Sunday, April 18, 2010

Build Your Own Temple

We learn in Case 4 of the Shoyoroku (Book of Serenity) that one day when the World-Honored One was walking with his assembly of monks he pointed to the ground with his hand and said, "This place is good for building a temple."

Indra took a blade of grass and stuck it in the ground and said, "The temple has been built."

The World-Honored One smiled.

The etymology of the word temple yields a number of different definitions. The word temple comes from Latin templum, itself derived from the Indo-European root *tem-, "to cut, divide." Latin templum probably referred originally to the fact that temples were on sacred ground that was "divided" or separated from ordinary ground.

One definition of temple is an edifice devoted to special or exalted purposes. A special builidng for prayer and worship.

Another definition of temple is "something regarded as having within it a divine presence."

Given these definitions, why would Indra say, "The temple has been built," after placing a blade of grass on the spot the Buddha pointed to as the "place [that] is good for building a temple." What was it about Indra's action that caused the Buddha to smile.

How is it possible that sticking a blade of grass in the ground and building a temple is somehow equivalent? If one's dharma eye is clear, the answer to this question will be obvious to you.

Before we awaken and realize our True Self, we divide aspects of our experience of the world up into the sacred and the profane and then set these two opposing categories in conflict with each other. The sacred is not the profane ... the profane is not sacred.

Each of our minds has this amazing ability to compare and contrast, to evaluate and judge and to problem solve. These functions of mind are necessary for our day-to-day functioning and account for the many accomplishments that we as a species have achieved. But these are not the only or most important functions of our mind. In fact, when we view our minds as only made up of these functions we severely restrict our ability to function freely.

Why? Because when we take our evaluations and judgements as literal truth and choose our actions based on them, we close ourselves off from the reality of this moment as it continually unfolds. We stop noticing what is happening in our direct experience of the world because our judgements kill our awareness of them. We stop noticing any evidence that might disconfirm our opinions. Then we are not getting the complete story and our actions reflect this limited perspective.

Ever notice how hard it is to convince someone of an alternative point of view once their mind is made up?

In a famous verse from the Hsin-hsin Ming (Faith in Mind) written by the Third Zen Patriarch, Seng-ts'an, we learn of the problem of depending exclusively on the mind's powers of judgement and evaluation to determine reality:

"The Supreme Way is not difficult
If only you do not pick and choose.
Neither love nor hate,
And you will clearly understand.
Be off by a hair,
And you are as far from it as heaven from earth.
If you want the Way to appear,
Be neither for nor against.
For and against opposing each other
This is the mind's disease."

There is a saying in Zen, "You are perfect and complete just as you are." Many people reject this notion initially as it seems to be pointing to an evaluation of ourselves that our experience tells us is untrue. We might think to ourselves, "I am far from perfect, I do things all the time that are pretty messed up. This saying does not square with my experience of reality."

This is most likely due to our interpretation of the meaning of the word "perfect." Common everyday usage of this term is part of our vocabulary of judgement and evaluation. Things are perfect or imperfect.

However, the word "perfect" actually has a very different meaning when viewed from the perspective of etymology. The "per" in perfect literally means "thorough" and the "fect" in perfect literally means "made." So speaking etymologically, the word perfect means "thoroughly made."

Whatever our experience, good or bad, happy or sad, sacred or profane, we were present when we experienced it. All of our experience, regardless of how we judge it is our experience: the lived truth of our lives - moment-to-moment-to-moment. It is thoroughly made in each moment. It is in that sense that it is perfect and complete "just as it is."

When viewed from this perspective, everything we do is perfect and completely whole with nothing left out. If a temple can be defined as "something regarded as having within it a divine presence," then all of our acts are temple building behaviors - not just the ones done on "sacred ground." All ground is sacred.

The Dalai Lama said it this way, "This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness."