Archive for March, 2016

Non-Violence: The Path of Love

March 28, 2016

It is important to remember that love and compassion are far more powerful than violence, during this time of war, terrorism and bombastic political speech. If violence were all-pervasive, the human race would not have survived this long. Humans continue to thrive because we are willing to work together. We have found ways to resolve conflicts without bloodshed and killing. We even help those who are weaker than ourselves. Humans survive because non-violence is the norm and violence is the exception.

Violence is, of course, horrible and needs to be resisted. However, violence does not arise in a vacuum. Violence is almost always the result of other violence. Violence begets violence. If we fight violence with even worse violence, we just perpetuate the seemingly endless cycle of violence fueled by fear, revenge, and trauma. We cannot perpetrate violence in the form of invasion, warfare, and continual bombing and not expect the result to be more violence. Violence cannot, ultimately, be overcome by more violence.

Violence is only overcome through the long slow process of love, compassion, forgiveness, and cooperation. These are the values of religion. As people of faith, we are the ones that can lead our communities, countries, and the world in finding another way to overcome conflicts fueled by hatred and violence. We must have the courage of our convictions and say no to war, militarization, and exaggerated patriotism. We can show the world that love and compassion offer a way to break the cycle of violence.

saint-francisSilent prayer is not enough. We need to pray with our actions. As St. Francis reportedly observed, “There is no point in walking somewhere to preach, if our walking is not also our preaching.” As religious people, we can offer the world a way out of violence. First we need to have faith that an end to violence is possible. The Buddha shows a path leading out of violence. Christ does as well. If we follow the paths set out by many of the great religious teachers, earth can become a “heaven on earth,” a realm of peace and understanding.

We start wherever we are: practicing forgiveness and love towards all, daily, and offering little and big kindnesses towards the people around us. When the opportunity arises, we can, with an abundance of compassion, share that we find talk of violence in its many forms – racism, bigotry, sexism, hatred, etc. – unacceptable. We can likewise express our disapproval of acts of violence. We can also work on projects that offer alternatives to some of the many forms of violence in our society.

The practice of love and compassion is endless. Enemies are finite. When we face “enemies” we recognize that our love is imperfect, limited. Like our enemies, we are sometimes moved by anger. Like us, our enemies are people with lives, and loves, and fears. In many ways, we are not that different from those we call enemies. We all want happiness, security, and the freedom to live out lives fully. It is only our limited ability to love, which is the result of our spiritual ignorance, that enables us to see another as an enemy. If we were spiritually awake, then our love would include everyone and none would be seen as enemies.

Thus religion is the practice or training in love. It is the continual cultivation of the desire for all beings to be truly happy. This is what the Buddha and Christ both taught. Happiness is not found in material things, though having the necessities of life is important. Happiness is found in the care of others and in the deep sense of being held, loved, and at peace.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

Image: St Francis

Traditions and Beyond

March 20, 2016

“Mr. Shoji had a fifteen-year-old daughter named Satsu. She was smart as a tack and possessed extraordinary powers of insight. Whenever her father went to practice at Shoin-ji [temple] Sats would accompany him. She would sit from evening until dawn in a state of total absorption. Before long she experienced an enlightenment. Once her father, seeing her doing zazen on top of a bamboo chest, scolded her.

‘What are you doing!’ he said. ‘Don’t you know there’s an image of Buddha in that chest!’

Satsu’s reply astounded him: ‘Then please allow me to sit where there’s no Buddha!’”

Hakuin’s Precious Mirror Cave, Edited and translated by Norman Waddell, Counterpoint Books, 2009. Page 199

This is a wonderful story illustrating that once genuine insight has arisen, there is very little difference between various Buddhist traditions. It is story from the Rinzai tradition of Zen, but the message will resonate with Pure Land practitioners as well.

Hakuin_EkakuThough insight transcends tradition, we still need traditions. Traditions preserve and transmit the skills, techniques, and knowledge necessary for deep spiritual practice. They provide an anchor we can hold on to when our identity as a separate and independent being becomes unreliable.

People that are spiritually driven need traditions to guide us. The religious life can be difficult and we need the teachers, fellow practitioners, and guidance that can be found in a particular tradition. For a more casual practitioner, a tradition may not be necessary.

After practicing deeply in a tradition we can broaden our scope to include other approaches. This often happens naturally with mature practitioners. They draw from diverse teachings and traditions to express and deepen their understanding.

Having encountered the Buddha, the Dharma is everywhere. Until we “see” the Buddha, it is best if we follow a tradition that can show us where to look.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

Proclaiming the Vision of the Pureland

March 8, 2016

In the first issue of Lion’s Roar, formally known as Shambhala Sun, teachers form various traditions are asked the question, “What is the most important [Dharma] teaching to proclaim in today’s troubled world?” Below is my response.

The most important Dharma teaching is the vision of the Amida’s purified realm of awakening (Sukhavati). It is a realm in which all of the troubles faced by us today have been overcome through the Dharma. There is no prejudice, war, or privation in the land permeated by the compassion of the Buddha.

AmidaIt may be tempting to think of Amida’s Pureland as just a myth, a story for a primitive time before the western scientific model. However, doing so would be a grave mistake. A Pureland is the natural fruit of the practice of the Dharma, both individually and collectively. The vision of Sukhavati shows us that as Dharma practitioners we are co-creators, or perhaps co-realizers, of an awakened and compassion-centric society.

Sukhavati does not only exist far to the West. It is not just a post-death destination. It is accessible in each and every moment. There is nowhere and no one that exist outside of the influence of Amida’s Pureland of awakening.

The vision of Amida’s land of love and bliss, frees us from the compulsive and often disheartening need to see immediate results from our practice. The work of awakening is beyond time. It is trans-historical. Our successes and failures in the short-run are less important than our continual opening to the Buddha.

When our heart is open to the Buddha, our actions begin to reflect the Dharma. We become capable of greater love, compassion, and courageous selfless action than we thought possible.

However, awakening to the reality of Buddhahood also means recognizing our shortcomings, our foibles, and self-clinging. We are humbled in the presence of the Buddha.

Collectively we can create the beautiful music of awakening, which is said to fill Amida’s Pureland. To do so, we need a conductor. That conductor is the Buddha. The sheet music is the Vision of the Pureland. The instruments are ourselves, with our diverse gifts, skills, and personalities.

Ultimately, the vision of Amida’s Pureland is the revelation of the world transforming power of the Dharma, as expressed through unconditional compassion for all beings.

Namo Amida Bu!

Mindful of the Measureless

March 3, 2016

Amida Buddhism is often identified as the spiritual path of “other-power.” Instead of beginning with the dynamic and strenuous yoga of self perfection, Amida Buddhism begins with acknowledging our shortcomings and taking refuge in the Buddhas – that which is other than self.

Chorten_at_Milarepas_CaveWhereas we – self clinging beings – exist in the world of measurement, comparison, and judgement; Buddhas are beyond measure. The qualities of a Buddha are likewise unconditioned. They are Dharma –  spontaneous expression of the measureless reality of awakening. As beings who measure, we cannot truly understand Buddhas or Dharma. As the Lotus Sutra reminds us, “Only a Buddha together with a Buddha can fathom the ultimate reality of things.”

Nembutsu, Mindfulness of Buddha, is the practice of remembering the measureless – the infinite openness of awakening. It is very much akin to Roshi Bernie Glassman’s “unknowing.” Except that in Roshi Glassman’s case, unknowing is something we take on, a sort of practice or training.

For Amida Buddhist “unknowing” is simply recognizing the already existent reality of measurelessness. In the presence of the Buddhas, we see that we are foolish and limited beings caught up in self clinging.

Nembutsu reminds us that we can never see the all the effects of “our” actions, nor understand the multitude of causes and conditions motivating the actions of others. Living in the world, we strive to bring as much love and compassion as possible into each moment. After that, we must let go and take refuge in the Buddhas. In the context of the measureless lifespan of a Buddha, short-term failures or successes are often not what they appear. Gandhi, for example, may have never taken up the struggle for Indian independence if he had not suffered the defeat of being thrown off a train in Maritzburg, South Africa, because he was “colored.”

Nembutsu allows us to trust in the Buddhas. It aligns our life with the compassionate activities of the Buddhas, who can work on and through us, despite of our self-clinging. Indeed, the light of the Dharma often leaks out of those who trust in the Buddhas. Our internal process, which we in the West are obsessed with, is often not relevant to the expression of measureless compassion. Did the mendicant, who inspired Prince Siddhartha to take up the holy life, know that his visit to the village would play a crucial role in the life of the Buddha to be? Was the mendicant in a good mood or a bad mood that day? Was he at peace – joyful? Was he angry or jealous or lustful? We don’t know, and it is not relevant. His presence in the village that day, no matter his mind state, was enough to set the future Buddha on the path to awakening.

Nembutsu means resting in the presence of the Buddhas. It is basking in the spontaneous joy and unconditional love that surround all Buddhas. Having felt unconditionally loved and been touched by the measureless, we can (as the Zen saying goes) “return to the market bearing gifts.”

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

Photo: By Greg Willis from Denver, CO, usa (Chorten at Milarepa’s Cave) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons