Though the title is trite, what I want to say is not. Since what happened this weekend in Charlottesville Virginia, I have been thinking of the young woman who was murdered standing up against hatred. Personally I think there should be more coverage of her. Do you know her name? What do you know about her? I am ashamed that I know more about what the president didn’t say then about her. I want to stand up against hate because of what happened to her, not because of what the president did or did not say. She is a victim of home grown terrorism and the manifestation of hatred here at home. Our hearts and compassion go out to her friends and family and to the other victims harmed that day. We stand untied with them. I want to share something with you that I wrote earlier about this event.
Today I have been seeing a lot of fury filled posts and posts with the popular meme of Punching a Nazi, meme’s for your page and T Shirts if you want. I can understand why after this weekend. Punching a Nazi meme has been popular for a while among some of my more “progressive” friends and seems so tame considering what happened.
It is at times like this, overwhelmed with the horror of events like what happened in Charlottesville, that we need to be mindful. No matter how good it would feel, personally right now, to punch a Nazi…I would not nor would I tell another to punch a Nazi. This is not a skillful response to hatred. That doesn’t mean we don’t put our very bodies on the line to protect our brothers and sisters. We will.
The Buddha taught that hate cannot overcome hate. That doesn’t mean we can’t be angry. Anger in the face of injustice can motivate us to action. But what kind of action? Punching Nazis, spitting in their faces, spraying pepper spray at them is not skillful action and it can lead us to swallow the same poison of blind hatred. It is important to know anger and hatred are not the same. Melvin McLeod has taught that, “Anger is the power to say no. This is our natural reaction whenever we see someone suffer—we want to stop it.” We can and must stand up to the poison of hatred in our society, and in ourselves. Is our anger the kind of “wise anger” that motivates us our of love for our brother and sisters or is it the passionate volatile anger that does not come from love but from our own fear and suffering? Can we recognize this reality in ourselves? Do we know the difference?
The Buddha taught that “Hatred ceases by love”. It would be naïve to think the Buddha was teaching that by simply loving a Nazi you’re going to transform them.(though it can). But on a larger scale, hatred fuels hatred regardless if it is righteous or not. It is true though that in time only love can remove the fuel from the fire. Punching a Nazi only adds fuel to the fire, Even if you shut him or her up it doesn’t change anything, they will rise again more convinced of the righteousness of their hatred.
We see now see the attempt to use a moral equivalence by the President and the “Right” media machine to somehow diminish their complicity in sowing seeds of hatred and fear for short term political and financial gain. There is no such moral equivalency. Period.
At the same time some progressives on the left are allowing themselves to be co-opted by the right with their “Antifa” aggression and hatred. I understand this being of Jewish ancestry and being human. But trying to shut down free speech and taunting the haters only feeding the beast they are trying to slay with “righteous anger” and indignation.
In our fellowship we follow the saying, “Do no harm but take no shit.” Let us help one another in our practice of compassionate yet bold action to say “NO” to suffering and social injustice and to manifest “wise anger” in our efforts to effect change.
‘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
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.
Though Shin Buddhism improvised a radically new form of practice, its goal is one and the same with that of Mahayana Buddhism The goal is to awaken to the true self as a manifestation of dharma or “reality-as-is.” What this means may be illustrated by some popular metaphors in the Pure Land tradition.
The lotus flower, the second metaphor, reveals the distinctive meaning of suchness or thatness. The lotus has been an important religious symbol in the Asian world for more than five thousand years with different signilications. In the Pure Land tradition it represents the uniqueness of each person, or each reality-as-is, distinct from all others each with its own uniqueness.
The multiple colors of the lotus blossoms, each radiating its distinctive luster, creates the glory of the enlightened realm. This is the realm of the Pure Land, the world of enlightenment. But this world is not a given; it is to be realized through undergoing a radical transformation.
This transformation is suggested in the third metaphor of transformed rubble, based on scripture that reads: “We who are like bits of rubble are transformed into gold.” All-embracing and nonexclusive, this path accepts everyone, even the lowliest who are considered nothing more than “bits of rubble” in the eyes of society. But no matter who or what one is, everyone is transformed through the power of compassion to become authentically real as an awakened person. “Bits of rubble” is the realization of those who, illuminated by Immeasurable Light and Immeasurable Life that is Amida, are made to see their essential finitude, imperfection, and mortality. This realization may not sound too inspiring, but affirming one’s basic reality is the crucial factor in the transformative process. To bring about such a transformation is the sole purpose, of the Primal Vow of Amida, the working of great compassion that courses through the universe.
This metaphor of alchemical transmutation is based on the Mahayana teaching of the nonduality of samsara and nirvana, delusion and enlightenment, rubble and gold. This is not a simple identity, for it involves a dialectical tension between the two poles, between limited karmic beings and unbounded como passion. The two remain separate, yet they are one; they are one, yet always remain separate.
Oneness of Life and Light, Entrusting in your Great Compassion,
May you shed the foolishness in myself, Transforming me into a conduit of Love.
May I be a medicine for the sick and weary, Nursing their afflictions until they are cured;
May I become food and drink,During time of famine,
May I protect the helpless and the poor,
May I be a lamp,For those who need your Light,
May I be a bed for those who need rest, and guide all seekers to the Other Shore.
May all find happiness through my actions, and let no one suffer because of me. Whether they love or hate me, Whether they hurt or wrong me,
May they all realize true entrusting, Through Other Power, and realize Supreme Nirvana.