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.

Our Chant and What it Means.

We chant a version of the nembutsu which means to keep remember the Buddha.  Here is the chant that we do  every Sunday as a part of our practice and a brief explanation of what it represent? Here it is.
Namu Amitabhaya
Buddhaya
Dharmaya
Shanghaya
Namu Amitabhaya
Buddhaya
Dharmaya
Shanghaya
Namu Namu Amitbhaya
Namu Namu Amitbhaya
The chant traditionally uses Namo which means Homage to, we use the less traditional “namu” which means “to bow” and can also be loosely translated as “to become.” as to become Amitabhaya Buddha who is a Trans-Historical Buddha of Boundless Compassion accepting everyone just as they are, a Buddha of absolute grace. The chant is an aspiration to become like Amitabha Buddha and to demonstrate boundless compassion for all beings. Namu Amida Butsu means I follow/return back to Amida Buddha it is also there to remind us that Amitabha Buddha is there to help us realize our Buddha-Nature and all the Buddhas sing for our awakening.
On a more practical level, we say Namu Amida Butsu, especially after become aware of doing something that reveals our foolishness, lack of compassion, our greed and anger. For me it means, each moment of awareness is a moment to begin again, that I always have a “blank slate” to begin again even right after doing something foolish.  This opens a boundless space of practice and self-compassion, until we come to realize the path of pure surrender.
 I like this straight forward take on reciting Namu Amida Butsu.   Shinran (1173–1263) taught that for most of us, the pursuit of enlightenment is a futile, ego-driven exercise, and that thanks to tariki, or “other power,” or the personification of “Buddha-Nature” within Amida Buddha, we come to understand that we are already enlightened. “We should chant the Nembutsu out of gratitude, because we realize that we are already home home and we’re grateful.
For those of a more traditional or formal perspective here is a link.

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.

We are all Refugees.

Lately the world seems on fire, with mass shootings, mass migrations and terrorist attacks.  People are more polarized of late, cultural shifts, deep old wounds are festering and all of these are changing the landscape, the earth seems to be moving under their feet and many are taking refuge in nationalism, bigotry and fear.  The rawness and depth of this really hit home with me, especially when the little refugee boy washed up on the beaches of Turkey.  I have a boy about this age…the image haunted me for days.  What would make a father put his child at risk like that.  A picture of the city his family left was published with the caption, “this is why you put your children on a boat.”  The city the boy was from was destroyed; a city of skeletons, torn and broken homes, some burning, desolate and abandoned streets, the same streets that had heard laughter and music, the buzz and honk of rush hour, bird song and the heart beats of lover, now was a city of the dead, with only the sound of distant mortars, more a mausoleum of lost hopes, and dreams.  Looking at the picture I was reminded of the words of the Buddha, “The world is burning.”   And it is not just from war torn areas, there are refugees everywhere, there are spiritual refugees, spiritually homeless who have homes, spiritually friendless who have friends, those who know where they are at is not “right” that something is missing. It seems we are all looking for refuge, looking for a spiritual home.

Thinking of the small child dead on the beach, I wondered if that was my child, where could I find refuge from the pain, disappointment and impermanence of it all.  Refuge is a condition of being safe or sheltered from pursuit, danger, or trouble, it’s a coming home. But we don’t have to experience the horror that the family from Syrian experienced to ask for or seek refuge.  I have come to realize that as spiritual refugees many of us have wandered through self-help books, careers, relationships, materialism and addictions to find some home, some sort of refuge but only to be disappointed. The Tibetan teacher Chogyam Trungpa explains that anyone who ‘goes for refuge’ must therefore be a ‘refugee’, so that as Buddhists we are ‘refugees from conditioned existence.”

As I have keep going on our journey I have found it, and it has always been waiting for me in the Buddha, the Dharma and the sangha, it was like coming home. I think this makes sense since we go to refuge saraa-gamana which in Pali could be translated as “coming home” we come home to the Buddha, the Dharma and the sangha.

It is my hope that faced with such suffering as the refugees from Syria, I could still find my refuge by taking refuge in the Buddha, in the fact of his Awakening: and the three jewels, placing trust that he actually awakened to the truth, that he did so by cultivating qualities that we too can cultivate. That through my understanding of impermanence and the compassion of the Buddha, that awakening can be my ultimate refuge.”

May it be so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be Your Own Guru?

from a  Blog post by Jaffe Cole

I have always wondered about this quote from the Pali Cannon, a famous quote by the Buddha, used by many a rugged american individualist, those mindfulness practicers that follow a more “up by your bootstraps”  kind of Buddhism.  I like the context in which Jaffe Cole puts the quote.

” A common cliche we often hear today is to follow nobody but yourself. We are our own gurus, our own masters. We don’t need teachers or anybody to show us the way. We are the Way!

This advice is often bolstered with this (in)famous quote from the Buddha:

Therefore, Ānanda, be islands unto yourselves, refuges unto yourselves, seeking no external refuge…

Modern lingo pegs it as “Be your own refuge”. Or something like that. But let’s quote the whole text, which comes from the Buddha’s Mahaparinibbana Sutta:

Therefore, Ānanda, be islands unto yourselves, refuges unto yourselves, seeking no external refuge; with the Dhamma as your island, the Dhamma as your refuge, seeking no other refuge.

The Buddha actually advocates taking the dhamma as our refuge. The dhamma includes the sangha (and the Buddha), so rather than this quote pointing to a arrogant attitude of “I know what’s best for me”, it rather points to a modest accepting of the Triple Gem as the guiding light in our lives. The Buddha never intended for everybody to just go out and read a few books and then make up their own paths, which is what “spirituality” primarily consists of today.

Moreover, consider the context in which this sutta was spoken. Was he preaching to locals in a village? Was this shouted from the proverbial rooftops? Obviously not. He was speaking to his most advanced and dearest disciples, almost all of who were already arahants themselves. In other words, this is not advice that the Buddha would dish out to “worldlings” like us. He might tell us to take the dhamma as a refuge, but I can guarantee he would not tell us to be our own gurus and that we should follow whatever we “feel is right.”

We all follow somebody or something, whether we recognize it or not. We often overestimate our own spiritual attainments. A good sign to know if this is the case to ask yourself how well you’re doing spiritually. If you consider yourself advanced, this is an indication that the opposite is true. Almost none of the saints of any religion have considered themselves advanced. In fact, the contrary is true. Whether Catholic, Buddhist, Hindu, or Muslim — the great spiritual teachers had guides and followed the precepts of their religions until their ends. Furthermore, they were often disillusioned with their own lack of attainments, complaining of sins committed or hearts still unpurified.

We all follow something or somebody. If we think we’re beyond following, then this simply means that we’re following our own feelings and whims, which are unreliable, unstable, and prone to be manipulated by the world.

see original below.

https://purelandway.wordpress.com/2013/11/06/be-your-own-guru/

Meditation Can Hold Feelings, But Only Other People Heal Our Pain

a Repost from  T he dharma teacher at DharmapunxNYC since 2005; visiting teacher at Zen Care & Against the Stream. Josh’s talks: dharmapunxnyc.podbean.com       http://www.huffingtonpost.com/josh-korda/meditation-can-hold-feeli_b_7840596.html

“Dear Josh. I have been struggling with a great deal of loneliness and fear of late, and feel the need for some new meditation techniques to get through it. Would love to schedule a meeting with you to gain your insights.”

As a Buddhist teacher, mentor and, yes, podcaster (for the last 10 years at Dharma Punx NYC, and a visiting teacher at other spiritual communities) I’ve received countless emails in a similar vein to the above. The answer, each time is, “Sorry, but that’s not possible.” The issue isn’t my availability or willingness, but rather recognizing the limitations of meditation in and of itself.

Human beings are social beings; its how we’re hardwired. Our innate drive to companionship has allowed us to survive, indeed prosper over the ages. Note, for example, that neanderthals were not only bigger than us, they were stronger, faster and even had larger brains. But their gray matter was largely claimed by the regions that process eyesight and body movements; our brutish cousins were far more likely to scrounge for resources alone rather than in cooperative groups.

Our gray matter, conversely, balances toward large frontal hemispheres, which provided the capacities for language and socializing emotions, both of which are necessary for lasting, secure interpersonal connections. Almost all of our friends at one point started out as complete strangers — indeed, potential adversaries for resources. Somehow we managed to put aside our ingrained suspicions, and engaged our empathetic skills; we managed to slowly drop our defenses and coordinate our plans, developed a willingness to disclose our secrets and empathize with each other’s emotions; we relieved our burdens and shared our abundance. So we exercised our great survival advantage, an attribute that has been honed over millions of years. To the degree that human evolution was set in motion with a plan, the underlying goal achieved its fruition when we fire up our empathetic synapses and disclose our sadness, frustrations, joys and fears to each other.

Indeed, while we may like to believe that we are creatures of reason, what we long for is connection. Emotional connection, based on eye contact, reassuring expressions, safe, reassuring embraces, are as essential to psychological health as food and exercise is to the body. Baseline happiness studies, from the esteemed research of Sonja Lyubomirsky, Jonathan Haidt and Roxane Silver, to the World Happiness Report, have demonstrated what is referred to as the “hedonic treadmill”: we adapt to changes in financial security far more quickly than we suspect. For example, people who win the lottery, after roughly six months, return to the same level of happiness they sustained before picking the right numbers. But the loss of relationships leave lasting residues in the psyche; this is why those who retire often experience anxiety and depression — not the loss of income, but the loss of interpersonal connections found at a workplace. Indeed, happiness research shows that the connection with close friends is the single greatest determinant to peace of mind — and while connection to friends is largely under our control, genetics, alas, is not.

Given the importance of connecting with and caring for others, we might well wonder how can we secure our relationships? Decades of research into relationships by the renowned psychologist John Gottman shows that human links are cemented by the way we respond to each other’s bids for attention. Do we put aside texting on our smart phones, look away from Facebook or the television screen and turn our attention to each other and empathize? If so, Gottman’s studies show we’ll stick together, and be the happier for it. Alas, if we shrug off bids for connection as unimportant, or avoid working through interpersonal conflicts, choosing avoidance rather than communication, then we placing our psychological health in jeopardy, no matter how much money we make or what accomplishments we achieve.

Of course, given how painful experiences of abuse, rejection, abandonment and shaming can feel, how long the wounds can last, its understandable that many of us seek virtually any solution to numb our emotional pain rather than risking new connections. We’ll seek pharmaceutical solutions, binge on Netflix, work ourselves into grave before taking on the peril of disclosing our authentic emotions to a friend, therapist, spiritual guide. Yet it is precisely through disclosure that our distress is finally mitigated; this is the nature of the human experience, like it or not.

So when we think of deep spiritual practice, we might visualize a christian renunciate, buddhist monk or hindu yogi sitting in unaccompanied silent reflection, these cultural tropes reveal a widespread misapprehension. Meditative practices performed in isolation can help us recognize and process our emotional states, but true healing lies in those most vulnerable moments, when someone looks us in the eye, sees our pain and provides us with the mirror we so deeply seek.

Link.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/josh-korda/meditation-can-hold-feeli_b_7840596.html

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.