Archives for category: dharma

Remembering impermanence also helps our bodhicitta practice: to help others, we need to help specific sentient beings, starting with the ones most proximate to us. However, we don’t have all the time in the world to do that. So we remember impermanence and kick things into gear. The side-effect of this is benefit to ourselves, because we end up carrying around less of what we don’t need.

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My new post, Forgiveness and Buddha Nature: Re-approaching the Practice of Purification, is up at the Interdependence Project’s website. Here is a glimpse:

Among the people who consciously moved toward Buddhism as an alternative to theistic traditions, it seems that, for many, one of the most attractive features that Buddhism had to offer was its lack of emphasis on heaviness and guilt in its presentations of the basic makeup of a human being and what happens when humans become confused. From the Buddhist perspective, the most essential dimension of our minds is buddha nature, which is completely free of any fault or defect. It is understandable that many people would be attracted to a spiritual tradition that teaches that human beings are fundamentally whole.

So how does a tradition like this work with confusion, disturbing emotions, and harmful actions? It basically says that these are a legitimate part of our experience too, and they certainly need our attention and care just as much as our buddha nature does. Vajrayana Buddhism says that the difference between our buddha nature and our confusion is that our buddha nature is fundamental to the nature of our mind, while our confusion, and anything that arises from our confusion, is incidental, i.e. nonindigenous to our mind’s basic fabric. Understanding this basic relationship between confusion and buddha nature is crucial to approaching the practice known as purification.

I hope you find it useful! For the full post, please click here.

 

Photo by ionushi.

“Hiromi Masuda: Let’s play the Glass 2.”
Photo by ionushi.

One of the stickier concepts from Indo-Tibetan Buddhism that is difficult to translate, both into the English language and in Western culture, is “merit” (Tib. བསོད་ནམས་ bsod nams, Skt. punya). There is also another tricky layer to this notion: the idea that there is an “accumulation” of merit that needs to be “perfected” in order to be able to awaken completely. What does all of this mean?

For starters, and has been acknowledged by many teachers, the words “merit” and “accumulation” themselves can often present challenges to making a beneficial connection with the principles that they point to. “Merit” can conjure an unhelpful sense of “trying to be a good Buddhist,” while “accumulation” feels like it has a bit too much overlap with a materialistic approach, with not enough acknowledgment of contentment.

Let’s start with the “merit” part. Normative English usage may point us to “being good or worthy,” but in Buddhism what we are talking about is a fundamental quality of positivity, benefit, goodness, and wholeness. If all conditioned things are interdependent, then merit is what happens when a process of interdependence is initiated by a positive intention and is supported by that intention throughout its course of development. Merit is positive interdependence.

As to the “accumulation” aspect, Buddhism isn’t talking about a form of cloud storage where all the beneficial actions we perform are recorded. Rather, whatever action we engage in, that action leaves some kind of a “mark” on our mind, some trace of habit that makes it a bit easier to re-engage that type of action the next time we revisit it. So if the actions we perform are supported by a clear intention to accomplish benefit for ourselves or others, then, regardless of whether that action “succeeds” in producing the benefit we had envisioned, it will leave some type of a “groove,” so to speak, in our stream of experience, and that groove will open us up gradually to the vast network of the possibilities that arise when we put some energy into going beyond our confused habits.

As we get more and more “used to” clarifying our intention and doing our best to act from beneficial intentions, beneficial avenues of thought and action become more available to us, spontaneously. So the “accumulation” aspect of working with the notion of merit simply refers to the natural strength that comes to us through familiarizing with our own mind, and releasing our hold on confused perspectives.

Although I am not versed whatsoever in fields such as neuroscience, I have my own layperson’s version of an analogy to illustrate the accumulation of merit. I sometimes think of accumulating merit as being similar to rerouting the synaptic pathways of the brain: for so long, we have been accustomed to seeing ourselves and the world in ways that turn out to be very limited. But in ways we may find surprising, our actions themselves can become a “lead” that in turn opens up an opportunity for our minds to take a fresher look at things. Every time we step out of our habitual box through acting with courage, we can then enjoy the new perspective that that action gives us. And eventually, the Buddhist teachings say, this style of relating to the world becomes a part of our (metaphoric) synaptic structure. We might not have had a chance to look into the eye of a person who asked us for money on the street if we hadn’t turned around and given them our attention and support. But if we take that small leap, there’s a moment of magic that happens there. At that point it is not clear who the beneficiary and benefactor are: there can be a moment of openness and an appreciation of another, as well as ourselves, that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. That too is merit.

It’s said that, at a certain point, once we are worked well enough into the groove of approaching ourselves and others from a standpoint of openness and trust, we can then, for the first time, get a breathtaking glimpse of the whole environment in which our actions take place. In traditional language, that glimpse is called “wisdom.” Both merit and wisdom lead back to the habits we cultivate, and the Buddha taught that, when we bring our path of merit, or the strengthening of our habit of connecting with our innate ability to benefit ourselves and others, to full maturity, then a full and deep insight into exactly who and what we are arises, even if we don’t want it to.

Thank you for visiting. More content coming soon.