Lotus Sutra 6: Suffering and Time
Mahayana Buddhism is rococo Buddhism, extravagant and spectacular. If you photocopied the Lotus Sutra it would come out of the machine looking like gold sequins.
Arhats are the perfected beings of early Buddhism, sternly ascetic practitioners of the middle way. But the readers and writers of The Lotus Sutra realized that the whole world was already awake. Even as people were striving for awakening, the world was already awake. There are many who define yoga as a verb – it is the act of uniting, the yoking of mind and body, or body and breath, or self and God. But isn’t everything already yoked and interdependent and awake?
You don’t hear too many people coming to practice who say, “I’m here to serve all sentient beings.” Usually we come because we’re suffering and we need a certain vocabulary to deal with our own difficulties. Michael studied psychoanalytics with James Hillman, who was a honcho at the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich. When people would apply to become an analytical psychologist, if they said they wanted to help people he wouldn’t let them in. If they came on their knees and said that they needed help he would admit them. It was an interesting admission about the admissions process.
We begin practice out of our own pain, but then as you practice, as our relational lives becomes more colourful, there’s something else to pay attention to. To be embedded in a city means that our actions make a difference. And making that difference becomes our practice.
Ecology of Care
Michael taught this past weekend in Halifax and visited a mental health facility that was deliberately understaffed. This ensured that people who used these services also had to volunteer, and a mini-society/community organized itself around these services to fill the social, food, banking needs of their own community. An eco-system of caring.
Buddhism practiced through the lens of The Lotus Sutra is pro-social because we need others to wake up. We can’t do it alone. Reading this book means realizing in part: our practice is never going to be the same again.
No matter what our preferences or shortcomings are – even if you are “someone desiring fame” (as one mensch in the Sutra was) – one can still become a Buddha.
The chapter on the phantom city begins on pg. 117 and ends on pg. 142, but only the last two pages deal with the phantom city. There are 20 pages of psychological teachings – it’s the section between sections, the interstitial place, the porch. In yoga this would be the linking moments between postures – this is the most fruitful part of the practice. Like the time in the day when it becomes night. These pages in The Lotus Sutra are the magic hour of the book. The space between spaces.
Parable of Herbs
At the end of the 5th chapter, the Buddha compares dharma that covers the whole world to the rain that covers everything. The Buddha’s teachings are like rainfall that lands on everywhere equally – the rain lands on the roof and the dog shit. Maybe awareness and kindness can work this way too. If we were outside, the rain would fall on everyone. But often in our inner world we decide to open to some experiences and emotions, but not to others.
What if awareness didn’t belong to you? What if it just poured itself out, like the sun?
The Gateless Gate
The Gateless Gate is a collection of 48 Chan (Zen) koans compiled in the early 13th century by the Chinese Zen master Wumen Hui-k’ai (1183–1260).
Daitsu Chisho Buddha
A monk asked Koyo Seijo, “Daitsu Chisho Buddha sat in zazen for ten kalpas and could not attain Buddhahood. He did not become a Buddha. How could this be?”
Seijo said, “Your question is quite self-explanatory.” (expresses it perfectly.)
The monk asked, “He meditated so long; why could he not attain Buddhahood?”
Seijo said, “Because he did not become a Buddha.”
Why did he not attain Buddhahood? Because he’s already a Buddha. Wu Men comments: When one is ignorant and attains realization, one becomes a saint. When a saint begins to understand (to have notions of what’s going on for him), then he becomes ignorant.
These comments/views make the process of awakening more dynamic. We wake up, but then we get ideas about waking up and then we’re not awake anymore.
Light and Dark
As waking up starts to occur, a light delves into the darkest places. Maybe that’s why we don’t want to be awakened, because we don’t want to look at our dark places, the shameful, forbidden thoughts still festering on the pelvic floor. When we practice, particularly on retreat, we can get quiet and become still, then the next day it can all change. We practice attention to breathing, and slowly our emotions and preoccupations settle and we become still, and then it’s as if the shaft of our awareness drops down deeper, perhaps we’re ready to face a little more now, now that we have more stability to look at something more honestly than before. Then the light begins to light up the light areas, and make them brighter than bright. Until the dark and light are the same light, so that whatever is showing up is light, and attention deals with whatever comes up.
Everything is so bright they pile flowers around the Buddha, a mound that quickly grows higher than Mount Meru, the celebrated mountain whose top is narrower than its base. It is a metaphor for hatha yoga, for one’s own pelvic floor.
All the characters inside you are lit up. All the characters say to awareness: please occupy all these spaces. Please come to us. Don’t run away now.
In the first session of a psychoanalytic encounter, the patient typically talks about everything that is wrong, and how to heal it. then it takes years to embody this understanding.
Time and Space
The Buddha sits for another 84,000 kalpas. Time in The Lotus Sutra is relative because it’s humanly constructed. Like space is relative. They are relative and everywhere there is light.
Time and space are interdependent. You can only experience your past now, you can only experience your future now. You construct a you in the past and a you now. When do you experience the past? Now.
You can see objects, but you can’t see light itself. You can only see what light lands on. When you look at light you’re seeing light that is already past. Something that was there. It’s residue. According to the Vedas, the whole world is residue.
Meditation on Time
The Lotus Sutra takes place in a single afternoon, and describes the teachings of a single afternoon, but there are lifetimes in that afternoon. 18,000 worlds within worlds.
Feeling the passing of time is the whole of Japanese poetry. Listen to the sounds happening now on the street. We say that the sound arises and passes away. But you can’t see the sound passing. Depression is about being stuck in the past, in what has happened already. Anxiety is a fear about the future. What if?
Maybe the Buddha needed to sit for so long because he needed to feel something. He needed to find the ache of time, without getting stuck there.