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.

cropped-cropped-amitabha-gold1.jpg

 

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.

IN SHIN ‘LISTENING IS BECOMING AWAKENED’ (TAITETSU UNNO)

‘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?

Spiritual Community and Spiritual Ego

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

 

Bowing Bodhisattva Dharmakara

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.

Who Am I

by Haya Akegarasu 

My thought is thought,
It is never myself.
I had thought that my thought is myself,
but now I’m aware
I made a terrible mistake.

My experience is
experience. It
is never myself. I had thought
that experience is
myself, but now I’m aware
I made a terrible mistake.

My feelings are feelings,
they are never myself.
I had thought that my feelings
are myself,
but now I’m aware
I made a terrible mistake.

My will is will. It is
never myself.
I had thought
that my will is myself, but now
I’m aware I made
a terrible mistake.

My wishes are wishes,
they are never myself.
I had thought that my wishes
are myself,
but now I’m aware
I made a terrible
mistake.

My deeds are deeds,
they are never myself.
I had thought that my deeds are myself,
but now I’m aware
I made a terrible mistake.

But then
who am I?
Yes, it is true, that through
thought, experience, feeling,
will, wish, and deed
I manifest myself,
but also
I manifest myself
when I break out
of all of these.

I am not such a limited self,
conceptualized self,
as to exist apart from others!
I alone
am the most noble:
I embrace the cosmos.

What an indescribable, subtle
existence I am! – I cannot in
speaking or writing
put down who I am!

I always touch this indescribable self,
always follow this indescribable self.
Truth is here.

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.)