Benedict's Dharma 2

Day 4- Friday - May 2, 2003
Questions & Answers


SR. MEG: You've been very good. This is Friday, and you've worked hard.

LDB: You've all worked hard.

SR. MEG: It's been swell for us, just swell. Maybe, before we go right into our questions, can we gather all our questions first, and then we could kind of lay them, you know.

I want to ask Kusala about Pure Land Buddhism. That's one I have. What other questions do you have that we want to gather?

BC: I think there is a phrase about taking refuge in the Buddha and the sangha and the Dharma, and I wanted to hear maybe the idea of refuge, because so often in our Psalms we say, "You are my refuge," or we say, "My life is in Christ."

SR. MEG: That's interesting to see if it's the same thing.

BC: I'd like to see about refuge.

SR. MEG: I would, too. That would be good. Anything else?

KM: Would you talk a little bit about altered states or different levels of consciousness in your meditation, what that means.

SR. MEG: The altered states of consciousness in the Buddhist tradition?

KM: No, yours.

SR. MEG: In mine, okay. I'll be happy to. I'll stay in ordinary consciousness and tell it to you.

MP: I'd like to ask, too, are there some warnings about the dangers of this? Because I've read -- well, perhaps in Christian meditations, too -- but I've even read of Buddhist monks who have meditated themselves to death. They've gone so far inside that they've literally starved to death.

REV. KUSALA: They forgot to eat, yes.

MML: I have a question. Meg, can you talk a little bit about in Matthew 16 when Jesus tells us to lose ourself to find ourself.

SR. MEG: Okay.

MML: Kusala, is there a such a thing as Buddhist psychology, and how does it correlate to positive thinking.

REV. KUSALA: Okay, good, yes.

SR. MEG: I'm just going to start so that we have this link about Pure Land Buddhism so that you get that catechesis.

What is Pure Land?

___What is Pure Land?___

REV. KUSALA: Well, before I answer I just want to say I am not a Buddhist Scholar... My understanding of Pureland is limited, I know it's the most popular Buddhism in Asia. You don't hear too much about it in America, although they are here in force, most westerners I know seem to be drawn to the Theravada, Zen, or Tibetan Buddhism.

Pureland started around the first century, maybe a bit before. There is some evidence that it may have been in India as well, but it was for sure in China and Japan.

For me Pureland has always sounded a lot like Christianity. There is this Bodhisattva named Amithaba or Amida, who took a vow to save all sentient beings. There is even another Bodhisattva in Japanese Buddhism who choose to be reborn in hell, that's where everybody suffers. So, it's tough work to be a Bodhisattva.

Anyway, this particular Bodhisattva, Amitabha, is said to rule a heaven realm, the Pureland. Now, if you say the word "Amitabha" or "Amida" with faith, with vows, and with devotion, when you die he will personally come to your bedside and walk you up to his heaven realm, which is the best heaven in all of Buddhism. All the creatures in Pure Land speak the Dharma, and you are guaranteed to achieve Nirvana.

But there is a lot more to it, than just going to heaven. A kind of Pureland is also inside your head, a unique kind of consciousness, if you will. It's a lot more complicated than it looks at first glance. So it is about living in this world, as well as well as being reborn in the next world.

Again, in every form of Buddhism the ultimate end is Nirvana, Pureland isn't the end for a Buddhist, Nirvana is. But you can achieve Nirvana in the Pureland.

I asked my teacher Dr. Ratanasara, I said, "Why do you think so many people are attracted to this faith form of Buddhism?" And he explained to me that not everyone wants to be a scholar or a theologian. Not everyone wants to practice meditation in a Zen way, and anyway a lot of people can't because they have so many commitments in their everyday life.

If you're working hard everyday, have a family, etc. you can still find time to say, "Amitabha Buddha, Amitabha Buddha, Amitabha Buddha" in a focused way during the day, it becomes your mantra. Faith, vows and devotion to Amithabha becomes the focus of your practice and the result is a rebirth in heaven, plus a better life here and now. I never had enough faith to practice this kind of Buddhism.

Something I learned a few years ago, oftentimes in the Vietnamese Zen tradition, and perhaps in the Zen tradition of Japan as well, Zen masters will often practice Pureland and Zen. It seems, they're hedging their bet. If they don't get enlightenment in this lifetime, at least they end up heaven. Enlightenment is not a sure thing, but Pureland is, with the right kind of practice.

SR. MEG: I'm going to brack up just a minute. Pureland is huge. As far as the population of Buddhists, it's a big family.

A smaller family is Tibetan Buddhism in the Buddhist world. It's big in the United States, but it's not that big in the Buddhist world.

The Buddhists in Tibet started at the time of Benedict, so they are not very old, and a lot of their forms would be exactly sixth century C.E. It's the way we would have lived in the sixth century, those huge monasteries. So, they kind of got frozen as a sixth century expression of monasticism.

When the Dalai Lama invited us to Tibet, he gave us this tour, where we saw the different lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. There were four of us and four Buddhists, there was a translator, and we really did work through some of these things. We went to his sect, which was Gelupga, and that's the scholars, they do a form of debating. It was very interesting.

The other thing to remember about the Buddhists, when the Buddhist transpositioned, as you so well said, over the Himalayas and into the plateau of Tibet, they merged with the Bon tradition, and they were shamanistic. They were close to the earth, with lots of magic, lots of earth energies, many rituals, dances, symbols, and astrology.

Vajrayana is really a new derivative. It looks like it's older because of the shamanistic influence, but it's really more recent than the Theravada and the Zen.

___Could you talk about the mandala?___

Then we'll go on to refuge next. Could you talk about the mandala, all the colors and why it's striped?

REV. KUSALA: I'll try, I don't really have much to say, but I will share what I know... at first glance it seems to have a lot to do with impermanence.

One of the ideas of the sand mandala is, after you finish it, you destroy it. All that work, time, and effort just so it can be destroyed.

OO: So the object is the impermanence?

REV. KUSALA: That seems to be part of it. But within the beautiful colors and forms are many Buddhist teachings as well. You can see whole Buddhist path in some of the mandalas.

It's designed to be a teaching at one level. It's art at another level. It's impermanent at another level, and states of consciousness at still another. You can even reproduce the mandala in your consciousness down to the smallest detail, if you practice long and hard.

OO: The smallest grain.

REV. KUSALA: The smallest grain. And at that point, it becomes you and you become it. Now, let me say here, it takes a really long time to get to that point.

SR. MEG: Mandalas are really classic forms, and the Tibetans I've been with are very offended by people creating their own mandalas. They come from a structure of consciousness that they've worked hard through meditation practice to replicate.

I've known some of these Samayas, who have done the three-year meditation practice, which means you go into a building, little windows up at the top, and you don't leave for three years, three months, and three weeks, and you work with your master. It is exactly what Rev. Kusala just said, she showed me the actual mandala that she enveloped. It took her a year and a half to put it in here head, she became the mandala. It took a year and a half to really make sure that all the qualities were there, and that she could experience those qualities. Then the student needs to demonstrate by some higher state of consciousness technique that they've achieved this level of appropriating these mandalas.

They are not just ordinary mandalas. The one that I was -- a kalachakra is a mandala. The Dalai Lama took us there. It's a ten day teaching where you appropriate the mandala. Not being Buddhist, I guarded my heart, watched my thoughts, and did Teresa of Avila's castle instead, I didn't want to go in those rooms because I knew it would distort my view. But I wanted to be in the presence of this guided meditation, so I would just go chamber after chamber in Teresa of Avila's interior castle. It worked fairly well.

The Dalai Lama is such a skillful teacher. He led all five thousand people through each door of that mandala. The colors mean something, the lines mean something, and then there are little gestures. It's very orchestrated. It's like an opera. It's extremely detailed.

It's a very skillful teacher that can, what would you call it, transmute it to you. You can't just gain it. You have to transmute it. It's a transmission.

REV. KUSALA: Transmission, yes.

SR. MEG: Next question. Should we go to refuge because that's a big question. Can you speak to Bruce's question about the refuge?

REV. KUSALA: Yes. I spoke about the five precepts yesterday. When you become a Buddhist, you take the five precepts: Not to kill, not to steal, no sexual misconduct, not to lie, not to consume intoxicants.

___Life sucks without a refuge.___

But the other part of that process is to take refuge. Life sucks without a refuge.

SR. MEG: Is that original?

REV. KUSALA: No, I heard it the other day and really liked it. The Buddhist refuge is, I take refuge in the Buddha. I take refuge in the Dharma. I take refuge in the sangha: "Buddham saranam gacchami. Dhammam saranam gacchami. Sangham saranam gacchami."

You say each one three times. Taking refuge in the Buddha means I take refuge in a world teacher, a human being who achieved his full perfection through his own effort, his own insight, his own compassion. That possibility is available to me too, I am a human being just like the Buddha.

I take refuge in the Dharma. Dharma is the Buddhist teachings, first, but It's also the Ultimate Truth -- for Buddhists, capitol "T," for anybody else, small "t" -- the truth on what it means to be a human being, the truth of the experience of being a human being, and the truth of how to end suffering.

I take refuge in the sangha. I take refuge in the monks and nuns as an example of how to live in the world as a Buddhist.

Now, as Sister Meg notes, the meaning of sangha has changed dramatically in America. Sangha now includes lay people. But the original translation of sangha meant only ordained monks and nuns.

This world of ours is ablaze with desire and craving, taking refuge is a way to find peace.

SR. MEG: I would say it's in the Psalms to take refuge. I think taking refuge in Christ is the first renunciation. It's in our baptismal vows, I follow Christ, and I say no to Satan and all of Satan's pomp and circumstances. I follow Christ, and I go in the waters, and I'm baptized through Christ, and I rise with Christ, and then Christ becomes my way, my truth, and my life.

When I'm plunged in the waters, it was to let self die, my former way of life, and going towards evil, coming up through the waters.

Then when you are up above the waters and you are baptized, you are baptized into Christ Jesus. That's taking refuge. My refuge is Christ Jesus.

I'm very happy you raised it, Bruce, because that's the key today of these many paths converging. We must know where we take refuge, where we place our -- what was your line this morning, Mary?

MM: Authority.

SR. MEG: Your authority. What path do you give authority? What resonates with your founding life form, your center of truth.

You can take refuge in the Buddha. You can take refuge in the Christ. Now I'm listening to people taking refuge in Allah. They would never take refuge in Mohammed. Mohammed is just a prophet. He is more like Benedict.

Refuge is really -- I heard one Scripture scholar talk about the shield in battle, as a kind of a little wall. When you were wounded, they would just put you on your shield and carry you out. In one sense it's refuge in your shield. It's the way in which you fortify your life with the world, and then you are carried through that protection.

But it's critical, each one of us, first of all, that we take refuge someplace. Somewhere, we have to hand over our authority or meet our authority or surrender our authority.

The Muslims are great at surrendering. What word would you say? When you took refuge, what's the word "took" about?

REV. KUSALA: "Take" means to actively participate, I don't take them on faith, I take them because they reduce and eventually end my suffering. The teachings are only being offered, I have to take them. The teachings are only a prescription, I have to take it, fill it, and do it.

Some people think of the Buddha as a great physician, he diagnosed the open wound of suffering, found the cause, found the cure, and then to each and every Buddhist wrote out the prescription.

SR. MEG: The Hindu would have a similar theme with the guru, and would take refuge in the guru. The guru would give a transmission, the guru would take you to the other shore.

So, it seems to be a concept that is in every tradition.

___The Dharma takes us to the other shore.___

REV. KUSALA: The Dharma takes us to the other shore. The Buddha and sangha can't.

SR. MEG: The teaching does.

REV. KUSALA: Exactly, it's the teaching. The Buddha said, "When you see the teaching, you see me."

SR. MEG: "I am the way, the truth and the life," or, "The Lord is my life."

BC: Yes, because I think we are almost more, that it's the Christ that mediates. I'm hidden, my life is hidden in Christ.

SR. MEG: Not the historical Jesus, either. We are talking about the Christ, the Christic community presence now, the Christ form. It's a bigger thing than just a Jesus figure in our minds. It's definitely a total way of life.

BC: Logos.

SR. MEG: Logos, that would be close, as far as just our image, our image and likeness. The orthodox say, "Put on the mind of Christ, the image and likeness." All the language limps, but that we know it is, feels certain we can be confident in that. So, that's refuge.

Let me pick up another question. You wanted to get into the dangers of meditation practice and higher states of consciousness.

MP: Is there a danger also in terms of Christian meditation? I've read of some of the dangers in terms of Buddhist meditation in that they literally can become so interior that they forget to eat, they forget where they are. They'll starve to death.

REV. KUSALA: I'll speak just a little about that, and I'd be interested to hear about Christian meditation.

The Buddhist path has many obstacles, and one of the obstacles is mind. We try and liberate the mind, but sometimes that process of liberation can turn against us. When you alter consciousness through meditation, retreats, fasting in the desert for 40 days, things like that, stuff happens.

If you are doing that in the context of a monastery or retreat center, you have safeguards built in. One of the safeguards is a daily schedule. As Sister Meg said the other day, one of the nuns didn't show up; she was dead. Well, they were able to ascertain that one of the nuns was missing, and they went to check on her.

There could be someone who is going into a deep state of unitive consciousness because of their meditation. They might come into contact with some of their archetypes for instance, it might make them confused. The abbot or the head monk would come up, knock on the door and say, "You're late for meditation," or, "We are going to eat now." A reminder that the physical form, the body needs to eat.

The other monks might care and council the monk who is in that place of confusion, that place of non-clarity, before the light of reason appears again.

The teachings of the Buddha are a guide. When going through these deep states of meditation, we have something called Abhidhamma, Buddhist psychology, which by the way is very dry reading. It's nothing like western psychology. But useful in giving a Buddhist meaning to unusual meditative experiences. It's a road map of the mind.

Now sometimes, you just need to stop meditating. Sometimes, when you get to that place, and it isn't going to be healthy for you to go any further. You just need to stop meditating, and maybe get a job at Taco Bell for a while, and just find your place in the world again.

This body will always be rooted in samsara, the realm of birth and death, only mind can be transformed in nirvana. Only our consciousness can be transformed in that special way.

___The misuse of meditation can lead to very uncomfortable results.___

The misuse of meditation can lead to very uncomfortable results.

SR. MEG: I'll just do a 90-second setup for tomorrow, because I think this is a big topic, and I think what I'd like to do tomorrow is start out with the fruits and the results and the effect of the dialogue and especially meditation practice, maybe if we would just go there. And we would reflect on our experience of directing others in meditation practice and what happens to them.

I'd also like to cover the vast area of dark forces, darkness, evil, and the place of facing evil, and how do you know if it's evil or if it's just psychological damage. I'd like to do a little bit more on altered states of consciousness and the place in the Christian tradition for that work, and show the different traditions that are alive today on that, and the research that's going on.

And I'd like to probably end with pointing us back to our own path again, each one of us, our own path, and some criteria by which you know you are on the right journey, that you feel confident. It doesn't necessarily mean it's easy, but there are ways in listening to others you can feel more confident that they are on the right path.

You listen to people; I listen to people. We tend to shift, and it's very scarey. The question is, when are you renouncing your refuge in Christ, and when are you renouncing just your false idea of Christ for a higher good? So, what are you renouncing, and when do you know it's ego, and when is it Christ?

So, let's pick that up tomorrow, and we're ready to go home on Sunday. But those are very big topics, and I've never gotten anybody this close, so I'm looking forward to it.



_Day 4_

Sister Meg  |  Rev. Kusala   | Q & A