Sunday, July 21, 2013

Kumare and Insight

Recently, someone recommended the movie Kumare to me. It was an interesting movie and has some valid points for discussion. First off, this isn't a review of the movie. There are plenty of those on the internet. Also there will be spoilers, so if you are planning to see the film, you may not want to finish this article now.

Basically, this is the story of a 2nd generation Indian living in the United States who decides that he is going to become a guru. And he is going to really do it up - the big indian beard, the accent, the meaningless teachings that sound wise, the colorful garb. The whole works.

He manages to get himself in front of spiritual seekers by putting on special events at Yoga centers and develops a following. All of this we have to take with a grain of salt since it is all being filmed. What are all of these students thinking with all of these cameras around? But, we will put that aside for now. He starts to develop a following of people who think they have found a genuine teacher.

Kumare is filling the role they expect of a teacher. He listens to them. He does Yoga and mediation with them. He gives them spiritual talks. Some of it is stuff he made up himself. Some he has taken from other traditions. At the end, he has the big reveal - he is not a guru, just pretending to be one. It was all a put on.

The problem is, Kumare or Vikram has no insight. Yoga and meditation are genuine spiritual practices. They work when people do them. Kumare, in his guru role, was spending time with people. Listening to them, making them feel like someone cared. This is what spiritual leaders do. So, what a surprise, if someone pretends to be a wise, caring guru he will end up with students looking for help on the journey.

So, yes, people can be fooled. Yes, people are looking for guidance on the spiritual path. Yes, people can get taken advantage of, and, unfortunately they do.

So what is the takeaway from this? If we are helping people on the spiritual path, we must be sincere. We must hold ourselves to a higher standard. And most importantly, we must let people know the answer is inside them. Each person has Buddha nature. Each person is a Buddha.

It reminds me of the story of a novice monk asking a Zen Master for help. The Zen Master said something like: Why do you waster your time with me? You have the greatest treasure of the world already within you!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Our Daily Bread

In the Five Mountain Zen Order, when a Novice teacher is promoted to a Zen Master, there is an Inka ceremony. During this ceremony, the prospective teacher sits on a cushion and one by one people come up and have a little Dharma exchange. Dharma exchange is sort of like verbal zen combat. Some sample questions might be:
  • What is beginners mind?
  • How do you cut through delusion?
  • In this moment, what would you like to not say?
Generally, at the time of the ceremony, the presiding Zen Master has already decided to promote the novice teacher. So these interactions are generally light and full of laughter. At the last one of these I attended, this is what I put to the candidate:
In fifty years I will be dead and none of this will matter. So why should I practice Zen?
This question has a couple of big hooks. If none of this matters, what is the point? Is Zen just a waste of time? Even bigger, is life just a waste of time? We have spent a lot of blog space on impermanence. The idea that nothing lasts. All things will end. So how can we answer?

In the West, many of us have heard the sayings: This too shall pass and Give us this day our daily bread. These almost seem contradictory as well. Should we focus on time passing? Or on this day? And, could these relate to our answer?

If you have practiced meditation, have practiced Zen or some other form of spirituality, or have even read a bit of this blog - the answer may be clear. The practice is coming back to this present moment. If this question were posed to me, I would answer something like this: "Just sitting here talking to you is already enough."

So, yes, there is impermanence. All things will pass. Are we wasting time? We put it all down and return to this present moment. To our daily bread. To the only moment there is.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Don't Know Mind

In the last post regarding the class on Dropping Ashes on the Buddha we looked at how Zen Master Seung Sahn tried to help his students with the question "What is Zen?" One of the answers found in the book was "keeping don't know mind." What is don't-know mind?

As in the previous lesson, there was a selection of readings that focused on how this was presented to his students. In the class we combed through those sections and came up with the following list:
  • Clear mind
  • Cutting off all thinking/empty mind
  • Like this
  • True self
  • True emptiness
  • No I to get confused about
  • Before thinking*
  • Great doubt
  • No words, no speech
  • Big mind
As said before on this blog. Enlightenment is not what you think. In fact, our practice is to keep don't know mind. This not knowing mind is very important. If you keep this don't know mind you will Wake Up!

Once again it is a marvelous book if you are interested in Zen. And all of these topics are much more fleshed out in the book and the class. If you want to study it with us at Buddha Dharma University, the class has already started for this quarter. It will be available in the quarters to come as well.

* - As our lineage contains Zen Master Seung Sahn, it may come as no surprise the URL for the university is

Sunday, July 7, 2013

You Are Already Dead!

In the class on Dropping Ashes on the Buddha, we cover the following interview between Zen Master Seung Sahn and a student:
SS: Do you have any questions?
Student: Yes, what is death?
SS: You are already dead.
Why would he say this? Clearly this student is sitting in front of him, still breathing. In the last post, we looked at how Zen Master Seung Sahn responded when asked "What is Zen?" One of his responses was, "Keeping the mind that is before thinking."

Here is how the interview continued:
Student: I'm only dying. I haven't really experienced death yet. I don't even understand what that would mean.
The Zen Master hit him
The student became confused and couldn't answer
SS: When you think death, you make death. When you think life you make life. When you are not thinking, there is no life and no death. In empty mind, is there a you? Is there an I?

First off, what is this hit? When Zen Master Seung Sahn "hit" somebody, it was usually a light tap with his Zen stick. It wasn't an act of violence! In this instance, the student was lost. So many words, so much thinking.

Next, what about this line: "When you think death, you make death?" In the history of Zen, there are many enlightenment stories. As part of these stories, there are some capping verse or phrase that the newly enlightened person writes or says. Several of these stories end with a line or phrase similar to "Mind makes everything."

So, if we keep the mind that is before thinking. We will not have life and death, like or dislike. It is possible to end suffering in this lifetime.