Vesak Day – 2018 Dharma Talk

by Kakuyo Sensei,

I would like to welcome everyone to our Hanamatsuri festival today, which is also called Vesak day – where Buddhist of many traditions celebrate the Buddhas appearance into the world – but not just his appearance –

The Buddha was once asked: Are you a god?” “No,” he replied. “Are you a reincarnation of god?” “No,” he replied. “Are you a wizard, then?” “No.” “Well, are you just a man?” “No.” “So what are you?” They asked, being very perplexed at answers. The Buddha simply replied: “I am awake.”

Today we are not only celebrating his birth but also celebrating his awakening and not just his awakening but also his passing away – indeed we are celebrating the whole life of the man we call Buddha – the awakened one.

Together we celebrate the amazing birth of the Buddha, and we are also celebrating our own miraculous birth – the very fact that we are alive is a precious gift – in a meaningful way Vesak day is also a celebration of our miraculous birth -we celebrate the fact of being alive – We celebrate knowing that the Buddha’s birth, and our birth and our awakenings are mutually dependent.

Some may wonder why we celebrate when we do – And I don’t think that it is by accident that Vesak is in the spring – I love the spring –

So -in our front yard is this stick of a peach tree – We planted it late in the season last year, and I was wondering just a week ago if it was even alive, just standing there in its naked stick-ness and then on Wednesday Linnea pointed out its new shy dress of flowers!  Then after that, I started noticing all the flowering trees at the end of our street – how did I not notice them before –

Now no one has any idea of when Shakyamuni was actually born– April or August is unimportant – Vesak is celebrated during Spring allowing nature to be a teacher – to be a poet – During Spring the natural world awakens from its winter sleeping – and the Buddha coming into the world is like the world waking up – many of us understand this, we who were sleepwalking before we found the teachings of the Buddha –  the first exuberant blossoms of spring waking from within the peach tree remind  us of the possibility of our awakening.

This day is also a day to reflect on the miracle of birth itself – we are grateful for the birth of the Buddha and our precious birth – Each of our individual  lives are utterly unique and unrepeatable, and today we can reflect on this fact how precious life is and not just a life to endure, but through the Buddha’s example and teaching  – an “awakened” life be lived in gratitude and joy.

In the Buddhist tradition, our human birth is seen as precious, more valuable than any treasure.   In the Chiggala Sutra, the Buddha speaks of the chances of being born a human being. Those chances, he observes, are infinitesimally small. They are comparable to those of a blind tortoise swimming in an ocean as large as the planet, where an ox’s yoke is afloat on the waves. Every one hundred years, the tortoise surfaces. The chances of being born human are no better than those of the tortoise surfacing with his head in the yoke. Human birth is extremely rare and therefore most precious.

So to put into modern terms instead of an Ox Yoke, let’s say a life preserver – so what are the chances –that our turtle could do just that? Actually, someone has figured that one out – a Dr.  Ali Banazir took the size of all the oceans and the size of the opening of a life preserver and calculated the odds and calculate that they would be about 1 in 7 trillion – and this scenario the ocean is still as glass and there are no winds blowing our life preserver.

Dr. Benazir did not stop there. He wondered about each of us; what were the odds of just our parent’s meeting (I will post the math on our FB page).  To be concise, he found that the odds of your parents just meeting was 1 / 20,000.  Talking to one another is another 1 in 10 and wanting to talk again is also 1 in 10. So the probability of them liking each other enough to have children is about 1 in 400 million – not stopping there, the chance that one sperm carrying ½ of your DNA and that one egg carrying the other half meeting and go to full term…that number is 1 in 400 quadrillions!  But hold on – if we go back in time to all of your ancestors which are about 150,000 generations all with about the same odds that you had to be born – the number works out to be about the 400 Quadrillion number raised to the 150,000 power – that number is a ten followed by 2,640,000 zeros. Think about that for a moment.  All that has happened for us to be here- and we complain about traffic or our neighbor, we worry needlessly about this or that – we try hard to seem special.  You already are. Ten followed by 2,600.00 zeros!

From this simple example of probability, we can see the Buddha’s teachings of interdependence, of all the causes and conditions that have conspired to make you and I – we can see from this what a rare and wonderful gift our births are.  When this really sinks in then we may even ask ourselves the same question Mary Oliver asks in her poem

The Summer Day,” when she writes,

“what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?”

Vesak Day is a good day to ask ourselves this very question –  “what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?”

Rev. Shelley Fisher of the Reno Buddhist Temple has written:

“Realizing this we can see that our birth is truly a rare and wonderful gift. We have a deep obligation to live this life in mindfulness and Joy and compassion.

So what has finding the dharma mean to you and your life?

All of the events that we contemplate on Vesak day – the Buddha’s birth, awakening, and death all of these events are linked to the Buddha’s message, they are all connected to the result of Shakyamuni Buddha’s search to know himself, and by so doing know each of us.  Tara Brach writes that we learn from each of these events that   “We each have the potential to realize and live from an awakened heart and mind.”  –

And when this happens; we all become Buddha, when we are awakened to our own Buddha nature.

We all become Buddhas – a good question could be what does that mean in an everyday sense?  I want to share a quote that I shared at our last Vesak celebration. That gives us one possible answer that might just ring true for you.  It was written by one of the head priests at the Stone Creek Zen Center = Dojin – she writes the following,

“And today is as good a day as any to deeply thank this person for what he brought to the world. But, today of all days is also a great day to really think about what a Buddha is because what a Buddha is, is not limited to one person.  What Buddha really is, is a moment whenever great wisdom and compassion come together in this world in a thought, or action, in-kind word, a moment of selfless generosity, and helps to free up this world. That’s what Buddha is. What Buddha showing up in this world really is, is when any one of us, or anyone else in this world suddenly remembers how precious we are, and how important all the beings and things around us are, and how we are all so closely connected, and we act or speak or even think from that place.”

 

Washing the Buddha

We are now going to participate in the washing of the Buddha – a tradition practiced on Hanamatsuri – on Vesak day for over a thousand years by Buddhists all over the world. Those who would like to are welcome – there is no expectation that you do. We wash the baby Buddha as a welcoming into our lives and as a representation of the washing away the dust from our eyes, washing away our ignorance to reveal our innate Buddha-nature to give birth to the Buddha within each of us – and to turn our hearts to all sentient beings.

 How to wash the Buddha

How is it done?  First, we approach the table and bow. Then we take the ladle and pour the water over the Buddha three times – representing the washing away of all that which obscures our awareness of our innate Buddha-nature. The first time we say to ourselves, May I eliminate harmful thoughts – the second, may I practice kindness to all beings – and then lastly, may I help awaken all living beings.  Then bow and silently say Namu Amida Butsu.

I will ring the bell three times once – after the last ring you may stand a walk slowly to the table with the water and the Infant Buddha and begin – the rest of us will recite THE Hanamatsuri Aspiration handed out earlier –

Ring the bell three times

Closing

I want to close with the words of Rev Fisher again,

“We celebrate the Buddha’s birthday today.  We remember to be grateful for all that he has taught us – grateful to be born human – this wonderful unrepeatable life, grateful for showing us that we are all connected to each other, grateful to know that we all are born with Buddha nature, and grateful for Amida’s Vow reaching out to all of us, no matter how troubled, no matter how happy – that we may find Joy in life.

 

Namu Amida Butsu.

No matter how much I would like to, I will not punch a Nazi

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.

Kakuyo Leibow Sensei.

The Three Hardest Words.

I don’t know.

From a young age  many of us are afraid to be someone  who doesn’t know. Maybe we are afraid to be seen as dumb and therefore unacceptable,  so we wing it and hope the other person doesn’t see that we actually don’t have a clue. This is not just anecdotal, studies have shown that when children are giving unanswerable questions, they makeup answers, to seem like they know rather than to be found not knowing.  This habit sticks with as we grow up, for some of us they become the three hardest words to say.   We all know that feeling; usually half way through, when we realize we really have no clue what we are saying and how much easier it would have to simply say, “ I don’t know”. Instead we find ourselves five years old again, dancing around with our made up answers, again  hoping no one will notice.

To act as a “knower”  is fraught with challenges and pitfalls. Deciding that we know this is the way it is.”….. has a tendency to close us off to a myriad of other possibilities.  We become fixed in our ideas and perceptions, our world gets smaller and smaller.  Another problem with knowing and being afraid of not knowing, is we can never really be confident that what we know is reality. To paraphrase Mark Twain. “…they think they know something that just ain’t so.

To be clear, the knowing I am referring to is not confusion or paralyzing doubt and it is not knowing in opposition to not knowing as in not knowing the capital of Nebraska, or  even a set of propositions such as the four noble truths.  When I say “I don’t know” I am talking the spirit of openness and curiosity a “I don’t know! Let’s find out!” or  “Let’s keep going and see what happens,” it is the not knowing of faith.  Suzuki Roshi wrote in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, “With beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert mind there are few.”  Beginner’s mind is the essence of not knowing”.  For those trapped in “knowing” the vista is limited, the questions are answered, all is settled, the world is fixed, but in the end, the light at the end of the tunnel is not more knowledge but the Dukkha Express and it is coming fast.

So how can we cultivate the non-dual spirit of “I don’t know”?  The first thing is to simply being willing to not know, to let go of the knowing.  I have found the world is lighter when I am free of having to know, I am more patient, less stressed, open. Here are two concrete things we can do to cultivate the not knowing.

First there is a  good practice suggested by Buddhist teacher, Gil Fronsdal, is to attach  “I don’t know” to as many thoughts as possible. For example, when thoughts arise like, this is good or this is bad or I can’t handle this; these become, I don’t know if this is good or I don’t know if this is bad or I don’t know if I can’t handle this.  As he says,  “the phrase “I don’t know” questions the authority of everything we think.”  It allows us to be free of fixed ideas, it can create curiosity and allows an openness to creativity.”  He goes on to say that this simple phrase can help us challenge tightly held beliefs and can  “pull the rug out from under our most cherished beliefs.”   Not knowing opens the world to us, it makes a way for us to be compassionate, patient, kind, honest and help cultivate equanimity.

The last thing that we can do to  cultivate the essence of “I don’t know”  is bowing.  James Ishmael Ford has written about not knowing and how it relates to the act of bowing.

“Don’t know. Not knowing. That is the ancient spiritual practice of bowing in a nutshell…The bow, I suggest, can open our hearts, can take us places we never dreamed of, to a palpable, transformative, endless world of possibility called not knowing. This is what I really want to underscore: this not knowing has endless creative possibilities, to throw in another metaphor, one or two simply aren’t enough for this place, this moment when we surrender to not knowing, when we bow to life: we discover a well that apparently is bottomless, bubbling with life-giving waters.”

I raise my hands in gassho and bow to each of you.

I would like to close with the words of Zen teacher of the 9th century, Dizang, “not knowing is most intimate.”

Namu Amida Butsu.

Spiritual Community and Spiritual Ego

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

 

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.

Dharmakara Bodhisattva. Alfred Bloom

In the “Larger Pure Land Sutra,” the story of Dharmakara’s attainment of Buddhahood offers an eloquent testimony to the depth of compassion which Mahayana Buddhists perceived in the Buddha reality and which they felt impelled to express in the constant refrain of the Bodhisattva: unless and until all other beings can achieve the
same goal, he would refuse enlightenment. The focus of this Sutra on the central characteristic of the Buddha being compassion is intensified also in the first of the four Bodhisattva Vows (shiguzeigan):

“However innumerable sentient beings are, I vow to save them …”

Or, as another version states:

“I will save those who are yet to be saved; I will make those who are frightened feel secure; I will help enlighten those who are yet to attainenlightenment; I will cause those who are not in nirvana to be in nirvana.” [1]

In this spirit of the ideal of compassion, there developed an emphasis on dana, or “giving,” the first of the six perfections to be practiced by Bodhisattvas: dana, giving; sila, morality; ksanti, endurance; virya, energy; dhyana, meditation; and prajna, wisdom. In his “Outline of the Triple Sutra of Shin Buddhism,” Prof. Fujimoto eloquently translates the application of these six perfections of the compassionate idea expressed in the Pure Land sutras:

“Each of the Bodhisattvas manages to become a friend of swarming sentient beings though not asked; takes upon his shoulders the people’s heavy burden; by preserving the inexhaustible stock of the Tathagata’s profoundest Dharma, protects and develops their seed of Buddhahood so it will not be destroyed; commiserates with them out of his ever-rising compassion; shuts the door of the three evil worlds, unlocking that of goodness; preaches the Dharma to the swarming people before being asked, just as a pious son loves and pays respect to his parents; takes care of sentient beings as well as he does of himself, thus carrying them to the Other Shore by means of the supreme root of goodness