HOW TO GROW A LOTUS BLOSSOM: Reflections in a Disciple's Life

by Rev. Koshin Schomberg

Section XXI
Working the Mother Lode

Our humanity and Buddhahood are like water and ice. To be afflicted by the three poisons [of greed, hate and delusion] is our humanity. To be purified by the three releases [from greed, hate and delusion] is Buddhahood. That which freezes into ice in winter melts into water in summer. Eliminate ice and there's no more water. Try to destroy our humanity, and there's no more Buddhahood. . . . Our humanity and Buddhahood share the same nature.

--From The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma
Translated by Red Pine (slightly paraphrased)

First Arisings

In the course of these reflections on my master's training and teaching, and the impact of her training and teaching on my life, I have placed great emphasis on the fact that greed, hate and delusion--the causes of suffering--are the raw material of training and the potential for enlightenment. Greed, hate and delusion are the spiritual mother lode: they only have to be properly worked in order to yield spiritual riches.

When a great deal of one's karmic debt has been repaid, and when many of the deeper roots of suffering have received the Help of the Eternal, there is still a need for continual training, and the fact that greed, hate and delusion continue to arise is a stark reminder of this need. As Rev. Master often reminded us, our past karma can always affect us at least potentially. It is our choice, however, whether we will run with the old karma or not.

The sooner we become aware of the arising of greed, hate and delusion in consciousness, the sooner we can begin the spiritual work that allows conversion to happen. Above all, the arising of greed, hate or delusion can serve as a reminder to withdraw within, take refuge in stillness, and ask the Eternal for help.

After over forty years of training, I continue to be amazed at how often I forget to do that asking. Again and again, I find in experience that when I need the Help of the Eternal and fail to ask for It, the consequences of my actions show me that I would have done better by asking then by launching out on my own. And, again and again, I find in experience that whenever I turn toward the Eternal for help in the midst of genuine need, I find that I am shown the way through whatever difficulties I am experiencing.

That "way through the difficulties" manifests just one step at a time. And each step must be taken in faith: intellectual clarity is not usually provided. Yet it is amazing that all that is needed is given at just the right moment whenever there is a genuine following of the Eternal. Thus, it is indeed better to follow the Eternal through hell itself than to bask in heaven while being ignorant of the Way of asking and following.


Without greed, we would not survive. Hunger lets us know that we need food. Without sexual desire, our species would go extinct. Other physical desires are related to other aspects of physical survival.

We need greed, yet greed can get us in a lot of trouble. We can crave things that do not promote health and survival, but that are self-destructive.

Here is a principle for training with greed: Refrain from doing that which gives a short-term benefit at a long-term cost. Here is another way of saying the same thing: Refrain from seeking any benefit that comes at the cost of another's loss.

These two formulations of a principle for training with greed sound different, but they are really identical in meaning because there is no enduring self or ego. Therefore, if I do that in the short-run that is bad for me in the long-run, it is the same as acting in a such a way that I gain while another person loses: "my" present gain can be at the expense of "my" future loss.

Greed converts to generosity. So another way to express the above principle of training with greed is in words that Rev. Master often repeated: "In each situation, do that which will help everyone be a success in his or her own way." If we are following the Eternal, our actions will naturally and unselfconsciously express this teaching, for the Eternal always does that which helps all beings be a success in their own way.

Sexual Desire

Just as the pleasure of eating exists so that we will indeed eat, and thus avoid dying, so the pleasure of the sexual act exists so that we will reproduce our species. The belief that the pleasure of the sexual act is an end in itself is a form of delusion, as is the belief that there is something inherently unclean in the sexual act.

The sexual act forms (or reinforces) a strong karmic bond between beings. This bond is felt as love. But even when it is not felt as love, this bond still exists, and is forged even in the most "casual" of sexual encounters. Therefore, there is in reality no such thing as "casual sex."

Human beings take longer to grow to full adulthood than any other form of animal life on our planet. If we think about what it takes to support, protect and nurture children from birth to adulthood, we can see a very practical reason why the sexual act forms such a powerful bond between two people: people who share a great love for, commitment to, and loyalty toward one another provide a better home for children. Of course, there is a lot more to the love and commitment of a successful marriage than sex. My point is that the potential for a strong, loving and successful marriage is all coiled up, as it were, in the sexual act, and anything that has that much potential within it is inherently very powerful: handle with care!

The sexual act has the potential to be an act in which great love and tenderness are expressed and felt. It also has the potential to be an act in which selfishness, contempt and even violence and hatred are expressed and felt. In either case the karmic bond between beings is forged (or reinforced). In the latter case, however, great suffering will flow forth from the sexual act.

The sexual act spends merit. This fact is not in itself either good or bad: it just is. It is for each individual to decide how his or her merit is to be spent--and to reap the consequences of the choices made. It is wiser to spend merit in a genuinely worthwhile cause than to squander it recklessly.

Rev. Master emphasized that celibacy is a prerequisite for the blossoming of deeper spirituality in any human life: one has to stop spending merit for the purpose of reproduction in order to spend merit for the purpose of the deep cleansing and conversion of karma. (Note: The biological purpose of sexuality is reproduction. Therefore, whether people engaging in sexual activity think that they are spending merit for the purpose of reproducing their kind or not, that is what the merit is in fact being spent for: the functioning of the law of karma is not subject to our personal wishes.)

There is therefore a real--and positive--spiritual reason for monastic (renunciate) celibacy. But note that celibacy has spiritual efficacy only insofar as it occurs within the context provided by the combination of a genuine spiritual purpose and a contemplative practice emphasizing both meditation and the Precepts. The "contemplative practice emphasizing both meditation and the Precepts" is a compassionate practice. To judge the sexual part of ourselves as being base, evil and dirty is to "create clouds in a clear sky"--in other words, to violate the true spirit of the Precepts. Sexuality has the Buddha Nature: it is precisely because it is so precious that it needs to be handled with such care.

Most Buddhist trainees are not monks, but lay trainees. Some lay trainees gravitate toward celibacy, especially in later life. But many are not celibate. For those who train in the non-celibate, lay context, faithfulness to one's partner, moderation in indulging sexual desire, the expression of love, respect and tenderness, and the acceptance of all the consequences of one's actions are essential elements of training with sexuality.

Everything that I have said about sexuality and the Precepts applies to both heterosexual and homosexual activity and relationships.


Hate is the flip-side of greed. Where there is great wanting, there is the potential for great anger. For anger is the emotional impulse to remove an obstacle to the fulfillment of desire. Thus, in its rawest form, hatred is the emotional urge to destroy something or someone.

The experience of the feeling of hatred, and the realization of the potentially horrific consequences of allowing oneself to be swept away by such a feeling, can shock a person into crying out to the Eternal for help.

The deepest hatred is the hatred that beings nurture in their hearts and minds toward themselves. Therefore, the practice of self-forgiveness is an essential part of training with anger. There is a Precept, "Do not speak against others." This Precept also means, "Do not speak against yourself." There is another Precept, "Do not be proud of yourself and judge (or blame) others." This Precept also means, "Do not play God and judge (or blame) yourself."

Contrary to a common belief, blaming oneself after making a mistake does not make it less likely that one will repeat the mistake. Rather, it adds another layer of pain and confusion over existing pain and confusion, thus making it more likely that mistakes will be made.

Most of self-forgiveness consists in ceasing to indulge the habitual urge to blame oneself. What is the alternative to self-blame?--Simply to admit that one has done what one has done (or not done what one has not done, in the case of a "sin of omission"), to accept the consequences of one's action (or inaction), and to resolve to do better. The recognition that one needs help in doing better, and turning toward the Eternal for that help, is an essential part of the deepest resolve to do better.

If we wish to forgive ourselves, we must be willing to forgive others; and if we wish to forgive others, we must be willing to forgive ourselves: there is no getting around this fact.

Hatred converts into compassion; self-hatred converts into compassion for oneself. Compassion is not pity; compassion for oneself is not self-pity. Nor is compassion an emotion, though it may be reflected in feeling. Compassion is generous-hearted acceptance. Its ultimate Source is the Love of the Eternal. Therefore it can be said that in applying the principles of training (meditation, the Precepts, faith) to hatred and anger we are opening our hearts to the Love of the Eternal.


The belief that the totality of body and mind, or any part or aspect of body and mind, constitutes an enduring refuge is an illusion which is totally unsupported in actual experience. This "mistaken viewpoint of body and mind" (to borrow Great Master Dogen's words) lies at the heart of spiritual ignorance.

And yet there is That which is a true and enduring Refuge. It is not a part or aspect of our body and mind; It is neither ego nor soul. Yet neither is It in any way separate from the body and mind of any being. The "blood and bones" understanding that this True Refuge exists lies at the heart of spiritual wisdom.

How does one go from ignorance to wisdom?--The "house of ego" is a spiritual prison. How does one break out of jail?

The prison of ego was made; it can be unmade. Ignorance was made; it can be converted.

How to Grow a Lotus Blossom provides the best guidebook for the unmaking of the house of ego and the conversion of ignorance into wisdom of which I know. At the heart of this book is great faith. Each of us possesses the seed of such faith--the pure intuitive "knowing within unknowing" that there is the Eternal, the Lord of the "house of body and mind."

It is by acting upon faith that the prison of ego is unmade and ignorance is converted. For it was by acting upon despair and self-judgment that the prison of ego was made and ignorance deepened.

The key to acting upon faith is to look up, rather than down, spiritually. And the best way to learn to do this is to practice meditation. As I have so often found in my own experience, one should never underestimate the merit of a single moment of genuine meditation.


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