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

The Pure Land a Place or a Symbol or Both?

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?

On Right Livelihood a few Thoughts.

A few thoughts on Right Livelihood.

 from Wikipedia

Right livelihood (samyag-ājīva / sammā-ājīva). This means that practitioners ought not to engage in trades or occupations which, either directly or indirectly, result in harm for other living beings.

And what is right livelihood? There is the case where a disciple of the noble ones, having abandoned dishonest livelihood, keeps his life going with right livelihood: This is called right livelihood.

More concretely today interpretations include “work and career need to be integrated into life as a Buddhist,”[46] it is also an ethical livelihood, “wealth obtained through rightful means” (Bhikku Basnagoda Rahula) – that means being honest and ethical in business dealings, not to cheat, lie or steal.[47] As people are spending most of their time at work, it’s important to assess how our work affects our mind and heart. So important questions include “How can work become meaningful? How can it be a support, not a hindrance, to spiritual practice — a place to deepen our awareness and kindness?”[46]

The five types of businesses that should not be undertaken:[48][49][50]

  1. Business in weapons: trading in all kinds of weapons and instruments for killing.
  2. Business in human beings: slave trading, prostitution, or the buying and selling of children or adults.
  3. Business in meat: “meat” refers to the bodies of beings after they are killed. This includes breeding animals for slaughter.
  4. Business in intoxicants: manufacturing or selling intoxicating drinks or addictive drugs.
  5. Business in poison: producing or trading in any kind of poison or a toxic product designed to kill.

Pure Land Shin Buddhism

I want to look at this from a different angle.  Early in the founding days of Shin Buddhist Tradition, Honen wanted to teach everyone the Path but could not until he was banished by the emperor to live among the poor and outcast and so he began teaching anyone who would listen to him about the nembutsu path; fortune -tellers, fishermen, prostitutes, ex-robbers, butchers, samurai and other elements of society that were normally excluded from Buddhist practice; the outcasts.  Honen knew, that because of our blind passions, and our ego-entagled selves, we were all outcasts from the Pure Land or Enlightenment and because of the Compassion of Amida, we outcasts were welcomed home.  Honen and Shinran taught that everyone was accepted and no one was excluded because of their type of work.

So what does this have to do with Right Livelihood?   Lets’ look at this quote about Kuan -yin one of the manifestations of Amida Buddha.

Kuan-yin hears the sounds of the world — the sounds of suffering, and sounds of joy as well. She hears the announcements of birds and children, of thunder and ocean, and is formed by them. In one of her representations she has a thousand arms, and each hand holds an instrument of work: a hammer, a trowel, a pen, a cooking utensil, a vajra. She has allowed the world to cultivate her character, and also has mustered herself to develop the skills to make her character effective. She is the archetype of right livelihood: one who uses the tools of the workaday world to nurture all beings and turn the Wheel of the Dharma.”

Excerpted from “Right Livelihood for the Western Buddhist” by Robert Aitken.

What does this mean to you?

Sometimes, because of circumstance or maybe even karmic debt we are unable to change our livelihoods,  What is to be done then?  Here is a favorite story from the life of Honen,

Honen met a woman who was a prostitute, and she begged him for help. He told her that if at all possible, she should quit what she’s doing, but if this is not possible, then she should sincerely recite Amida’s Name (the nembutsu) diligently. It was said later that she kept up the practice until she died, and Honen, upon hearing this, declared that should would surely be born in the Pure Land.

Is a Buddhist who works as a Bartender a bad Buddhist?  What of the soldier?  The fisherman?  The prostitute?  What does right livelihood mean for them?   And at the same time I find it hard to feel the same understanding for the Pimp, the Meth Lab Cooker.

For most of us I think, Right Livelihood ultimately mean that we are simply applying mindfulness and Buddhist principles to our daily work activities.   I am not trying to say that Right Livelihood is not reflected in the Five Types of work to be avoided,  but that not matter what work we do, that we as practitioners,  do not separate our practice from our daily work, that our practice and work are interdependent of each other.

What do you think?

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.