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Samantabhadra

Recap:

This post is part of a 5-week series in relation to the Five Bodhisattvas and a Reflection Group I put together and am part of with a few sangha friends of mine.

Bodhisattva literally means “enlightened being.” The Plum Village chant book defines it as such: One committed to enlightening oneself and others so that all may be liberated from suffering.

In our practice tradition, we are especially urged not to regard the bodhisattva’s as external separate entities but more as qualities in which to actively cultivate within our own self, for the benefit of all beings. While the Bodhisattva’s are mentioned as actual human beings – and disciples of the Buddha – in the sutras, we are encouraged to see them as representing skill-sets and capabilities in which to hone and sharpen in our own life.

We read and reflect on one bodhisattva at a time for one full week and then answer three reflection questions each Sunday, which we email out to the group of participants.

These are the bodhisattvas in the order most commonly encountered in our tradition:

Avalokiteshvara: Bodhi. of Great Compassion
Manjushri: Bodhi. of Great Understanding
Samantabhadra: Bodhi. of Great Action
Kshitigarbha: Bodhi. of Great Aspiration
Sadaparibhuta: Bodhi. of Never Disparaging

This last week was week #3.

Here is the verse, my journal entries, and my answers to our group reflection questions for Samantabhadra:

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We invoke your name, Samantabhadra. We aspire to practice your vow to act with the eyes and heart of compassion, to bring joy to one person in the morning and to ease the pain of one person in the afternoon. We know that the happiness of others is our own happiness, and we aspire to practice joy on the path of service. We know that every word, every look, every action, and every smile can bring happiness to others. We know that if we practice wholeheartedly, we ourselves may become an inexhaustible source of peace and joy for our loved ones and for all species.

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3/20

This is the bodhisattva I resonate with personally the most. This is the bodhisattva of Great Action, and I often refer to myself humorously as a Woman of Action.

There are so many lovely lines in the verse – and I find the especially lovely because I’ve personally encountered and experienced them in my life. I am someone who puts great emphasis on practicing joy on the path of service. And in doing so, I’ve seen firsthand how true it is that the happiness of others is my own happiness; how every word/look/action/smile can bring happiness to others; and how when I practice wholeheartedly, I am able to becomes an inexhaustible source of peace and joy for others.

For me, cultivating joyful-based actions is my highest and most important aspiration on my path of practice. When I set my compass in this direction, I see clearly the ripple effects that occur as a result, everywhere I go.

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Rituals

Immensely inspired by a video interview I watched this morning, as part of a free Wellness Summit happening online right now, entitled: How to Set Yourself Free From Pain & Misery, with Dr. Sean Stephenson, I was called to craft this post focused on my own personal daily rituals.

In Dr. Stephenson’s interview, he said: I have 16 rituals and if I don’t do at least 4 of them every day, my insecurities will eat me alive.

He said a lot more that’s worth mentioning – I took over 5 pages of notes during the 60-minute video! – but there is much greater value for you, my friends, in watching it yourself (click on link above). It is one of the very best mindfulness-based talks I have ever seen.

So rather than using this post to relay all of my notes, I will instead focus on sharing my daily rituals, which isn’t new for me to do here on my blog but has perhaps been a little while since last I did.

 

Nicole’s DAILY Rituals (for Self-Care and Cultivating Ease, Joy, and Solidity)

Waking up early enough to enjoy a period of time connecting with myself, amid the graces of quietude and slowness

Writing (if even only a little bit)

Sitting meditation

Gratitude practice (which I created myself and involves certain verses I say each morning, along with prostrations to the earth)

Saying a connection/gratitude verse before I eat each meal

Watering my seed of joy, with intentional skillful effort

Guarding well my sensory input (TV/films, music, books, magazines, conversations, social media, news…)

Resting (which for me typically comes in the form of taking a nap every day; even on the days I work, as soon as I get home around 4:00, the first thing I do is lay down to take a short nap before preparing dinner)

Maintain consistency with when I eat each meal: breakfast, lunch, and dinner

Wake up at the same time every day (5:00am) and go to bed around the same time each night (between 9-10pm)

 

Nicole’s WEEKLY Rituals (for Self-Care and Cultivating Ease, Joy, and Solidity)

Attend sangha every Monday night

Participate in my self-crafted Mindful Morning Saturday practice

Watch a Dharma talk and/or mindfulness-based teaching video online

Spend time dancing and exercising

Devoting one morning (usually Sundays) to Lazy Morning practice

 

Nicole’s YEARLY Rituals (for Self-Care and Cultivating Ease, Joy, and Solidity)

Attend our two locally held and organized mindfulness retreats with my extended Montana sangha family

Prioritize solo sojourns

Spend extended, concentrated time on personal retreat (or amid other practice-related spells of personal quietude)

Attend local days of mindfulness and special practice events hosted by our sister sanghas as much as possible

 

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Manjushri

We invoke your name, Manjushri. We aspire to learn your way, which is to be still and to look deeply into the heart of things and into the hearts of people. We will look with all our attention and openheartedness. We will look with unprejudiced eyes. We will look without judging or reacting. We will look deeply so that we will be able to see and understand the roots of suffering, the impermanent and selfless nature of all that is. We will practice your way of using the sword of understanding to cut through the bonds of suffering, thus freeing ourselves and other species.

– from the Plum Village Chanting & Recitation book

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3/12

There is similar language in this verse as there was in the last verse on Avalokiteshvara, but instead of saying “listen” it says “look.” This makes sense, as Avalokiteshvara is the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion and Manjushri is the Bodhisattva of Great Understanding. Compassion and understanding are closely related.

Perhaps to listen is with the heart and to look is with the mind. Both parts are necessary to create the whole picture of self, and to come into full relationship with the world.

It’s easy to regard these Bodhisattva verse teachings as pertaining to our actions relating to other people but it’s also important to apply these to our self. When I am able to look at myself with unprejudiced eyes and without judging or reacting, it is only then that I can truly offer those same curtesy’s to others.

How I treat myself inwardly translates directly to how I treat others externally. There is no separation.

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3/14

…the impermanent and selfless nature of all that is. When I am in touch with nature of impermanence and selflessness (which is another way of saying: interbeing), which underpins all of life in every situation, then I am able to see and understand more clearly the roots of my own suffering. Most – if not all – suffering stems from seeing things/people/self as permanent/fixed in place and/or seeing things/people/self as being separate/disconnected entities.

How much time and energy do we expend in wishing that a particular moment was other than as it is?! Probably a lot.

Part of this verse involves a profound understanding of how everything is part of life – nothing and no one is separate. That goes for: bad days, inclement weather, feeling hurt by someone, stubbing our toe, anger, heartbreak, stress, a flat tire, that gal we don’t like who works at our grocery store, that politician we wish weren’t in office, and so on. Using the sword of understanding to cut through the bonds of suffering, involves cultivating the art of full acceptance of what is going on, verses getting caught in wishing things/people to be different to the extent that it causes us to fight against the reality of what’s unfolding around us.

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3/15

To understand deeply means to have insight penetrate through our surface knowings and our intellectual processing. Just as we must get out of our own way in order to listen deeply, we must do the same in order to look deeply.

We must get out of the way of our ego and limiting notions and social constructs of thought, in order to look deeply into the heart of things and into the hearts of people.

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Avalokiteshvara

Statue of Avalokiteshvara at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC

 

We invoke your name, Avalokiteshvara. We aspire to learn your way of listening in order to help relieve the suffering in the world. You know how to listen in order to understand. We invoke your name in order to practice listening with all our attention and open-heartedness. We will sit and listen without any prejudice. We will sit and listen without judging or reacting. We will sit and listen in order to understand. We will sit and listen so attentively that we will be able to hear what the other person is saying and also what is being left unsaid. We know that just by listening deeply we already alleviate a great deal of pain and suffering in the other person.

– Chanting from the Heart, Parallax Press, 2006, p. 30

As mentioned in my last post, I plan on sharing my journal entries and the answers to the three questions I put together for use in our newly formed Bodhisattva Reflection Group. Today marks the end of week one in our five week practice. It never ceases to amaze and delight me how powerful it can be to put even just a small amount of intention into something in particular – whether it’s practice related or otherwise. Simply reading this Bodhisattva verse each day over the last week was enough to spur a number of insights and understandings.

It’s like when you go from never hearing about, say, visiting Yellowstone National Park and then when you start setting your sights on wanting to venture there, you suddenly find yourself encountering mentions of it all over the place. I find most things are like that, and working with the Bodhisattvas is no different.

Now, I didn’t journal every day. I journaled when I felt called to. Here’s what resulted:

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Bodhisattvas

Meme I put together using one of my own photos

Spurred by a practice I’m doing alongside an OI aspirant I have the pleasure of mentoring – which involves spending 2 weeks reflecting on each of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings –  and an idea my good friend Rhonda had, I came up with a creative way to work more deeply with the Five Bodhisattvas in our Plum Village practice tradition. It’s an experiment I’m choosing to call: Bodhisattva Reflection Practice Group.

I emailed a number of our regular sangha members with an overview of the set up – which largely takes place over email – asking for a full commitment to the schedule below, should folks be interested in joining the group. I also explained that in large part this practice would be self-driven. I don’t intend on checking up on anyone or sending out the schedule each week. I sent one email out and encouraged everyone to save it for ongoing reference, which included a PDF of the necessary text for all Five Bodhisattvas (link to online text is included below). Including myself, we are a lovely group of 8 :)

Here’s how it works:

SCHEDULE:

Monday March 4th: Read (& reflect on) Avalokiteshvara every day through Sunday.
Sunday March 10th: Send your answers to the three questions (see below) to EVERYONE on this email list.

Monday March 11th: Read (& reflect on) Manjushri every day through Sunday.
Sunday March 17th: Send your answers to the three questions to EVERYONE on this email list.

Monday March 18th: Read (& reflect on) Samantabhadra every day through Sunday.
Sunday March 24th: Send your answers to the three questions to EVERYONE on this email list.

Monday March 25th: Read (& reflect on) Ksitigarbha every day through Sunday.
Sunday March 31st: Send your answers to the three questions to EVERYONE on this email list.

Monday April 1st: Read (& reflect on) Sadaparibhuta every day through Sunday.
Sunday April 7th: IN PERSON GATHERING; answer the three questions and bring them with you to share.
Here are the three questions we will all be answering and emailing to the group each week (using the same questions each week):

 
THREE QUESTIONS:

1. How would you summarize this verse in your own words?

2. What do you see as being your own strengths and weaknesses in relation to the qualities of this Bodhisattva?

3. What is something you’ve gleaned by reflecting on this Bodhisattva this past week?

Bodhisattva literally means “enlightened being.” The Plum Village chant book defines it as such: One committed to enlightening oneself and others so that all may be liberated from suffering.

In our practice tradition, we are especially urged not to regard the Bodhisattva’s as external separate entities but more as qualities in which to actively cultivate within our own self, for the benefit of all beings. While the Bodhisattva’s are mentioned as actual human beings – and disciples of the Buddha – in the sutras, we are encouraged to see them as representing skill-sets and capabilities in which to hone and sharpen in our own life.

As we are amid week one in our reflection group, I’ll keep you posted as to my journaling on each of the Bodhisattvas, as well as my answers to the three questions.

If this arrangement goes well, I can see putting together other reflection group practices in the future. I really enjoy knowing that I’m practicing alongside my friends and that we can share what we’re working on with one another. We’re all in this together!

Stay tuned!

 

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The Five Powers

Yesterday, I enjoyed a lovely Day of Mindfulness (DOM) with our sister Sangha Open Sky up north on the Flathead Lake, where snow, sun, and delightful people were in abundant supply. As part of our DOM, one of our local Dharma teachers, Greg Grallo, gave a talk on the Five Powers. As usual, I took a bunch of notes throughout his talk – and also as usual, I would like to share some of them here (along with some pics I took!) :)

In the back of the Plum Village Chanting and Recitation book, it includes this description in the glossary section:

Five Faculties: Faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom

Five Powers: Same as the Five Faculties, except that as powers they cannot be shaken by their opposites (e.g., energy cannot be swayed by laziness).

Notes I penned down during Greg’s Dharma talk:

Five Powers: faith, effort, mindfulness, concentration, insight

Faith: not a blind faith but one based on personal experience; to have faith in our own capacity to awaken; to trust in our practice and our sangha.

It’s good to ask ourselves from time to time: why do I practice? why do I go to sangha? why do I drive on snowy roads to attend days of mindfulness like this?

When our faith is strong, our effort is effortless. Effort that isn’t based on trying to do the practice “right” doesn’t wear us out, in fact it gives us energy. This kind of effort is based on generating good seeds and keeping good seeds alive and active, and also involves working to not water negative seeds.

There’s a difference between avoidance of suffering (based on fear) and changing the peg (my wording, not his) in order to water the seeds of joy in an effort to help care for and tend well to our suffering with more skill. Denial can be fear-based OR it can involve turning away from it with conscious participation, with the intention to return to it once we have more strength and balance.

Thay teaches that mindfulness is a pathway not a tool. Mindfulness as a path leads to the end of suffering. Mindfulness when used as a tool might be applied to acute stress but it isn’t addressing the underlying difficulties that exist; when used as a tool, our suffering will continue to resurface.

When our concentration is not strong, mindfulness can arise and then quickly dissipate. When our concentration is strong, it allows the other four powers to be strong.

The first four powers lead up to understanding/insight. And when we have insight, it gives us faith that our practice is working, so it loops back around.

When your faith is low, that is a wonderful time to go to sangha. Sangha practice encourages us to come back to the wheel of the Five Powers.

I penned this in my journal yesterday:

Like a sunflower’s face tracks the sun, my full attention falls in line with the sound of the bell.

I’m so very grateful for being part of this practice tradition and for having such regular and lovely opportunities to join together with my sangha family.

During our discussion group time yesterday, I shared my answer to the question Greg posed in his talk: Why do we drive on snowy roads to come here to sit and breathe? The short answer is that while I practice every day to water the positive seeds within myself – such as joy, ease, mindfulness, connection, friendliness, gratitude – that watering is more akin to a sprinkle here and a sprinkle there, as might be issued from a watering can, whereas attending days of mindfulness and retreats and showing up every week to sangha is like turning on the garden hose on those same seeds. Prioritizing my practice – which in this case equated to driving 2-hours north on winter roads to attend a Day of Mindfulness with my sangha family – is truly the best use of my time.

Just as a vegetable garden cannot be watered just one time and be expected to bear fruit, so too is the case for my internal seeds which bear the fruit of well-being. In order for beneficial seeds to continue growing and strengthening in our life, they need regular and ongoing tending to, which requires a good and thorough dousing from time to time :)

 

If you’re interested in listening to Greg’s talk:

 

 

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On Authenticity

It’s worth starting out by saying that this post may be a little rough around the edges. You see, with my husband away on a 3-month retreat at Deer Park Monastery, I am missing my counterpart to talk through such Dharmic ponderings with. Sooo, I’m fixing on using this post as a stand-in :)

This morning, as part of a practice I call Mindful Morning Saturdays, I watched a portion of a Dharma talk by Sister Lang Nghiem, given recently at Plum Village centered around the 8th, 9th, and 10th Mindfulness Trainings. In it, she spoke about authenticity. She said: according to the Buddha, every moment, we are already our true self.

“Every moment, we are manifesting the totality of our self; the totality of our seeds; the sum of our habit energies. So there is no authentic self you need to be true to. Every moment, you are already your true self. This is a very important teaching to understand.” – Sister Lang Nghiem

My first reaction that popped up in the wake of her talking about how there isn’t really such a thing as authenticity, was: Oh, I super don’t agree with that. And as I talk regularly to myself, I even said it aloud. Of course there’s a difference between someone who is being authentic and someone who isn’t, I thought. You can always tell when someone is being real with you and when they’re not.

As she continued, I understood a little more about the teaching she was offering and it made a bit more sense. However, I was left wondering if perhaps there are two ways of addressing such a dynamic question as to whether authenticity exists: from the ultimate dimension perspective and from the historical dimension perspective.

Here’s what I’m thinking. From the lens of the ultimate dimension: yes, we are always manifesting who we are; we are authentic to who we are based on the fact that we are alive and a collection of causes, conditions, our ancestors, and our experiences. From the lens of the historical dimension: there are clearly more authentic people operating around us than others; those who have the ability to integrate their internal landscape with their external actions and speech and have them in alignment with each other.

In my google search for “authenticity images” I came across this:

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