Friday, September 23, 2005


Along our spiritual journey in Buddhism, there are two apsects of our path that reflect two distinct kinds of practice we must engage in. Though the Buddha taught both, they were passed along over the centuries from teacher to students in two separate lineages. However, like the two wings of a bird, they are both necessary as we embark upon our journey to enlightenment, be it a state free of suffering for ourselves alone or the ultimate enlightened state of Buddhahood we seek in order to benefit all sentient beings.

The Dalai Lama in his book, "An Open Heart", describes "the vast" or the "method" aspect, referring particularly to the opening of our heart, of our compassion and love, as well as those qualities such as generosity and patience that extend from a loving heart. "it is here", he says that "our training involves enhancing these virtuous qualities while diminishing nonvirtuous tendencies.

What does it mean to open the heart? First of all, we undertstand that the idea of the heart is a metaphorical one. The heart is perceived in most cultures to be the wellspring of compassion, love, sympathy, righteousness, and intuition, and intuition rather than merely the muscle responsible for circulating blood through the body. In the Buddist worldview, both aspects of the heart, however, are understood to take place in the mind. Ironically, the Buddhist view is that the mind is located in the middle of the chest. An open heart is an open mind. A change of heart is a change of mind. Still, our conception of the heart provides a useful, if temporary, tool when trying to understand the distinction between the "vast" and "profound" aspects of the path."

The other aspect of practice, the Dalai Lama further states, is the "wisdom" aspect, also known as the "profound". Here he says, "we are in the realm of the head", where understanding, analysis, and critical perception are the ruling notions. In the wisdom aspect of the path, we work at deepening our understanding of impermanence, the suffering nature of existence, and our actual state of selflessness. Any one of these insights can take many lifetimes to fully fathom. Yet it is ony by recognizing the impermanent nature of things that we can overcome our grasping at them and at any notion of permanence.

Buddha says; "A recluse's goal is patience and forbearance. Wisdom is his ambition, moral habit is his resolve, nothingness his want, nirvana is his fulfilment."



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