Monday, January 5, 2015

The Dharmakaya Buddha

Many Buddhists think that the practices and teachings of the Mahayana, Mantrayana, and Vajrayana were invented several centuries after Shakyamuni established the Dharma.  In fact, almost all developments can be shown to have their origin in Shakyamuni's teachings as found in the early sutras (Pali and Agama). Examples include such essential Mahayana concepts as shunnyata, vajra, vajra-holding dieties, and Dharmakaya.

 The Dharmakaya Buddha meditation is a cornerstone of Mahayana, one of the 'Three Bodies of the Buddha'. Here is the story where Shakyamuni describes the Dharmakaya, paraphrased from the English translation by Bhikkhu Bodhi, and exactly as would be described by Mahayana practitioners.

One of the great elder disciples, Vakkali, whom the Buddha called 'Foremost in Faith', wanted to see the Buddha one more time before his own death, but while traveling he reached a place and could go no farther.  The Buddha hearing this went to see Vakkali and then asked him if he had any remorse or regret, to which Vakkali replied, "Quite a lot." Further inquiry reveled the Vakkali had led a pure life in regard to morality, and so the Buddha asked, "Then why do you have remorse and regret?" Vakkali explained that it was because he was unable to travel to see the Buddha. At this point in the story, the Buddha explains the Dharmakaya:

"Enough Vakkali! Why do you want to see this foul body?  For in seeing the Dharma, Vakkali, one sees me; and in seeing me, one sees the Dharma."

This is the reason why today one is able to directly see the Buddha, even 2500 years after his earthly existence. In meditation, the syllable AH symbolizes the emptiness and equality of both the Buddha and the Dharma.                                                                           

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Streams of the Monastery

Anderson Creek on Dec 10, the day before the huge storms began.

There are two all-year creeks and two seasonal creeks here. This is a seasonal creek.

Anderson Creek after the big storm passed through.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Ven. Ichishima and the Dalai Lama

The man on the left in the crumpled wagesa is the great scholar-priest Ven Ichishima Shoshin. He reads, writes and speaks, beside his native Japanese, English, Sanskrit and Tibetan. What follows is one of the stories he told during my visit.                                                                                                                               Several years ago the Dalai Lama was invited to Japan. After he received a visa, the Chinese government protested and demanded that he not be allowed to visit, and so, the Japanese government rescinded the visa. Ichishima was outraged, and since the then Japanese foreign minister was one of Ichishima's former students, he put in a phone call and made the case that the visit was for very valuable Dharma dialogue and that the Japanese should not cave in to Chinese pressure. Then the decision was reversed and the Dalai Lama once again had a visa                                                                                   Next, for the scheduled talk in Tokyo, the translator was a Tibetan academic who had long resided in Japan. Prior to the event when Ichishima conversed with the translator, he could see that the translator was extremely nervous about screwing things up, making the Dalia Lama unhappy, and the various potential pitfalls. So Ichishima volunteered to take over the translating duties to the great relief of the Tibetan. And the event then proceeded smoothly.  

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Shugendo-style Goma

During the fire-safe season, roughly from November to April, this outdoor fire is lit and meditative liturgies are recited. The goma gives off light, heat, and energy, and is especially appropriate when we have guests who are unfamiliar with chanting and mantras. While the monastics are engaged in mantra meditation, the guests can benefit just by watching the fire itself. This has been termed 'Caveman Television'.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Verse of Incense

Notice in the lower left corner the smoke wafting from the egoro (after finishing a goma).  The verse recited while placing the incense in the egoro is as follows.




Monday, November 17, 2014

Essential Sutras for Tendai's Mantra Path

  1. "The Mahavairocana Sutra" (BDK edition). This is the single most essential text because it outlines the Vehicle of Mantras at its inception in 7thC India.
    The Lotus Sutra
    Gandavyuha (Cleary  trans.)
    The Prajnaparamita Sutra
    The Sutra of Fudo Myo-O
    Thr Pratyutpanna Samadhi Sutra (BDK ed.)
    The Summary of the Mahayana
    The Nikayas (Bhikkhu Bodhi trans.)
    The Amitabha Sutra
    More important than the texts is to be in the lineage of the great teachers of India, China, and Japan who have transmitted it down to the present day. The  Path has steadily evolved over 1400 years to its present highly refined state, and many of the specifics in the Mahavairocana Sutra have changed while the essence remains the same.

Saturday, October 25, 2014


This 110ft high ponderosa pine marks the location for seclusion practice. At Cold Springs, on the back of the mountain, away from the monastery, undisturbed by humans, without electronics or cell phone, no reading materials, the only media is a few Japanese sutra books. The annual seclusion for five days includes prayers & mantras, fasting and meditation, and immersion in Nature. For me, this yearly seclusion is absolutely necessary.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Opening the Mountain for Kaihogyo

This shrine has remained undisturbed at the top of Cobb Mountain since 1989, 15 years before the monastery land was purchased on another site 2200ft lower on the mountain. The shrine was placed at the confluence of two large egg-shaped boulders and intense mantra-prayers were commenced in order that the mountain be opened up for the practice of Dharma, in particular the Dharma of kaihogyo, that is, circling the mountain while continuously reciting mantras, as well as the Dharma of secluded meditation in the midst of Nature.                                                                                                                                                            *                                                                                                                                                                 The Honzon in the shrine is Fudo Myo-O. But since the land is public, I was  worried that strangers might stumble upon it, see a wrathful figure with flames and a sword, and think that some kind of devil worship was going on. So I asked the sculptor Lawrence Hill to fashion a "peaceful" Fudo-sama, in the form of Shakyamuni in his ascetic years, and holding a sword-mudra rather than an actual sword. The "Eye-Opening" ceremony was done by the legendary Tendai priest Joshin. So, for 25 years no one has disturbed the shrine, and during that same period, I have become the disciple of the great Master of kaihogyo Enami Kakusho, succeeded by Kayaki Kansho; have completed Shido Kegyo training in Japan for license in goma; have received full ordination at the NY Betsu-in; have bought land on this mountain and gifted it to the monastery; have built a goma-d0 called Hoshu-in which in 2010 was consecrated by priests from the Enryaku-ji on Mt Hiei; and received permission to teach Ajikan meditation. Yet all this amounts to nothing since the work is far from over. And though many many people have visited the monastery, still not one man has yet embraced this happy life of renunciation and striving.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

THREE PHOTOS of a goma fire offering

Sometimes guests participate in a 10AM goma on Saturday

and stay for a vegetarian lunch

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

At Dr Ramamurti Mishra's SF Ashram, 1971

A photo from the past -- 43 years ago! From left to right: Baba Bert, chief disciple; Yogi Bhajan, a Sikh master; Dr Mishra, at his ashram in SF; and Dr Ajari, my Shugendo teacher for 18 years before entering the Tendai Sect in 1988. Here shown is Dr Ajari telling some outrageous tale, by which some of the listeners are amused, and some definitely NOT AMUSED (note Baba Bert).

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

"The Ides of September are Upon Us"

Technically, the "Ides" is the 15th, and it is March, not September, however . . .  the change of the seasons is here and thus begins a new, or re-newed, spiritual cycle. The long, hot Summer has passed. It seemed like every day the high hovered around 90 degrees. Now rain clouds have returned to the sky and the temps dropped to the 70s.  Soon (Sept 21) the deer hunters will put away their rifles, and on Cobb Mountain we can begin the "Autumn Peak" with the walking meditation called 'Kaihogyo'. This signals the start of the annual practice cycle which includes self-reflection and repentance for any unskilled actions in the past year. The photo shows unnamed monks in the midst of prostrations on Mt Hiei. With each of the 3000 bows they are calling out the name of a Buddha -- 1000 past Buddhas, 1000 present, and 1000 of the future.         

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Remembering the Tohoko Earthquake

Two weeks ago the city of Napa (50 miles away) was hit with a M6.0 earthquake which damaged buildings and injured many people.  I recalled the earthquake in northern Japan 3 years ago 
and tried to imagine the feeling of a magnitude 9.0 quake, which means it was 1000 times as powerful. In the photo below, Tendai priests gathered at that time to say prayers for the 20,000 people lost. Beyond that, the world is still suffering from the nuclear power plant overwhelmed and destroyed by the massive Tsunami.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Contemplating the Pure Land

Contemplating the Land of Amitabha, the Buddha of Infinite Light in the western direction; watching the 300 prayer lanterns we had assembled drift into the sunset. At the request of Kansho-sama, on one of the lanterns I had written the eulogy for the recently deceased Mayor Flores of Saipan a wonderful man.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

"Even the insects want happiness" --- the Dalai Lama

A mantis walks up to the temple to pray.

Unfortunately for him, a juvenile rattlesnake

also comes here to prey -- on such things as

lizards, mice, and large insects.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Memorial Services in Saipan, Northern Marianas

On the small island of Saipan (about the size of San Francisco) we participated in various services for WWII dead. In a battle which lasted less than a month, 29,000 Japanese soldiers died (out of 31,000 total), 3500 Americans (out of 71,000), and 22,000 civilians, mostly Japanese suicides but also native Chamorros caught in  the crossfire. Here shown are 300 lanterns we assembled, placed candles inside, and set adrift in the ocean at sunset. Written on the lanterns are the mantras NAMU MYOHO RENGE KYO  and NAMU AMIDA BUTSU.

On the small island of Saipan, which is about the same size as the City of San Francisco, we participated in various services for the WWII dead. In a battle that lasted less than a month, 29,000 Japanese soldiers died (out of 31,000 total), 3500 Americans (out of 71,000 total), and 22,000 civilians, mostly Japanese suicides, but also Chamorro natives caught in the crossfire.
Here shown are 300 lanterns which we made, placed candles inside, and set them to drift in the ocean at sunset. Written on the lanterns are the mantras NAMU MYOHO RENGE KYO and NAMU AMIDA BUTSU.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Perceptions of Japanese Buddhism

The Japanese word 'EN' means 'relationships', and for the people practicing our Buddhist tradition, 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, the American perception is often different.

They see Japanese Buddhism as a business, where entry fees are charged and amulets sold.

Or they perceive it as entertainment, where rites and rituals are performed for audiences.

Or they see it as similar to the military, with a hierarchical form and young trainees shouting 'HAI!' (Yes,sir!) to advance up the ranks.

Or as a sports competition, where he who sits Zazen straightest for the longest time is superior.

Or as a livelihood, where one with sufficient charisma and fame will be supported by others.

Or like schools, where by attending for several years, one will receive a certificate and title.    

But Buddhist EN is different from all these. It is like a flame 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.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

SAMANTABHADRA the Practical Aspect of the Path

This is an icon of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva (Fugen Bosatsu, the All-Good Bodhisattva), along with his seed syllable (AN) and his mantra (OM SAMAYA SATOBAN). In the analogy of walking the Path to Bodhi with the two feet of study and practice, he represents the 'practice' aspect, the side woefully undervalued in Western culture.

Saicho, the Tendai founder in the 9th century AD, clearly saw Japan as a Mahayana nation, leading that country to benefit greatly by changing its form of Buddhism. Today we might see the US as a Hinayana nation with most followers seeking their personal benefit or the benefit of their local group while emphasizing the intellectual side of Buddhism. For those who wish to establish the altruism, compassion, and universal benefit of the Mahayana in this rocky ground, the diligence, ardent practice, and great vows of Samantabhadra should be quickly undertaken.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Rights of Sentient Beings

As Gozen-sama told me, "These animals (in his case, the monkeys of Mt Hiei) have as much a right to be here as we do." Likewise, this 2yo rattlesnake has a right to coil up on the step to the temple, where he remained for nearly 24 hours. And previously there was the bear -- see Nov 13, 2913 blog -- ascending these steps and strolling around the outer walkway.  

Monday, May 26, 2014


The 'full moon of the fifth month' by the lunar calendar is most commonly cited as the Buddha's birthday as well as the day of his enlightenment. His six-year search leading up to that day is well worth knowing since many people are engaged in that same search and can benefit from studying both the successes and failures of his efforts. It is important to remember that his point of focus for those six years was 'Nirvana'; that after his night of enlightenment which led to the realization of Nirvana, he was "inclined to inaction" because of the the difficulty of explaining it to people and the likelihood that they would not understand, thus bringing benefit to no one; and that after two weeks of such contemplation he changed his mind and set out on the path to do everything he could to show people the way to end all suffering. It was at this point that he became the Buddha.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Healing Work

Uehara Gyosho-sama, after finishing the 1000-day walking meditation, begins his healing work, stopping first in a formal visit to pay homage to the founder's healing of the Emperor circa 900AD. 'Healing' in Buddhism is used in the broad sense of leading people to see and abandon the causes of their suffering, teaching them to loosen the bonds to this ephemeral world.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Goma Prayer Sticks

This photo is of DAI AJARI UEHARA GYOSHO's goma in Japan and shows the prayers written in Chinese characters, but here people will write them in English. The prayer sticks are written by the people attending the ceremony, and then entered into the fire offering (GOMA) by the officiating priest. While the priest is praying for the benefit of all beings, for extinguishing the causes of suffering, for identification with FUDO MYO-O, and for the vision of MAHAVAIROCANA BUDDHA, the people are usually praying for their needs in daily life. People in their 20's often pray for "Heart's Wish be Realized"; those in their 30's for "Family Safety"; those in their 40's for "Business Prosperity"; those in their 50's for "Husband-Wife Satisfaction"; and those 60 and older for "Relief from Health Problems".

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Professor/Bishop Ichishima's Father

The story of Ven Ichishima Shinryu illustrates one aspect of Buddhist karmic connections, called EN in Japanese. Ichishima Shoshin and myself have a strong connection going back 40 years, due in large part to the strong relation between his biological father and my spiritual father, Ven Enami Kakusho ('Gozen-sama').  Both fathers were special among the 400+ disciples of Enami Soken, all of whom trained in Kaiohogyo. In the book "Marathon Monks of Mt Hiei," author John Stevens relates that, "Enami was intent on restoring Tendai Buddhism as a force in the contemporary world . . . He realized that if Mt Hiei ceased to be a center of training, all was lost. He began his 1000-day kaihogyo in 1938. Enami Soken trained over 400 disciples and virtually all of the top Gyoja of the modern period were his disciples." Among these many disciples, Shinryu was the first, doing the 100 days in 1938, and Gozen-sama became the top disciple and successor to Soken. This strong relation then was passed down to their sons.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Ven. Zasu's Gift of Calligraphy

This calligraphy was brushed by the current chief of the Tendai school, the Venerable Zasu Handa Kojun. At 97 years old, he still produces amazingly vigorous work. The first character is "DOU", meaning 'the Way' or 'the Path', which was one of the words the Chinese used to translate 'Buddhism' when it first arrived in China almost 2000 years ago, since it resonated with some of the ideas of their native religion of Taoism. The second character is "SHIN", meaning both 'heart' and 'mind'. So the two characters together (DOSHIN) can be rendered as 'The Mind Set on the Way', 'Bodhicitta', or 'The Bodhisattva Path'