Language can sometimes be very slippery and meaning can easily be distorted or lost, especially when we are trying to deal with deeply meaningful, and sometimes rather subtle, experience. Throughout Green Dharma Treasury, there may be words or phrases, (particularly from Buddhist sources, scientific terminology, or freshly coined neologisms) that are unfamiliar to you, either because they are new to you or, because I am using them in novel ways. This discursive glossary will help give you a better sense of what I am getting at. I suspect that some readers will find this glossary an interesting exploration in and of itself. I will add to it as the site grows.
anapanasati – mindfulness or recollectedness of breathing, or more pointedly, entering the fullness of what is currently occuring using breathing as a support. See “Breathing: The Natural Way to Meditate”
Anapanasati Sutra – the Buddha’s classic teaching on using mindfulness of breathing as a complete path of liberation.
autopoiesis – self creating. This is a term from biology. It was coined by Humberto Maturana who was looking for a word that would indicate the circular or recursive characteristic of all life processes. To illustrate this term, think of the famous sketch of “Drawing Hands” by M. C. Esher. One hand is holding a pencil and is drawing the wrist of the another hand that is holding a pencil that is drawing the wrist of the first hand. As with many of Esher’s drawings, there is a sense of impossibility while at the same time the detail of the drawing is absolutely clear. Shifting to biology, if we consider a single cell, the structure of the cell determines what kinds of functions the cell can engage in and yet, the functioning of the cell is to build and facilitate it’s structure. A wonderful introduction to this profound concept can be found in the book, “The Tree of Knowledge” by Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela
bodhisattva – This is one of those big words in Buddhism that has many meanings depending on how it is used. Bodhi means awakening. Sat is short for sati which means mindfulness or recollection and va is variously translated as air, wind and weaving. Together, sattva means a ‘being’ or ‘one in the process of becoming’. A bodhi-sattva is therefore ‘one in process of becoming awake’. Because all living beings are interconnected and interdependent, the process of anyone becoming awake is a process that affects everyone. A bodhisattva is someone who is actively waking up for the sake of all beings – who is waking up, with and for, all beings.
If we juggle the syllables of bodhisattva we can come up with a number of rich possiblities:
– an ongoing breathing recollection of awakening;
– an awakening weaving of mindfulness;
– being mindful awakening;
– an awakening mindfulness of how we – all the living creatures of the earth – are, together with the mountains and streams and the physical forces of the universe, weaving into being the fabric of existence.
As bodhisattvas, we are all co-participants; weavers, designers and appreciators of the weaving – each one of us. Bodhi or budh also means to blossom or bud, so the word bodhisattva points to someone who is a flowering, in other words a living process of beauty and fecundity unfolding – not a mindless machine!
Some texts translate bodhisattva in a grand and more specialized way. “Spiritual hero’ or ‘great being’ are not infrequent renderings, however, it is valuable to keep in mind that these great Buddhist archetypes represent characteristics of healthy, well functioning people. A spiritual hero in 2011 would be someone who has the courage and strength, borrowing words from Czech philosopher and writer (and bodhisattva) Vaclav Havel, to intentionally “live within the truth”. Such a being may be someone who feels deeply moved to turn away from the deceptions and lies of ‘modern life’, the consumerism, the extractive economy, the narrow vision of human chauvinism, and the tragic blindness that is unable to see life as a planet-wide ecology of becoming and all that this implies. It is through the ordinary acts of daily living that we find the quiet heroism of today’s bodhisattva; honouring the intelligence, the sentience and the ultimate unknowableness of each being that we meet, and continually engaging with life, however we find it, with attitudes of love, patience, active curiosity and an unforced tendency to engage with compassion. (See my essay, “This Day is for Living“, and the “Bodhisattva Vow” found in “Daily Puja“).
‘body of experience’ – I often use this phrase to point out a fullness or completeness of experience –– our total embodied experience. When we speak of a ‘body of knowledge’, we are referring to a collection of all the knowledges that make up a particular subject. Similarly, the body of experience is comprised of all the contributing factors that make up a moment of experience. Some of these factors would include, physical posture, feelings, sensations, mental states, understandings, memories, assumptions, attitudes and so forth. Our present moment of experience is being continuously woven into being by uncountable factors and processes. All of these processes together comprise our body of experience.
body/mind/community – I can clearly remember a time when the body and the mind were generally regarded as two distinctly different realms of experience. Gradually, the realisation that both physical and mental processes are intimately intertwined and mutually shaping each other, led to the joining of these words in the phrase ‘body/mind’. Even though this pointed to a better understanding, one’s body/mind continued to be treated as if it was a singularity. If we consider how tens of trillions of cells make up an average adult human body; all of them living together, communicating with each other and demonstrating exquisite degrees of awareness of each other, we might realise that this single body/mind is actually a vast community which lives within the even larger community of all living beings. To acknowledge this interbeing communal nature more directly, I find myself speaking about one’s ‘body/mind/community’.
Chenrezi – Chenrezi, (Mahakarunika in Sanskrit) means Great Compassion and is the name of the most beloved, Bodhisattva in the Tibetan Tradition. Other names for Chenrezi are, Avalokitesvaro, Kwanyin and Kannon.
Chenrezi, when written in academic Tibetan Wylie transliterated script, is Spyan ras gzigs. Spyan is pronounced chen and literally means eye. The Tibetan word that is spelt ‘chen’, actually means great, large and powerful. Ras pronounced re or ray, is related to the idea of continuity, and gzigs, pronounced zig or zee, is a root for the verb ‘to see’. It also means to shine; brightness, clearness and splendor. Chenrezi, who embodies the realization of the union of Wisdom and Compassion, arises out of great continuum seeing, or seeing the continuum greatly, or greatly seeing the continuum. Compassion is ultimately based in deep seeing. From a perspective of profound contemplation, ‘great continuum seeing’ or ‘vast continuity of clarity’ is the very nature of mind and knowing itself.
dharma (Skt.) or dhamma (Pali) – a major term in Buddhism. It has many different meanings, depending on the context in which it is used. It can mean law, or truth, or even phenomena, thing or process. The Dharma, with a capital ‘D’, often refers to the teachings given by the historic Buddha. Buddhadharma or buddhadhamma can also, more generally, refer to the teachings and processes of budding, of flowering, of unfolding or awakening. I sometimes find it useful to make a distinction between buddhadharma and ‘Buddhism-dharma’. In essence, buddhadharma is the process of life coming to know itself. These are universal dharmas and do not belong to, and were certainly not invented by, any religion or school of philosophy. ‘Buddhism-dharma’, on the other hand, are the teachings of Buddhism which unfortunately, can at times be quite sectarian and limited in nature.
It wouldn’t depart from the more universal meaning to think of dharma or dhamma as the laws or processes of nature unfolding. The study of dharma is the study of how everything comes into being and passes away, including the intelligence, or mind, that is engaging in this study.
doha (Tib.) – a spontaneous song of understanding or realization.
gatha (Skt.) – a phrase or saying, that is used to remind us to be more awake and compassionately engaged in the present moment. They are often repeated silently in time with our breathing.
guru (Skt) or lama (Tib) – literally means both heavy or weighty and, light or ephemeral. Heavy with wholesome qualities. Weighty with all the capabilities and capacities of wholeness – the total field of all events and meanings. Light in unwholesome qualities. Ephemeral in being ungraspable, unpindownable, unfathomable, no-thing-in-particularness. This ineffable union of heavy and light, the entirety of Being and it’s essential un-pin-downableness, is the very nature of reality. Since reality is the only thing that we learn from (through the act of intermingling with it), lama and guru became assiciated with the concept of teacher. Today the word has atrophied into a title or an indicater that a person has completed certain communally recognized trainings and practices and has been authorized to teach them.
Guru yoga or lama yoga involves cultivating whatever disciplines will facilitate conciously realizing life, the full richness of Being, to be a union of the profoundly weighty and the profoundly light – a great mystery.
honkyoku – a Japanese musical term meaning “original piece”. Honkyoku, originally grew from meditation practices of the Fuke Zen school of Japanese Buddhism which involved playing a shakuhachi bamboo flute. Although honkyuko usually consist of relatively simple sequences of notes, the focus of the meditation is not simply to play a tune but to bring forth a richness of feeling and spirit. Playing honkyoku demands tremendous concentration and mastery of breath. The great aspiration was that in the midst of this type of meditation practice, one would come to recognize the mystery from which, and within which, everything originates (nature of mind, or original ground) and hence it was called ‘original piece’. (See my book “Something Beautiful for the World”)
hwa-tou or hua t’ou (Chinese) – a living state of question; an active passion for enquiry and deepening understanding; an organism co-ordinating quality of attentive engagement which, in individual humans, manifests as an attitude of pervasive interest and curiosity; a non-verbal state of question flavoured with vivid openness and refined receptivity. The hwa-tou refers to a quality which is the essential heart of all insight meditation practice.
This term originated in the Buddhist Chan traditions of ancient China and continues today in Japanese Zen. The hwa-tou refers to an all-consuming state, or attitude, of question. This is much more than a verbal or conceptual expression of curiosity. It is not a specific question about a particular something. Hwa-tou is present when our whole being, an intermeshing of body/mind and environment, is vibrant with interest, extraordinarily receptive and exquisitely attentive within the immediacy of what is presently occurring. One could think of it as an omnipresent state of curiosity that flavours all our relationships.
In some translations of Chan texts, hwa-tou is rendered as the bundle of doubt. A practitioner is first of all encouraged to find or establish the ‘bundle of doubt’ and then to hold it continuously, until it breaks up of its own accord. Essentially, this means that the practitioner should first become profoundly energized by curiosity and active enquiry; to become a living embodiment of these qualities, to immerse him or herself in its mystery and implications, and then gradually, through this continuity of immersion, to refine and stabilize the hwa-tou until it becomes the very flavour of what they are, the way they engage in life and all its processes. At this point, the ‘bundle of doubt’ has entered every aspect of one’s life and so quietly vanishes from view. This is the ‘breaking up of its own accord.’
Koan is a term often related to hwa-tou. A koan is literally a ‘case history’, a specific example of how a particular meditator wrestled with and found peace within their own unique hwa-tou. In Zen, it has often been said, “The greater the question, the greater the awakening. No question, no awakening.” Today, our human society seems to be obsessively concerned with answers and solutions. It’s as if we have come to believe that the greater the answer, the greater the awakening! We have lost touch with the profundity and value of naked question; the state of aliveness that is present in the midst of wonderstruck responsive nowness.
What does it mean to be in a state of unconstrained, multi-leveled question? What does it mean to live with a vast degree of curiosity, a depth of contemplation that quietly flavours everything that we do? To find the hua-tou is to embody an attitude to the world that constantly enlivens us; the curiosity, the involvement, the blessing that can envelop us when we let go into a multi-leveled engagement in and with life.
koan (Japanese) – see hwa-tou
lama (Tib) – see guru
mandala (Skt.)– Mandala drives from mano, which means mind and dala, which conveys a sense of expansion. A mandala could be literally thought of as a mind expansion device.
The word mandala can be used in an outer sense and an inner sense. Outwardly, a mandala refers to a symmetrical painting or work of art that symbolizes an experience of wholeness by demonstrating how a diversity of factors combine into an integrated whole. Inwardly, mandala refers to an actual expanding or deepening understanding/experience of wholeness. The outer mandala is an attempt to point out, or possibly even trigger or invoke, this inner experience.
puja (Pali)– to honour, worship, respect, reverence, venerate,
There are many forms of puja ranging from elaborate ceremonies with prayers and recitations, through to moments of silent communion. To begin each day with a period of meaningful contemplation will help to reawaken a vibrant appreciation and sense of wonder, into the preciousness, the grace, the beauty and the extraordinary mystery of life. Making this an ongoing and regular part of each morning can help to set a positive tone for the rest of the day.
sadhana – In Buddhism, and particularly Tibetan Buddhism, sadhana refers to a spiritual practice. If we delve into the word, it reveals something much richer than an exercise to be repeated again and again until some pre-desired result is obtained. The Monier-Williams Sanskrit Dictionary defines sadhana as: common property; possessing riches, wealthy, opulent. We could say that a sadhana is an intentional activity of body, speech and mind that leads us into a realisation of what we hold and share in common with everything and everyone. This is our (common) wealth, our health and our wholeness. Sa and su in Pali and Sanskrit allude to good, wholesome, synergistic, creative, affirmative and positive. Dhana is related to dana which means generosity, giving, magnanimity and supportive or nurturing outflowing. Giving also means flexing and bending. In a very broad sense, to practise a sadhana is to cultivate and engage in a flexible, generous, nurturing of wholesome goodness. What is your sadhana?
sharing the merit – A Buddhist practice, done at the completion of a session of meditation or a period of creative work in which one consciously shares the benefit of one’s explorations with all beings. In its full grandeur, sharing the merit is a call to revolution – a call to recognize the great cycling of life and to participate richly and fully in this mystery we were born to. See my short essay, Truth, Power and Sharing the Merit.
six realms; six paths; six destinies of rebirth – These six can be understood in different ways. A naive understanding is that the six refer to actual realms of existence: hell, hungry ghost, animal, human, titan and deva realms. These six are part of a cosmology that is common in many Eastern religious traditions. With this naive understanding, people believe that the actions, or karma, of this life will determine which of the six realms one would be re-born in, in the next life.
A more sophisticated understanding is that these realms symbolize, or indicate, psychological states of being. Hell realms are states of anger and ill-will. Hungry ghost or preta realms are states of insatiable greed and desire. Animal realms are states of dullness and limited ability to learn. Human realms are states of scepticism and desire. Titan realms are states of jealousy and compulsive competitiveness. Deva realms are states of privilege around which is a powerful sense of pride and superiority. Certain behaviours in our day to day lives will tend to propel us into experiences of these psychological states. In this more sophisticated understanding, one doesn’t have to believe in a re-birth after we die. Our physical, emotional and conceptual activities (karma) cause us to ‘die’ from one state and be ‘reborn’ in another. This is happening in a continuous stream; moment to moment to moment.
Yet another quite useful understanding is that these six refer to different paths of human life-experience. Animal, symbolizes the path of unconscious instinct/delusion. Preta or hungry ghost, symbolizes the path of greed/desire/delusion. Titan, symbolizes the path of ill-will/anger/delusion. Hell, symbolizes the path of the preceding three together: a catastrophic dose of delusion, greed and hatred. Human, symbolizes the path of social virtue or compassionate action. Deva symbolizes the path of refined abstract meditation.
structural coupling – a term introduced by Maturana and Varela in their attempts to illustrate the biological roots of cognition. (See their book, “The Tree of Knowledge”.) Every living being is physically, structurally, linked at many levels, with its environment. This mutual linkage is both intimate and unavoidably necessary for life to function. Changes in the environment will trigger shifts in the functioning of the living organism. Shifts in the individual will provoke changes in its environment. What we normally call ‘environment’ is itself composed of a dense inter-weaving of structurally coupled organisms and so, although we think of ourselves as linked to an environment, we are actually dynamically linking with myriad other living beings. The fabric of life is essentially seamless. We might consider different levels of structural coupling. Some are more transient such as what takes place when we have a conversation with someone. Some are more durable such as the coupling of all the cells, tissues, organs and so forth that working together, are our living, functioning, body.
whakapapa (pronounced faukapapa) – a Maori word meaning genealogy, family tree or cultural identity. One might trace one’s whakapapa back through one’s ancestors, all the way back to the land and its biota, its drainage systems and catchments and even back to a mythological time. I sometimes use the term in perhaps a wider sense than the traditional Maori usage. We are composed of many evolving stories: molecular, cellular, ontological, sociological and ecological; many distinct but interweaving lineages, each of which is itself a weaving of myriad other life-lines of histories. The type of lineage I refer to will usually be indicated by the context of use.