The Play of Samsara

[Photo copyright by mckinney75402 via Flickr under creative commons licence]
Most people I know consider >Beginnings< to be very important and try to stay away of >Endings< as good as possible. This idea is rooted deeply into our society. We love births, but we tabu the death. We celebrate a wedding, but the only person we celebrate the breakup with, is our therapist. We love arriving, but going away is sad. We even love to make our dishes dirty, but the cleaning has do be done by a machine. We make it into a lifelong habit to open cicles, but we never really learn how to close them, or even understand why we should.
The Hagakure has a good note about >Endings<:
“In the Kamigata area they had a sort of tiered lunchbox they used for a single day when flower viewing. Upon returning they throw them away, trampling them underfoot. The end is important in all things.” [Hagakure]
The end is important in all things. I like that.
When we start a relationship with a new partner, all we want to see is the happiness, the joy and the butterflies in the belly. Only when we use our training to actually look beyond the time that will pass, way up to the end, we will also see the pain and the tears. It’s right there from the start. There is no winning without loosing. Ever. Everything is of a nature to change. It is what in Buddhism is known as the very core of >Samsara<.
Ajahn Brahm (from a dhamma talk): “This is the play of samsara (the perpetual wandering from life to life), the play of night and day, the play of warmth and cold. It is the basic duality of experience. There is no escape from that in this realm or in any other realm. It will always follow you around, this duality of experience.”
Or even shorter:
The buddhist genesis starts with the words: “There comes a time when the world ends.”

Surveying the World

[Photo copyright by Hardwig Kopp Delaney via Flickr under creative commons licence]

Having finally reached enlightenment, the Buddha stands up and looks at the world with new eyes. He now can see everything clearly and he comments on what he sees in an unusual, very personal tone, which – to my knowledge – is very rare in the Pali Canon. It’s one of my favorite suttas. 


Ayaṃ loko santāpajāto,
Phassapareto rogaṃ vadati attato.

     This world is full of torment,
     Afflicted by this contact it speaks of sickness to be self.

Yena yena hi maññati,
Tato taṃ hoti aññathā.

     For, however one conceives it to be,
     it turns out to be otherwise.

Aññathābhāvī bhavasatto loko,
Bhavapareto bhava­mevā­bhi­nandati.

     Becoming otherwise, the world is attached to becoming,
     Afflicted by becoming and yet delights in that very becoming.

Yadabhinandati taṃ bhayaṃ,
Yassa bhāyati taṃ dukkhaṃ.

    Where there is delight, there is fear,
    Whatever one fears is dukkha.

Bhava­vip­pahānāya kho,
Panidaṃ brahmacariyaṃ vussati.

    It is indeed for the total abandonment of becoming
    that this holy life is lived.

Evametaṃ yathābhūtaṃ, Sammappaññāya passato.
Bhavataṇhā pahīyati, Vibhavaṃ nābhinandati.

    See this – as it really is – with right discernment.
    One abandons craving for becoming, and doesn’t delight in non-becoming.

Sabbaso taṇhānaṃ khayā,
Asesa­virāga­nirodho nibbānaṃ.

    Through the total destruction of craving there is nibanna,
    entire cessation without a remainder.

Tassa nibbutassa bhikkhuno,
Anupādā punabbhavo na hoti;

    For that monk who has attained nibbana,
    through non-clinging, there is no further becoming.

Abhibhūto māro vijitasaṅgāmo,
Upaccagā sabbabhavāni tādī”ti.

    He has conquered Māra, won the battle,
    such having gone beyond becomings.


[Excerpt from Khuddaka Nikāya – Nanda Vagga – Udāna 3.10 – Lokavolokanasuttaṃ
(The Discourse about surveying the World)]

Becoming chummy with the world

“One characteristic of a dharmic person, someone who practices meditation and the teachings of the Buddha, is to prevent too many activities, or you could say, reduce too many activities. According to tradition, that actually boils down to cutting nonfunctional talking, cutting the baby-sitter mentality, the entertainment mentality.

You can get yourself into all kinds of projects, all kinds of engagements. You can become chummy with the world so that you don’t have to hold your discipline or your mindfulness properly. ….If you don’t like tea, you can have coffee. If you don’t like coffee, you could switch to Coca-Cola. If you don’t like Coca-Cola, you can drink scotch or vodka. You involve yourself in constant, constant activity. Sometimes you don’t even know what you are doing; you just come up with the idea that you need to be occupied with something, but you can’t put your finger on anything:” Do I need sex or do I need money or do I need clothes? What do I need?”….You could think about anything; the possibilities are infinite. Getting chummy with the situation involves lots of activity. According to the basic principles of Buddhism, you have to cut that down.

When you become too chummy with your world, too familiar with your world, it becomes endless.”

[Chögyam Trungpa – The Collected Works of Chogyam Trungpa, Volume 2]

Duck Meditation

[Photo copyright by onebigfish via Flickr under creative commons licence]

Duck Meditation

Now we are ready to look at something pretty special
It is a duck
Riding the ocean a hundred feet beyond the surf
As he cuddles in the swells.
There’s a big heaving in the Atlantic
And he is part of it.
He can rest while the Atlantic heaves
Because he rests in the Atlantic.
Probably he doesn’t know how large the ocean is
And neither do you
But he realizes it somewhere and what does he do, I ask you?
He sits down in it.
Duck Meditation.
He reposes in the immediate as if it were infinity
Which it is.
That is religion, and the duck has it.
How about you?


[The photo shows a 5 storeys tall Rubber Duck,
which was designed by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman,
against the smoky air of Hong Kong and tightly packed crowds.
The duck visited Hong Kong in June 2013 as an art project.  
Internet searches for >rubber duck< had been banned in China
after Tiananmen square protestors mocked up images of the infamous 1989 event,

substituting the tanks for the duck. No kidding.]

Travelling afar, wandering alone …

[Photo copyright by Peiyu Liu via Flickr under the creatice commons licence]

Dūraṅgamaṃ ekacaraṃ asarīraṃ guhāsayaṃ,
Ye cittaṃ saññam-essanti mokkhanti Mārabandhanā.

Travelling afar, wandering alone,
Without a body, dwelling in a cave;
Whoever subdues this mind,
will be free from the bonds of Mara;

[Dhammapada Verse 37]

This is one of my favorite Dhammapada verses.
Sometimes, however, it is translated like this:

 “The mind wanders far and moves about alone; it is non-material; it lies in the cave of the heart. Those who control their mind will be free from the bonds of Mara.

While the translation is grammatically correct – the cittaṃ (mind) in the second line is indeed the object for the first four words – it nevertheless completely misses the dramaturgy of the verse.

The whole point is, that the Buddha proclaimed the first line without anyone knowing what he is actually talking about.

Travelling afar, wandering alone, without a body, dwelling in a cave;
You get a vision of a vicious monster living deep in a mountain, hidden from all eyes. Then, after a pause, the Buddha reveals what he is talking about:
Whoever subdues this mind, will be free from the bonds of mara;

Learn to ripen in ice

[Photo copyright by Emily Carlin via Flickr under the creative commons licence]
“In the absence of sun, learn to ripen in ice.” (Henri Michaux)

It’s winter outside and freezing and I really want to hide in bed all day long. However, the work has to get done anyway, so I remembered the famous Chinese-Japanese Zen Buddhist proverb: >Nichinichi kore koujitsu<.

It is more than a thousand years old and to this day you can often find it in form of beautiful calligraphies hanging e.g. in temples. It translates to: >Every day is a good day<.

This phrase is commonly used to remind us that every day can be made a good day and that it is up to us to make every day good. However there are usually many ways to read a Zen saying and many, many levels on which a Zen teaching can be understood.

Another level of meaning may imply that every day is equally suited to be a day of training for you. No matter what the conditions of the day are and no matter what your personal conditions are, every day is a good day for training.
This is an important aspect, since the human mind is very sufficient in coming up with an endless number of “necessary” framework requirements for their training.

No, I can’t practice today, I would like to, but it is too cold.

I really want to work out hard, but I was sick last week and have to look after myself.

The meditation practice has to wait until I can afford a better cushion.

I want to, but the only teacher I would learn from, is in Japan.

Or the all-time favorite: I would really like to, but I don’t have the time.

Sometimes the reasons that keep us from practicing are legit. However, if we go inside our mind and confess honestly to our self how many reason really were valid, we are usually ashamed of our laziness.

Buddhism teaches us simply that NOW is the time for practice. There will never ever be a right moment. The moment is here all the time. All the conditions, we care so much about, are meaningless, because every day is the same day and every day may be not perfect but it is good enough for practice.

Don’t get me wrong, this is an it is an extremely difficult teaching since there are times in your life where you will be in absolutely no mood to even think about practice, let alone do it. These are the times when you are really sick or frightened or devastated. Ironically, these are also the times when you need your training the most and these are the times when your training will give you back the most.

Ideally – in the end – you should be able to practice and grow, no matter what conditions you have to live or work under. You will be like the flower the famous Japanese poet Issa wrote about:

without seeing sunlight
the winter camellia
[Issa, 1803]

You HAVE to have joy in your meditation!

 My favourite quote from Bhante Sujato’s wonderful talk on Jhana:

“It is very important to understand. You HAVE to have joy in your meditation. NO excuses. You just gonna have to grit your teeth and resign yourself to the fact that you just gonna have to learn to sit there and just be happy… for hour after hour after hour… every day for the rest of your life. Okay? I know, it’s terrible… the things the Buddha asks us to do…”

[Bhante Sujato]

Poem from the cold Mountain


These frozen berries for my breakfast this morning made me think of master Hanshan and his poems from the cold mountain.

“Men ask the way to Cold Mountain,
There’s no through trail,
In summer, ice doesn’t melt,
The rising sun blurs in swirling fog,
How did I make it?
My heart’s not the same as yours,
If your heart was like mine You’d get it and be right here.”

[>The cold mountain poems<, translated by Gary Snyder (1958)]
[Follow this link for more poems from the cold mountain on wikiquote]

Moon at my window


The thief left it behind:

the moon

at my window.

ぬすっとに とりのこされし まどのつき
nusutto ni  torinokosareshi  madonotsuki


[Haiku by Ryokan Taigu, an eccentric Sōtō Zen Buddhist monk who lived much of his life as a hermit. Written after a thief robbed his hut, as translated in Mitchell, Stephen, editor. The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry. Harper Perennial, 1993. Taken from the Wikipedia article on Ryokan Taigu.]