“Putting Compassion on the Scientific Map”: Compassion Boosts Happiness/Health; and Research Indicates That Practicing Buddhists Are Happier than Average.

“There is something about conscientious Buddhist practice that results in the kind of happiness we all seek.” Dr. Paul Ekman, University of California San Francisco Medical Centre. Intriguing research indicates that generating the compassionate mind—particularly all-embracing compassion for all beings—can have tangible health benefits. The research used a protocol dubbed a “Brain Stress Test” to…

Remembering His Eminence Choden Rinpoche: The Hidden Meditator Passes into Dharamadhatu

On Sept 11 at 1:30am, Kyabje Choden Rinpoche showed the aspect of passing away at Sera Jey Monastery. “With great sadness, we must convey to you the news of His Eminence Choden Rinpoche’s passing into dharamadhatu,” writes Choden Lobrang in a letter to students and friends. (Sera Jey Monastery, South India, Sept 11, 2015). Today,…

Venerable Zasep Tulku Rinpoche, Spiritual Director of Gaden for the West, Returns to Toronto for a Month of Precious Teachings in September and October

“In these times of rampant consumerism and rapid technological and cultural change, more and more people are searching for a spiritual path that will help them live more meaningful lives and find deep inner peace,” writes Venerable Zasep Tulku Rinpoche, in his Guidelines for Students. [1] Venerable Zasep Tulku Rinpoche is an exemplar of the…

Tantric Wrathful Deities: The Psychology and Extraordinary Power of Enlightened Beings in Their Fearsome Form

Wrathful deities in Buddhism can be terrifying, monstrous, and demonic in appearance—but they are actually the “good guys.” People who might be casually interested in Buddhism are often puzzled, even horrified, by Tantric Buddhist Deities depicted as ferocious personas. At first exposure, they might seem almost demonic, sporting garlands of human heads, multiple terrifying faces,…

Biography and Birthday: His Holiness Sakya Trizin, Celebrating Decades of Teachings

Today, September 7, is the birthday of one of the eminent teachers in Tibetan Buddhism, His Holiness, Sakya Trizin. It’s always bittersweet when a great being reaches the age of seventy—we can be thankful for decades of teachings and care, but at the same time apprehensive about the future and, with attachment, desperately wish for…

Limitless Tara, Beyond the Green: Buddha, Bodhisattva, Savior, Mother of all the Buddhas, Hindu Maa Tara, Goddess of Many Colors, Consort of Buddhas, Wisdom Mother, Action Hero…

Most Buddhists know Tara—simultaneously, a friend, savior, caring Bodhisattva and enlightened being. Hindus consider Her one of the Mahavidyas, or Great Wisdom Goddesses—a role she carries on in Buddhism. To advanced practitioners, she is equally the great Wisdom Mother Prajnaparamita. Yet, at the same time, without contradiction, Tara is the intimate and treasured friend. The Vastness of…

Tantra Helps “Stop Ordinary Perception”, and is the Fast Path to Enlightenment. But How Do Modern Buddhists Relate to Deities?

The great teacher Lama Yeshe once asked: “Why are there so many different deities in tantra?” [1] On one hand, Mahayana Buddhism speaks to universality, emptiness, oneness and the illusion of “I” or interdependent nature. On the other, Vajrayana Buddhism — often referred to as the “lightning path” and holding out the hope of realizations…

Empowering the Rural Buddhist: Tips for Remote Practice

It is critical for your remote practice that you maintain your spiritual disciplines no matter where you are, because only then can you have a chance at taming the unruly mind, ego, and emotions.

How is the Mind Different from the Brain? Science May Support the Duality of Separate Mind and Brain.

“We don’t know what consciousness is, or what it does,” said Rupert Sheldrake, Ph.D. in his lecture The Mind is Not the Brain “There’s no known, obvious reason, why we should be conscious at all, or exactly how the mind works.” His conclusion, based on significant research, was:  “…The mind is field-like. That it’s not…

Buddhism Could Now Be the 2nd Largest Spiritual Path with 1.6 Billion or 22% of the World’s Population According to Some Recent Studies

Buddhism has never been a “propagation” spirituality. Actively seeking out “converts” is discouraged for the most part. Individual spirituality is emphasized more than group activities. Some people don’t even think of Buddhism as a “religion”—certainly not an organized religion with dogma. So, it is with sense of optimism—without pride or attachment?—that we report the latest…

Rebirth Part 2: Is There Scientific Evidence of Rebirth?

The concept of reincarnation and rebirth has successfully captivated human beings over the ages. Although the terms “Reincarnation” and “Rebirth” are often used inter-changeably, there is a significant difference between the two concepts. Reincarnation is normally understood to be the assumption of another body by a permanent self or a “soul”. According to this doctrine, after…

Visualization Activates the Mind; Mindfulness Stills the Mind — Which is Right for Your Buddhist Practice?

Many Buddhists — and non-Buddhists — practice mindfulness to still the mind. In Buddhist practice, this stilling of the “monkey mind” has many advantages, and can help us glimpse reality as it truly is — the wisdom path to eventual enlightenment. Other Buddhists — and non-Buddhists — practice forms of visualization. Deity visualization in Vajrayana…

Rebirth, Part 1: Is There Evidence of Rebirth or Reincarnation?

Is there proof that of reincarnation? Many noted psychiatrists and scientists claim that there is, some of which were widely published in Medical Journals.

Wealth Deities: Generating Karma for Prosperity by Practicing Generosity

  Lama Atisha, the revered lama of the Gelugpa tradition, came across an old man, dying of starvation in Bodghaya. Lama Atisha offered his own flesh, cut from his body, to save the old man. But the old man said, “How can I eat a monk’s flesh?” Lama Atisha felt helpless in the face of…

The First Doctor: Medicine Buddha Bhaisajyaguru — Empowering You to Heal

In times of pain, sickness, or stress, my first thought of “remedy” is quiet meditation with the most sacred Medicine Buddha mantra. Inevitably, arthritis pains subsides in my case, and I’ve avoided most of the colds and flus that go around my business meetings— knock on wood. I give Medicine Buddha, exercise and good nutrition…

Broken Commitments: Breaking Buddhist Vows or Promises Carries Heavy Karma, But What Do We Do About It?

Damage from broken commitments sounds very heavy, ominous, depressing. Any vow or promise should be taken seriously, but it carries an even more rigorous standard in Buddhist practice. It’s tempting for people brought up in “the west” to wonder if breaking our practice commitments and our promises to our teacher is really all that big…

Drumming for a Wakeful Mind

Drumming for a Wakeful Mind

Mokugyo are instantly recognizable by their entirely unique and pleasant penetrating sound that almost seems to hypnotize with it’s intensity. The use of the fish drum is nearly universally used in ritual and private meditation amongst most forms of Zen or Chan, Mahayana Buddhism and Pure Land Buddhism. (See video below of monk playing fish drum.)
By whatever name—mokugyo in Japan, muyu in China, mock gnu in Vietnam, moktak in Korea, shingnya in Tibet—the piercing pang, pang, pang of the fish drum can be heard at virtually all rituals. Any chanting of sutras or mantras is likely to accompanied by the trance-inducing wooden fish drum. Taoists and Shinto practitioners have also adopted this powerful little drum.

In Chan and Zen traditions, together with many Mahayana Buddhist traditions, variations on the fish drum are used to symbolize wakefulness, keep us alert, and to add sound and blessings to chants.

Why use a drum

We use a drum in meditation to keep us wakeful, mindful, alert. At the same time, the stimulating sound, entirely unique in percussion, has a trance-like effect, allowing something of an altered state of meditation. The sound’s uniqueness also instantly evokes sacredness. The sound travels, apparently on forever, penetrating all of the illusion we call our world, and carrying our mantras and sutras along.

Fish drum doesn’t always look like a fish

The fish drum is hand-carved out of a single block of wood, then hollowed out, smoothed, carved with symbols, then lacquered. Small mokugyo sit on a cushion to make sure the sound is pleasant. Larger temple muku normally rest on a temple stand. When struck by a wooden mallet, with or without felt or rubber striking tips, the sound is entirely unique.

The fish drum doesn’t always resemble a fish. Large fish drums, suspended in Chinese temples, are elaborately carved into fish and painted with gold and red. These giant fish are struck each morning and evening to help us remember all the fish in the sea, and to remind us to be wakeful.

What does it mean?

Because the fish never sleeps, it becomes a symbol of awakened meditation and even enlightenment. Since most fish adapt to have large eyes, to see in the murky waters, they also represent penetrating sight, overcoming illusion and attachment.
Fish is one of the eight auspicious symbols in Buddhism
The fish is one of the eight auspicious symbols in Buddhism, accepted by all streams of Buddhism. This auspicious symbol is normally two golden fish, symbolic of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers and represents good fortune in general. Striking the drum reminds us, with each piercing strike, to remember the lessons of the eight auspicious signs.

The other symbols are:
• the Lotus, one of the most recognized symbols, standing for the beauty and clarity of enlightenment and the true nature of all beings because the beautiful flower reaches out of the muck

• the Parasol, symbol of royal dignity and protection
• Conch Shell horn representing the sound of the Dharma penetrating the universe to release all beings
• the Banner of Victory: symbolizing Buddha’s victory over Mara, who represents passion, fear of death, pride and lust
• the Vase, filled with sacred items, the never emptying vase is always full and represents long life
• the Dharma Wheel: the eight spoked wheel representing the eightfold path taught by Buddha
• the Eternal Knot: a never-ending symbol that signifies that all phenomena are linked.

Larger fish drums are often hung outside temples.

Fish symbolism

The fish is a universal symbol of well-being, happiness, prosperity in freedom in all of Asia. This symbolism is partially because fish are always active and a source of a good life, but also because in India—the well-spring of enlightenment—the Ganges river (and its fish life) are sacred.
Good fortune fish are a major part of Feng Shui in China and aquariums are often prominent in homes to bring happiness and prosperity.

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