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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Here is a great blog post by James Standard regarding Faith and Belief from a Shin perspective. For those who are under the assumption that Buddhism is void of faith, should realize that a lot of what we know of Buddhism is filtered through a Western Modernist point of view and the history of Buddhism is rich a varied. Faith and ethical practice and devotional acts are more in line with the Buddhist experience than even mediation. Lay meditation is a new evolution in Buddhism.
[originally Posted on November 14, 2010 by James E. S. Standard}
I am often asked what I see as the difference between ‘faith’ and ‘belief’.”
Though in common parlance we often find these terms used interchangeably, technically these terms point to very different things.
Belief in a thing may be unfounded. Faith, on the other hand, is founded upon the experience that when certain conditions are met, inevitably (of itself) there will manifest a result.
The deep religious faith of Shinran, however, is founded upon his realization that compassion, by its very definition, requires no pre-condition whatsoever for its functioning. True compassion, Shinran perceived (with a clarity rare even amongst those of the highest order of religious experience), must necessarily be unconditioned and absolute.
One may start on the Pure Land path from belief — having heard of the causal seed of the compassionate primal vow of DharmaKara Bodhisattva and the fruit of its fulfilment in the welcoming of all people, without judgement, into Amida‘s Pure Land and their consequent attainment of Buddhahood for the benefit of all beings. This is the most common way to enter into Jodo Shinshu, from belief (as yet unfounded in experience) in the underlying reality of this teaching-story as revealed in the three Pure Land Sutras.
Certain other persons, however, may have never even heard of Dharmakara Bodhisattva, Amida Buddha or the Pure Land and yet may enter into this tradition directly by means of faith (true entrusting) arising from the experience of the fundamental futility of self-willed endeavors, the illusory nature of our sense of having a self that is unique, discrete, independent and competent to know and do good, simultaneous with the perception and acceptance of the universal availability, perfect wisdom, complete efficacy and absolute compassion of Buddha-Nature which realization arises from deep-hearing of the name-that-calls.
Entrance into the Pure Land Path through belief, while common, is nevertheless provisional. In fact, it is in many ways related to those Buddhist practices of a self-willed and auxiliary nature, for it does not spring immediately from Faith (but arises, mediately, by fits and starts from belief and hope) and thus still requires effort on the part of the believer. Be that as it may, belief may very well precipitate true self-knowledge (ones utter inability to ‘know’ and ‘do’ good), followed by a sense of gratitude and joy for the qualities of Buddha-Nature as revealed by the Pure Land masters, leading ultimately to that moment when deep-hearing of the name-that-calls awakens faith in the absolute compassion of Amida Buddha and we, without calculation receive shinjin.
Entrance into the Pure Land Path through Faith, on the other hand, is uncommon, true and real. It is the foundation of the True Pure Land Path (JodoShinShu) for it springs immediately from direct experience of the universal availability, complete efficacy and absolute, unconditioned nature of the compassion of Amida Buddha (DharmaKaya, Buddha-Nature).
The primary difference between the person of faith (true entrusting, shinjin) and the person of belief, is that the person of faith, having directly experienced the reality of the absolute and unconditioned nature of compassion, perceives quite clearly that there is no difference in the ultimate fate of persons of faith and those of belief … or even those of unbelief. Ultimately, all are embraced by the primal vow, never to be abandoned.
When I first came to Buddhism, I was fascinated about how doctrinaire it could be and it felt a lot like the judeo-christian world with all the arguments about purity of doctrine and who was right and wrong. For those new to Buddhism, you will see that in the different schools. thankfully there are the 84,000 Dharma-doors – there are innumerable paths to enlightenment. One area that has much disagreement is the idea of the Pure Land.
For some the Buddhist Pure Land is another realm where we are able to do the practice in purity and grace after we die and return as bodhisattvas to bring others to the Pure Land. The first component of the Pure Land, Amida Buddha, is the master of the land. The Pure Land is a place where Amida Buddha is teaching and his spirit pervades, where
“In the ponds, at all times, lotuses of various colors as large as
chariot-wheels are in bloom. Blue flowers radiate blue light, brilliance and
splendor; yellow ones radiate yellow light, brilliance and splendor; red ones
radiate red light, brilliance and splendor; white ones radiate white light,
brilliance and splendor; four-colored ones radiate four-colored light,
brilliance and splendor. Shariputra, that Buddha-land is full of such glorious
adornments of supreme qualities, which are most pleasing to the mind. For this
reason, that land is called ‘Utmost Bliss.’ THE SUTRA ON PRAISE OF THE PURE LAND
Like I said, for man this is what the Pure Land is for them, I personal do not know. Shonin Shinran the founder of Shin seems to clearly teach that it is an actual place in another realm where we go when we die. It’s possible.
For my daily engagement with the world I like to look at the Pure Land in two ways, The first is from Thich Nhat Hanh and what he has said about the Pure Land….
” The notion that the Pure Land is an exterior reality, a place to be found far away in the western direction, is just for beginners. If we deepen our practice, the Buddha and the Buddha’s land become a reality in our mind. Our ancestral teachers have always said this. If we practice well, we can experience Amitabha Buddha and the Pure Land wherever we are in the present moment.” –
I also like what Rijin Yasuda a Shin Priest wrote about the Pure Land
“People say various things about birth in the Pure Land. But could there be any greater ‘birth in the Pure Land’ than the fact that we are now sitting and learning sitting and learning the Dharma together? This place where we are listening to the Dharma together is the Pure Land. Our being allowed to be part of this place, of this Sangha, is ‘birth in the Pure Land.’ Do you think that you can have anything greater than this in your life—the fact that you are listening to the Dharma as a member of the Sangha? Some people may speak about the wonderful things to be obtained in the Pure Land after death, but those things are nothing but projections of human greed. The fact that we are privileged to be part of the Sangha is our liberation, our “birth in the Pure Land.'”
I like these two sentiments.
In the end I think my mythological mind embraces the first idea about the Pure Land and the lotuses of various colors as large as chariot-wheels are in bloom. Blue flowers radiate blue light, brilliance and splendor; there is something poetic about it. And I would say that my daily mind / present mind embraces the second ideas.
How about you?
Our Sangha is growing! and how lovely it is. We are growing and sharing more of the Dharma, more of the joy, light and compassion that is symbolized by Amida Buddha. It is amazing to see the fellowship deepen with each passing week as we share our practice and start to truley wake up the the Oneness of Life and Compassion that calls out us each day.
Over the past few weeks we have been learning about the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, and this coming week we will be going over the Five Precepts. The Discussions have been open, free and full of caring and insight as we learn the practice together. I am astonished at how each member of our fellowship is willing to be open, and share fully and willing to invest in our gathering. Here is a great quote about the Pure Land and the Sangha by Rev Rijin Yasuda
“People say various things about birth in the Pure Land. But could there be any greater ‘birth in the Pure Land’ than the fact that we are now sitting and learning sitting and learning the Dharma together? This place where we are listening to the Dharma together is the Pure Land. Our being allowed to be part of this place, of this Sangha, is ‘birth in the Pure Land.’
Together we are working to make the Pure Land here and now. We look forward to see you at any one of our Sunday Gatherings.
- The Pure Land a Place or a Symbol or Both? (saltlakecitybuddhistfellowship.wordpress.com)
- ‘Going for Refuge’ as Idiom and Metaphor (dhivanthomasjones.wordpress.com)
- The Color Gold (saltlakecitybuddhistfellowship.wordpress.com)
- How to recite the Buddha’s name – An Introduction to Pure Land Buddhism (essenceofbuddhism.wordpress.com)