Dhammapada, a collection of verses of Shakyamuni Buddha
Seated Buddha, China, Tang dynasty (618-907) - Cleveland Museum of Art
When the wise person drives out
heedlessness with heedfulness,
having climbed the high tower of discernment,
he observes the sorrowing crowd –
as the enlightened man,
having scaled summit,
the fools on the ground below.
Did the father deceive his children?
“O Śāriputra! After attaining buddhahood I expounded the teaching extensively with various explanations and illustrations, and with skillful means (upāya) led sentient beings to rid themselves of their attachments.” *
Upāya is yet another word that isn’t translatable into English, but a very important one to understand. The most common translation is ‘skillful means.’ Others are: ‘method’ or ‘expedient means.’
In the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha uses the famous parable of the Burning House to explain why he uses upāya in his teachings.
The parable is about a father who owns an old house that has many rooms but only one narrow entrance door. The house is on fire and the father’s only thought is to save his children who are playing in the house. He thinks “I am capable of escaping through the burning entrance in safety, but my children are absorbed in play within the burning house and are not aware [of the fire], do not know, are not alarmed or terrified, and the fire is approaching them! They are not troubled about their suffering nor do they intend to leave the house.”
“Since the father already knew that his children were attached to various rare toys and unusual things that each of them liked, he said to them: The toys you are fond of are rare and hard to obtain. If you do not take them you will certainly regret it later. Right now, outside the house, there are three kinds of carts. One is yoked to a sheep, one to a deer, and one to an ox. Go play with them. Children! Run out of this burning house immediately and I will give you whatever you want!”
The children quickly run outside to claim their own special cart. But instead found three identical carts, each pulled by a beautiful white ox. Their contents exceeded even the children’s original expectations. They each received an equal treasure, without discrimination, the treasure of awakening.
Did the father deceive his children? The Lotus Sutra tells us ‘no.’
Upāya, or skillful means, saved the children from death. Upāya, used in the correct sense of the word, is used by one who has “attained immeasurable wisdom, insight, power and fearlessness…” The Sutra goes on to compare my life, and, your life, as being like the child in a decaying old house on fire.
The teachings of the Buddha, is to “rescue sentient beings from the fire of birth, old age, illness, and death, anxiety, sorrow, suffering, distress, delusion, blindness, and the three poisons of greed, hatred, and ignorance.”
We are now live in this burning house. What is it that we need to hear to escape and find that treasure that is even greater than the one promised to motivate us to leave?
If you don’t take care of the garden, it will grow full of weeds. Pretty flowers will bloom and vegetables won’t grow when there are too many weeds.
Your heart is like a garden. If you are greedy and want many things, your heart will become overgrown with weeds. Do you ever get mad and throw a temper tantrum when you don’t get what you want? Greed makes the weeds grow taller and hurts your heart.
Sometimes, you need to cut down the weeds in the garden. In the same way, it’s important that you clean your heart by controlling your grade. Be patient, and don’t ask for things you don’t need.
Discussion: everyone experiences greed and desire, but is also important to teach children the virtues of patience and self-control. If you readily cavemen to a child’s material demands, their gratification will only serve to escalate their greed. Once this grade builds up to untenable levels, the child’s heart will become again to a field spoiled by weeds. Buddha taught that boundless greed (overindulgence) is a representative worldly passion and source of suffering. Only by finding satisfaction in the present and disavowing a greedy heart can we live in peace.
Excerpts of Buddhist voices across teachings, across contients, across time.
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind
by Shunryu Suzuki
EXPERIENCE, NOT PHILOSOPHY “There is something blasphemous in talking about how Buddhism is perfect as a philosophy or teaching without knowing what it actually is.”
Although there are many people in this country who are interested in Buddhism, few of them are interested in its pure form. Most of them are interested in studying teaching or the philosophy of Buddhism. Comparing it to other religions, they appreciate how satisfying Buddhism is intellectually. But whether Buddhism is philosophically deep or perfect is not the point. To keep our practice in its pure form is our purpose. Sometimes I feel there is something blasphemous and talking about how Buddhism is perfect as a philosophy or teaching without knowing what it actually is.
To practice zazen with a group is the most important thing for Buddhism – and for us – because this practice is the original way of life. Without knowing the origin of things we cannot appreciate the result of our life’s effort. Our effort must have some meaning. To find the meaning of our effort is to find the original source of our effort. We should not be concerned about the result of our effort before we know it’s origin.
If the origin is not clear and pure, our effort will not be pure, and its result will not satisfy us. When we resume our original nature and incessantly make our effort from this base, we will appreciate the result of our effort moment after moment, day after day, year after year. This is how we should appreciate our life. Those who are attached only to the result of their effort will not have any chance to appreciate it, because a result will never come. But if moment by moment your effort arises from its pure origin, all you do will be good, and you will be satisfied with whatever you do.
Rev. Ron Miyamura will conduct his popular Introduction to Buddhism class in a “virtual” format.
When: Classes will be held via ZOOM on successive Wednesdays – May 5, 12, 19 & 26, June 2, 9, 16 & 23 at 7:00 pm.
Cost: There is no cost for the class and all are welcome to participate. If, however, you’d like to make a donation we suggest $30 for the 8 sessions (click to make a donation).
Registration: To register please contact the Temple office via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can contact Rev. Ron directly at email@example.com. A new Zoom link will be issued weekly to registered participants.