A Zen’s-Eye View: Four kayas secure happiness

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Buddhism has identified four kayas (stages) that take place in each moment of perception. When we experience something we have never seen, heard, tasted, smelled or felt before, we enter the confusion stage where nothing makes sense. Then, as we study the new object of our perception, we begin to understand our experience, but only in terms of what we already know. That is the second stage. In the third stage, we act on what we see so it better fits our pre-existing idea of reality. In the fourth stage we stand back and realize how our creation fits into the big picture. We see our interdependence and understand that if we let go of self-cherishing and look for ways to benefit others, we have secured happiness that lasts under all conditions.

Whatever we create is dependent on our own mind: its interests, passions and values. For example, if you buy some acreage in West Creston, the first time you see it you enter the confusion stage because the land has no relationship to what you already know. It is new. Slowly, as you determine the land’s possibility, you move into stage two and a vision takes shape. That vision depends on who you are and you have been in the past. If you are a farmer, you visualize livestock, poultry and gardens; if you are a martial arts teacher looking to build a training community you visualize a dojo, sleeping facilities and a big kitchen. If you are a writer, you visualize a small, warm, well-lit, well-wired, well-libraried two-room cabin with walking paths. The order that you impose on the new land depends almost entirely on the conditioning you carry. The third stage includes any action you take to change the land so that it realizes your conditioned self. The new land is no longer confusing; it is a world that serves you and your preferences.

But there is a fourth stage to creating the good life. This stage happens after the construction is finished, and you sit back to examine your creation from a bigger point of view. In the fourth stage you fully realize that your labour can help you let go of self-cherishing, can help you work for the happiness of others. If you need evidence that working for the happiness of others creates happiness, examine the face of a fireman who has just rescued a mother and her child from a burning second story window. What you see in that face is pure ecstasy — the ecstasy that lies below self-cherishing.

When you recognize the true source of your happiness nothing can take it away, not a cougar who threatens livestock, not a storm that tears off your roof, not even an electrical short that erases the novel you have just finished editing. Nothing can rob you of happiness if your happiness is dependent on working for the happiness of others. This slogan is about how we move from initial confusion to creating a life that brings happiness to others.

Practice Suggestion: In your meditation, pay attention to thoughts that arise and pass. Notice how self-cherishing seems to instantly follow each thought. Notice the subtle undertone of fear. What are you actually protecting?

This column is a long series of short essays exploring the meaning of the Lojong Slogans. It is inspired by the work of Judy Lief.

Kuya Minogue is the resident teacher at Creston’s ZenWords Zen Centre. For more information, she can be reached at 250-428-3390.