Every Day a Good Day, Every Place a Good Place

For those of us who choose to pursue Complete Realization/Dao, Nirvana, or whatever else existing traditions call it, the way is full of bumps, scrapes, and difficult terrain. Problems and setbacks are unavoidable. However, it is through these obstacles that we improve and grow. In pushing forward during times that we perceive as difficult, in using our failures as stepping stones, we become more adept at our practice in a secular environment that pulls us in many simultaneous directions and requires us to take on many diverse roles. We can take it all as difficulty, or we can appreciate it as opportunity to grow. We can become bitter and disillusioned, or we can show gratitude for our ability to change and adapt. The perspective is ours to develop.

A little background on why I wrote this entry is in order. In recent days I have been dealing with a sense of fatigue, trying to find time for Qigong, Taijiquan and Baguazang, and consistent gongke (功課) recitation. The lack of time and energy was overshadowed by frustration with the weekend seeming constantly too short to get any personal projects resolved. During weekends I would feel more natural and at ease. However, with the impending weekday, the easygoing and carefree sense of Friday would evaporate with the Monday morning sunrise. With these thoughts circling in my head, I finished with my evening tasks, and began my Zuowang practice. As a number of times before, in glancing at some of my passing thoughts during the sitting, I had another eye opening moment.

As a result of this understanding, I feel as if a small portion of my worldview lense has been spontaneously chipped away. We read and are lectured to about the concept of preconceived notion and the dualistic discriminating self. Unfortunately, these are mostly empty words and letters paying lip service to the dynamic realization of others. They are of no more value than road signs until the practitioner has a direct first hand experience in wrenching away from the sense of self and other.

An excerpt from an email I wrote to my teacher following this cultivation session.
This was written on November 12, late in the evening:

After tucking my son into bed, I went through my scripture recitations, compassionate Buddha form, and sat for Zuowang. During practice I kept having the thoughts of impending Monday encroach every so often. Then I had what felt like a sledge hammer realization about my train of thoughts, and the funny thing is, it has been there all along, it’s fairly obvious, I just had to step on that landmine.

I dread Mondays and I love Fridays, but the only difference is my state of mind. I love Fridays because I know I will enjoy Saturday, and I dread Mondays because the entire week is ahead, but in reality, there is nothing stopping me from having as pleasant of a week other than dual mind with it’s preferences. My weekends are just a different kind of work that I approach with a different mindset, and the weekday is simply something I have conditioned myself to perceive negatively. I can go through each day with the same easy going attitude.

Then this mindset trickled down through every other thought that I felt negatively about, i.e. workloads, finding time for Qigong practice at the office, dealing with the commute, etc. It is all my conditioned duality that keeps me from being at peace and enjoying every moment. Even the positive feeling in regard to the weekend is blindness, since it can just as easily be spent doing a lot of house work. I choose how to react to phenomenon, I can choose to blindly follow the established conditioning, or I can empty my cup and simply experience each moment as just suchness.

The realization is still trickling down my various trains of thought, but I’m not sure the giddy feeling of excitement is appropriate. I’m trying to calm it down and simply accept it as just suchness as well. The feeling will pass as it is a no-thing, but I hope this realization continues into the next day, and the next.

This tells me that I am heading in the right direction. With diligence and care I will continue my practice with no expectation, accepting each moment as is with gratitude, moving forward one step at a time.

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Form Is Emptiness: The Image of Lao Tzu, The Heart Sutra, and the Dragon Gate Lineage

GuanyinAvalokitesvara.jpgI have been away from writing for many reasons, primary one being emphasis on practice and self-cultivation. Alongside my ongoing Zuowang (坐忘) practice, I have been working to integrate Huatou, and more scriptural recitation as a means of filing away at the monkey. Between work, daily Qigong, Taijiquan practice, and cultivation, very little time had been dedicated to writing, so I felt the need to pause and jot down a few of my fleeting thoughts.

Shifu Li Chang Dao (Michael Rinaldini,) refers to these as intellectual conceptualizations of the principle. Not actual realizations, but small intellectual nods to the concept that the mind comes up with. The mind will give rise to many of these throughout one’s cultivation practice, making it more of a hindrance and distraction than something of substance. Regardless, these caught my attention in a way that shifted my way of thinking, leading me to jot them down for later reflection.

In recent reflections, I have been considering the factuality of Lao Zi, Zhang Sanfeng, and the notion of continuous lineage of the Longmen tradition. There are many supporting elements which would point towards both Lao Zi and Zhang Sanfeng having never truly existed (many well written historical books by respected authors such as Livia Kohn and Isabelle Robinet point to this.) Regardless, these figures are pivotal to Daist teaching and tradition. Likewise, Monica Esposito’s Creative Daoism indicates a break in lineage of the Longmen (Dragon Gate) tradition of Daoism, breaking the notion of direct uninterrupted lineage.

How, then, would a practitioner reconcile the continuous study of principles accredited to these figures and schools, when they do not, according to some, have factual historical backing? For me, the answer had been rather simple. While the teachings had come from more humble sources and had been attributed to these figureheads for wider acceptance, as long as one truly follows Daoist principles, the source is irrelevant. In other words, if one only cares about appearance and opinion of onlookers, things such as famous lineage and unbroken chains are held as of uttermost importance.

To better explain my view, I would point to the Prajnaparamita Sutra (The Heart Sutra,) and the Xin Xin Ming (The Faith Mind Sutra.) The latter tells us that the mind is disturbed when discrimination arises. In this case discrimination refers to preference of one over another. A like contrasted to a dislike. This is a perfect parallel to the second chapter of the Dao De Jing:

When the world identifies beauty, it also identifies ugliness.
When it conceptualizes good, the notion of evil arises.
Thus being and non-being produce each other.
Difficult and easy define each other.
Long and short reveal each other.
High and low support each other.
Music and voice harmonize each other.
Front and back follow each other.

Here, the Dao De Jing states that all of our socially defined concepts are no more than that, conceptualizations we use as reference for phenomenon. When we conceptualize something, we also conceive an opposite. A like to contrast to a dislike. A want to contrast to a not want. Holding on to a point of reference for future interaction with the outside world. The Xin Xin Ming states that to realize the Way, we have to realize “the One,” or “Not Two.” This refers to a mindset which had done away with duality, and no longer discriminates between such concepts. A mind that no longer discriminates in this manner, is no longer subject to the delusion of duality, and is free from mundane cravings of day to day life, which in turn lead to suffering.

Similarly, the Prajnaparamita Sutra tells us of Avalokitesvara Bodhisatva, who while sitting in meditation realized that all five phenomenon which comprise human consciousness (skhandas) are empty. They do not exist of their own volition. Everything they generate as sensation is a reference to another sensation. They are in themselves empty.

Oh Shariputra,
Form/physical body is emptiness,
Emptiness is nothing more than form/physical body.
The form/physical body is exactly emptiness.
Emptiness is exactly form/human body.

The same is true of feelings, perception, impulse/mental imagery, and consciousness.

A few verses down, Avalokitesvara includes even Dharma as a no thing, once the state of emptiness/realization/non-discrimination (Not Two) is realized.

Oh Shariputra, all Dharmas are marked by emptiness.
They are not born or destroyed.
They are not tainted and not pure.
They do not increase or decrease.

In other words, once the state of Realization is reached, there is no more Dharma, no more purpose for Dharma, which up to this point had been used as a stepping stone to reach Realization/Complete Perfection. In many ways, this is identical to figureheads which are used to uphold teachings. In other words, a monk’s orange robe, a Daoist priest’s colorful garment, a lay practitioner’s clothing, all are in essence empty. Once there is Realization, there is no more purpose in either.

Lineage, figureheads, garment, practice, are all empty, once the practitioner has reached the intended goal, where they are discarded. Still, to the practitioner they hold value as stepping stones of tradition which may lead to the final destination.

With that said, I wish great fortune and success to everyone following similar paths. May you reach Realization/Complete Perfection in this lifetime.

Home, Library, Workshop

The month of September has kicked off with a loud bang, heralding the final phase of my move to a new home. My library is now up, and all sorts of literary research can now continue. In particular, I will be going through Ming and Qing records of Daoist and Neo-Confucian practices (with focus on rituals, and ceremonies,) in an attempt to glean a clearer understanding of modern Daoist monastic and secular practices.

With my workbench finally installed, I will also be focusing on construction of mobile shrines for secular Daoists frequently on the move. Thanks to my work, I will be able to travel test my creations for durability, ease of use, TSA confiscation, and make ongoing improvements until I arrive at a completed tried and tested product. The construction itself will be as close to requirements set forth in Daoist texts as possible, ensuring compliance with tradition.

Moving forward with my Daoist training, I have now begun the Thousand Day Scriptural Recitation phase, which involves daily reading from the ADGL Gōngkè (功課,) which I find in many ways similar to the Highest Treasury of Truth Scripture (Zhìbao zhēn jīng, 至寶真經,) a collection of invocations and liturgies common to Kunlun and Quanzhen (as well as Longmen) Daoists.

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Lastly, unpacking the boxes, I found my old Taijiquan certification through Jesse Tsao’s Taiji Healthways organization. I will be working through December and likely until March, before I attempt to re-certify for a higher level with the Chen taolu, both empty hand, and weapon.

This has certainly been a productive year of the Fire Monkey.

 

January in Thailand

A bit of a flashback to January 2016.

I was fortunate to kick-start the year of the Fire Monkey with my wife’s family in Bangkok throughout all of January. It was an interesting experiment in endurance, spending my daytime hours chasing my very energetic 3 year old across a wide variety of temples, markets, and other difficult terrain, all the while spending my nights working the daylight hours on the opposite side of the globe.

During these late night hours, I have learned two things. The first: the human body can withstand unusually punitive amounts of red bull. The second: ingesting that much red bull is never a good idea.

During the weekends, we were free to travel and explore without the constraint of imminent working hours, leading to a more relaxed mood, and a stronger drive to explore the more historical and religiously significant elements of our surrounding region.

Among one of my favorite destinations, two branches of a particularly interesting Chinese Buddhist temple. The first is situated in Bangkok’s Chinatown, called Wat Mangkon Kamalawat, (Lóng línsì, 龍蓮禪寺.)

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Here, the locals come to make offering to the resident Buddhas and Boddhisatvas, and deities common to traditional Chinese folk beliefs including the Tǔdì Gong (土地公,) the God of health and well-being. The Temple entrance is guarded by the Four Heavenly Kings, or Chatumaharacha– จาตุมหาราชา in Thai (Fēng Tiáo Yǔ Shùn-风调雨顺 in Mandarin.) Each of the four is said to be a fierce guardian of the world, and a powerful ward against evil, thus defending the temple and it’s attendants from malign influence.


Of particular interest at this and the other temple branch, is the inclusion of the 18 Luohan (Shíbā Luóhàn, 十八羅漢,) figures well known to any enthusiast of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean martial arts. They are the Buddhist equivalent of saints, seen as guardian figures charged with defending the Buddhist faith, and more notably, the namesakes of the 18 Luohan Hand Qi Gong and Shaolin Quan.

The second of the two temples, located at Bang Bua Thong District, Nonthaburi, prominently features the 18 Luohan at the temple’s massive courtyard entrance.

Originally, these were the ten Luohan (or Arhat in Sanskrit,) from the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, who as followers of Buddha attained Complete Realization and reached the state of Nirvana. As Buddhism traveled through China to Korea and Japan, the number of Luohan grew to 16, then gradually 18. Since their physical descriptions were never written, the first instance of their likeness being put to the brush was in 891 C.E., when the monk Guan Xiu (貫休,) depicted them as stylized foreigners, emphasizing large eyes and eyebrows, and prominent high noses, depicting them as vagabonds who left their earthly desires far behind.

It is said that the last two Dragon and Tiger Taming Luohan were meant to be a veiled swipe at the Daoists, for whom the Dragon and the Tiger were multifaceted alchemical symbols.

The Luohan are numbered in the order in which they are said to have appeared to Guan Xiu, rather than by ability, seniority, or merit.

  1. Bharadvaja the Pindola- the Deer Sitting Luohan (Qílù Luóhàn, 騎鹿羅漢)
  2. Kanaka the Vatsa- Happy Luohan (Xǐqìng Luóhàn, 喜慶羅漢)
  3. Kanaka the Bharadvaja- Raised Bowl Luohan (Jǔbō Luóhàn, 舉缽羅漢)
  4. Nandimitra- Raised Pagoda Luohan (Tuōda Luóhàn, 托塔羅漢)
  5. Nakula- Meditating Luohan (Jìngzuò Luóhàn, 靜座羅漢)
  6. Bodhidharma- Overseas Luohan (Guojiāng Luóhàn, 過江羅漢)
  7. Kalika- Elephant Riding Luohan (Qíxiàng Luóhàn, 騎象羅漢)
  8. Vijraputra- Laughing Lion Luohan (Xiàoshī Luóhàn, 笑獅羅漢)
  9. Gobaka- Open Heart Luohan (Kāixīn Luóhàn, 開心羅漢)
  10. Pantha the Elder- Raised Hand Luohan (Tànshǒu Luóhàn, 探手羅漢)
  11. Rahula- Thinking Luohan (Chénsāi Luóhàn, 沉思羅漢)
  12. Nagasena- Scratching Ear Luohan (Wāěr Luóhàn, 挖耳羅漢)
  13. Angida- Calico Bag Luohan (Bùdài Luóhàn, 布袋羅漢)
  14. Vanavasa- Plantain Luohan (Bājiāo Luóhàn, 芭蕉羅漢)
  15. Asita- Long Eyebrow Luohan (Chángméi Luóhàn, 长眉羅漢)
  16. Pantha the Younger- Doorman Luohan (Kānmén Luóhàn, 看門羅漢)
  17. Nantimitolo- Taming Dragon Luohan (Xiánglóng Luóhàn, 降龍羅漢)
  18. Pindola- Taming Tiger Luohan (Fúhǔ Luóhàn, 伏虎羅漢)

 

Disclaimer:
All photographs are copyright property of Demitri Pevzner unless otherwise specified.

Year 34, Dealing With Life and Death

IMG_4004.JPGOriginally, this post was intended as more of a cheery post-March 24 thumbs up, and a big thanks to everyone who wished me a Happy Birthday. However, due to some recent somber events, somewhat deep reflection, and a desire to clearly compose my thoughts (which for the rest of March were all over the place,) this comes a few weeks later than intended. First of all, a big thank you to everyone who took the time to wish me a Happy Birthday last month whether by phone, by email, social media, or face to face. It honestly means a lot to me, and I sincerely apologize for not saying that sooner.

This has certainly been an interesting March, and an overall interesting if not downright challenging year. I had a chance to reconnect with quite a few old friends and acquaintances, and was happy to see some close friends welcome new members into their family. I was also forced to say farewell to a friend whom I considered close, yet have not taken the proper time to call in recent months. This is something I will never be able to do again… a fact that I deeply regret more than words can express.

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As for myself, in addition to having a very demanding job which took my career and technical skills to a whole new level and managed to give me some questionable Pavlovian responses to Outlook’s email bing sound, I have also taken on a few personal projects and decided to pursue a personal dream near and dear to my heart with renewed zeal, passion, and absolute determination.

As some of my friends and family already know, I am currently an initiate, going through novice training with the American Dragon Gate Daoist Order (ADGL, an American branch of the Longmen Pai, 龙门派) a non-monastic denomination of the Quanzhen (Complete Reality, 全真) Daoist Sect. If my efforts succeed, in the traditional allotted 3 years’ time I will be able to become a priest. This is a lot of hard work, arduous training, and dedication, but it brings new perspective and purpose to my present life experience.

http://americandragongate.org/
With this come a lot of personal changes, a renewed sense of vigor, and determination, all of which certainly come in handy when facing all the seeming randomness and insanity that life tends to throw at me when it decides I am not paying attention.

IMG_3513I am also looking at year 34 with a brand new perspective, with stronger consideration for health, peace of mind, and overall well-being. This in part, is due to an incident of about 5 weeks prior. On March 14th, at approximately 5 am in morning, I woke up with shortness of breath, a numb left arm, strong squeezing in my chest, and sharp pain between my shoulder blades. The classic symptoms of a heart attack. This happened to coincide with a rather lengthy period of stress, as well as the day I had to take lthe first of my MCSA certification exams. Later that morning at the medical office, the doctor gave me the best news a patient could receive, it was nothing more than a heavy panic attack brought on by stress. However, we did discover that I have a condition called Right Bundle Branch Block. Good to know moving forward.

Having faced the prospect of my own mortality and having dodged that particular bullet for now, facing the sad inescapable reality of loss and impermanence, and making the decision to dedicate myself to following a long time dream of Daoist priesthood, lets me know I am very much alive, and still have a lengthy journey to follow. With these things on my mind, I look forward to what the next decade has in store, and wish all of you good health and peace of mind.

Happy Lunar New Year, 2016

Gōng Xǐ Fā Cái
恭喜发财
FireMonkey

A belated Happy Lunar New Year, the year of the Fire Monkey.

The Chinese follow a Lunar calendar, which in turn has 12 year cycles. This year, the year of the Monkey, is the 9th year within this 12 year cycle.

In breaking down the significance of this year, let’s examine separately both the element of Fire, and the Chinese Astrological symbol of the Monkey.

The element of Fire (火, huǒ,) traditionally represented by the color red, is the apex of Yang, carrying with it the force of strength, creativity, the emotion of joy, and the sound of laughter. Fire’s season is Summer, when all young growth reaches maturity. 

The Monkey (猴, hóu), is renowned for intelligence, playfulness, problem solving, and mischievousness, as well as his love of food. This animal is rich in symbolism, being depicted early on in Chinese history on various seals and paintings to convey promotion in rank, and high official standing. Images of the Monkey God (Sun Wukong,) are often depicted for various forms of protection. The word for monkey is also a homonym for “high official” (侯, also hóu,)1 and combining the character for monkey (猴)with the character for person (子,) creates 猴子, hóuzi, which means “clever person.”

It should also be noted that the monkey was selected to be one of the five animals represented in the Five Animal Frolicks (五禽戏, wǔ qín xì), a classical Taoist Qi Gong exercise. This is likely due to the monkey’s nimbleness and agility being seen as a valuable trait for one’s longevity and well being.

With all that said, Happy Lunar New Year!!!
May you find new challenges to overcome, and new adventures to embark on.

2016NewYear

1.       http://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/chinese-zodiac/monkey-chinese-zodiac-sign-symbolism.htm