juneteenth

Dharma Talk by Rachel Koshin-yo

Today is an important day. Today, June 19, in 1865, enslaved African-Americans in  Texas were told that slavery had ended. This event happened two years after the  Emancipation Proclamation had been signed and 2 months after Robert E Lee had  surrendered at Appomattox. Today honors the day that the last enslaved African Americans were informed of their freedom. On this day, June 19, 2022 we celebrate the  second year that Juneteenth is being recognized as a federal holiday. All I want to say  about that is, it’s about damn time. 

African-American slavery in North America was not the first form of slavery on the planet  and sadly it was not the last. But it was a sweeping organization of oppression in  America for hundreds of years based solely on the color of people’s skin. It is a part of  American history just as much as The Declaration of Independence and The First and  Second World Wars. Yet we often learn about it as a footnote, something that  happened in our past, not something to worry about now. 

In the spring of 2020, when we were all consumed with the worry of the new and  confusing COVID pandemic, another horror happened. An African-American man  named George Floyd was killed at the hands of law enforcement. An officer knelt on Mr.  Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes, suffocating him. Why? Because Mr. Floyd resisted arrest  for using a counterfeit $20 bill. Was this the first time an African-American had been  murdered by white police officers? Certainly not. But this time the event caused a  worldwide protest of police brutality, police racism, and police accountability. There  were protests in many cities, including Salt Lake City. As a result of the local protests,  this city was put on lockdown. The day of the lockdown? My 57th birthday.  Initially, I was pissed off. It was my birthday. Even with the pandemic going on I was  planning a small lunch with my daughter, son, and a friend. Because of the lockdown  my son could not leave his house. So there I was, suffering. But something happened  as a result of this suffering. I became curious. I wanted to know what was going on in  the world that was causing so much unrest. Yes, I agreed with the protestors and yet I  did not understand the impact that hundreds of years of slavery had on the African American community of North America today. To learn what was going on for this  community I started reading. I started reading books like: “Hood Feminism” by Mikki  Kendall, “Caste” by Isabel Wilkerson, “How the Word is Passed” by Clint Smith, “Heavy”  by Kiese Laymon, and “On Juneteenth” by Annette Gordon-Reed. I wanted to get an  understanding of what life was like for a community I wasn’t a part of. I thought, “The  slaves were freed but yet 155 years later there is still unrest. What’s going on?” I have so much more to learn. The dharma gates are endless. But today I want to  share some of what I have learned so far. 

Yes, on June 19th, 1865, the last African-American slaves were declared free. Yes we  should celebrate that and people have for the last 155 years. Also, I want to give  overwhelming thanks to these enslaved people for building our country. For while  people like John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson were busy writing  and signing the Declaration of Independence, enslaved African-Americans were building  the buildings they lived and worked in, farming the crops they ate, caring for their  livestock, cleaning their homes, and performing many other tasks that the founding  fathers saw free labor fit for. If you asked these founding fathers about the enslaved 

labor they would probably reply with some sort of statement like, “They aren’t free labor,  I paid for those slaves!” Indeed they did. Slaves were a commodity. Bought and sold  like clothing or wheat. When Thomas Jefferson was short on cash and needed to pay  off his debts, he thought nothing of selling off a slave or two. It didn’t matter if this  enslaved man or woman had a family they were leaving, or if the slave was a child. To  Jefferson, they were just an asset that could easily be turned into a liquid asset. Most of  these people were treated with less respect than livestock. Yet they were people,  exactly the same as Jefferson and Franklin. They were exactly the same as you and I.  I’m not asking you to hate Jefferson and Franklin or to turn them into complete villains.  But I would like you to take a moment and understand that the people we have idealized  from our past were most certainly fallible. 

On June 19th 1865, Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas and  declared all enslaved people free. Texas was the last confederate state to abolish  slavery. In fact, Texas had written it’s own Declaration of Independence. This  document stated that all enslaved people in Texas and their descendants would forever  be slaves. Any freed slaves were not welcome in the state of Texas. So when General  Granger arrived in Galveston, what did his message mean? In theory, African Americans were now allowed to come and go as they pleased. But it wasn’t that  simple. After toiling, building, and caring for our country these freed slaves had nothing  to show for their efforts. They didn’t own homes. They didn’t have any material  possessions except for maybe the clothes on their backs. They didn’t own property.  Most importantly, they had no money and their jobs were just taken away. How could  they survive?  

In the meantime, the white people of Texas weren’t ready to accept that their free labor  would no longer be free. They were angry. To the whites, nothing had changed about  African-Americans except the law. They still saw them as second class citizens, if  citizens at all. There were riots against and assaults of the newly freed slaves. In  addition to their situation of lack, enslaved people were oppressed for hundreds of years  by horrific trauma. Their DNA carried experiences of rape, physical abuse, starvation,  emotional abuse, and disease. They were never taught to read, write, or learn  arithmetic. Some secretly were, but they numbered few and far between. Many ex slaves remained in a slave-like situation, just to be able to feed themselves and their  families. 

Still, many freed African-Americans were able to find work and build communities. In  New York City, Seneca Village was built. This town was built by freed slaves who were  landowners as early as 1825. At it’s height, the town was inhabited by over 200 African Americans. Unfortunately, it was torn down by the city of New York in 1857 when the  city declared eminent domain. The city used this property along with many other acres  to create Central Park. Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Central Park. I was  eager to see the space where Seneca Village had existed. Sadly, that was all that was  there – a space. A grassy field with a plaque, marked the spaces for churches and  schools. Yet there were no buildings to commemorate the memory of this town. A lot of African-American history in the United States is like the town of Seneca Village.  It’s difficult if not impossible to find the history of African-American slaves in this country.  There are no marked graveyards. Birth records were only kept by slaveholders. These  labeled slaves by their statistics, not their names. Life histories could not be recorded 

by people who couldn’t write, nor had the time to write. A typical slave only had free  time in the dark. Their daylight hours were spent serving their slave owning master. So  many past lives remain a forgotten mystery. 

As freed African-American slaves started to build their lives and grow their  independence they faced numerous obstacles. From 1890 to 1908, former confederate  states passed constitutions to disenfranchise African-American people, keeping them  from being able to vote and sit on juries. African-Americans could easily be convicted of  crimes and heinously treated without a jury of their own peers. When living in a  community of resentful white men who were angry about losing their free labor pool the  odds were stacked against freed slaves. How could African-Americans run for office or  be found not guilty of crimes they were convicted of when these laws were in place?  Clearly, just because slaves had been freed, whites did not recognize them as equals.  Jim Crow laws enacted “separate but equal” situations. African-Americans were entitled  to the same rights as whites (schools, medical facilities, and transportation) but they had  to be separate facilities. Most if not all of these facilities and services were inferior if  they existed at all. Offices, hotels, and restaurants were segregated. While many of  these laws were overturned and headed to the Supreme Court for decisions, these laws  weren’t officially repealed until the Civil Rights Act in 1964. By then, I was alive.  Americans were living 100 years after the first Juneteenth celebration. Yet, whites were  afraid to empower African-Americans for fear that whites would lose their own footing  and status in society. 

During the 20th century, African-Americans were depicted in the media. At first, they  were presented in black face, white performers wearing black makeup. Then they were  on products like Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben’s. These products depicted African Americans as fun loving, and jolly people ready to serve their white masters. Books and  movies that depicted slaves showed foolish people who didn’t have the intelligence to  understand anything. While these people might not be able to read and write they  certainly learned to speak English effectively. Nothing stopped them from learning  English similar to the immigrants who come to our country today. Plus, slaves lived in  this country for generations. Thomas Jefferson’s slave Sally Hemings, gave birth to 6  children fathered by Jefferson. A number of these children had light enough skin to  pass as white in society and marry white partners. They certainly could not have  “passed” if they couldn’t speak English effectively. Many enslaved people came to  America with valuable skills. They knew how to produce indigo, weave, cook, quilt,  carpenter, and even cobble shoes. Yet they were depicted in our movies and books as  being useless until the white society taught them their skills. 

After the Civil war, the war was not taught in Texas school as a war about slavery, it was  taught as a war about states rights. When we hear about Texas history today, we hear  more about “cowboys and Indians” or the oil industry. Yet there were many slaves in  Texas. East Texas was developed by a man named Stephen Austin, known as the  “father of Texas.” Austin came to to Texas to create cotton fields for plantation owners.  No Anglo-American was going to work the land. Austin lobbied for slavery as way of  ensuring success in bringing colonists of the area to be successful. Austin is the  namesake of the currently liberal city of Austin,Texas. Are Texans aware of his slave related past? Texas was using African-American slave labor to tame the wild forests  and build their economy. Much like other parts of America, slave labor was used to 

build the wealth of the white population. Similar to fathers of our country, the father of  Texas had fallible side. It’s time to recognize and understand the history that made our  country what it is today. 

Learning all of these facts about the history of African-Americans I am in awe. In awe  that this community has had the resilience and tenacity to hang on through racism and  oppression. I feel shame for the anger I felt back in the spring of 2020 when I couldn’t  

celebrate my birthday. Yet I don’t want the issue to be about me at all. I want the issue  to be about acknowledging and removing my conscious and unconscious biases. This  acknowledgement and removal I believe is what will help me on a path to  enlightenment. Perhaps I will even become a Bodhisattva. I agree with Gloria Steinem  when she said, “When humans are ranked instead of linked, everyone loses.” I can’t  take away what African-American slavery was in this country but I can fully  acknowledge what it was and what we have chosen to create with it. I can continue to  learn every day and have more compassion for the people who continue to fight for their  equality and freedom in this country. I can speak up and help others learn. We are all  one. When the African-American community hurts, it impacts us all. 

The term African-American was coined back in 18th century, but rarely used until in  1969 when the African-American Teachers Association used it to name their  organization. In 1988, Jesse Jackson popularized the term to identify people who were  labeled as “Blacks.” This term is a reminder that having African ancestry does not  separate one from being an American. While we don’t call whites “European Americans” or “Ukrainian-Americans” it is valuable for us to remember that once the  slaves hit American soil they and their descendants became Americans and should be  treated equally, and not separately. Yet this separateness remains a challenge today. 

To be an African-American man in the US today means many things. It means, no  wearing black hoodies in certain neighborhoods, no jogging at night, hands in plain sight  in public, never driving over the speed limit, and never rolling through a stop sign. For  all of these items African-American men have been persecuted and even killed. What  kind of freedom is that? 

When we forget our past we are doomed to repeat it. We need to learn and  acknowledge our past. The dharma gates are endless and we must enter them to learn  the truth of our past. When we carry the divisions of slavery and the hate of African Americans into our current environment then 9 people are murdered during a bible  study, a black man is suffocated by a white policeman, and people fear routine traffic  stops. Freedom doesn’t mean free for some. Freedom doesn’t mean freedom only if  you are white. The celebration of Juneteenth reminds us of that fact. So today, if you  are celebrating Juneteenth or just reminded of what the day represents, be sure to be  kind, fair, and equal. Remember that this day honors the end of a horrific practice and  also reminds us to treat everyone equally regardless of the color of their skin or their  country of origin. Specifically, this day reminds us that just like every human, those we  enslaved in this country deserve our thanks for what they built for us and that they 

deserved to be free and their descendants deserve to be free – free from persecution,  racism, and unfair practices. 

May all beings be peaceful. 

May all beings be happy. 

May all beings be safe. 

May all beings be free. 

Namu Amida Butsu

Dharma Glimpses from Bright Dawn.

Dharma Glimpses are short dharma teachings  from Bright Dawn Lay Ministers.

Here are some podcasts from Bright Dawn Way of Oneness podcast page.

Faust my Dharma Teacher.

Listening to the Dharma 

Buddhism and Gender Equality

Who are you?

And here are some more Dharma Glimpses in written format on our Bright Dawn Blog.

 

Naturalness

Bodhisattvas and Buddhas

Peaceful Heart

Invisible Cemetery

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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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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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?

Mind of Embracing All Things – Haya Alegarasu

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

By Haya Akegarasu 

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.

Buddhism is a Religion by Dr. David Brazier

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.

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Buddhism is a Religion: a guest post by Dr. David Brazier, Dharmavidya