The Problem with Deserving

From a Dharma talk delivered at the Salt Lake Buddhist Fellowship 7/8/2018

Let’s start our talk today with a few questions – how many of you have rationalized or justified something that you knew wasn’t good for you because your “deserved it”?

How did your thinking go? What logic did you use?

Have you ever watched in glee when someone you couldn’t stand “got what they deserve”?

How do you think our sense of deserving has contributed to our global environmental crisis?

If you think about it, we are addicted to reward and punishment – mostly our reward and others punishment.

For today’s Dharma talk, I want to continue on with the theme of my last talk a few Sundays ago regarding gratitude and some of the obstacles to experiencing deep and profound gratitude –

We talked about the problem with “entitlement” and how it cuts us off from experiencing a deep and profound gratitude and today I want to talk further about that but instead of using the word entitlement, I want to use the word deserve –  which Is a lot more common in our daily language and thinking.   I think with entitlement it is easy to say, I’m not really entitled, I don’t feel entitled, I’m too poor to be entitled, it’s really easy to see when someone else is being entitled a little more difficult when we are – But when it comes to deserving, that is  is different, because we all think we deserve a myriad of things or not deserve a myriad of things – both are true and many times both are not true.

But deserving is problematic. Often we get tangled in a tangle of words – I deserve this, I don’t deserve this on a spiritual level such words often distract. Deserving can be problematic because one the definitions and connotations’ of the word deserve “is to earn”  It is this kind of deserve that I want to address –

One of the problems of deserving is this: This is from Peter Schaller who runs the Tattooed Buddhist Website:

“Deserving implies, in a not so subtle way, that the world owes us something. If we work hard, play by the rules, and refrain from doing harm to others, then happiness should be our just reward. However, the world was here much before any of us, and will, despite the imminent threat of climate change, be here for much time after we’re gone.”

I think he makes a good point – the world is not ours, we are the world’s – I think that is important and I want you to remember that – I want to come back to this quote in a bit.

Being a martyr was my profession – I was good at it – it is based on the idea that if gave so much and was amazingly understanding and so boundless in love that I was left with nothing then I would not be abandoned.  I used poetry, tears and an abundance of patience and whatever manipulation I could muster to earn the love I so deserved because of my “sacrifices”  Here is a line from one of my poems,

I was watching you slowly disappear on the orange couch

next to the green chair, So I broke apart the wooden bookcase

a built a cross – a climbed up on it -and spread my arms wide.

See how much I love you.

When she left like the others, I wallowed in my “I don’t deserve this” I argued with reality for over a year.

The outcome wasn’t about deserve or not deserve  – it was all about my skillful and unskillful action, my perception of reality –   that love is earned.

We are bound to this idea that we must earn love, acceptance, compassion as if our connection to the world was simply an economic transaction, if I do X then I will get Y if I don’t get Y it is Xs fault or because the world is unjust.

Here is a great quote from Halldór Armand

“Life’s hard. Really hard. And here’s a fact. In nature there’s no such thing as deserving or not deserving something. There’s no fairness. The human myth of fairness is a beautiful one, though—probably one of our best. It was a step out of nature of sorts, a rejection of its chaos. We strive to make our world fair and to do this we constantly have to battle our own internal contradictions. We are both the goal and the enemy.

But when fairness is our goal it’s easy to start thinking that fairness is actually the world’s fundamental principle in every aspect rather than a distant, shining star we try to follow as best as we can. We’re all familiar with this. I believe I deserve to be with the love of my life. I’ve fought so fucking hard for it. Don’t you too? Don’t we all deserve love? Don’t we all deserve happiness? Why did she say no? Why did I fail? Why Lord?

Both the Buddhist from earlier and the Existentialist are making good points. That deserving an non-deserving do not exist as a moral formula in the natural world and that in reality.  “Life’s hard. Really hard. And here’s a fact. In nature, there’s no such thing as deserving or not deserving something. There’s no fairness. We understand that implicitly, as our children grow older we tell them, “who said life is fair” and yet we really do – at least we operate under some misguided notion, that it is,  so much so that when it doesn’t work out for someone that is should we start the victim blaming.

In my own practice, I am committed to transcending this very notion of “earning”. anything, because beyond the egoic need to control my environment, that is where true compassion and understanding; where the ground of true being lies.

I have come to realize that, in many profound ways, the dynamic flow of life is a “gift economy”, where there is what is given with no implicit return or reward in the future. The ego, on the other hand, looks to earn love, the reward is of what we do or say, the expectation is to receive love, acceptance, compassion, and meaning.   I have learned from the insight of the Buddha, that love is not an object to be purchased, love is not transactional, love is the way of living in the world in love with all beings.

Gyomay M. Kubose has taught,

“We must find the way of love rather than that of being loved.”

Now don’t get me wrong, I know that a lot of us struggle with feeling that we don’t deserve love, or that we don’t deserve compassion.  A lot of this feeling undeserving comes from what is implied by deserving, the earning or meriting love.”  I don’t deserve to be happy, I don’t deserve to be loved because I am incapable of doing the things to earn love, or I am so defective, so filled with darkness, depression – I am unworthy of love. let me say that it is healthy to begin to feel like you DO deserve to be loved, but I challenge you to keep going, to go beyond deserve and not deserve.

I think this is the role of the myth of Amida Buddha in a modern context.  Amida Buddha represents at its core the inherent gift of love, of accepting one’s self as one is,  the gift of life, of simply being you, of being alive- because the archetype of Amida doesn’t love you because you are good – or you have earned it because of all the good you have done –what is funny about the Pureland tradition of Shinran, is that you deserve love in spite of any good you can do or any bad that you do.   It is all these attempts to earn love that bind love to outcome forced by will – In an absolute sense, the Amida archetype tells us that we are loved simply by the miracle of our existing – from this perspective everything, all things are loved – it’s nothing that you earn – it is nothing that you are entitled to – it is a natural inherent grace.

amida zu
Amida Buddha accepts you even when you do not. This is a drawing showing the Amida and the Bodhisattvas dragging those who feel unworthy to the Pure Land.

We love our concepts of deserving, it gives us a sense of controlling our worlds., I am not saying that we do not need to “earn” a living or do the things that we need to do to be responsible for our families, what I am saying is that our sense of “deserving” is skewed.

Life is more complicated than some formula – how many things happen every day that people don’t deserve, who many things have you received in your life, that you did nothing to merit but still have in abundance?

How many times have we held back compassion because, “they got themselves in that mess, it is their own fault”? As we pray every Sunday,

We want to remember that,

In compassion do not look for cause and blame

we give no thought to effort

Compassion transcends “deserving”

it is only concerned with the suffering that is there.

A digression.  I would like to share a story I once heard and it has stayed with me ever since.

” There once was a Christan preacher, preaching on the street near a temple. A young novice monk was walking by the preacher when the preacher asked him if he believed that Jesus died for his sins?  The young monk just shrugged.  The preacher then told the young monk that if he didn’t accept Jesus as his savior he would go to hell. The young monk stopped and thought for awhile and then asked the missionary, “are they a lot of suffering people in your Christian Hell, OH YES! said the missionary excitedly – The young monk all of sudden smiled a big smile and said,   “Good! That seems like a good place for a Buddhist Monk.”

So why this talk about deserving and not deserving – because it creates a view of the world  that cuts us off from experiencing life as it really is  – it can separate us from one another and because it is almost impossible for us to enter into a profound gratitude, a transformative gratitude while we are stuck in the cycle of reward and punishment – we are only marginal grateful for the thing we earn and unable to accept the gift that is unearned which is most of your life.

Lastly,  because it can be delusional – because of our time here on earth so little of what we do is earned by ourselves but by the support of the earth and the processes that give us life, our ancestors that brought us into this world, our fellow beings, and lastly the dharma. All the countless others that have made your life possible, as Gyomay sensei teaches,

“There is no I apart from others.”

I want to leave you with this

Let’s aspire together to transcend deserved and undeserved to live in Oneness, come as we are and appreciate and be grateful for all the gifts we have been given especially the ability to come together today and to learn from one another.

Namu Amida Butsu

Listen to the Podcast

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Nembutsu Society Book Club – Starts Feb 3rd

Our book club starts up again after a little vacation on February 3rd – 7:00 PM Salt Lake Roasting Company. (upstairs)

Join us for a lively and engaged reading group, reading books from the  Buddhist tradition and specifically from the Shin tradition.  The reading group meets the first and third Tuesdays of the month.

The book we will be reading is Buddha: His Life and His Teaching by Walter Henry Nelson – a biography of the Buddha.  Here is a link for the book.  http://www.amazon.com/dp/B001DUGOVK/ref=pe_385040_118058080_TE_M1T1DP

Review of the book:

More than twenty-five hundred years ago, an Indian prince achieved enlightenment and became “the Awakened One.” However extraordinary Prince Siddhartha Gautama was, he was no divinity, but a self-perfected human being who brought a sweeping message to mankind.Walter Henry Nelson, a respected historical scholar and author, offers readers a distinctly accessible and authoritative biography of the Buddha and his teachings. In this essential, gripping, and inspiring introduction for the general reader, Buddha explores ancient legends surrounding Buddhism’s founder. It shows how the simple story and profound struggle of Price Siddhartha, who died five hundred years before the birth of Christ, were transformed into one of the world’s great religions.From tales of Gautama’s struggle to parables of the intervention of gods in his journey, Nelson takes readers through the historical existence and ideals at the heart of a religion and philosophy that searches beyond materialism for the true aim of life.

If you have any questions call me at. 801-502-8130

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.

Life comes to us as a great, eternal calling….

lotus

Life comes to us as a great, eternal calling, reaching out to us, unfolding around and inside of us, while at the same time holding us, in our entirety,from the unnamable past to the unknowable future. Life’s eternal truth is our truth, just as surely as our temporal clinging and attachment to the dance of self and ego is our truth. The Buddha’s teaching emanates from deep insight into the unending mix of pain and promise that is human life. Buddha sees what we cannot see, sees that we cannot see, and out of unfathomable concern for our well being, calls out to all humankind with the equally unfathomable message of our liberation from self-imposed restrictions, anxieties and turmoil. The Nembutsu tradition, more broadly known as Pure Land Buddhism, understands the whole of the Buddhist teaching and its history as Buddha’s entreaty, Buddha’s call to us to awaken to this eternal promise, a call carried by the compassionate movement that is life itself.

– Jerry Bolick