Posts Tagged ‘Awakening’

Foolish Beings

January 25, 2015

“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” St. Paul

217px-Paris_Tuileries_Garden_Facepalm_statueWe are often powerless to do the good that we want to do. There is a dissonance between the lives that we live and our highest ideals, be they religious or secular. We desire to be loving and compassionate and yet the littlest things evoke thoughts of anger in our minds. We easily forgive strangers but cling to hurts caused by those nearest to our hearts. We rejoice in the troubles of others, despite our vows to bring happiness to all. We are, as the Pureland Buddhists say, foolish beings: Bombu.

Accepting our bombu nature is an act of humility. It means acknowledging our mistakes and shortcomings. It is accepting that there is a Truth bigger than our little selves. It is awakening to the unsettling reality that we receive far more than we could ever repay. That is why,as bombu beings, gratitude is our religious practice. Love and compassion are just the overflowing of this gratitude into the world. We awaken to the possibility of a life lived for the benefit of others, who have already offered us so much, even if we do not yet see it.

Peace, Paul

Photo: “Paris Tuileries Garden Facepalm statue” by Alex E. Proimos – http://www.flickr.com/photos/proimos/4199675334/. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons 

Creating a More Compassionate Society

December 9, 2014

peter_maurinIn this last month of the year, I have found myself dipping back into the writings of Dorothy Day. I am rereading parts of her autobiography, “The Long Loneliness.” She and Peter Maurin and the Catholic Worker continue to inspire and shape the way I understand what it means to live a religious life.

Being a Buddhist myself, some of the Catholicism does not resonate. Nevertheless, the fundamentals of striving to live a life rooted in faith and love and forgiveness are solid. The emphasis on voluntary poverty, non-violence, and a willingness to take personal responsibility for effecting positive change in the world are as relevant today as they were when the Catholic Worker was founded in 1933.

Watching the grotesque theater that passes for politics, it is clear that politicians are not going to be able to address the serious issues facing us today. There is just too much money and power to be had by protecting the status quo: A world of greed and hatred.

We, individually and in small groups, must find ways to live lives that value and promote peace and compassion. The seeds of a more compassionate, a more loving, and more peaceful tomorrow are found in the accumulation of innumerable little daily actions, words, and thoughts. It is found in how we treat our neighbors. Do we speak kindly and compassionately about others, or do we engage in gossip and vicious speech? Do we think about those who are difficult, or have wronged us, with compassion and forgiveness or anger and impatience?

This is the hard long term work of creating a more compassionate society. Of course it is not enough to be satisfied with our own inner transformation. We must also do the important work of creating a better world by, “Resisting oppression and assisting the afflicted.” This is where the rubber meets the road. To end war, or end hunger, or protect children from harm and exploitation, we must be willing to work towards these goals in real and concrete ways. We ourselves may not see an end to war or poverty. But if we adhere to non-violence, compassion, and love as our method, we will find the goal is already present in the work that we do.

Life is short. Tomorrow may never arrive. Today, let’s begin to live compassion filled lives so that our children may grow up in neighborhoods, cities, and societies that are free of war and privation.

Peace, Paul

Photo of Peter Maurin care of Jim Forest

Gratitude

November 28, 2014

Gratitude, like some much of religious life, is a combination of practice, perseverance, and openness. Gratitude is cultivated slowly, over years and decades. It involves the daily recollection of the many things, great and small, that we receive each day. Some days the practice is easy, other days it is a struggle to be grateful. Often it can be helpful to remember that many individuals lack even the basics of food, water, clothing, and shelter. Remember also that others are suffering the ravages of war, or experiencing ill health, or perhaps mourning the loss of loved ones.

This is a good practice. However, is important to remember that “the map is not the territory.” The daily practice of gratitude, while important and valuable, is only a technique. It is not true gratitude. It is a close approximation.

True gratitude is a spiritual experience that arises as if by accident. The self, with its blue skysmall concerns, falls into the background and suddenly we are overwhelmed by gratitude. Perhaps the blueness of the sky becomes almost unbearable. Or maybe the kind words of a stranger brings us to the brink of tears. Such gratitude cannot be conjured. It arises spontaneously and does not add to our sense of self but rather strips us down to nothing as we encounter the wonder and power and mystery that is existence.

Peace, Paul

Giving It All Away

April 19, 2014

Generosity is essential to our lives. It is so pervasive that we often do not see it. Yet we practice generosity each time we feed our family, friends, or pets. We are generous when we spend time listening to a friend or family member. We are generous when we offer a kind word to someone. We are generous when we give our time to help others. However, we rarely stop and recognize these as generous and kind acts.

Likewise, we often do not appreciate the generosity that we receive from others: the kind words, the smiles, the work that others do. In truth we receive more than we give. Nothing that we now have has not been touched by innumerable other beings. Additionally, the very air we breath, the water we drink, the food we eat comes to us with very little effort on our part. Something as simple as the lettuce in our salad is produced by the hard work of farmers who have cultivated that variety of lettuce over hundreds years with the help of the sun, rain, and the whole living system that is the earth.

Realizing how little we do and how much we receive is to awaken a deep sense of gratitude. It can be a transformative awakening and the foundation for a vibrant and joyous religious life.To study the Saints is to understand that the religious life is about giving everything away. This may mean voluntary poverty but more likely it involves giving away our self cherishing. It is a willingness to give up clinging to our little hurts and petty vengeances. It is setting aside the score card of who has hurt and harmed us. It is embracing forgiveness and opening up the heart and striving to respond to all with love, compassion, and prayer.

The religious life is about giving our lives to and for the benefit others. In prayer, we pray not for ourselves but for the welfare of others. We perform works of kindness and mercy in response to the needs of others. We forgive, that our hearts may remain open and free. We understand that love is life, and is thus transformative. Love is the most valuable gift we can give. Thus we offer love and compassion to all: Friends, Enemies, and Strangers.

This is hard work. It takes time and perseverance. Give as you are able. Offer kind words to everyone you meet. Pray for the well being and happiness of all, especially those who have harmed you. Know that Love is limitless. The more you love the more love surrounds you. It does not mean that there will be not suffering or pain. It only means that such pain will be held within the embrace of a loving and generous heart, a heart which sees beyond the pain and suffering of this world.

Peace, Paul

Other Centered Salvation

March 3, 2014

As religious practitioners it is good to be aware of our motivation for practicing religion. Buddhism identifies two basic religious motivations: self motivation and other centered motivation. In the former, we are primarly interested in our own salvation. Religious practice is about ensuring our own personal liberation form suffering. Self salvation may be an assurance of our own rebirth in heaven. It might also take the form of self perfection, in which we undertake various practices or austerities to help us transcend the sufferings of existence. Self salvation can also be found in striving for a personal religious experience of release or transcendence. All of these are important and common forms of salvation.

The desire for salvation from suffering can, however, also arise as a compassionate response to the suffering of others. This is other centered salvation. It is seeking salvation to alleviate the suffering of others. This altrusitic motivation is the force that motivates Saints.

We can walk into any church or temple and find many good people who are practicing the way of self salvation. However, it is also likely that we will find a few people whose hearts are so on fire with compassion that they must live their lives in the service of others.

In Buddhism we might call these people Bodhisattvas. Bodhisattvas have vowed to save all of the numberless sentient beings. It is not a vow to save just the nice and good people. It is a prayer to save all, even those who are causing great harm in the world. It an aspiration to save all beings, whether they are animals, ghosts, demons, celestial beings, or humans.

Of course, we are imperfect and deluded human beings. Our motivation tends to be mixed. Sometimes we just want to escape. At other times we are moved by concern for others. The Bodhisattva path can itself be a form of self salvation, a sort of justification of self by good works.

Therefore the Bodhisattva path must be rooted in both compassion, for the suffering of others, and wisdom, which takes us beyond self. As long as we are caught up in the limitations of self centeredness, we will judge. That is the human condition: judgeing and comparing. To get beyond judging there must be an encounter with that which is measureless. This is the nature of religious experience. It is the arising of Wisdom. Bliss and joy are just side effects. The real power of awakening, of transending self, is that we are overwhelmed by unconditional love and compassion.

Touched by the measureless, we find the strength to persevere in the endless work of saving all beings. Those whose hearts have been awakened by the pain of others are not be content to abide in heaven while others continue to suffer. Such a life would be hell. We must get our hands dirty and strive to help all. It is not that Bodhisattvas are better than those who are content with their own salvation. Bodhisattvas are just driven to help all who suffer. The very existence of suffering beings is unbearable to the Bodhisattva.

If you are called to walk the Bodhisattva path, do not think that your will end suffering with some heroic act or effort. That is the thinking of self centeredness. Humbled by encountering the measureless, we accept our limitations. We recognize that we will not be able to see or understand the fruits of our actions. Therefore we try to live in such a way that our very lives embody, in some small way, the potentiality of unconditional love and compassion.

Feed the hungry. Strive to end war and hatred and violence. Work to stem the tide of greed and consumerism. Do these things because suffering is unacceptable. The way of the Bodhisattva is the way of love and compassion. Violence, greed, and ignorance are the very roots of all suffering. They are the three poisons of existence. The antidote is indiscriminate love and compassion administered consistently and with the patience of the Buddhas.

Peace, Paul

Do Buddhists Pray?

February 3, 2014

Hand holding malaWestern Buddhist, being mostly converts, avoid using the term prayer. It is a word too tightly tied to the religion of one’s upbringing. Even in the Japanese Jodo temples in the US one does not hear the term prayer. Rather the priests use the term “meditation” when they call on the Buddhas for blessings or benediction.

Personally, I think that there is a place for the word prayer in the vocabulary of western Buddhism. Buddhist around the world pray. They pray to Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and other spiritual beings. Prayer is a very important part of the religious life of Buddhists who follow the Dharma but recognize that they are not, nor are likely to become, Buddhas in this lifetime. They are are still caught up in the Samsara of everyday life but have a connection to the Buddha. This relationship with the Buddha is expressed through prayer.

How do we, as western Buddhists who are are not yet Buddhas, express our relationship with the Buddha? How do we express our gratitude, our yearning, and our wishes for others?

As Buddhists, we aspire to alleviate suffering through living the noble life taught by the Buddhas. Ideally this is a life of perfect wisdom and compassion. Unfortunately, we are not Buddhas. We are only followers of the way. Our lives are lived in the space between Awakening and Samsara. We hear the Buddhas call to live lives of indiscriminate compassion. Yet we continue to discriminate between friend and foe, like and dislike, pleasure and pain.

Aware of our short comings, we call out to the Buddha. This calling out is Prayer. Prayer places our relationship to the world of Samsara within the in the context of Buddha’s measureless compassion. Prayer expresses our continual recollection of the Buddha and our awareness of our own limited and deluded natures.

Prayer is not a technique. It is not mind training. Prayer is our Heart response to suffering and affliction. Prayer is opening to the limitless possibilities of Awakening. Prayer is also our aspiration to Awaken for benefit of all beings. Prayer is the Dharma expressed through our compassionate actions in the world.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

Salvation in Many Forms

January 19, 2014

Salvation comes in many forms. For the hungry, it comes as bread. For the thirsty, it is water. For the homeless, it is shelter. For the lonely, it may be found in friendship. For those of us fortunate to have food, shelter, clothing, and friends, salvation is the awakening of the heart. It is being touched by the reality of measureless compassion. Experiencing compassion which is so limitless and total that our little self is overwhelmed and forgotten.

Anyone at anytime can be saved. Both the holy and the evil can have a spiritual awakening that offers a new direction. The experience may be fleeting, possibly even unnoticed. It may reveal itself in a moment of uncharacteristic action that prevents some small harm. Perhaps it is found in a small act of kindness or love. Alternatively, the experience may be deep and transformative, leading to a new way of life.

Being in the presence of holy beings, saints and people of deep prayer, often evokes a primordial memory of the reality of pervasive and limitless love. This is the power of prayer and love. It is what Mahatma Gandhi called “Satyagraha” or “Truth Force”. It is the power that Gandhi tried to employ in India’s nonviolent struggle for independence. It does not seek victory but rather spiritual transformation. Thus, for Gandhi, India’s independence struggle was an attempt to make real the transformative power of love in world.

Clinging to Truth, which, for those of us who are Buddhist, might be called Bodhicitta, requires a certain level of discipline. This Discipline creates a life that is more in harmony with the Truth of Universal and indiscriminate compassion. It is a life of restraint and prayer that deeply values all life and all beings. Living such a life is not necessary for salvation. Awakening, touching that which is beyond self, is not caused by self effort. Salvation is a gift that is freely given. However, leading a life committed to compassionate action, forgiveness, and love, reduces suffering in the world and makes it easier for those around us to likewise be and do good.

Peace, Paul

The Rhythm of Daily Prayer

January 13, 2014

Lately I have been encouraging people of faith to develop a religious practice that involves daily study and prayer as well as weekly fellowship with like minded practitioners. Partly this is the result of my Buddhist training in which we constantly remember that life is precious and unreliable. None of us knows when we are going to die or face some profound suffering. Yet everyday we fill our lives with various activities, often unaware of the preciousness of human life.

This does not have to be the case. The religious life is built up in little bits everyday. Inner transformation (metanoia) is the work of our daily struggle to encounter others with compassion and love.

If you have not yet set aside time each day for study and contemplation, then here is a bit of inspiration. Over the course of a year, thirty minutes of prayer / mediation a day is equivalent to eleven, sixteen hour, days spent in contemplation! That is like going on a very intensive two week meditation retreat!

While thirty minutes a day may seem like a lot to busy people with families, it is only two fifteen minute periods of prayer / meditation a day. Very attainable. Just a few minutes first thing in the morning and at the end of the day.

The thing is, that if we are indeed people of faith, our daily business should take place around our spiritual lives. Unfortunately, often the exact opposite is the case. We try to squeeze our prayer life around the secular activities of life and then wonder why we feel unfulfilled.

Though Buddhist, I have been greatly inspired by the Northumbria Christian community which has created a daily communal practice of liturgy. Members, and guest, are invited to follow their Office of Daily Prayer, no matter where they live. There is no need to abandon job and family to join the monastery, commune, or ashram. One only need join with the community in the daily rhythm of prayer.

In our own little ways we can follow the example of the Norhtumbria community and begin to structure our daily lives around the daily rhythm of prayer and the living of compassionate lives.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

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!

Ananda

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