Sunday, September 23, 2007

The 8th Dharma Session of Middle Way Buddhist Association: Zen - A Life of Wisdom by Master Jian Zong

The 8th Dharma Session of Middle Way Buddhist Association was graced by Master Jian Zong, a Dharma instructor from the CT Zen Center of Sunnyvale, CA. Held on Sep 15, 2007 at the Pinellas Park venue of MWBA, the session followed the usual format of meditation , commencing at 9.30am sharp, followed by a Dharma discussion led by the guest speaker of the day, Master Jian Zong.

Master Jian Zong first prefaced the meditation session with dispensing some Buddhist wisdom, which he aptly titled Inner Kungfu [Chinese Martial Arts]. Different than the usual connotation of taming the enemy/opponent, a physical entity, Inner Kungfu here aims at taming the mind, which is the foundation of our love.

Brother Tom introducing Master Jian Zong at the beginning of the meditation session.

And Zen is in the heart of Inner Kungfu. It is recognized as the mind of the Buddha, and conjures up a self-driven endeavor to get enlightenment, through getting rid of stress, pressure, and anxiety.

We all need a good (re)charge now and then, which is facilitated by undergoing a high quality of rest, engendered by meditation. And relaxation is the first step to meditation, imbuing in us positive thinking and thoughts.

Master Jian Zong then enumerated the three basic steps to practicing sitting meditation involving our posture, breathing, and mind.

Good posture includes an upright body, sitting cross-legged in full or half-Lotus position, Diamond hand gesture symbolizing an unmoving mind, closed eyes or lowered eyelids but looking inward. Such good posturing totally centers the body and settles the mind conveniently.

A pure, clear, and still mind is what to strive for. That means doing constant battle with three mental states:

a) wandering thoughts: remedies include being in the present moment, letting go and leaving everything behind.

b) dozing: remedies include clarifying the mind, and physical interventions such as opening the eyes and massaging the head/face, gently rocking the body.

c) boredom: boredom breeds lethargy, and arises from a mind that is not focused. And therein lies the remedy: sharpening the mental focus.

On breathing, Master Jian Zong recommends the counting breath method, for its simplicity, and non-discriminatory premise. Counting variously to ten, seven, five, and even three, depending on one’s length of breath, the method helps us attain purity of mind, granting us the feeling that nothing can bother us now.

Master Jian Zong ended the session on Zen Meditation 101 with the need for post-meditation exercises entailing inhaling through the nose while maintaining a body upright posture, and then exhaling through the mouth while leaning the body forward, so designed to bring circulation back. He also cautioned: Do not let others push your body while in meditation.

The attendees also went through a walking meditation, guided by the cues from a handbell rung by Master Jian Zong. The take home message is embodied in the Principle of Zen practice: Wherever you’re, that’s where the mind is.

Entitled Zen - A Life of Wisdom, Master Jian Zong’s Buddhist lecture of the day was aimed at helping us find our own master key to open our closed minds, locked by our delusions and suffering. The master key has always been with us. So this is a rediscovery journey, finding the key that controls our mind in a state of stillness and tranquility. Two of the 48,000 Dharma gates, the avenues to unlocking our mind, are Zen meditation and learning Dharma, the Buddha’s teaching, each on its own, while constituting a necessary condition, is not a sufficient one.

Master Jian Zong interacting with the attendees during the Dharma lecture.

Zen, the Chinese word for which is Chan, is everywhere, is everything. To paraphrase Grand Master Wei Chueh, the founder of Chung Tai (CT) Zen Center, no matter how much the external environment changes, if we can see through the outer guise, we can let go of vexation, and maintain tranquility.

Master Jian Zong then introduced the 3Ts to attaining a perfect life:

T - Think wise

T - Think compassionate (the operative words being to tolerate and to forgive)

T - Think nothing (the absence of wandering thoughts leading to the development of wisdom and compassion), implying going back to ZERO, to clarity.

in the context of the 3Qs, the quotients:

IQ - conventional master knowledge and Intelligence that enable one to get a good job, say.

AQ - Attitude that leads to job promotion, networking

EQ - Emotion, the foundation of IQ/AQ that goes one step further to obtain wisdom.
And amidst this T/Q matrix sits Zen, the highest standard of EQ.

A life of wisdom presupposes a right view, a right understanding of which of the four kinds of wisdom that we are pursuing. There are the foolish kind and the erroneous kind that are borne out of attachment and craving, hence clouding our sense of right and wrong. Then there are the right wisdom and the pure wisdom, which is inherent in everyone’s original nature.

Master Jian Zong likens cultivating relationships to holding a sand grain in our hand: holding it loosely with an open palm, the grain will stay there. Try to squeeze it hard, the grain will slip away, so would a relationship. Therefore open your hand, and open your mind.

Giving another analogy, if we have been shot once by an arrow, don’t stick a second arrow on the same wound. Every time we think about the hurt, reminding ourselves of the negative experience, we are sticking the proverbial arrow into the same wound. Don’t think about it, and you can recover from the wound. It’s the self that benefits the most from forgiving and forgetting.

Another apt analogy is stirring dirty water in a cup. Let it sit, and the dirt will settle to the bottom, and we will see the problem clearly.

Wisdom and compassion are the essence of Buddhism, and are hence the goals of Buddhist practitioners. And wisdom without compassion leads to indifference.

To overcome greed, one of the three mental toxins (the other two being anger/aggression, and ignorance), think contentment. Being contented is a positive attitude that drives us to be amicable with others while fulfilling our responsibility. Like the old Chinese saying, standing on one mountain, one would yet see another higher mountain.

Turning to wealth, Master Jian Zong listed at least 5 groups that own our wealth, lest we be deluded into thinking that we are the sole keeper [for those who have attended the 6th MWBA Dharma Session conducted by Master Jian Fu on July 9 & 10, 2007, these would serve as refresher material]:

a) IRS
b) Natural disasters (hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis)
c) Thieves/robbers
d) Bankers/doctors
e) Children (think burden), and in US especially,
f) insurers/lawyers.

But we can also use the money in the right way: to shower kindness on our parents, our teachers, and all sentient being; to support and uphold the three jewels: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha; to help the three suffering realms (animals, hungry ghosts, and hell). We need to know our benefactors, and take responsibility for what’s bad.

To those who doubt that your life is a blessed one, be reminded of what you find when you wake up this morning:

- health
- absence of the savages of wars, the agony of imprisonment, the pangs of starvation.
- food
- money
- parents, being married and alive

- holding up your head and smiling

- prayers for family, friends, co-workers, dedicating merits to them.
- giving to others, which is more blessed than receiving,
- books to read.

You will realize that you’re so blessed in ways that you may not even know.

Oftentimes information dissemination is not governed by the right view/understanding. Therefore Buddhism advocates the 3 in 1 practice, the three being the studies of precepts (moral conduct), of Samadhi (deep concentration), and the wisdom (that arises from the attainment of Samadhi).

To do that is to go for QBQ (the question behind the question) , to know where suffering comes from; in Buddhist parlance, it’s VBV, the vexation behind the vexation, thereby enabling us to reach the highest state, Bodhi, which is both enlightenment and vexation.

We often hear the refrain, “Why me?” Playing on Chinese pronunciation of words, Don’t ask why [because “why” in Chinese pronunciation means “bad”], ask How [good in Chinese pronunciation] to resolve problem.

The Buddha said, “All that we are is the result of what we have thought.” This is exemplified by a story of the 3rd Patriarch, who was asked by one of his students how to be free of bondage.

Who has tied you down?” asked the 3rd Patriarch.

Nobody,” replied the student. “If no body is tying you down, then you’re free. Why do you have to free yourself?” the 3rd Patriarch wisely counseled. The message, we are often bound by our own thinking.

As concluding remarks, Master Jian Zong explained the significance of the name MWBA, and the name of the venue: the Middle Way embodies the principle of the Zen Meditation that guides us on the path to true liberation, and Clearwater, in Chinese, means still water, a clear water mind.

To end the day‘s session that has been sprinkled with numbers and symbols, Master Jian Zong offered the mathematical symbol for infinity (see image on the right) as characterizing our mind.

During the ensuing vegetarian lunch treat, it was announced that the 9th MWBA Dharma session would be held on Oct 20, 2007, featuring Dr. Peter Chang on a discussion of the physical and mental aspects of Buddhist meditation as well as the philosophy behind traditional Chinese medicine. But note a departure from the usual start time, 2.00pm instead of 9.30am. And we all bade Master Jian Zong a safe flight to Atlanta.

A group photo of Master Jian Zong with some of the attendees.

Here I would like to quote Grand Master Wei Chueh, taken from Chung Tai Koans: The Teaching Stories of Grand Master Wei Chueh, a publication for free distribution brought by Master Jian Zong:

"With respect, we eradicate arrogance;
with compassion, we extinguish anger and hatred;
with harmony, we eliminate violence;
with truth and sincerity, we eradicate deceit

"To obtain Middle Way Reality,
we observe the Four Tenet of Chung Tai

which are:

To our elders be respectful.
To our juniors be kind.
With all humanity be harmonious.
In all endeavors be true.

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