By chance I came upon a song today, that I thought was very beautiful. The song is by Tenzin Choegyal and it is called Snow Lion. How is it that an air sung in a language so far beyond my ken, can make me feel: an inexpressible yearning, a deep separation, an intrinsic emptiness deep in the belly of my soul?
Following Tenzin Choegyal’s brief description, and encouraged by his smile, I imagined the snow lion and its elegant steps over snow topped peaks. What would it be like to be deep in those mountains and hear that Śūnyatā roar, that thunderclap cry, that silent yet deafening call to awakening? Would you cover your ears as dragons topple from the sky?
In my mind’s eye, as I listened to the song, I saw a foolish traveler, lost, and snow blind, stumbling through a blizzard on a snow covered plateau. His hands are raised over his face against the flakes that fly into his eyes, when he glimpses, hears, perceives, a snorted breath of steam. There amidst the endless white and through the swirling flurries, a hint of turquoise mane. The great white weight of it turns about: wonder made manifest. The snow lion tosses his mane and stomps. The snow lion is dancing…
The white snowlion, with its turquoise mane (seng dkar g.yu ral can), is the famous Tibetan emblem representing the snowy ranges and glaciers of Tibet. It symbolises power and strength and has served as a unifying national symbol for Tibetans during the modern era… Many Tibetan folk songs and proverbs mention the snowlion as inhabiting the highest mountains since he is the “king of beasts” (ri dwags rgyal po), towering over less powerful animals…Two of the most famous Tibetan culture heroes, Mi la ras pa and Ge sar, are said to have been raised by a white snowlioness, the queen of beasts, who also brings prosperity…
~ Mona Schrempf: “The Earth-ox and the Snow Lion“
The Snow Lion resides in the East and represents unconditional cheerfulness, a mind free of doubt, clear and precise. It has a beauty and dignity resulting from a body and mind that are synchronized. The Snow Lion has a youthful, vibrant energy of goodness and a natural sense of delight.
~ Rudy Harderwijk: “The Four Dignities“
Following the expulsion of all Chinese nationals from Tibet after the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1912, the Dalai Lama felt a need to create a new flag that represented his country’s aspirations for the future… The single snow lion was replaced by a pair of snow lions in front of a triangular white mountain. They hold aloft three blazing jewels representing the Buddha, his teachings, and the Buddhist monastic order. Below them is the swirling jewel of perfection. The rising golden sun symbolizes Tibet’s bright future, and the six rays of light radiating from it refer to the six tribes that originally constituted the people of Tibet. These splay across a blue sky that stands for the equality of everyone under heaven.
~ John Powers, David Templeman: Historical Dictionary of Tibet.
“In our daily life, we breathe, but we forget we’re breathing. The foundation of all mindfulness practice is to bring our attention to our in-breath and out-breath. This is called mindfulness of breathing, or conscious breathing. It’s very simple, but the effect can be very great. In our daily life, although our body is in one place, our mind is often in another. Paying attention to our in-breath and out-breath brings our mind back to our body. And suddenly we are there, fully present in the here and now…
…I’d like to offer you a practice poem you can recite from time to time, while breathing and smiling:
Breathing in, I know I am breathing in.
Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.
As my in-breath grows deep, My out-breath grows slow.
Breathing in, I calm my body, Breathing out, I feel at ease.
Breathing in, I smile, Breathing out, I release.
Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is a wonderful moment.
You can shorten this to the words below, one word or phrase per breath:
The present moment is the only moment that is real. Your most important task is to be here and now and enjoy the present moment.”
From Happiness: Essential Mindfulness Practices by Thích Nhất Hạnh, a comprehensive guide to living your daily life with full awareness, whether working, walking, eating, talking, simply sitting or brushing your teeth!
Hotei is an Asian folkloric figure originating in China where he is called Budai. His name 布袋 basically means cloth bag, and refers to the sack he always carries with him. In Japan he is one of the Seven Lucky Gods (七福神) and one tradition is that rubbing his belly will bring you good luck.
Traditionally, Hotei is depicted as fat, bald, wearing a simple robe and carrying a cloth bag. He is poor, carrying his few possessions in his sack, but always happy and content. When he meets Zen practioners he immediately demands of them a coin, but all the money he gains he uses to buy candies for children.
Kōan: Hotei would wander through the marketplace handing out candies to children. Once Hotei was confronted on the street by a Zen scholar who challenged him with the question: “What is the meaning of Zen?”
Hotei’s reply was to stop in his tracks, throw down his sack and remain motionless.
Dissatisfied with this response the scholar questioned him further: “What is the expression of Zen?”
Hotei immediately picked up his sack and carried on his way, laughing and handing out candies to the children that swarmed about him.
The Hotei sculpture above is part of an extensive collection belonging to Randy Channell and can be found at his cafe, Ran Hotei.
Oddly enough on the day that I visited the Ran Hotei cafe a large party of costumed children came in trick or treating for Halloween, and there in the midst of them all was Randy, for all the world just like Hotei, with a big smile on his face, handing out his candies.
The mind can go
in a thousand directions,
but on this beautiful path,
I walk in peace.
With each step,
a gentle wind blows.
With each step,
a flower blooms.
– Thích Nhất Hạnh
This is the first meditation in a book of 52 daily inspirations entitled Moments of Mindfulness by Thích Nhất Hạnh. “This book is designed so you can focus on one meditation as your practice for the week. You can carry this meditation with you throughout the whole week… The saying can help you to remain more mindful, aware, and happy even under difficult circumstances. You can read this meditation each morning right after waking up and again before you go to sleep. There are fifty-two meditations, so you can begin at any point in the year and continue with a different meditation each week for a full year.”
Here’s “this month’s word” as posted in all the classrooms around my school:
yoki tomo ga ari yoki nakama to
tomoni aru koto ha kono seinaru
michi no subete aru
My co-teacher mumbled something about it probably being from some sutra or other, but he basically had no idea. It is obviously old though. Notice the old fashioned よき instead of the current よい for “good”. Also notice the use of the kanji 善 for “good” instead of the alternatives 良い or 好い. To me this suggests a more moral sense of “good”; good as in “right” and “proper”. 聖なる道 literally means “sacred path” but in this case it probably means simply a good way to live – way meaning the Buddhist way of course.
Here’s my translation with vocabulary notes below:
to live the good way
with good friends and good companions
善き – よき = good
友 – とも = friend
仲間 – なかま = companion
ともに – together, in company with
聖なる – せいなる – sacred, holy
道 – みち- path, way
すべて – everything, all
Very often these aphorisms from Buddhist scripture can seem like obvious common sense. Still, it’s good to remind yourself of these things and bear them in mind as you go about your day. This one is posted up in my school staffroom.
ayamachi wo shiteki suru hito ha gai no arika wo shiraseru hito
あやまち ayamachi – fault or mistake 指摘する shiteki suru – point out
人 hito – person
害 gai – harm, hurt, damage, injury
ありか arika – place, whereabouts, hiding place
知らせる shiraseru – causative of shiru – to know, understand, feel
Those who point out the faults of others, are telling you where
their own affliction lies.
Simple pop psychology? At first glance this seems similar to Mr. Shakespeare’s sonnet 121: “they that level at my abuses reckon up their own”, however, the emphasis is a little different. The narrative voice of the sonnet is speaking defensively in response to criticism: “I am that I am” etc. The sutra however, is asking us to reinterpret the act of criticism as a cry for help. People are critical because they are unhappy and insecure in themselves and perhaps it gives them some small comfort, a little ego boost perhaps, to point out another’s perceived inferiority. It’s that little voice inside your head that says “I might be an idiot, but I’m not as stupid as that guy!” We’ve all done it, eh? A wise person though, realises that the act of criticism is actually a way of broadcasting your own problems to the world. Now, if I can keep this in mind, will I be able to turn another’s negativity around and use it positively to understand them better? And conversely, will I be able to keep my own mouth shut? (!) This sutra is asking us to feel compassion towards those who basically we don’t really like very much. It’s a tricky one. And irksome. But it’s true.
I’m off to England for two weeks as of tomorrow. I may be able to post occasionally while home – but I wouldn’t bank on it.
This is a line from the Buddhist sutras I’ve seen posted up around my school recently.
滴の水でも果ては甕を満たす shizuku no mizu demo hate ha kame wo mitasu
滴 shizuku – a drop, a drip
水 mizu – water 果て hate – the end
甕 kame – a jar, a jug 満たす mitasu - fill
Even dripping water, eventually fills a jar.
This follows on nicely from the last post: 千里の行も足下に始まる. Whereas that message was about the importance of getting started on something, this message is on the importance of continuing. Keep up your efforts on a regular basis, and though you may not see any dramatic progress, you will eventually be satisfied with your achievements.
This is the 今月のことば or word for the month at my school:
千里 senri – a thousand ri (a ri is a measure of distance equivalent to 4km).
行 kou – as a verb this kanji means go, but here as a noun we can say journey
も mo – also, even
足下 ashimoto – feet but more probably here step
始まる hajimaru – begin
Here’s my translation:
Even a journey of a thousand leagues starts with one foot forward.
Whatever task you undertake, no matter how great it may seem, that first step forward to get yourself going is very important.
We haven’t had one of these for a while. Here’s this month’s meditation from Hozouji.
心の安穏こそ、身の極楽 Kokoro no annon koso, mi no gokuraku
心 kokoro – can mean heart, but also mind or soul
安穏 annon – peace, quiet, tranquility
こそ koso – used for emphasis
身 mi – body or self
極楽 gokuraku – (heavenly) bliss, the Buddhist Pure Land or Paradise.
身も心も is an expression used to talk about body and soul, and the use of both here gives the meditation internal balance. However, the use of こそ throws the weight of importance onto the first part of the couplet: 心の安穏 – the heart’s tranquility. Does this imply that rather than chasing some heavenly paradise, we should first place greater emphasis on attaining peace of mind? Would attaining tranquility in the here and now, bring heavenly bliss to our bodily selves? I’m not sure! Here’s a clumsy translation:
It’s peace of mind, that’s the self’s bliss!
Perhaps my mentor Masaya will come to my rescue and give me his thoughts…
Update:Later that same evening Masaya wrote to say:
I looked at the poem you posted. This one is very simple. It’s about body and mind.
From the Zen perspective, body and mind are one. So, peace of mind means peace of body.
In this poem, 身 means “body” rather than “self”.
It’s peace of mind, that’s the body’s bliss.
I like reading these poems. Thanks for letting me know.