Karuna (in Pali and Sanskrit) is usually translated in English as “compassion” and the word has many different connotations. In Mahayana, it is seen as a quality that needs to be cultivated alongside Prajna (enlightening insight). Just like a bird can only fly by using both of its wings, aspiring bodhisattvas can make progress on the path only when they practice Prajna and Karuna together. Ideally speaking, Karuna is the natural expression of Prajna. In deep samadhi one can realize that there is no separation between self and other, and that this whole world is one single organic and vividly alive body. That enlightening insightRead More →

Last week, as we were chanting and bowing during a Fusatsu (atonement) ceremony, I was suddenly struck by a strong sense of beauty. Everything seemed to happen at the right time, in the right place, with the right group of people. It was as if the whole room were bowing and chanting with us – the altar, the statues, the candles, the walls, the calligraphies, the tatami mats, and the bells. Even the trees I could see through the windows seemed to be tuning in very happily. If we ever needed a reason for setting up a temple, here it was. Of course, temples areRead More →

Monastic life is often seen as a withdrawal from the active world. But that may not necessarily be the case. I see it more as a lifestyle that allows for taking on responsibilities that can easily be overlooked yet are undeniably part of our human existence. While staying in Bhutan, somebody told me that in their culture everybody is considered to have both social and spiritual responsibilities. It’s just that for laypeople social responsibilities come first and spiritual responsibilities second, while for monks it is the other way around. Nowadays more and more people live in crowded cities, drive their kids to school, spend longRead More →

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 →