Archive for April, 2013


April 17, 2013

Karma is a term that has insinuated itself so deeply into American culture, that one can hear it at the grocery store, in the laundry matte, as well as in your local Buddhist community.  It is a term that is misunderstood and misused by Buddhist and non-Buddhist alike. Which is unfortunate, because Karma, in Buddhism, is both the cause of our suffering and the means to attain liberation from suffering. It is the cause of our suffering when we cling to self, and it is the liberation from suffering when action arises out of non-self.

In is simplest form, Karma means action.  It is causal. The effect is known as the “fruit of karma.” The Buddha, being practical, focused on the former, the cause, which can be changed, and not the latter, the effect, which can’t.

Our daily actions of Body, Speech, and Mind condition our future experiences. Constructive actions tend to create constructive or positive future experiences. Destructive actions tend to create destructive or negative future experiences.

Now of course our daily actions are just one aspect of the multitude of causes and conditions that are acting on us at any given moment. Unfortunately we have almost no ability to change the majority of causes and conditions impacting us, including the results of our previous actions.

However, we do have an opportunity to influence the multitude of our daily actions of Body, Speech, and Mind.  The Buddha recommended the five precepts as the best tool for creating constructive or positive conditions in our own lives.  Practicing the five precepts helps create the conditions in which we can deepen our practice of the Dharma and ultimately awaken as Buddhas.

The five precepts are:

  1. To abstain from taking life
  2. To abstain from stealing
  3. To abstain from sexual misconduct
  4. To abstain from wrong speech
  5. To abstain from intoxication

The precepts are not just applied in a few grand moments of our lives. The precepts are to be lived and practiced in the minutia of our lives.  For if we want to change, if we want to create constructive conditions in our future experiences, then it is the little moment-to-moment actions and choices that we must change. We change how we interact with the people and beings around us, and try to align those interactions with the precepts and the Buddha Dharma.

Each moment, each interaction provides us with an opportunity to create the conditions for more suffering in the future or less suffering in the future. If we act in accord with the Buddha Dharma, which is after all not self, then we are create the conditions for positive future experiences.  The ultimate positive future experience being, awakening as a Buddha and helping beings escape from suffering and the causes of suffering.

If, however, our actions of Body, Speech, and Mind are just part of our self building project, actions that arise out of greed, hatred, and ignorance, then our future experience will tend to have more suffering.

We will fail to practice the precepts in hundreds of little ways.  To drive in a car is to take the lives of innumerable insect beings.  Because of our own limitations, we will offend some with our words, or speak words that are unkind, or speak words that are untrue. And as Gandhi pointed out, living with more than we need is to steal from those who do not have enough.  The list of our shortcomings is almost endless.

We are, after all, deluded beings.  Only the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have perfected the precepts.  We do the best we can, confessing our failures and striving a little harder each day to practice the precepts and the Buddha Dharma.

Ultimately we must take refuge, recite Namo Amida Bu, recollect that the Tathagata is the source of all virtues, and give our lives over the Buddha Dharma.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

Fundamental Ignorance

April 6, 2013

As a long time Buddhist practitioner, and a Westerner, I would say that the four characteristics of Pureland Buddhism that stand out are: Amida, Faith, Nembutsu, and Bombu.

Bombu is the Japanese term used to remind us, that we are deluded and ignorant beings. Of course this is nothing new to Buddhism.  The Buddha taught that the primary cause of suffering is ignorance.  However in the West, at least, there is not a lot of emphasis on the fact of our deluded nature. Zen and Vajrayana, as presented to westerners, is about our potential to awaken. That is the focus. Practitioners strive to awaken as Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, in this very life.  In these traditions it is, of course, implicit that we are not yet awakened, otherwise why would we need to strive for awakening?  But the emphasis is always on the goal of Buddhahood, not on our fundamental ignorance.

In the Pureland tradition, however, we begin by recognizing that we are Bombu, deluded and ignorant beings. Our religious services, our practice, and our language constantly point us to the realization that we are “foolish beings of wayward passions”. Because until we awaken to this fact, we are stuck floundering in the web of samsara, getting ever more trapped and bound up in the ignorance of self, in this life and in innumerable future lives.

Again, this is basic Buddhism. The question is, once we have realized our fundamental ignorance, what do we do? Generally, as Buddhist, we begin by taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.  As Pureland practitioners, we also call upon Amida Tathagata, reciting the Nembutsu, Namo Amida Bu!

Having studied and practiced Zen and Vajrayana before settling into Pureland, I have found the shift in the focus of practice from enlightenment (Zen and Vajrayana) to reliance upon the Tathagata (Pureland) quite liberating. Though I still strive to follow the eightfold path, to keep the precepts, and to practice the Paramitas, I do not get despondent when I fall short. I am no longer obsessed with practices, rituals, and amounts of time spent meditating.  Instead, as a Pureland practitioner, I know that when death eventually comes, my future will be held in the hands of the Tathagata.

In the meantime, while there is still breath in my lungs and a pulse in my chest, I recite the Nembutsu, Namo Amida Bu. I strive to live a noble life, like that outlined by the Buddha, but recognizing my own shortcomings.  I keep the precepts close to mind and try to be a small part of creating a world with less suffering, less pain, less mistrust.

Though the Pureland may be our destination after death, this world, home of the Buddha Shakyamuni, is built by our actions (karma). The happiness or suffering of the beings in the world, depends, to some extend on whether or not we listen to, remember, and try to practice the teachings of the Buddha. And what exactly are the teachings of the Buddha: Be Kind in body, speech, and mind. Protect living beings, give of yourself, be trustworthy, and above all keep the Buddha in mind.

Namo Amida Bu!