What is the sound of one hand clapping?
When I was a young man I was privileged enough to take training in both Rinzai and Soto Zen. I loved the discipline and as always, the silence of meditation. Also it seems that I had a natural aptitude for koan study, and the understanding of these different doorways into deeper comprehension of life revealed themselves to me without very much effort on my part.
There was however one koan that I could not grasp. One of the big ones and famous for its place in Zen literature.
It was the great koan of Bankai about one hand clapping, considered perfect and a classic by other Masters from the moment of its creation.
I reflected upon this koan for a very long time and read and listened to many explanations.
'It's the sound of the deepest meditation,' was the most familiar conclusion. However, I did not feel that was the correct understanding and so I made a space in my life for this koan to live and stay with me.
Many, many years later I heard the full koan and only then did the understanding arise, and this really is the point.
If we don't have all the information we cannot fully comprehend what is in front of us.
If we don't have the full practice we are likely to miss something important.
In Dhamma training people are less and less inclined to be patient and want to be the teacher before they have been the disciple.
However, it is only by being the discipline that the Master has the opportunity to share their wisdom with us.
It is only by being the disciple that we have the opportunity to surrender to the practice of liberation.
It seems to me that Awakening rarely happens by chance, and that it takes a long time of unraveling the complexities of 'self' before it is completed.
Where there is fear and desire, there is self, and as fears and desires can be subtle and often easily defended and explained, we need the whole Dhamma practice to train ourselves to live a life free from their influence.
Bankai's koan is only a gift if we have all of it.
We all know the sound that two hands make when they clap together, but what is the sound of one hand clapping?'
Before we have everything, we actually have nothing.
Dhamma is the same. Taking the parts we like and thinking we have everything is not a complete practice and it is sure that something will be missed on our path.
There are no answers to koans, only the understanding of them. With this understanding, the light of liberation enters our life.
May all beings be happy.
The infinite sharing of Dhamma.
For ten years I had the greatest privilege to give Vipassana and Dhamma teachings in Budh Gaya, the town that has grown up around the place where tradition says Siddhartha Gotama realized his full enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree, and so earned the title, Buddha, in northern India.
I worked with my closest disciple Henry, at the International Meditation Centre offering ten day retreats to everyone who was interested enough to come.
Although the overall environment was one of love, there was a strong sense of discipline and the students were expected not only to follow the simple rules, but to commit to the practice and to give their best. This is the way to train.
I was also teaching free introductory courses of meditation at the Lotus Tank located in the main stupa every morning, once again to share the countless blessings I felt I had received from my own teacher.
I became known by the towns people as 'the guru with the loving heart' and by more famous western presenters of meditation as the 'hardest working Dhamma teacher in Budh Gaya.'
Even if it was sometimes exhausting, it never felt like work, it was always a privilege and an honor to share these simple if difficult teachings; live with love and be aware. In this way you will be happy and then share that happiness with all beings.
At the end of each retreat Henry and I would sit on the steps of the main building of the International Meditation Centre, drink a chai and reflect. What more could we do? How much more could we give? And back in Europe, how can we continue to serve people who want to actively pursue a true Dhamma practice?
Each time the same solution would arrive - a millionaire, that's what we need, a rich benefactor to establish a Dhamma centre for us, where people could come to train, to take a break from the world and once again find their balance in life.
This became our dream, but of course has never happened.
We were simple Dhamma people. We guarded our integrity and stayed true to the path of liberation. We did not court fame or search out celebrities to enhance our reputation although there were occasional opportunities for that, we simply offered Pure Dhamma training, season after season, year after year.
This was our blessed life. Standing firm and staying always true to the path and ethics of Dhamma.
Three years ago Henry died, still such a young man, with our dream unrealized, but I am ever optimistic. I present this message to the universe, not for me but for all devotees of Dhamma. A place where they would be welcomed to meet and share this beautiful way of love and awareness. Not a business, not something established for profit and the financial comfort of the teacher, but a place where people could come to let go of the world and establish a life in silence, even if only for a short time.
May all beings be happy.
In my mind the name of this lay monastery would be the Dhammachanda Dhamma Centre. Dhammachanda was Henry's disciple name, meaning 'passion or fire of Dhamma.'
This then would be a tribute and reminder of my friend and disciple who worked so selflessly to put Dhamma into the world.