Tea House

Daily Perspectives and Stories on Buddhist Trends, People, and Ideas

Month: March 2017

The Language of Flowers: Flower Artist Masao Mizukami

Grace Ko

Mizukami’s flower arrangement at Hong Kong Flower Show 2017. Image courtesy of Sally Tsui

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand; and a Heaven in a Wild Flower; hold Infinity in the palm of your hand; and Eternity in an hour,” said English poet William Blake. Japanese flower arranging emphasizes interaction with the natural world to reach enlightenment. Japanese flower artist Masao Mizukami finds this spiritual and creative language in flowers and nature.

Flowers are emissaries of nature, inspiring us to see and appreciate beauty in the world. Masao Mizukami is a master of Japanese flower arranging and he finds a creative language in the arrangement of flowers with natural settings.

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Blissful Wisdom as a Key to Open the Mind

Lyudmila Klasanova

Yab-yum representation of Kalachakra and his consort Vishvamata. Drawing by the author.

Vajrayana or Tantrayana Buddhism is unique among other Buddhist traditions with the acceptance of the body and the sensual experience as a source of knowledge and great spiritual power. The human body is honored as a sacred temple and sexuality is considered an important part of the path to enlightenment. As part of the most profound teachings of Buddha, the tantric Buddhism embraces desire, passion and ecstasy as an integral part of the spiritual path. According to Vajrayana the powerful emotions can be cultivated by immersion into them and not by their suppression. Because feelings are the most powerful motivating forces of the human nature, they should not be avoided but directed to the ultimate goal of final liberation.

In the concepts of Vajrayana Buddhism the enlightenment is possible when the male and female principles are combined in harmonious whole, which is the key to the spiritual perfection. The essence of Buddha is perceived as non-dual and in order to express this concept the Tantric Buddhism uses the unity of sexual opposites, presented as a union of male and female body. Their physical union is associated directly with the achievement of the higher spiritual reality. The female nature is associated with the transcendental wisdom (Skt. prajna, Tib. sherab), which is the direct awareness of reality. The male nature is related to the compassion for all beings (karuna, nyingje). This great compassion is perceived as a natural manifestation of the transcendental wisdom, as well as a skillful method (upaya, thab) to achieve it. It is assumed that through the union of the feminine aspect of wisdom with the masculine principle of the active compassion the perfect Buddhahood is being achieved.

This union is represented visually by two deities in sexual embrace, known in the Tibetan Buddhism as yab-yum, literally meaning father-mother. The mother principle represents the wisdom, experienced and taught by Buddha and the father principle – the natural expression of this insight as the great compassion. The sexual metaphor is used to denote the highest stage of the Vajrayana practice in which polarity and discrimination don’t exist, while the truth is indivisible. This state of oneness leads to rapid development of the mind by using the experience of bliss (sukha, dewa).

Yab-yum representation of Amitayus and his consort Tsendali. Drawing by the author.

Using spontaneous great bliss to realize emptiness (shunyata, tongpa nyi) is essential practice of Tantric Buddhism. The union of bliss and emptiness (detong), related to the harmony of the male and female principles, is the Vajrayana’s supreme path to perfect enlightenment. This blissful wisdom is a key to open the mind to its hidden potential and liberate it from the delusions that create pain.

In the endless play of spirit and matter,
Form and emptiness, wisdom and compassion
Everything is one.
Reaching this oneness, the polarity is united
And we are able to pass through the limitations and go beyond. 

The union of body, speech and mind is a cosmic act,
Transmission of light between the worlds
That reveals the sparks of the primordial wisdom.
The wisdom that realizes emptiness
And the bliss that dissolves conceptions.
Enter in this holy space of union!

Yab-yum representation of Vajrasattva and his consort Vajragarvi. Drawing by the author.

Amitabha All Around Me

Massimo Claus

Amitabha is to me the air I breathe, the sounds I hear, the colors I see, the music of the sea, the chant of a child. I saw Amitabha among the flowers of a cherry-tree and in my stupidity feeding my fears.

Shandao is His hand approaching me, so I chant the Sacred Name in order to see and feel in a better way. One can see the colors of Pure Land by listening to the sounds hidden in the Name. They will show up just for a moment and you won’t be able to hold them.

Namo Amitabha!

Moonscape Riders: Spirit Steeds

Raymond Lam

A young girl discovers a magical secret entombed within an ancient grotto in the Chinese desert. What wonders will reveal themselves to her as she sets out to discover a mysterious secret of the long-lost Tangut Empire?

(Link to part 2 here)
(Link to part 3 here)
(Link to Water’s Moon, Mirror’s Flower)

It was nightfall when Xiaomao had reached her remote destination, a distance beyond the abandoned caves of Mogao in the desert. She was exhausted, sweating and sore in her baggy pants and furry coat, with strands of ebony hair flying loosely from loosened gaps in her turban. But when she finally glimpsed the edge of a deep and spacious canyon and the quiet trickle of a stream, she knew she had made it. Her weary pace quickened, suddenly imbued with new energy and hope. She felt close enough to unwind the cloth around her head. “Come on, Rong Rong,” she groaned, tugging gently at the nose peg of the sleepy camel behind her. “We’re almost there.”

Rong Rong, who had been raised by Xiaomao since his days as a calf, snorted tiredly but obeyed. He and his master hurried to the edge of the canyon. What Xiaomao saw took her breath away: a long, flowing river with the color of dark silt, with a long row of elm trees along the embankment. “This is why they call it Yulin,” she said to Rong Rong. “The grove of elms. And there—” She jabbed her calloused finger at the dark, human shaped holes strategically occupying various spots along the cliffs. “—are the Tangut caves. There must be a trove of treasures and art the old men back in Beijing would die for.”

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Who is ill?

Ratnadevi

When I tell people that I’ve had a cold for over 5 weeks, I often hear: ‘Oh – there is lot of that going round , I know several people who have been coughing for weeks.’ Being reminded of the fact that I am not alone in my plight is reassuring. We are all part of the family of humans whose bodies are vehicles for the propagation of the most successful breed on earth: micro organisms such as viruses and bacteria.

But we can’t rely on others alone for compassion and reassurance. How can we be our own best counsel and friend? Here is an example of an inner dialogue, where I try to meet my need for empathy…

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Postcard from Raymond: The Phoenix and the Lion

Medieval China. The Tang dynasty has been toppled and from the chaos rises an incredible woman with a monastic courtier helping to pull the strings. The brilliant, tenacious, and fearless Wu Zetian (624-705) was China’s first and only empress and her alliance with one of the most powerful monks of the day, Huayan preceptor Fazang (643-712), was a theocratic marriage unlike any other. Mindful of Confucian bias against her and in search of religious legitimation, she styled herself as a “chakravartin,” a Buddhist monarch, and Fazang helped sanction her sovereignty, promote her reputation as a bodhisattva, and undermine and suppress her enemies both in and beyond China.

Fazang personally taught to Wu Zetian a performative metaphor using a lion made of gold. The lion was the cosmos and its various parts the phenomena of reality. The gold represented emptiness. The lion clearly had a mane, teeth, claws and eyes, but the essential “what” of the lion, gold, was the same. Differences are all superficial in the integrated, interconnected universe of Buddhism.

This alliance ended unhappily when Fazang threw his lot in with his patron’s conspirators. In 705 he forced her to relinquish the Dragon Throne. For a while, this throne had been straddled by a true phoenix. On her deathbed, the former empress felt hurt and betrayed by Fazang, whom she had trusted for so long. Yet Fazang saw himself as saving Buddhism from being identified by the upcoming emperors as a rogue religion for a woman who would be seen by Confucians, however justly or unjustly, as an illegitimate usurper.

Their tragic story is a classic and emotional tale of Buddhism’s pressure under Confucianism, the “damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t” status of women, and how an ex-concubine and a monk tried to navigate the hypocrisies and fickleness of imperial power… even if it cost them each other.

Explore more with us at Buddhistdoor Global, your doorway to the Buddhist world and your source for Dharma journalism. Join our BDG Group on Facebook and follow our blog to brighten up your week with more postcards and light snippets of spiritual reflections!

Acclamation from the Buddhist Community: West Bengal Gets a Holiday on the Day of Buddha Purnima

BD Dipananda

On 15 February, Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal, India, declared “Buddha Purnima” as a state holiday this year onward. The Buddha Purnima usually falls on the full moon in the month of either in April or May in the Gregorian calibration which marks the important events of the Buddha’s life: his birth, enlightenment and great demise (mahaparinibbana). This year the day falls on 10 May.

The Buddha Purnima is one of the biggest religious festivals of the Buddhist community in the world. Although India has been celebrating this important day for centuries, except the gazetted holiday in all Indian Central Government departments, the celebration did not turn into an official occasion in West Bengal until Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced Buddha Purnima as the state holiday.

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