Following the path of enlightenment
—Margaret M. Nava
It is Buddha’s birthday at the Bodhi Manda Zen Center in Jemez Springs, and the Hanamatsuri, or Flower Festival, is about to begin. The sonorous boom of a bronze gong reverberates through the Sutra hall as the 103-year-old Roshi (elder master) enters. A Butsudan table is set up in the front of the hall. On the table is a bowl of water with a golden Buddha statue sitting in it, two bamboo ladles, two candles, an incense burner, and a handkerchief. There are flowers everywhere. A thick layer of petals blankets the table; a spring basket hangs from the ceiling rafters; a floral Butsudan carpet lies on the tatami floor. Black robed monks and nuns kneel on cushions on both sides of the carpet. A gold robed Osho (priestess) approaches the Roshi, bows to show respect, and then walks to the table, lights the incense, and prostrates on the Butsudan carpet. The room is silent. The Osho rises, ceremoniously approaches the altar, pours water over the statue, and returns to the carpet. Throughout the ceremony, gongs, drums, and chimes are sounded, chants are incanted in Japanese and Sanskrit, and the monks and nuns carry out the time-honored ritual. Before the Roshi shares his dharma (wisdom), students and guests file past the Butsudan and participate in the water pouring ritual.
According to historic tradition, Prince Siddhartha Guatama, son of King Suddhodana and Queen Maya, was born in Lumbini, India sometime around 566 BC. When he reached the age of 16, his father arranged a marriage to a cousin, Yashodhara, who gave birth to a son, Rahula. Although lavished with extravagance and untold pleasures, Siddhartha became disillusioned with palace life. At the age of 29, he shaved his head, donned ragged robes, renounced his worldly lifestyle, and became a wandering monk. Spending six years traveling around India, he practiced asceticism, meditated, ate only roots, leaves, and nuts, and searched for the light of truth.
One day in May, Guatama sat beneath a Bodhi tree and observed the beautiful countryside. Flowers were blooming, and trees were putting out new leaves, but amidst all the beauty there was great suffering. A bird pecked at an earthworm, and an eagle swooped down to devour the bird. Deeply troubled, he wondered why one creature had to suffer for the sake of another. Later that the night, he was visited by Mara, the evil one, who tried to tempt him away from his virtuous life. Mara sent his beautiful daughters to lure the young man into pleasure, bolts of lightning and heavy rain to frighten him, and demonic armies to terrorize him. Resisting the pleasures and defeating the armies, Guatama gained great wisdom and understood that things are as they are because nothing is lost in the universe, everything changes, and there is a cause for every effect. This revelation was Siddhartha Gautama’s enlightenment, and from then on, he was called Shakyamuni Buddha, the Awakened One.
In the following years, Buddha shared his dharma with those who would listen. In a place called Deer Park, he set in motion the Wheel of Dharma by delivering his first sermon to a group of five disciples, teaching them that suffering is common to all, cravings are the cause of suffering, cravings must be eliminated in order to end suffering, and the way to eliminate cravings is to follow the Path of Enlightment. Together with the Buddha, the group became the first sangha (community of monks) and made thousands of converts. After his death in 486 BC, Buddha’s teachings spread throughout Central Asia, Sri Lanka, Tibet, Japan, and eventually into the United States.
Born in Japan’s rural Miyage Prefecture in 1907, Kyozan Joshu Sasaki Roshi, a Zen master in the Rinzai lineage, came to America in 1962 and moved into a small house in Gardena, California, where he served tea to all who were interested in learning about and practicing Tathagata Zen. When the house could no longer accommodate all his students, an abandoned Boy Scout camp in California’s San Gabriel Mountains was leased from the Forest Service and transformed into a Rinzai Zen monastery and training center. In the early 70s, an old Catholic monastery on the Jemez River was purchased and the Bodhi Manda Zen Center was established. People from around the world come to this majestic high desert region to practice Zen Buddhism by taking part in samu (work,), banka (chanting), and zazen (meditation) in a monastic setting.
Jiun Hose and John Taber, left
Jiun Hosen, Osho and vice-abbess of the center, says, “A traditional Zen monastery usually includes a founder’s hall, a dharma hall (foundation hall), a zendo (meditation hall), and a kuri (kitchen). I’ve been here since 1980 and was ordained an Osho in 1988. The foundation or sutra hall had been a dream for 20 years, and thanks to our many donors, was completed in 2003. In three more years, it will be our 40th anniversary, and for that, we hope to be able to build a proper Buddhist library. We also plan to build a new zendo, giving up the present space for public activities only. Each of these buildings has its own unique function and its own set of customs that contribute integrally to the whole. Those familiar with the center know that Bodhi Manda has worked for 30 years to provide a genuine place of practice, as taught by Joshu Roshi.”
Although closed to all public activities for formal Zen training in April, May, October, and November, the center welcomes respectful visitors to participate in various other events throughout the year. These include teishos (dharma talks), zazen-kai (weekend retreats), the Three Great Cleaning Days preceding the New Year’s programs, Hanamatsuri (Buddha’s birthday,) in May, and a summer seminar sponsored by the University of New Mexico.
Held in June, the UNM Summer Seminar on Buddhism provides a unique opportunity to pursue the academic study of Buddhism in the context of living in a Buddhist monastery. Lectures by distinguished speakers are balanced by guidance in Buddhist practice by monks and nuns trained under Joshu Roshi, and students develop a deeper understanding of the fundamental unfixed nature of the self and the world.
John Taber, professor of philosophy at UNM, supervises the seminar. “This is the 35th year for this course. I helped organize the program with some of the people here at Rinzai-ji, and we selected the speakers together. Besides Roshi, we will have five speakers this year: Professors Hal Roth of Brown University, Sara McClintock of Emory University, Helen Baroi of the University of Hawaii, Professor Emeritus James Austin of the University of Missouri, and Professor Emeritus Noritoshi Aramaki of Japan’s Kyoto University.”
A nominal tuition includes vegetarian meals and housing in dormitories that hold four to eight people per room. Academic credit in philosophy and religious studies is available for both UNM and non-UNM students. Non-UNM students who want to receive credit for the course will need to enroll as nondegree students at the University of New Mexico when they register.
To many, Buddhism goes beyond religion and is more a philosophy or way of life, a practice of contemplation and inquiry that teaches that the solutions to our problems are within our own selves—not outside. Buddha asked his followers not to take his word as true, but rather to test his teachings for themselves. In this way, each person makes his or her own decisions and takes responsibility for their own actions and understanding.
For more information about the summer seminar being held June 6 through 18, log on to www.summerseminar.org. For information about Bodhi Manda Zen Center, visit bmzc.org.
Strange, but true
—Bill Sones and Rich Sones, Ph.D.
Q. Million-dollar puzzle: It’s been reported that members of the 2003 class of St. Vincent-St. Mary High School (Akron, Ohio) earned an average of more than $200,000 the year following graduation. So, you savvy statistical types—take a shot at the reason... a) The school had a superior faculty, b) Many of the students eschewed college and went straight into better paying jobs, c) The students were bigger fibbers on earnings surveys, or d) Other.
A. Check “Other” by the name of LeBron James, the highly paid Cleveland Cavaliers basketball superstar and St. Vincent-St. Mary alumnus. In 2003, James graduated and went directly to the pros, with salary, bonuses, and advertising contracts estimated at about $24 million per year. Since the graduating class numbered 116, the average annual income per student ($24 million divided by 116) exceeded $200,000!
People often confuse the terms “average” and “median” (as many numbers above this figure as below), which are totally different statistical animals. It takes only one phenomenal “outlier” to make a mockery of an average, as in the St. Vincent-St. Mary case. The median here would have been more defensible and a far lower figure.
Q. When dedicated researchers start “horsing around” with genomics, what might they turn up?
A. Thoroughbred horse owners now have a new tool for predicting how their nags will do on the track, if they’re willing to pony up 1000 pounds ($1500) for a DNA analysis by Irish company Equinome, says Constance Holden in Science magazine. It tests for a “muscle factor” derived from the Horse Genome Project (HGP) to see if the animal has compact muscles attuned to rapid sprints or a leaner body more suited for endurance. Genetics researchers at University College Dublin reported that horses with two copies of a particular gene variant were more likely to win short races up to 6.5 furlongs (1.3 kilometers), whereas horses with other variants of the gene did better in races up to 13.5 furlongs (2.7 km).
According to the HGP, breeders have already adopted genetic tags for paternity, coat color, and diseases, but performance prediction is new ground. Equinome co-founder Emmeline Hill reports breeders are now asking about genes for temperament, but that’s not in the offing. “However, we are investigating gene associations for other parameters such as aerobic capacity.”
Q. Don’t mock the mockingbirds or else. Or else what?
A. These birds can learn to recognize you, and they hold a grudge, says Michael Abrams in Discover magazine. When biologist Doug Levey had an accomplice intruder disturb nests of mockingbirds, standing by an egg-filled nest for 15 seconds and then touching it, the birds learned to pick out this threatening individual from a crowd. When other nonthreatening humans approached, they were ignored, but every time the intruder came by, the birds left the nest to dive-bomb the malefactor. “The first time a male mockingbird drew blood on the back of my neck, I was shocked,” said intruder Monique Hiersoux. Mockingbirds are strongly aware of humans, adds Levey. “We might be walking along on campus and see a mockingbird perched on a branch and think, ‘Oh, that bird is minding its own business.’ But what we don’t realize is that we ARE its business.”
Q. In a world where so much gets chewed over on a daily basis, it’s not surprising that you can even read tips on how to win an eating contest. So, how?
A. We’re not necessarily recommending this, but with good technique you, too, can become a gustatory champion, say world record holder “Crazy Legs” Conti and Johns Hopkins professor of medicine Gerard Mullin, as reported by Jen Trolio in Wired magazine:
1. First off, pick the right food. Rookies should cut their teeth on soft, single component items like meatballs, funnel cakes, and grits. Gradually work up to multi-textured bread-and-meat combos like hamburgers and hot dogs.
2. Eat strategically rather than just shoveling it in. With pizza, for instance, try the “reverse-fold,” with the cheese on the outside acting as a lubricant and protecting your mouth from the abrasive crust.
3. For unimpeded consumption, breathe through your nose. A mouth breather risks choking and wastes precious seconds stopping to gasp for air.
4. Divide to conquer. “Reversing food” means instant disqualification, so suppress your gag reflex by imagining the chow in smaller, more manageable portions. “Drink water to push vittles to the small intestine and free up your gut.”
Q. Why does lovely music bring on goose bumps?
A. The hair-raising power of music is linked to adrenaline, with goose bumps occurring when tiny muscles in the skin (“erector pili”) contract and make hair follicles stand up, says Science Illustrated magazine. The hormone is triggered by various stimuli, from feeling cold to experiencing a strong emotion, such as when listening to moving music.
The semi-comic term “goose bumps” goes along with their uselessness, though they’re probably a remnant of our primate heritage. They are still useful for animals whose bodies are covered with fur. When these animals feel cold, goose bumps can make the fur stand up, creating a heavier layer of insulation around the body. “Goose bumps can also help animals ward off predators. Under threat, they release adrenaline, which makes their hair rise and helps them look bigger—and scarier.”