Shugen Roshi begins this Mondo by offering listeners an overview of Metta loving-kindness practice. By highlight fundamental teachings on the practice, Shugen Roshi illuminates a path that students can take to nurture wisdom and compassion in their lives. This is followed by a rich question and answer session between Shugen Roshi, the residents of Zen Mountain Monastery, and the larger sangha, who participated via zoom.
“If, in return for not the slightest wrong of mine, Someone were to cut off even my very head, Through the power of compassion to take all their negative actions Upon myself is the practice of a bodhisattva.”
Speaking to embodiment of the 13th verse, Shugen Roshi points to it’s non-dogmatic nature. As in the case with the precepts, this verse is meant to serve us and all beings. In doing so it can not be a rule to bind us, but instead a guide in moments of confusion. Thus the embodiment of the verse and our Bodhisattva path should always be sensitive to the time, place, and circumstance in which we find ourselves. By cultivating mindfulness through our practice, we are able to transform negative actions directed toward us into wisdom and compassion for all beings.
“If someone driven by great desire Seizes all my wealth, or induces others to do so, To dedicate to them my body, possessions, And past, present, and future merit is the practice of a bodhisattva”
Speaking directly to the Bodhisattva way of life, verse 12, may inspire us to practice deeply or perhaps fill us with a defensive anger. Wherever we are, this verse is sure to invoke a stir within us. And regardless of wherever we think we are, Shugen shows that we can incorporate this teachings into our lives, and for our lives. He asks us to consider who steals from us? We may think of specific individuals in our lives, but time will rob us of our health. Natural disasters may rob us of our friends, homes, or wealth. And what do we do when these things are taken from us unfairly? To guide us, Shugen explores the profound nature of Dana, or giving. Even when we find it hard to give, when we have been wronged. We can give patience, we can give non-violence. By practicing where we are, we manifest the bodhisattva path.
“All suffering comes from yearning for your own happiness. The perfect Buddhas are born from the intention to benefit others. Therefore, to truly exchange your own happiness For the suffering of others is the practice of a Bodhisattva.“
“From beginningless time your mothers have cherished you, If they now suffer, what good is your own happiness? Therefore, in order to liberate limitless sentient beings, Giving rise to bodhicitta is the practice of a Bodhisattva.”
Speaking at the conclusion to our 40th Anniversary Weekend, Shugen Roshi reflects on the past, present and future of this “archive of sanity.” At the heart of all that we do, he says, is our commitment to waking up using the wisdom teachings we have been entrusted with. “When our practice is merged with insight-realization, when it’s based in the dedication, the devotion to this never changing supreme state of realization, then all that we call Buddhism is present.”
“When in reliance on someone, your defects wane and your positive qualities grow like the waxing moon. To cherish such a spiritual friend even more than your own body is the practice of a bodhisattva.”
“When friendship with someone causes the three poisons to increase, Degrades the activities of listening, reflecting, and meditating, And destroys loving kindness and compassion, To give up such a friendship is the practice of a Bodhisattva.”
Shugen Roshi offers practitioners skillful means to navigate their challenging friendships with his commentary of the 5th bodhisattva verse. In this discourse of the 37 Verses of the Practice of a Bodhisattva, Shugen Roshi asks us to carefully examine the friendships and interactions that we label as negative or bad. By bringing our mindful attention to our habits around friends, we can begin to transform our reactionary experience into wholehearted practice.
“Old friends and relatives will separate. Possessions gained with exertion will be left behind. Consciousness, the guest, will leave the guesthouse of the body.”
Continuing to work through the 37 Verses on the Practice of a Bodhisattva, Shugen Roshi takes up verse four, a profound teaching on the impermanent nature of our possessions, our relationships, and our life itself. Recognizing this truth allows us to engage the people and things of this world with greater intimacy and compassion, taking care of our lives with deep attention and respect.
Note: this talk was given outdoors, so there is more background noise in the recording.
“Now that I have this great ship, a precious human life, so hard to obtain I must carry myself and others across the ocean of samsara. To that end, to listen, reflect, and meditate Day and night, without distraction, is the practice of a bodhisattva.”
So begins the 37 Verses of the Practice of a Bodhisattva, the 14th century Tibetian teachings we are taking up this ango. Shugen Roshi unpacks these rich instructions which speak to the favorable conditions which allow human beings to encounter the dharma, and how to share generously and appreciate the mystery and truth of our interconnectedness.
Shugen Roshi takes up the powerful liturgy of Buddhist vows in the fusatsu ceremony where we give expression to our aspirations and the wish for enlightenment. We embody reverence and learn humility through these words and gestures—a bow, a dedication, invoking the names of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas—and cultivate bodhicitta out of compassion for all beings. We are reminded that aspiration does not belong to the realm of success and failure. Rather, it requires that we place our faith fully in the authenticity of awakened buddha nature of our own bodies and minds.
Speaking about the power we have in setting intentions and naming our aspirations, Shugen Roshi kicks off the three-month intensive as a time in which we will be challenged. We can reflect on a teaching of the Tibetian sage Padmasambhava, to have “A view as vast as the sky, and attention to cause and effect as fine as barley flour.” This reminder can help return us to expansive awareness and non-judgement and help us act with great care and discerning wisdom. A commitment to be of benefit without attachment to results, Roshi says, is the life-giving path of the bodhisattva which we travel together.
Shugen Roshi returns to the topic of the contemplative life, the practice of reflective inquiry which is often the first thing to be abandoned in difficult times. He cites the Faith-Mind Poem: “If you wish to see the truth, then hold no opinion for or against anything. To set what you like against what you dislike is the disease of the mind.” In an incredibly polarized political climate, what do these instructions truly mean? How do we turn back again and again to the reality of our lives in order to free ourselves and one another?
Book of Serenity, Case 39: “Zhaozhou’s ‘Wash Your Bowl'” and Dongshan’s “5 Ranks”
“Take a torch and make a special search deep into the night,” the pointer to this classic koan instructs. Shugen Roshi speaks about this path of contemplative inquiry in terms of Master Dongshan’s Five Ranks, which describe the dynamic interplay of relative and absolute reality over a lifetime of practice.
Book of Serenity, Case 85: “The Appearance of the National Teacher’s Monument”
“Meeting difficulties,” Shugen Roshi reminds us, “is not a sign of lack.” He urges us to regard the unavoidable moments of dullness, frustration, or self-doubt as propitious opportunities in practice. These are chances to turn away from our well-worn habits and “do something unheard of,” to stop creating cycles of suffering and to appreciate the depths and mystery of what is right here.
In this talk, Shugen Roshi delves into the teaching of the Middle Way, offering guidance in practicing without falling into extremes of reverence or resentment, discipline or laxity, craving enlightenment or succumbing to samsara. This, he suggests, is true freedom – not each individual acting according to their desires in each moment, but a deeper form of collective liberation rooted in a recognition of interdependence and the dignity of all beings.