Thursday, August 27, 2020

Opening Thoughts about "Song of the Grass Roofed Hermitage"

Grass Roofed Hut - Zen Hermitage

I heard the "Song of the Grass Roofed Hermitage" (by Shitou Xiqian 700-790) at my first extended practice session at Great Vow Zen Monastery. 

We chanted it in the evening after an arduous day of practice. The zendo lights are big, glowing, full-moon lanterns. They were turned low which created a soft and slightly other-worldly feel to the zendo. 

The group started chanting and the words told a story that was beautiful, and in total harmony with the peace that had descended on the room after a long day of practice.

The story seemed quaint, accessible and one of those stories that draws power from being from long ago and far away. A grass hut. A Zen hermit. Beautiful imagery. 

The next day the practice session ended and I went home. Occasionally I would think about the beautiful poem and its imagery drifting in chant through the zendo moons.

I have been back a number of times and always get special joy from this chant. Not long ago I reread the song. The beauty was still there on the surface, but it became clear that there was much more below the surface imagery. Since then, I have memorized the song and use it as a central part of my practice. I'll share the song and then, over several blogs, share my current level of understanding from a number of perspectives.  

This song and Hui-neng's version of the 4 Great Bodhisattva Vows are the foundation of my practice.

Song of the Grass Roofed Hermitage, by Shitou Xiqian 700-790

I built a grass hut where there's nothing of value. After it was completed, fresh weeds appeared. 

Now it is lived in covered by weeds. After eating, I relax and enjoy a nap.

The person in the hut lives here calmly, not stuck to inside, outside, or in-between.

Places worldly people live, he does not live. Realms worldly people love, he does not love. Though the hut is small it includes the entire world.

In ten square feet an old man illumines forms and their nature. Thus, this Bodhisattva trusts without doubt. 

The middling or lowly can't help wondering; Will this hut perish or not? Perishable or not, the original master is present.

Not dwelling south or north, east or west. Firmly based on steadiness, it can not be surpassed.

A shining window below the green pines - jade palaces or vermilion towers can't compare.

Just sitting with head covered all things are at rest. Thus, this mountain monk does not understand at all.

Living here he no longer works to get free. Who would proudly arrange seats trying to entice guests?

Turn the light to shine within, then just return. The vast inconceivable source can not be faced or turned away from.

Meet the ancestral teachers, be intimate with their instructions, bind grasses to build a hut, and do not give up.

Let go of hundreds of years and relax completely. Open your hands and walk innocently.

Thousands of words, myriad interpretations, are only to free you from obstructions.

If you want to know the undying person in the hut, do not separate from this skin bag here and now.


Friday, January 24, 2020

Four Great Bodhisattva Vows - A Central Part of my Journey

Our Sangha chants a version of the Four Great Bodhisattva Vows. Early on, I was intrigued and confused about their meaning. Currently I study a variant inspired by Hui-neng, shared below.

The beings in my own mind are infinite; I vow to free us.
The delusions in my own mind are infinite; I vow to end them.
The teachings in my own nature are inexhaustible; I vow to study them.
The Buddhahood in my own nature is always present; I vow to continually awaken to it.


seated buddha statue What These Vows Mean To Me

These vows are part of my daily practice.  I have used some version of the 4 Great Bodhisattva Vows almost since the beginning of consciously following the Buddha path.  Hui-neng’s version of the vows had the largest impact on me.  Intuitively, they all seemed to point north. Hui-neng’s version brought clarity that I hadn’t understood previously.  In particular, I found the added phrases “in my own mind” and “in my own nature”extremely clarifying.  The following is my current understanding of each of the vows.

The beings in my own mind are infinite; I vow to free us.

This vow talks about my relationship to the other beings on the planet.  It describes how I fabricate stories in my mind about these other beings.  It points to how those fabrications become the basis of the way I interact with others.  The separation from others.
How does this happen?  I believe most are subconscious thoughts of my habituated mind. Many are petty.  “They smoke, they are too fat, they are too thin, they are too old, they are too young, they are too conservative; they are too liberal, they are…[the list is infinite like the vow says.] All categorize, compartmentalize, and minimize. In the process of labeling, my habituated mind creates a barrier to each individual’s ability to freely express their buddha nature.
My ego uses these barriers to protect itself at the expense of others. Samsara 101.
Freedom occurs when the fabrications are realized and released or dropped.  Then Buddha nature has the opportunity to be expressed and shared – freeing us both – no separation.

The delusions in my own mind are infinite; I vow to end them.

While the first vow focuses on the fabrications I create about others, I see this vow focusing on the fabrications I create about myself.
How does this happen?  I believe most are subconscious thoughts of my habituated mind.  While growing to adulthood I received many messages like the ones described in the first vow.  My ego learned to avoid the painful messages and seek the pleasurable ones.  Mental, physical, and verbal defenses were erected and automated.  I built my own container. This container continuously prevents me from easily and fully expressing my Buddha nature just like it impedes others from expressing theirs.
The power of pain avoidance combined with habituation make this a particularly difficult vow to fulfill.  In reality, this vow and the first vow are the same vow from two vantage points.
Just sitting; continually bringing awareness to the thoughts that arise; drifting and returning; seeing the protective fabrications and recognizing it as illusion – this is the basis of my practice.

The teachings in my own nature are inexhaustible; I vow to study them

This one is trickier than it appears.  It is seductive because at first it sounds like it is about “ME”.  My ego perks up just reading it.
Once I see my ego doing its thing, I can settle into the true vow.  I see this vow as the action step to the first two vows.  It points to the method for untangling the habituated and protective barriers I created.  It says “bring awareness”, “clarify the fabrications”, and do it continually.  I believe that this is the path to emptiness, and I believe emptiness is when I naturally express Buddha nature instead of my ego nature.

The Buddhahood in my own nature is always present; I vow to continually awaken to it.

The original wording provides encouragement for the Buddha way.  The way I find this vow to be most helpful is by the constant reminder that Buddha nature is inherent.  My practice is to express it by living the other vows continuously.

I have moments of increased clarity. I have moments of delusion. Most of the time I’m in delusion I’m not aware I’m in delusion. Occasionally awareness practice breaks through. It’s fascinating when it does. Wow – “how did that fabrication take hold?” I do find that consistent sitting increases the frequency of awakening in the midst of delusion. 

Namaste and Friendly Bows _/|\_
Mark/Koun  

Returning to My Wabi Sabi Penguin blog

Sangha Jewel Zen Center Under Construction
Corvallis Sangha Jewel Zen Center Under Construction
I have been gone for a long time as I helped my local sangha get a solid website established. You can see our website here.

We also purchased a building which  we are remodeling to turn it into the Corvallis Sangha Jewel Zen Center with a beautiful zendo.

Now that my roles in those processes have largely concluded, I want to come back to the blog and continue to share more about my Zen journey in the hope that it might resonate with you and your look within.

One other update, I also completed Jukai and was given the Buddhist name - Koun.

Namaste and Friendly Bows _/|\_
Mark/Koun