Archive for December, 2013

2014: Sitting in the presence of the Buddha

December 31, 2013

This year the members of our Buddhist Congregation have been invited to participate in the recitation of 1 million Nembutsu. One million sounds like a lot. However, it is only the recitation of 26 rounds of Nembutsu, on a 108 bead Buddhist rosary, every day. It is a wonderfully simple practice. Each day we make a small effort and call out to Amida Buddha. Over the course of a year, our small daily effort results in the recitation of 1 million Nembutsu.

Nembutsu, calling out to the Buddha, is the heart of our Buddhist practice. It is a simple practice, involving only the recitation of “Namo Amida Bu!” At first the calling out to Amida may feel forced and contrived. But we must ask ourselves, what has brought us to take up the Nembutsu? What about our life is not working? Because surely if your life were completely satisfying you would not be taking up a religious practice. No. To come to the Nembutsu, to take refuge in the Buddha, is to recognize that we do not have the answers. The Buddha offers us the cure for our existential pain. The Buddha offers us answers.

To embrace the Buddha is to awaken experientially to the reality of our limited and deluded selves held within Measureless Awakening and Compassion. Nembutsu is not so much the path to awakening as the dynamic reality of Awakening. “Namo Amida Bu” is the Awakened Action of the Buddhas in each and every moment.

There is nothing special about reciting 1 million Nembutsu. It is simply an opportunity to sit daily in the presence of the Buddha and see where that leads.

Namo Amida Bu!


The Jesus Dharma of Love in Action

December 29, 2013

Both Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa describe their work with the poor, the disenfranchised, the sick, and the dying as, “serving Christ in his distressing disguises”. It is a provocative image. How often do we fail to see the value of, and open our hearts to, those whom we know and love? Not to mention seeing suffering strangers as Christ?

In Matthew 25: 31-46, Jesus, as Christ, reveals that the followers of Jesus will be judged based on their treatment of their fellow human beings.

It is a powerful and moving passage, not for the faint of heart. As with the Sermon on the Mount, it grounds the practice of love and compassion in concrete action: Feeding the Hungry, Clothing the Naked, Giving Drink to the Thirsty, Offering Hospitality to the Stranger, Visiting the Imprisoned. There is nothing “airy fairy” here. This is where the rubber meets the road. Either you are living your faith through love in action or you aren’t. No excuses!

Like Buddha, Christ has turned the Wheel of Dharma. He shows us the way to overcome the horrors and sufferings arising out of greed, hatred, and ignorance. Christ has revealed the Dharma of Love in Action.

It is a Dharma that we as Buddhist should pay attention to. Great Compassion does not make distinctions between good or evil, rich or poor, male or female. We, as practitioners of the Mahayana, the All Encompassing vehicle of Awakening, are the heirs of this Great Compassion. We have vowed to set aside our own awakening and bliss, to plunge repeatedly into the world of Samsara to help all beings.

If we take our vows to save all beings seriously, then our lives will refract, in some little way, the limitless light of the Buddhas. We must, however, make an effort. We must set aside our short sighted goals and desire to see results. The work of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas transpires over vast periods of time, built upon innumerable acts of kindness and compassion. We will never know the effects of the good done in our lives.

The Buddhist path, the path leading to the ending of suffering for all beings, begins with the generosity. Practicing generosity is easy.

  • Give time, care, and compassion to others.
  • Give to those who are less fortunate.
  • Give to organizations and people who are working to alleviate suffering.
  • Give your time to silent prayer and study.
  • Give your life meaning by working for the welfare of others!

Each of us plays a role in creating a world with less suffering, less poverty, less warfare, less greed. Both Christ and Buddha show us the way.

Peace, Paul

Enrich Your Prayer Life in the New Year

December 28, 2013

Christmas has passed. Christ, as baby Jesus is among us. The New Year approaches. It is a special moment in time when we reflect upon the past and the future. We remember friends and family who have departed. We consider what we have done and what has been left undone? Looking forward, we contemplate our hopes and aspirations for the new year.

For people of faith, the new year marks an opportunity to renew vows or refocus on the interior life of prayer and contemplation. Life is both precious and uncertain. We do not know when we will depart this world. More importantly, we do not know the good that might arise if we cultivate an interior life and turn our minds to that which is beyond self.

The new year is a time to take stock of our lives and make a small commitment to deepening our spiritual practice. Nothing grand or heroic is required. The life of spiritual transformation is lived one day at a time. It is lived in the day to day interactions with the people in our lives. It is lived in how we handle the many small challenges and sufferings of daily life.

Here are three simple things you can do to enrich and and deepen your interior life.

1. Prayer / Meditation: Make a commitment to daily prayer, meditation, or contemplation. Again, nothing heroic, like committing to four hours or two hours or even one hour of prayer every day. While laudable, this level of commitment is totally unrealistic for most and bound to failure.

More realistic is a commitment of 10 to 15 minutes of prayer or meditation a day. The best time for prayer is first thing in the morning. Ten minutes does not seem long, but I assure you that on some days it will feel interminable. The first few days or weeks will go smoothly but before long temptations and hurdles will arise. You will be tired or bored or both. Other things will try to crowd into even those few minutes you have set aside. Resist and remain steadfast. If you persevere, you will be amazed that these precious ten minutes were not always a part of your life.

2. Scripture: Make a commitment to the daily reading of scripture from you religious tradition. Again, nothing grand and heroic is required. Don’t make it complicated. Just take a few minutes everyday and read a short passage. There are many wonderful books and Apps available that can provide you with daily readings throughout the year. There are also books on how to read and contemplate scripture, while valuable, do not let these become barriers to actually reading the texts. The texts themselves, if encountered on a daily basis, will be enough.

3. Community: Consider regular attendance and membership in a church from your religious tradition. I know that this is a big barrier for a lot of spiritual people. I am definitely sympathetic to people who have been turned off by their local Christian Church or Buddhist temple. Dealing with people, church structures, uninspired sermons, mumbled hymns, and bad or offensive theology can be a real challenge. I get that. However, none of us can live a religious life in isolation. We need both the support and challenges that are found in a religious community.

Whatever your path, make a commitment to enrich your interior life in the New Year. If you know what that will look like, try it out in the few days leading up to the New Year. Is it realistic? Is it doable? If yes, then start today. If not, make some adjustments and try again.

Finally, have some compassion and forgiveness for yourself. Even ten minutes of prayer or meditation a day is a big commitment. You are bound to fail occasionally. That is fine. It is not the end of the world. Just start again the next day.

Peace, Paul

Buddha and Christ

December 26, 2013
Buddha and Christ behold one another.

Buddha gazes upon Christ. Christ gazes upon Buddha.

This wonderful picture, which was taken during a Buddhist retreat at a Christian monastery,  speaks deeply of the relationship between Christ and Buddha.  They, Buddha and Christ, are different, yet they both exist in the shared space of our world.  Because this is a Buddhist retreat, the followers of Buddha are bowing toward the image of Buddha.  This does not devalue the existence, life, and teachings of Christ. Rather it is only a shift in focus.

Likewise, if the photo had been taken from the other perspective, i.e. behind the image of Christ, with Christians at prayer before Christ, their prayer and focus on Christ would in no way diminish the life and teachings of Buddha.

Here Christ gazes over the prostrating forms and sees Buddha.  Buddha looks over the heads of the disciples and sees Christ.

Both, I imagine, rejoice in lives lived in deep faith, love, and compassion.

Namo Amida Bu!


Rejoicing in the Birth of Holy Beings

December 19, 2013

It is a joyous occasion when holy beings appear in the world.  They turn people’s minds away from hatred and greed and open their hearts to love and generosity. They offer humanity a way out of the cycle of selfishness and violence that causes so much suffering.  Their very lives and words point us beyond our limited selves.

Therefore, we should celebrate the approach of Christmas, which marks the birth of Jesus, the Anointed One, with whom Gautama, the Awakened One, would have found much common ground. Like the Buddha, the mother of Jesus had celestial visions foretelling Jesus’ birth and greatness.  Like the Buddha, Jesus’ birth tells a lot about his message and his audience.

Unlike the Buddha, Jesus was born into a poor family in humble, i.e. impoverished,  circumstances. Shortly after Jesus’ birth, the Holy family is forced by political strife to flee to, and live as refugees in, another country. They do not return home until there is change in political leadership.

It is not surprising then when we encounter Jesus, as an adult,  hanging out with and teaching the impoverished, the oppressed, and the outcasts. His teachings and stories are grounded in the everyday struggles and experiences of a people living in difficult situations with little if any political power or social standing. The miracles that surround Jesus address concrete needs: Hunger, Sickness, Death, and Hope.

The Christian message is not the same as the Buddhist Dharma.  Nevertheless, we should honor Jesus and learn from and be challenged by his teachings.  We should appreciate similarities, praise lives lived in deep faith, and rejoice in all good that is done in the name of Jesus.

Most importantly, we should celebrate the hope and promise that the baby Jesus offers a world filled with war, poverty, and discrimination.  Jesus offers us Love: Love as a way of life and as cure for the ills of the world.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

The Awakened Heart

December 13, 2013

Personally I find the practice of Noble Speech to be one of the harder religious practices.  It is not difficult because I am running around cursing, or slandering, or gossiping. No. It is difficult because it is so easy to hurt someone’s feelings or cause pain and misunderstanding with speech.

Speech is a reflection of our thoughts. The words we choose, the phrases we use, the tones we affect, all arise out of our own insecurities and fears. Unfortunately, it is this crippling self obsession which closes our hearts to the individuals around us. It is not that we are rude or even unkind.  We are just unable to connect with others at the heart level, the level of love.

A regular, i.e. daily, spiritual discipline of prayer, study, and ethical living can go a long way to opening the heart. We cannot, however, force the heart to open.  The heart awakens in response to the call of that which is beyond self.  In our tradition Amida Buddha is that which is beyond self. The Nembutsu, “Namo Amida Bu”, is the voice of the Buddha calling to us from beyond self.

Sometimes we can hear the Buddha calling us, almost steering us on an unknown but True Course.  Other times we feel lost and can only hear ourselves calling out “Namo Amida Bu”.

“Namo Amida Bu” is the action of the Tathagatha’s measureless compassion upon our hearts and in our world.  To recite “Namo Amida Bu” is to cling to the Buddha amidst the turmoil and challenges of our daily lives.

“Namo Amida Bu” is also speech. It is Noble Speech. It is the speech of an Awakened Heart. Yet over and over again I forget the Dharma, forget the Buddha, forget all but myself and speak in ways that hurt and wound.

Namo Amida Bu!


Encountering the Buddha in Your Daily Life

December 10, 2013

A few years ago I had the good fortune to have coffee with a friend of mine who is a retired Methodist minister. During the course of our conversation I asked him, ” Knowing what you know now, what would your advise be to your younger self?”

Without a pause he responded, “Spend more time studying scripture.”

Now of course he was thinking of the Christian Bible. But his point struck a cord and I have since taken to spending time every day reading sutras.  Usually I break this into two blocks, reading something from the Pali Cannon and then reading a bit from the Pureland sutras.  With the Pureland Sutras my course of reading and study is usually done from beginning to end over the course of weeks, starting with the Shorter Pureland Sutra and ending with the contemplation sutra. Then beginning again with the Shorter Sutra.

Reading the Sutras in this way, over time, in the course of different life experiences brings a depth and relevance to the sutras. Likewise the Sutras  begin to inform and impact the experiences of daily life.

The Buddhist Sutras are the voice of the Buddha. They challenge us to live our lives by the expansive and liberating message of the Tathagathas, not by our little and limited self building agendas that are mired in affliction and suffering.

To read the Sutras daily is to encounter the Buddha in your daily life.  It is a practice I highly recommend.

Namo Amida Bu!


Bodhi Day

December 9, 2013

On this Bodhi Day let us celebrate the awakening of the Buddha Shakyamuni.  The one who came into the world and taught about affliction (Dukkha) and the cessation of affliction (Dukkha).  The Enlightened One who offers us a path to the ending of suffering in our own lives and in the world.  Let us embrace the teachings of the Compassionate One and strive to eliminate greed, hatred, and ignorance from the world. Without greed, there will be no poverty and hunger.  Without hatred, war will cease to exist.  Without ignorance, racism and prejudice will be unknown.

The path is our life and how we live it.  A life of healing flows out of our encounter with the Buddha and the living of the Buddha Dharma.

Life is short and uncertain.  Do not waste a moment. Today,dedicate yourself to helping all beings and striving to eliminate suffering and the causes of suffering.

Namo Amida Bu!