The Need for Quiet

For today’s dharma talk I want to talk about quietness as Gyomay Kubose Sensei writes in The Center Within,

“It’s important to take time to have some quiet moments in our lives, otherwise we get caught up in the busy-ness of always having something going on.”

I don’t know about you, but I know that I am entangled in busyness – busyness is all the distractions in our lives that keep us from moving into awareness.  And we are living in a time that glorifies busyness and disparages quiet –  where the most human of experiences and necessary; “boredom” is the new cardinal sin, to be bored is the new failure or failures.

As one teacher puts it,

“boredom is [now] considered a failure and worthy of pharmaceutical treatment, productivity is no longer the means to an end, but the point of life in itself. The entire goal is to Stay Busy and You Won’t Have to Feel a Thing.”   Josh Korda

 Have you ever met someone who could not stand silences, always filling any pause with sound? – even before I found the dharma I had a suspicion that such people are afraid to be quiet because they were afraid of what was in silence, afraid of themselves, maybe of feeling their own fucked up ness – but this busyness is not as much talking as it is talking, thinking, moving, reading we are a society that is being entertained into imbecility – and our busyness cuts us off from reality – from each other – everyone lives in the bubble of their own “movie sound track” either from our smartphones or the radio being constantly on in our cars, we fill up our lives with noise,. In my home, growing up. the TV was always on, even when I was like 10 I needed something to read in the bathroom- and with this condition comes unintended consequences like being terrified of silences in our relationships or the primacy of response over understanding in our listening to one another – Here is a quote from Cardinal Sara

Noise is a deceptive, addictive, and false tranquilizer. The tragedy of our world is never better summed up than in the fury of senseless noise that stubbornly hates silence.  and

…there is a dictatorship of speech, a dictatorship of verbal emphasis. In this theater of shadows, nothing is left but a purulent wound of mechanical words, without perspective, without truth, and without foundation. Quite often “truth” is nothing more than the pure and misleading creation of the media, corroborated by fabricated images and testimonies.

 Does anything describe the world we are in right better than this? The ghettos of Facebook are many times nothing more than theaters of shadows and if you think about it is the opposite of quietness, though we sit in silence scrolling thoroughly page after page it is a noisy activity of endless self-talk, comparison and judgement don’t get me wrong, there are good things happening on social media but its it the everyday addictive uses that are stealing our needed silences, our quietness in which we learn and engage with ourselves in the world around us, Thich Nhah Hahn teaches,

 Silence is essential. We need silence, just as much as we need air, just as much as plants need light. If our minds are crowded with words and thoughts, there is no space for us.”

 Social media and all the different apps on your smartphone are the epitome of busyness and the artificial curation of a life that has meaning. It is all image, noise, smoke and mirrors all of us strutting about our stage with our masks of ego and ironical still thoroughly unsatisfied beyond the immediate fix of a like or heart icon.

 Why is it that we need to fill in the quiet spaces with noise? The irony is the more we hear the less we listen,  the farther we walk away from a meaningful engagement with life itself.

 There is an antidote to this noise, the busyness.

 it is entering silence like we do here every Sunday the Silence of the Sangha. The stillness of humans resting their being in the depths of the silence*. it is to slow everything down to just be quiet, still, silent.  Right now, I am not even talking about any kind of meditation technique, just stop take a breath and sit in the beautiful ever-present calm silence that is our first and truest nature and this world we have become strangers to this side of ourselves.

But being silent is a difficult practice for all of us, let me share a story.

Four monks decided to meditate silently without speaking for two weeks. By nightfall on the first day, the candle began to flicker and then went out.

The first monk said, “Oh, no! The candle is out.”

The second monk said, “Aren’t we not suppose to talk?”

The third monk said, “Why must you two break the silence?”

The fourth monk laughed and said, “Ha! I’m the only one who didn’t speak.”

 For those who attended our retreat, our period of Noble silence was a lot more difficult than people realized – but worth it –

 Now some this may be hard because we see silence as a state of passivity. Not all silences are created equal – there are silences that heal watching our words as not be hurtful and silences that harm – not speaking out for the suffering or giving someone the silent treatment to punish them.  as Gyomay Kubose Sensei has taught that there is one that is dead, with no life in it and there is another that is full of life and awareness – so the way I understand this is that there is the silence of one who is stagnant, noisy and stuck and there is the silence that is attended, cultivated and protected. He goes on to write,

 “It is in the silence that we see the serenity in the world and in ourselves, the happens because in silence we see that we are one with the world.”

 Silence is a powerful and necessary teacher – So as part of our practice, we go into silence as a teacher as the truest state of experience beyond words –

Our ego self – our small self is born of the noise of self – consciousness and our true self emerges as we come out of the noise to the place where we are free from all narratives and constructs of self. Where we enter the boundless quality of our natural dynamic quietness, our true unbounded wordlessness.  We enter the luminous silence at the heart of existence.  

 Rumi the poet writes, writes,

Close the door of words
that the window of your heart may open.
To see what cannot be seen
turn your eyes inward
and listen, in silence.

~ Rumi

 In our opening mediations each Sunday we say that there is nothing for us to do – paradoxical isn’t  but I love this quote I found from Franz Kafka

You need not do anything. Remain sitting at your table and listen. You need not even listen, just wait. You need not even wait, just learn to be quiet, still and solitary. And the world will freely offer itself to you. It has no choice; it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.

—Franz Kafka

The teacher of silence is all around us, we are immersed in silence, the silence that is underneath all the noise – noise cannot destroy, or diminish the silence that we are speaking of, all this noise that can be so deafening, in the end, is nothing more than ornamentation – so  as the Tibetan teacher Tenzin Wangyal invites us to all do –

 When you are silent, hear the silence that is already there.

 Being quiet, cultivating silences is a practice, and intention, an aspiration- Let me share a personal example and Let’s bring this down from the poetic to the everyday –

So what does this look like in everyday life – if silence is everywhere then it’s with me even when I drive –

I decided as part of my periodic automobile Dharma practice (an idea I got from Koyo Sensei), to turn the radio off while driving. I was surprised at how hard it was.

Driving in silence was more difficult than I imagined. We love our noise. We, humans, are a noisy bunch are we not? It is hard for us to be quiet. Even in my attempts to be quiet, as a form of Buddhist practice, all I could do was sit in the silence bored and judging all the drivers. It was an eye-opening experience, a teacher of my mind’s default setting as it were. Even when attempting to practice! How much more when I wrap myself up in noise.

I realized that even though I wasn’t listing to the NPR and sitting in silence, I was silent either.  It was during this practice that I came to understand why Gyomay Kubose Sensei chose the word quietness over silence in his writing because on an everyday level, quietness is not synonymous with silence.

 Quietness is more of a state mind, a slowing down, a stillness. It is the stillness that allows you to listen and experience more deeply. I also came to realize that quietness is also a naturally dynamic response to awe and beauty, there is nothing passive about it. There is a receptivity inherent in quietness.

 So as this week goes forward I want to encourage you to make the time to be quiet, at this point I am not ever referring to mediation- just slow down and be quiet with our self, seek out silences – as one mindfulness teacher admonishes us.[0ijm ,/   to do when we find our silences, to

 – listen to it.  That means just notice it. Pay attention to it. Listening to silence awakens the dimension of stillness within yourself because it is only through stillness that you can be aware of the silence.  See that in the moment of noticing the silence around you, you are not thinking.  You are aware, but not thinking.

 I also I appreciate what Gyomay Sensei says, that through the awareness cultivated through quietness we can come to the realization that we are one with the world. I especially appreciate the following line, “ During quietness, you breathe together with the whole world. We breathe as one.”  This is the meaning of the Way of Oneness

 We are one with the world-

 Namu Amida Butsu.


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Amazed and Confused

For those who are first introduced to Shin Buddhism, there can be some initial confusion about the tradition. This can even be more confusing since our fellowship is Shin-Zen hybrid and not a traditional Shin Buddhist Sangha.

For most of  people and for those in our community, the confusion usually revolves about Amida Buddha and the Pure Land and how to these symbols can make the Shin tradition seem like some form of a theistic Buddhism, with Amida Buddha as a Savior/ God figure and the Pure Land like some sort of Buddhist heaven. This is understandable. It is important to note that we are dealing with a religion in translation, where language can fail us or at least get in the way. When dealing with the language and diction of Shin Buddhism we can get caught up in old meanings and previous contexts of words such as “saved” “sin” and “evil” (especially for us who come from a Christian background). In translation, the same words may have been used in a previous context but when they are used in relation to Shin Buddhism, the original intent, and meaning are lost. The language used can be similar but not the same, the words can get in our way.

So let’s clarify. It is obvious that Shin Buddhists venerate Amida Buddha, and the compassion that he symbolizes, and yet veneration is different than worship. To venerate someone means that there is great respect or awe inspired by the dignity, wisdom, dedication, or talent of that person. To worship someone would be more accurately, the act of showing respect and love for a god especially by praying with other people who believe in the same god: the act of worshipping God or a god. So with Amida Buddha, there is veneration but not worship, because Amida Buddha is not God, did not create the universe, and does not judge man. In Mahayana Buddhism, there are many different Buddhas, and none of them, are worshipped as gods. Simply put, Buddhas are not gods, they are awakened beings, exert no force, that simply teach the Dharma and the path to liberation. Here is a story from Shakyamuni Buddha’s life about this very question,

” ‘Are you a deva?(God)”

“No, brahman, I am not a deva.”

“Are you a gandhabba? (demi god / celestial musician), “No, brahman, I am not a gandhabba.”

“Are you a yakkha?” ( a protector god or trickster diety)

“No, brahman, I am not a yakkha.”

“Are you a human being?”

“No, brahman, I am not a human being.”

“Then what sort of being are you?”

“Remember me, brahman, as ‘awakened.'”

AN 4.36 PTS: A ii 37

From my perspective, in Buddhism –when it speaks about deities, bodhisattvas, and Buddhas, it is a symbolic representation of different aspects of awakened humanity. Or even characteristics of reality itself, but do not refer to any god. Amida Buddha is venerated because he represents the perfection of compassion and wisdom; and the capacity within each of us, to be perfectly compassionate with others and ourselves.

When I first was introduced to Amida Buddha and the Shin tradition I was amazed at the openness and compassion that I felt within it and at the same time, it did seem like Amida was Jesus without the blood. There are similarities, but as I said earlier, similarly does not mean the same. At the core, they are very different. In Christianity, a person is separated from God by sin. The separation of God and man occurred when Adam and Eve sinned by disobeying God in the Garden of Eden. Their sins of disobedience caused all of mankind to be separated from God. For some Christians, this means that each person born into this world is separated from God, doomed to Hell, and will not be allowed to enter Heaven. As Paul wrote to the Romans,

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Romans 3:2-5

This disobedience caused a separation from the moment you are born, and the only way to bridge this separation is to have someone pay the price for the disobedience. In enters Jesus Christ A Christian writer John Piper has explained,

“Since our sin is against the Ruler of the Universe, “the wages of [our] sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Not to punish it would be unjust. So God sent his own Son, Jesus, to divert sin’s punishment from us to himself. God “loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation”—the wrath-absorbing substitute (emphasis added)—“for our sins”

1 John 4:10.

So the role of Jesus is to stand between man and God and pay the price of our wrath inducing disobedience. How does one take advantage of what Jesus has done? By having trust in him and by calling on his name and he will, by his mercy and grace allow those who do to enter into the rest of the lord. Ok, now that does sound familiar, especially when we read also that Amida Buddha saves all who intone his name, namu amida butsu, even if just once with a pure heart; that they will be born in the Pure Land. So it is like Jesus=Amida or Amida = Jesus. On closer inspection, we discover that they are actually quite different, even if the way to access their symbolic aid is similar. Here is an example of how this idea of disobedience and sin just does not relate to Amida Buddha.  Here is a quote from D.T. Suzuki. Suzuki was one of the most important people in spreading Zen in the West.

“Far as Amida is concerned, he is all love, there is no thought in him of punishing anybody, such discriminative judgments are not in him. He is like the sun in this respect shining on the unjust as well as the just. A sinner comes to the Pure Land with all his sins, or rather, he leaves them in the world where they belong, and when he arrives in the Pure Land he is in his nakedness, with no sinful raiments about him. Karma does not pursue him up to the Pure Land.”

D.T. Suzuki Essays on Shin Buddhism

Literal vs. True

For many Christians, Jesus is a literal physical being existing somewhere else besides where we are now. That also could be said for some Shin Buddhists. There is an anecdote that goes something like this. There are two members that are arguing whether Amida Buddha is a literal Buddha is some far off land, one says yes and the other says no. Later on in the day and at different times they as the resident minister for clarification. The one who believes that Amida Buddha is more literal ask the minister if Amida Buddha was symbolic or literal. The minister smiles and says the Amida Buddha is more  of a symbolic representation than a literal historical being. The man walks away shaking his head.  A little later the second man approaches the resident minister and asks if Amida Buddha was symbolic or literal. The minister smiles and says the Amida Buddha is not symbolic at all but a literal historical being. The man walks away shaking his head.

For some Shin Buddhists, those of a more modernist bent, Amida Buddha, the Buddha of Infinite Light and Life is a potent mythopoetic symbol.  The Buddhist Patriarch Huineng, explains how a symbol works, that symbols can be…

“likened to a finger. The finger can point to the moon’s location. However, the finger is not the moon. To look at the moon, it is necessary to gaze beyond the finger, right?”

Amida acts as symbol, is the finger pointing to the truth of Reality as it is. Dr. Nobuo Haneda has explained.

“Mahayanists were interested in identifying the universal source (or basis) of the inspiration that awakened and produced Shakyamuni. And they identified it as the Dharma or universal Buddhahood. In order to show this spiritual basis of Shakyamuni in a more concrete human form, Mahayanists created the concept of “Amida”—an ideal human being, a “humble and dynamic” human being who embodies the Dharma.

As we can see, Amida is not a god, nor a wrathful judge, not a creator, nor lawgiver and there is no such thing as sin per se in Buddhism, simply delusion. Amida is not like Jesus since there is no god, not god to disobey, to be wrathful, or who needs to be appeased because of our disobedience and finally no sacrificial requirement to make man/woman right with God.

A yet, Shinran Shonin, the founder of Shin Buddhism, has said that Amida saves whoever has sincere faith in him. The question then would be what does he save us from?

The Buddha taught us in the first two of the Four Noble Truths, that Life is Suffering and suffering is caused by attachment to a false sense of an anonymous separate self. From the Buddhist perspective, being “separate” or “separated “is an illusion of our true state, and that there is no real separation to the Oneness of Life, whereas in Christianity, man is in a fallen state and the state of separation is a reality. The Compassion of Amida Buddha, then could be said to acts as a symbol that helps a person to, overcome their delusion of being separate from the Oneness of Life, and “saves” one from a misunderstanding of the Dharma, of Reality as it is and of being anything less than their innate Buddha nature. Again from Dr. Haneda,

“Thus, as far as our personal attainment of Buddhahood is concerned, this second meaning of “Amida” as a symbol of the Dharma (or universal Buddhahood) is more important than the first. The goal in Buddhism is that we personally become Amida Buddhas. The Buddhahood that we are expected to attain in Buddhism is not the historical Buddhahood of Shakyamuni, but the universal Buddhahood that is symbolized in “Amida.” We cannot totally identify with Shakyamuni, because we live in a different historical context than that of Shakyamuni. However, we can and should identify with the universal aspiration that Dharmakara symbolizes, strive to fulfill it, and become Amida Buddhas. We must realize our deepest reality, our true selves, which is what the realization of Amida Buddhahood means.”


Amida Buddha acts not as a reconciliation of a person to God, but the reconciliator of a person to themselves and to the understanding, as Jeff Wilson has written,…” of the true nature of all things as liberated suchness.”
The story of Amida Buddha gives us an alternative narrative to our ego- entangled story. Amida is not God but a symbol of the feeling or sense that many of us have, of a loving immeasurable mystery at the heart of existence. Entrusting in Amida Buddha is trusting in that sense and is the source of the Great Compassion that frees us from our delusory ego-self – of shame, separation, and lack. When we turn to entrust in the Compassion of the Oneness of Life as symbolized by Amida, a path opens before us for us to experience true compassion. Entrusting in Amida Buddha is a skillful means to access the reality of the Oneness of Life that lies beyond language; that comes from the very wisdom and ever-present grace waiting for us at the core of becoming fully human.

Namu Amida Butsu.