Letter Two: Buddhist practice

Hawk, Hawk, Hawk, Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, Hawk,

Hawk, let me speak of Mahayana Buddhism.

Dharma is the path and Sangha, a spiritual community. Buddha’s teachings describe his path to inner peace, happiness, and enlightenment. Each follower has his or her own personal experience traveling on this path. In the Mahayana tradition, one promises to help all living beings. This intent is called Bonichettia, a spontaneous wish to benefit others.

May I realize emptiness and help others. The Mahayana Buddhist concept of “emptiness” infers phenomena is not separate or independent in any way from the mind perceiving it. My art practice and graduate study focuses on understanding this Buddhist precept. Imagination is encouraged, and I love the many verses and images the teachers employ to illustrate emptiness. The following is one comparing emptiness to the the work of flight.

Just as eagles soar through the vast expanse of the sky without meeting any obstructions, needing only minimal effort to maintain their flight, so advanced meditators concentrate on emptiness for a long time with little effort. Their minds soar through space like emptiness, undistracted by any other phenomenon. [1]

The Kadampa Buddhist Center in Chelsea is beautiful and peaceful. In meditation the master teacher sits on a higher platform facing us; behind him are large statues of the Buddhas and a beautiful sky-blue background. I watch images pass through my mind, breathing out negative feelings and breathing into my heart a glow of light and good intentions. I often wonder how I have appeared in this room studying the ancient words of a path. As I open my eyes, one is sitting next to me. I love the appearance of another in the Sangha.

Magnolia blossoms, Flushing Meadows Park, digital photograph, 2013
Magnolia blossoms, Flushing Meadows Park, digital photograph, 2013
Magnolia blossoms, Flushing Meadows Park, digital photograph, 2013

Thanks to Spring, a nameless hill
bq. Has its veil of morning mist.
—Matsuo Basho [2] from “On the Way to Nara”

After the teachings, the Sangha discusses the readings and commentary of the master teacher. Many of the students are longtime practitioners, so I can receive guidance in my study. We are reading Ocean of Nectar, a commentary by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso on Chandrakirti’s Guide to the Middle Path, which is regarded as the principal presentation of Buddha’s view on emptiness and the Bodhisattva’s path. Last year we studied the Heart Sutra, another commentary on emptiness.

The following passage is from Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s book Ocean of Nectar. It touches my love of imagination and an effort to understand emptiness.

All the while we believe things exist from their own side, independent of the mind, we shall find it difficult to understand how, for example, Milarepa could transform himself into a flower. To understand these things, we must first realize that all phenomena are like dreams, and do not exist in the least from their own side. If we understand that the world and everything in it arises from the mind, we shall not find it difficult to understand how Yogis and Yoginis who have brought their minds under control can manifest whatever they wish through the power of their concentration. [3]

Hawk, I delight when moments appear as you.

Love,

Tom