31 Dec

A Thousand Buddhas

Lissa Coffey

Lissa Coffey

Lissa Coffey

Happy Earth Day!

I am lucky to live next door to Thousand Oaks, California – where the city is named for the abundance of beautiful oak trees found throughout the area.  In tribute to Earth Day, and our beautiful trees, I’m publishing an article written by my dear friend and teacher, Rev. Glenn Hughes.  Thank you, Glenn!

A Thousand Buddhas Among Us

by Glenn Hughes


There’s a well-known Zen Buddhist koan that asks the question, Does an oak tree have buddhanature?  Zen, a popular school or method of practicing the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism, is big on koans, especially in Japan and ever growing in the West since popularized by such Beat Generation writers as Alan Watts, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg.  


The contemplation of these seemingly meaningless mental puzzles can give the student or practitioner of Buddhism insight into the nature of reality.  In reflecting on the oak tree koan, one attempts to find out whether or not the oak tree has the potential of becoming a buddha, one who has reached total enlightenment.


The word buddha usually is not capitalized unless it is in reference to The Buddha, the Indian prince who searched for, discovered and taught the nature of all life, its meaning and how to escape its frustrations and suffering.  Although known for his dharma (logic) and sutras (teachings), koans are not associated with Siddhartha or Shakyamuni, two names identifying him, the first before becoming the Buddha and the last afterwards.


When meditating on whether or not an oak tree has buddhanature, one is drawn to considering the true character of a tree, or of any reflection of life, whether it be attached to the ground, moving about on land, flying in the air or residing in water.  Buddhism explains the compounded nature of all things and requires the thinker to decide whether or not the entity has five khandas (aggregates of parts). The five are form (physical body), feelings, perceptions, thinking process, and consciousness.  Then one questions the permanence and discovers the ever-changing characteristics of these khandas.  Satisfactorily concluding this analyzing can lead to discovering one’s buddhanature and eventually to full enlightenment, the penultimate to buddhahood. 


Those of us calling Thousand Oaks home perhaps have an atypical interest in a koan about the tree from which our city derived its name.  Personally, I’ve loved oak trees ever since I was a kid living among lots of them in the little Northern California town of Diamond Springs.  In fact, in addition to a pig ranch, my family operated an outdoor nightspot with a dance floor built around a huge oak tree; it was called The Musical Oak.  


To venerate the buddhanature of not only our beloved oaks, but also our own potential buddhahood, this poem is about them and those of us who love them.


The Oaks Among Us


There stand my friends, a thousand noble essences of life,

Their many outstretched branches, like those of multi-armed Kwan Yins

Reaching out to me and all who come within their auras,

And freely offering their love, their friendship and compassion

To all varieties of life in all their individual splendor.


Here I too stand, encouraged by their unencumbered love, 

My arms stretched out in prayer, like the upper branches of my friends,

In worship of this precious gift of life, ours to enjoy,

And freely offering my thanks and love with ceaseless passion

To all varieties of life in all their individual splendor.


Here we do stand, not them and me, but us in our connectedness,

Our buddhanature beaming, like that of lovers sharing tender moments,

Piercing the spheres with gentleness and joy,

And freely offering our essence and our mutual admiration

To all varieties of life in all their individual splendor.


Although we speak in many different ways,

Each one as one as well as individually,

Our voices merge in a celestial symphony,

Mine and those of my beloved cherished friends,

These thousand oaks.








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