A Buddhist MOOC

Buddha

A MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course. Since around 2012 they have begun to flourish on the Internet. There are several platforms (e.g. Coursera, edX, Udacity, and others). The general concept is to offer distance learning, typically free of charge,  to a massive international student body. MOOCs often include video lectures, written assignments, quizzes, a discussion forum where students can interact and engage further with the material, and a final exam. On most platforms, and for most courses, if you complete the assignments and pass the exam you can earn a statement of completion indicating that you have successfully fulfilled the requirements for the course. Subjects have tended to focus on STEM fields (Science-Technology-Engineering-Mathematics), however, more and more other fields of study have been included (e.g. the Humanities).

I have completed several technology based MOOCs, and really enjoyed the experience. I began to wonder if there were any Buddhist specific MOOCs out there, so I did a search. Lo and behold, I found this:

Buddhist Meditation and the Modern World

Though my practice is much more traditional (i.e. I am not all that interested in “secular Buddhism”) this looks promising in terms of an online course. It will be interesting to see how it turns out, and to participate with other students. Buddhist Meditation and the Modern World begins January 19th 2015, and runs for 13 weeks. Enrollment is open now. This is a free class on the Coursera platform, offered by the University of Virginia.

Maybe I’ll see some of you there?

Brick by Brick

Bricks

Sometimes you have to build a house, brick-by-brick, and then take it down, brick-by-brick, and then build another, brick-by-brick, and then take that down, brick-by-brick. Sometimes this work might seem pointless and redundant, and you might think to yourself, “Why am I spending all this time in labor when I could be having fun, or sitting in meditation all day”? Yet if you persist, this house building, this labor and effort, can itself become your meditation practice, and a gateway to the Bodhi-Mind.

What did Marpa do when Milarepa requested he teach him the Dharma?

To my reckoning, part of the tantric method (e.g. in Vajrayana) is to transform our everyday experiences into modes that lead toward liberation and enlightenment. At the tantric level this includes things like our passions and emotions (anger, lust, greed, etc.), yet it also includes other aspects of our lives, like work. Rather than setting up a dichotomy of “spiritual” and “mundane”, and imagining these to be in conflict (e.g. meditation vs. work), the tantrika embraces all in a non-dualistic way. Everything is potentially a vehicle that can lead towards liberation and enlightenment.

MilarepaIn the case of Milarepa, before he went in search of the Dharma he used “black magic” in revenge against wrongs that were committed against his family. When compassion began to grow in his heart/mind, and he realized what he had done (the story goes, he killed an entire village with his magic), he decided to find a Dharma teacher. This turned out to be Marpa. It was Marpa who told Milarepa to build a tower, and then take it down, and then another, and another, and another (4 times in all, each time frustrating further, and giving contradictory instructions and promises). But it was this labor that was exactly the kind of preparation Milarepa needed. He later become one of the most beloved Buddhist saints, an extraordinary contemplative. A glimpse of his Bodhi-Mind was captured in his Songs of Milarepa. Worth a gander, if you haven’t read them.

Practice, It’s Up to Us

Many Doors

 

“The essence of the 84,000 bundles of doctrine is just to tame this wild mind, not letting it go under the influence of the afflictions–desire, hatred, and ignorance. When the mind is no longer polluted by afflictions or their latent predispositions, then its taming is complete. The aged should engage in a method suited for old age; the young, in one suited for youth; the learned, in a method suited for the learned, and those not so learned, in one suited for their abilities.”

[...]

“At this time, when we have a physical life-support of a human such that we are capable of many techniques and thoughts, it is very important to engage in [Dharma] practice. It is our own choice to have no belief, faith, interest, or wish to practice. Buddha did not forcibly say, “You must practice”. The great commentators will not bring guns and swords. We must ascertain the need for [Dharma] with reasoning. Once we want happiness and do not want suffering, we should engage in the means to achieve happiness and eliminate suffering. Practice is based on reasoning, not force; it is up to oneself.”

[From Deity Yoga, by H.H. the Dalai Lama]

Dharma, Rebirth, and the Scientific Method

Rebirth

“Suppose that something is definitely proven through scientific investigation, that a certain hypothesis is verified or a certain fact emerges as a result of scientific investigation. And suppose, furthermore, that that fact is incompatible with Buddhist theory. There is no doubt that we must accept the result of the scientific research.”

[From A Policy of Kindness by His Holiness the IVth Dalai Lama]

Commenting on the above quote from the Dalai Lama, author B. Alan Wallace writes the following in Buddhism and Science: 

“The Dalai Lama, however, offers an important caveat. He argues that it is critical to understand the scope and application of the scientific method. By invoking an important methodological principle, first developed fully as a crucial principle by Tsongkhapa (1357-1419), the Dalai Lama underlines the need to distinguish between what is negated through scientific method and what has been not observed through such a method. In other words, he reminds us not to conflate the two processes of not finding something and finding its nonexistence. For example, through current scientific analysis so far we may have not found evidence for rebirth, but this does not imply by any means that science has somehow negated the existence of rebirth.”

Master Dolpopa’s Mountain Doctrine

Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen

Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen

This has been on my wish list for a while now. Published in 2006, this is the first English translation of Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen’s masterpiece titled Mountain Doctrine wherein he gives precise teachings on the rangtong (self-emptiness) and zhentong (other-emptiness) views. I am currently re-reading The Buddha from Dolpo by Cyrus Stearns, which is excellent–both in offering a basic biography of Dolpopa as well as providing many of his arguments regarding Buddhanature and other teachings. Dolpopa was also a master of Kalachakra tantra, and is recognized as such even to this day by many of the Vajrayana lineages (not just the Jonang).

For those who are interested in Buddhadharma but have never heard about Dolpopa, I recommend checking him out (probably starting with The Buddha from Dolpo). Hopefully we will see more from Dolpopa in English, as his collected works are gaining attention in academia.

Other related books of interest:

The Buddha from Dolpo (by Cyrus Stearns)

The Essence of Other-Emptiness (by Jetsun Taranatha. Translated by Jeffrey Hopkins)

The Kalachakra Tantra: The Chapter on Sadhana Together with the Vimalaprabha Commentary (translated by Vesna A. Wallace)

Introduction to the Kalachakra Initiation (by Alexander Berzin)

Ornament of Stainless Light (translated by Gavin Kilty)

Resuming Posting…

After about a year of not posting to this blog I am now back and intend on posting semi-regularly again. My blogging (here, at least) was diminished, yet my Dharma practice has continued (which is the important part, I think).

After the teachings on Taranatha’s Lamrim, I also received teachings on Kalachakra. I won’t repeat the details of the latter since they are tantra level teachings, but I will say that they have really opened up the preliminary practices for me. I have also attended teachings (one session of a 4 part session) on Guru Yoga. My gratitude to Khenpo Choejor Gyamtso for his wisdom and kindness in sharing the Dharma to his students.

I have also recently been invited to attend a practice group that has formed at another center. There was one session already, which I missed, yet one friend shared her notes, and another friend called me to fill me in as best he could. I will be attending my first session in two days.

I plan on continuing the Lamrim series of posts on Vajra Vehicle. The next article in that series will be on “Contemplation 2 – The Difficulty of Obtaining a Precious Human Life with its Freedoms and Endowments”. I will also be making additional posts now and again, not specifically related to any series. These are all assigned the “Miscellaneous” Category (for those who use the Category links to order posts when reading content on Vajra Vehicle).

Cleaning – Externally and Internally

Spring Cleaning

It’s time to thoroughly clean my living space! There is a lot of inertia preventing me from doing this right now, so I have decided to transform the experience into an active form of meditation. As I wipe away the dust and grime I imagine I am cleaning the obscurations that cover the radiant clear light mind. As I rearrange the furniture I imagine I am ordering all the parts of my life that are in disarray. As I sweep, vacuum, and mop the floor I imagine I am preparing a sure foundation to stabilize my practice. As I wash the dishes I imagine I am ridding myself of the three poisons (ignorance, attachment, and aversion). At the end of the day I will have a clean and ordered space, and others who come to visit might feel more at peace here. I dedicate any merit accumulated through this practice to the benefit of all beings. #DharmaInEverydayLife

Three Poisons

Three Poisons

Three Poisons

What are the three poisons? Attachment, aversion, and ignorance (represented by the bird, the snake and the pig respectively). All forms of suffering can be traced back to one or more of these three. In very simplistic terms, attachment means clinging, desiring, wanting. If we are attached to something we want to hold onto it and not let go. We want to keep it for ourselves. We are sad or angry if it goes away. Aversion means we do not want something, we want it to go away, we want it removed from our presence. We are sad or angry if it remains. Ignorance means not knowing, a lack of clarity, not seeing things as they really are.

Dharma is full of antidotes for these poisons. Find a dharma-gate that works for you, and enter in. The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas stand before us all, encouraging us to become a fully awakened being, a Buddha.

Introduction to the Pledged Bodhicitta Actions for Training and the Root Bodhisattva Vows

Shantideva

Shantideva

 

This is a series of Dharma teachings on ‘Introduction to the Pledged Bodhicitta Actions for Training and the Root Bodhisattva Vows’ by Dr. Alexander Berzin. It is worth a listen if you are interested in the topics of Bodhicitta and the Bodhisattva way of life.

Jonang Lamrim – Part 7 (A Suggested Method)

Buddha Shakyamuni

Buddha Shakyamuni

For ease of reference I have created this post which can be used for the opening and closing of each of the lamrim contemplations in this series. This is the suggested order for each session:

  1. Homage
  2. Offering 
  3. Seven-Branch Prayer (3 x’s)
  4. Lineage Supplication
  5. Lamrim Contemplation
  6. Dedication of Merit

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