We usually translate the word bodhisattva as “enlightening being”. Bodhi means to enlighten or to wake up, and sattva means being – and it is important to note that these words are both active verbs. Apparently, the word sattva also implies a wish to do something great or even heroic: bodhisattvas have a grand desire to awaken everyone. Although Buddhism teaches us to let go of desires, it has never been the plan to drop them all, and there is one particular desire that we are encouraged to foster. Or, you could say, we are supposed to funnel all our desires into one: the desireRead More →

The Buddhist Mahayana sutras are very precise and detailed narratives of our life, even if at first they may not come across like that at all. The Pali Canon scriptures have a rather practical bent most of us can relate to relatively easily: the Buddha gives advice on a wide range of issues that, in general, seems highly conducive to living a just and fair life. But the Mahayana sutras paint such a grand and colourful spectacle of buddhas and bodhisattvas, all engaging in such mysterious events, that we may feel a little lost at times. We’re lifted out of our familiar individual environment andRead More →

However hard we shout, silence cannot be destroyed. It is always there, throughout space and time. Sounds come and go but silence remains unmoved; it can even be found in the loudest voice. We may not necessarily notice, but all sounds – even the most irritating noise –  carry with them pristine silence: it is the substance of everything that can be heard. So, we don’t need to wait until everything is completely still. It is very much possible to hear silence while somebody is talking. But it is easier when listening to people who have themselves realized that all sounds carry silence, as suchRead More →

During our busy daily lives, we may not always be aware of all the different voices that are deep within us. But during the stillness of zazen, some of these voices may take us by surprise and suddenly speak up – sometimes even with a great sense of urgency. They may be exciting and exhilarating, they could be scary or depressing, or they might even be plain boring. In fact, they can contradict each other quite vehemently, and the result is often a confusing cacophony that is hard to make sense of. After a while the question may come up, which of those voices representsRead More →

We mostly think of time as something that passes, moment after moment, marking one event after the other in a sequential order. The older we get, the more we seem to become aware of this, as if slowly but surely our time is running out. Yet we have all probably experienced moments, however brief, when time just seemed to drop away or didn’t exert any of its usual limitations. And Zen practice can deepen this exhilarating experience. If we are fully present – right here, right now – time stretches out in all directions simultaneously and seamlessly includes past, present, and future. There is nothingRead More →

不思量底   / fu shi ryo tei / Think not-thinking. 如何思量   / nyo ka shi ryo / How do you think not-thinking? これ非思量なり  / ko re hi shi ryo nari / Beyond thinking. These three famous sentences in Dogen Zenji’s Fukanzazengi are quoted from a dialogue between the Chinese Zen master Yaoshan Weiyan (751-834) and one of his students: When Yaoshan was sitting, a monk asked him, “What do you think when you sit?” The master said, “I think of not-thinking.” The monk asked, “How do you think of not-thinking?” The master said, “Beyond thinking.” 非思量   / hi shi ryo, in particular, has been the subjectRead More →

Last month I was suddenly hit by a strong sense of nostalgia. In general, my thoughts seem to be more directed towards the future than the past; we are such pioneers in Buddhism and I often feel as if our main job is to develop a practice model for the next generation. But, of course, the month of December lends itself quite naturally to reflecting on the days gone by. And, in my case, getting older may have something to do with it too: there is just more and more to look back on. Looking back is something that seems to happen to most ofRead More →

In the realm of emptiness size doesn’t matter. The whole universe fits easily into a grain of rice. That also means that even a tiny glimpse of emptiness can have huge effects. I came to think of this again when contemplating a small meteorite stone sitting amidst the massive blocks of granite that make up ancient Inca walls in Cusco, Peru. Those big rocks fit together so perfectly that they do not leave any gap. Yet it is said that such a little stone is indispensable – without it, the whole wall would fall apart. The world is so full nowadays and often feels disjointed.Read More →

The Ancient Way is the Way of the Ancients, the path of all Buddhas and Ancestors. They paved the Way, so that we can follow. This means that, essentially, we are followers of the Way. The Ancient Way gives us direction on how to navigate our life and not lose sight of what deserves our highest priority. And we are not the first ones to tread this path – even Shakyamuni Buddha himself is said to have been preceded by other Buddhas, stretching back in time beyond anyone’s memory. This can give us the faith to continue even when the going gets tough, as thereRead More →

When I first turned to Buddhist practice, family members and friends had a hard time understanding. My dad even assured me that he had checked our genealogical line as far back as he could – which was about five hundred years – and had found out that our family had been devout Catholics all along. According to him, I was the first one to change religion. Perhaps that was not completely true: somewhere deep in my heart still lives the boy who attended mass and went to communion, and when returning to St. John’s cathedral in my home town of Den Bosch every few years,Read More →