Photo of Taitaku Phelan Sensei

Lectures for Kids

by
Josho Pat Phelan

Our Original Face

Sometimes we talk about Buddha Nature, and there are lots of different words that have the same meaning as Buddha Nature, such as True Nature, Fundamental Nature, Unconditioned Nature, Original Nature, and Original Face. This is also called your "Original Face before your parents were born," but Original Face doesnít have anything to do with your physical face or head. A famous question that Zen Teachers would give to new students was, "What is your Original face before your parents were born?" People would practice with this by concentrating on this question. So, Buddha Nature, and True Nature, and so on, are lots of different ways of saying the same thing, but what they really mean canít be put into words. However, Buddha Nature, or your Original Face before your parents were born, can be experienced, and one reason people practice Zen is to experience their Original Face before their parents were born.

We are never separate from our Original Face. There is no place we can go where it wonít be. Our Original Face or Buddha Nature is inside, itís outside, in between, and everywhere all at the same time. Wherever we go, in whatever direction we look, we meet it. But we arenít always aware of it. In fact, most of the time we arenít aware of it. One reason people practice is to be aware of and experience their Original Face. Sometimes, when we are very still and are no longer thinking about things, we experience our Original Face.

Many religions believe in God, and different people have different ideas of what God is, but Buddhism is not based on believing in something. Buddhism is based on our actual experience, including the experience of our Original Face before our parents were born.

When we say the Refuges, "I take Refuge in Buddha" means "I take Refuge in my Original Face before my parents were born." So we take refuge in something beyond words and beyond our thinking. But taking refuge isnít exactly "doing something." To take refuge means to "return to," and when we take refuge in Buddha, we stop and return to our True Nature or Original Face. So, instead of doing something, we stop doing what separates us from, or hides, our Original Face.

Taking Refuge

I would like to thank the kids for joining us today and helping with service. Last time I talked about Original Nature or your "original face before your parents were born," which is another way of saying "Buddha." The word "Buddha" can mean either the name of the person, Shakyamuni Buddha, who lived in India and awakened sitting under the Bodhi Tree, or it can mean our original nature, our fundamental nature, which we sometimes call our original face before our parents were born.

One Buddhist practice is taking refuge. The Refuges are, "I take refuge in Buddha, I take refuge in Dharma, I take refuge in Sangha." When we take refuge, usually we take refuge in Buddha as our original nature rather than taking refuge in the man called Buddha who lived a long time ago. But what does it mean to take refuge in Buddha? How do you take refuge? To take refuge is to practice and investigate taking refuge by bringing up the question, "How do I take refuge?" or "What does taking refuge mean?".

Refuge has several aspects in Zen. It can mean to return to or come back to, i.e., I come back to my original nature, my fundamental nature. Another meaning of refuge is to recall or remember, and this is a lot like practicing mindfulness of original nature, which we may forget about but we can never be separate from. Taking refuge in this sense is remembering Buddha, remembering our original nature, and this remembering is the first step in practice.

Dogen talked about another aspect of refuge which means to "unreservedly throw oneself into." He said the way a child leaps into his fatherís arms, we should leap into Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. As the child trusts its father, we should trust Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and leap without hesitation. This leaping is taking refuge.

I think of taking refuge as letting go of small mind, the mind that wants things to be the way "I" want them to be, the mind that separates into subject and object, or inside and outside, or self and everything else. Taking refuge allows Big Mind to manifest, the mind that is one with everything.

When we have an all-day of meditation here at the zendo, we end by offering incense, doing three floor bows, and saying the Refuges before going to bed. I also like to do this at home before I go to bed. I find it helps clarify my intention, my vow to return to fundamental being as I go into sleep. I encourage you to practice taking refuge because only you can practice with the refuges and find their meaning and support.

The Meaning of Sangha

I have been talking about the Three Refuges, which are taking refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. The Refuges are also called the Three Jewels and Three Treasures because they are considered precious to Buddhist practice. It may be easier to see the importance or necessity to our practice of Buddha, or enlightened nature, and Dharma, or the teaching, than it is to see the necessity of Sangha.

Today I want to talk about Sangha. In the beginning, Sangha meant Buddhaís disciples, the monks and nuns who practiced with him. Later in India, it came to mean any community of Buddhist monks or nuns. We use Sangha today to mean a group of people who practice together like we do. Can you imagine practicing without each other? Without the zendo or the programs and teachers that come here? Without a Sangha, you would just stay at home and sit by yourself. I used to watch a yoga teacher on television and try to do yoga, a kind of body training, with no one to see how I was doing it. Imagine watching service at home, and bowing in front of the TV and chanting along. It would be much different practice. The Sangha is an enormous support to practice, which is why causing people in the Sangha to divide against each other is a serious offence.

In Buddhism there are ten Major Precepts, forty-eight Minor Precepts and sometimes 250 to 350 ways of right conduct that are used in monastic practice. One of the functions of the precepts is to protect the Sangha. There are also five major offenses for which someone can be expelled from, or get kicked out of, the Sangha, including killing a parent, drawing blood from a Buddha and dividing the Sangha.

The main cause of divisiveness is talking about someone to somebody else, by slandering, backbiting, putting others down, or gossiping. Talking about other people poisons Sangha relations. Doing this is not helpful to oneís own state of mind and heart of practice, to the person being talked about, or to the Sangha as a whole. So, why do we do it? Any ideas?

My idea is because it makes us feel better, better than someone else, or stronger, or it makes us feel that we are right and the people who annoy us are wrong. We talk to our friends about this annoying person to get support for our view so we can feel justified in feeling annoyed or whatever it is we feel; and this, in turn, makes our view even stronger and more fixed, and so then we have even more of an investment to keep this idea strong, So we feed it and nourish it with more talk about this other person. This activity is based on insecurity. So, instead of using practice to work with our weak areas, instead we help solidify our insecurities.

The zendo, of course, isnít some kind of club or sorority where you need to apply and be accepted before you can practice here. The zendo is open to whoever wants to do this practice; and we practice with whoever comes, not just the people we like or who are like us. This is practice based on vow rather than on preferences. When we come to the zendo, we try to embody something deeper, something more fundamental, than our preferences.

In Zen the meaning of Sangha isnít limited to the people we practice with. In addition to the practitioners here, our Sangha includes all people, all beings, and all things. Katagiri Roshi said,

"...in the Buddhist Sangha, we have to practice not for ourselves but for others first....íFor othersí means not only for human beings but for all living beings, for a piece of toilet paper, our clothes, our cushions, vegetables, pans, for everything. Help all living beings. This does not mean to give them something material or psychological. Giving lots of material things to others isnít necessarily helpful. To help all living beings means to deal with them wholeheartedly whenever we encounter them, with compassionate, kind attention. This is the way to help others and all things around our lives, vegetables, books, tables, floors, lights, waterĖall things, visible or invisible."

Can you imagine treating a handmade tea cup, or a Buddha statue, or a glass vase that belonged to your great-grandmother with care and attention and love? In a way, it may seem easier to be kind to our pets and the things we cherish than it is to other people. But our practice is to extend this same kind of loving, kind attention, to people; not just to people we like, but to anyone we may meet.

Practicing with this great jewel of Sangha is basically the practice of the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you."

© Copyright Taitaku Patricia Phelan, 2002

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