Andrew Tootell's OzZen Podcast
About this podcast
From Australian Zen teacher Dr Andrew Tootell.
About this podcast
From Australian Zen teacher Dr Andrew Tootell.
Andrew Tootell's OzZen Podcast
Introduction to the Heart Sutra, Part One
In this talk I am going to discuss the Heart Sutra, the most important teaching in the Zen Buddhist world. I want to emphasise that this sutra is all about enlightenment as a verb – enlightening. The realisation of emptiness or boundlessness is freeing – it lightens us up and fills us with great joy! First, I will once again situate ourselves within Modern Buddhism. I will then give some brief historical and philosophical background to the sutra. Then I will give a line-by-line commentary, which is the body of the talk. Then if I have time, I will discuss differing ways of interpreting or understanding the sutra and how to practice the sutra. My main sources for today’s talk are Dogen, Shohaku Okumura, Jay Garfield and Barry Magid.
This talk continues the discussion from last fortnight, about moving from traditional Buddhism, what I called the salvation model, to modern Buddhism, or what I called the human flourishing model. In this talk, I will review, how modern Buddhism is reinterpreting some traditional core Buddhist beliefs. Traditional Buddhism was embedded in Indian philosophy and religion. The salvation model was appropriate for the people living in those times. In the same way that we take it for granted, that the earth revolves around the sun, they would have taken rebirth for granted. It would not have been questioned. The following beliefs from the salvation model are therefore given a new interpretation in the modern Buddhist paradigm, developed for people living in our times. We will be revising the following traditional beliefs: a. Rebirth and Karma. b. Anatman and Nirvana (Anatman is the negation of atman which means Self; anatman therefore means No-Self). c. Attitudes towards Impermanence, Beauty and Sensuality.
Meditation: Cultivating Joy
The topic for this guided meditation is Embracing your Life: Cultivating Joy. It fits withing the Modern Buddhist Ethical framework of cultivating Happiness in This Life. Its okay to enjoy practice! The introduction discusses The Three Gates of Zen Practice – from a dharma talk by Barry Magid on 04/09/2010. The three gates of Zen practice are suffering, joy and compassion. Last weeks guided meditation was on the gateway of suffering, so today we will be entering the gateway of joy. The guided meditation introduces three practices that help us to cultivate joy: savouring positive experiences; gratefulness for the gift of being alive and the “good” life we are already living; and self-appreciation of positive qualities we can identify in ourselves.
From salvation to human flourishing
In this talk Andrew locates our on-going discussion about Buddhist ethics in the context of Buddhist modernism in the West. He makes a distinction between the traditional salvation model of Buddhism and contrasts that with the eudaimonic or Human Flourishing model, which he argues is more congruent with our culture in this time and place. Andrew also suggests that Zen Buddhism since its beginnings in China has always been a life affirming, emphasising awakening in this life. There is also a discussion how the four noble truths provide the framework for Buddhist ethics and the importance of how the truths are interpreted. We conclude how Buddhist Ethics is about both personal and social transformation.
Meditation: Dukkha, by Dr Rhys Price-Robertson
This guided mediation focuses on embracing dukkha as part of zen practice. Drawing on the “paradoxical theory of change” from gestalt therapy, it explores how growth, healing, and change are possible not when we try to modify ourselves, but rather when we fully become ourselves and our suffering.
This is the first of a series of Guided Meditations on Buddhist Ethics or the Cultivation of Character. It begins with an introduction to the Four Divine Abodes (Immeasurables): Karuna (care), Mudita (sympathetic joy), Metta (Love) and Upekka (Equanimity) followed by a reading of the Metta Sutta. The guided meditation commences with affectionate breathing moving the classic structure of metta practice.
Meditation: Being Just This Moment, by Jed Blore
By Dr Jed Blore. This is a meditation reflecting on “being just this moment”. What is “being just this moment”? It is reading these words, hearing the sounds around you, feeling the way your body is oriented in space and supported by the ground, thinking thoughts, feeling feelings. There is nothing outside of this moment. This moment contains everything. Memory is only ever experienced in this moment; likewise for thoughts about an imagined future. This moment is life. Being this moment means immersing yourself in this experience of your life. Like diving into water, there’s no way to avoid being wet; there’s no way not to be just this moment.
Meditation: Earth And Sky
This guided meditation OzZen teacher Andrew Tootell continues the project of developing a Zen-informed Guided Meditation practice. It begins by outlining the four principles that all Buddhist groups adhere to: Life is Dukkha (Suffering); Impermanence; Interdependence (no separate self); and Nirvana. Although all Buddhism agree on these “four seals” they interpret them differently. We will be exploring the following question: What makes a zen-informed guided meditation different to other Buddhist-informed guided meditations? Is it a sensibility, an aesthetic? It can be argued that the difference between Japanese (Zen Buddhism) and Indian Buddhism is in how these different cultures relate to this world of impermanence and interdependence - maybe this is the key. Indian Buddhism (or the Buddhism of extinction) seems to reject this world, while Mahayana Buddhism embraces this world. The meditation itself begins by emphasising the importance of posture and training the wandering mind to focus on an object, which is usually the breath. We then use the metaphor of earth and sky to draw a distinction between calmly abiding on an object and resting in global awareness. The object represents the earth, which can also be a metaphor for form. The sky represents sunyata (emptiness) or boundlessness. The guided meditation then explores what we call open sky meditation – calmly nonabiding in emptiness. The meditation also includes a reading from the Zen teacher Melissa Myozen Blacker and an introduction to the zen metaphor of dharma gates.
Gurdjieff by Elizabeth Barrett
Gurdjieff (1866-1949) was a very influential spiritual teacher, and his teaching of the “Fourth Way” was ahead of its time and pre-dated the findings of later neuroscience, especially the “three centres”: the sensorimotor centre, the emotional centre and the cognitive centre and his teaching of multiple self-states. In this talk Elizabeth Barrett, a long-time student of “the work” gives us her story of her encounter with “the work”, and how it transformed her life. In the short time available, Elizabeth introduces us to some of the key teachings of the Fourth Way. Photo: Dushka Howarth, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Liberation In This Life
If the image of the Buddha represents the experience of the timeless now, then the image of Janus, the two-headed Roman God of transitions, gateways, beginnings and endings, with one head turned towards what has been, and the other head turned towards what is yet to be, represents our experience of what I call mortal personhood. The smile of the Buddha conveys the sense of completeness – of serenely dwelling, in just this moment. Janus, on the other hand, looks to the past and the future, she knows she is mortal. Her time will come to an end. For the Buddha, liberation in this life, is liberation in this very moment. For the mortal person, liberation in this life, is the capacity to choose the life I wish to lead, knowing that my time is limited, and therefore having the faith to make commitments to relationships and projects, whose future outcome always remains uncertain. Also, given the limitations of time, I have to prioritise what I choose to commit myself too, but paradoxically, it is the fact that my time is limited, that allows me to experience meaning and purpose. Image: Loudon dodd, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Janus1.JPG
My teacher's teacher, Joko Beck, was once asked, if she could summarize all her years of practice in one word, what would it be? And she said, kindness. This guided meditation takes us on a journey into the experience of kindness and cultivating kindness. As the heart opens, we become free from our reactions and are able to respond to the world, to relationships, from this place of loving kindness and compassion. What does kindness feel like? This natural, effortless awareness that is presencing, is totally complete, just as it is. Lacking nothing, it desires nothing. From this place of completeness, kindness as a response to the world can arise. What are the qualities of kindness? There is a natural attentiveness, expecting nothing in return, no agenda other than to be kind. Openness, vulnerability, tenderness. Seeing our self in the eyes of the other.
Living this life: Zen and the teaching of emptiness
I am currently reading a book called This Life: Why Mortality Makes us Free by the contemporary Swedish philosopher, Martin Hagglund, who argues against religious faith in favour of what he calls secular faith. He includes Buddhism, along with Christianity, as practicing a form of religious faith where some form of belief in eternity takes precedence over living this life. He argues that giving precedence to some version of salvation in eternity devalues this life, rendering our love and commitments in this life meaningless. I think Hagglund makes some good points, but I think the interpretation he has of Buddhism misses what we teach here in Ordinary Mind Zen. But I think his work does shed some light on some of the possible interpretations of the teachings of emptiness, that can misinform or even distort our practice, especially when they are interpreted in a way that prioritises some version of nirvana as being the ending of suffering via a release from the wheel of reincarnation or a release from the personal self into some form of pure awareness or the unborn and undying formless self. Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels.
This guided meditation take us on a journey exploring the two dimensions of time. The first quote refers to our normal experience of time as linear. The time that passes by in a flash. Ten, twenty, thirty seconds gone by in a flash. This is time seen from the relative or delusional perspective of the separate self that feels itself to stand-out, apart from reality as it is. It generates the emotion-thought of loss. The separate self is the wave that does not see itself as the ocean. However, even though it is delusional from the perspective of the Absolute (the ocean), it still feels real to us. When our beloved dies we suffer. This is what it means to be human, to be secular. However, there is another side to time, what we might call the religious dimension. This is the realisation of eternity. However, for zen, eternity is not endless duration that never ends. It is timeless in the sense that time as measurement of duration is not applicable. Eternity is not endless duration but nonseparation from just this moment. Wherever we may go, to the top of the highest mountain or to the depths of the deepest ocean, we are always here in this present moment, presencing. In fact, we are coming and going in and out of existence so rapidly we don’t see ourselves as change itself – we experience instead the illusion of continuity, rather like an an animated movie, where the film (motion picture) is a series of discontinuous still images.
Precepts of Bearing Witness - Barry Magid
In this talk, my teacher, Barry Magid introduces us to the precepts of bearing witness. Barry suggests that the metaphor of bearing witness is more suited to contemporary lay practice in the west, than the metaphor of making a vow. When we bear witness to for example, violence in ourselves, we lay the groundwork for transformation through seeing ourselves clearly, without judgement. In contrast to this, vows can be easily broken and also may set up the aspiration to become an idealised version of ourself, forever feeling less than the projected ideal. The talk is followed by a very informative Q&A session.
Meditation: Resistance to being presence
Another expression for Zazen might be, being presence, but when we first sit down we may experience a strong pull away from being presence, almost like being caught in a rip current. Sometimes, it is best not to resist resistance and allow ourselves to be carried away by the rip in the faith that it will naturally come to an end and we will wake up again, in the light of a deep sense of being presence. Resistance to just-sitting is part of our experience of just-sitting. It is hard to just rest in being here now without desiring something to happen or to be entertained in some way or to get involved in our thoughts. Or to get preoccupied with constant evaluations of how are we going? Am I doing this right or wrong? Am I there yet? As if there is a there to get too. As my teacher, Barry Magid says, “In that just sitting we enter a place which is neither right or wrong. We don't have to make anything happen. This practise heals our separation from life. Nirvana is nonseparation from life. This is our healing.