• The Teacher – Shirfu

    Born in the USA and a Canadian, Shirfu Samanta has been training in Buddhism for 40 years.  He has trained under more than 35 Tibetan Lamas including some of the most distinguished masters in the 20th century.  He has also studied with masters of the Newar tradition, Vipashyana tradition, Tien Tai tradition, Chan/Zen tradition and Pure Land schools. Shirfu has received many initiations, ordinations, transmissions and was ordained as a Buddhist priest in Japan (Kyoto, 1999).  He holds a Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies and an MA in psychology.  Shirfu has lived in India, Nepal, Japan, Taiwan, and extensively traveled in other parts of Asia.  He has completed many retreats from the Himalayas to the Sierras.

    Noted for his ability to connect Buddhism to life in the 21st century, Shirfu has taught various types of meditation for 30 years.  His teachings strongly emphasize non-sectarianism with a leaning to Mahayana.

  • What is Shunyata

    You are all slaves. You, each and everyone, are enslaved by your thoughts and emotions. Do you think not? Let us try an experiment. You only have to sit there and stop thinking for one minute. Ok now just don’t think.  Try it now.

    How many made it fifteen seconds? How many twenty? I know none of you made it a minute. You are trapped by your own mental activity. Your thoughts and emotions — for after all emotions are just thoughts too.

    Because you are enslaved by your mental activity, you are not free and thus you constantly have many trials, tribulations, consternations, and more. Your life is like a roller coaster that you can not get off. Your reach great heights when you accomplish something that your ego determined was needed or desired and great lows when you do not.

    This is precisely what Buddhism addresses. Buddhism is not some religion that is going to give you all the answers. Actually, I do not think it is a religion at all. It is not big daddy in the sky fixing your problems. It is not the same as pop psychology. Buddhism is about your quality of life! How are you going to live this life free from being enslaved by your own mind?

    First, in order to be enslaved by my own mind, I have to have an “I” a self, an ego. We think this self is some sort of permanent thing, enduring from one experience to the next. There is some consciousness of there being an I who is experiencing all these things. However, Buddhism teaches that there is no such self. The self is just as created as the thought content that you experience. In fact, the experience and the experiencer are generated in the same instant. Seeing past this trap is called the experience of no-self. We have techniques that will help you realize that this is so and there are people in this room who have been working with me and who have realized it. What is realization, it is not some intellectual understanding but something you touch with the fiber of your “being.” It is the ground you operate from not some new trinket you can add to your collection of wonderful ideas and thoughts you collected along the way. So the self as we normally understand it is an illusion.

    Second, actually, things are an illusion too. We go through life not only acting but actually accepting that things are really out there. This table will be the same table next week when you come. This building is the same building that you passed last year, and so too with all these objects. Oh, yes, things get old and eventually break down but we still think it is the same thing – just broken. However, even modern science will tell you that nothing is the same from second to second. The atomic structure is constantly changing and so the whole universe is different each second. We do not see life this way because our senses are limited. Buddhism teaches that to constantly hold on to that naive view adds to our suffering and enslavement, just as holding on to some permanently existing self does. There are techniques to bring about the realization that things are constantly becoming but never are. This experience is called “shunyata” in Sanskrit, the ancient language of India. Shunyata means that things are both empty of an inherent essence that makes them exist as such and that there is an open dimension to being in the world that allows for a dynamic and liberating way to walk through life.

    Third, since both self and other are generated at the same time and from the same movement, then in fact all that really is, is the non-dual. The separation of the universe into experience and experiencer is not real. This non-dual wherein no two things can be posited is the sphere of completion. In it, there is no enslavement, no suffering, no problems and it is punctuated with joy and depth of wisdom. Buddhism has techniques to help each person quickly experience this freedom.

    Fourth, the expression of the no-self, shunyata, non-dual life is great compassion to all sentient beings. We do not just look at the human situation but take into account all sentient life. If you have even one sense then you suffer. Those who experience these things, who make this their own foundation from which wisdom can arise are concerned about the suffering of others. If there is truly no self, then all your interactions with other beings is based on compassion because there is no self interest involved. In this way, those who follow the Buddhist life, are like tuning forks when some being is vibrating with suffering, the Buddhist also vibrates. Bringing their profound wisdom to bear, they engage the other in ways know and unknown to help alleviate the suffering. Buddhism has techniques that help develop one’s compassion.

    Fifth, The Buddha is not some god or god substitute. He is not some high and mighty up there somewhere that we use to measure our failings. He is your own absolute highest expression, something deep inside each of you. Your own profound wisdom and compassion, living free from your self-made enslavement –that is Buddha. Sometimes we externalize him as a way of trying to facilitate our realization but in fact he is no different than you and you are no different than him. You must have a relationship with this real Buddha if you are to be free, for he is freedom. This is why we meditate on the Buddha.

    Finally, no-self, shunyata, non-dual, compassion, and Buddha are in fact all the same thing. These are just different words used so that those of us lost in our enslavement can start to gain some understanding. But when you have these experiences, when you have these realizations you come to know that indeed all is one.

    Thank you.

  • What is Buddha Nature

    Once the Buddha Shakyamuni was teaching on the famous Vulture Peak, a low mountain in Bihar that has the shape of a vulture.  Today there are the ruins of a monastery on that location and the stone road built by the king so as to be able to visit the Buddha is still walkable. At the time of the Buddha’s teaching, there appeared in the sky above innumerable Buddhas sitting on lotus flowers all aglow. Although the lotus flowers were incredibly beautiful and fragrant, giving off rays of light, in an instant they all withered, blackened, smelled like rotten vegetation and completely enclosed the Buddhas and all their glory.

    This is the opening image from the Tathagatagarbha Sutra to illustrate the fact that you, with all of your supposed impurities, with impure body and mind, are really the glorious Buddha full of wisdom and compassion. The rotten flowers did not hinder in any way the glory of the Buddhas inside.  Just like your body and mind, even if impure, does not hinder your real Buddha nature.

    Are you surprised to hear this?  In Buddhism it is common to listen to talks or to read about how we are impure and need to do many practices to purify ourselves. For example, some forms of Buddhism teach that because you have desire you are impure. To purify this, you need to become a monk or nun and renounce the life of desire.  Some of the lower tantras teach that a yogi must maintain ritual physical purity like eating off of gold plates. But this sutra says that even if you have mental or physical impurities they do not really obscure your real Buddha nature.

    You can think of it like a prostitute who is considered low and vile by society.  One night in disguise a king comes to her and that evening she conceives. Because society says that she is lowly, she thinks of herself as low and vile, impure in a thousand ways, driven by her desires to perform such acts.  But inside, unknown to her, is a noble child.  So in fact, she is not lowly. You are no different. You should not think of yourself as low or inferior in any way to the Buddha.  You are no different.  You are the Buddha. The defilements are accidental not part of your real nature.

    The Tathagatagarbha Sutra also states that this Buddha nature is like a treasure store in the house of a poor man who has forgotten about it. But the Buddha sees the store and can help the poor man find it within.  This store is inexhaustible and consists of wisdom and compassion. To find this treasure store, you must have confidence in the Buddha’s teachings.

    What is the Buddha nature?  It is none other than wisdom and compassion, the greatest virtues in the Buddhist tradition. What is wisdom? It is the ongoing insight into the nature of reality which is shunyata of shunyata.  What is compassion?  When one realizes there really is no self and this becomes the base of one’s activity, then all actions are for the sake of others, helping end their suffering.  How do we come to find this great treasure within?  We need to have confidence in the teachings of the Buddha.

    The Nirvana Sutra in speaking about the ultimate true reality and the one vehicle says that the term “ultimate,” in the mundane realm means the perfections of giving, discipline, patients, energy, meditation, and wisdom. In the supramundane realm, the “ultimate” is the one vehicle. This one vehicle is the Buddha nature. The sutra also states that true reality is the single way, pure and undefiled—there simply is no other! This true reality is the Buddha nature –there simply is no other! What is this Buddha nature?  The Nirvana Sutra says it is compassion, equanimity, and confidence.

    So through coursing in confidence in the teachings and particularly the teachings on Buddha nature, through coursing in the activity of giving, discipline, patience, energy, meditation and wisdom that is insight into shunyata of shunyata, through coursing in compassion, through coursing in equanimity, one realizes Buddha nature which is none other than liberation itself.  How do we come to course in this way?

    Again the Nirvana Sutra informs us that a person does not give birth or produces the Buddha nature, rather he or she produces its opposite –blind passions. If the person only did not give birth to blind passions then they would see the Buddha nature. We can accomplish this by taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.  The Buddha represents the ultimate reality of non-duality and was the great teacher. The Dharma is the teachings that allow us to move away from all self-indulgent thoughts and actions. The Sangha are the group of followers who will walk with you as your course.  By taking refuge you can course in the non self-indulgent way coming to rest naturally in the Buddha nature.

    The Srimaladevi Sutra says that the Buddha nature is in the domain of the Tathagata that is in the realm of the non-dual, the locus of the Four Noble Truths, samsara and nirvana are based on Buddha nature.  How surprising!  Yet it could not be otherwise.  If Buddha nature is the non-dual then the duality of samsara and nirvana both have to arise from it. The significance here is this. First, take refuge and stop your self-indulgence in your body acts, mental acts, and speech acts. You are manufacturing blind passions moment by moment. If you rest in the pure awareness of Buddha nature, then you can stop manufacturing your samsara. After seeing the stopping of samsara then you can even stop the duality of samsara and nirvana. This is resting in Buddha nature the non-dual liberation.  Each moment Buddha or devil.  Awakening at your fingertips!


  • Special class December 6, 2015

    Hey Dharma Bums,

    We have been meeting the 2nd and 4th Sundays of the month (11:00 am) for dharma talks and every Tuesday (7:30 pm) for meditation.

    Please note, in December we will only meet on one Sunday – this coming Sunday, December 6th (11:00 am).  We will end as usual at noon.  For those that wish to stay and ask questions or just talk about Buddhism you are welcome to stay and chat.

    Our Sunday meetings will then break until Sunday January 10th. Tuesday meditation will finish this coming Tuesday, December 1st and commence again Tuesday, January 12th.

    Looking forward to sitting with you two more times in 2015.

    With loving-kindness,