Archive for February, 2013

Not an Easy Path

February 25, 2013

The Nembutsu or the reciting Namo Amida Bu, in the Pureland Buddhist tradition, is usually called the easy path. However, Nembutsu is not so much the easy path as the simple path.  It is the uncomplicated path.  One does not need any special implements or special place to practice the Nembutsu.  It is not even necessary to memorize texts and master complex practices.  Rather the whole of the practice of Nembutsu involves reciting “Namo Amida Bu”, with faith in the saving power of Amida’s vows.

Unlike many other practices and traditions, the recitation of Nembutsu does not come with any promises of mystic visions, instant enlightenment, or the realization of this or that elevated spiritual state.  Rather the practice of Nembutsu only ensures that one’s next birth, one’s last birth, will be in Amida’s Pureland of Sukhavati where one will ultimately become a Buddha and be able to help innumerable beings.

Meanwhile, in this very life, lived in the saha world, one just tries to do the best that one can as an ordinary human being.  This is the ruthlessness of Nembutsu. As a practitioner of Nembutsu we give up all of the fantasies and promises associated with the romance of enlightenment: no more pain, ignorance, aging, sickness, fear, death, suffering and stress.

Instead, as practitioners of the Nembutsu, we continue to live in, and see, and suffer through, all the various forms of Dukkha outlined by the Buddha Sakyamuni: the sufferings of birth, illness, old age, and death, the suffering of the 5 skandhas, as well as the sufferings of ignorance and wrong action.  Our friends and loved one’s still get sick and die, and it tears at our hearts.  We turn on the news and our minds are tormented by images of disaster, war, famine and the many senseless sufferings brought about by human greed, hatred and ignorance.  We must also live with the awareness of the suffering we create for others by our very own existence, even acting with the best of intentions.

In the face of these many sufferings we are essentially powerless. We can do small things, occasionally, and we should do them; practicing the little acts of compassion and kindness that are in our power. We should try to minimize suffering by living lives in line with the Eightfold path. But by and large there is nothing we, as little, separate, and independent beings can do. It is the Buddha’s compassion and wisdom that can heal suffering and bring peace. Reciting the Nembutsu means recognizing our limitations, our shortsightedness, and our ignorance. It is the calling upon Amida Tathagata, as our only hope and refuge. Nembutsu is the prayer for the ending of suffering for all beings everywhere. It must ride our every breath and be the pulse of our heart.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

Praying for Others

February 11, 2013

Lately I have taken on the practice of praying for others as part of my daily Buddhist religious routine. I write the names of individuals, for whom I am praying, in a little notebook, which I keep on my bed stand. The notebook contains the names of those who have died, who are suffering illnesses, or loss, or difficulties in life, people who have harmed me, people I have harmed, people who are challenging and generally anyone who comes to mind. The list contains people I know, people I do not know, people involved in tragedies, animals, and others.

The notebook resides on my bed stand because praying for others is one of the last practices I do before going to sleep. There is nothing elaborate of fancy about the practice of praying for others.  It is simply an opportunity to reflect on others’ suffering, to see their suffering as real, and offer a prayer, a thought, a desire, that they be freed of suffering and the causes of suffering.  For those who are close, it is a time to reflect on real and concrete ways I might alleviate their suffering.

The list changes over time as new sufferings arise and old one’s are resolved.  There is always suffering and beings who need our prayers, our thoughts, our compassion and concern. Often there is very little we can do for those who are suffering. But what little we can do, we should do. As Mother Theresa has famously said, “In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.”

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

The Works of Mercy

February 4, 2013

I am a Buddhist, not a Christian.  Yet the teachings of Jesus are part and parcel of the way I see and understand the world.  It is my personal belief, that the Sermon on the Mount is one of the best and most succinct teachings on living a spiritual life.  The Works of Mercy offer a concrete guide to acting compassionately in the world.  Dorothy Day, cofounder of the Catholic Worker and an exemplar religious practitioner, is reported to have said, “the Sermon on the Mount is our Manifesto. The Works of Mercy are our rule.”

The Works of Mercy can help us Buddhist avoid an overly inward and cerebral understanding of Compassion. They can ground our compassion in relationships that help us see the reality of the suffering of poverty, lack, and powerlessness. Like the street retreats conducted by Roshi Bernie Glassman, the Corporal Works of Mercy can challenge our understanding of the world and who we are.

The Corporal Works of Mercy:

  • To feed the hungry
  • To give drink to the thirsty.
  • To clothe the naked.
  • To visit and ransom the captives.
  • To shelter the homeless.
  • To visit the sick.
  • To bury the dead.

The Works of Mercy teach that the thought of compassion is not real until it is manifest in action. The Works of Mercy reminds each one of us to take responsibility for the care of our brother and sister beings.

The Saints are inspiring because of their willingness to personally take responsibility for the wellbeing of us all.  Look at some the great beings, the religious lights, from the past 100 years: Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Aung Sang Sue Kyi, Corrie Ten Boom, Bishop Tutu, Dorothy Day, and so many more.

They show us the way. Each of us, if we so choose, can try to follow their example in our lives. We begin with the little actions of our day-to-day lives. Responding to little hatreds and sufferings with compassion and love, trusting in the Dharma and Amida’s saving grace. We can strive every day to remember that Amida’s great vow encompasses all: the hungry, the dysfunctional, the criminal, the dirty, the homeless, the addict, the thief, and even those who are good and holy.

All are already saved by Amida’s Vow.  The Works of Mercy offer us an opportunity to share in Amida saving grace, to see Amida’s light in all beings, and to participate in the creation of a pureland right here and right now.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul