In this video, John talks about visual imagery in the Mahayana sutras. Nowadays this can strike us as confusing – obstructing us from getting to the clear ideas we expect to be there. However, early Buddhism grew up in an oral culture without written records. Then, hearing was associated with intellect since this was how the sutras were transmitted and debated. By contrast, sight was associated with a kind of wholeness coming all at once without the mediation of the intellect. The imagery of the Pranjnaparamita sutras, then, is not making fantastical claims about the nature of reality. It’s a description of the ways in which different beings can see, in the full meaning of this.
Prior to sitting we might imagine that awareness is a kind of thinking, and that the purpose of meditation is to purify the mind. This creates an urge to banish intrusive or banal thoughts.By giving awareness to specific sensations in our head – our head, not our mind – we notice it’s impossible for a thought and an awareness of something sensate to exist at exactly the same time. The thought is not destroyed. But it’s experienced as something energetic – it’s embodied. By reconciling the mind with the head in this way we can then extend it throughout the body, resolving the mind-body dualism.
In this video John discusses the meaning of ‘gassho’ – why do we bow? He looks at different explanations and connects it to Dogen’s reformulation of ‘koan’. In this view, a koan is the expression of the reality of this person, not some universal truth. And so with us when we bow, it is this person fully expressing themself in this karmic position.
In this video John discusses Nirvana. Understanding the meaning is subtle partly due to issues of translation, but also interpretation. Here John discusses how we can understand it through attending to the originating metaphor.
Nagarjuna once wrote, “Emptiness wrongly understood is like picking up a poisonous snake by the wrong end”. In this video John unpacks some of the meaning contained in this simile, while also helping us to engage with emptiness in our own practice, without getting bitten.
In this video John talks about the Buddhist concept of emptiness as an antidote to the habitual clinging and grasping we tend to unconsciously engage in.
The state of emptiness has often been depicted using various metaphors, one common one is the dream. That is to say, our experience is not simply an illusion, yet it is also true that our experience cannot be grasped. And because it cannot be grasped, it can be fully lived.
In the Buddhist Sutras one can find many ways in which the Buddha and his teachings have been described, one of the most persistent ways has been as a good physician, deftly prescribing just the right medicine for the patient at that particular time.
In this video, John explores this quite interesting way of describing the buddha and his teachings, which contrasts with early Abidharma attempts to create a complete philosophical system out the Buddha’s teachings.
The tendency to want to grasp for an explanatory schema is similar to our tendency to grasp our desires or fantasies. In this case, seen from the point of view of the Buddha as a physician, it is like we are swallowing the prescription instead of the medicine.