Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Introduction to Meditation

Below is a free six week online course in Beginning Mindfulness Meditation by the best teacher I have ever heard, Gil Fronsdal. He is a Zen Roshi and a Vipassana (Mindfulness or Insight) Meditation Master. Each week's class has some brief written material in .pdf form included to aide you in learning this Practice. It is taught to a live group of mostly uninformed and beginning meditaters. Everyone needs to start a Path and the sooner the better. This Practice is easy to learn, very effective, but like everything truly worthwhile, it requires dedication. Gil Fronsdal is an absolute pleasure to listen to, is easy to understand, and has a wonderful sense of humor. He leads every class in a guided meditation so you will understand exactly how to do it and takes questions from the students at various times. Each weekly class is about an hour and fifteen to twenty minutes long. This is your ticket to true Happiness, Peace of Mind, Calmness, and a genuine Path to Self-Mastery and Wisdom. Enjoy!!


Several times a year Gil Fronsdal offers a 5 or 6 week instructional series for beginning meditators. These classes provide a good overview of insight meditation practice as well as many guided meditation sessions which help the student learn how to establish and sustain a daily meditation practice.
For further instruction, see the Intermediate Mindfulness series.
Related Docments

Introduction to Meditation Online Course Talks RSS iTunes
This course is also available in Spanish and Chinese.

Introduction to Meditation - Breath (Part 1)
Gil Fronsdal 2007-10-03 1:11:56
Introduction to Meditation - Body (Part 2)
Gil Fronsdal 2007-10-10 1:21:27
Introduction to Meditation - Emotions (Part 3)
Gil Fronsdal 2007-10-17 1:23:28
Introduction to Meditation - Thinking (Part 4)
Gil Fronsdal 2008-01-30 1:25:40
Introduction to Meditation - Mind (Part 5)
Gil Fronsdal 2008-10-29 1:25:46
Introduction to Meditation - Daily Life (Part 6)
Gil Fronsdal 2008-02-13 1:35:00
Meditation Instructions RSS iTunes

Brief Instructions for Sitting Meditation

2001-01-01 5:13
Instructions for Walking Meditation

2001-01-01 6:46
Mindfulness Meditation as a Buddhist Practice

2001-01-01 6:16
Other Meditation Instructions RSS iTunes

Introduction to Mindfulness Meditation
Gil Fronsdal 2005-10-02 44:12
Mental Noting
Gil Fronsdal 2008-07-20 46:15
Guided Body Scan
Gil Fronsdal 2003-07-17 25:04
Guided Metta
Gil Fronsdal 2001-09-06 28:03
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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

2012 International Symposia for Contemplative Studies - CORRECTED

Correction:: I corrected the link to the Symposia below so you can register first. The sponsor requested this so please fill out the very short registration and you are ready to view at your leisure. Sorry for any inconvenience I may have caused. Enjoy!

Below is the information about this incredible gathering of the greatest brain/mind research scientists and contemplative Masters from all religious and philosophical traditions in the world.* It is a collaborative effort among centers and laboratories around the world to explore the correlates and consequences of contemplative practice. Facilitated by the Mind and Life Institute, the broader Symposia considered how training the mind through the use of contemplative practices can lead to a reduction in suffering, enhanced health and cognitive/emotional functioning, greater happiness and increased social harmony. They gathered together in Denver, CO from April 26, 2012 to April 29, 2012. This link will take you to the home page. Click on the first picture that says, "Free Webstreaming...Click Here to Watch". If the picture changes, you can wait for it to come back around or just click the "Home" link and it will be the first picture.

A link to the Keynote Speeches and Master Lectures on each day is on the left. I highly recommend that you watch everything in chronological order. Each Webcast contains a lot of very interesting and detailed information so start by watching one per sitting and adjust your viewing accordingly. You may want to have a pen and some paper handy too. It moves rather fast because of time constraints/scheduling so stay Mindful and be prepared to be Wowed :)!

This is the first Symposia in the 25 year history of the Mind and Life Institute where actual replicated scientific findings are presented. They are mind-blowing indeed! Take your time and Enjoy!


*The first ever International Symposia for Contemplative Studies, coordinated
and cosponsored by the Mind & Life Institute, will be held at the Denver Hyatt
Regency Hotel April 26-29, 2012. In this landmark cross-disciplinary
conference, more than 700 neuroscientists, educators, and contemplative
scholars from around the world will gather to share cutting-edge research on
the nature and workings of the human mind. Keynotes, master lectures, and
other presentations will explore how a scientific understanding of the mind can
address a wide range of issues, including health, education, and personal and
social wellness.

Symposia speakers include luminaries from the world’s most prestigious
institutions, such as Harvard University, Brown University, the Max Planck
Institute for Brain Research in Zurich, and the Centre National de la Recherche
Scientifique in Paris. Congressman Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) will discuss his new
book, A Mindful Nation, in which he advocates using contemplative practices to
address a host of current national concerns. Wellesley College past-president
Diana Chapman Walsh will deliver the opening keynote address on the first full day, April 27th.

The research presented at the Symposia reflects scientists’ findings that
contemplative practices, such as meditation and mindfulness, can produce
measurable effects that alleviate suffering and improve well-being, including
reducing addiction, pain, post-partum issues depression, and anxiety disorders,
as well as improving educational performance, leadership, and overall physical
and mental health.

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Sunday, July 22, 2012


This is a wonderful essay on Zen Meditation that describes the ideal State of Mind in which we should Be each and every waking moment. It is the State of Self, our True Nature. The author is a mysterious and Wise man whose writings I have encountered over years of doing research for my blog. He goes by the name, "the Wanderling". Each of the links within this work takes you to yet another one of his many pages around the Internet. This amazing trail of material compiled over many years is filled with an incredible amount of Wisdom so I recommend that you use this as a starting point and then enjoy the journey. Have fun!



SHIKANTAZA, or "just sitting," is alert nonselective attention which neither pursues nor suppresses thoughts, sensations, etc., but, rather, gives alert detached attention to whatever arises in and vanishes from consciousness.

I. The meditation practices stressed by the Soto and Rinzai schools are distinctively Zen versions of the two types of Buddhist meditation:
  1. Mindfulness Leading to Insight
  2. Concentration Leading to Absorption.
  • Dogen's Shikantaza is a variation on (1) above.
  • The Koan exercise stressed by Rinzai is a variation on (2).
 (and also "other") is "forgotten," because awareness of such distinctions is not present. No separate Self is present to perceive "other" things. Rather, the Self is all these things, and vice versa, in THIS moment. From Without Thinking flows the only identifiable "reality, " namely the unceasing, ever-changing, impermanent unfolding of experience. From Without-Thinking/Enlightenment, therefore, we see things as they really are (genjokoan).

II. Distinctive of Dogen’s account of Zazen as Shikantaza is that Zazen is conceived not as a means to an end but as a practice of the end itself.

A. Cultivation (shu) is not different from authentication (sho), practice from Enlightenment.
       B. If we are practicing Shikantaza correctly, then we are practicing
       Enlightenment itself.      

1. This is a central paradox of Zen.
a) But if we’re already Enlightened by our very buddha-nature, why do we need to practice—frequently for years?

            Dogen struggled with the problem of Original Awakening, that is, an awakening fundemental or innate in everyone, and Acquired Awakening, an awakening attained or acquired through practice. Dogen rejected both, breaking through the relativity of original and acquired, opening up a deeper ground. He wrote: "The principle of the Buddha-nature is that it is not endowed prior to Enlightenment...the Buddha-nature is unquestionably realized simultaneously with Enlightenment." The Shobogenzo eloaborates quite lucidly his concerns with the matter, written by him in an Enlightened state following his own Realization under the guidance of Chinese Zen Master Ju-ching (1163-1228).

            Dogen does not maintain that there is any ultimate difference between cultivation (shu) and authentication (sho) or between Original and Acquired Enlightenment. Hence, Dogen would not want to say that he is describing "Zen consciousness" or "Enlightened consciousness" to the exclusion of "ordinary consciousness." Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where we differ is that we place a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience and then proceed to make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself rather than to be an "expression" (dotoku) of the "occasion" (jisetsu) in which we think or talk about the given experience. In a sense, we have a double layered description. First, there is the prereflective, not yet conceptualized, experience--what we all share, Zen master and the rest of us alike. Second, there is the expression or characterization of any experience within a particular situation or occasion. If the speaker brings no personal, egotistic delusions into this expression, the occasion speaks for itself, the total situation alone determines what is said or done. Thus, in the case of the Zen master, what-is-said is simply what-is. In the case of the deluded person, however, the "what-is" includes his excess conceptual baggage with its affective components, the deluded ideas about the nature of "self," "thing," "time," and so on that constitute the person's own particular distortion of what actually is. (source)

III. Also distinctive of Dogen's account of Shikantaza is that it is the practice of "without thinking" (hishiryo): which is also called no-mind (mushin; wu-hsin), the essence of Zen Enlightenment. Here we shall discuss "thinking," "not-thinking," and "without thinking."

    "Not-thinking" can be pictured as follows:

A. THINKING (shiryo): This is our habitual tendency to stay in the mode of conceptualizing thought.

1. About "thinking" a) Noetic Attitude: positional (either affirming or negating); b) Noematic Content: conceptualized objects.

a) Noetic Attitude is positional (either affirming or negating): A subject is adopting an intentional stance toward an object and, specifically, thinking about it in either a positive or negative way: "This is an X" or "This is not an X," "Do X" or "Do not do X."

(1) Consciousness is an intentional vector proceeding from a subject to an object. The subject is a cognitive agent.

b) Noematic Content: X is an intentional object pointed to and conceived through our thoughts.

2. "Thinking" can be pictured as follows:
c) Aspects of "thinking":

(1) Subject-object division present: an active subject thinks an object.

(2) Non-immediacy: We do not experience the object immediately but only at a distance, as removed subjects, and only through the thoughts we have of the object.

(3) Non-fullness: We do not experience the object in its fullness or "suchness" but, rather, only as filtered through our thinking about it.
B. NOT-THINKING (fushiryo): About "not-thinking,": (1) noetic attitude: positional (only negating); (2) noematic content: thinking (as objectified).

1. Noetic attitude is positional (only negating): Subject is agent seeking to suppress its thinking.

2. Noematic content: The object is now the "second-order" object "thinking about X."

3. Aspects of "not-thinking": Same as for "thinking."

a) Consciousness is still an intentional-vector proceeding from a subject to the object. The subject is still functioning as agent, even if one trying to bring an end to its own agency.

C. WITHOUT THINKING (hishiryo): This is no-thought (munen; wu-nien) or no-mind (mushin; wu-hsin): pure immediacy in the fullness of things as they are.

1. About "not-thinking,": (1) noetic attitude: nonpositional (neither affirming nor negating); (2) noematic content: pure presence of things as they are (genjokoan).

a) Noetic attitude is nonpositional (neither affirming nor negating): Consciousness is no longer an intentional vector proceeding from a subject to an object but is, rather, an open dynamic field in which objects present themselves.

b) Noematic content: The object is no longer an object that is the target of an intentional act but is, rather, the object itself as it presents itself within the open dynamic field of consciousness.

c) Aspects of "without thinking":

(1) No subject-object distinction: The subject has disappeared—this being the Zen interpretation of Buddhist anatta or no-mind.

(2) Immediacy: Without a subject standing back, the experience is one of immediacy within the dynamic field of consciousness.

(3) Fullness: Because the object is not filtered through an intentional act, it presents itself in its fullness.

(4) Such immediacy and fullness are genjokoan, "pure presence of things as they are."

It is a serious mistake in the understanding of Zen to refer merely to the "denial" or "cessation" of "conceptual thinking." Regardless of whether or not it can be proven than the pre-Buddhist Sanskrit etymology of the term Dhyana can be shown to have no-thought connotations, the main concern here is the semantic development undergone by the Chinese term ch'an in the course of the production of the Ch'an texts in East Asia.

It is quite clear that in Ch'an Buddhism, no-mind, rather than referring to an absence of thought, refers to the condition of not being trapped in thoughts, not adhering to a certain conceptual habit or position.

The error of interpretation made by many scholars (and by Zen practitioners as well) lies precisely in taking the term "no-thought" to refer to some kind of permanent, or ongoing absence of thought. While this assumption is routinely made, it is impossible to corroborate it in the Ch'an canon. If we study the seminal texts carefully, we do find a description of the experience of an instantaneous severing of thought that occurs in the course of a thoroughgoing pursuit of a Buddhist meditative exercise.

Nowhere in the Platform Sutra, Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment, Diamond Sutra, or any other major Ch'an text, is the term "no-mind" explained to be a permanent incapacitation of the thinking faculty or the permanent cessation of all conceptual activity.

The locus classicus for the concept of no-thought is the Platform Sutra, and in regards to no-thought says in so many words:

"No-thought" means "no-thought within thought." Non-abiding is man's original nature. Thoughts do not stop from moment to moment. The prior thought is succeeded in each moment by the subsequent thought, and thoughts continue one after another without cease. If, for one thought-moment, there is a break, the dharma-body separates from the physical body, and in the midst of successive thoughts there will be no attachment to any kind of matter. If, for one thought-moment, there is abiding, then there will be abiding in all successive thoughts, and this is called clinging. If, in regard to all matters there is no abiding from thought-moment to thought-moment, then there is no clinging. Non-abiding is the basis.

As we can see, after the break in thought, successive thoughts continue to flow, but one no longer abides in, or clings to, these thoughts. Nowhere is there mention of any kind of disappearance of, or absence of thought. "No-thought" refers to nothing other than an absence of abiding, or clinging. Other seminal Ch'an texts, such as the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment, characterize no-thought in precisely the same manner. (source)

Genjokoan is the title of the first chapter of the Shobogenzo, and its foremost position in the text is indicative of the importance of this concept in Dogen's thought. The word is a conjunction of genjo ("presence itself") and koan. Interpretations of this concept differ; my own accords with the view that Dogen viewed genjo itself to be a koan. In one sense, then, genjokoan can be understood as the name of a koan which, when correctly grasped, indicates "things as they really are." "Correctly grasping" this koan proceeds from the prereflective experience manifested by without-thinking. A famous passage from the "Genjokoan" states:

To study the Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be Enlightened by all things.

"Being Enlightened by all things" expresses the mental activity of Without Thinking wherein the "Self" as well as No-self

For Dogen, genjokoan is none other than Prajna, or "intuitive wisdom." Furthermore, Dogen is in accord with the Mahayana tradition in arguing that Prajna and Karuna, "compassion, the Golden Purifier" are "not-two." He also holds to the traditional Mahayana conception of right moral action as proceeding from Prajna/Karuna. Thus Dogen sees right moral action as properly proceeding from seeing things as they really are, which is manifest to us in moments of without-thinking.

IV. How do we practice "without thinking" during zazen?

A. What does one do?
1. Answer: Nothing, because to do something is to adopt an intentional or noetic stance as a subject.
In no way...am I suggesting that practices should not be done, only that there is no practitioner who is the doer behind them. This is true of every activity. ... Just because there is no practitioner (and never has been)) does not mean that practice will not take place. If it is obvious for a particular spiritual practice to occur, then it will.

SUZANNE SEGAL, A Collision with the Infinite

B. But what if thoughts arise? Aren’t these part of "thinking," and don’t they, therefore, need to be suppressed?

1. Answer: They ought not be suppressed, for that would be "not-thinking."

C. But what other options are there?

1. Answer: Releasing, disengaging, suspending. In releasing thinking, we let go of the stance of inner thinking subjects and open ourselves to the field of immediate experience.
2. And objects, no longer "rubber stamped" by conceptualizing thought, stand forth in the field of immediate experience, presenting themselves fully and in their true natures.

3. We release ourselves from action-taking and thereby release objects from conceptualization. In thus releasing both subject and object, we practice immediate presence in the fullness of experience: genjokoan.

a) This being the Enlightenment that we already are.

D. See also: Hua-T'ou, the state of mind before the mind is disturbed by thought.

Interestingly enough, in a seeming contrast of approach to Suzanne Segal's comments above, Aziz Kristof, a non-traditional Advaita Zen master and Enlightened in his own right, speaking of Dogen writes:

"His (Dogen's) concept of Shikantaza was very subtle and profound. Zazen in his understanding was no longer a tool to become the Buddha but an expression of Truth. Zazen is Buddha! I was very inspired by this teaching. His teaching was for me a bridge between Advaita's vision of 'Awakening Now' and seeing Enlightenment as a future goal. However, his concept of a never-ending cultivation proves that he was not fully Self-realized. (Dogen) disliked strongly the idea that after Enlightenment there is no need for practice anymore."
Which leads us to the following:

V.SAIJOJO: Neither-nor Mindfulness Leading to Insight, neither-nor Concentration Leading to Absorption

Before he became the Buddha, at the beginning of his spiritual quest, Siddhartha Gautama studied with two teachers. The first teacher taught him the First Seven Jhanas; the other teacher taught him the Eighth Jhana. Both teachers told him they had taught him all there was to learn. But Siddhattha still didn't know why there was suffering, so he left each of these teachers and wound up doing six years of austerity practises. These too did not provide the answer to his question and he abandoned these for what has come to be known as the Middle Way. The suttas indicate that on the night of his Enlightenment, he sat down under the Bodhi Tree and began his meditation by practising the Jhanas (for example, see the Mahasaccaka Sutta - Majjhima Nikaya #36). When his mind was "concentrated, purified, bright, unblemished, rid of imperfection, malleable, wieldy, steady and attained to imperturbability" he direct it to the "true knowledges" that gave rise to his incredible breakthrough in consciousness known in the sutras as Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi, beyond the beyond of the Eighth Jhana. (source)

Duality, such as the fundamental distinction between subject and object, is obliterated in deep sleep and in Samadhi, as well as in other conditions such as fainting, but duality is only temporarily obliterated for it reappears when one awakes from sleep or regains consciousness after fainting, and it also reappears when the yoga (meditator) arises from Samadhi. The reason why duality persists is because false knowledge (mithyajana) has not been removed. Since false knowledge is the cause of bondage, Samadhi cannot therefore be the cause of liberation. (source)

There is a little known deep-meditation awake-state-continuum, beyond dharma-megha-samadhi and beyond the beyond of the Eighth Jhana, based in part from Dogen's Shikantaza, neither entering into nor rising out of, that alleviates the above, entertained in essence by the Wanderling and others that is neither Mindfulness Leading to Insight nor not Mindfulness Leading to Insight; it is as well neither Concentration Leading to Absorption nor not Concentration Leading to Absorption and called by some as kaivalya, but, because in the end it is NOT and has no name, in things-Zen it is simply refered to if it must be mentioned as Jishu Zammi, where Ji means "self," Shu means "mastery," and Zammi means "Samadhi,"...Samadhi of Self Mastery.

Zen master Tai-yung, passing by the retreat of another Zen master named Chih-huang, stopped and during his visit respectfully asked, "I am told that you frequently enter into Samadhi. At the time of such entrances, does your consciousness continue or are you in a state of unconsciousness? If your consciousness continues, all sentient beings are endowed with consciousness and can enter into Samadhi like yourself. If, on the other hand, you are in a state of unconsciousness, plants and rocks can enter into Samadhi." Huang replied, "When I enter into a Samadhi, I am not conscious of either condition." Yung said, "If you are not conscious of either condition, this is abiding in Eternal Samadhi, and there can be neither entering into a Samadhi nor rising out of it."(source)

KHANIKA SAMADHI is called momentary concentration (sequential momentary deep concentration) because it occurs only at the moment of noting and, in the case of Vipassana, not on a fixed object as Samatha-Jhana meditation but on changing objects or phenomena that occur in the mind and body. But when the Vipassana meditator develops strength and skill in noting, his Khanika concentration occurs uninterruptedly in a series without a break. This concentration, when it occurs from moment to moment without a break, becomes so powerful that it can overcome The Five Hindrances, thus bringing about purification of mind (citta visuddhi) which can enable a meditator to attain all the insight knowledges up to the level of Arahat.

VI The very foundation of Shikantaza is based on an unshakeable faith that:

  • Sitting as the Buddha sat, with the mind void of all conceptions, of all beliefs and points of view, is the actualization or unfoldment of the inherently Enlightened Bodhimind with which all are endowed.
  • At the same time this sitting is entered into in the faith that it will one day culminate in the sudden and direct perception of the true nature of this Mind-- in other words, Enlightenment.
Therefore to strive self-consciously for Satori or any other gain from Zazen is as unnecessary as it is undesirable.

The conscious thought "I must get Enlightened" can be as much of an impediment as any other which hangs in the mind. (see)
In authentic Shikantaza neither of these two elements of faith can be dispensed with. To exclude Satori from Shikantaza would necessarily involve stigmatizing as meaningless and even masochistic the Buddha's strenuous efforts toward Enlightenment, and impugning the patriarchs' and Dogen's own painful struggles to that end. This relation of Satori to Shikantaza is of the utmost importance. Unfortunately it has often been misunderstood, especially by those to whom Dogen's complete writings are inaccessible. It thus not infrequently happens that Western students will come to a Soto temple or monastery utilizing Koans in its teaching and remonstrate with the roshi over his assignment of a Koan, on the ground that Koans have as their aim Enlightenment; since all are intrinsically Enlightened, they argue, there is no point in seeking Satori. So what they ask to practice is Shikan-taza, which they believe does not involve the experience of Enlightenment.

Such an attitude reveals not only a lack of faith in the judgment of one's teacher but a fundamental misconception of both the nature and the difficulty of Shikantaza, not to mention the teaching methods employed in Soto temples and monasteries. A careful reading of the encounters of Yasutani Hakuun Roshi with ten Westerners, for example, will make it clear why genuine Shikantaza cannot be successfully undertaken by the rank novice, who has yet to learn how to sit with stability and equanimity, or whose ardor needs to be regularly boosted by communal sitting or by the encouragement of a teacher, or who, above all, lacks strong faith in his own Bodhimind coupled with a dedicated resolve to experience its reality in his daily life.

Because today, Zen masters claim, devotees are on the whole much less zealous for truth, and because the obstacles to practice posed by the complexities of modern life are more numerous, capable Soto masters seldom assign Shikantaza to a beginner. They prefer to have him first unify his mind through concentration on counting the breaths; or where a burning desire for Enlightenment does exist, to exhaust the discursive intellect through the imposition of a special type of Zen problem called a Koan and thus prepare the way for Kensho.

By no means, then, is the Koan system confined to the Rinzai sect as many believe. Yasutani Hakuun Roshi is only one of a number of Soto masters who use Koans in their teaching. Genshu Watanaberoshi, the former abbot of Soji-ji, one of the two head temples of the Soto sect in Japan, regularly employed Koans, and at the Soto monastery of Hosshinji, of which the illustrious Harada-roshi was abbot during his lifetime, Koans are also widely used.

Even Dogen Zenji himself, as we have seen, disciplined himself in Koan Zen for eight years before going to China and practicing Shikantaza. And though upon his return to Japan Dogen wrote at length about Shikantaza and recommended it for his inner band of disciples, it must not be forgotten that these disciples were dedicated truth-seekers for whom Koans were an unnecessary encouragement to sustained practice. Notwithstanding this emphasis on Shikantaza, Dogen made a compilation of three hundred well- known Koans, to each of which he added his own commentary. From this and the fact that his foremost work, the Shobogenzo (A Treasury of the Eye of the True Dharma), contains a number of Koans, we may fairly conclude that he did utilize Koans in his teaching.


Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.

 ~ the Wanderling 


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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Wonderful Legend: The Origin of the Bonzai Tree?

I think you will enjoy this ancient legend which may give insight to the origins of the Bonsai tree if not far more "magic" than meets the eye at first. Please enjoy this gem as I work on other posts of my own and from the great Masters of old.



Fei Jiang-fang [Fei Chang-fang or Pi Chang-fang] was a legendary magician during the Eastern Han dynasty (25-220 C.E. ). He was said to have had "the power of shrinking and collecting in an urn mountains and streams, birds and animals, people, pavilions, terraces, and buildings, boats and carriages, trees and rivers." 

A story from the Jin dynasty (265-420 C.E .) and then alluded to at the end of the fifth century tells of how Fei, as a marketplace provost, once discovered that an old man selling herbs there was actually an immortal punished for a mistake. The old man had hung a gourd-shaped hu vessel in front of his shop. Whenever the market closed, he jumped up and entered this vessel, without being seen by the people in the marketplace. Only Fei saw him, from the top of his lookout. Fei confronted the old man who told him to return the following day. Doing so, he was then taken into the old man's confidence and the two of them were allowed to enter inside the magical hu. There they feasted and drank from a wine vessel that did not empty. The old man insisted his punishment was now finished and invited Fei to follow him in search of the Dao.

Both of them entered into the depths of a mountain and, after several tests, Fei Jiang-fang became a magician famous for his power over demons and for curing sicknesses.

Seekers after medicinal herbs go into the heart of the mountains equipped with a staff to which they have attached a protective talisman, consisting of a picture of the sacred mountains, along with a little gourd intended to hold the fruits of their journey.
Now, in tales from the East, the market theme has been used as a meeting place for adepts and spirits. Other hu-kung ("Gourd Elders") besides Fei Jiang-fang are mentioned in Daoist alchemical lore through the centuries. Another version of this story from the late third century indicates that the old man magically appeared to Fei, coming from "far countries" inhabited by barbarians, monsters, demons, and spirit. Inside the hu vessel one only saw a world full of palaces of the immortals.

The banished immortal herb seller replaces his home Isles of the Blessed -- which have all the treasures of the mountain there contained -- with his gourd, which also includes these treasures in their entirety. The gourd is the container for drinks and herbs, concentrating in this little place the essential powers of a remote and isolated mountain. The narrowed opening or gate through which the adept passes with some difficulty opens into another world, closed off and completely sufficient to itself. This paradisiacal, perfect, happy place is far from this vulgar world, just like the miniature gardens that play the same role for those who cultivate them.

This legend shows up in several other works, including a Daoist encyclopedia of the seventh century (i.e., early Tang dynasty) which contains a number of rituals or magical practices to which the legend contributed. One detailed procedure allegedly allows one to be able to transform a pint container so that it contains Heaven and Earth. Another ritual lets one reduce one's size as well as reducing distances.

Were Fei Jiang-fang’s magical miniatures actually only detailed dwarf potted trees and other landscapes which transported the imaginations of viewers to other lands? Was his story indicative of the potential of the miniature landscape? Or, were the earliest pen gardens actually attempts to recreate Fei's works? And for how many years or centuries might individual or sects of Daoists have developed the cultivation of these tiny gardens as a memory aid and focusing device for their attempts to be like Fei?

At this point we cannot credit Fei with originating magical miniature landscapes: the earliest graphic images of these comes several centuries later and shows much more primitive compositions than are told of in his legend. 1


1. Stein, Rolf A. The World in Miniature (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press; 1990), pp. 54-55, 66-70, with Fig. 29 b&w photo on pg. 68, pg. 78, notes 129-134 on pp. 294-295. See pp. 58-78 for much more information concerning hu (calabash gourd-shaped) vessels and miniature/magical worlds. Depictions of the three Blessed Isles in the fourth century, for instance, resembled hu vessels, and they were known by the names Peng-hu, Fang-hu, and Ying-hu. In addition, the gourd represents in all of Chinese East Asia the cornucopia: Chinese doctors pack their drugs into little empty gourds or into vials of the same shape, which also makes the fruit the symbol of curing. Other examples of magic and miniature landscapes are found on pp. 50-54.;

Mentioned in Wu, Yee-Sun Man Lung Artistic Pot Plants (Hong Kong: Wing-Lung Bank Ltd.; 1969, 1974. Second edition), pg. 62; Lesniewicz, Paul Bonsai: The Complete Guide to Art & Technique (Poole, Dorset: Blandford Press; 1984), pg. 13; Lesniewicz, Paul and Hideo Kato Practical Bonsai, Their Care, Cultivation and Training (London: W. Foulsham & Co., Ltd.; 1991), pg. 8; Webber, Leonard Bonsai For the Home and Garden (North Ryde, NSW, Australia: Angus & Robertson Publishers; 1985), pg. 1; Koreshoff, Deborah R. Bonsai: Its Art, Science, History and Philosophy (Brisbane, Australia: Boolarong Publications; 1984), pg. 3;

cf. Samson, Isabelle and Rémy Samson The Creative Art of Bonsai (London: Ward Lock Ltd.; 1986), pg. 8: "Then, during the Tang dynasty and the later Song dynasty (960-1276) public records refer to a man who 'had learnt the art of creating the illusion of immensity enclosed within a small space and all this contained within a single pot.'";

The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen (Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc.; 1991), pp. 53, 143;

Yanagisawa, Soen Tray Landscapes ( Bonkei and Bonseki ) (Tokyo: Japan Travel Bureau; 1955, 1956, 1962, 1966), pp. 2, 77;

Behme, Robert Bonsai, Saikei and Bonkei, Japanese Dwarf Trees and Tray Landscapes (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc.; 1969), pg. 15;

Cahill, James Scholar Painters of Japan: The Nanga School (New York: Asia House Gallery; 1972), pg. 89.
cf. "Zhang Guo was a Daoist magician who could ride vast distances on a magical mule; when he stopped to rest, he would fold it up like paper and put it in his hat-box. He could bring it back to life when needed by spraying it with water from his mouth. In an ink and color on silk handscroll by Ren Renfa (1255-1328), Zhang is seen demonstrating his magic powers before the Tang emperor Minghuang (Empress Wu's grandson Hsüan Tsung, the last great figure of the dynasty, 712-756). As the old magician looks on with a crafty smile, a boy releases the miniature mule, which flies along the floor toward the emperor. The mule is perhaps the size of a rat but has perfect equine proportions, complete with a tiny saddle. Minghuang leans forward, credulous but reserved, while a courtier standing nearby clasps his hand and opens his mouth in wonderment. (The painter of Zhang Guo Having an Audience with Emperor Minghuang followed a career of official service under the Mongols and as a painter specialized in portrayals of horses.)" Per Yang, Xin et al Three Thousand Years of Chinese Painting (New Haven & London: Yale University Press and Beijing: Foreign Languages Press; 1997), pp. 150-151.

"Let me put this another way. The world in which alchemy was practiced recognized no sharp distinctions between mental and material events. In such a context, there was no such thing as 'symbolism' because everything (in our terms) was symbolic, that is, all material events and processes had psychic equivalents and representations. Thus alchemy was -- from our viewpoint -- a composite of different activities. It was the science of matter, the attempt to unravel nature's secrets; a set of procedures which were employed in mining, dyeing, glass manufacture, and the preparation of medicines; and simultaneously a type of yoga, a science of psychic transformation. Because matter possessed consciousness, skill in transforming the former automatically meant that one was skilled in working with the latter -- a tradition retained today only in fields such as art, poetry, or handicrafts, in which we tend (rightly or wrongly) to regard the ability to create things of great beauty as a reflection of the creator's personality. We say then, that the talent of the alchemist in his laboratory was dependent on his relationship with his own unconsciousness, but in putting it that way we indicate the limits of our understanding. 'Unconscious,' whether used by Jung or anyone else, is the language of the modern disembodied intellect. It was all one to the alchemist: there was no 'unconscious.' The modern mind cannot help but regard the occult sciences as a vast welter of confusion about the nature of the material world, since for the most part the modern mind does not entertain the notion that the consciousness with which the alchemist confronted matter was so different from its own. If the state of mind can at all be imagined, however, we can say that the alchemist did not confront matter; he permeated it.

"It is thus doubtful that the alchemist could have described what he was doing to us, or to the modern chemist, transported back to the fourteenth century, even if he had wanted to. His was (again, from our point of view) partly a psychic discipline that no nonpsychic method (save neutron bombardment in a nuclear reactor) can possibly accomplish. The maunfacture of gold was not a matter of replicating a material formula. Indeed, its manufacture was part of a much larger work, and our attempt to extract the material essence from a holistic process reveals how contracted our own knowledge of the world has become. We cannot know the alchemical process of making gold until we know the 'personality' of gold. We, here and now, have no real sympathetic identity with the process of becoming golden; we cannot fathom the relationship between becoming gold and making gold. The medieval alchemist, on the other hand, was completed by the process; the synthesis of the gold was his synthesis as well."

-- Berman, Morris The Reenchantment of the World (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press; 1981), pp. 92-93.
Substitute "magical miniature landscape" for "alchemy" in the above two paragraphs. What does this now mean for us?

"United with its rock womb, the pine tree grows old and acquires medicinal and magical properties; it becomes an "essence" (jing [ching]), a word that has also come to mean spirits or goblins... '...[C]ertain large trees, majestic in their branching and remarkable because of their great age[, have been held in awe]. As they grow old, they become ling [full of spiritual power]... In China, any old object, animate or inanimate, can rise to the ranks of the spirits as it grows older, even if it is a statue, a stone, or a block of metal.' ...All these objects share the nature of gu-jing [ku-ching], "old essences." At the end of a thousand years, the essence of blood is changed into a precious stone and that of a pine tree into yellow amber... Jing [ching] means the quintessence of materials that have gone through a refining process. It is white rice, distilled alcohol, purified metal[, and the non-ejaculated sperm in men]. Thus, old objects are remarkable for the concentration of their properties and for the transformation of their ordinary qualities into spiritually powerful, precious, or medicinal properties. Old trees and ancient stones characterize the sites depicted in the pagoda enclosures of cults dedicated to healing, health, longevity, and posterity -- the supreme desiderata of the Far East. A gu-shu [ku-shu] (old tree) is also the term for a twisted, strange, dwarf tree growing in a miniature garden... To cultivate such a miniature garden in one's own home brings [one in contact with the old essences which leads to] longevity and the shining, firm skin of one in the full vigor of maturity...

"The spiritual powers, essences of trees (jing [ching])... are... female spirits with disheveled hair, also a characteristic of [Daoist] female mediums in China. The theme of disheveled hair is, in fact, closely associated with vegetation. 'Plants and trees live upside down; animals live horizontally; only people live upright. This is why humans have consciousness, plants have none, and animals have some, but only a bit.' The head and hair of plants are thus at their bottom (their roots), and this fact is tied to their lack of understanding. In addition, plants are the fur of the earth or the hair of mountains. But the theme of being upside down is the predominant one. No description of places full of wonders omits a note of any plants, or especially stones, that grow upside down [, i.e., especially stalagmites in caves]. This theme is clearly connected with the problem of the circulation of the sap, which has always preoccupied the Chinese. The [D]aoist who imitates animals and plants in his rituals achieves a state of unconsciousness and spontaneous life, which is that of nature itself. He hangs himself, like the trees, upside down, making his sperm go back into his brain. Trees that are old and dwarfed by twisting, which results from a technique used to slow down the sap and lengthen the vessels that it must pass through, are behaving like a [D]aoist who adopts the special gymnastic ritual."

-- Stein, pp. 96-98. Additional relevant material is then presented through pg. 101.

*Thanks to original source of this article:
  http://www.magiminiland.org/BigPicture/FeiJiangfang.html      -  

He is the actual author and "great Master of old," Robert J. Baran, bonsai researcher and historian.

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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Crossing the Stream

This is a very beautiful and moving poem about one's quest for that "place" of enduring Peace, great Beauty, and constant Joy far away from the pain and suffering of everyday life. The words and story flow effortlessly onward as the journey unfolds, gripping your attention to the very end. I just had to share this with you. Enjoy!


By Maku Mark Frank

I set out to cross the stream once long ago.
Or maybe it was yesterday.
Funny, time can be like that.
I remember gazing at the other side—
The grassy lowlands beckoning,
The cool, green forest foothills
Rising gently into snowcapped glory ...
I remember wondering of the sights up there—
Above the clouds,
Beyond all worldly cares.
Oh, how I longed to tread that path unseen!
Sloping toward sunlit transcendence ...
But first I had to cross that stream.

I found a raft of four logs lashed together,
Hidden in the reeds there, half submerged.
And though the vessel’s simple nature had me wondering,
That I could see the other side left me assured.
And so I poled my humble raft into deep waters
With thoughts already soaring high above.
And it was clear that I’d gone way too far to turn back
By the time I felt the current’s tug.

Down, down, down the river took me
Till I’d have gladly kissed the ground on either side,
Past sleeping beachside towns and sweeping bayous,
And out into the ocean deep and wide.
Then just as my raft’s lashings were unraveling
And I was wondering what worse fate I could have met
The wind and waves began to rise up
And the sun began to set.

There was a time I thought myself much stronger
With ample will and strength in store,
But down, down, down those waters pulled me
Till I could fight their power no more.
And as I sank into the blackness
I could think of nothing but that shore
From which I’d gazed up at those snowfields
Feeling in need of something more.

And so I died to all I’d once been.
I died as well to all my dreams.
And as I settled on the ocean floor,
I died to every separate thing.
For one last breath I viewed existence,
For one last cold and watery sigh –
Upon the bottom of the ocean
Immersed within a star-filled sky…

There was a time when crossing to the other side
Still seemed as real as each new breath,
Way back when sun and moon, and stream and tide
Were as distinct as life and death,
Before that death to all illusion
There upon the ocean floor,
Before realizing that just this moment
Is the long sought after other shore.


Monday, May 28, 2012

Buddha Space Meditation

Buddha and Peaceful Mediation
Buddha and Peaceful Meditation (Photo credit: Beverly & Pack)

This is a beautiful poem I stumbled upon while researching a particular work by the great Zen scholar and Roshi, D.T. Suzuki. I found it on a wonderful blog named, "Buddha Space", and you can see much more by clicking the title below. There is great Wisdom within these words so please take your time and "see" the Way. Enjoy!


Buddha Space Meditation

Meditating on a daily basis can be a wonderful thing to do. It helps the mind to let go of its pet likes and hates and open up to the way things are right now. It enables awareness to see thoughts as thoughts, emotions as emotions, opinions as opinions, memories as memories, and sensations as sensations. In this plain knowing, identification with these various stimuli is loosened, even completely abandoned, and then the bright nature of the mind - 'Buddha Space' - comes to the fore, lighting up experience with a calm gaze: 

Each moment merges into the next,
falling out of a nothingness
that cannot be grasped
between the whistle of birdsong
and the wind gushing from a fan
that tickles against the skin.

Thoughts are born into clarity,
then pop like mental bubbles
dissipating into the void of now
which is the very Wisdom Eye
of Buddha, forever awakened.

Silence washes everything clean,
an endless ocean of serenity
upon which each mind ship bobs,
before sinking into the depths
of this glorious flowing expanse.
Happily submerged in the deep.

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