Posts Tagged ‘dharma’

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!

Ananda

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!

Ananda

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!

Ananda

Other Power and the Bodhisattva Life

November 12, 2013

Other power is that which is not self (anatta).  As Buddhists, we understand that suffering (dukkha) arises from self and self clinging.  The end of suffering (nirodha) arises from non-self or that which is other-than-self.  A life pursuing self leads to suffering, for oneself and others.  An other-centered life alleviates suffering and the causes of suffering.

In Pureland Buddhism this other-than-self is understood to be Amida Tathagata.  The pureland practitioner cultivates a relationship with Amida Buddha through reciting the Nembutsu, “Namo Amida Bu”, contemplating the Buddha, and trying to live a fully Buddhist life. Living such a life will, naturally and over time, lead to awakened compassion, the life of a Bodhisattva.

Starting on the Bodhisattva path is simple. Strive to live one’s life according to the Buddha Dharma. Follow the five basic precepts. Take refuge daily.  Set aside time daily for formal Nembutsu practice. Spend a little time every day studying a Buddhist text. Pursue a wholesome career in line with the Dharma. Reduce wants and practice generosity.

The Bodhisattva path is simple but not easy. It requires perseverance over time, years and decades.  Additionally, society reinforces a self-centered or self-power way of life caught up in the three poisons of greed, hatred, and ignorance. Living the Bodhisattva life, a life which is other-centered, forces us to stand out from, and sometimes against, the values contemporary society. Such a stance can be very uncomfortable.

Ultimately Buddhism is a path of social transformation, leading to the creation of an  awakened society, which is also called a Pure Land. Citizenship is obtained not on the basis of wealth, social standing, or race, but on a life lived with restraint, compassion, and for the benefit of all beings everywhere.

Namo Amida Bu!

Ananda

Living a Buddhist Life

October 28, 2013

Pureland Buddhism offers those of us with families, jobs, and busy lives a way to live those lives in an authentic and fully Buddhist way. However, Living fully Buddhist lives requires us, especially in the West, to understand and embrace a few uncomfortable realities.

1. Buddhism IS a religion. Buddhism is a lifelong and daily religious path of transformation and awakening. As such we must bring the Dharma into the many mundane activities of day to day life.

When getting up in the morning it is important to set aside a few minutes to take refuge and recollect the reality of Measureless Awakening by saying Nembutsu, “Namo Amida Bu!” Before meals you should say Nembutsu or other short Buddhist prayers to express gratitude for the food received.  Before going to bed it is good to take refuge, say Nembutsu, and take a few moments to reflect on the day that is ending.

These little daily rituals and habits, which take only minutes to perform, are the individual steps along the path to awakening. Over a lifetime the distance covered by these steps will be significant.

2. The Buddhist religious life cannot be lived separate from the precepts. Living a life guided and protected by the precepts reflects our deep faith and trust in the Buddhist Dharma. We should reflect daily upon the precepts and how we have both succeeded and failed to keep them.

3. Living a Buddhist religious life means going to “church”. The Buddhist path must be lived in the company of other Buddhist practitioners.  We all need the support and guidance of fellow practitioners.  We all need to hear the Dharma. We all certainly need opportunities to practice generosity by giving of our time and energy.

By supporting and participating in your local Buddhist community/sangha/temple/chuch, be it big or small, you benefit innumerable sentient beings. Remember, without Buddhist Communities to preserve, protect, and teach the the Dharma none of us  would have been able to encounter the Dharma.

4. Amida’s measureless light is ever present. It is our own fundamental ignorance that prevents us from experiencing Amida’s all pervasive Wisdom and Compassion.

The Nembutsu is an expression our own existential suffering.  The Nembutsu is also the path that leads to the end of suffering, which the Buddha called Nirvana.

Namo Amida Bu!

Ananda

Faith is Experiential

September 30, 2013

Pureland Buddhism or Amida Buddhism is unique among Buddhist  Practice Schools in focusing not upon the practitioner’s own efforts but rather upon the measureless compassion of Amida Tathagata.  In Pureland Buddhism Amida Buddha’s compassion pervades the entire universe and is accessible in each thought moment. This universal accessibility is the Nembutsu, “Namo Amida Bu!”

Nembutsu is the dynamic action of Amida’s pervasive compassion acting upon us. It is calling us to look beyond our ultimately unsatisfactory self-building projects and enter the stream of awakening. In reciting Namo Amida Bu, we take refuge in Amida Buddha, take refuge in the Dharma, and take refuge in the possibility of universal salvation, from the suffering of samsara, for all beings everywhere.

Pureland Buddhism is a path of Faith. Faith, however, is not Belief! Belief arises out of and reinforces our deluded selves.

Faith is experiential. Faith is the fruit of an encounter with that which is beyond self. A person of Faith has experienced, and been changed by, the truth of Amida’s Measureless Awakening and Compassion.

Faith cannot be forced or contrived.  It cannot arise from our own efforts, practices, and disciplines.  The latter are important and should be undertaken but without faith they miss the mark.

If you are drawn to the Buddha Dharma you are fortunate indeed.  Recite the Nembutsu: Namo Amida Bu. Take refuge. Try to keep the five precepts. Be Patient. For though we cannot yet see it, the Nembutsu is the manifestation of the the Tathagata’s limitless compassion.  Over time we begin to understand that it has not been us, deluded and limited selves, saying Nembutsu.  Rather, it has been Amida, as Nembutsu, calling to us from beyond our selves.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

Nembutsu in the West

September 22, 2013

Nembutsu, which is considered the simple in the path in the East, is not at all a simple path for Westerners who were raised in a secular culture informed by Judeo-Christian religion. There is no cultural foundation of Buddhism upon which to teach the simple practice of Nembutsu.  In teaching the Nembutsu we must also teach the fundamentals of Buddhism.  It is here, in teaching Buddhism to non-Buddhist Westerners, that the ground can get treacherous.  Buddhism is not Christianity.  In fact Buddhism offers a pretty radically different understanding of the universe than the Judeo-Christian world view. The danger is that in trying to explain the Dharma we might wrap up our Judeo-Christian cultural paradigm in the robes of the Buddha and call it Buddhism.

Emptiness (Sunyata) is not a synonym for the Judeo-Christian God. Faith is only a loose translation of wide range of terms used in Buddhist texts of various languages. Meditation is an english word that is a applied to a  vast number of different Buddhist contemplative practices and yogas. As Buddhist practitioners and teachers we need to be aware that we are practicing a religion that is in translation. 

Nembutsu is a non-self (anatta) or a beyond (parasamgate) self practice. In this sense it is similar to the many other Buddhist practices we encounter in the West. However,  without some grounding in Buddhism the Nembutsu, like other Buddhist practices, can become  just another self building practice.  A practice used to better our selves but divorced from the teaching of non-self. 

Bettering ourselves is important. We should try to be more compassionate and ethical people.  However, this, at least for the Nembutsu practitioner, is secondary, a benefit arising out of the Nembutsu. Nembutsu, as a truly Buddhist practice, can awakens us to the reality of Measureless Awakening: a reality in which we live and breath but are unable to perceive because we are caught up in avidya (ignorance) and cling to self as real.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

 

Nembutsu: Glimpsing the Dynamic and Compassionate Nature of Measureless Awakening

September 12, 2013

We are all klesha beings mired in the fruit of our own karma and swayed by the three poisons of Greed Hatred and Delusion.  As Buddhist  we recognize this fundamental truth.   As Pureland Buddhist we acknowledge our deluded condition and call out to and turn our minds towards Amida Tathagata.

This “calling out” is the practice of Nembutsu. It is a way of life rooted in the continual turning towards Amida and away from samsara. It is the practice of opening to ever-present awakening. It is the slow process of purification and ongoing alignment of one’s life with the Buddha Dharma.

In living the Nembutsu we have the opportunity to become aware of the presence of “Measureless Awakening”, Amida Buddha, in this world of samsara. This awareness is difficult because our minds are so conditioned by samsara, by our karmic nature, that it is hard to see the innumerable rays of Amida’s light suffusing the world around us.

Instead of celebrating acts of kindness, generosity, and virtue, we often dismiss or disregard them completely.  Yet these are the very actions, which reflect Amida’s light. If we are able to see and appreciate the many little acts of good that are performed each day, then we can begin to glimpse the dynamic and compassionate nature of measureless awakening.

Perceiving Amida, even through little and fleeting intuitions, can fill us with gratitude and an inner stability. Then, when our lives come to an end, we can die free from doubt.  We will slip easily from this saha world into the stream of Amida’s Awakening Mind and continue the work of becoming Buddha’s and Bodhisattvas for the benefit of all the many suffering beings.

Namo Amida Bu!

Powerless

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

Self Power and Other Power

July 2, 2013

One of the fundamental truths of Buddhism is Anatta: that there is no self-existing independent permanent self. Stated in a slightly different way, all things, including our precious selves, are built up of innumerable changing causes and conditions.

In the Buddhist Pureland tradition the truth of Anatta is expressed through the concept of “Other” or “Non-self Power” (Tariki). Amida Buddha is Other. Amida Buddha is that which is not-self. Therefore, we, as Pureland Buddhist practitioners, contemplate Amida, call upon Amida, and center our religious lives around Amida.

Unfortunately, misguided pureland practitioners turned Tariki (other power)  into a sectarian term contrasted against , “the inferior”, Jiriki (Self Power).  The Jiriki schools include Zen, Shingon, Theravada, and others

This sectarian divide is very unfortunate because both the Jiriki and Tariki traditions have strengths and weaknesses.  The former can become a competitive and puritanical self building practice, while the latter can nurture complacency and moral slackness.

As deluded beings caught up in self clinging, it is important to recognize that a religious life is made up of both Jiriki and Tariki.  Self-power is our motivation while we are under the full sway of the Self as real.  Jariki is our modus operandi in a world that appears dualistic, made up of us and them. In this world we understand that the religious life depends on self discipline and self effort. Every day we must choose to observe the precepts. Every morning we need have the discipline to get up and do our daily practice.

While Jariki is important, we must also be mindful that the Self is ultimately empty. Even our desire to practice the Dharma arises form many causes and conditions that are not self. This mindfulness is the “Namo” aspect of the Buddhist Pureland practice of reciting “Namo Amida Bu”. I (self) a deluded and ignorant being, take refuge in that which is other than self (Tariki). Having taken refuge I will strive (Jariki) to undertake the religious life.

In the course of our practice we may have moments of insight, momentary glimpses of Amida’s light. These could range from fleeting momentary intuitions to non-dualistic raptures lasting for extended periods of time, as well as everything in between these two extremes. This is the “Amida” aspect of “Namo Amida Bu”. Each insight, intuition, or rapture connects “us” a little deeper to that which is not-self (Amida), undermining in little ways our self obsession.

After enough time in Amida’s presence, we are no-longer able to fall completely back under the illusion of self. We have, to use the traditional Buddhist term, become “stream enterers”.  This is the “Bu” aspect of “Namo Amida Bu”. It is the life of awakening, the life of faith. We still struggle to practice but a shift has take place and we recognize that we (self) are being carried along by the stream of awakening (Tariki), which is ,after all, nothing other than the wisdom and compassion of the Buddhas.

Namo Amida Bu!

Ananda