Seeing Into Space, Seeing Into Mind
1:06PM Jul 21, 2022
Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede
This is July 17 2022. And I feel compelled to include to to base this teisho on the the tremendous success last week of the James Webb telescope, Space Telescope, JWST. Let us celebrate on an extraordinary achievement this was
the result of 25 years of work by 1000s, 1000s of scientists, scientists, engineers and administrators belonging to an international collaboration of space agencies, companies, research centers and universities worldwide. One of the project leaders said, "This was hard to do. It is difficult to express just how hard this was. There were so many 1000s of ways it could have gone wrong. But it didn't go wrong. It all came together." And it was so much bad news in the last few years and so much bad, disheartening news. Let's grant ourselves some moment of celebration here for what an accomplishment this was.
I'm going to read from if you'll forgive me and we'll do some reading from the New York Times. I hate forgive because it's always easier to read stuff than to just speak extemporaneously, but they capture it. So well. This is from last week. The universe was born in darkness 13 point 8 billion years ago. And even after the first stars and galaxies blazed into existence, a few 100 million years later, these two stage dark they're brilliant light, stretched by time and the expanding Cosmos dimmed into the infrared, rendering them and other clues to our beginnings inaccessible to every I an instrument. Until now. On Tuesday, the telescope most powerful space observatory yet Bill offered a spectacular slideshow of our previously invisible nascent cosmos. Ancient galaxies carpeting the sky like jewels on black velvet. fledgling stars shining out from deep within cumulus clouds of interstellar dust. Hints of water vapor in the atmosphere of a remote exoplanet. There's some is both a new vision of the universe and a view of the universe as it once appeared new.
This was a collaboration among NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency. This was a is this image that was first issued last week is proximately. It's just a tiny sliver of the night sky. It was approximately the size of a grain of sand held held at arm's length
and yet it revealed the presence of still more galaxies spilled across the sky
the light from those galaxies magnified into visibility by the gravitational field of the cluster originated more than 13 billion years ago. And then, the author explains to look outward into space is to peer into the past. I suppose most all of you know this, but it still blows my mind. Light travels A close to 6 trillion miles a year through the vacuum of space to observe a star 10 light years away, is to see it as it existed 10 years ago, when the light left its surface. The farther away a star galaxy lies the older it is making every telescope a kind of time machine
at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, an overflow crowd of astronomers whooped and hollered UHD and odd, as new images flashed on the screen the evidence that their telescope was working even better than hoped.
One infra red skyscape showed Stephens quintet. This is five galaxies packed in probably tightly in the constellation Pegasus, four are so closely engaged in a gravitational dance that they will eventually merge.
Another website that I was trawling because of a dance the same the Stephens Stephens quintet.
closely packed galaxies interact with dust and stars gravitationally pulled from one to another commingling their material makes me think of sesshin.
Just to just to put a period on this, the scale of this a couple of websites I came across space.com Nine planets.org and Popular Mechanics say that currently the observable universe seems to contain at least 2 trillion galaxies. All right trillion. Who knows what that is, you know, in a gut way. Our galaxy, the Milky Way is just one among those numerous galaxies, and it isn't even considered a big galaxy. The Milky Way our little Milky Way may contain at least 100 billion planets and around 400 billion stars. So 2 trillion of those and many of them bigger. How do we get our minds around this? Do we even need to it's it's.
Another source said that the purpose of this space telescope is to explore origins, the origins of the universe of galaxies stars of life
a long time ago, not long in these in these terms of light years. But back in early Buddhism, there was a sutra that came about the it's called the Avatamsaka sutra, also known as the flower garland sutra or the flower ornaments sutra and Chinese it's the why yen sutra Japanese is the Kagan sutra. It's not specifically Zen Zen sutra, like the Diamond Sutra or the Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch or the diamond or the Mukherjee. sutra or the shrine Gama sutra.
But it's, it has the most it's a huge it's 39 sutras rolled into one, a sutra, by the way for very new people. So traditionally scripture, it's one of the this one is the foundational text or Sutra of the, of the sect of Buddhism, the Zen sect, but it's very much highly regarded in Zen always has been by many of the Masters in the sutra, a fished out from these 1600 pages chapter called the formation of the worlds.
And I just didn't get a sense of the, the scale of traditional Buddhist perspective. You don't need to compare it to the Bible, which is so much focused on this earth and man's dominion over all the species. But I couldn't help but think of some of these verses when I read of what was discovered last week. This is this a few few verses, there are some varieties of lands all made of undefiled jewels, pure gems, the most exquisite rating, radiating everywhere, oceans of light. Then there are lands of pure light, which rest in the realm of space. Some are in oceans of jewels, some rest in mines of light. Buddha, in the midst of this ocean of groups, expounds teachings, all skillful and subtle. The realm of the Buddha's is boundlessly vast beings who see it are gladdened at heart, even in literally think of the all the people all around the world last week who are gladden that heart. He goes on some are embellished with precious stones shaped like flower lamps and vast arrays, their clouds of fragrant flame light blazing with color covered with webs of jewel lights. Those of you who saw some of these images, these incredible images can can relate to this language. Some some lands have no boundaries, they rest in the deep, immense Lotus See, broad, pure, unique among worlds. Some World Oceans revolve stabilized by Buddha's power. Enlightening beings are everywhere, they're always seeing immeasurably vast treasures.
So the basic theme of the wion sutra that I was just reading from is the mutually unobstructed interpenetration teaches that the human mind is the universe itself and is identical with Buddha. Remember Buddha, and its simplest, the one one we're going to use here just means awareness. That's doesn't mean some guy a God, who's omniscient and omnipotent and omnipresent. Buddha. When we talk about the Buddha, it's okay a historical person, Siddhartha originally, but Buddha, think big. It's our own mind. It's our own awareness. That is beyond age. Remember, Roshi Kapleau in his 70s or 80s, saying, you know, I don't actually feel old in the sense, yes, my body the aches and pains and everything. But another way A I don't feel older and I didn't quite get it at the time I do now it's, it's this ageless awareness when we're aware, how can we put an age on that? If we're aware at that moment it's Buddha
the human mind is the universe itself and is identical with Buddha, the Buddha mind in all sentient beings and things are one in the same. There it is.
The, the Japanese master, considered the first in the Rinzai tradition, put it this way, great is mind this, by the way is mine with a capital M. Heavens height is immeasurable. Think those descriptions of his read of galaxies heavens hate is immeasurable, but mine goes beyond heaven. The Earth's depth is also unfathomable, but mine reaches below the earth. The light of the sun and moon cannot be outdistanced yet mind passes beyond the light of the sun and moon. Again, awareness Buddha the macrocosm is limitless, yet mind travels outside the macrocosm. How great is space, how great the primal energy still, mind encompasses space and generates the primal energy. Because of it heaven covers and Earth up bears. Because of it, the Sun and Moon move on the four seasons pass in succession, and all things are generated great indeed is mind.
Hi koan some 400, or 500 years later in Japan, simply said, I am the sun and the moon, and the stars and the wide wide earth. Well, let's not leave out the earth. You don't have to look only up the, what we call the sky, the heavens is not just up, we're, of course, a globe. In space. We can look, we have x ray vision, we look down through the Earth into space, different segment of space.
I've always in case you couldn't tell, I've always been immensely fascinated inspired by astronomy. There was a time when I was in middle school, I don't know 14 or 15. When I was put into a special class in the summer, where my project we all had projects each of us and mine was to present present read and present. The possibility of life on Mars is a long time ago.
So allow me some thrill about all this. And yet as enthralling as this view into deep, deep space is and inspiring. It's inspiring. It's still looking outside us or outside oneself. It's still dwelling on objects that we imagine And to be out there apart from this one and what comes to me in the midst of my excitement about analysis How much will it contribute to our living in peace with others? Not to mention how that $30 billion on this this one project $30 billion How much could that have been used to help those in need? And then imagine all that many other billions spent by NASA alone since the 1960s. But leaving aside money How does the it's marvelous ability to see distant galaxies bring us any closer to true peace of mind same with space voyages within our own solar system how does it help us realize the great Mater that is how does it help us come to terms with our inevitable death for whom, the bell tolls?
In the last century, John Paul Sartre, the French existentialist he said, everything has been figured out except how to live.
That's our business in Zen, how to live.
Know the there's this part of the the legend of the Buddha was that when he was a sailed by Mara, the personification of, of evil when he was sitting under the Bodhi tree and and on the brink of enlightenment tomorrow, call out to him. How can you hope to do this? In other words, to generate doubt, self doubt in the mind of the buddha. And what we're told, and we don't have to take this literally, but what we're told is the Buddha just placed his hand on the Earth calling the earth to witness calling to witness his many, many lifetimes of service to others, that led to the merit that brought him to this point. And another way, it just occurred to me another way to understand this placing ham to the Earth is when all is said and done, here we are. We walk on the earth, we sit on the earth says it can be seen as a reminder in this case, for us in the 21st century, that we need to use this human body mind to realize the essential while we still have the time. However, time may be left for any one of us who knows.
There is this back A great emphasis or orientation in Zen on, on attending to this life right here, where we are the practical the concrete. There's an old saying, the Zen person has her head in the clouds or feet on the ground. This this, this, this, all this matter of exploration but can get so heavy of the head, logos, knowledge
there's a koan in the book of serenity. Show your Roku, where master deeds on asked another master. I don't know whether it's a master or a monk. Let's call him she has his name here. And the koan is Shu Shan Shu, let's call them shoe deeds on a shoe wherever you come from. Shoe replied from the south. Design said, How is Buddhism in the south these days, meaning the south of China and shoe said It is widely discussed? Oh, yes, we can. So much we can talk about the sutras and the Shastras. And at all, and deeds on set? How can that compare to my planting the fields and growing rice to eat? Something probably was a new idea to shoot because he said how can you save the beings of the three worlds that way? And then the punch line of the koan design said, what is it that you call the three worlds? Well, just a little moment of Buddhist doctrine that three worlds is just a way of talking about the world of desire, the world of form, without desire, and the world of formlessness you don't need to remember that it's just a way of talking about everything everywhere, the three worlds. So this shoe, the mark, he probably was well versed in the three worlds his doctrine he'd done his studying, but see, design brings him back to this what is what is this three worlds? What about this?
Socrates said wisdom begins in wonder. And that's, those are those are words that can galvanize us in Zen practice, but then also in the science, specifically, now space exploration. At its best inspires wandering us, who who can look up looking to those images, or just look up at the sky at night and not feel, some degree of wonder well, maybe, maybe many people, but it offers the opportunity to feel, wonder, ah and the same with Zen practice, in in our deepest meditation, we will feel odd, we will feel wonder. But, but which of these space exploration or deep meditation is more likely to lead to wisdom? Wisdom begins in wonder
You. Back to the theme of the, the Avatamsaka sutra we recite we chant in the affirming faith in mind that things are things because of mind is mind is mind because of things, these two are merely relative and both at source are emptiness. So, we have a word we call mind we have a word we things environment. And philosophers have debated for centuries about the relationship between mind and environment are things. But, behind this, what can be quite useful distinction what is there
another famous statement of the Buddha, I declared to you that in this very body, though only six feet in length, but conscious and endowed with the mind, or the world, the origin of the world and the ceasing of the world and likewise the way that leads to the ceasing of the world
this is what the Chinese masters meant when they refer to the body of reality capital B capital R
I've often quoted the Zen master Dogan from the 13th century you think that your mind is thoughts and concepts but actually it is mountains and rivers and grasses and stones and now we can add galaxies exoplanets interstellar dust mind
again our mandate as practitioners of the Dharma to not get attached to the so called world out there as if anything were out there the world out there world of objects
we might ask what is it that is seeing those images of deep space
what engineered them designed and engineered all those mirrors and other components of the telescope What is it it's hearing my words now really.
Here's another cool koan from the book of serenity not the easiest one, but I when I read these koans I trust that Even people who can make no sense of them might get a gut feeling about what it's pointing to. So it's against two masters cow Shan and Elder, the D. The ears pronounced like. Like that. Cow Shan asked the elder. The true dharma body of Buddha is like the vast sky. It manifests form in response to things like the moon in the water. How do you explain this responsiveness? And the elder said it's like a donkey looking into a well and then to that cow Shawn said well said but that's only 80% of it. So the elder said well about how about you teacher? What would you say? And cow Shan said, it's like the well looking at the donkey.
Hundreds of years after this encounter between cow Shawn and the elder Nietzsche said, stare long enough into the abyss and the Abyss will stare into you.
As has been marvelous as stirring, as this past week has been with the images that have been released, and can just imagine all the ones that are the images and and information, discoveries are going to be coming in the next months and years. As my role was all as all that is, it's all just half of the truth. No matter how fully developed how extensive it can be ever can be, it's only half. It's the side a form of things.
Reality, when we call reality Reality always has two sides to it. The relative side and the absolute side, the Rattler, brown realm of form, the world of phenomena that is, and on the other hand, the world of no form, the formless emptiness, Roshi capital, came up with an analogy that I think is very good. I usually talk about two sides of a coin. What he used to say at introductory workshops was a watch a wristwatch. And just for the purposes of analogy, let's say that the back of the watch has nothing on it. No little etchings or numbers, or the name of the manufacturer or anything, it's blank, the back of the watch is blank. And then you've got the front, the face of the watch, with all those numbers, and the movement of the hands, if it's an analog, but let's say just all those numbers, this, this face is the side of differentiation differences. Change that's the side of the relative the conventional view of things. Even a vast space. The the other side, the side that blank side that's we don't see because it's against our wrist is the side of no thing. No things emptiness shunyata if the face is time, the other side is no time. The changeless eternity there is no watch or coin It has only one side, even if you, if you made a watch that was a millionth of a micrometer thin, there's still another side to it. If there aren't two sides, it has no reality to it.
In Buddhism, there's one little facet of Buddhist doctrine is the three wheels. And the three wheels refers to be the object seen, the subject who's seeing, and the act of seeing. So that's the act of seeing close these other two components through all three of them. So looking into deep space, well, there it is, all those incredible mind blowing galaxies out there. There's the one who sees it. And that pulls together the whole view that the, the seeing the seer, the scene, and the seeing, and ultimately, all three are without any substantiality to them, are in flux is nothing permanent there.
We can be, we can be astonished to look out and see what they're describing as these stellar nurseries the birth of worlds which the sutra itself referred to the formation of worlds. But hold on. There's also what Zen Master Vonk a referred to as the unborn, at the backside of the watch, the unborn, the Undying. Ultimately, that is our work and Zen. To see that and to see that the the world of birth and death, creation and destruction is no other than the world that is beyond that. There's just one watch one coin
and so through usually years of sitting and if possible, having that boosted by the occasional session, we can come to see the both sides of these as inter penetrating, non dual. And even just in one round of sitting. Truly, it's possible to reach this, this realm of the absolute of no thingness.
We'll stop now and recite the four vows