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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.
“ 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.
‘Even Dewdrops Fall’ – An Interview with Taitetsu Unno’, in:Tricycle, Summer 1995
Tricycle: Can you talk a little bit about how you understand surrender in Buddhist practice?
Taitetsu Unno: In the first place, surrender is a Western religious category. In Buddhism, surrender is at the core of giving up the ego-self; but we don’t use a special term for it, because the whole thrust of Buddhist life revolves around surrender, giving up the ego.
Here there is a cultural difference—I can use the example of the martial arts. In this country, martial arts are described as “self-defense.” In the martial arts in East Asia, the aim is to train oneself to such an extent that there is no “self” to defend. That’s very hard for people to understand. I find the same problem in American Buddhism. For example, recently I read an article in which an American Zen Buddhist described visiting Japan, and I realized that American Buddhism is “psychotherapeutic” Buddhism, whereas in Japan, Buddhism is “faith” Buddhism. The core of faith is surrender, the giving up of the small-minded ego-self.
Tricycle: But how can we learn to surrender the ego-self voluntarily?
Taitetsu Unno: In the Shin Buddhist tradition, as we listen to the teaching we are made to realize that we can never surrender ourselves. Resistance comes from the deepest center of our karmic selves. That’s why the Buddha Amida’s compassion says, “Tai, you don’t have to surrender.” When I hear that, when I understand that I can’t do it because it’s not my nature—that it’s like saying, “Fly to the sky”—then I realize that I don’t have to surrender, yet, naturally and spontaneously, the surrender takes place by virtue of true compassion. This is “other-power” working through “self-power.” But this requires a tremendous struggle. As long as I think I can do it myself, it’s not going to work.
Tricycle: But how can we learn to let go like that more often? I know I can get there in unusual circumstances, but not ordinarily.
Taitetsu Unno: In Shin, the Pure Land tradition, it comes down to listening to the teaching. There is no meditative practice as such. Listening is becoming awakened. I have my own views of things, and Buddhism presents its views. Gradually, my views are displaced by the views that enlightened Buddhist teachers have cultivated for 2,500 years.
Tricycle: Do you think that American Buddhists overemphasize meditation?
Taitetsu Unno: Yes and no. The temple of modern life requires moments of silent meditation, but that’s not the goal of Buddhism. We were in Japan for six months recently, and while there I was reading articles and essays written by Buddhist laypeople and monks. The very distinguished abbot of a huge Zen monastery wrote this little article that said, “In Zen, there are only three things. First, cleaning. Second, chanting. And third, devotion. That’s all.” Many Americans go to Zen hoping to get enlightened, but they don’t want to do the cleaning. It’s very demanding and rigorous. You get up at 3:00 A.M.—and you not only sweep the floor, but you have to mop it. On your knees, you know? And then you have to chant, for an hour in the morning and an hour at night. You can understand why a bright young American boy would say, “What am I wasting my time for? I want to get enlightened.” But enlightenment can be manifested only in the daily chores of cleaning and sweeping and polishing—and chanting and devotion.
Tricycle: And the teaching.
Taitetsu Unno: Oh yes. Some people like to meditate and physically they’re able to, but some people can’t because of health reasons or life situations such as family obligations, economic problems, and so on. That doesn’t make them less of a person or less of a Buddhist, you know?
As a fellowship we share and focus on similar values and ideals that we see and feel as important, worth while. We also look for commonalities within and without the group. We find strength and refuge in our common values and ideas. At the same time in expressing and practicing these commonalities we also identify those that are different than our own, we separate ourselves and may even set ourselves up to be somehow better than the other group or at least not as “self-righteous”. I think this is what Shinran is speaking about when he talks about us being “foolish beings” When we look at the comparison of being not as “self-righteous” as the other, we realize that it is the same type of spiritual egotism thing that we are trying to distance ourselves from. Rev. Roland K. Tatsuguchi, in referring to Shinran’s teaching has written that. “Our efforts to do good, upon deep reflection, are constantly tainted by our pretentious spiritual egoism, regardless of whether we be monks or ordinary householders.” The “ego” separates us from others and is an obstacle to compassion, the same is true of our spiritual egotism.
Let me give an example. When our Sangha was just starting a friend was participating with us and he and his girl friend really like the community. Then he stopped coming. I asked him why and he said, because you are like all the others, you think your way is the better way, and people were disrespectful of others’ Christian beliefs, even laughing at some of the things others believe. I remember being confounded by this comment, then after talking with Linnea I came to realize my own blind spots. It wasn’t that anyone was being outright mocking or even demeaning, but there was this general attitude that our way is better, and then there was laughter. It is good to remember that laughter can heal and laughter can hurt. Remember being laughed at as a child?
I don’t think that anyone meant to come across that way or meant to hurt anyone. Many of us come from different traditions, and for some it may feel more of an “escape” from a tradition. Some of us were deeply wounded by the experience and in expressing our own issues, wounds, experiences, our self justifications, our blind passions, we may unknowingly come across as intolerant or even be intolerant.
Honen and Shinran taught us about our foolish natures, that we are full of blind passions. I think sometimes these can be manifested in our collective group thinking. We want to be special or at least not like those who have hurt us. Don’t get me wrong, I think that is helpful to feel a tradition, a path or belief is the best way to lead one’s life, at the same time it is important to understand that this “path” is not the only way to express the oneness of compassion.
There was a Jodo Shin minister who had the kanji for “fool” engraved on one of his beads to always remember his true state. I think this is a great example of a humble attitude, to be aware of our “spiritual ego”. It is hard to see that even our attachment to our “foolishness” and trusting in Other-power instead of Self-power can also become a “spiritualized ego”. The idea that Shinran is better and more humble, because Shinran called himself a fool, and depended only on Other-power instead of hours and hours of meditation can be just as much of an attachment to a “spiritual ego” I know that this is something I need to work on.
I want to remember that I too am a foolish being, that I will get it wrong a bunch of times, and As Jeff Wilson has written
“ There is one advantage to realizing that you’re never going to get it right: you do begin to stop expecting everyone else to get it right too, which makes for less frustration when other people turn out to be just as human as you are.”
This can be applied to those outside of our sangha and to each of us within our sangha.
Here is something I found written by Sebo Ebbens. It expresses what I think is an ideal for a spiritual community and something for us to practice.
“To me what’s important is that I want the sangha to be a spiritual community where we support each other in following our own path, in our practice as well as in our daily lives, while maintaining respect for each other’s personal paths. Our path is a difficult one. It is a solitary path. But if we are members of the sangha, this is the path we have chosen. In that sense the sangha is a spiritual community and not just a social club. The sangha does not function as a spiritual community if we can no longer say what we think because that isn’t done. Or where we can hide behind what is done or not done or behind what someone else says. We develop for ourselves what is done and what is not, within our own tradition. That makes us a living spiritual sangha… The principal characteristic of the community is that it helps you to realize your human potential and to express yourself in the real world, whether within or without the community.
May we honor each and every journey with respect, honor and compassion and may we be compassionate and humble traveling companions.
Namu Amida Butsu.
Christopher “Myoshin” Ross-Leibow – Practice Leader
At our last gathering we read a few pieces from a great Shin writer and priest, Haya Akesarasu. Most of his writings are currently out of print or not translated but there are a few in existence. This essay gives a feeling of his style of writing, He
Reading an early passage of the Kegon Sutra, I came across a poem by the Ho-E Bodhisattva which made me want to cry out, “How wonderful!” Here it is:
Be free from subject and object,
Get away from dirtiness and cleanness,
Sometimes entangled and sometimes not,
I forget all relative knowledge:
My real wish is to enjoy all things with people.
This poem expresses so clearly what I am thinking about these days that I use it to explain my feelings to everyone I meet.
Subject or object, myself or someone else, individualism or socialism, egotism or altruism-forget about such relative knowledge be free from it! Right or wrong, good or bad, beauty or ugliness-don’t cling to that either. Forget about ignorance or enlightenment! Simply enjoy your life with people-this is the spirit of Gautama Buddha, isn’t it? I’m glad that Shinran Shonin said “When we enter into the inconceivable Other Power, realize that the Reason without Reason does not exist,” and again, “I cannot judge what right or wrong is, and I don’t know at all what is good and bad.” I hate to hear about the fights of isms or clashes between two different faiths. I don’t care about these things.
Somehow I just long for people. I hate to be separated from people by the quarrels of isms or dogma or faith, and what is more, I hate to be separated from people by profit or loss.
I don’t care whether I win or lose, lose or win. I just long for the life burning inside me. I just adore people, in whom there is life. I don’t care about isms, thoughts, or faiths. I just long for people. I throw everything else away. I simply want people.
It makes me miserable when close brothers are separated by anything. Why can’t they be their own naked selves? Why can’t longing people embrace each other?
I love myself more than my isms, thoughts, or faiths. And because I love myself so, I long for people. I am not asserting that my way is Love-ism or Compassionate-Thinking-ism! Somehow I just can’t keep myself in a little box of ism, thought or faith.
I must admit I am timid. Because I timid, I can’t endure my loneliness. I want to enjoy everything with people.
I go to the ocean of the great mind.
I go to the mind of the great power.
Once I hated people because they lived a lie; once I saw them as devils. Once I lamented because there was no one who cared about me. But now I long for them, even when they are devils and liars, even when they are evil. I don’t care, I can’t help it-I adore them! They breathe the same life that I do, even though they hate me, cheat me, make me suffer.
I am so filled with a thirst to adore people that there is no room in me for judging whether a person is good or bad, beautiful or ugly, right or wrong. This is not the result of something that I reasoned out, such as that I live by being loved or by loving. Regardless of any ism, thought, or faith, I cannot be separated from people because of that.
My spirit shines with the mind-of-embracing-people. Without reason or discussion, I just want to hug everyone! My missionary work is nothing but a confession of this mind.
Here is a different take on Buddhism then the current “Mindfulness” Movement or “Scientific Buddhism” of late, which I have some affinity toward. At the same time I appreciate some of the points that Dr. Brazier makes. I think this shows the wide variety and richness of Buddhist experience and ideas.
Buddhism is a Religion
by Dr. David Brazier
uddhism is a religion. It has beliefs, rituals, altars, offerings, bells, candles, metaphysics, clergy, devotees, prayers, meditation, visions, visitations, celestial beings, other worlds, other lives, moral law, and salvation. All these are found in Zen Buddhism, in Theravada Buddhism, in Tibetan Buddhism, in Pureland Buddhism, in the other schools of Chinese and Vietnamese Buddhism, in fact, in all of Buddhism all over Asia. Buddhists probably burn more candles and incense than the Catholic Church. These are not degeneration or cultural accretions. The founder himself gave us robes, taught ritual and contrition, revealed other lives and worlds, and spoke with the gods. Secularised and rationalised variants of Buddhism exist, but it is these that are partial forms and cultural products of later derivation.
Sometimes it is said that Buddhism is scientific. This assertion would put Buddhism somehow within the frame of science, but Buddhism has much that would not fit into that frame. However, although we cannot really say that Buddhism is scientific, science is Buddhistic. Science is Buddhistic in that science is a way of knowing some things. Buddhism can accommodate everything that science perceives, but science can only perceive a fraction of what Buddhism encompasses, the fraction that appears within the frame that the restrictive rules of science impose. Distinct from science itself, there is also scientism, which is a modern philosophy. Scientism is not Buddhistic because it is the attempt to make the restrictive rules of science into the dogmas by which the whole of life should be governed. Scientism is a different religion and a rather narrow one and it would be a tragedy if Buddhism in the West were reduced to it.
The common ground of all schools of Buddhism is a religious act called taking refuge. We take refuge in the Three Treasures, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Buddha is the supreme source of teaching, love, compassion, and wisdom. Dharma indicates the fundamentals of life and being. Sangha is the church. Taking refuge in these three has salvific power. The spiritual pathway is a succession of deepenings of this act of refuge. Each of these is an awakening of faith. Each deepening of refuge is a lessening of ego. More faith, less ego. Thus Buddhism finds salvation beyond oneself. The devotee is encouraged to be ever mindful of the objects of refuge, to bow to them, make offerings, revere and worship them. Being mindful of their supreme qualities one becomes more aware of one’s own deficiency. Becoming more aware of the deficiency of self, one’s need to take refuge increases in intensity. Finally one lets go of self entirely, takes refuge wholeheartedly and enters nirvana. Thus, along the path, one is led to a deeper enquiry into one’s own being with all its limitation, fallibility, weakness, vulnerability and waywardness of passion. The more clearly one is aware of these deficiencies the more in need of refuge one realises oneself to be. One examines the deficiencies of worldly life, the limitations of reason and of the secular world.
Thus, Buddhism is a religion. Its foundation is faith. This faith is based in real, close-to-the-bone, experience. We find that the body is not reliable. The mind is not reliable. Thoughts are not reliable. Emotions are not reliable. Circumstances are not reliable. Social status is not reliable. The present moment is not reliable. Direct awareness of the present and of the sequence of things occurring demonstrates to us the unreliability of all that the worldly mind considers as self and that it pursues. Awareness alone would leave us frightened and helpless. Therefore we need mindfulness and the other factors of enlightenment that flow from it. We need mindfulness of the treasure that is available to us. Initially we may think it is our own treasure, but this is just the conceit of the self reasserting itself. The treasure is universal and unconditional, but each encounters it in a unique way. Buddha speaks to each of us in our own language. Thus everybody has some spiritual treasure to rely upon if they will just heed it.
There is one treasure and there are three treasures and five treasures and immeasurable treasures. The one treasure is the Buddha. Only in meeting the Buddha in some way is there a refuge. The three treasures are Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. The Buddha gave us the Dharma and the Sangha so that we can meet him. The Dharma is the mind of Buddha. The Sangha is a body of Buddha. The five refuges are the three treasures together with the Spiritual Buddhas and the Pure Abodes. These, too, the Buddha has revealed to us so that we can meet him. We may meet him as Shjakyamuni or as Amitabha, or as Quan Shi Yin or Tai Shih Chi or in the form of those to whom the Dharma has been transmitted, or in a direct encounter with the deeper reality. The immeasurable treasures are the myriad Buddhas in their myriad transformations. The Buddha is capable of infinite transformations so that we can meet him and thus find a true refuge.
Buddha is always trying to reach us. That he does not always succeed is because our hearts and minds are closed. They are closed by conceit. Conceit means that we take refuge in ourselves. Being full of ourselves, there is no room for Buddha to get in. We believe that “I” am a special case, that I will not reap the consequences that others reap, that I am justified, that I can control my life, my thoughts and my emotions. This belief in self invades even our spiritual life. We turn the teachings into a means to mastery of self by self or the means to achieve a narrow happiness for ourselves. This, however, is like trying to lift oneself off the ground. The effort to do so only sets us against ourselves and increases our inner conflict. We torture ourselves seeking a self-made salvation. Salvation does not come from self. Salvation comes from Buddha. Buddha does not require us to torture ourselves. Buddha loves us already. Buddha’s compassion is measureless. Buddha has fellow-feeling for us as he was once as we are now. He loves us as the weak and ordinary human beings that we are.
We are all Angulimala. We all wear a necklace of trophies for which we feel guilty, but we do not know how to stop. The necklace is our ego (bhava), and the guilt is our self-destructive tendency (vibhava). These two are ever as mirror images one of the other. Ever feeding them we go round and round in the circles of samsara. We are like one in a burning house fascinated by the flames. Meanwhile the myriad Buddhas try to entice us to leave the conflagration, but we are too entranced to heed them. Then we wonder how it is that we keep getting burned. In order to ease our pain we foolishly plunge deeper into the flames believing them to be our salvation. It is self that is burning.
To the extent that we take refuge we join the Buddha in his work. We become extensions of his saving grace. In ourselves we are nothing but he works through us and we trust him to do so. The aim of life is not mere ordinary happiness. It is the salvation of all sentient beings. It is participation in the higher evolution of life, ever striving toward universal, unconditional love. This is a religious vision.
The way out of the fire is, on the one hand, to admit our frail nature and, on the other, to bring to mind our treasure. Turn to the Buddha and make our life, weak as it is, into an offering. By prostrating ourselves and making offerings to many Buddhas we give up the conceit of self and rely upon their saving grace. We trust them to do their work and feel grateful. We pray to them to stay in the world until samsara ceases and turn the wheel of Dharma for us. Then we discover a life surrounded by their grace. We can feel gratitude that the Buddha is reaching out to us, that the Dharma has already been given to us, that there exists a great sangha of loving, compassionate, joyful and steady companions upon the path, that we receive every day immeasurable material, spiritual and ultimate benefits.
It is not by satisfying the ego’s belief in our own super-human nature and limitless self-entitlement that we find salvation. That way lies only frustration and a burdensome life of one crisis after another. Only when we see our poverty can we find the treasure, for the treasure does not lie inside oneself. Investigating the reality of our own case and holding the treasure before us work together. We cannot find the treasure without finding our poverty first, but we cannot face our poverty without having a treasure to rely upon. This is the impossible situation of samsara where the conceit of self allows no chink of light to enter. There is no way out of this prison by logic or effort or self-perfection. Only faith can open the door, faith that yields wisdom. Buddhism is a religion that opens the door. Buddha is a power that is not oneself. Be mindful of this refuge. One who acts with such a mind finds that bliss follows as a shadow that never fades.
Dr. David Brazier, Dharma name Dharmavidya, philosopher, author, authority on Buddhist psychology. president of the International Zen Therapy Institute, head of the Amida Order, published poet, is British, lives in France and spends most of his time travelling teaching Buddhism and Buddhist psychology in N & S America, Europe and Asia. His nine published books include: Zen Therapy; The Feeling Buddha; and Not Everything Is Impermanent.
We are liberated, not by an external being or force, but by the bowing that is realized in us. – Nobuo Haneda
In the midst of timeless time,
Bodhisattva Dharmakara, being filled
With great compassion, began bowing.
He bowed to each blade of grass,
And to each flower that ever bloomed,
He bowed to the ocean and to each wave,
to each cloud and drop of rain that returns
time and time again to the sea.
In the midst of timeless time,
Bodhisattva Dharmakara being filled
with great compassion, began bowing.
He bowed before the winds of the four
directions, bowed to the earth & before
each rock of every mountain, bowed
before each star in innumerable
star fields and before each and every
sentient being suffering the foolish dreams
of a separate self and the endless karmas
of delusion- and the more he bowed the more
he found and there in the midst of timeless time,
Bodhisattva Dharmakara found you there in your
very heart mind, and bowed deeply before you just as you are,
and in the deepest of compassion, born of wisdom;
there vowed to never abandoned you,
Dharmakara made an open hearted promise to you and only
you and to the innumerable buddhas singing the dharma
in every atom, to carry you and only you and all of creation
to the Other shore, across the river of suffering
to the land of bliss. Now with Amida, like each drop of rain
that returns to the great sea of compassion, time and time
again, we will return, as compassion itself, and more
innumerable than the sands of the Mississippi, each
and every one a Bodhisattva bowing to all those suffering,
and to all the buddhas in the midst of timeless time.
In the “Larger Pure Land Sutra,” the story of Dharmakara’s attainment of Buddhahood offers an eloquent testimony to the depth of compassion which Mahayana Buddhists perceived in the Buddha reality and which they felt impelled to express in the constant refrain of the Bodhisattva: unless and until all other beings can achieve the
same goal, he would refuse enlightenment. The focus of this Sutra on the central characteristic of the Buddha being compassion is intensified also in the first of the four Bodhisattva Vows (shiguzeigan):
“However innumerable sentient beings are, I vow to save them …”
Or, as another version states:
“I will save those who are yet to be saved; I will make those who are frightened feel secure; I will help enlighten those who are yet to attainenlightenment; I will cause those who are not in nirvana to be in nirvana.” 
In this spirit of the ideal of compassion, there developed an emphasis on dana, or “giving,” the first of the six perfections to be practiced by Bodhisattvas: dana, giving; sila, morality; ksanti, endurance; virya, energy; dhyana, meditation; and prajna, wisdom. In his “Outline of the Triple Sutra of Shin Buddhism,” Prof. Fujimoto eloquently translates the application of these six perfections of the compassionate idea expressed in the Pure Land sutras:
“Each of the Bodhisattvas manages to become a friend of swarming sentient beings though not asked; takes upon his shoulders the people’s heavy burden; by preserving the inexhaustible stock of the Tathagata’s profoundest Dharma, protects and develops their seed of Buddhahood so it will not be destroyed; commiserates with them out of his ever-rising compassion; shuts the door of the three evil worlds, unlocking that of goodness; preaches the Dharma to the swarming people before being asked, just as a pious son loves and pays respect to his parents; takes care of sentient beings as well as he does of himself, thus carrying them to the Other Shore by means of the supreme root of goodness