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Entering Through Your Practice

by Padmavajra

Entering Through Your Practice

By Padmavajra

Audio available at: http://www.freebuddhistaudio.com/audio/details?num=OM701
Talk given at Padmaloka Retreat Centre, 2004

01 The harmony between two ways of seeing things; the Fourfold Practice

So yesterday we heard about wall gazing. We heard about the great Bodhidharma, the
first Chinese Patriarch, how he spent nine years gazing at a wall in his practice of
realization. And when we got into that a bit more, we saw that wall gazing doesn’t really
mean sitting staring at a wall. It means dwelling firmly, full established, in non-duality.
It’s more a case of wall gazes, wall observes. Both ways.


So, this establishment in non-duality is what Bodhidharma calls in his treatise a wakening
to the true nature, awakening to the Buddha nature in all beings. This of course is utterly
beyond words, really, beyond thought. It is, as the Zen tradition describes it, utterly
solitary and steep, rising up like a great cliff face shrouded in mist. It’s like the blue cliff,
which is the name of that celebrated book of Ch’an koans. And that book is trying to do
nothing else than spark you off, introduce you directly to this primordial reality. That
story I told you about Bodhidharma’s encounter with Emperor Wu would have been
meditated upon in order to enter into communion with primordial reality.

Was also saw that in Bodhidharma treatise on the two-fold entrance and four-fold
practice, that he tells us that you enter the Dharma in two ways. So, first through
awakening to the primordial reality, which we’ve looked at, and secondly we enter
through practice. We also saw that these two things are in fact inseparable. Practice is
either the expression of primordial reality or you can regard it as a way of harmonizing
with that reality. And looked at this, kind of tried to relate to it a bit more, in traditional
Indian terms of vision and transformation. We also had a look at the Chinese terms of
essence and function. You could also, it occurs to me, look at this in terms of the
harmony between principle and practice. You actually have this distinction in ancient
Buddhism. The Buddha always talks about the Dhamma-vinaya, which you could
translate as principle and practice, principle and application. So you maintain awareness
always of the vital, living spiritual principle. You also see how that can be expressed in
terms of what you actually do – how you actually live – and you need to keep the two in
constant harmony.

Today we’re going to explore Bodhidharma’s four-fold practice. So we’re looking at
what we actually do, what is going to be our conduct. But I want to try to relate whatever
we talk about to the essence, to the principle. So, trying to keep this harmony between
principle and practice, essence and function, keeping both sides of the wall flowing
between one another – mixing my metaphors furiously.

So the four-fold practice is firstly removing hatred. Secondly, living by cause and effect.
Thirdly, giving up craving. And fourthly, living in accordance with reality.


02 i. Removing hatred; harmonizing with others and with the way things are;
Dogen’s intimacy

So first of all removing hatred. What Bodhidharma means by this is removing not just
hatred, but any kind of aversion and ill will. He means removing any resentment and any
tendency to blaming others for our misfortune. He means as well putting up with the
difficulties, the pains, that life brings – responding to them with equanimity and patience.
He means as well putting up with the difficulties, the pains, that spiritual practice brings.
And the spiritual practice which you’re not just leading for yourself, but you’re leading
for the benefit of others. Spiritual life is a struggle. It can be very difficult and
demanding, it takes you into places where difficult things come up. A few people have
said to me when I’ve asked them how they are, “Things are coming up,” and it’s a little
bit uncomfortable, obviously.

And it’s easy when things come up, very easy, very tempting, to give into resentment and
to give in to blame. Blaming other people – you know, the person next to you in
meditation who’s shuffling around. Actually it’s our mind we’re having trouble with, it’s
not whether or not they shuffle. Blaming our teachers. You know, “Bad teacher, bad
practice. If I’d only been given that special teaching by so-and-so I wouldn’t be in the
mess that I’m in.” Blame our friends, blame our families, “If only they hadn’t done that,
I would be fine.”

Bodhidharma takes a classic traditional approach to this problem of aversion. He says
that throughout innumerable lives, we have continually turned away from what is
essential. We have left the root and just followed the branches. We’ve left the main river
and have just gotten caught in the little meandering tributaries of life. We’ve just flowed
– because we’ve abandoned the root of things – into various states of suffering, the six
realms. We’re kind of distorted. Because we’ve constantly given into attachment and
aversion, because we’ve not been true to the real. We suffer because of this – that’s why
we suffer. The only way to cure this is through, first of all, being patient, enduring
whatever pain arises, not retaliating, not reacting. One of the signs of real spiritual
progress, of real spiritual vision is this patient endurance. Remaining calm and unmoved
in the face of suffering. Not seeking to hurt others because of one’s difficulties.

Put more positively, this first of the four practices is the practice, of course, of the first
great Buddhist precept - the fundamental Buddhist precept – abstaining from harming
living beings. Abstaining from any form of violence. And more positively still, it’s the
practice of love. The practice of deeds of loving-kindness. The practice of friendliness.
So, why is this so fundamental, so basic?

Well we have to remember how Bodhidharma described li-ju, or Entering by
Communion with Primordial Reality. He described that in terms of having a deep faith,
which means a kind of glimpse of the true nature, the Buddha nature, which is the same
in all sentient beings. He discovers through this that there is no self and no other, which
means not that things vanish but he means that you can’t separate self and other, and that
the ordinary and the sacred are one. Meaning that you don’t retreat in some sort of
pseudo-spiritual state separate from other people.

If you harm others, if you blame others, if you resent others, you are simply out of touch
– badly out of touch - with the true nature of things. Renouncing harm, becoming
genuinely friendly to others, loving others, especially empathizing with other, identifying
with others - recognizing that they’re alive like you, that they breath like you, feel like
you, think like you, imagine like you; when you begin to harmonize with others in this
way, you’re actually harmonizing with the way things are.

This is why I personally regard the metta bhavana as not only an elementary practice,
which is the way it’s often spoken about, but as an enlightenment practice. In that
practice you are softening self and other, you’re dissolving self and other. I firmly
believe that if I really made progress with the metta bhavana, I would need no other
practice. Of course this isn’t just in relation to other people, it’s related to all life, all life
whatsoever, even inanimate things. So-called inanimate things.

Dogen, when he speaks of this, evokes this, he uses the term “intimacy.” And I find this
really very beautiful and very profound, the way Dogen discusses intimacy, it’s
incredible. Non-duality, after all - transcending self and other, subject and object - is a
bit weird. It’s a bit cold, those expressions. But intimacy puts it so well. I spoke of the
Buddha holding up the golden flower to Mahakashyapa, and Dogen describes this – the
Buddha’s act of holding the golden flower to Mahakashyapa - as intimate language. It’s
intimate gesture, of course, intimate communication.

Dogen says:
“Intimate means close and inseparable. There is no gap. Intimacy means the Buddhas
embrace everything. You embrace everything. And I embrace everything.
Practice includes all. A generation includes all. And intimacy includes all.
You should clearly study this. Indeed, intimacy comes forth at the place where the person
is. At the moment when understanding takes place. Right now is the very moment when
you are intimate with yourself, intimate with others, you are intimate with Buddhas and
intimate other beings. This being so, intimacy renews intimacy. Because the teaching of
practice, enlightenment, is the way of Buddhas, it is intimacy that penetrates Buddhas.
Thus intimacy penetrates intimacy.”

I mean, you could probably spend the rest of your life just contemplating ...

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