Out of Work Bodhisattvas

Lately I have been thinking of all the out of work Bodhisattvas wandering around smiling with signs saying, “ Will Gladly Share Merit” as people shuffle by with their heads down, some saying, “No thanks, I don’t need any.”  Others just pointing at the goody two shoes, laughing at them, “them bleeding heart liberals” they say, “You gotta earn your own merit boy”, while they walk around dissatisfied, and hollow, singing,  “ I built this! I built this!” scratching their heads because they still feel so unsatisfied.

I think I have always been attracted to the idea of a Bodhisattva. I appreciate the traditional concept of the vow taking and the rebirth back to everyday life, the suprahuman powers to take on a myriad of forms to guide us, help us, teach us and sometimes even pull us begrudgingly toward awakening and always willing to  share with us the merit of their compassion. I also appreciate the more expansive everyday conception of the Bodhisattva as expressed by Taitesu Unno when he writes that the Bodhisattva can be, “anyone who meets the challenge and provides care for the needy…whether that person knows anything about Buddhism or not.”

In the more traditional Mahayana Buddhist view point there is the idea that our positive deeds, acts or thoughts generate a sort of spiritual energy or power that can be accumulated.  This concept is fundamental to the idea of Karma and Buddhist ethics. This view extends to the idea that the merit that is generated by our skillful actions can be shared with other beings. In the early Theravada, it was with  deceased relatives. In the Mahayana that was expanded to all beings.  The Bodhisattva “shares” his merit with all sentient beings to help them toward enlightenment. Taking to its logical conclusion  we see the life and career of Dharmakara Bodhisattva who becomes Amida Buddha.  In the more expansive and less religious definitions, also seen in the writings of Gyomay Kubose and Thich Nhat Hahn, the more mundane merit generated by these Bodhisattvas can come in very concrete and everyday ways.  Something simple as a hand up, a listen and a place to be safe.  Both kinds of Bodhisattvas can be recognized by their practice of  Ksanti, their practice of patience, patience with us and our struggle to receive their help. Patient and out of work until we accept their gifts.  The awakened Bodhisattva knows as Sunada Takagi  has written that life is, “as much about graciously receiving as it is about giving”. 

 The practice of receiving, let alone even asking for help is challenging for many of us. The first time  I really, open heartedly  asked and accepted help wasn’t until I was in my late 40’!  All those Bodhisattvas in my life offering their merit and their compassion and me walking past them, sometimes with my head down, other times mocking them.  In my delusional thinking I believed that to need help was to be weak and to be weak was to be unlovable.

I think at this point it is important to realize that receiving is different than taking. We take food, love, money all the time.  The difference between the two is that when we take, our small-Self is saying, “ I earned this!”  When we get love from our wife or our children, when we get kudos at work, when we eat a lovely meal, we aren’t receiving the love, acknowledgement or food; we see ourselves as earning it. We take it because it is ours.   A similar strain of this construct is when we see ourselves as unworthy to receive anything. This can manifest as self-doubt and shame. In both strains we are stuck in seeing giving and receiving as economic exchanges but how could it be any other way?  I was never taught how to receive. How about you?  Most of us have been taught that it is better to give than to receive but how can that be since to give you need to have someone to receive? Proportionally it doesn’t add up.

Truly receiving is something different from taking. There is an inherent humility. There is an openness of heart, an acknowledgement of our interdependence and an awareness of our dependence on a myriad of things. Receiving is a place of openness and courage in that it implies a vulnerability; we may ask for something in that open space and not get it.   Yet in realizing our lack of control, our inability to fix love, joy and peace in place by somehow earning them, those very things arise naturally. Everything I receive is a gift, a gift to me and a gift to the give. An ever expanding circle of giving, where in the end there is no giver, no receiver and no gift.  A gift is not something earned and the “merit” offered by all the Bodhisattvas is a gift of love of boundless compassion as they watch on in our attempt to control the world. When we insist on ‘earning our keep” and we do not receive the gift , we miss out on the  boundlessness of grace that is offered us by everything and by all of our patient Bodhisattvas waiting for us.  I try to remember that even in the Dharma, what we receive from the teachings is so much greater, exponentially greater, than anything we put into the teachings.

In a previous paper I wrote about the Way of the Nembutsu is the path of gratitude. Before the path can open up there is the receiving; receiving the teachings and the compassion of the Buddhas and for us Pure Land leaning practitioners, receiving and entrusting in the compassion offered by Amida Buddha manifest in the formless form of his Pure Land.  For me the Way of the Nembutsu is the path of receiving the grace of Amida and all the Bodhisattvas and Buddhas, of setting aside calculations, schemes and dualistic and conceptual thinking, of sitting and chanting in an awareness of the abundance of the Buddhas and the Dharma and the Sangha.  I challenge myself and you to make room in ourselves to receive, to receive the abundance the Buddhas have to offer us.

When we turn toward our Bodhisattva ready to receive, she turns around her sign and on the other side our no longer out of work Bodhisattva has written this line,

“The buddhas say come, come, and dance.”*

And we dance.

Boundless: October’s Newsletter.

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Here is a link to our latest newsletter, poetry, photograph, practice and more.

https://caleibow.atavist.com/boundless-oct-2016

Ku Yo – Offerings to all the Buddhas

“ Ku Yo, making an offering is a very important virtue in the Buddha’s Way…Ku Yo is done in relation to someone who is more worthy than oneself…to do Ku Yo is one way of expressing profound gratitude and nourishment for the very source of our gratitude…it is an honor to do Ku Yo.” – Gyomay Kubose

 

The concept of Ku Yo resonates with me. To make offerings to all the Buddhas is something that brought me back to Buddhism, after being away for a while. I have no idea of why this is what brought me back. If I look at my history, one would think that this is what would drive me away instead of drawing me nearer. Recently I was re-reading the Shorter Pure Land Sutra about how one of the practices in the Pure Land being was to make offerings to countless Buddhas of other Buddha lands. In Sukhavati, it rains Mandarava blossoms all the time, and those flowers are gathered up and then offered to numerous Buddhas across the universe. Along with other meditative or Bodhisattva practices, there is also the practice of Ku Yo. I love that fact that the offering to the Buddhas is not something that is rare but something that is continuously unfolding. I like to think of the flowers as a representation of the compassion and practice of those living in the Pure Land; the flowers raining from the sky represent the fruit of practice and awakening. As Mark Healsmith has written, “The flower is a wonderful exemplar of the uniqueness yet interconnectedness of all life “ and makes the offering of them an expression of the interconnectedness of all life and “profound gratitude, for the very source of our gratitude.”

The other reason why Ku Yo resonates with me is it is something that I have been contemplating. I have been thinking about Ku Yo in the frame of the “Way of Gratitude” and some of the barriers that impede our cultivation of it. I have been thinking about the role of humility and gratitude and how humility is one of its prerequisites. I think, at times, we struggle with gratitude because we struggle with humility. As I have been thinking about this and asking others, I found that for many of us we struggle with humility because we have not experienced it, only its unhealthy sibling; Shame. In humility we are open, we are ready to learn, we show both sides of the leaf. With shame, we close our self off from the outside world and bury our leaf in the darkest hole. In this state of mind when we see someone with boundless compassion or great practice we do not see it as something we can learn from, but they become a source of further comparison and a deepening shame of our failures. That which could give us hope and insight into our Buddha Nature only becomes a testament to our failures. Gratitude gets choked off in the darkness. Humility, on the other hand, opens us up to awe and the acceptance of our limitation, it frees us to “keep going” without the burden of judgment and shame.

As Gyomay writes, Ku Yo practice is being done in relation to someone or something that is more worthy than oneself. More worthy than me? A part of us does not like such a statement. Here is where many of us live in a paradox. In our shame we feel unworthy and yet we bristle at the idea of someone being more worthy than us? Why is this concept so challenging for some of us? Maybe it is because we have inherited the karma of “rugged individualism” and a misplaced meaning of “equality”? In opening services at our Sangha, we recite lines from the opening they use at Plum Village Sangha in France. One of the lines says, “may we be free from the “equality complex””, to remind ourselves that there are things greater than ourselves, like the three refuges for example; the Dharma, The Sangha and the Buddha. I am grateful that there are things in this world greater than me! I feel a sympathetic joy and gratitude to those I make offerings to. I think that Ku Yo is the fruit of “sincerely seeking the true life” (46) There is no Ku Yo without “true life” and no true life without “Ku Yo”, they “co-arise”. Offerings to the Buddha inspire us to become Buddhas, they come from the heart, there is no ego in it.” (46) all the time realizing that what bows and is bowed to are the same.

I have great appreciation for the more psychological and secular forms of Buddhism and they have been companions with me on my journey. At the same time I appreciate the idea of something greater than my small ego-self, a point of reference that elicits awe, a devotional expression within samsaric dualism, that works dynamically through poetry, metaphor and experience to dissolve all dualisms into the great ocean of compassion.

Boundless: The SLBF Newsletter

Read our latest newsletter by clicking on the Buddha.

Featuring:  An essay by Jennifer Munson on finding her way to the Salt Lake Buddhist Fellowship. Elesha Morris gives us a guided meditation for grounding and gratitude, Myoshin looks at writing haiku as Buddhist practice, plus Buddhist spoken word, and teachings from  Koyo Kubose.

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On Orlando

There was a beautiful discussion on our Facebook feed with great tenderness and concern. It is an example of spiritual friendships and on how to deal with what happened in Orlando and I wanted to reiterate what was shared and make a formal statement on behalf of our community as our hearts go out to all those affected by this tragedy. The Buddha taught that the world is suffering, and wherever their is greed, delusion and hatred there will be suffering. Our practice is not separate from samsara but in the midst of it. I love this story of Kwan Yin, seeing and hearing the endless suffering in the world, “she became so disheartened that…Her body shattered in great agitation and despair. Despite this, She did not just give up — Her consciousness called to the Buddhas for help. Of the Buddhas who came to aid her, one was Amitabha Buddha, who became her teacher and Buddha. With the Buddha’s Great compassion, she attained a new form — one with a thousand helping hands of Compassion coupled with the eyes of Wisdom in each palm. With this, she renewed her vow to saving not just limited sentient beings, but all sentient beings.” It doesn’t matter if this is a myth or not what matters is it tells us to seek support from spiritual friends, and from the Great Compassion, that is available and never stop our practice. While we can deplore the actions and the behavior, it is important to remember and sit with the suffering of all involved including the person who committed the atrocity. This in no way excuses the behavior and isn’t meant to minimize the suffering of the people who lost their lives and the impact to those that loved them. Rather it can bring you to a place of healing and compassion. This is really hard to swallow at first and we can only do it when we’re ready.. Never give up, keep going.

The Grace of Oneness

“ This realization of oneness. It involves the highest type of communication and respect.  IF your life is realized in the this sense…you would see that the whole world supports you.  You exist because others; everything supports your life.  This totality, this oneness evokes a gratitude and a great joy beyond explanation.” Gyomay Kubose

 

We live a life immersed in grace;  the grace of being supported by all things at all times. We are supported by the solar system, by the sun that continually lights our world and drives the processes that help the earth to give us air to breath, water to drink and food to eat, that helps us to see, We are supported by the smallest things, to the largest. We are supported by microbes and bees that help create the food we eat, and by all the trees that help us breathe.   The bees give us grace every day, the trees give us grace, and there is also the grace given by our ancestors down through long passages of time; so much grace given that is still within in us now.  We are all interdependent and existent in this very moment.  In the midst of our diversity and interdependence we can come to direct realization of Oneness and by doing so we can communicate our respect and gratitude for them, for all of life, for all the gifts which in oneness we have received  and which are unmerited.

 

For me, namu amida butsu is an expression of this oneness and grace, an expression of Buddha-nature.  The Oneness that Gyomay Sensei is writing about in the above quote, is for me personified as Amida Buddha.  Because of Oneness I exist and therefore I exist because of namu amida butsu. This is how I understand the idea among some teachers, that  the nembutsu is simply an expression of gratitude for all that Amida Buddha has done for us. My practice of chanting the nembutsu is a form of the highest form of  communication and respect. Through this practice I cultivate a recognition / realization of Oneness, and all that Oneness does for me every day, and this brings forth the fruit and joy of gratitude.

 

This has tied into something that I have been thinking about  and that is gratitude, gratitude as a form of awakening.  A few years ago I had an experience in the midst of great suffering, where something shifted and I was overwhelmed with an intense gratitude for everything I had experienced and everyone I have ever known, even for just a moment.  I spent hours going through my email list sending out heart felt thank yous to everyone on. I think even companies whose email list I was part of even got a thank you and I am sure a few who received the emails, shook their heads. I called friends, I reached out to as many as I could to share my gratitude for their very existence.   In this space of gratitude, I wept and I laughed.  It was confusing at first because of the amount of tears that fell.  I remember thinking why am crying so hard?  I am  not sad so why am I crying? I realized that for me this is how deep and profound gratitude expresses itself.  Later on, this experience also helped to me realize that for many years I had seen “love” as the highest emotion, the goal of religious practice.  I have had experiences of profound love for all things,  where I loved even the street sign that I was standing under, and yet that night I experienced something even more expansive and sublime than “love”;  I experienced an unbounded gratitude. Writing this now and remembering what it was like, the lines from last week’s report are even more profound  “ We should always be ready to die, able to say, “thank you for everything”.  In some ways, that is what I experienced that night, the “thank you for everything” and remembering it helps me to understand what Gyomay Sensei was teaching.

 

I like what Jeff Wilson,  a Jodo Shin minister has written,  “in Shin Buddhism our main focus is the practice of gratitude. We practice simply to give thanks for what we have received. It’s a small shift in one’s perspective, but when pursued, it can be transformative.”  This came home to me the other night when I was holding my little boy in my arms, he was cuddled against my chest and I was just feeling him breathe and thinking how much I loved him and I just repeated thank you, thank you, thank you and the love I was feeling already, expanded exponentially and was enfolded into an ever expanding gratitude.  I think the cultivation of  gratitude is an important practice because it acts as a catalyst that can expand positive states of consciousness. Cultivating gratitude, by recognizing  and by expressing it, manifests more gratitude and deepens our awareness of Oneness.

 

Namu amida butsu

Namu amida butsu

Namu amida butsu

 

May it be so.

Our Chant and What it Means.

We chant a version of the nembutsu which means to keep remember the Buddha.  Here is the chant that we do  every Sunday as a part of our practice and a brief explanation of what it represent? Here it is.
Namu Amitabhaya
Buddhaya
Dharmaya
Shanghaya
Namu Amitabhaya
Buddhaya
Dharmaya
Shanghaya
Namu Namu Amitbhaya
Namu Namu Amitbhaya
The chant traditionally uses Namo which means Homage to, we use the less traditional “namu” which means “to bow” and can also be loosely translated as “to become.” as to become Amitabhaya Buddha who is a Trans-Historical Buddha of Boundless Compassion accepting everyone just as they are, a Buddha of absolute grace. The chant is an aspiration to become like Amitabha Buddha and to demonstrate boundless compassion for all beings. Namu Amida Butsu means I follow/return back to Amida Buddha it is also there to remind us that Amitabha Buddha is there to help us realize our Buddha-Nature and all the Buddhas sing for our awakening.
On a more practical level, we say Namu Amida Butsu, especially after become aware of doing something that reveals our foolishness, lack of compassion, our greed and anger. For me it means, each moment of awareness is a moment to begin again, that I always have a “blank slate” to begin again even right after doing something foolish.  This opens a boundless space of practice and self-compassion, until we come to realize the path of pure surrender.
 I like this straight forward take on reciting Namu Amida Butsu.   Shinran (1173–1263) taught that for most of us, the pursuit of enlightenment is a futile, ego-driven exercise, and that thanks to tariki, or “other power,” or the personification of “Buddha-Nature” within Amida Buddha, we come to understand that we are already enlightened. “We should chant the Nembutsu out of gratitude, because we realize that we are already home home and we’re grateful.
For those of a more traditional or formal perspective here is a link.

The Three Hardest Words.

I don’t know.

From a young age  many of us are afraid to be someone  who doesn’t know. Maybe we are afraid to be seen as dumb and therefore unacceptable,  so we wing it and hope the other person doesn’t see that we actually don’t have a clue. This is not just anecdotal, studies have shown that when children are giving unanswerable questions, they makeup answers, to seem like they know rather than to be found not knowing.  This habit sticks with as we grow up, for some of us they become the three hardest words to say.   We all know that feeling; usually half way through, when we realize we really have no clue what we are saying and how much easier it would have to simply say, “ I don’t know”. Instead we find ourselves five years old again, dancing around with our made up answers, again  hoping no one will notice.

To act as a “knower”  is fraught with challenges and pitfalls. Deciding that we know this is the way it is.”….. has a tendency to close us off to a myriad of other possibilities.  We become fixed in our ideas and perceptions, our world gets smaller and smaller.  Another problem with knowing and being afraid of not knowing, is we can never really be confident that what we know is reality. To paraphrase Mark Twain. “…they think they know something that just ain’t so.

To be clear, the knowing I am referring to is not confusion or paralyzing doubt and it is not knowing in opposition to not knowing as in not knowing the capital of Nebraska, or  even a set of propositions such as the four noble truths.  When I say “I don’t know” I am talking the spirit of openness and curiosity a “I don’t know! Let’s find out!” or  “Let’s keep going and see what happens,” it is the not knowing of faith.  Suzuki Roshi wrote in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, “With beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert mind there are few.”  Beginner’s mind is the essence of not knowing”.  For those trapped in “knowing” the vista is limited, the questions are answered, all is settled, the world is fixed, but in the end, the light at the end of the tunnel is not more knowledge but the Dukkha Express and it is coming fast.

So how can we cultivate the non-dual spirit of “I don’t know”?  The first thing is to simply being willing to not know, to let go of the knowing.  I have found the world is lighter when I am free of having to know, I am more patient, less stressed, open. Here are two concrete things we can do to cultivate the not knowing.

First there is a  good practice suggested by Buddhist teacher, Gil Fronsdal, is to attach  “I don’t know” to as many thoughts as possible. For example, when thoughts arise like, this is good or this is bad or I can’t handle this; these become, I don’t know if this is good or I don’t know if this is bad or I don’t know if I can’t handle this.  As he says,  “the phrase “I don’t know” questions the authority of everything we think.”  It allows us to be free of fixed ideas, it can create curiosity and allows an openness to creativity.”  He goes on to say that this simple phrase can help us challenge tightly held beliefs and can  “pull the rug out from under our most cherished beliefs.”   Not knowing opens the world to us, it makes a way for us to be compassionate, patient, kind, honest and help cultivate equanimity.

The last thing that we can do to  cultivate the essence of “I don’t know”  is bowing.  James Ishmael Ford has written about not knowing and how it relates to the act of bowing.

“Don’t know. Not knowing. That is the ancient spiritual practice of bowing in a nutshell…The bow, I suggest, can open our hearts, can take us places we never dreamed of, to a palpable, transformative, endless world of possibility called not knowing. This is what I really want to underscore: this not knowing has endless creative possibilities, to throw in another metaphor, one or two simply aren’t enough for this place, this moment when we surrender to not knowing, when we bow to life: we discover a well that apparently is bottomless, bubbling with life-giving waters.”

I raise my hands in gassho and bow to each of you.

I would like to close with the words of Zen teacher of the 9th century, Dizang, “not knowing is most intimate.”

Namu Amida Butsu.

We are all Refugees.

Lately the world seems on fire, with mass shootings, mass migrations and terrorist attacks.  People are more polarized of late, cultural shifts, deep old wounds are festering and all of these are changing the landscape, the earth seems to be moving under their feet and many are taking refuge in nationalism, bigotry and fear.  The rawness and depth of this really hit home with me, especially when the little refugee boy washed up on the beaches of Turkey.  I have a boy about this age…the image haunted me for days.  What would make a father put his child at risk like that.  A picture of the city his family left was published with the caption, “this is why you put your children on a boat.”  The city the boy was from was destroyed; a city of skeletons, torn and broken homes, some burning, desolate and abandoned streets, the same streets that had heard laughter and music, the buzz and honk of rush hour, bird song and the heart beats of lover, now was a city of the dead, with only the sound of distant mortars, more a mausoleum of lost hopes, and dreams.  Looking at the picture I was reminded of the words of the Buddha, “The world is burning.”   And it is not just from war torn areas, there are refugees everywhere, there are spiritual refugees, spiritually homeless who have homes, spiritually friendless who have friends, those who know where they are at is not “right” that something is missing. It seems we are all looking for refuge, looking for a spiritual home.

Thinking of the small child dead on the beach, I wondered if that was my child, where could I find refuge from the pain, disappointment and impermanence of it all.  Refuge is a condition of being safe or sheltered from pursuit, danger, or trouble, it’s a coming home. But we don’t have to experience the horror that the family from Syrian experienced to ask for or seek refuge.  I have come to realize that as spiritual refugees many of us have wandered through self-help books, careers, relationships, materialism and addictions to find some home, some sort of refuge but only to be disappointed. The Tibetan teacher Chogyam Trungpa explains that anyone who ‘goes for refuge’ must therefore be a ‘refugee’, so that as Buddhists we are ‘refugees from conditioned existence.”

As I have keep going on our journey I have found it, and it has always been waiting for me in the Buddha, the Dharma and the sangha, it was like coming home. I think this makes sense since we go to refuge saraa-gamana which in Pali could be translated as “coming home” we come home to the Buddha, the Dharma and the sangha.

It is my hope that faced with such suffering as the refugees from Syria, I could still find my refuge by taking refuge in the Buddha, in the fact of his Awakening: and the three jewels, placing trust that he actually awakened to the truth, that he did so by cultivating qualities that we too can cultivate. That through my understanding of impermanence and the compassion of the Buddha, that awakening can be my ultimate refuge.”

May it be so.