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Mahasattva Fu Expounds the Scripture

by Padmavajra

Mahasattva Fu Expounds the Scripture

By Padmavajra

Audio available at: http://www.freebuddhistaudio.com/audio/details?num=OM702
Talk given at Padmaloka Retreat Centre, 2004

01 A first sesshin; Sangharakshita and Zen; Mr. Chen

Thank you very much, Padmadaka. Good morning to you all. Good to see a nice
gathering in the shrine room. Now, I have to admit that when I was first getting into
Buddhism, getting into the Dharma, I have to say I didn’t find Zen at all attractive. Very
early on in my involvement, so when I was about 17, one of the first retreats I went on
was a day retreat – what was called a sesshin. This is a Japanese word, I think which
means something like “searching the heart.” This was a day of silent meditation and
silent walking in the shrine room. Never leaving the shrine room except to answer the
calls of nature. Held in a house in Brighton, where I was first going along to things. And
the teacher was a Japanese Zen monk who regarded himself as a Zen master. In fact, he
regarded himself as a Buddha. He was quite up front about that – he was enlightened.
And he sat in full lotus, in a purple robe, in front of the shrine – which seemed a bit odd
to me - with his shaved head. Looking very severe, sitting very erect, like a mountain.
Very wonderful posture, very powerful. And there was no instruction at all. We just had
to sit, and the master would occasionally say, from time to time, “No need to do
anything.” We just had to sit, apparently, and for me that meant sitting in a lot of
discomfort, trying to sit in full lotus. There was no instruction in posture or anything like
that. And at lunchtime we had a formal lunch, sitting cross-legged in the shrine room.
And unfortunately, the people who were running the weekend had not really thought
about the lunch perhaps as much as they could have, because there were a lot of crisps
and celery. [Laughter] And the room was made of wood. And the friend I was with, we
were young and foolish, we really started to get the giggles, because we were feeling a lot
of tension. And as we crunched [loud crunch sound] into our celery and crisps, with
people eating very mindfully, it was perhaps one of those Zen moments.

But, I couldn’t relate to this retreat at all. It was too severe and too plain. Probably, in
fact, just too subtle for me. And it really put me of. I was much more attracted to Indo-
Tibetan Buddhism, which seemed to be very full and rich, something you could really
engage with. And, well really, just simply Buddhism. The Dharma. The kind of non-
demoninational ecumenical Buddhism, based very much on the teachings of the Buddha
that I was learning from Sangharakshita and his disciples. I found that much more
attractive, something I could really get to grips with, really engage with. In a way, it was
quite ordinary and straightforward. There was clear instruction, you could do something,
there was something to practice. There was a notion of growth and development, and of
service of the Dharma and of Buddhism. Zen seemed to me like cold tea leaves and
clever words. I did read, early on, Sangharakshita’s book The Essence Of Zen, which I’d
recommend actually, which shed some light on the subject. And I noticed in his lectures,
his taped lectures which I used to listen to a lot, there were lots of references to Cha’an
and Zen, mainly in the form of stories, as well as teachings. Very vivid stories. And he
tells them very well. One story in particular had a very big effect on me, “The Chess
Game.” Well worth checking out “The Chess Game,” that’s a great Zen story. I won’t
tell it again, because I’m sure most of you know it, but check out “The Chess Game.”
Very good story. And it really made the point - about the necessity for concentration and
loving kindness/compassion – very, very well.

I noted as well that Sangharakshita himself was obviously deeply inspired by the Zen
tradition. He said that his first Buddhist texts, which he came across when he was
sixteen, were The Diamond Sutra, an Indian Buddhist text which had a huge impact on
Cha’an and Zen, and The Sutra of Hui Neng, the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch, a
hugely important Chinese work which gives the life and teachings of the great Hui Neng.
When he read these at sixteen, when he read the Diamond Sutra, he realised that he was a
Buddhist and had always been a Buddhist since the beginningless beginning – not his
phrase, but that’s what he meant. And when he read the Sutra of Hui Neng, he said that
he read it in a kind of ecstasy whenever he read it, just delighting in this text. It really is
a very delightful and very profound text, the Sutra of Hui Neng, telling the story of how
the Sixth Patriarch, Hui Neng, came in contact with the Dharma and how he became a
great teacher. Very naturally and spontaneously.

So, Sangharakshita obviously had this feeling for Zen, and part of it was when he was in
India, up in Kalimpong - practicing and teaching and studying – he didn’t just study with
Tibetan Lamas. He also had a teacher who taught him a lot about meditation and
Buddhist philosophy who was a Chinese hermit named Mr. Chen, who lived in a tiny
room above Kalimpong bazaar, spending most of his time, most hours of the day,
meditating, just with a little break to give some lectures to Sangharakshita and a friend of
his. Just two people at the lecture. And a little break to write books, twenty minutes a
day. And he wrote quite a lot of books, doing twenty minutes a day. Mr. Chen’s book
Buddhist Meditation, Systematic and Practical, is a fabulous survey, an unsurpassed
survey, of Buddhist meditational practices and methods and disciplines throughout the
whole of the Buddhist tradition. And there is indeed a chapter on Ch’an/Zen. And he
communicated a lot of that to Sangharakshita, that teaching about the different kinds of
Cha’an/Zen that I mentioned last night - Tathagata Ch’an, Patriarchal Ch’an, Offspring
Ch’an – that comes from Mr. Chen, his teacher. There’s a deep feeling there in
Sangharakshita for the Ch’an/Zen tradition.

02 A seminar, a squat in London, and Hakuin

The first seminar that I went on with Sangharakshita there was a reference to Zen which
kind of aroused my interest. We were studying a very basic, very popular early Buddhist
text called The Mangala Sutta or Auspicious Signs. In this sutta, the Buddha is asked,
“What is luck? What is a lucky sign? What are the signs of someone who has luck, who
has auspiciousness, who has a mangala?” Mangala just means “luck” or “blessing.” The
Buddha goes through what the signs of a lucky person really are, and of course what he
lays out is the spiritual life and spiritual qualities. And one of these, he says, is to dwell
in a pleasant place. That’s an auspicious sign, that’s a sign of luck. Sangharakshita
started to talk about that as a place which is good and supportive for spiritual practice.
That’s a pleasant place to dwell.

Now, at that time, I was living in North London. And all of us in this particular group
were living in North London in squats up in Archway with our first North London
Center, which was an extremely rough area – very rat infested, and (there were) junkies
and thieves and IRA and all the rest of it all over the place. We had to go there because
we didn’t have any money. We had to start somewhere, and we got the cheapest possible
place we could. So we were in these kind of semi-legal squats. This was the era when
Ken Livingstone was running Camden Council, so you know, you could kind of take over
these places quite happily. It was an incredible area, actually, very lively. But it was
very rough.

The Order member – I wasn’t ordained then - who was kind of our spiritual friend or
Kalyana Mitra, Lokamitra, he said in relation to this point how important it was to get
away from London and away from the Center from time to time, to go into the country
and just feel more at ease and more at peace. Sangharakshita just jumped in, just leapt in
– which is quite a thing to do with somebody like Lokamitra, he’s quite a forceful
character, but Sangharakshita’s more forceful – but he just jumped in and said, “Hmm…
I’ve been reading Hakuin recently. I’ve been reading some letters of Hakuin,” (This is
the great eighteenth-century Japanese Zen master, a great reviver of the Zen tradition in
Japan) “and he says the best conditions for spiritual practice are when it’s difficult. The
best times for practice are when you’re ill or when times are hard. When you’re living in
a rough and dirty place, where there’s lots of noise, then you can really develop
something. Then you can really do something.” So he went on and on about this in the
seminar, which was a little bit irritating, I must admit, because my fantasy was to go off
into the mountains and just meditate all the time. But he was really hammering the
importance of practice in difficult circumstances. Then you ...

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