Friday, February 29, 2008

"Let Me Tell You About My Troubles"

Actually, don't bother to tell people about your troubles because most of them don't care and the rest are glad it happened to you!
("And that's IT!?? That's the joke!?? " -- This is what Audrey Owen's husband Nat Katzmann always says when I attempt a joke.)

Thursday, February 28, 2008


Joshin Jon Driscoll, a Tendai priest, leads kinhin after morning zazen in Cerrillos, New Mexico

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Tendai Calligraphy - III

This is the 3rd of the 37 works by Tendai priests. These here are the Chinese characters for the Buddha Shakyamuni's last instructions to his disciples before he passed into Paranirvana: "Strive with diligence!" And the brush work is in complete harmony with the words; the brush strokes are strong, deliberate, and with concentrated mindfulness.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Gozen-sama is adamant that the blue-black color of Fudo Myo-o, as in this classical painting, is the canonical color, and all others, the Red Fudo, the Yellow Fudo, etc, etc are only the personal meditative visions of various monks.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Tendai Calligraphy - II

Ven. Kobori, abbot of Sanzen-in temple brushed this, one of Dengyo Daishi's most renowned and important sayings, including the four characters MO KOU RI TA: forget self, benefit others.

In meditation, if you are able to calm the mind to the point where thoughts of self are not present, then what IS in your mind? Is it not either thoughts of others, or thoughts of the Buddha-Dharma-or-Sangha? In either case, this constitutes "right mindfulness," the 7th of the 8-fold path to liberation. Mindfulness involving thoughts of "me" and "mine" is not right mindfulness.

And you will also be thinking of others, not self, when invoking and visualizing Vaisravana ("extensive hearing") or Avalokiteshvara ("he who hears the cries of the world") or the Healing Buddha, Yakushi Nyorai.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


Driving by Rte 295, this appears to be a well-maintained New England barn. But through the doors, you're inside a real Japanese temple. This photo is 2006 on the 1st Anniversary of its dedication.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Tendai Calligraphy - I

"Compassionate Mind"
This is one of 37 pieces of an exhibit of works by Tendai priests in Japan. The exhibit was shown at the Tendai Buddhist Institute in NY and we hope to bring it to UC Berkeley in Nov 2009.
Ven. Monshin Naamon, Abbot, writes in his introduction to the show:
"Shodo, the Way of Writing, as Japanese brush calligraphy is called, is the place where art and spirituality combine in a superlative fashion. The masters of this form demonstrate both their artistry and their spiritual foundation."

Friday, February 22, 2008


This shrine on the top of Cobb has remained undisturbed since its placement in 1989, in spite of being on public land. The intention of the shrine, along with four in other locations, was to cause the mountain to be opened for spiritual practice. The prayers were successful.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

All Sentient Beings

The Indians of California faced genocide when the Spanish arrived, reaching SanFrancisco in 1776. However, when Americans swarmed in during and after the Gold Rush of 1849, the natives' suffering was multipied many times. They were pushed off their lands, enslaved, decimated by new diseases, hunted like deer, starved, and broken in spirit. In one generation, 90% of the population was wiped out. Yet among the small numbers who survived and found ways to live along with the white man, the one thing they didn't lose was their sense of humor.


The Basque nobleman Jaime de Angulo did anthropological field work between 1911 and 1935 while living with various tribes and learning 17 languages in their cultural context. He was also an Army psychiatrist in WWI, which is why he is called "Doc" in the following story. From the appendix of his book Indian Tales, this is a record of his experience taking down the language of the Pit River Indians in 1921 in Modoc County, California.


. . . . Wild Bill arrived. He was a horse-breaker by trade and I had known him in the days of my venture in ranching. A delightful fellow, always full of fun and jokes, and a superb rider; in fact he was a crazy daredevil. We had always been friends.


Later that evening, as part of the language study, Bill told the story of how Coyote and Silver Fox made the world, and he ended the story:


That's the way they made the world, Doc. Then they made mountains and valleys; they made trees and rocks and everything. It took them a long time to do all that!

"Didn't they make people, too?"

"No. Not people. Not Indians. The Indians came much later, after the world was spoiled by a crazy woman, Loon. But that's a long story. . . .I'll tell you some day."

"All right, Bill, but tell me just one thing now: there was a world now; then there were lots of animals living on it, but there were no people then. . . . "

Wha' d'you mean there were no people? Ain't animals people?"

"Yes, they are . . .but . . ."

"They are not Indians, but they are people. they are alive. . . Whad'you mean animal?"

"Well . . . how do you say 'animal' in Pit River?"

". . . .I dunno. . . ."

"But suppose you wanted to say it?"

"Well . . . I guess I would say something like teeqaade-wade toolol aakaadzi (world-over, all living) . . . I guess that means animal, Doc."

"I don't see how, Bill. That means people, also. People are living, aren't they?"

"Sure they are! That's what I'm telling you. Everything is living, even the rocks, even that bench you are sitting on. Somebody made that bench for a purpose, didn't he? Well then it's alive, isn't it? Everything is alive. That's what we Indians believe. White people think everything is dead. . . ."

"Listen, Bill. How do you say 'people'?"

"I don't know . . . just is, I guess."

"I thought that meant 'Indian'."

"Say . . . Ain't we people?!"

"So are the whites!"

"Like hell they are!! We call them inillaaduwi, 'tramps', nothing but tramps. They don't believe anything is alive. They are dead themselves. I don't call that 'people'. They are smart, but they don't know anything. . . . Say, it's getting late, Doc, I am getting sleepy, I guess I'll go out and sleep on top of the haystack. . ." .

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


a book of wonderful photos and stories

The Buddha's Rain

falls equally on all beings. The rain of the Dharma refreshes the good and bad alike. But each grows according to his seed. Some grow like tiny weeds, some like shrubs, some like small trees, some like giant trees. This is the teaching of the 5th chapter of the Lotus Sutra.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


High on a mountain

Tell me what you see

Bear tracks, bear tracks

Comin after me
I walk the same trail every day, and here, in yesterdays tracks in the snow, ol' slewfoot (actually probably young slewfoot) had placed his paw in every one of my footprints for about 100 yards.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Longest Walk 2

On the 30th anniversary of the first one, Dennis Banks is leading the event which started Feb 11 in SF and will end July 11 in Washington DC. All nations are welcome, and some Buddhists from Japan, including 20 monks, are along. Click "Voices from the Walk" for participants' posts and photos.


The Jan 22 blog had one of the winners in the "plant" category, and here is the "bug" winner. For mammals this year it appears to be skunks, as I've seen about 15 in the last two weeks. Walking to or from the meditation hall at night we sometimes startle each other. When I shine the flashlight, they trundle off with tail raised but don't spray.

Saturday, February 16, 2008


Myo-an, Ann Miller is a professional calligrapher, and a member of the Nichiren-Shu of America, where her husband Nichiran, Lance, has served as a high officer of the church corporation.
KAN is the Sanskrit letter for Fudo Myo-o ("HAM" plus diacritical marks in Sanskrit), written in the Gupta Dynasty script, the predecessor of the modern Devanagiri script, which was transmitted to Japan in the 9th c. Since Sanskrit has 16,550 different letters, each with a unique pronunciation, every Buddhist diety can be assigned its own letter, with plenty of letters left over to assign to attributes, implements, actions, etc.
If a practitioner has recited millions of mantras, read all the Fudo sutras many times, imagined, visualized and drawn the image thousands of times, then meditating on this KAN becomes shorthand for that entire experience. The sound KAN is not unique, however, due to the nature of the Japanese language, but the written letter is unique.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Mantrayana -- Quotes From The Dalai Lama

The Mantrayana, as a path kept secret to protect it from misuse, is not devulged to people outside the path. However, the qualifications for entering the Mantrayana and some of its salient points are openly discussed, such as in "Kalachakra Tantra -- Rite of Initiation" by the Dalai Lama and Jeffrey Hopkins. Below, I excerpt and comment on a few quotes of the Dalai Lama, with his words in RED, first about the value of practicing mantra.
The distinctive feature of the Secret Mantra Vehicle comes in terms of additional techniques for quickly developing the meditative stabilization that is a union of calm abiding [samatha] and special insight [vipasyana] --one-pointed meditative stabilization [samadhi] realizing emptiness [shunyata] . This mainly is achieved through diety yoga. . . . Secret Mantra is a case of using imagination as the path.
Then he makes this astonishing statement one page later: To become fully enlightened as a Buddha, it is necessary to practice Mantra and, within Mantra, Highest Yoga Mantra; otherwise it is not possible to attain Buddhahood. Some explanation follows before he reiterates: Therefore, without depending in general on Mantra and in particular on Highest Yoga Mantra, Buddhahood cannot be attained.
But the efficacy of mantra will only work for those who have the necessary qualifications, the proper motivation, the prerequisite understanding (dukkha, anitya, anatman), and the energy to carry through the practice (the generation of inner heat called tum-mo). Here are the Dalai Lama's words:
The first step is for the students to adjust their motivation so that it is properly qualified. Most of you know the importance of kindness -- the special kind of altruism, called bodhicitta in Sanskrit -- and of wisdom, called prajna. The most important factor is good motivation. With this human body already attained, to do something meaningful, you should not be selfish but should generate as much as possible an altruistic attitude. Altruism is most important.
The purpose is to serve other people, to help other beings, not just humans but all sentient beings, to bring about their welfare. The means to accomplish this is your own Buddhahood. This sequence of thoughts [omitted here] is how you come to determine that you must attain Buddhahood for the sake of others. The attitude generated is called bodhicitta, the altruistic intention to become enlightened, and it must be cultivated continually.
"Coninually" would mean to practice on a daily basis, at the least. Making Buddhism a part-time endeavor in one's life would definitely be beneficial, but cannot bring about full enlightenment. Next, the Dalai Lama invites students to enter the Mantrayana, without being distracted by the wonderful things of cyclic existence, and he tells them about two mistaken motivations for practicing Mantra. They are mistaken in the sense that the person's desire is for his own welfare. One is the motivation of seeking the happiness of this life, such as entering a mandala in order to prevent disease or to achieve success in a certain venture. The other mistaken motivation motivation is to practice mantra for the accunulation of merit for the purpose of seeking a future lifetime of high status within cyclic existence. Proper motivation is explained in the root text:
"The intelligent should seek to enter the mandala with many acts of faith, seeking the aim of what transcends the world. They should not wish for effects in this life. Those wanting this life do not accrue the aim of what transcends the world. Those generating a seeking for what transcends the world gain expansive fruits even in this world."

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Setouchi Jakucho, who entered Buddhist orders ("left home") in 1973 at the age of 50, became an abbess of a temple in 1987, and continues today her very active schedule.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Setouchi Jakucho's book on Buddhism

The Tendai abbess Setouchi Jakucho is probably the single best known priest in Japan. She entered Buddhism at age 50 after a highly successful career as a novelist. In 2000 she published a 7"x10" 230 page soft-cover book on Buddhism as it is taught and practiced in Japan today. Also covering her own career, her wide range of Dharma activities always involving crowds of people, a line-by-line commentary on the Heart Sutra, and copius cartoons of great humor centering around an irrepressable 8 year old girl shown here in the center of her mandala of family and friends. The 'holy man' at the top is her unhinged, practical-joking uncle. If only this book could be translated into English and sold here, we would be able to share in its delights. Being a skilled and prize-winning novelist, she is able to make profound concepts simple and entertaining. There is nothing else like it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


A Mantra Translated

The Vajrasattva mantra is known as the "100-syllable mantra" because of that many Sanskrit syllables. In the Japanese tradition, the mantra has the same name (HYAKU JI MYO), however their pronunciation of the Sanskrit gives 121 syllables. The following is my version of the translation into English (not "transliteration"), based on the published version by Jeffrey Hopkins in "Kalachakra" p.403, and it yields 92 syllables:

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Through the Looking-Glass

The White Knight gives Alice a lesson in Buddhist Logic. When an innocent questioner asks an experienced Buddhist questions about his religion, the answers must seem as confusing as the Knight's answers to Alice. Though his logic was impeccable, and his intentions were the best (to relieve Alice's suffering and cheer her up by playing a song), it just didn't make sense. The logic was baffling and the song was dull. What actually happened was a reversal of roles: by Alice enduring without complaint his bad entertainment, the White Knight's suffering was relieved -- temporarily.
"You look sad," the Knight said in an anxious tone: "let me sing you a song to comfort you."
"Is it very long?" Alice asked, for she had heard a good deal of poetry that day.
"It's long," said the Knight, "but it's very, very beautiful. Everybody that hears me sing it -- either it brings the tears into their eyes, or else --"
"Or else what?" said Alice, for the Knight had made a sudden pause.
"Or else it doesn't, you know. The name of the song is called 'Haddocks' Eyes.'"
"Oh, that's the name of the song, is it?" Alice said, trying to feel interested.
"No, you don't understand," the Knight said, looking a little vexed. "That's what the name is called. The name really is 'The Aged Aged Man.'"
"Then I ought to have said 'That's what the song is called'?" Alice corrected herself.
"No, you oughtn't: that's quite another thing! The song is called, 'Ways and Means': but that's only what it's called, you know!"
"Well, what is the song, then?" said Alice, who was by this time completely bewildered.
"I was coming to that," the Knight said. "The song really is 'A-sitting On A Gate':
and the tune's my own invention."

Friday, February 8, 2008


At Sekizan, Sakajiri-san's grandson Masa, same birthday as myself

Sanskrit and Japanese

Conveying the same Buddha Dharma, these two wonderful languages are very different in form. Japanese has a small variety of sounds, approximately 100 syllables. (Hawaiian has the least sounds with only 13 phonemes.) Using a syllabary rather than an alphabet means that consonants cannot stand by themselves but must have a vowel attached. Also different consonants cannot be combined. The result of having few syllables is numerous meanings per syllable. For instance, KOU is the sound for 1487 kanji and SHOU for 792 kanji. Along with various language devices for removing ambiguity, Japanese sometimes employ the hands in conversation. The right index finger writes the kanji on the left palm while the listener watches carefully.
Sanskrit, on the other hand, uses a large variety of complex sounds, combining consonants and distinguishing five separate locations in the mouth. (To a native speaker of Sanskrit-related languages, English sounds like mush-mouth.) The variety of syllables in Sanskrit is astounding, numbering 16,550. Here is a small sample, in roman letters minus the diacritical marks: BHRUM, RKHYAM, NKAU, RJVAI, STVAM, TTAH.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


This is Kobayashi Sensei, a tea master from Osaka who sets up a tent at Sekizan Zen-in in Kyoto every November, along with her senior students and the son of one of them. All month long people flock to Sekizan (free of charge) to view and photograph the maples in full color. Along with participating in the 7 Lucky Gods pilgrimmage, antique and food booths, fire ceremonies, and a one-day Rosary Offering Festival, visitors can relax at tables beside the koi pond and be served green tea and sweets.

The Japanese word EN

EN means "relationships," and for the people practicing the Buddhist tradition in Japan, good EN is the foundation. Practicing and serving in warm harmony with those you respect and trust is essential. But due to the subtlety of this essential point, many Americans do not seem to perceive Japanese Buddhism this way.
They perceive it like the military, saying "Yes,sir" and "No,sir" and advancing up the ranks like a good soldier:
Or like a business or politics, aiming to build a sangha with much wealth and many people;
Or as entertainment, getting the customers to laugh before sending them back home;
Or like a sports competition, where he who sits in lotus posture the straightest or for the longest time is the champion;
Or as a job, in which one's books or charisma or fame will lead others to give enough money to make Buddhism one's livelihood;
Or like education, where we take classes, study, learn, pass exams, and graduate.
But Buddhist EN is not like this. It is like a fire burning in one's heart (bodhicitta), spreading from one heart to another, loving everyone, having no enemies, seeking only to benefit others and bring about our mutual Buddhahood.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Five Skandhas

Various people have told me that the idea of the Five Skandhas is difficult to understand. The word in English comes out as "heaps" or "aggregates" or "a group" (as in a group of grapes). People wonder, "Why is it called 'aggregates?' What does that mean?" Furthermore they ask, "Why is the SELF, or the personality, equated with the five aggregates?" I've even heard people ask, as they struggle with understanding, "Why not six aggregates?" And one Buddhist writer has proposed a sixth aggregate.
So this whole doctrine, though an important part of the Dharma, remains obscure. However I will assert that the meaning of the Five Skandhas is logical, rational, and easy to understand. The problem as I see it is that scholars of the Pali texts have fostered confusion by relying on written tradition which when translated into English makes the doctrine of the Five Skandhas illogical and confusing. (For example, read a definition and explanation of "formations.") Peoples' doubts are legitimate. The Mahayana tradition on the other hand has bequethed us a rational and clear explanation, which fosters understanding of the Dharma, not confusion.
When one observes his own thought processes, he can watch an orderly progression through the skandhas, and watch an unbroken repetition of the process, as long as one CLINGS to the skandhas. This clinging constitutes the SELF that we know and identify with. But as the Buddha taught, clinging to the five skandhas is an obstacle to enlightenment, and that by not clinging, by overcoming clinging, we can be liberated, free from the illusory SELF, unattached to ME and MINE.
In discussing this process below, I will use Yogi Chen's English translation of the five sanskrit words. And because the process is circular, we can begin with any one of the skandhas, but to make the explanation easy, I will begin with CONSCIOUSNESS rather than the usual FORM. The progression then becomes: CONSCIOUSNESS, FORM, RECEPTION, CONCEPTION, and MENTAL CONDUCT.
This is a small "heap" (skandha) consisting of only six items, the consciousnesses of eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind. Any one of the six can be either conscious or unconscious at any time.
FORM (rupa)
This is the largest heap, infinite in size. Forms are not only objects visible to the eye, but also all the objects of the other senses.
RECEPTION (vedana)
This heap is infinite is possibilities, however it occurs only when one or more of the consciousnesses is linked to one or more of the senses. Just because a form is perceptible and a sense organ is conscious does not mean that reception is taking place. For example, when strolling along the road, daydreaming, reception is taking place between the mind and the mind-objects, but even though the eyes and ears are wide open, there may be a complete lack of reception of sights and sounds. Another characteristic of reception is that several senses may be active simultaneously, as when eye-ear-mind are all receiving while taking in a movie. The RECEPTION step is the decision as to which of the infinite forms has highest priority at the moment.
This is another large heap, but limited to those forms for which we have words or conceptions. After reception takes place, the internal naming and identifying process is a necessary (though almost instantaneous) step before one moves on to the fifth skandha.
After conceptualizing the received sense-object, a heap of thoughts spool out in internal or external verbalization. This process can go on for a long time, one thought leading to the next, the whole thought process set in motion by the previous four skandhas. Thus, the stream of mental conduct continues until replaced by another consciousness-form-reception link-up. That is, something else grabs the attention, a more compelling form appears.
The first sentence of the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra states that Avalokiteshvara ended all distress and suffering by the realization that the Five Skandhas are in fact shunyata.

Friday, February 1, 2008


"I See You, Mara!"

So said Shakyamuni Buddha on his night of Enlightenment when Mara, the Tempter and Deceiver tried to prevent his enlightenment. But the Buddha saw Mara for what he was, the Buddha was not tempted or deceived and proceeded on to Full Liberation. Even though Mara was seen and defeated at that time, he occasionally reappeared during Shakyamuni's subsequent 45 years of teaching the Dharma. The point is that if Mara was lurking around the Buddha even AFTER his enlightenment, then we should certainly keep ours eyes open also.
Mara deceives people and tempts them away from the path to Buddhahood. In doing his work, Mara takes many forms, but the following four are the principle ones:
1. The Mara of Death. The fear of dying, or being directly faced with death, can cause people to veer off the path to Buddhahood.
2. The Mara of the Five Skandhas. Ordinary untaught people cling to the skandhas and are therefore unable to experience the reality that the SELF is unreal. Mara would have them believe that the self (the atman) is real, and thus prevent them from enlightenment.
3. The Mara of Worldly Cares. By keeping people entangled in the worries (such as money) and busy-ness and klesas of THIS WORLD, Mara robs them of the time it takes to learn, enter, and explore the OTHER WORLD, which is where Buddhahood is experienced.
4. The Mara of Pleasures in the Heaven Realms. On the night after six years of striving, when Shakyamuni sat in lotus posture to make the final push to realizing Nirvana, Mara appeared and said, "Relax. No need to strive. You are already enlightened. You are known throughout the world as 'The Great Ascetic Gotama.' Striving is pointless, and if you return to the WORLD now, you will become a Great Emporer, you will have happiness, wealth, and fame, and the most beautiful and talented women will be your loyal companions." But the Buddha clearly saw Mara, and was not moved from the still concentration of mind.