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The Bliss Bestowing Hands of the True Individual

by Padmavajra

... the decent thing to do. You wouldn’t do that if
you were regarded as being part of polite society, so this shows that he is not bothered
with what people think about him. He is at ease. He is not imprisoned by formality.
He doesn’t care whether people like him or not. So, there is something rather homely
and reassuring about him. At the same time, he seems to come from somewhere else
– somewhere “other.” He’s been around. He’s been out there.

And the verses that describe him are rather lovely too:

Bare-chested and bare-footed, he enters the market,
Face streaked with dust and head covered with ashes,
But a mighty laugh spreads from cheek to cheek.
Without troubling himself to work miracles, suddenly dead trees break into bloom.
In friendly fashion, this fellow comes from a foreign race,
With features like a horse or a donkey.
But on shaking his iron staff, all of a sudden
All gates and doors spring wide open for him.
With a great laugh spread over his face,
He talks Mongolian, he speaks Chinese.
He enters the market, swirling his staff, he returns home.
He frequents wine shops and fish stalls to make the drunkards open their eyes and
awaken to themselves.

So, here we have the image of the true Bodhisattva. One who never leaves his home
of emptiness, of awakening, but goes into the marketplace - comes into our world,
comes to us, who are drunk and fishy. He comes naturally to awaken us and he does
nothing miraculous. Doesn’t have to try. But dead trees bloom. He is just naturally
in touch with what is deepest, and so he can tune in to any one of us. He speaks
Mongolian, he speaks Chinese, he speaks German, he speaks Spanish, he speaks
French, English, Hindi, Kashmiri, Telegu - he speaks our language. He can even
wear our clothes. He can tune in naturally to our time and our place, to our concern
and our aspiration – happily, easily, un-self-consciously. He goes in the marketplace
with Bliss Bestowing Hands. That beautiful image.

This is where we should aim our practice, to become this man in the marketplace with
bliss bestowing hands. Coming to people with natural generosity, with natural loving-
kindness, natural friendliness and wisdom, that flows naturally from that full, empty
space of realization.

04 The Bliss Bestowing Hands in the world; Master Yang Ki exhaling into
darkness; environments for practice

So, I want, for the rest of the talk really, to look at some of the actions of Zen Masters.
We’ve seen how some of them get on. I want to see how they behaved in their
maturity, to get a sense of what it might be like to go into the marketplace with bliss
bestowing hands. So this shouldn’t be too challenging, this talk. I gather some of
them might have been. You can just sit back and enjoy.

Many Cha’an and Zen monks, after years spent practicing in monasteries and
studying with great masters - although usually there was only one master that they
mainly followed, so they really put the bucket down, deeply, into the well – many of
them, after their awakening, eventually established monasteries of their own or took
over old monasteries in order to communicate their experience to others. In a way
there’s not a lot to say about this. In a way there’s a lot to say, but it’s not particularly
interesting in a way. The daily routine of the monastery, the daily routine of practice
– I mean there’s not a lot to say about the washing up, is there? And, you know,
serving meals, and the day-to-day of practice that we’ve been doing this last week.
There’s not a lot to say.

But what I find interesting about this is the bliss bestowing hands created and
maintained practice institutions, environments of practice. Places where you could
meditate, study and live with companions in the Dharma, and work for the Dharma,
and serve the local community. Monasteries in the ancient Buddhist world were
important focal points for the villages around, for the whole country. The bliss
bestowing hands just set that up and made sure it kept happening, and I think this is
very important. In a way, it’s not very exciting, but absolutely necessary. Just the
work of setting up places.

You know, we sit here in this fantastic shrine room in this incredible place – well this
has come from the work of many, many people. Many, many bliss bestowing hands
have made this possible. And when I think back to some of the retreat venues that
I’ve had to go to, you know, in India and other places, and the amount of effort that
went into just trying to have a retreat in very difficult circumstances, you really
appreciate what you’ve got in a place like this. Sometimes people say they want
adventure, they want to take initiative, and make things happen. And that’s very
exciting and it does really build your character if you take something on, but check
this out.

There’s master Yang Ki, who became abbot of Mount Yang Ki, and when he took it
over the monastery buildings were old and decayed. They were barely able to keep
out wind and rain. And when snow and hail feel, it just pelted the monks seated on
the meditation platforms. Maybe they were like this, and imagine this doesn’t have a
proper roof and snow and rain and hail is pelting down on you. And of course, the
monks volunteered sincerely to do the place up, to make it better, and Master Yang Ki
said no. He said:

The Buddha says our lifespan is uncertain. It’s always decreasing, and the highlands
and valleys are always changing. In the past the great sages sat under trees to
meditate. All of you have only just left home – you’re still youngsters in your forties
and fifties.
How can you waste your time in leisure in comfortable buildings?”

And the next day he gave them a poem:

When I began living in this building with crumbling walls,
All the meditation platforms were covered by jewels of snow.
Scrunching up my shoulders to my neck,
I exhaled into darkness,
Reflecting on the ancient Buddha, abiding under a tree.

So that might be a bit much for us, but there’s an example of going into the
marketplace with bliss bestowing hands. But we need good places with roofs. Places
to practice in, to study in, to reflect on the Dharma, to come together in. To come
together with other and to work with others. One of the things Sagharakshita, our
teacher, has placed great stress on over the years is the importance of our centers and
our retreat centers and our right livelihood businesses and all the different things that
we have. And some people have felt that he’s placed too much stress on that. But I
must say I disagree, because without supportive conditions, good physical conditions,
spiritual practice is actually very, very difficult. And we shouldn’t underestimate it.
If we lost all our centers and communities and businesses overnight, it wouldn’t be
the end of the world. I mean we’ve still got a vibrant spiritual community. But, I
think some people would have a very hard time. Especially the people that don’t
appreciate these things, they’d have a very, very hard time.

So, we need to reflect on this. Bliss bestowing hands don’t just touch and then leave
you with a nice, groovy feeling. Bliss bestowing hands make dead trees bloom. They
make you bloom, they make places where you can bloom, they create a world in
which you can practice and work together. And it takes real work to do this, real
steady work, real rolling-up-your-sleeves kind of work - completely unglamorous
kind of work. You know, I think of dear old Osadha, behind his desk doing the
books. Totally unglamorous, totally unsung, nobody comes and says, “What a
fantastic set of figures!” But if he didn’t do it, we’d be in a right old state.

05 Lin Chi on 'environment'; Hakuin and the Samurai - hell and heaven; with
Sanghasen in India

And then, how do the masters communicate? Well, it seems that they are highly
attuned to others – there’s this deep natural empathy. The communication, the
rapport, isn’t just about words, it’s about tuning into and meeting the environment that
someone walks in, lives in, inhabits. We all carry an environment with us. We all
carry a history with us, a whole host of concerns and of interests and aspirations. We
are all environments. We’re all worlds. The master meets that. He naturally attunes
to that. He speaks their language, literally and metaphorically.

The great Lin Chi says – from a sublime context of great spiritual practice:

A man of the way, who has learned to lean on nothing, is a master of the environment.
If a man comes to me and says, “I’m looking for the Buddha,” I respond to him at
once by meeting him with a clean and pure environment. If a man asks me about
bodhisattvas, I respond at once by meeting him with an ...

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