Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Great Beings, Great Master, and a Great Teacher

In place of Bhante Dhammawansha, the resident monk of Dhamma Wheel Meditation Society, who is on an Asian trip, Brother Shieh has started his series of Dharma talk on the Sutra of the Eight Realizations of Great Beings at the Clearwater venue last Sunday (April 1). But we were unable to make it to the talk then as we were in the midst of moving. After settling in, and armed with the ensuing peace of mind, we drove to Clearwater to attend the second one in the series this Sunday evening (April 8), not worrying about continuity as we had earlier attended the same opening talk but in Chinese delivered by Brother Shieh as blogged here.

At the outset, Brother Shieh reiterated that while we are layman Buddhists, we should strive to do what Buddhist monks and nuns do. Then continuing with the First Realization, he explained that while the five skandhas (or aggregates), they being form, sensation, perception, mental formation, and consciousness, occur in a definite sequence, i.e., thought follows feeling, the ascension from one step to the other is instantaneous. In addition, while the notion of self is important since only I can make it happen, it is also a barrier in the sense that any sense of control that it engenders is illusory at best.

In Buddhism, “unreal” connotes impermanence, but does not imply non-existence as Buddhism does not deny anything.

On the difficulty of drawing the young generation to Buddhism as they tend to be concerned only with the present circumstances, Brother Shieh advised that everyone has the potential to learn Buddhism and we just have to keep providing the conditions that would nudge them along in the right direction. But in order to help others, we have to take good care of ourselves by helping ourselves to learn. And this is far from being selfish. Brother Shieh then quoted the Sixth Patriarch of the Zen School, Master Hui Neng, whose Altar Sutra (or sometimes termed as the Platform Sutra) is a comprehensive compendium of his Buddhist teaching, “while I’m in illusion, I still need help from my Master. After I’ve realized, I will be able to help myself.”

Of the Five Aggregates, the first, form, relates to the body, while the other four are functions of the mind. Therefore, we should not try to discriminate between the mind and the body. According to Master Hui Neng, Zen can be succinctly characterized as “Detach from external appearances; and not to be disturbed internally”.

Another oft-repeated phrase from Master Hui Neng is “Affliction is wisdom.” And negative condition can lead to progress in a person as well.

Brother Shieh then related a famous story of how Zen Master Hui Neng, at the age of 17 and being an illiterate, was recognized for his ability to realize the teaching of Buddha as manifested in his spontaneous response to the following Chinese verses written by a brother Buddhist monk, Master Shen Xiu, who was widely acknowledged for his depth of understanding the ways of the Buddha (however, in order to do proper justice to the translation, I've elected to quote from here):
'The body is the tree of enlightenment,
The mind is the stand of a bright mirror.
Wipe it constantly and with ever-watchful diligence,
To keep it uncontaminated by the worldly dust.'

- Zen Master Shen Xiu

'Originally there is no tree of enlightenment,
Nor there is a stand with a bright mirror.
Since everything is primordially empty,
what is there for dust to cling to ?'

- Sixth Patriach Hui Neng

And a great Buddist monk had come of age.

Before the Dharma talk was adjourned, interspersed with a lively exchange of views among the attendees, Brother Shieh spent some time on elucidating the concept of “wu-wei” as introduced in the Second Realization. It’s not No Action, but acting without following the condition. For me, this is one instance where word starts to fail me. So the best I could do is to reproduce the excellent annotation by the Buddha Gate Monastery:

Wu-wei : free from forced effort (but not necessarily no-action), free from clinging and attachments, unconditioned, absolute. It also means inner peace obtained by having no desires, understanding that we are intrinsically complete and lacking nothing.

And Brother Shieh will continue with his third Dharma talk in the series on the coming Sunday (April 15) at the same time, i.e., 6pm. See you all there.

No comments: