Thursday, December 18, 2014

Opportunitites for Growth, by Curtis

Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche
Curtis Dutchak, Canada
I was lucky enough around this time last year to have been introduced to a meditation group in Taipei by a French-Canadian friend of mine who was living up in Zhongli. I was then, and still am, living in Miaoli County where I teach English and volunteer at a local organic farm.

I was born and raised in western Canada and before moving to Taiwan at age 30 I primarily worked in the oil and gas industry there. Despite having an interest in Eastern culture at that time, I found it difficult to access quality teachers and groups in Canada and to tap into the wealth of knowledge that I knew was to be found in Asia. Since moving to Taiwan from Canada about 5 years ago, I have found amazing opportunities here on the island to learn about Chinese culture and broaden my perspective on life. I dove into Traditional Chinese Medicine, became actively involved with a Buddhist group here, started learning about chadao (The Way of Tea), and began practicing kungfu under a former national champion.

I was soaking up what I could but always remained open to new opportunities to learn and grow. I remember attending the first few holiday parties put together by the group and immediately being impressed with both the members of the group and their teacher Shang Rinpoche. Despite only loosely knowing the group at that time, I was welcomed with open arms and immediately invited back to future events/classes and even offered a place to stay the night for when I come up to Taipei. I picked up on a conscious awareness in many of the members of the group, and it suggested to me that this was a group that there would be many opportunities to share and grow with. I was also lucky enough the first night I made it up to the tea house to be able to sit in on a question and answer period with Shang Rinpoche. From that open question period I already started to get a good feel of a teacher that was bringing an immense amount of wisdom to the table and was willing to patiently sit down and share some of that wisdom with a group of those who wanted to listen and learn. This was a great opportunity to learn personally from somebody who I felt normally would be quite difficult to access.

Over the past year I continued to go to classes every few weeks and even asked my own questions on several occasions, which I felt were more than adequately answered. I feel that I have also benefited from the Sunday evening meditation/qigong classes. These are held by students of Shang Rinpoche and from the first class I was impressed with their level of knowledge and professionalism in conducting these classes (its always nice to see a teacher/master empowering his students to further spread the wisdom he/she has passed down to them). While furthering my knowledge in meditation, qigong, and Buddhism, I have also been able to share with the group what I have been doing with Huixiang organic farms in Miaoli county. Many of the members started ordering our farm’s organic seasonal deliveries and also expressed interest in getting involved with future events put on by the farm (for instance our farm holds a yearly event in Miaoli City, Taipei, and New Taipei City where we feed the homeless and less fortunate with some of these past events feeding nearly 2000 people). The group’s desire to get involved with events like those and others like a recent beach clean up in Wanli, show an open sharing attitude that is compassion driven (selflessly putting others first which again shows me the strength of the group and a focus that is in line with my attitude/beliefs).

I have made some good friends and feel lucky to be connected with a group that has such a promising future. I feel that getting involved with them is a good opportunity for growth indeed.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

To Be a Modern-Day Vimalakirti

Shang Rinpoche Transmission
Ven. Monks in audience at Guang Ming Temple,  Melbourne
Right after a Dharma trip to Australia, I came back to a very hectic schedule in Taipei, often with back-to-back appointments until 3-4 a.m. every day. Although it’s mentally and physically exhausting, I only need to think of the eager anticipation my guests bring and I immediately remember the enjoyment of answering their questions; that in itself relieves my fatigue. In these past few days, a group of businessmen interested in Chan (Zen) came in from Shanghai to meet with me, an appointment that had been arranged three months prior. In the meeting, I asked them which sutras they had read and they listed quite a few titles which is rare in this day and age. Their primary interest was in the Sixth Patriarch’s Platform Sutra, but they felt there were parts of it that conflicted with real life. I laughed and asked my visitors if they’d heard of Huineng’s Verse of Formlessness. Two of them immediately nodded their heads and said they had read it. I quoted from the verse: 
With the mind is universally impartial, why toil to maintain the precepts?
On the virtuous path, what use is it to cultivate dhyāna (meditative absorption)?
With gratitude, one is to naturally filial in supporting one’s parents;
Righteousness gives sympathy for those above and below.
Concession ensures harmony between the noble and the lowly.
Forbearance curbs all evils.
If one is able to drill wood to create a fire,
The same diligence will see red lotus blossom grow from the mud.
Good cure is bitter in the mouth.
Loyal speech is bound to offend the ear.
By reforming transgressions one will certainly generate wisdom.
To defend shortcomings is not wise.
In daily life one must always try to benefit others.
Enlightenment does not depend on donating money.
Bodhi should only be sought for in the mind.
Why belabor seeking for the profound externally?
If you hear this explanation and practice accordingly,
The paradise is right in front of you.
Shang Rinpoche
Outside at the Buddhist Discussion Centre, Melbourne
Then I asked, “Have you been able to realize the meaning of these lines?” There was no confident affirmation from anyone. I continued, “The key to practice is to apply and train the mind – to have control over it while it remains completely spontaneous and unhampered. At all times and in all places – whether walking, standing, sitting or lying down, speaking or silent, living as a hermit or amidst hustle and bustle, at home or in a social setting – one is completely natural and at ease without experiencing any conflict or contradiction, which are signs of inadequate wisdom and stillness.” The visitors then asked, “Could Rinpoche please explain how to truly dedicate oneself to practice in the midst of a mundane life?” I replied, “Practicing all Dharmas while going beyond all forms (e.g. appearances and phenomena) – such is dedication. Studying all Dharmas and yet not being attached to them, this is Chan meditative stillness. Although human beings live in this world, full of the five poisons, it’s possible to be completely unmoved by any external circumstances. When the mind abides calmly and steadfastly, this is wisdom. This is transcending conceptual proliferations, reaching a state of unwavering stillness.”
These householders seemed to have some measure of realization after listening to my simple explanation. One of them again asked, “Rinpoche, it seems that this logic can be applied in everyday life. However, when we read your books and tried to apply the methods, we always got stuck in certain places. What could be the reason for that?” I replied, “The reason is that your foundation is not solid enough because you haven’t been practicing for that long. There is a proper sequence and a method to follow: first, you need to know that all states/ conditions are form and should be relinquished. Second, have no dualistic conceptions about any state. Third, have no thoughts about any people, events or objects. Fourth, you must be able to abandon all external conditions. Fifth, face all the different states and phenomena and then relinquish them, emptying them out of your mind. If you keep practicing accordingly, your mind will gradually become immovable. Once you develop calm impartiality towards all inner and outer states, you know you’ve reached the first stage of meditative stillness. Next comes knowing the mind doesn’t move, yet not having second thoughts regarding this stillness. It is knowing the mind is tranquil, yet not giving rise to any thoughts regarding this tranquility; gradually good and bad also generate no thoughts. Continuing, you’ll gradually see all people, events and objects, even activities (such as eating a meal, drinking tea, talking, joking and chatting) very clearly and distinctly. It’s as if a mirror in your mind was reflecting deeply into yourself and others; it is a knowing without controlling. First work toward this foundation and you will gradually pass through different states. Previously you didn’t fully understand nor have reliable practice methods from books or TV. Practice transcends rank, status, vocation, location or ethnicity.”
I then told them about the example of Master Vimalakirti for whom I have the most admiration, “When I was studying Chan in the past, I delved deep into the Vimalakirti Sutra for a long period of time. I took Master Vimalakirti’s wisdom and skillful means as a guiding principle, continuously learning from him through careful study. He’d actually achieved liberation in a previous lifetime, but due to his compassion he came back into the world to propagate the Dharma. In everything he did in normal, everyday existence, his great prajna (wisdom) and unrestrained ease shone through. He was proficient in all Buddhist practices, especially having transcended the Eight Worldly Winds. He knew which sentient beings required which Dharma for expedient practice and taught with an infinite number of approaches. He had outstanding wisdom that could rival any leader of his day and he had innumerable wealth. In order to liberate sentient beings, he often mingled with those who were disobedient, arrogant and precept-breaking. His own discipline and endurance inspired them to hasten to the study of Buddhism. Through his own meditative stillness and wisdom, he helped those with mental and physical ailments recover simply by being with them, which also increased their wisdom. Although he dressed in cutting-edge fashion, he had a majestically calm presence of mind. Although he sometimes went to the more colorful places of amusement in order to guide and teach others, his mind had long before transcended the Three Realms. His teachings caused the men and women of these bawdy places to change so that they started to use honest means of making a living. Although he was surrounded from morning to night with people and numerous admirers, his mind was unwaveringly still. Although he was dressed magnificently from head to toe, no thought of extravagance ever entered his mind. He befriended followers of other faiths and in the end, invariably succeeded in drawing them into Buddhism. He was well-versed in all the sutras and mantras, and in order to promulgate the Dharma befriended men and women, young and old, people from all walks of life; enabling them to find complete contentment. To show the proper conduct for a merchant, he became a well-known figure in their midst, earning the admiration of all.”
Shang Rinpoche Dharma
Transmission of the Dharma, Melbourne Australia
In brief, during his life everyone from kings to commoners, without exception, venerated him as much as the Buddha. He often conversed with his contemporary Buddha Shakyamuni. Ananda, and the other disciples around the Buddha, often considered themselves below Vimalakirti’s level of wisdom and debating eloquence. This kind of bodhisattva, who more than two thousand years ago blazed like a comet, was no flash in a pan or a fantasy conjured up by man. Vimalakirti is a jewel for us modern people who attempt to study Buddhism in this ocean of delusions; he remains like a clear stream for followers of Buddhism, a signpost for all modern seekers of enlightenment and liberation. My humble suggestion is that in this era, if one hopes to be of benefit to others, one cannot be bound by the orthodoxy, overemphasizing religious ceremonies or existing within narrow religious limitations. True bodhicitta is the resolve and solution for all sentient beings’ mental and physical afflictions and obstacles. Most importantly, people must be able to enjoy the benefits in their daily life and achieve true freedom and liberation upon leaving this world. This is surely the way Buddhism should be advocated in the modern world.

These are a few humble recommendations that I, Shang Longrik Gyatso, offered to the householders visiting from Shanghai who had questions regarding the problems that they (like many others) have encountered on their path of practice.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Lion's Roar, by Alex

Shang Rinpoche
State Library of Victoria, Foyer
One essential quality of a Vajra Master, as stated in the texts, is that he is fearless, proclaiming the Dharma as the lion roars his reign in the grassy plains of the Savanna. In this instance, the roar was heard resounding in the lecture hall of the State Library of Victoria, where the Venerable Shang Rinpoche was invited to speak on mindfulness and healthy living in a modern context. It was a full house, and the event started out with a demonstration of the qigong Rinpoche teaches to his students, performed by a few of the latter. Following this short session of relaxation and meditation, Rinpoche made his entry and started talking in a relaxed fashion, setting all present at ease.

After this brief introduction, Rinpoche addressed the audience, stating that nowadays, so many people practice yoga, mindfulness and insight meditation. Why then is it that no one has attained the enlightenment Buddha Shakyamuni, upon reaching Buddhahood, declared every being was capable of, it being in actual fact each and every one's original nature? Having uttered such a bold statement, he went on to expound the foundational concepts of Buddhism, namely the Four Noble Truths, Twelve Links of Dependent Origination, the Thirty-seven Factors for Enlightenment and the Four Foundations of Mindfulness: body, feelings, mind, and thoughts.

Shang Rinpoche
Rinpoche, On Stage During the Talk
On this last topic, Rinpoche lingered a while, sharing insights pertaining to practice as it relates to each of the four. On reaching awareness of the mind and thoughts, Rinpoche steered his way to open up on the topic of Mahayana Buddhism, the vehicle of Buddhism where the practitioner seeks awakening for the benefit of all sentient beings. At this point, he related the story of the first transmission of the lineage of Ch'an, whereby Buddha Shakyamuni, ever peaceful and composed, surprised an entire congregation of listeners by unexpectedly holding up a flower, and smiling. This spontaneous act was understood by the Venerable Mahakassapa, who simply stood up and smiled back. I had read this story before but never before had it been brought so vividly to life in my mind. Rinpoche jokingly added that people who study Ch'an therefore initially undergo quite a bit of confusion.

Shang Rinpoche
A Captive Audience
Towards the end of the talk, the tone became more conversational, as the crowd was invited to ask questions, and received answers both humorous and insightful. This relaxed interaction continued after the lecture, where a group gathered upstairs in a more intimate setting to ask more personal questions. The questions ranged from the theoretical to the personal, and when the topic of qigong came up, Rinpoche gave a personal demonstration.

As the discussion came to a close, everyone rose from their chairs feeling visibly light-hearted. As we proceeded downstairs to the exit, people were heard chatting and joking joyfully. It was quite a pleasure to behold a crowd so relaxed and at ease after having witnessed the roar of a lion.