Natural Liberation

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Sunday Lecture: Buddha only teaches what leads to liberation; methods of liberation: 1 - Hinayana - renunciation; 2 - Mahayana- purification; 3 - Vajrayana - transformation; 4 - Zen - natural liberation; Shobogenzo 'Birth and Death': Longchenpa (?)

AI Summary: 



I vow to taste the truth of Uttatata's words. I vow to taste the truth of Uttatata's words. My teacher recently said something like one of the main reasons that we do these Dharma talks


is for the speaker to see if he really believes that he is giving the talk by himself. So I want to keep that in mind as I'm speaking. And you can also keep that practice in mind, see if you believe that I'm speaking by myself or that you are listening by yourself. It seems, if we look deeper, that that would be impossible. And if it starts looking like, if you start thinking that maybe I believe that I'm speaking by myself, see if you can interrupt me and remind me to give that up. So one of the things that Shakyamuni Buddha, our founder,


said in his early teachings was he only teaches this is suffering, this is the origin of suffering, this is the cessation of suffering, this is the path leading to the cessation of suffering. He said this when he was asked about various speculative questions about the nature of reality and what happens after we die and is the universe finite or infinite and all kinds of philosophical questions. There were various questions he wouldn't answer because he only taught these four things, he said. And when I heard that teaching, that was moving to me that he tried not to waste his time talking about things that weren't related to this fundamental issue. After he said this, he said, why do I only teach these?


He said, because they're connected with the goal of liberation. They're fundamental to the spiritual life and they lead to awakening and freedom. So he was concerned with suffering and the freedom from suffering. And so today I thought I'd bring up various ways of being free from or liberated from suffering in the tradition of the Buddha and kind of a chronological progression and also a way to look at how the Zen school deals with this question in the context of the whole Buddhadharma. So what do we mean by suffering?


Suffering is a big word and some people think, well, maybe that's too much, too big to talk about suffering. So sometimes I think of it as discontent. I think even if people say, well, I'm not really suffering, my life's kind of okay. But I think everybody at least sometimes has some discontent or dissatisfaction with the way things are going in their life, at least on and off, if not always. And another word would be stress. Sometimes there's stress or dis-ease. And this comes in the form of various afflicted mind states in the Buddhist teaching. The basic mind states that sometimes are said to be the origin of suffering but could also be said to be suffering or discontent in and of themselves are greed and hate, which are kind of like a pair,


attachment and aversion. And then those are maybe the basic greed, hate, and confusion or delusion. And then there's also pride, fixed views, false views, and doubt are the basic six kind of suffering mind states. And so when I think of what is it for me that's really the most, the one that really gets me, and I've often been reflecting on that since I've begun practice, I feel that 90% of my discontent comes from actually is related to practice and feeling that my practice isn't quite good enough, doesn't quite hit the mark, something's lacking.


And I hear about the Buddha and I think, the Buddha was so great, you know, and how could I ever be like that? So maybe even more like 92% of my discontent. And it's, you know, in a way I feel blessed that there's not a lot of other stuff going on, it's all kind of focused in this area, but it's kind of ridiculous because I didn't really have such a problem before starting practice. Maybe in some ways it was channeled into different areas of discontent, but it was maybe similar, just about my life was not complete somehow. And actually I feel like the other 8% is like not really a big problem. I mean, I think for everyone, you know, things like greed and hate arise,


but they're kind of just, they come and go, but they kind of, the one that's all kind of underlying and ensnarled with the whole mind stream is this how I'm doing kind of problem. And even I think when I think of first starting practice, it wasn't so much, I didn't think of it at the time, so much as like I need to be free from suffering, it was more like I want to experience my life completely and fully. But when I look at that now, even that is like, it's just the reverse of a kind of discontent, that something's not being fully experienced. So with this as the example of my special brand of discontent, I'll bring up these various ways to be free from these afflicted mind states.


And you can, you know, maybe if for you it's some other, more like aversion to something or attachment to something or really working with pride or doubt or something like that, then you can apply that to these various ways of being free. And they're kind of, to present them chronologically, in the early teachings of the Buddha, the emphasis, I would say, was on renunciation. And this is the way to be free from these afflicted mind states or free from suffering is to either renounce the causes or conditions for these states, or if it's a thought, to actually renounce or let go of the thought itself. So for me, if the thought is, I'm not living up to my full potential,


the renunciation practice would be, one way to look at it would be just let go of that thought, just drop it. And letting go maybe has a little bit of feeling of like, there's this thing that I kind of want to get rid of, so there can be greater or lesser degrees of pure letting go. There can be kind of like, kind of wishing it would go away and sort of pushing away, we call it letting go, and then there's more just really, without any aversion, just dropping it. But this is still based on believing that I have this problem and I need to get rid of it to some extent. There's some motivation to let it go so it will be gone. And, but this practice of renunciation or letting go is, as we say in our ordination ceremony, we say the practice of renunciation is common to all Buddhist orders, including Zen. So all these different approaches that I'll bring up,


I think we all, they're all aspects of Zen practice. But this was kind of the emphasis in the early teachings. And then there was the Mahayana movement, the great vehicle was a kind of later movement in Buddhism that grew out of the early teachings. And one way to talk about the approach to freedom from these, from discontent, is purification. So if the early motto was renunciation, in the great vehicle there's purification. And one kind of trademark of these great vehicle teachings, which kind of were emphasized in East Asia, like China and Japan and Korea, in China they got really into, and are still into,


they call repentance ceremonies. And this, I think they originally developed in the Tiantai school in China. And they're particularly Mahayana-flavored approach to freedom. And these repentance ceremonies involve repentance or confession of afflicted mind states. And then they also involve doing some positive energetic practice. So usually what that involves is paying homage to lots of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and awakened beings, and bowing to them, and maybe hundreds and hundreds of them. So lots of bowing, kind of calling forth these Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to help us, to purify us, actually. And we, on the full moons here, we do a kind of repentance precept ceremony.


And it's kind of a combination of the early Buddhist recitation of precepts and these Chinese repentance ceremonies. So in our full moon ceremony we do this bowing and paying homage to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. We don't do it for so long, but we do bow quite a bit to these Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. And I think that this comes from this Chinese practice of calling them forth to help purify us. And in Tibetan teachings they have Vajrasattva practice, which is Vajrasattva is this Bodhisattva who has this mantra. And if one repeats this mantra over and over, it's a purifying practice. And one visualizes Vajrasattva coming to purify us. And maybe it could be compared to the Christian tradition of Hail Marys as a way to exonerate us from karma.


And there's different ways to look at it. Also I think that this purification practice is really based on faith. I think it can only work if we have really strong faith in these Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, however we think of them as really invisibly out there in some hidden form or just as awakened energies throughout the universe or something. But I think if we don't have strong faith in them, this kind of practice maybe doesn't work so well. So there's this purification. Oh, and in our tradition here in Zen, one aspect of this is we have this chant that is Ehe Dogen's kind of vow, and we chant it before Dharma talks sometimes. And one of the sections of it says,


Although our past evil karma has greatly accumulated, indeed being the cause and condition of obstacles in practicing the way, may all Buddhas and ancestors who have attained the Buddha way be compassionate to us and free us from karmic effects, allowing us to practice the way without hindrance. And it goes on like this, basically invoking and beseeching these Buddhas and ancestors to help us and free us. And again, I think without some kind of imaginative faith that their help is coming to us, maybe this kind of practice isn't so effective. But that's an aspect in Zen of purification. It's almost like praying to the Buddhas and ancestors to help us. And I think also to mention one aspect of both this,


the renunciation and this purification are, in the renunciation we let go of the affliction, but then it arises again. We let go of some thought and then it arises again. We just say, just let go, just let go, just continue to let go. And we do teach that that's the practice. That's one way to look at the practice. But I would say it's not, it's one aspect of the practice. It's not really complete in the sense that there's still this basic delusion continues to arise and we let it go. But somehow you can see that, well, it would seem that for a Buddha, the Buddha wouldn't have to approach their discontent in this way, that it wouldn't keep arising somehow.


And maybe we think that it would for a Buddha. But this is one, maybe you could see as a flaw in this renunciation practice, is, well, the affliction just continues to arise forever maybe. So it's a temporary relief. And so we have renunciation and then the Mahayana practice of purification, and then in the diamond vehicle or Vajrayana approach, which developed out of the Mahayana, one aspect of working with discontent, say, is transformation. Instead of renunciation or purification, we can transform these afflicted mind states and use them actually.


So this is the practice of Tantra, it comes out of this. And a way to look at it in the sense of this thought, if we're looking at the thought, I'm not living up to my full potential, how can that be transformed? It's like using the energy of the so-called problem. So in this case, one aspect that maybe this wouldn't be considered exactly, the usual version of Tantra, but something like raising the energy of this thought to higher, instead of trying to let go of it or kind of diminish it, really get into it, like I'm not living up to my full potential, and bring that forward and create so much energy around it that there's some shift into alert, present awareness


with whatever activity is being done, and then seeing, oh, I actually kind of feel like I'm living up to my potential now. I've got all this energy going around this thing. So it's almost like a reverse from our normal, trying to sort of get rid of this thought that's sort of a problem. It's kind of the opposite. It's like going towards it, getting into it, and then using the energy of it to be free from it. And in this case, maybe it would be actually the end of the thought, not living up to my full potential, and actually feeling like from this energy it inspired me to actually live in such a way that now I feel like I'm living up to my full potential. And the way that this could work with different deluded mind problems could maybe be manifested in many different ways.


And so then, through the so-called Hinayana, or the small vehicle, Buddha's early approach, not to be denigrating so much, it's just to say it's not as expansive a model, so it's a smaller, narrower way. There's the renunciation, and then in the greater vehicle, this outgrowth, there's purification without any avoidance. And then in the Vajrayana, there's transformation, which is not even trying to purify, but using the energy. So you can see it's kind of a, in a way, going more, each of them in a way goes more towards the problem, you could say. And then I would say the fourth method of liberation


in the Zen tradition is natural liberation or self-liberation. And again, Zen could use and does speak of and employ these practices such as renunciation and purification and transformation. All of them can be upheld and used, but this self-liberation or natural liberation is unique to this approach of the Zen school. It's also, of course, found in other traditions like the Great Perfection tradition in Tibet, and Maha Mudra in Tibet, and also Advaita Vedanta and other traditions of Asia and the West. And these all involve the most non-dual relationship


with the problem or the discontent in this case. So if it seems like each one of these methods is getting closer to the discontent, this one is, there's no separation from the discontent. And in a way it's the most radical, you could say, because all other three are kind of making the discontent into something and doing something about it, whether renouncing it, purifying it, or transforming it. This one is the approach that's not doing anything about it. It's actually completely being whatever it is. Or another way to speak of it would be to see the true nature of the discontent, to see that it arises due to all the causes and conditions


in the entire universe in an inconceivable way, and therefore it's completely ungraspable. And, for example, the thought, I'm not living up to my full potential, when we start to examine that thought that seems so real, and if we really get into that thought it seems so, you know, we can get really enmeshed in the discontent. But to examine it, turn towards it and examine it, and see how that thought is completely ungraspable and actually imagined by the mind, it's not that there's nothing there, but this arising of what we see as the thought due to all these, inconceivably, due to all the conditions in the universe,


we can't see it that way. We only see it in this distorted way, and we see the thought as external to ourselves, and therefore something that can almost like attack ourself from outside. So if we see the true nature of it, it's ungraspable and completely fleeting, and we can't get a handle on this thought. Without the thought even disappearing, it can still continue to arise according to conditions like this, but because it's ungraspable, it can't harm us. We can't get into it. It can't carry us down to the pit of suffering. And to see its nature like this is, in a sense,


more difficult, you could say, than these other approaches of renunciation and so on. But in another sense, it's the path of not doing anything about it. It's the path of just seeing it as it is. So I would say it's a natural liberation because the thought is naturally liberated, or self-liberation, not meaning like the self, but that it's liberated in and of itself, or liberated by itself. It's not using any technique, actually, to liberate the thought. It's self-liberated or naturally liberated without doing anything. And so Zen, I think in the classic Zen writings,


you can find examples of all these methods of liberation, and this non-method is particularly strewn throughout the Zen tradition. One story that comes to mind, it's a simple story of one of our ancestors, the fourth ancestor in China, and his awakening story was he came to his teacher and he was wrought with discontent, and we don't know exactly the nature of it, but he thought he really had problems. And he went to the third ancestor and said, Please, teacher, in your great compassion, give me a way to be liberated. Give me the teaching of liberation. Give me the way of liberation. And I imagine that he asked it in great sincerity because he was really stuck. And the third ancestor said,


Who is it that's binding you? And the fourth ancestor kind of looked and said, Well, actually, nobody is binding me. And his teacher said, Then why are you seeking liberation? And when he heard those words, he was greatly awakened, and then there was liberation, and he wasn't seeking liberation anymore. Who is it that's binding me? And he had to really look, I think. I imagine that he really looked and saw, Actually, nobody is binding me. And how clear, of course, nobody is binding him. It's him himself, but what is that even? Nobody is binding him. Well, then why? Then why seek this? And it's like, Oh, oh, yeah, whoops. Maybe that was his great awakening was, whoops. And then maybe like, Oh, never mind.


And he just left. We don't know what these great awakenings look like. They might not be like, you know, sparks flying and stuff. So, and then there's our ancestor Dogen, the founder of, you know, of our tradition. And so I think one of the ways to look at this, particularly if the question is kind of a spiritual question or if there's spiritual seeking, which I think this 90% of my problem is kind of in that area. And so I think Dogen's addressing this when he brings up this relationship of nirvana, which is spiritual liberation, freedom from all problems of the mind,


from delusions that weight us down. He brings up the nirvana, freedom, and then samsara is traditionally said to be the opposite. The Chinese way of saying, of translating samsara is birth and death. It's the cycle of birth and death and caused by the deluded way of seeing things that actually keeps us believing that there is such thing as birth and death, which is the basic problem. That's the way that the Indian and Chinese people saw the kind of root of the problem. So Dogen has this essay called Birth and Death. You could say this is about samsara. And he says, if you search for a Buddha outside birth and death, it will be like trying to go to the southern country of you


with your spear headed towards the north or like trying to see the Big Dipper while you're facing south. You will cause yourself to remain all the more in birth and death and lose the way of emancipation. So looking for a Buddha or liberation outside of birth and death is going the opposite direction. And of course we would usually think that that would be the way because they seem like opposites. But he's saying actually there's not this Buddha outside of birth and death. And this is this non-dual approach of self-liberation, that birth and death is naturally liberated or self-liberated in and of itself. Just understand that birth and death is itself nirvana. There is nothing such as birth and death to be avoided.


There is nothing such as nirvana to be sought. Only when you realize this are you free from birth and death. So this is seeing the true nature of birth and death. Birth and death is itself nirvana. And I think this little paragraph here could be contemplated endlessly. And what exactly does this mean and what are its implications? And do we really think that birth and death is itself nirvana or is this just one of those end things of playing with words? What would this mean if actually birth and death, meaning this thought, I'm not living up to my full potential, is that thought itself nirvana? Is that thought itself liberated? And by seeing the true nature of the thought maybe we can see how


it's not what we think it is. This birth and death is the life of Buddha. If you try to exclude it, you will lose the life of Buddha. If you cling to it, trying to remain in it, you will also lose the life of Buddha. And what remains will be the mere form of Buddha. Only when you don't dislike birth and death or long for them do you enter Buddha's mind. And I think the only way you can try just practicing not disliking birth and death or longing for them, but again I think this would only be a temporary letting go measure without actually seeing the true nature of birth and death. And then naturally, seeing the true nature, even if there seems to be disliking and longing for, those are part of birth and death. So the true nature of disliking and longing


are also self-liberated. However, do not analyze or speak about it. Just set aside your body and mind, forget about them, and throw them into the house of Buddha. Then all is done by Buddha. So this is another way. Once you've kind of been contemplating this, then he says, don't analyze or speak about it. Just set aside body and mind, forget about them, and throw them into the house of Buddha. This is another way of speaking about this natural liberation or the actual practice of it. Just throw body and mind


into the house of Buddha. When you follow this, you are free from birth and death and become a Buddha without effort or calculation, who then continues to think. And this self-liberation or natural liberation appears in all kinds of spiritual traditions and outside spiritual traditions too. And in a way, it's not anything. If you really look at what it is, it's not doing anything about anything. So it's, in a way, not so different from before ever hearing about spiritual practice. People who've never,


who don't bring up this problem of liberation aren't doing anything about it, maybe. And so, in a sense, they're free and they don't need these teachings. In a way, one could say that the people who have this concern about freedom in this way are the ones who need these teachings and will become free from them. It's like a special brand of mental sickness that we create this problem. And you could say, in some ways, it's everybody's problem. So maybe there's the way that other people would put it. In non-spiritual terms, there would be various similar cures


that wouldn't use spiritual language. But if we get into the realm of Buddhadharma, this is the way we talk sometimes. Just to end, I'd just like to read this passage about this type of practice from the Tibetan tradition. This is a teacher named Longchenpa, who is one of the greatest masters in this great perfection tradition. And this whole, most of his writings, actually, just are almost like a guided meditation that point to this mind in a very inspired kind of way. So as you listen to this, just please relax and see what it does and doesn't do.


And to preface it by saying, he always points towards this non-dual, effortless kind of mind. So you should also know that Longchenpa and all of these great masters who taught these non-dual liberations of mind, their actual way of living and practice might look to us like they're making great effort. Like Longchenpa spent most of his life living in retreat caves and just practicing meditation constantly. So he talks about practice as this very free, effortless realm, but his actual life is manifesting what looks to us like he might be making great effort. So I think what he's talking about is it's an attitude, it's a state of mind, it's an approach.


And then to live that way completely might look like a very, very simple, sparse kind of life, but in some ways maybe that's what an effortless life would look like. And also, you know, I haven't brought up how all this ties into the teaching of compassion and freeing all beings from suffering, but in a way I would say that's the whole point. And I think if everybody could realize liberation from their discontent, then that's the whole point of the Buddhadharma. And the whole point is for everybody, but everybody is just a bunch of individuals. So each person realizing this in whatever way works for them


is the main point. And so somehow we can all encourage each other to look deeply and see what we can see. And I think this also echoes what Dogen was saying in this chapter, Birth and Death, about samsara and nirvana, and seeing their non-duality is the center, the center of a life of peace and happiness which can spread to all beings. One does not enter a state of freedom


or attain nirvana. The unchanging vast expanse, samsara and nirvana, have never known existence. Here there is no frame of reference for renunciation or attainment, hope or fear, but rather a supremely spacious expanse that is the primordially enlightened ground of being. All things are mere labels, for in actuality they are beyond characterization or expression. Having decisively experienced that samsara is not confusion and nirvana is not freedom, let no one make any effort. Let no one try to meddle with or alter this. Awareness with no breadth or depth is not subject to restrictions or extremes, so give up any frame of reference. Awareness involving no plans or actions, no coming or going, entails no time frame or antidote, so drop reification and effort. If there is a deliberate frame of reference,


it is a cause of bondage. Do not rely on any fixed construct whatsoever. Let go in evenness. It is of no concern whether or not all phenomena are timelessly free. It is of no concern whether or not the way of abiding is pure by nature. It is of no concern whether or not mind itself is free of elaboration. It is of no concern whether or not anything has ever existed within the fundamentally unconditioned genuine state. It is of no concern whether or not samsara and nirvana are by nature a duality. It is of no concern whether or not all things and expressions are transcended. It is of no concern whether or not confused attempts at proof and refutation are demolished. It is of no concern whether or not the view to be realized has been realized. It is of no concern whether or not you meditate on the ultimate meaning of the true nature of phenomena. It is of no concern whether or not you engage in examination,


since there is nothing to accept or reject. It is of no concern whether or not the way of abiding has ever existed as the fruition. It is of no concern whether or not you have traversed the paths and levels of realization. It is of no concern whether or not you are free of all obscurations. It is of no concern whether or not the fruition of liberation is attained. It is of no concern whether or not you wander in the six states of samsara. It is of no concern whether or not you follow in the footsteps of masters of the past. No matter what arises, even if heaven and earth change places, there is a bare state of relaxed openness, without any underlying basis, without any reference point, nebulous, ephemeral, and evanescent. This is the mode of a lunatic, free of the duality of hope and fear. With unbiased view and meditation, ordinary consciousness that is caught up in reification collapses. Without the entanglements of wishful thinking, there is no thing to strive for or achieve.


Let whatever happens, happen, and whatever manifests, manifest. Let whatever occurs, occur, and whatever is, be. Let whatever is anything at all, be nothing at all. Thank you. May our intentions be blissful.