Why Shin Buddhism

Here is a great essay from Scott Mitchell published by Patheos. I thought I would reblog it here. Here is the original link http://www.patheos.com/blogs/asthewheelturns/2010/06/why-shin-buddhism/

 

Why Shin Buddhism

 

 

I have been asked on more than one occasion why I’ve chosen to follow the Shin Buddhist path. Many times, I get the strong impression that the asker is thinking to him/herself, “Isn’t Shin Buddhism a Japanese Buddhist path? You’re not Japanese. You didn’t marry a Japanese Buddhist. What’s the deal?” I think, despite the obvious problems with those stereotypes, that it’s still a valid question. It’s as valid a question as why one chooses Zen or Nichiren or Shambhala or any other school of Buddhism.

And I’ve always had a hard time clearly articulating my reason. I used to think that this was in part due to the issue of practice (i.e., why this practice and not some other) and how difficult it is to talk about practice in the context of a school that, on paper, doesn’t actually practice. Or, perhaps, it was due to the fact that my choices are largely personal, and some of those stories, frankly, are none of your business!

But I’ve been reflecting on this more over the past week or two and I think I know where the confusion comes from. I think it has to do with the nature of religion and spiritual practice, with different folks’ expectations of what spirituality looks like.

There’s a well-worn trope out there that suggests that most folks who come to Buddhism in the West do so in part because of the spiritual technology of Buddhism, i.e., they wanna meditate. And certainly there is a well-developed path of religious/spiritual practice in the world that focuses on the sole practitioner and his/her valiant efforts at pursuing some sort of personal spiritual fulfillment. And, let me be perfectly clear, despite my often sarcastic asides around here, I think this path of spirituality is a perfectly valid, perfectly appropriate path.

But the thing of it is that it’s just not for me. I’m not a lone crusader. Despite the fact that I spent a good portion of my youth desperately clinging to my individuality, my uniqueness, my self-appointed status as “not a joiner,” the truth of the matter is that I really do want be a part of something, that I really like being with other people.

As much as there is the ideal of the lone practitioner in the long history of world religions, there is an equally valid path that suggests that one can be spiritual (some may say should be spiritual) in community. That spirituality isn’t something one does alone on the cushion or sequestered in a monastery but is something one does in the world, with others.

My earliest experiences with Buddhism, my earliest memories of sitting in the zendo, doing kinhin, of being silent — these are uncomfortable, lonely memories that facilitated feelings of disconnect, of isolation.

These memories are in stark contrast to my experiences with Shin Buddhism. These experiences include temple services filled not only with chanting but with singing, with music, laughter, and with children. And the spontaneity that children always bring to any social event. These experiences include bar-b-quing chicken over an outdoor pit behind the Berkeley Buddhist Temple during the bazaar with a bunch of total strangers, all whom were welcoming and friendly. My experiences of Shin Buddhism are largely experiences I’ve had out here in the world of work and family and friends, countless small moments where I am reminded of my deep interconnection to other people, moments where I am forced to pause, reflect on how beautiful, how fragile this world is, how grateful I am for this life, with all its joys and all its imperfections. Just as it is, as the saying goes.

For me, spirituality has always been something out here in the everyday world, not something I set aside time for, not something I “practice” necessarily, but something that just happens. Something that is an integral part of my life, my friends, my family — even and especially those friends and family who aren’t Buddhist. For me, spirituality is something that I strive to integrate into all aspects of my life, a vehicle to connect me to the world, not to isolate me from it.

I have deep respect for folks who are able to use the spiritual technology of mediation for similar ends. But it never seemed to work for me. So I was deeply fortunate to find a model of Buddhist practice within Jodo Shinshu that does work for me. And that’s why I stick with it.

 

(For more information about Shin Buddhism, I highly recommend the website of Prof. Al Bloom, Shin Dharmanet.)

The Compassionate Light of the Buddha Amida

The Buddha of Infinite light casts her compassionate light
on every finite living being; regardless – even though we are
blinded by passions & run in circles, her light is unobstructed.
Is there anyone among you who can out run the sun?
Where are you running too anyway? It is true we are foolish …
beings – so stop running, take refuge in Amida Buddha,
the healing light, the unobstructed light of compassion.

Namu Amida Butsu.

Nembutsu for your home altar

Here is an original nembutsus for you to to use for a home altar. The written nebutsu was first introduced by Shinran Shonin when he was teaching the poor in the outer districts of Japan. The people were so poor they could not afford a Buddha statue so the name of the Buddha was written out and took the place of the Buddha statue. In addition the nembutsu is the “Name that Calls” and is the representation of the Grace that attends all of life and is personified in Amida Buddha.  I will load others later.

cropped-nebutsu-3starfield.jpg

 

Jodo Shinshu featured in Tricycle Magazine.

For the most part, Jodo Shin Buddhism is almost unknown in the West up until recently. The work of the Unno’s have done a lot to bring interest to the tradition in the States. Before the Unno’s there was Dr. Alfred Bloom and you will find both of there writings in these articles in Tricycle Magazine, they been featuring article on our tradition. Here is a great reference for those interested in the Jodo Shin tradition of Buddhism as shared in the pages of Tricycle.

http://www.tricycle.com/web-exclusive/jodo-shinshu-way-shinran

The Pure Land a Place or a Symbol or Both?

When I first came to Buddhism, I was fascinated about how doctrinaire it could be and it felt a lot like the judeo-christian world with all the arguments about purity of doctrine and who was right and wrong.  For those new to Buddhism, you will see that in the different schools.  thankfully there are the 84,000 Dharma-doors – there are innumerable paths to enlightenment.   One area that has much disagreement is the idea of the Pure Land.

For some the Buddhist Pure Land is another realm where we are able to do the practice in purity and grace after we die and return as bodhisattvas to bring others to the Pure Land.  The first component of the Pure Land, Amida Buddha, is the master of the land.  The Pure Land is a place where Amida Buddha is teaching and his spirit pervades, where

“In the ponds, at all times, lotuses of various colors as large as
chariot-wheels are in bloom. Blue flowers radiate blue light, brilliance and
splendor; yellow ones radiate yellow light, brilliance and splendor; red ones
radiate red light, brilliance and splendor; white ones radiate white light,
brilliance and splendor; four-colored ones radiate four-colored light,
brilliance and splendor. Shariputra, that Buddha-land is full of such glorious
adornments of supreme qualities, which are most pleasing to the mind. For this
reason, that land is called ‘Utmost Bliss.’   THE SUTRA ON PRAISE OF THE PURE LAND

Like I said, for man this is what the Pure Land is for them,  I personal do not know. Shonin Shinran the founder of Shin seems to clearly teach that it is an actual place in another realm where we go when we die.  It’s possible.

For my daily engagement with the world I like to look at the Pure Land in two ways,  The first is from   Thich Nhat Hanh and what he has said about the Pure Land….

” The notion that the Pure Land is an exterior reality, a place to be found far away in the western direction, is just for beginners. If we deepen our practice, the Buddha and the Buddha’s land become a reality in our mind. Our ancestral teachers have always said this. If we practice well, we can experience Amitabha Buddha and the Pure Land wherever we are in the present moment.” –

I also like what  Rijin Yasuda a Shin Priest wrote about the Pure Land

“People say various things about birth in the Pure Land. But could there be any greater ‘birth in the Pure Land’ than the fact that we are now sitting and learning sitting and learning the Dharma together? This place where we are listening to the Dharma together is the Pure Land. Our being allowed to be part of this place, of this Sangha, is ‘birth in the Pure Land.’ Do you think that you can have anything greater than this in your life—the fact that you are listening to the Dharma as a member of the Sangha? Some people may speak about the wonderful things to be obtained in the Pure Land after death, but those things are nothing but projections of human greed. The fact that we are privileged to be part of the Sangha is our liberation, our “birth in the Pure Land.'”

I like these two sentiments.

In the end I think my mythological mind embraces the first idea about the Pure Land and the  lotuses of various colors as large as  chariot-wheels are in bloom. Blue flowers radiate blue light, brilliance and  splendor; there is something poetic about it.  And I would say that my  daily mind / present mind embraces  the second ideas.

How about you?

Three New Poems

Blinded by Passions

Blinded by
passions , I
complain
out loud in
the darkness
of my own
making,
not noticing
the one
guiding
the boat
to the Other
shore, not
hearing
in the light

namu amida butsu

 

The Buddha Within

The Voiceless voice
she calls out to me,

with these lips
& this breath.

Astonished that even
as I am, the Buddha

& I are one.
Namu Amida Butsu

 

 

My Foolish Self

My blind self
pierced by Amida’s light

illuminated and dissolved
into the great ocean of compassion

into the Oneness of life
Palms together, embraced

just as I am. each step
with the Buddha,

my truest self,
my Amida self,

the deep flow of the oneness of realty
all beings one with me

palms together and bowing
namu amida butsu,

embraced just as I am.

 

 

On Right Livelihood a few Thoughts.

A few thoughts on Right Livelihood.

 from Wikipedia

Right livelihood (samyag-ājīva / sammā-ājīva). This means that practitioners ought not to engage in trades or occupations which, either directly or indirectly, result in harm for other living beings.

And what is right livelihood? There is the case where a disciple of the noble ones, having abandoned dishonest livelihood, keeps his life going with right livelihood: This is called right livelihood.

More concretely today interpretations include “work and career need to be integrated into life as a Buddhist,”[46] it is also an ethical livelihood, “wealth obtained through rightful means” (Bhikku Basnagoda Rahula) – that means being honest and ethical in business dealings, not to cheat, lie or steal.[47] As people are spending most of their time at work, it’s important to assess how our work affects our mind and heart. So important questions include “How can work become meaningful? How can it be a support, not a hindrance, to spiritual practice — a place to deepen our awareness and kindness?”[46]

The five types of businesses that should not be undertaken:[48][49][50]

  1. Business in weapons: trading in all kinds of weapons and instruments for killing.
  2. Business in human beings: slave trading, prostitution, or the buying and selling of children or adults.
  3. Business in meat: “meat” refers to the bodies of beings after they are killed. This includes breeding animals for slaughter.
  4. Business in intoxicants: manufacturing or selling intoxicating drinks or addictive drugs.
  5. Business in poison: producing or trading in any kind of poison or a toxic product designed to kill.

Pure Land Shin Buddhism

I want to look at this from a different angle.  Early in the founding days of Shin Buddhist Tradition, Honen wanted to teach everyone the Path but could not until he was banished by the emperor to live among the poor and outcast and so he began teaching anyone who would listen to him about the nembutsu path; fortune -tellers, fishermen, prostitutes, ex-robbers, butchers, samurai and other elements of society that were normally excluded from Buddhist practice; the outcasts.  Honen knew, that because of our blind passions, and our ego-entagled selves, we were all outcasts from the Pure Land or Enlightenment and because of the Compassion of Amida, we outcasts were welcomed home.  Honen and Shinran taught that everyone was accepted and no one was excluded because of their type of work.

So what does this have to do with Right Livelihood?   Lets’ look at this quote about Kuan -yin one of the manifestations of Amida Buddha.

Kuan-yin hears the sounds of the world — the sounds of suffering, and sounds of joy as well. She hears the announcements of birds and children, of thunder and ocean, and is formed by them. In one of her representations she has a thousand arms, and each hand holds an instrument of work: a hammer, a trowel, a pen, a cooking utensil, a vajra. She has allowed the world to cultivate her character, and also has mustered herself to develop the skills to make her character effective. She is the archetype of right livelihood: one who uses the tools of the workaday world to nurture all beings and turn the Wheel of the Dharma.”

Excerpted from “Right Livelihood for the Western Buddhist” by Robert Aitken.

What does this mean to you?

Sometimes, because of circumstance or maybe even karmic debt we are unable to change our livelihoods,  What is to be done then?  Here is a favorite story from the life of Honen,

Honen met a woman who was a prostitute, and she begged him for help. He told her that if at all possible, she should quit what she’s doing, but if this is not possible, then she should sincerely recite Amida’s Name (the nembutsu) diligently. It was said later that she kept up the practice until she died, and Honen, upon hearing this, declared that should would surely be born in the Pure Land.

Is a Buddhist who works as a Bartender a bad Buddhist?  What of the soldier?  The fisherman?  The prostitute?  What does right livelihood mean for them?   And at the same time I find it hard to feel the same understanding for the Pimp, the Meth Lab Cooker.

For most of us I think, Right Livelihood ultimately mean that we are simply applying mindfulness and Buddhist principles to our daily work activities.   I am not trying to say that Right Livelihood is not reflected in the Five Types of work to be avoided,  but that not matter what work we do, that we as practitioners,  do not separate our practice from our daily work, that our practice and work are interdependent of each other.

What do you think?