Buddhadharma

 

One fundamental attitude shared by Buddhism and science is the commitment to keep searching for reality by empirical means and to be willing to disregard accepted or long-held positions if our search finds the truth is different.
 — Dalai Lama XIV

Never underestimate the power of compassionately recognizing
 what's going on.
  — Pema Chödrön

 

Buddha Shakyamuni

Buddhism, or Buddhadharma, signifies the teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni and personal experiences or realizations of these teachings. Buddha gave eighty-four thousand teachings and methods for self-liberation. All these teachings and realizations of them constitute Buddhadharma. In general, ‘Buddha’ means ‘Awakened One’, someone who has awakened from the sleep of ignorance and sees things as they really are.  Thus, his or her compassionate wisdom is impartial, embracing all living beings without exception.   

It is beyond the scope of this page to survey the numerous schools and traditions of Buddhism that have evolved in different cultures.  Buddhadharma is a vast and profound 2,500-year-old tradition that can fully occupy more than one lifetime of study and practice in just one school. In the context of this website I can offer only a simple introduction to the Buddhadharma, its relevance to the rest of this site, and a taste of the resources that have benefited and delighted me, for those who are interested.  The emphasis is on Tibetan Buddhist views and resources since that is the tradition I was trained in.

Eight Auspicious Symbols

Buddhadharma is spoken of as a ‘path’ or a ‘journey.’  The path of Buddhadharma is a process of transformation and evolution in consciousness, from fragmented to integrated mind, and from smaller to vaster being.  It is a path of personal responsibility for oneself and also towards all beings.  There is no ‘savior’ notion in Buddhism.  On this nontheistic path, which is gradual and presented in great detail, one endeavors to liberate oneself from selfishness, ignorance, and delusion.  It is a personal journey beyond the confines of ego, a journey based on meditation, study, and self-reflectively working with one’s own mind, which is known as the ‘spiritual path.’                                

The spiritual path in Buddhism is very practical.  It is concerned with causes and effects.  The path begins with the acknowledgement of the truth of suffering, dukha, the first of the Four Noble Truths, and the Buddha’s first teaching after his enlightenment. Dukha in Sanskrit means dissatisfaction, pain, or suffering, especially the neurotic struggles of the human mind.  In order to follow the path that leads to liberation, it is necessary to acknowledge the pain and confusion of “monkey mind.”

A superficial reading of Buddhism has led some people to reject it as too ‘grim’ because of the assumed emphasis on suffering.  However, that misses the point, which is that humans have the capacity to free ourselves from the mental entanglements by which we torment ourselves about the realities of life on this planet.  The basic realities are birth, sickness, old age, and death—and the impermanence of all experience.  Impermanence and physical and mental pain are inevitable in human existence, but the struggle to avoid those experiences is not inevitable.  In fact, attempts to avoid pain and impermanence are what cause the ceaseless dissatisfaction and suffering of monkey mind.

In the West, we understand that in order to solve a problem, we must accurately identify the problem and find the root of it.  Likewise, in Buddhadharma we seek the root of the problem of suffering. The Second Noble Truth is the origin of suffering, samudaya.  This is commonly understood to be attachment to transient things, and ignorance thereof.  Transient or impermanent things include physical objects, circumstances, ideas, and all objects of perception, including the perception of a continuous, abiding, separate self. 

The struggle to maintain, secure, and enhance a self that is transient—in fact, illusory—is the root of suffering, as is our ignorance of what we are doing and the futility of it.  The fixation on an illusory self, known as ego, creates all our cravings and aversions.  We fixate both on what we identify as “me” and what we perceive as “not me” in an attempt to solidify an ever-changing self.  Fixated mind keeps us engaged in struggle while ignoring the space of awareness beyond ego.

The Third Noble Truth is that the cessation of struggle and suffering is possible.  This is nirodha.  A state of peace, without attachment and aversion, is attainable.  In Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, explains nirodha this way (p. 153, 1973):

We need only drop the effort to secure and solidify ourselves and the awakened state is present.  But we soon realize that just ‘letting go’ is only possible for short periods.  We need some discipline to bring us to ‘letting be.’  We must walk the spiritual path.  Ego must wear itself out like an old shoe, journeying from suffering to liberation.

This brings us to the Fourth Noble Truth: the truth of the path of meditation.  In the Buddhadharma, meditation is the practice of being present to one’s own state of mind in the here and now, and relaxing into “nowness” through the medium of the breath.  By relaxing into the present moment, we allow space into our minds, which reveals the sane wakefulness that resides beyond monkey mind. 

Dharmachakra: 8 spokes for 8-fold path

But the path the Buddha prescribed goes further than meditation instruction alone.  The path is eight-fold:  the Noble Eightfold Path of right view, right intention, right speech, right morality or discipline, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right samadhi or absorption—a non-dualistic state of complete, one-pointed, undistracted presence.                     

The Noble Eightfold Path describes the way humans can awaken and conduct ourselves in accordance with the dharma, the reality of the world, things as they really are, and thus cease suffering and achieve peace and happiness.  This is the famous “middle way” of Buddhism between the extremes of eternalism and nihilism, self-indulgence and self-denial, delusion and despair. 

The nondualistic middle way is to see the wholeness-holiness-sacredness of the world and conduct our lives according to that view.  Achieving a nondualistic view is quite challenging in the Western world where Cartesian dualism still reigns.  We are so accustomed to seeing everything in terms of polarities, or mutually exclusive opposites – such as self and other, humans and animals, culture and nature, spirit and matter – that seeing the inseparability of these supposed opposites requires conscious contemplation. 

Seeing past our conditioned assumptions of separate categories doesn’t happen by itself.  It takes conscious effort to see through our inherited dualistic worldview, the “either-or” thinking that separates and disconnects us as humans, so that we naturally perceive how everything is connected.  Until we see and relate to the world in this way, we will continue to contribute to the destruction of the biosphere. (See the Gaia section of this website.)

The “good news” of the Buddhadharma is that we can liberate ourselves from dualistic delusion and confusion, and thus from suffering, through meditative discipline.  We walk the dharmic path by paying attention to both our own state of mind and the situations we are in.

In The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Meditation, Chögyam Trungpa explains the meaning of “right”:

[W]e must first understand what Buddha meant by 'right.'  He did not mean to say right as opposed to wrong at all.  He said 'right' meaning 'what is,' being right without a concept of what is right.  'Right' translates the Sanskrit samyak, which means 'complete.' Completeness needs no relative help, no support through comparison.  Samyak means seeing life as it is without crutches, straightforwardly. . . .  According to Buddha, life is pain, life is pleasure.  That is the samyak quality of it—so precise and direct: straight life without any concoctions. (p. 95, 1976)

Altogether, the eightfold path is a process of simplifying, opening, and bringing more and more space into our minds and lives, which enables us to see beyond the demands of ego and align ourselves with interdependent reality.  Thus our conduct becomes appropriate, and eventually impeccable. 

 


 Dharmacakra on Jokhang Temple, Lhasa, Tibet.


Buddhadharma and Dharmagaians

These are the basic teachings of the Buddha, upon which all the other teachings are based: every human being is endowed with fundamental sanity and inherent goodness, and we are all capable of liberating ourselves from neurotic patterns that keep us enmeshed in painful situations.   The great gift of Buddhadharma is the path to freedom that it offers, with time-tested methods of working compassionately with our own minds and with others. 

However, as unique and potent and true as the divine, holy Buddhadharma is, and as effective as it is for achieving peace and clarity as individuals and communities, it does not offer clear directions for dealing with the unprecedented global crises that our species now faces.  The state of the world demands change in the way humans live with each other and within the larger living system that is the Earth.  If all humans were dharmic, the world would not be in the crisis it is in.  But dharmic people are in the minority, and a tide of insanity and destruction now threatens civilization and thousands of species, including our own.

Earthfire

Buddhadharma offers the Big Picture of how all sentient beings are interdependent and how the state of our minds affects and is reflected by our world.  Dharmagaians extend that holistic perception to the interdependence of the “world problematique.”  As Buddhadharma seeks the root of suffering within the minds of individuals, Dharmagaians seek the root of our planetary crises in the worldview—the collective mindset—of the dominant culture that is shredding the web of life. Dharmagaians seek to contribute to the Great Turning from the industrial growth society to a life-affirming, ecologically sustainable human presence on Earth, this precious, miraculous planet, with its delicate, fragile biosphere.               

From a Dharmagaian perspective, the Buddhadharma’s contribution to the Great Turning can be profound; for Buddhadharma provides the skillful means and wisdom for the psycho-spiritual transformation that must take place within ourselves if humans are to liberate ourselves from our materialistic cultural conditioning, habitual patterns, and instinctual impulses, and adapt to the realities of Earth and the order of the universe, the Dharma

The Great Turning, like the path of Buddhadharma, depends upon liberating ourselves from the seductions of the dominant culture that appeal to monkey mind, play upon our dissatisfactions, and entangle us in dukha. There is no liberation without an internal confrontation with the dominant consumer culture that exploits the human ego by manipulating our cravings and attachments to transient things, constantly recreating the origin of suffering. 

Multimedia by Michele Laporte

But for Dharmagaians, the personal is planetary and the planetary is personal.  We realize that what we suffer personally as a result of the social conditioning and economic activities of the dominant culture is also suffered by all sentient beings on this planet.  Thus, there is the aspiration to give back, to return to Gaia the compassion and wisdom we have gained through spiritual practice and contemplation.  Dharmagaian John Seed expresses this spirit of reciprocity in this way:  “The spiritual heights of which our species is capable are among the finest flowers of the extraordinary fecundity and goodness of the Earth. It is only fitting that compassion and praise, gratitude and caring pour back from these spiritual heights to nourish the biological fabric from whence they sprang.”

In order to give our compassion an effective—or, we might say, strategic—form, the Dharmagaian vision of the Great Turning draws on the worldly dharmas of many fields, and especially science, for an understanding of our dilemma and a way forward.  In this Big Picture, the planet is in a state of emergency that is unprecedented within the history of the human species.  Our ailing planet requires collective change on the part of our species, a global mind change, a Great Turning towards a holistic, life-affirming, ecological worldview and culture based on a new cosmic story.  

Cosmologist Brian Swimme is my primary teacher of the New Cosmology, which is an important aspect of the Great Turning.  The new cosmic story is based on the evolutionary history of the universe and the Earth, and it places our species within the perspective of deep time, encompassing the evolutionary past and future. 

In The Current Moment Swimme notes that the fundamental significance of our time is that humans are bringing an end to an entire geological era, the Cenozoic Era.  The Cenozoic Era is the 65-million-year-long age of mammals, which gave birth to the human species.  The Cenozoic is coming to a close because humans are eliminating the species of our time at an estimated rate of 20,000 a year.  Without humans, the normal rate of extinction would be around one per year.  Humans have accelerated the rate of extinction thousands of times.  This means that our impact is changing the functioning of the planet.

Swimme suggests that the extinction of planetary life was not something that Plato or Lao Tzu, Buddha or Christ could even imagine.  In ancient times, nobody had ever heard of species becoming extinct, so they did not address the planetary state of emergency that is now unfolding.  As far as I know, the Buddha did not teach what to do when the Lords of Materialism have brought about the most destructive moment in 65 million years, nor did he teach how to turn the entire human species away from a destructive path based on false beliefs, to a way of life that harmonizes with and enhances the larger living systems we are part of.

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Dharmagaians recognize, as Swimme puts it, that

We're in the midst of an end time. Things are coming to a close, but it's opening up new possibilities. Our fundamental challenge is to give birth to a new society, a new way of
being a human, and a new planet. That’s the challenge - to think at the level of creativity that's required by this moment. It's not just a new civilization that we need to give birth to; we're actually giving birth to a new geological era. And it's never been done in human history. It's a level of creativity that the Earth has manifested before - but humans have never been called upon to produce ideas at the level of planetary creativity. That's our moment.

The Great Turning is a work in progress that Dharmagaians are actively engaged in.  There is no new worldview and no new human society that we can subscribe to or buy off the shelf.  We must actively participate in creating the new worldview and society if we wish for the Great Turning and our species to succeed.  It is something we do for the sake of our own sanity and integrity, as well as for the sake of all sentient beings living now and yet to be born.

 

Turning Around

I’ll be the first to admit that it isn’t easy to digest the magnitude of our moment in history, or to absorb the idea that we live in an “end time.”  This truth of our time is painful and frightening, but it’s one of those truths that we ignore at our peril.

The question for ecocentric Buddhists like myself is, why aren’t more Buddhists ecologically engaged?  Why are there not more Buddhist Dharmagaians?  It isn’t that Buddhists don’t have the tools to take in the truth of our time.  Foreseeing unpleasantness and preparing for it is an aspect of Buddhadharma practice that has probably contributed to its survival for 2,500 years.  In anticipation of the destructive Chinese occupation of Tibet, foresight brought Buddhadharma out of Tibet and to the West.

In Tibetan Buddhism one of the intermediate practices is to contemplate one’s own death: “Death comes without warning, this body will be a corpse.” Contemplating the reality and inevitability of death is one of many practices for letting go of delusion and opening to the impermanence of things as they are on this Earth.  If hanging onto things that are impermanent causes needless suffering, acceptance of the reality of impermanence becomes a basis for sanity. 

Perhaps the answer to my question, ‘Why are there not more Buddhist Dharmagaians?’ is that to become a Dharmagaian, we have to break cultural taboos.  We have to have the courage to turn around and question our anthropocentric social conditioning and its effects on the whole of life as well as on ourselves.  We have to turn around and say, “Enough!” to the dominant culture’s ecologically and socially destructive practices.  We have to think big, like the planet.  To break taboos and challenge the culture takes us out of our comfort zones and exposes us to risks that simply doing our Buddhist practices and working for our own enlightenment – or teaching Buddhadharma – doesn’t.

It is not in the tradition of Buddhism to challenge the culture it is in the process of penetrating, although the Buddha himself questioned and challenged his own culture.  But Buddhism might not have been able to take root in as many different cultures as it did if it had shown itself to be as subversive as it is, and had openly challenged the cultures it was trying to take root in.  In a culture as materialistic as the West, Buddhadharma is quite subversive, but it generally keeps a low profile.  The idea is for practitioners to change themselves from the inside out, and thus to create social change from the inside out.  This actually worked in many countries until the modern era.  It took centuries, but it worked.

However, now we’re in the era of planetary emergency and we don’t have centuries to effect social change in the West.  Buddhism began to take root in the United States only a few decades ago.  Now, within the first decades of the 21st century, global crises are converging with increasing speed.  Risks to the biosphere, civilization, and the survival of the human species – and therefore to the survival of the Buddhadharma – are far higher than they have ever been before.  So there is no avoiding risk, whether we are paying attention or not. 

As far as we know, those alive now may be the first humans to foresee the decline of our civilization and have the opportunity to prepare for it.  Whether records of conversations that are proliferating at this time – see Positive Disintegration, Peak Oil, and Cassandra Club – will survive the decline, we do not know.  Some people are concerned about preserving things of practical value for the survival of humanity in the 21st century and beyond: such as knowledge, skills, hand tools, and co-creative culture.   These are no doubt important. 

However, in the interests of promoting sanity among human descendants, I believe that it is equally important to pass on an understanding of how and why this disintegration occurred, and proven techniques for keeping our sanity in the midst of chaos, shock, and trauma. This means preserving eco-psycho-spiritual wisdom – including, especially, the Buddhadharma – and promoting it among future generations by any means possible. 

For this task, Dharmagaians may have a special responsibility, and it is to this task that this website is dedicated.  But it would be helpful if more Buddhists joined the ranks of Dharmagaians and spoke out about the larger issues facing the human collective, and the relevance of the Buddhadharma for coping with our planetary emergencies.  Some of the most creative and influential Dharmagaians have been Buddhists, such as Gary Snyder, Robert Thurman, Joanna Macy, John Seed, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Joan Halifax Roshi.  We could use more like these.  The young 17th Gyalwang Karmapa is showing promise of being a Dharmagaian leader, at least for Tibetan Buddhists, and perhaps for a much wider public if he succeeds the Dalai Lama.  Let us hope so.

Facing the truth of this global end time takes us through a set of collective truths that are reminiscent of the Buddha’s Noble Truths: 
• A civilization based on false beliefs, such as the economic ideology of endless growth on a finite planet, is causing global suffering;
• Clinging to false beliefs and transient things—materialism—is the origin of global suffering;
• Like all things in this particular universe, civilizations and geological ages are impermanent, thus ceasing to believe in and cling to our current way of life enables us to wake up to the larger realities of our time and stop struggling to maintain an unsustainable civilization and way of life;
• The path of the Great Turning is a path of collective evolution that offers the opportunity to bring our species into alignment with the dharma of the Earth.  No humans are exempt from this path if we wish for our species—and the dharma—to survive.  The Noble Eightfold Path is an excellent model for communities to use as they work toward sustainability.

That is the view of this Dharmagaian.  The rest of this website provides much more detail on the views, practices, and actions that other Dharmagaians suggest and exemplify.

 

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Mount Kailash, Tibet

The quotes on this page are offered to provide inspiration and support for integrating the Dharmic journey with the Gaian journey.  For articles, links, web videos and audios, movies, and books on Buddhadharma, click here. For Chögyam Trungpa, click here. See the Gaia and Great Turning sections for more on Dharmagaian responses to the challenges of our time.

 

Remember that Dharma is Nature and Nature is Everything.
Ajarn Buddhadasa

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Logo for the Environment by H.H. 17th Karmapa

Ever since the human race first appeared on this earth, we have used this earth heavily. It is said that ninety-nine percent of the resources and so on in this world come from the natural environment. We are using the earth until she is used up. The earth has given us immeasurable benefit, but what have we done for the earth in return? We always ask for something from the earth, but never give her anything back. . . . The sentient beings living on the earth and the elements of the natural world need to join their hands together - the earth must not give up on sentient beings, and sentient beings must not give up on the earth. Each needs to grasp the other's hand. . . . I also think this might become a symbol of people having affection for the earth and wanting to protect it. . . .  We will not give up on the earth! May there be peace on earth! May the earth be sustained for many thousands of years!   17th Gyalwang Karmapa, December 29, 2007

Have confidence in your own spiritual potentiality, your ability to find your own unique way.  Learn from others certainly, and use what you find useful, but also learn to trust your own inner wisdom.  Have courage.  Be awake and aware.  Remember too that Buddhism is not about being a Buddhist; that is, obtaining a new identity tag.  Nor is it about collecting head-knowledge, practices and techniques.  It is ultimately about letting go of all forms and concepts and becoming free.  — John Snelling, Elements of Buddhism

I am a Buddhist practitioner, but if I mix up my devotion for Buddhism with an attachment to it, my mind will be biased toward it. A biased mind never sees the complete picture, and any action that results will not be in tune with reality.  —  His Holiness, the Dalai Lama

Avalokiteshvara, Bodhisattva of Compassion

When you understand that there’s no solid distinction between you and the rest of the world, compassion for the environment can’t help but arise.  — Abbot John Daido Loori, Teachings of the Earth: Zen and the Environment

The greatest achievement is selflessness.
 The greatest worth is self-mastery.
 The greatest quality is seeking to serve others.
 The greatest precept is continual awareness.
 The greatest medicine is the emptiness of everything.
 The greatest action is not conforming with the world’s ways.
 The greatest magic is transmuting the passions.
 The greatest generosity is non-attachment.
 The greatest goodness is a peaceful mind.
 The greatest patience is humility.
 The greatest effort is not concerned with results.
 The greatest meditation is a mind that lets go.
 The greatest wisdom is seeing through appearances.

        

Buddha Eyes


Strictly speaking there are no enlightened people, there is only enlightened activity.   — Shunryu Suzuki Roshi      

Manjushri, Bodhisattva of Wisdom

The concept of shunyata or emptiness is ceaseless space, like the analogy of outer space which never ends. In some sense, the shunyata principle, or the principle of emptiness and openness, could be called a goal. In the sense of going from imperfection to perfection it could be called a goal. But it is not really a definite goal in the sense of achievement or a peak experience in which the student stops. In other words, the all-pervading quality of emptiness or shunyata provides tremendous room to expand constantly. From that point of view, achievement is the beginning point of another odyssey. The energy of compassion and of prajna, or knowledge, constantly goes on. — Chögyam Trunpgpa, Glimpses of Shunyata

Do not be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. All systems of thought are guiding means; they are not absolute truth. — Thich Nhat Hanh

 

Loving-kindness (maitri) toward ourselves doesn't mean getting rid of anything. Maitri means that we can still be crazy, we can still be angry. We can still be timid or jealous or full of feelings of unworthiness. Meditation practice isn't about trying to throw ourselves away or become something better. It's about befriending who we are already.   - Pema Chödrön, Comfortable with Uncertainty


Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche

 

Padmasambhava [who brought Buddhism to Tibet] developed an approach for communicating with future generations. In relation to a lot of his writings, he thought, "These words may not be important at this point, but I am going to write them down and bury them in the mountains of Tibet." And he did so. He thought, "Someone will discover them later and find them extraordinarily mind-blowing. Let them have a good time then." This was a unique approach. Gurus nowadays think purely in terms of the effect they might have now. They do not consider trying to have a powerful effect on the future. But Padmasambhava thought, "If I leave an example of my teaching behind, even if people of future generations do not experience my example, just hearing my words alone could cause a spiritual atomic bomb to explode in a future time." Such an idea was unheard-of. It is a very powerful thing.  – Chögyam Trungpa, Crazy Wisdom

 

Buddhism, it seems to me, is also very much worth watching. In the last few decades, especially but not only on the west coast, Buddhism has transformed itself from an exotic foreign import to a homegrown faith with a growing popular appeal . . . .   If it continues along its present growth curve, Buddhism could turn into a major religious force in North America over the next few centuries. . . .  Arnold Toynbee noted in his massive A Study of History that the downslopes of civilizations seem to be the incubators of universal religions, and rarely so dramatically as in times when the most basic assumptions of a civilization are visibly disproving themselves. This is such a time, in case you haven’t noticed.  — John Michael Greer, “Religion and Peak Oil: The Next Spirituality”

One of the reasons I suspect Buddhism may do very well in the West in the next dozen centuries or so is precisely the way it focuses on the experiences of transience and suffering.  — John Michael Greer

 

KARMAPA DREAM FLAG

The 16th Gyalwa Karmapa, well known for his visions and prophesies, designed this flag from a vision that came to him in a dream. He called it “Namkhyen Gyaldar (Victorious Flag of Buddha’s Wisdom).” He proclaimed, “Wherever this banner is flown the Dharma will flourish.” According to the outer meaning the blue represents the sky or heaven. The yellow symbolizes the earth. The wave symbolizes the Buddhadharma penetrating heaven and earth.

According to the inner meaning the blue represents vision and spiritual insight and the yellow symbolizes our experience of the everyday world. The symmetry of the wave pattern shows the interdependence of the absolute and relative levels of reality.

According to the secret meaning, the blue symbolizes emptiness-wisdom and the yellow represents compassionate action. The wave is Mahamudra: the union of wisdom and compassion—the ultimate realization of one’s true nature.

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The world we live in is getting smaller and people's actions have tremendous impact. In the era in which we live people cannot get away with clinging to their beliefs. I don't have any personal attachment or clinging to being a Buddhist. We need to step outside the boundaries of Buddhism and really go out and share the benefits of our Buddhist practice with the rest of the world.
—17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje, May 31, 2008

 

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© 2009 Suzanne Duarte