Friday, January 23, 2009

Compass of Zen

I am taking a course called Compass of Zen. Aside from the absence of grading, this is a course just like any other college course. There is a monster stack of books, reading assignments and homework. Okay, so we don't really HAVE to turn in homework but it is suggested that we work through the exercises, especially if you want to become a Dharma Teacher. So I have decided to work through these exercises here, in my blog, for everyone to enjoy. So here goes!

The Story of Guatama Buddha

Siddharta Guatama was a prince who lived in a palace located in Southern Nepal. His father saw to it that he received everything he could ever want. The ugliness and harshness of the world was shielded from his eyes. Even his video games were rated E for Everyone.

Like a busted pipe, the harshness of the world eventually leaked into Siddharta's eye. He witnessed sickness, old age and suffering. He wanted to know why it is that such things must happen. Why is there suffereing? His world of material excess did not answer this question so he ran away, turning his back on his wife and child, renouncing the world to become a religious beggar.

For six years, Siddharta studied with gurus to no avail. So he renounced the path of the mendicant. Having everything didn't help answer his question and neither did having nothing. So Siddharta decided to follow a more moderate path known as The Middle Way. Doing so, he gained enlightenment becoming a Buddha. He attracted a band of followers and he traveled around teaching others his method for escaping suffering. He became a master plumber.


First of all, let me just say that I mean no disrespect to Theravada Buddhism when I use the term "Hinayana." In case you don't know, Hinayana is often seen as an insult since the word translates into "lesser vehicle." But Theravada and Hinayana are the same... well... Theravada has its roots in Hinayana... and that's my point here.

Out of all of the various schools of Buddhism, Hinayana is the oldest. Some claim that this is what Siddharta taught his early followers. Nobody knows for sure.

Hinayana, as well as all Buddhism, teaches that all things are impermanent. How so? Well, just sitting there, you are shedding cells and getting older. Each time the wind hits a rock, that rock gets smaller. Every experience you have changes the way you think. Unfortunately, we like to believe that things are permanent. We attach ourselves to objects and ideas only to become upset when things change. We call this "suffering." Hinayana wants you to realize this, to shed your perceptions, accept emptiness and eventually, end the cycle of birth, death and rebirth (aka, Nirvana).

Suffering comes, for the most part, in eight parts:

  1. Birth. You know it hurts everyone involved!
  2. Old age. Thanks to vanity and incontinence.
  3. Sickness.  Who LIKES sickness?  I mean HONESTLY!
  4. Death.  It's not the death but the antici
  5. Seperation from loved ones. As the song goes, "turn the page!"
  6. Being around those you dislike. Or as I like to call it, "going to work." KIDDING!
  7. Not getting what you desire. Like a Wii for Christmas. WTF?
  8. Imbalance of the five skandhas: form, feelings, perceptions, impulses and consciousness. I guess this is like being fat, being sad,drinking too much or obsessing over stuff.

It is also taught there nothing is pure. This includes purity of both body and mind. Loving lists, Hinayana has a list of impurities, aka, "human desires." Now keep in mind that desires are neither good nor bad! These are just things humans have a tendency to obsess over.

  1. Material wealth. Stuff, stuff and more stuff!
  2. Sex. Bow chicka bow bow!
  3. Fame. Not just famous, but being noticed. Bucking. Being a pimp.
  4. Food. Gluttony! Being haunted by a hungry ghost.
  5. Sleep. Ten hours just might be a little too much, no?

To top out today's blog, we come to nonself. Just as it sounds, this means you really don't exist. But don't worry, nothing exists. It makes sense considering that "all things are impermanent." If things constantly change then there is nothing you can point to and say, "This is that thing."

This is the king of lists! Imagine having to memorize all of this!

Characteristics of all external phenomena

  • Arising. Birth, creation, poking its head out of the ground.
  • Stability. There you are!
  • Decline. Getting old, wearing out, fading away.
  • Dissolution. Death, wood chipper, rotting.

Aspects of the mind. Just like stuff only faster (usually).

  • Arising. A thought appears!
  • Stability. You mull it over.
  • Differentiation. This is this thought and not that thought.
  • Extinction. And it's gone

Finally we have cause, effect and samsara. Some would call this karma although others say that karma is nothing more than a habit of doing the same cause for the same effect. This is pretty basic, really. Everything has a cause and every cause has an effect. A good cause leads to a good result and a bad cause leads to a bad result. Karma! Samsara is nothing more than the cycles of cause and effect; of arising and dissolution. Nirvana is breaking this cycle. Nirvana is canceling out your karma.

Within cause and effect, we have primary cause and dependent origination. I won't go into those right now. But just know that they are coming!

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