Sunday, July 20, 2008

Like a dream

The most common use of dreams in the literature of the Mahayana, or “Northern School” of Buddhism in China, Tibet, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam is to see dreams as a simile for sunyata, (emptiness) the hollow core at the heart of all component dharmas (things). For example, in the well-known Vajra (Diamond) Sutra, the Buddha taught that:

“All conditioned dharmas, are like a dream, like an illusion, like a bubble, like a shadow, like a dewdrop, like a lightening flash; you should contemplate them thus.”

Dreams symbolize the changing and impermanent nature of all things known to the senses. Sights, sounds, smells, flavors, sensations of touch and thoughts are all dream-like, fleeting, and ultimately unobtainable. By pursuing and grasping material things or ephemeral states, we create the causes for misery and suffering. Those desire-objects are not real and permanent. When they break up and move on, we will experience grief, if we can’t let go. The hallmark of living beings is that we are “sleeping, “ unawakened to the truth of the emptiness and impermanence at the nature of conditioned things. This covering of sleep and lack of awareness is called “ignorance,” and it makes us in our waking state, from the Buddha’s viewpoint, look as if we are dreaming.

Bubbles burst, shadows run from light, dewdrops vanish by noon without a trace, lightning roars and vanishes, and dreams leave us at dawn. To continually perceive such things as real locks us into the endless cycle of birth and death. The Buddha was not simply giving us an evocative metaphor, a literary device or a philosophical point. He felt related to all beings, and in his compassion he was pointing out to his family a way to escape the prolonged misery of affliction and death. The dream simile occurs over and over in the sutras to teach about emptiness.

In the Ta Chih Tu Lun dreams occur as a didactic teaching device. Sariputra, the foremost Arhat in wisdom, learns the true application of the emptiness theory through the simile of dreams. Dreams are like ordinary waking reality in that both are empty and false. There is nothing gained by seeking out or clinging to any thought or mark that distinguishes the two states.

With the exception of message-dreams and portent dreams, two categories that we will look at below, for the Buddha’s monastic disciples who were intent on cultivating the mind full-time, dreams were considered as illusory and false, no different from the illusions of waking-time reality.

A Buddhist Approach to Dreams by Rev Heng Sure

Picture: All Rights Reserved ® aml.2008

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

our true face

"Our true faces
Are said to reveal
Their true faces
When we lose clothes, food and houses
At the limits of experience."

Sumako Harada,
Kobe earthquake survivor

Picture by: sgluskoter @ Flickr

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

quality of attention

In ORDINARY meditation, attention is not a quality of mind that we BRING to experience, but something that occurs, rather haphazardly, as our organism becomes momentarily more interested in some inner or outer sequence of phenomena. Ordinary attention comes and goes without our consent; it is not something we do, but something that happens to us. For most of us most of the time, "attention" is stimulated, conditioned, and led by mobilizations of energy along the habit-pathways within our organism so that when it confronts its object it is always faced, as it were, by a fait accompli.

The attention at which contemplative exercises aim, then, may be distinguished not only from sheer inattention but from ordinary discursive attention as well. It is, instead, sustained, non-discursive, active attention which is, in fact, quite extraordinary. For there are many of us who in all our uncountable billions of mental moments and in all their variety, have never known such a moment of truly active attention. Such a moment curtails the autonomous activities of ordinary psychological activity. If the reader doubts this, he may perform a simple experiment. Take up a "speak-I-am-listening" attitude of acute attention toward the screen of consciousness, standing close guard, as it were, at the place where the contents of consciousness are born. For as long as one is able to hold this posture of intense active attention, the inner dialogue and flow of images will be stopped.


Taken from: The Practice of Attention by Philip Novak in The Inner Journey: Views from the Buddhist Tradition

Picture by: Sara Heinrichs @ Flickr

Tuesday, July 01, 2008


Continued from previous post on "Seeing through":

"Looking at these figures I was suddenly, almost forcibly, jerked clean out of the habitual, half-tied vision of things, and an inner clearness, clarity, as if exploding from the rocks themselves, became evident and obvious.

The queer evidence of the reclining figure, the smile, the sad smile of Ananda standing with arms folded. The thing about all this is that there is no puzzle, no problem and really no "mystery". All problems are resolved and everything is clear. The rock, all matter, all life is charged with dharmakaya... everything is emptiness and everything is compassion. I don't know when in my life I have ever had such a sense of beauty and spiritual validity running together in one aesthetic illumination.."

Thomas Merton,
The Asian Journals of Thomas Merton

Picture by: Temple of Dawn by revenui @ Flickr