to. Well it is a commitment to all those who train within the order, as well as those who don’t. You could say it is a commitment to practice ALONGSIDE OTHERS, all living things as the kesa verse says.

The kesa, in whatever colour, form and size, is referred to in Buddhism as a field of merit. I have no handy scriptural reference up my sleeve unfortunately. The kesa, as you know, is deeply connected to the Buddhist Precepts being both *symbolic and *identical really. As I was told just before lay ordination, this is not just a bit of black cloth to hang around your neck! Love those American monks!

The late Rev. Master Daizui, former head of the order, extended the meaning of the kesa to include the unseen kesa, that is wearing the kesa of training whether or not it has been formally given and received ceremonially. So it is, with this extended meaning of the kesa, that the field of merit is boundless/formless. This has direct meaning for me.

Here is the kesa verse spoken daily as one clothes oneself with the Precepts for that day.

How great and wondrous
Are the clothes of Enlightenment
Formless and embracing every treasure
I wish to unfold the Buddha’s Teaching
That I may help all living things.

Somebody asked what the connection between field of merit and Buddha Nature is and whether they are identical in meaning. Looking now at the kesa verse along with what I’ve been saying one can see there is a flow of connection. Namely, is it not the wish/vow/promise to live ones life in harmony with the the Precepts which makes manifest the field of merit? To make manifest non separation/no separate self which is the teaching of the Precepts handed down from the Buddha. See Anatta the teaching of no separate self. Also see Sunyata. BTW, I use Wikipedia as a first stop reference point but that’s all it is. One has to explore teachings widely and within meditation particularly.

**I will need to write some more about that for those not familiar with how the teaching is passed, or flows, through the generations reaching to the time of the historic Buddha and before him.

For all those who just don’t get the idea of spiritual merit, or get worked up about the very idea of it, please do not worry yourself. Most people get on just fine and merit remains a concept. This doesn’t make you shallow spiritually it just shows that we all come at religion/spirituality from different directions. And I am all for that.