The nature of human experience is to reflect on and react to the human experience. That is, human beings are constantly noticing their thoughts, feelings, and bodies, and having thoughts and feelings about them. In fact, one could say that this is one of the defining features of humanity. We are born with the ability to observe ourselves and, typically before two years of age, we become aware of ourselves as individuals. Have you ever stood with someone in front of a mirror? The immediate recognition of self and other is so familiar that it probably wasn’t something you thought about.
Humans have the capacity to imagine our place in a context, whether physical or mental, and to consider who and what we are within that context. It’s called being self-conscious or self-reflective. What we notice can be the simple observation of a small detail of experience with little impact, or something intensely painful, or a profoundly uplifting experience as vast as the cosmos. The reflection can be so quick that it seems automatic or that it is assumed to be present before we notice it. At other times, it takes decades to form around an experience long past. In myriad ways, human beings spend quite a lot of our time and energy reflecting on ourselves.
Practice is an effort to bring to awareness that capacity for self-reflection, using Buddhist principles and teachings, and to turn self-reflection into a source of clarity, calm, and deep inspiration. In particular, the practice of zazen or meditation can be about clear and positive self awareness. Even the word “self-conscious” can have a negative connotation, an implication of discomfort, unease, and awkwardness. Yet my experience of many years of the practice of self-consciousness has been incredibly valuable and healing, leading away from unease. So, I am suggesting that you can reframe this term, and learn the usefulness of this powerful mental ability that we all share.
Consider, for example, what happens when you hear a sound. Perhaps you think, “Why is that garbage truck ruining my silence so early in the morning?” or “Isn’t it lovely how that bird is singing me a song?” Can you notice the constructed self that is implied in those thoughts? Can you see how those events actually don’t belong to you, or say anything about you? Can you allow them to come and go without clinging to some idea of wanting less of that, or more of that? There is so much to work with on the cushion. and there is plenty to work with off the cushion too.
This kind of practice can go a step further, too. If you examine deeply, in detail, the components of the experience, perhaps using the framework of the five aggregates or skandhas (body ~ feeling tone ~ perception ~ volition ~ consciousness), then you may begin to see the constructed nature of hearing itself, the way that the experience of hearing is a group of conditions that depend on one another for an instant, and then shift in the next moment. Perhaps you can begin to dismantle some of the sense of continuity and permanence, and begin see the fleeting nature of life. Life is as brief and insubstantial as a mirage. This kind of awareness begins to get at the reason why the self is not actually referenced by events, and it begins to loosen our grip on the wanting and wanting, or not wanting and not wanting, that causes us so much difficulty. Look deeply at the conditions and their relationships, their presence and absence. Notice whether that begins to soften your ideas of how things ought to be, of how you ought to be. Because, after all, having a look at yourself is the most natural thing in the world. And what you will see, if you are honest and persistent, will wake up a whole new you.
If you have practiced in a Zen center, you may have you been exposed to the Heart Sutra. The Sutra is sometimes very difficult to understand because it appears to be negating so many things that we take for granted as real. However, it has a more subtle meaning than mere negation.
Form itself is emptiness. Emptiness itself form. The same is true of feelings, perceptions, formations and consciousness.
That is, the absolute reality of all things as lacking permanent, independent existence - which simply means they are conditional, impermanent, inter-connected, lacking eternal substance - is completely manifested in their mundane form. We see them demonstrating these principals day in and day out but, typically, it's easier to resist that daily teaching because ignorance is less threatening to our sense of a separate, autonomous self.
This is not the genius of Zen, but of all of Mahayana Buddhism, to have restated the Buddha's teachings in a way that points toward dropping the dualistic view of absolute and relative. Ironically, however, it is often used as a way of reinforcing the "two truths" view which again creates a dualism.
The beauty of Buddhism is that the teaching is, and has always been, that each one of us needs only a body and mind to realize the most profound, sacred, truths, to realize the nature of a human life, and to realize that our everyday experience can be a tool for creating more suffering and confusion or discovering the highest wisdom and peace.
Dear Dharma Friend,
The path of practice can be one of broad personal discovery and inner transformation. This has certainly been true for our Guiding Teacher who, as you may already know, has reached back to the roots of Zen tradition to embrace early Buddhist monasticism and the practice of the Vinaya. Now Reverend Konin Cardenas is also known as Venerable Dhammadipa. She has committed to long-term residential training at Aloka Vihara, a women's monastery in California, practicing the Theravada Forest Tradition of the West.
These changes are reflected in Ven. Dhammadipa’s practice, in the breadth of her teachings, and in the precepts she is now following. While she continues to offer teachings primarily focused on the Zen tradition, she is also teaching early Buddhism together with her Dhamma Sisters at Aloka Vihara.
Ven. Dhammadipa is now largely supported by the Saranaloka Foundation, which is financially responsible for all of the nuns at the vihara. Her basic needs for food, shelter, clothing, and dental care are provided for by donors to the monastery. Her personal needs for travel and other minor expenses are provided for by her family. These changes are in accord with the Vinaya training precept of not handling money, which Ven. Dhammadipa has taken.
To reflect these changes, over the next few months, the EkanZenStudyCenter.org site will change to Dhamma-Dipa.com, a site that will be Ven. Dhammadipa's personal online presence. Her audio and video archives, blog posts, and personal teaching calendar will be available there. Ekan Zen Study Center will no longer exist as a 501(c)3 non-profit, and the corporation will be dissolved at the end of 2018. The donation page on the Dhamma-Dipa.com site will reflect new information about how to contribute a tax-deductible donation to the Saranaloka Foundation, for Venerable Dhammadipa or for the monastery in general.
The Ekan Zen Study Center Board of Directors fully supports Ven. Dhammadipa’s current path of practice, and your continued relationship with her and her teachings. We encourage you to grow your relationship with her. Should you have any questions or concerns our contact information is below, and we welcome hearing from you.
Together we affirm the mutual support that arises when practicing the Way together, intimately. May it continue, for the benefit of all beings!
With abiding support for your awakening life,
Norma Fogelberg, President
Rev. Choro Antonaccio, Treasurer
Rev. Konin Cardenas, Guiding Teacher/Secretary
Guiding Teacher Konin Cardenas, now known as Ven. Dhammadipa, recently gave a talk on the traditional practice of recalling the Buddha. In this talk, she describes both the traditional Theravada practice of "buddhanusati," as well as her personal experiences of recalling the Buddha and his teachings during her everyday life.
Download or stream the talk here.
On May 11th, I formally took the eight precepts of an Anagarika in the Theravada tradition. Though I have been practicing eight precepts for some time now, wearing the white robes felt very light. It also made for a clear and appropriate transition from my black attire as a Zen priest. This step marked my intention to wholeheartedly take up the Theravada way, and during the ceremony I took dependence on Ayyas Santacitta and Anadabodhi as my teachers in this tradition. I can honestly and joyfully say that it is their commitment to demonstrating the path of practice of the early Buddhist teachings that enabled me to aspire to this practice myself.
Then, on Saturday, May 12th at Buddhi Vihara in Santa Clara, California, I went forth in the Theravada tradition, after many years of practice in the Soto Zen tradition. Going forth is an outward, conventional expression of an enigmatic evolution that is happening within. Having known the Ayyas for six years, and having visited Aloka Vihara a few times in the past, I came to live here in October of 2017. At that time, I was in search of a place where the practice would support turning inward, where practice would support a transformation of mind, heart, and body toward its natural clarity and peace. For me, the practice of monastic renunciation, the practice of Vinaya, is just such a support. It allows me to set down, again and again, those things that are unessential. It allows me to commit my entire life’s effort to the activity of being an instrument of Dhamma. And, it is like reaching back all the way to the beginning of the Zen lineage in which I was ordained 11 years ago, integrating the practice of the Original Teacher Gotama Buddha and the earliest disciples. I received the name “Dhammadīpā,” which means light or lamp or island of Dhamma.
The day of the Pabbajja was a shining example of blending like milk and water, as the more than eight sanghas that were involved joined together to make the day’s events both memorable and easeful. In particular, Ayya Sudinna, the Pavatinī (Preceptor) who came all the way from Carolina Buddhist Vihara in Greenville, South Carolina was so joyful. It was a day full of mudita (empathetic joy), not just for me, but also for Ayya Cittananda who received her bhikkhuni (higher) ordination. It seemed to me that everyone shared such heartfelt caring for each other. The beautiful sunny weather was reflected in our hearts, and the great generosity of the dana revealed how deeply sangha members are moved by the Triple Gem of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. My heart is full of gratitude and joy for everyone who is playing some part in making it possible for nuns to go forth into this life. Anumodana! I rejoice in your good works!