Posts Tagged ‘Buddhism’

Prayer Life

November 26, 2015

The Religious life is the life of prayer. Prayer is the continual expression of compassion in all that we do, say, and think. Prayer is the yoga of the heart. It is the interior process of “yoking” one’s heart to the unconditioned, that which is unborn, undying and beyond quantification. Hand holding malaIt is not just time spent in formal meditation or contemplation, though those times are important. Rather, prayer encompasses every moment of every day. Prayer is the kind and generous ways we think about and relate to the people around us. It is the joy we find in another’s happiness and the sorrow we feel when we see someone suffering and in pain. Prayer is the loving of those who seem unlovable. It is the willingness to care. Prayer is the desire to be a source of happiness and comfort for friends and strangers alike. Prayer is life; it moves through us with our breath and pulse. Prayer is the antithesis of, and antidote for, violence, greed, and hatred.

In our particular tradition, prayer takes the outward form of calling on, or being mindful of, or contemplating Amida Buddha (Measureless Awakening) with the phrase, Namo Amida Bu! This six syllable phase of sacred sound is a form of the Buddha. Thus to recite Namo Amida Bu is to open ourselves to the presence of the Buddha in our lives and in in life. Namo Amida Bu awakens in us a sense of the sacred. Through the Buddha we touch – are touched by -unconditional love, compassion, and joy. Through Namo Amida Bu, we begin to access the life of Prayer, which is, simply, the overflowing of love and gratitude into the world.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

In the Presence of the Buddha

October 26, 2015

This past Friday we had a gathering of our local Sangha (Community). It is a time to sit in the presence of the Buddha, chant the name of the Buddha – “Namo Amida Bu”, listen to the Dharma, and share our lives with one another. This particular night was special. It felt as if we were basking in the joyous and loving aura of a living breathing Buddha.

Garden BuddhaOf course none of us present were – or are – enlightened beings. Our practice, however, centers on remembering the Buddha and reciting the name of the Buddha. It is a very Bhakti (devotional) practice in which we are always turning the mind and heart towards the beloved – Amida Buddha.

So it is not surprising that our little Dharma Center was touched by the loving and blissful radiance of Amida. The Buddha is always present. It is we who, blinded by our self obsession, are unable to perceive the limitless compassion of the Buddha. We get caught up in our insecurities, our fears and judgements. We forget that reality is much bigger than our self-centered thoughts and the material world we bump up against daily.

Which is the whole point of reciting the name of Amida Buddha. The name is our connection to the reality of awakening – to that which is beyond birth and death. The name works on us continually – purify our mind-streams. It awakens our hearts so that we can experience Amida’s unconditional love and compassion directly. In Amida, none are unloveable – no matter how misguided. Touched by Amida’s boundless love our hearts are easily broken by the suffering of others.

The name – Namo Amida Bu – is non-other than Amida Buddha. To recite the name is to be in the presence of the the Buddha. Awakening is simply seeing that which is already present. It is nothing special. Yet in a moment of awakening, everything is changed.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

Practicing Buddhism in Daily Life

September 10, 2015

I came to Buddhism out of an existential need to go beyond religious belief. I had to know, beyond any doubt, that there was more than just this material life. Buddhism was the best path for me. Over the course many years I undertook various religious practices: meditations, yogas, tantras, etc. These were practiced at various levels of intensity. Sometimes the practices were squeezed into the spare moments of a very full life. At other times I had the leisure to practice fully in a retreat environment.

Now, at age 50, such intensive formal practices seem less important. The practices still have their place and are valuable but these days my core practice is found in the moments and relationships of daily living.  How fully is the Dharma integrated into my life? Where do I encounter the limits of my compassion, joy, and love? Whom do I greet with love and whom with fear and aversion? Every time anger or frustration or desire or greed or jealousy arise, there is an opportunity for me greet them as teachers. The teaching, however, is always the same. I can either respond to these negative emotions by turning towards the Buddha, or I can continue to dance with them in in the spiraling cycle of suffering called samsara.

Of course, the basics of the Buddhist life still apply. It doesn’t work to just follow our own confused thoughts. We need a foundation upon which to stand.  We need something outside of our deluded selves to guide us. For Buddhists, it is the Buddha.  We acknowledge our confused state and take refuge in the Buddha. Having taken refuge in the Buddha we try follow the teachings he gave. Thus we adhere to the precepts. The precepts are a protection and a source of happiness. The precepts are the most basic yoga of Buddhism. They are the discipline that aligns our lives with that of the Buddhas. Our resistance to a precept or the breaking of precepts are continual sources of teaching. Without practicing the precepts, individually and socially, we will remain forever enmeshed in suffering.

The precepts help us avoid causing harm. However, we must also practice virtues such as generosity, kindness, and compassion. Additionally the practices of reciting mantras and prayers, doing prostrations, taking refuge, and continually being mindful of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are all extremely transformative. These are some of the traditional practices that generate the spiritual energy necessary to create a better life and a more compassionate world, a world in which peace and well-being are more common that war and privation.

However, it starts with our lives. We must strive to, “be the change we want to see in the world.” We must integrate the teachings of the Buddhas into our lives and try to live the values of love and compassion daily. Certainly we will fail and find ourselves wanting. Compassion and love and forgiveness are habits built up little by little over time. Start small. Forgive little hurts. Recognize the suffering of those around you. Remember that everyone has value. Strive to use your life to alleviate suffering and do good in your community. Remember, every small act of love and compassion has an impact in the world.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

For the Benefit of All Beings

August 20, 2015

 Over the last few years I have enjoyed getting back into doing Hatha Yoga. In my early 20s, when I was living on a yoga ashram, I was limber enough and strong enough to assume just about any of the yoga asanas. Unfortunately, I was not able to truly appreciate the healing power of asana. I was too young and impatient. Now, having made 50, and lost the elasticity of youth, I find asana both liberating and blissful. I am aware of asana loosening physical knots and dismantling muscle armoring accumulated over the many years of this life.

However, this practice, while wonderful and helpful, is secondary to living the religious life. The religious life is lived for the benefit of all beings. It is not a path that is overly focused on our own bliss or health or well-being, as helpful as these can be. Rather it is focused on striving to create well-being and happiness for the people and beings around us. It is about living a life that is expansive and open to all.  It is willingness to respond to pain and hurt with compassion.

We begin within our own lives, trying to minimize causing suffering and maximizing benefiting others. Thus the religious life is built on three principle disciplines: ethics, study, and contemplation. We practice ethics so that we may be a refuge and not a threat to others. We use our intellect to study the teachings of awakening so that we may deepen our faith and understanding, the foundations of practice. We continually contemplate the Buddha, so that awakening and compassion may be companions in all that we do.

The religious life, is just that – a life. It is not something that we only do on Sundays, or in the Zendo, or on the Yoga mat. It cannot be set aside or turned off. To be authentic and socially transformative, it can be nothing less than a commitment of our whole life, warts and all, moment to moment, birth to death, to benefiting all beings. 

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

A Little Buddhism, Part 2

August 6, 2015

red-maple-leaf-in-autumn-608x544Previously I wrote a little about the Buddha’s first noble truth, Dukkha. In particular I asserted that it is important for us to use our intellect to examine these foundational teachings to see if they hold up under investigation. Without examining or grappling with the thesis the Buddha is laying out, we will not be able to cultivate right understanding or what Bob Thurman calls “Realistic Worldview.”

So, having tested the most basic level of dukkha, the frailty and unreliability of this human body, we can now go on to look at the “suffering of change.” This world is made up of almost constant change.  Day turns into night and night into day. The weather changes, the seasons change. Our moods change. The people and relationships around us change. Good friends move away, or fall out of favor, or perhaps even become antagonist. The reverse is also possible.

Change can be both a source of happiness and of sorrow. However, the happinesses which we experience are fleeting. Often what we think of as pleasure is just the temporary relief or distraction from pain. Food alleviates the pain of hunger. Rest alleviates the pain of fatigue. Relationships assuage the hurts of loneliness.

The material comforts are likewise unreliable and subject to change. No matter how much wealth or fame or power we have, we still experience discontent, sorrow and suffering. As the Buddha succinctly states, “…union with what is displeasing is suffering; separation from what is pleasing is suffering, not to get what one wants is suffering.”

Further, wealth can be stolen or lost. Fame is fickle and fleeting. Power breeds enemies. If we rely to heavily upon these things, expecting them to make us happy, we will be disappointed. Physical comfort, cannot protect us from the sorrows of loss. Neither wealth, nor fame, nor power can buy a moment of extra life for ourself, a child, a spouse, or a relative.

No pleasure remains pleasurable. We get bored with a pleasurable experience over time. Pleasurable experiences themselves can often beome a source of suffering through over indulgence. We may also suffer when we are separated from a pleasurable experince.

Look at your own life. Change is our everyday experience. The Buddha is not indicating anything new or secret here. He is just drawing our attention to the reality of our current situation, reminding us that there is nothing in this life that is a safe and lasting refuge.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

A Little Basic Buddhism, Part 1

July 31, 2015

256px-Earth_from_SpaceThe historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, described this world in which we live, a world bracketed by birth and death, as dukkha. It is impermanent, unreliable, unsatisfactory, subject to decay, and, as such, a source of suffering. There is certainly happiness to be found in this world but it does not last and is often mixed with suffering.

Dukkha is often broken down into three levels. Now, of course, you can read about dukkha in many places on the internet and in various Buddhist books. What I would like to emphasize here is the importance of examining critically the basic truths of Buddhism. It is not enough to just read through them and accept them at face value. We must test them. This is especially the case with the first noble truth, which is the Shakyamuni Buddha’s statement of our existential situation. If we do not find this foundational truth tenable then the rest of the Buddha’s teachings will not hold up for us.

The first level of dukkha, the most basic level, is identified as the suffering of suffering. This is what most of us would think of as suffering. Our bodies are fragile, subject to injury, disease, discomfort, old age and death. We suffer from heat and cold, insect bites, hunger, thirst, allergies, etc.

I know this seems very basic, obvious even, but it is important to examine this truth. Because if we do not really get at this most fundamental truth, it will just remain a concept with little power to transform our lives. If we do not realize this truth for ourselves, we will buy into the dominant message in the West that that physical comfort equals real happiness.

To have a right understanding of the Buddha’s message, we must ask ourselves if this body is subject to injury, disease, discomfort, old age and death? Is there anyone who has ever escaped any of these? Have I ever been sick? Have I ever been injured? Do we know anyone who has died? Do I know anyone who as been seriously ill? Could any of these happen to me?

It is not enough to just realize it intellectually, we must know truth of it in our bones. We must allow the experiential realization of our own mortality and frailty to challenge and transform us.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

Refuge and Marriage

July 29, 2015

Refuge and Marriage

Taking refuge is a lot like getting married. It is a commitment to a single tradition. Before taking refuge we may have tried Christianity or Hinduism or Wicca or some other tradition. Each taught us something and added value to our lives. However, once we have taken refuge in the Triple Gem – Buddha, Dharma and Sangha – we no longer need to explore other traditions. We don’t need to look elsewhere for the truth. In taking refuge we are proclaiming that we have found the Truth in the Buddha Dharma. Having found the Truth, we can now be focus all of our energy on deepening our relationship with the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

Making Friends with our Fundamental Insecurity

July 5, 2015

No one likes to be afraid. Nevertheless, at an existential level, this is the reality of our situation. Nothing is secure. Our bodies are unreliable: subject to disease and death. Relationships change. Material things lose their value and/or decay. Emotions, positive and negative, arise unbidden. Thus insecurity continually expresses itself in various subtle and gross forms of anxiety. This anxiety is what the Buddha identified as dukka.

Our constant state of anxiety (dukkha) is painful. It changes our breathing and our heart rate, creates tension in the body, and stimulates the arising of various anxious making thoughts. Dukkha lies behind our anger, our craving, our need to be distracted. We lash out in anger when we are afraid. We try to accumulate pleasure to protect us from the pain of fear. Or we seek to escape fear through intoxicants be they substances or entertainments.

In short, because of our fundamental state of anxiety we often act in unwholesome ways that actually increase or perpetuate our insecurity and fear. 

Most of the time we are unaware of the subtle level of anxiety that runs continually in our minds. We see only the symptoms: anger, jealousy, desire, and unease. We may even wonder why we are never really happy, even though we know have much to be happy about.

For Buddhists, and probably contemplatives of all traditions, one of the most difficult practices we can undertake is “making friends” with our fundamental insecurity. We cannot fix or change or get rid of it. Attempts to do so are misguided and, at best, only hide this unpleasant and spiritually crippling illness. This anxiety, this illness, is our direct and personal experience of dukkha. It arises because we misapprehend the nature of reality and reify the self as something that is truly existent, i.e. permanent, eternal, and separate. 

We are so focused and identified with “our” thoughts, fears, sensations, etc., that we never see the container within which these contents, the things we mistake for our selves, are held. A container which is none other than Measureless Unconditioned Awakening. 

Thus in Pureland Buddhism longtime practitioners talk about the experience of being held by, or loved by, Amida Buddha. Amida Buddha is the reality in which we swim. Like the ocean itself, Amida supports and surrounds us. To recite the Nembutsu – Namo Amida Bu – is to continually remind ourselves of the vast radiant interconnected reality of Awakening. 

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

Refuge is the Heart of Buddhist Practice

June 12, 2015

If you have an interest in Buddhism, then you have some sort of karmic connection with the Buddha. Those who do not have such a karmic connection, simply will not encounter the Buddha or the teachings of the Buddha.

Even individuals who have a strong karmic connection with the Buddha Dharma may not become practitioners. They may instead be in a situation where they are near the Dharma. They may live close to a Buddhist temple. Perhaps they have a relative or spouse who is a practitioners, or maybe they have met Buddhists teachers or read Buddhist books.

However, for those who have a karmic connection with the Buddha and and wish to follow the Buddha, then “Taking Refuge” in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha – The Triple Gem – is the explicit act of faith. Taking Refuge in the Buddha contextualizes the “worldly,”  and much advertised, refuges of: Youth, Beauty, Wealth, Power, Prestige, Romance, Intoxicants, Entertainment, etc. While these refuges may bring some happiness or escape from suffering, they are temporary and often entail their own forms of suffering. Youth fades with age. Power breeds enemies. Prestige knows jealousy.

Taking Refuge in the Buddha is not a one time thing. It is an ongoing and ever deepening process. Refuge is the heart of Buddhist practice. If we could truly and completely take refuge then all of our actions – in body, speech, and mind –  would perfBuddha Wallectly reflect the Buddha and the Dharma. No other religious practices would be necessary. We would naturally live according to the Dharma. It would not, for example, occur to us to respond to hatred with anything other than compassion. Likewise we would not engage in harmful speech, action or thought. Such behavior would not be contrived or forced, it would arise naturally from our full and complete refuge in the Buddha.

Reflecting on our own lives we can see that we have not yet fully taken refuge. We still struggle to keep the precepts. We get caught up in the confusion arising out of the misapprehension of self as real. We often respond to the world with anger and craving instead of compassion and wisdom. We continually and habitually fall back into the fruitless search for happiness in the worldly refuges

Recognizing that we have not yet truly Taken Reguge, it is important to continually think about the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. The easiest way to do this is to set aside time everyday to take refuge: Recite the refuge prayer and make prostrations to the Three Jewels. In our tradition, remembering the Buddha and taking refuge are combined in the “Nembutsu.”  Nembutsu is what might be called a pith and concise refuge prayer. It is made up of six syllables: NA MO A MI DA BU!  It means, “I take refuge in measureless awakening.” Because awakening is measureless, beyond the conceptual limitations of our deluded thoughts,  it is ever-present and thus accessible in any moment or any place. The Buddha’s radiance of perfect wisdom and compassion can be experienced in any circumstance, even if we are less than perfect ourselves. The Nembutsu becomes our continual reminder of and connection with the Buddha – Awakening – in all the activities of our life.

If you have the time and the interest, it is also valuable to read Buddhist texts and memorize short passages from these texts. Today it is easy to listen to and even watch Dharma teachings by many wonderful Buddhist teachers. The more we do these things, the stronger our karmic connection with the Buddha becomes. The more we align our life with the Buddha, the source of awakening and happiness, the more these qualities appear in our life and in the world around us.

In short, much of the suffering we experience, individually and as a society, is the result of taking refuge in something other than the Buddha.  Buddhas are, by definition, the perfection of wisdom and compassion. To take refuge in a Buddha is to renounce the things that do not reflect the awakened compassion, namely the three poisons of greed, hatred, and ignorance. It is these three that power the cycle of endless suffering known as samsara. They create the sufferings in our individual lives as well as drive the many social sufferings such as war, privation, and discrimination.

Taking Refuge. Aligning one’s life with the Buddha Dharma, not only brings us joy and peace but it offers those around us a way out of suffering.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

The Difficult and Humbling Buddhist Path

May 11, 2015

As Buddhists, we live our lives for the benefit of all beings. We try to alleviate suffering with our words and actions. We pray that others may do good, abandon what is unwholesome, and be liberated from suffering and the causes of suffering. At the very least, we hope to avoid adding more suffering to others’ lives. 

Living a Buddhist life in the world is difficult. Practicing compassion for those around us is hard. We are continually challenged by encounters with people who are antagonistic, mentally ill, or completely enmeshed in unhealthy and unwholesome lifestyles. Our youthful and romantic notions about our ability to transform the world are shaken as we stumble over our own shortcomings and self-centeredness. Often we ourselves are the problem. We are the ones who need saving. We begin to understand that there is no hard distinction between benefiting ourselves and others. All beings are interconnected. Love benefits all. Hate harms all. Yet we continue to struggle to practice love instead of hate, and it is painfully obvious that we are completely lost. We are incapable of effecting our own or others’ liberation.

Startled by this humbling reality, we cling to the Buddha as our only hope. We observe the precepts to benefit ourselves as well as others. We undertake various religious practices for the same reason. We cultivate compassion, not so that we will be more compassionate, but rather so that there will be more compassion in the world. 

We follow the Dharma, not for ourselves, but so that we may all awaken together. Awakening is not a goal to be obtained in the distant future. Rather, awakening is an ongoing process of living love and compassion moment to moment, encounter after encounter. In those moments of love and compassion, the Buddha’s light, which is always present, manifest in the world. We sit in the presence of the Buddha while our confused and deluded selves fade into the background.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul