Posts Tagged ‘ignorance’

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

Fundamental Ignorance

April 6, 2013

As a long time Buddhist practitioner, and a Westerner, I would say that the four characteristics of Pureland Buddhism that stand out are: Amida, Faith, Nembutsu, and Bombu.

Bombu is the Japanese term used to remind us, that we are deluded and ignorant beings. Of course this is nothing new to Buddhism.  The Buddha taught that the primary cause of suffering is ignorance.  However in the West, at least, there is not a lot of emphasis on the fact of our deluded nature. Zen and Vajrayana, as presented to westerners, is about our potential to awaken. That is the focus. Practitioners strive to awaken as Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, in this very life.  In these traditions it is, of course, implicit that we are not yet awakened, otherwise why would we need to strive for awakening?  But the emphasis is always on the goal of Buddhahood, not on our fundamental ignorance.

In the Pureland tradition, however, we begin by recognizing that we are Bombu, deluded and ignorant beings. Our religious services, our practice, and our language constantly point us to the realization that we are “foolish beings of wayward passions”. Because until we awaken to this fact, we are stuck floundering in the web of samsara, getting ever more trapped and bound up in the ignorance of self, in this life and in innumerable future lives.

Again, this is basic Buddhism. The question is, once we have realized our fundamental ignorance, what do we do? Generally, as Buddhist, we begin by taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.  As Pureland practitioners, we also call upon Amida Tathagata, reciting the Nembutsu, Namo Amida Bu!

Having studied and practiced Zen and Vajrayana before settling into Pureland, I have found the shift in the focus of practice from enlightenment (Zen and Vajrayana) to reliance upon the Tathagata (Pureland) quite liberating. Though I still strive to follow the eightfold path, to keep the precepts, and to practice the Paramitas, I do not get despondent when I fall short. I am no longer obsessed with practices, rituals, and amounts of time spent meditating.  Instead, as a Pureland practitioner, I know that when death eventually comes, my future will be held in the hands of the Tathagata.

In the meantime, while there is still breath in my lungs and a pulse in my chest, I recite the Nembutsu, Namo Amida Bu. I strive to live a noble life, like that outlined by the Buddha, but recognizing my own shortcomings.  I keep the precepts close to mind and try to be a small part of creating a world with less suffering, less pain, less mistrust.

Though the Pureland may be our destination after death, this world, home of the Buddha Shakyamuni, is built by our actions (karma). The happiness or suffering of the beings in the world, depends, to some extend on whether or not we listen to, remember, and try to practice the teachings of the Buddha. And what exactly are the teachings of the Buddha: Be Kind in body, speech, and mind. Protect living beings, give of yourself, be trustworthy, and above all keep the Buddha in mind.

Namo Amida Bu!