soon at Dhamma-Dipa.com ~ TRANSITION information below

Sangha & Inclusion

Imágenes del Ser - SFZC Online Dharma class in Spanish

Study & Arts, Sitting & Ritual, Sangha & InclusionGuiding TeacherComment

Con Ven. Dhammadipa (la Reverenda Konin Cardenas)

22 de octubre – 19 de noviembre

Este curso de el Centro Zen de San Francisco, en linea, se concentrará en el estudio del ser y del no-ser en medio de la vida contemporánea. Con el propósito de experimentar una práctica más amplia y clara, vamos a explorar juntos extractos del libro Mente Zen, Mente de Principiante de Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, además de enseñanzas de una variedad de Maestros de Zen, incluidos Dongshan Liangjie y Eihei Dogen.

El curso ofrece:

  • Cuatro Pláticas del Dharma, una cada semana

  • Cuatro reuniones virtuales, una hora en vivo cada semana

  • Acceso a un sitio web privado e interactivo

  • Un foro de discusión con Ven. Dhammadipa y los demás participantes

  • Lecturas suplementarias

  • Zendo virtual

    Regístrese aquí

Ekan Zen Study Center is in Transition

Sangha & Inclusion, Service & Engagement, Sitting & Ritual, Study & ArtsGuiding Teacher

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

Do bodhisattvas seek Nirvana?

Sangha & Inclusion, Study & ArtsGuiding TeacherComment

Student: I listened again to the [recording of the ] seminar and [the Buddhist teacher and academic] says that in early Buddhism the goal was Nirvana and he contrasts that, the elimination of passions, with the goal of the Mahayana of enlightenment which is not the elimination of the passions, but the evocation of the passion of compassion. A bodhisattva would not then be seeking nirvana but enlightenment, or acting out of enlightenment. Could you say a bit about your understanding of Nirvana? Do bodhisattvas pursue Nirvana or enlightenment?

Konin:  The question of Nirvana (Sanskrit) or Nibbāna (Pali) is such an fascinating one. The records that we have quote the Buddha as having said these three things about it, many times, in many of his discourses:

"This is truly peace, this is the Highest, namely the end of all kamma (karma) formations, the forsaking of every substratum of rebirth, the fading away of craving, the detachment, the extinction, Nibbāna."

"Enraptured with lust (desire, greed), enraged with anger, blinded by delusion, overwhelmed, with mind ensnared, man (a human being) aims at his [her, their] own ruin, at the ruin of others, at the ruin of both and he [she, they] experiences mental pain and grief. But, if lust, anger and delusion are given up, man aims neither at his own ruin, nor at the ruin of others, nor at the ruin of both, and experiences no mental pain and grief. Thus is Nibbāna, immediate, visible in this life, inviting, attractive, comprehensible to the wise."

"The extinction of greed, the extinction of hatred, the extinction of delusion: this, indeed, is called Nibbāna."

So, as you can see, there is Nibbāna described as something that seems to be possible only at or after death, a cessation of the rounds of rebirth. It is likened to the flame of a candle going out, not being passed to another candle. When the Buddha died, he said that he was passing into Mahaparinibbāna, meaning great, final extinction or cessation. 

Interestingly, he also speaks of a realm he called "the deathless." He is quoted as saying this about it:

"Truly there is a realm where there is neither solid, nor fluid, neither heat, nor motion, neither this world, nor any other world, neither sun, nor moon. This I call neither arising nor passing away , neither holding still, being born, or dying. There is no foothold, no development, no basis. This is the end of suffering. There is an unborn, unoriginated, uncreated, informed. If there were not this unborn, this unoriginated, this uncreated, this unformed, release from the world of the born, the orginated the created, the formed would not be possible. But since there is an unborn, unoriginated, uncreated, informed, there is release from the world of the born, the created, the created, the formed." 

What is this realm? What is the deathless?

However, Nibbāna had already happened for him in the second and third senses described above - the sense of freedom from the three poisons of greed, hatred and delusion, complete rest in the mind. The Buddha said he dwelt in Nibbāna after his awakening/enlightenment, and his students who reached the highest ideal of awakening were called Arahants (Pali) or Arhats (Sanskrit). They were called that after having achieved this same freedom from the three poisons, again, called Nibbāna. This, he seems to have said, is available to everyone during their lifetime, and is a peace beyond any peace you can presently imagine. That is, until you have a taste of it. We can for brief periods be free from the three poisons, in moments of profound, bright clarity. That is a taste peace of mind, and that too is an experience of Nibbāna in this lifetime. 

As regards a bodhisattva, it is really important to remember that the bodhisattva ideal as a path also exists within the Theravada, or so called Hinayana, teachings. The Buddha referred to himself as a bodhisattva before his awakening. During the early periods of the Mahayana, practitioners were just beginning to take up the Buddha as a role model, rather than as a teacher. They chose to take up the attainment of Buddhahood as their goal, not the Arahant as a goal. Still, they ordained, lived and practiced in the same monasteries as those practicing the teachings we now know as Theravada [Sthaviravada, Sravakayana or Hinayana], who took the Buddha as a teacher who advocated the Arahant path. Yet it's really important to notice that, even though the Buddha was a bodhisattva, he didn't keep coming back to human form forever to help beings. He said that after his death he would be gone from any realm of rebirth forever. He goes on helping beings forever through the legacy of his teachings, which he said were sufficient for everyone to wake up by.

As I understand it, it was much later that the bodhisattva path came to be understood as coming back forever to keep helping beings. However, when it gets expanded in that way, then it makes sense that a bodhisattva wouldn't seek the final Nibbāna that the Buddha experienced and advocated for his students, because that would mean that their rebirths would come to an end.

9_koi_jump from yourkoipond dot com.jpg

Finally, as for eliminating passion versus generating compassion, I have to say that my experience of the paths is that both are deeply based in compassion for all beings. The Buddha, echoed by the later Mahayana teachers, clearly stated that the most compassionate thing one could do for another was to help them to realize enlightenment, to wake up to the true nature of all things, to realize complete, final liberation from suffering.

In my view, compassion arises from two directions. One way of generating compassion is to remember that all beings suffer and don't want to suffer, and so we should do the right thing by them and for ourselves. We should be kind and ethical. This is a compassion that is fairly easy to generate. It is also a form of generating compassion that will lead the one who practices it to fewer obstacles in their life of practice. Another way of generating compassion is to see the way in which all beings are intimately, physically and mentally inter-dependent, impermanent, and very subtly deluded. Then, like the fingers on the hand, one intuitively has kindness towards everything with which one is intimately connected. Causing harm doesn't make sense anymore. Supporting everyone's enlightenment is the only thing that makes sense. All of the schools of Buddhism that I have studied and experienced are generating both of these two forms of compassion. That said, I have to add that there are some forms of practice that really tax my ability to see them as compassion. Unfortunately, delusion about compassion can enter the practice life too.

Recent talks with our Dharma friends

Sangha & Inclusion, Study & ArtsGuiding TeacherComment

Guiding Teacher Konin Cardenas has recently returned from her visits to the Red Clay Sangha in Atlanta, Georgia and the Sacramento Buddhist Meditation Group (SBMG in California). The Sunday morning talk at Red Clay was offered on June 3rd. It is a talk about what the Buddha's awakening might mean to you, and it is available here:


The Sunday evening talk, that same night, at SBMG is a talk about finding compassion in the five aggregates of human experience. It can be accessed here:


May they be a support to your awakening life!

Going Forth and Reaching Back

Sangha & Inclusion, Service & Engagement, Sitting & RitualGuiding TeacherComment
 Ven. Dhammadipa (also known as Konin) kneeling on left, Ven. Cittananda kneeling on right

Ven. Dhammadipa (also known as Konin) kneeling on left, Ven. Cittananda kneeling on right

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!

Who Baked the Cookies?

Study & Arts, Sangha & InclusionGuiding TeacherComment

It seems as though we are living in an era of fierce certainty, an era in which the reasons for one’s certainty are not nearly as important as the ferocity with which they are proclaimed, an era in which the exclamation point must accompany any idea if it is to be taken seriously. Respect goes to those who declare their certainty, and those who lack certainty are dismissed as weak or confused. Particularly with regard to matters of personal spirituality, contemporary American society seems to demand absolute certainty. Even within the Buddhist community there is talk of the “real Buddhists” and the “not real Buddhists” as though one could be certain that their tradition was the only real Path. 

Yet Buddhist practice often asks us to question certainty, even when it appears to be based on solid information. Buddhist practice pokes holes in our certainty, crushes our proverbial soap box, knocks over the proverbial stool on which we would like to stand above the questions that plague a human life. In fact, Buddhism extols the virtue of simply not knowing. Yet how are we then to have strong belief in Buddhism? What is the benefit of questioning certainty? Is there anything truly skillful about not knowing?

If we take an everyday conversation as an example, it might help to illustrate the point. Say that you overheard the following conversation:

A: I don’t know who baked those cookies, but I’m really glad they did. They were delicious.
B: Yeah, that was C.
A: Oh, did you help C bake the cookies?
B: No, but C is always baking cookies. It was C.

At first glance, this conversation may appear innocuous. Person A states that they don’t know who baked the cookies, and person B uses their past experience to state that person C baked them. However, if we are rigorous in examining this conversation, we might take note of the question that person A posed. Was person B actually present in the moment of baking cookies, therefore making their statement based on firsthand information? Another clarifying question would be asking whether person B heard directly from person C that they had baked the cookies. If neither of those things are true, then it seems that person B cannot actually say with certainty that person C baked the cookies.

Maitreya Buddha 16.jpg

Now one might think this is splitting hairs, a small matter really, and not worth even exploring further with person B. Yet this conversation demonstrates how certainty has taken the place of not knowing, and how stating this certainty without any qualification has taken the place of seeing the situation more accurately. For example, person B could have said, “I imagine that person C baked those cookies because they are always baking cookies around here.” Such a statement would be more precise, and would still convey person B’s idea about who had been baking.

Still, it might seem trivial. Such a small difference in meaning doesn’t have much bearing on the real world, one might think, and certainly not on such lofty matters as world peace or personal liberation. Keep investigating, for not knowing stands in contrast to knowing. Like background and foreground, both must be clearly seen if one is to integrate the whole picture.

Suppose that person C did not actually bake the cookies. Maybe C always bakes cookies but, since C always has to bake the cookies, D decided it would be helpful to bake the cookies this time. Then, person B’s statement to person A is misinformation. The mistaken statement is, perhaps accidentally, sowing the seeds of delusion both in person B’s mind and in person A’s mind by stating something that is not accurate. This is the opposite of finding clarity in the mind, the opposite of seeing clearly the reality before us.

And there is an aspect of this exploration that is even more intriguing.  Even if person B was correct in saying that person C had baked the cookies, the statement is still based in wrong view. It is wrong view based in treating an inference as an actual fact. Such an inference would be fine if it were specifically acknowledged, thereby clarifying the statement as a belief, and not a statement of fact. However, stated as a fact, when it is in reality an inference, is sowing the seeds of delusion in the person B’s mind and in person A’s mind because it fails to capture the truth of not having personal experience of the situation. It fails to capture the truth of not knowing. It fails to accurately describe the uncertainty that exists in person B’s relationship to the matter of who baked the cookies. Therefore, the statement is reinforcing wrong view.

 the flag of Brazil, where the Pirahã people live in the Amazon forest

the flag of Brazil, where the Pirahã people live in the Amazon forest

Others might say things differently. Take, for example, the Brazilian native peoples known as the Pirahã. British ethnologist Daniel Everett spent a total of seven years with them, studying their language and culture. He was fascinated, because the Pirahã do not seem to have any past tense in their language, and they do not seem to talk about anything that has not been experienced by themselves or someone they have spoken too. Everett, who wrote a book about his travels titled, “Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes” states that the basis of Pirahã culture is, “Live here and now.”* This creates specific limitations on what they can discuss or even think about. So it represents an extreme, not an ideal. However, it demonstrates a certain accuracy about personal speech that can be a useful pointer. Everett reports that the Pirahã are comfortable living without trying to describe what they have not experienced.

The honesty and clarity of not knowing has been expressed as Buddhist teaching for thousands of years. For example, the historical Buddha Shakyamuni gave this teaching in the Numbered Discourses, Book of the Threes, No. 28:

“And what, monks, is the person whose speech is like dung? Here, if he is summoned to a council, to an assembly, to his relatives’ presence… and questioned as a witness thus: ‘So, good man, tell what you know,’ then, not knowing, this person says, ‘I know,’ or knowing, he says, ‘I do not know’; not seeing, he says, ‘I see,’ or seeing, he says, ‘I do not see.’ …This is called the person whose speech is like dung.”**

 Image from Dreamstime

Image from Dreamstime

Here we find the Buddha making a strong statement about the smelly nature of saying that one knows when one does not know. At first glance, one might suppose that the Buddha is only referring to outright lying, however that would be limiting the scope of what he presents here. Presented in this light, as though one were a witness, it is easy to understand how an inaccurate statement could cause great harm. This is a teaching on the attributes of right speech, an aspect the Noble Eightfold Path, described in much of Buddhism as the path to liberation.

And this was not all that the Buddha said about speaking with certainty. He also gave discourse after discourse exhorting people to investigate the nature of their firsthand experience. The Buddha taught that, by accurately investigating firsthand experience, one might have an encounter with the Dharma, the law. In this context, Dharma can be understood as the nature of reality which the Buddha described as, “apparent here and now, encouraging investigation, to be experienced individually by the wise.”

Many centuries later Chan monastics also gave teachings about not knowing. In particular, they recorded a koan about not knowing, said to have taken place in Tang Dynasty China. The Japanese word "koan” means “a public case or proclamation,” and it is an abbreviation of the Chinese phrase, “kofu no antoku,” which referred to publicly declared legal decisions in ancient China. The word, thus, has the implication of information that applies to everyone. In contemporary practice, one might consider koans to be similar to legal precedents. They are describing situations from the past whose details are not exactly the same as in our own case, but they are nonetheless situations able to demonstrate something about practicing with our own case. They point to principles that are universally applicable because the principles are revealed in everyone’s daily life.

 Image by Andy Serrano

Image by Andy Serrano

In “The Book of Serenity,” a collection of ancient Zen koans, the following conversation is recorded as Case 20:

Dizang asked Fayan, “Where are you going?”
Fayan said, “Around on pilgrimage.”
Dizang replied, “What is the purpose of pilgrimage?”
“I don’t know,” said Fayan.
“Not knowing is nearest,” said Dizang.
Fayan was suddenly awakened.

Without analyzing the specifics of this dialogue, it appears that Dizang is teaching his student something about honesty and clarity. Apparently, even greater clarity was the result for Fayan. How could that be? Consider how opening to a limitless potential is an acknowledgment of what is always true.

Yet how do we begin to practice with our sense of certainty? When we’re certain, we’re certain, even if we know that we need to be clear about not knowing. How can we get a foothold here? One place to start is to reflect on a time when your certainty is proven wrong. Returning to the cookie example, person B might find a great opportunity for practice if they were to find out that D had baked the cookies and not C. First, B could observe their own reaction to being proven wrong, either privately or in public. Are they angry and defensive, lashing out verbally or even physically at messenger of the bad news? Are they depressed and self-critical, taking out their frustrations on themselves? Do they shrug it off, making it out to be a small matter, or even refusing to acknowledge the validity of the facts? Or do they laugh at themselves a bit and muse on the unpredictability of life? Often the type of reaction or response we offer to having been mistaken has more to do with the ways that we feel identified with a view than with the accuracy of the view itself. That is, the more we believe that certainty about an inferred view defines who we are or defines our value as a person, the more likely we are to have a strong negative reaction to the inaccuracy of that view. 

bodhidharma scowl.png

One way to practice skillfully with the news of having been wrong is to reflect on how that state of mind appeared. What was it that made us feel so certain about something incorrect? Where did we step in to fill in a gap in knowledge with our own view? Was it that we knew that we did not know, but did not feel comfortable appearing uncertain? Do we feel that we must know in order to be a certain kind of person, or to simply be a person of value? Again, there seems to be a lot of societal pressure these days to appear to be certain about one’s views. Starting with inquiry can help to open our minds and hearts to another perspective.

The twist is that, in the context of a society that rewards speaking with certainty, we have to muster some clarity and confidence of our own if we are going to speak about not knowing. We cannot depend on receiving rewards from others for expressing not knowing. Can we can feel inwardly confident about not knowing, rather than feeling anxious with a general sense of uncertainty or of certainty? We will have to discover our own rewards for the kind of speech that does not obscure not knowing.

Perhaps one reward is allowing for many possibilities in one’s experience of life, a kind of mental flexibility. Another reward might be feeling fewer instances of anger or depression due to making mistakes. Another might be sustaining a general sense of wonder and curiosity about our lives. Sekkei Harada Roshi, the Abbot of Hosshinji, a Zen training monastery in Japan put it this way, “There is something mysterious. Leave it mysterious.” Or to quote Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, former Abbot of San Francisco Zen Center, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.” Each of us discovers our own rewards for not knowing. 

*Source-> http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/brazil-s-piraha-tribe-living-without-numbers-or-time-a-414291.htmle:

**Source: https://suttacentral.net/an3.28/en/bodhi translation by Bhikkhu Bodhi