February 7, 2019

Art as Ornamentation of the Tao

An artist, in his wisdom, could paint something ugly, and in some way there is something beautiful about it. I like old buildings that look like they are falling down. They represent decay. They also represent a place where beings lived and were protected. Some beings might still use an old, deteriorating barn as protection, at least rats, mice or squirrels. Maybe people slept in it at one time, so it has a feeling of history to it. It’s not blank; various beings resided there and used it as a home. Some died or moved out, and other animals or people moved in. Now it has been through its lifespan and is falling apart, so perhaps it's not used in the same way, but it still has a feeling that it was home. I don't feel any negativity about any of that. When I see a dilapidated barn, I feel the Tao.

An artist doesn't have to draw something pretty. There is something very beautiful in that crumbling barn. Soon it will become dirt and compost. It has the chi of a particular time in the cycle, in this case, decline.

If you consult the I Ching and pick a hexagram that seems negative such as #23 "Erosion/Decline," you might think, “That’s unfortunate. I got the bad one." You shouldn't really think of it as negative, however. When I come across a ramshackle barn, that is an example of decline, but I am able to see that in a good way. I don't try to make it a happy barn. I just observe it and feel the ghosts of it, and somehow there is something satisfying about it.

An old barn or a run-down cabin is an interesting thing. Certain beings inhabited it and now they are gone, but a bit of their energy still remains in those walls and you can feel it in there. Even though the structure is not pretty, in some way it has appeal because it is starting to blend in with nature more, with the trees and grass around it. It’s turning brown, losing its paint, starting to fall apart. It is beginning to look like a compost pile. If you kept watching it for long enough, eventually it would be a forest.

Out in the country, sometimes I see rock foundations where people must have lived a hundred years ago. They must have been tough people. Some of the frames are fairly large, so they must have put up decent-sized houses. When I look at those foundations, I see people.

When an artist paints, he doesn't have to paint everything. All the metaphysics will go into the painting on their own. The American artist Thomas Kinkade exemplifies that very well. He paints a painting, and then his metaphysics go into it automatically. The painting has more to it than the sum of its parts, so he doesn't have to paint the magic in it. The magic jumps right in. Everything he paints is like masks and shells. He doesn't try to paint the soul because it's not possible to paint the soul. The soul jumps in on its own—it goes along for the ride.

All forms are merely shells. An artist can only paint clothing, masks, shells. Even if he paints nudes, he is just painting clothing. Even if he paints faces, he is just painting masks. Even if he paints beings, he is just painting shells and fur coats. Until an artist understands that he won't paint as well. All forms are simply ornamentation of the spirit. An artist can't paint the spirit. Everything he paints is like necklaces or earrings. It can be great fun to make ornamentation. An artist is painting wonderful ornamentations on the spirit, on the Tao. He can't paint the Tao anymore than a buddha has characteristics. He can't paint the Tao; he can't paint the buddha, but he can go ahead and ornament it endlessly. He is painting shells, ornaments and clothing. He might think he is painting the essence, the Tao, God or spirit, but he isn't. Those are in everything already; he doesn't need to paint them.

A dilapidated building can easily hold the energy, teaching and wisdom of the Tao. A work of art that is trying to be the Tao can't really know the Tao very well. Some art pieces can make it difficult to recognize the Tao, but the Tao is there. They don't take the Tao away, but they do make it more challenging to know the Tao.

Other art pieces can make it easy to know the Tao. If an artist paints the shell, then the soul can jump in there. But if the artist thinks he is painting the soul, then he becomes confused, competitive. There is no need to compete with the Tao. The Tao is already in the ink even before the artist starts drawing. The Tao is already in the canvas before he touches it. The artist could give the Tao a coat, a hat, some new shoes. The Tao could have a body, a building, a tree, a vase of flowers.

What the artist does is to give the Tao a form. There is nothing wrong with that. He doesn't need to try and sculpt the Tao. He sculpts the form that the Tao can embody. He is creating a vase into which the Tao can insert itself.

Memorize these words: an artist should only paint shells, clothing, ornaments, jewelry, masks. Those are the correct words. All painters should paint those things.

If an artist doesn't know the Tao and with heavy conceptuality thinks, "African masks are very exotic," and then paints an African mask, that is unlikely to be a great painting. If he knows the Tao, however, when he paints someone's face, he sees that face as nothing but a magical, playful mask.

An artist who doesn't know that is not a great artist. He doesn't really have the Yin and Yang to create fully. A face is a mask, and even a naked body is clothing. Whatever an artist paints is an ornamentation of the buddha. If an artist has fun, then the buddhas will enjoy his painting. Buddhas don't think that if he is serious and ponderous that his artwork will amount to much. It will just be heavier. The artist doesn't have to create excessively dense clothing and masks made of lead.

All things are just ornamentations of the Tao. Everything is the clothing of the Tao. That's all it is.

February 6, 2019

Amitabha’s Pure Land and the Skillful Means of Buddhas

When I hear descriptions of incredibly majestic pure lands, I have doubt that such places could actually exist. Hui-neng said in the The Platform Sutra that if we don't know our nature then Amitabha's pure land is thousands of miles away. Are these lands to be taken literally or are they simply a matter of perception of a highly realized being? 

They aren’t one or the other. Certainly Hui-neng isn't going to lie to us, so if we realize our nature then we will know what the pure land is and not have doubt. We may have doubt about the pure land because of our bad karma. Perhaps we were born into a family that didn't believe in heaven and only believed in the here and now. People say it's deep to believe in the here and now, but it isn't necessarily deep. The "here and now" isn't really the here and now. The here and now is just our thinking: what I think now, what I think now, what I think now. That thinking is conceptual formations based on our karma, which may not be that favorable. 

What we should do is learn to think properly like a spiritual practitioner. Then we learn to think like a disciple, then like an initiate, then like a bodhisattva. Then we learn to think like a buddha, which is nonthought: not clinging to thoughts at all. If we don't cling to thoughts at all, we will experience a direct awareness of whatever appears, unlike anything we have ever experienced previously. We will automatically enjoy nature a thousand times more than we do now, so it will be the same as a pure land for us. As we are awakening we will more keenly notice the things around us, which are like an outer nature, and we will also be more aware of our mind, including thoughts, inner worlds, astral planes. Plants, rocks and all the objects around us will be much more interesting and amazing. It doesn't matter whether an awakened being is in his pure body in a soul realm or whether he is in his human body in a human realm, just as Shakyamuni is probably in both as he teaches The Larger Sutra on Amitayus. 

Are the pure lands real? Yes, but we don't use the word "real" in Buddhism much. It implies there is a "not real." Things are neither real nor not real. There is a sense of things being more or less real. The Buddha recommends the sense of things not being so real, the key word being the sense of realness. Sometimes things seem very real, other times less so. A well done movie seems more real; a poorly done movie seems campy and less convincing.

If we have bad karma from past lives we may have been born in a situation where our parents said, "That's just a bunch of religious crap. Now go to school and make a lot of money. And marry a rich guy, would ya?" Maybe they were nihilists. Nihilism isn't true, however, so even if your parents were highly flawed you can inherit a new family and thus become from a good family. You need to leave your old family and go to your new sangha family. Then how difficult will it be to believe in the pure land?

"Amitabha" is Sanskrit for Buddha Infinite Light. Why do some buddhas emit more light than others?
 
They do it to create the energy of awakening, as a skillful means for beings who are unawakened. No one said, "This other buddha is no good because he doesn't emit as much light." The Pure Land teachings were created to captivate certain people. They are especially popular in China. You could say, “Don't all buddhas have infinite light? All buddhas should be equal because there is some sort of ultimate equality." Ultimate equality does not negate relative inequality, however.

Do certain buddhas excel at using particular types of skillful means whereas other buddhas excel at other types? 

They don't excel; they just do whatever is most expedient. They don’t all have to do everything in exactly the same manner. Is creativity not varied? If buddhas were all identical, then they would become a sign of some sort of automatism. Couldn’t they have a style? Even if one buddha's light only goes ten feet, maybe he's an expert at bowling and can score 300. Maybe he's a buddha of no big deal. Perhaps he's just an ugly, old guy who sits around and eats rice. Why would it matter either way?

The idea of infinity and creating infinite things is to inspire people and help them to realize their capacity.

A buddha could be a swindler, a beggar, a derelict. If beings are too materialistic, they may have a hard time comprehending that. They merely think, "You have to make money. You need a handsome husband. You should live in a fancy neighborhood." When you teach them spirituality their mind can't go that far. They might be able to fathom being less greedy or performing a metaphysical act such as shooting light throughout the universe. A scientist could shoot a rocket up into space. Amitabha Buddha could shoot a beam of light up into space. Isn’t that a start? It's a skillful means, giving people baby steps.

In the Vajrayana and Zen traditions, people don't worry about Amitabha's infinite power, yet they like it. They believe in it, but they don't cling to it.

February 3, 2019

Does Karma Apply to Someone Who Understands the Innermost, Esoteric Teachings?

Buddha Vajrasattva said that all things are intrinsically pure. If one fully realizes that, how would they decide what activities to do or not do?

The upadesha instructions proclaim that once you fully recognize that truth, then it doesn’t matter what activities you do. Since everything is divinity and holiness, regardless of what you do, there is no karma created by activities. The awakened buddha can do anything he wants.

If a person attains understanding of the upadesha instructions, wouldn’t there still be effects of karma if they choose to feed their physical body, as opposed to just letting it atrophy?

According to the masters in the Nyingma school, if you attain the full transmission, which includes understanding of the upadesha, then you would be a fully enlightened being. You could manifest the body of light, dissolve your clunky body so you wouldn’t need to have a physical body. You could, however, choose to stay in a dense physical body and keep a karmic body and the karmic tendencies of your parents.

There may be beneficial reasons to keep a dense body. It can help a lot of people. It may not help the body’s owner, but he may do it for love of beings, like a bodhisattva. A master, a buddha, is also a bodhisattva: they have compassion for beings and can see that beings suffer, so they may stay in a body to help.

If a being is in the form of a cloud, clouds can’t really talk and interact, nor can they eat and have lunch with people. In a human body, however, they could have children, develop relationships and learn through those relationships.

You can be beyond karma, yet still go into karma and be involved with karma. You can do both. It means that you don’t become tainted. An example of that is Jesus of Nazareth. He became a physical person with a physical body, a karmic body, but didn’t become evil.

To go further, all of what seems to be karmic and impure doesn’t really exist as how you might think of it. The final meaning of emptiness is really going all the way through to the end of all things. Initially, you might learn from a materialist society that things you don’t like are emptiness. Eventually you can realize the things you like are emptiness, too. Now you are up to 80%, 90%, then you are up to 99%, but there are still many things to which you cling that you don’t really see as a magical display. The Mu koan and the no-blank exercise can be useful here.

You have the potential to create in such a way that you have full-on bliss, glory and wonder, a complete revelation of unbounded joy. The Buddha, when he became enlightened, hid his joy because he knew that people would be too attracted to him if he showed his glory right away. If he showed his magic, he would be spending all of his time trying to get away from dysfunctional people chasing after him, attempting to gain his power and magic. People are generally more interested in gaining power than they are in realizing meaning. Consequently, the Buddha hid his power, until he taught the Amitabha Sutra, at which time he went ahead and revealed that he was a magical being, and there are incredible, magical worlds. The Buddha taught everything else first to teach focus on discipline and clear-mindedness. Later, for example, when he taught about Amitabha and Amitayus, he didn’t teach it as utterly separate, but as still part of the Dharma.

An enlightened being, a buddha, then, seems to be able to go either way. They can stay in a regular karmic body, eat meals like a regular person, be a householder, have friends and even a family. Alternatively, they could ascend into heaven, like Yeshe Tsogyal and Padmasambhava, who dissolved into the sky and flew away. And then they could come back and be dense again should they wish.

How should you relate to magical beings? Don’t be naive about magic. Many people don’t believe in magical power. Some believe in magical power, but only regard materialistic power. They are devoid of the understanding of transcendence, ineffability, emptiness: sunyata. That element is missing, so they only believe in very dense magic, like trying to become a millionaire or a glamorous star through using magic.

If spiritual beings showed their magic to ordinary beings, it would just create all sorts of trouble. If a master such as Kuthumi showed his body to an ordinary person who lacked aspiration and the compassion element, that person would know that magic is definitely possible, and being ignorant, they would assume that the path is materialism. They would probably join psychic schools where they might learn how to develop astral bodies or selfish magical powers, which they might try to use to control people, which ends up causing a lot of problems.

According to the upadesha instructions, if someone attains the Dzogchen view, then whatever they do, they don’t create karma. If they choose to maintain a physical body, wouldn't that still be operating within cause and effect?

Yes, there is some cause and effect if they keep a karmic physical body. They, however, are not creating any new karma. It would be like having an old clock for thirty years which is starting to break and be off time. One day you just throw it out because it’s not keeping time anymore, and it’s not worth fixing. There is no significant karma created by throwing away the clock or by using it—no clinging to the clock, no karma!

You too can use this karma body. Let’s say you attain enlightenment, and you have a family and children. You may want to stay with that family and complete that life or help the many others you meet.

There are different opinions as to what can be done when a person dies: at the highest level a person attains the body of light. At the second highest level one attains the rainbow body. At the third highest, when one dies they are in a state of meditation for days. If their body is cremated quickly, basically they are awake while they are being cremated, but it probably doesn’t bother them, even though they might feel it.

Another opinion that makes sense, too, is that one has more dexterity to do whatever they want. If someone has been a human being for twenty, fifty, seventy years, they might decide to die like an ordinary human being. Shakyamuni Buddha pretended to be an ordinary human being when he didn’t have to. It was a choice. Masters sometimes do both regular body and body of light as great examples for advanced humanity: see Jesus or Padmasambhava.

The scriptures clearly state again and again that, out of compassion, bodhisattvas don’t do things only for themselves. They don’t go into heavenly states but remain in physical bodies so they can communicate with people.

If there is no new karma created, does that mean there is no new negative karma created?

Yes, there is no new negative karma created by keeping a physical body. Maybe your nose runs or you get a disease, but you are not creating negative karma anymore, which has to do with intention. Your intentions are all freed into pure creativity.

If a being has attained the Dzogchen view and would not create any new negative karma, what about new positive karma?

They might create some new positive karma. The Diamond Sutra says the karma of advanced beings is so good that it is beyond description. It is so huge that the whole universe isn’t large enough to contain the goodness that is created by understanding wisdom. In other words, the kind of karma that you are talking about is little karma. The Diamond Sutra is talking about mega-giant karma that is so vast it goes beyond all the mistakes you make. It is like the grace that Jesus talks about. It doesn’t matter if you’re the worst person who ever lived. The grace is much greater than that, so everything bad is corrected. All the negative karma is negated.

That is the true meaning of forgiveness. A person can’t forgive. One is forgiven through awakening to things as they actually are, which is embedded and clearly delineated in the utmost, secret, holy teachings. All you need to do is have faith in that. It doesn’t help to have a superficial faith, where you are trying to convince yourself. You actually have to get it. Even if you get it, there may be aspects of yourself, sub-personalities within your mind, that don’t quite get it, and they can move up through stages like maha, anu, semde and longde until they can receive the upadesha instructions.