Archive for August, 2013


August 12, 2013

When we reflect deeply upon our lives, it becomes apparent that we are essentially powerless to alleviate suffering.  We can, of course, say or do kind or cruel things.  And we, as Buddhist, should definitely try to do as much good as we are able: responding to hatred with love, deceit with truth, greed with generosity, and immorality with ethics.

Unfortunately, the reality, especially in the short term, is that we can do very little to help people, including ourselves, avoid the sufferings of this world. Our prayers, our desires, and our actions cannot prevent friends and family from making bad choices, becoming sick, or even dying. If we cannot help those near and dear to us,  how much less can we help those we do not even know.

From the Buddhist perspective, one of the reasons we can do so little in the world is because we continually and mistakenly grasp onto the self as real, i.e., independent, self-arising, and unchanging. Not only is this contrary to the Dharma, which teaches that all things arise in dependence on causes and conditions, it distracts us from seeing the vastness of reality.  Because we are obsessed self, we cannot see anything but self.  Under the influence of our obsession with self, we perpetuate endless cycles of suffering and rebirth (Samsara).

If we are tired of suffering, if we want to be free of the the cycle of Samsara, then we need to find a way to shift our focus from self to that which is other than self. In the pureland tradition this “other than self” is Amida (measureless) Buddha (awakening). Turning away from self obsession and towards Amida begins with Nembutsu, thinking about Amida and reciting “Namo Amida Bu.”

It is a simple practice that works on us gradually.  Slowly we awaken to the reality of Amida (that which is measureless) through the Nembutsu, “Namo Amida Bu”. Awakening to the reality of Amida is to awaken to great (measureless) compassion and wisdom. Having glimpsed Amida, having experienced great compassion, having seen the limitations of self, we then desire rebirth in the Pureland: to enter the stream of awakening that is Buddhahood.

This desire to enter the Pureland, which is the fruit of insight into our own ignorance in the context of the vastness of awakeing, is expressed through the Nembutsu. We recite “Namo Amida Bu”,  take refuge in Amida Tathagata,  and live a life anchored by Amida’s Compassion.

Living such a life, over time, can indeed alleviate suffering.  Friends, family, and strangers still suffer, get ill, and die. There is still pain, war, and privation. We still make mistakes, cause harm, and we suffer and cause suffering. These cannot be avoided. But now all of that is held within Amida’s measureless compassion, which makes all the differnce to ourselves and the world.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul