Tag Archives: buddha

This life is limitless

This is a Dharma talk by my master, Harada Tangen Roshi. It is on the phrase “kono inochi kagiri nashi” which means roughly “this life is limitless”. Roshi sama (a title meaning ‘venerable teacher’) has used this phrase “this life” in many of not all his Dharma talks. Everything should focused upon this life we are living and none other. It doesn’t mean ‘think of what our goal is – enlightenment’, but often he means it to be this very moment and none other. For if one is living in the past or future one is not doing one’s utmost. This lies the essence of the Buddha’s Teaching.

Trilakshana – the marks of existence in Buddhism

If ever there were important discoveries they are these.

The Buddha said there are three marks of existence – impermanance, suffering and no-self. Everything (yes, everything) in the world is impermanent. There are no exceptions to this. We suffer because we think there is something permanent. It doesn’t matter what that thing is, if one thinks it is permanent then we suffer the consequences for that belief. More often than not the thing we believe most to be permanent is the self. And The Buddha unequivocally states even this is impermanent.

Know that there is no self would end suffering which in turn leads to the understanding of impermanence.

But coming to this understanding is harder than it sounds. It usually takes years of training. When you have achieved this, though, rest assured you will be enlightened. Good to know, isn’t it.

Is it The Buddha or Buddha?

I cannot say I am a great fan of Western comics (excluding comic strips) and the medium. But one that truly had struck me as a piece of fine literature was Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (BDKR).

Different to previous Batman comics he is referred constantly to as “The Batman” throughout the story. While you may think this is a trivial matter I think it is important. Otherwise the author would not have made such an effort to be consistent. After all, that is what makes literature literature.

The point of the subtle name change is that it is to signify that this Batman is different to previous versions of the character. And indeed he is. He is an older (until BDKR the various versions of Batman had not aged), wiser, less tacky and more violent. So there is (good) justification on literary grounds for the name change.

In Buddhism (at least in English) there is a similar problem facing the believer – is it The Buddha or just Buddha? More common is the former use because the word ‘buddha’ means ‘enlightened one’. As a name, then, Buddha with a capital ‘B’ must mean ‘Enlightened One’. As the “founder” of Buddhism then it is important to distinguish him from other enlightened beings. But in English to call him ‘Enlightened One’ without the ‘The’ sounds strange as he is unique in the context of the religion. That is why we use the translated version of his name we refer to him as The Enlightened One. And by extension to call him The Buddha is more common and accurate.

Does the Hinayana have Buddha Nature?

“Does a dog have Buddha Nature?” a monk asked.
“Mu (No),” replied Master Joshu.

This is usually given as a first koan to Zen practitoners. It is the first koan in the Wu Men Kuan (Japanese: Mumonkan), one of the most important collections of its kind. A koan is a short example of sayings by Zen masters which reveal something of the truth. They are used as an aid to bring about Enlightenment. Zen students, particularly of the Rinzai School of Zen, are given koans to help them attain Enlightenment.

In a teisho (Dharma Talk) by Yamada Roshi he states that the answer should be obvious: all things have Buddha Nature (Buddhata). But here Joshu denies this when asked by a monk. Why? Because the monk is fixated on the answer and not the truth, to use a Zen analogy, mistaking the reflection of the moon in the water for the moon itself. Joshu was trying to “wake” the monk up from his delusion. And in this way Zen is a truly profound.

But the history of Buddha Nature has bothered me for some time now.

The school closest to the historical Buddha, Theravada (also called Hinayana) does not teach Buddha Nature nor is it a concept not within its discourse. The Pali Canon, the oldest writings based on the Buddha’s teaching, does not include this concept. It is only in the later works, the Mahayana writings, that we begin to find this concept. In other words, there is a probability that the concept was a later formulation. I say probability because there is also the probability that the Pali Canon may have ignored this teaching for reasons unknown. We can never be sure of this as we have lost important sources of information about the formation of the sutras.

All Mahayana schools believe that Buddha Nature (Buddhata) is inherent in all beings. However, some schools extend this to cover all things unconditionally. So to summarize there are three three possible views on this:

  1. Buddha Nature does not exist.
  2. Buddha Nature is inherent in all beings but not things.
  3. Buddha Nature is inherent in all being and things.

Given that there is no agreement among Buddhists some doubt then must be entertained as to its authenticity. This questioning must not be done out of one-upmanship but out of the true spirit of enquiry as to what the true nature of the self is. This idea is something akin to Dogen’s simultaneous acceptance and denial of Buddha Nature. It is a paradox but a paradox worth pursuing in order to come closer to Enlightenment, the highest ideal of the Buddha’s teaching which all schools do agree upon.

So does a dog have Buddha Nature? Well, the answer depends entirely on whether you are a Hinayana Buddhist, Mahayana Buddhist or non-Buddhist. If you are a Hinayana Buddhist the answer is, “What is Buddha Nature?” If you are a Mahayana Buddhist the answers is “Yes and no, but only if you are unenlightened, and you have to think about it, or if you have to ask”. If you are non-Buddhist the answer is “Who is this Buddha guy?”

Do we need an Ecological Buddhism?

Coming back to blogging here I had to rethink what exactly am I trying to achieve here. Why do I want to write about ecology and Buddhism? Are they compatible or is this just one person’s argument?

Let me start by asking then ‘was Buddha an environmentalist’? An easy question with an easy answer. No, not in the conventional sense. In Buddha’s time and place conservation or environmentalism as a concept simply did not exist. It has been pointed out that he was one against the some of the dominant contemporary ideas of the time, especially within Hinduism. But there is much more to Buddha and his thought than that.

Would he have been an environmentalist if it had existed in his time? I think asking such questions really is irrelevant. He may have been but this is only idyll thought, a game that even Buddha would have rejected as a waste of time.

So then is ecology and Buddhism compatible, and should these two words be said in the same breath? Buddhism, as a lifestyle, has many similarities to ecological conservation or ecology, and is perhaps one of the gentlest lifestyles without going to extremes. It most certainly was influenced by the other popular then contemporary philosophy, Jainism, which tries to not affect the environment by wearing masks and carrying brooms so as not to harm other life.

Clearly Buddhism respects all life in a way similar to ecology, but that does not mean all Buddhists are ecologists. The question of whether there is such a thing as Ecological Buddhism (or Buddhist Ecology) is only a matter of names. It just so happens that I like both ecology and Buddhism, but I don’t think it is possible or even necessary to consciously combine the two, just as there is not a need to combine Buddhism and ethics to create a philosophy of Buddhist Ethics.

Buddha would probably not deal with these questions. More than likely he would have thought them unnecessary. So let’s stop here and get on with the important issues.