Posts Tagged ‘Namo Amida Bu’

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

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

Love and Hope

September 30, 2014

christ of the bread lines

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” St. Paul

 

Here in Puna, on the Big Island of Hawaii, we seem to be transitioning from one disaster into another. In August, Hurricane Iselle pummeled the Puna district. No lives were lost, but many lives were disrupted.

Now, we are watching, waiting, and stressing as a snaking flow of lava works its way down from the volcano towards the populated areas of Puna.

There is very little to be done except make plans to evacuate and help those who will be displaced. Against volcanic lava, the living life blood of Madame Pele, we are powerless to protect peoples’ houses, businesses, and livelihoods. Loss and suffering are the nature of this world.

Adversity, such as this, can bring out the best and the worst in people. Hopefully, those of us who have rooted ourselves in a religious practice can respond with compassion and forgiveness. It is in these difficult times, when people despair and feel lost, that we, as religious practitioners, can provide support, strength and hope. Not with fancy words or religious dogma, but through compassionate action that reveals our deep concern and love for all.

There are certainly very real and concrete actions we can take to alleviate physical suffering. However, to relieve this existential angst, we must be willing to open our hearts to the fundamental, and shared, pain of human existence. The very real human experience of loss, insecurity and mortality.

It is a pain we all know. It is a pain we often try to avoid. However, if we are willing to set aside the judgements and fear and the stories we tell ourselves about others. If we quiet the mind and still the fear inside our own hearts, then we can see each human being as they truly are: A precious being worthy of love and compassion.

Often we we fail to love each person we meet. It is an almost impossible task. But we are people of faith. We have faith that if we keep striving to love all, to hold each person dear, that slowly, over time, perhaps over life times, love will begin to leak into our lives and relationships despite our flaws and imperfections. And at the right moment, when faced with someone who is lost and in need, that spark of love may be just enough to awaken the faintest glimmer of hope.

Peace, Paul

Photo: Christ of the Breadlines by Fritz Eichenberg

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

Does Religion Offer Hope?

January 8, 2014

A friend recently asked me if I thought that religion had anything to do with hope? I said, “yes, and If your religion isn’t offering you hope then something is wrong.”

However, as I reflected a little deeper on the question, I began to wonder how much real hope religion offers in today’s world. Certainly religion offers us, personally, much that is valuable. But does religion offer us the hope of solving the very real challenges of a world entering into the dramatic and possibly catastrophic era of climate change?

As a person of faith, I would say that the answer is “yes” and “maybe”. Religion, in theory, shows us the way. Religion offers selflessness, restraint, sacrifice, compassion, forgiveness, and faith as a response to scarcity, hardship, and suffering. It offers lives lived individually and collectively in the sharing of resources and in the care of those who are suffering. Religion offers us the only real solution to a world being consumed, quite literally, by greed.

The hope that religion offers the 21st century is found in the living of exemplary lives of compassion and concern for others. Religion must do the hard work of “saving souls” from the suffering and hellish future that will result from global climate change, war, and privation.

If we are serious about our religious lives then we cannot turn away from suffering. We must live our vows to to save beings from suffering, not in some vague philosophical way, but now, in this lifetime, in real and concrete actions. We must alleviate suffering as it exists in its many forms today, and we must work in the world to prevent future suffering. The work of saving beings, in this lifetime and on this planet, from tremendous suffering, will require heroic acts of selflessness by large numbers of individuals. It is up to us, as people of faith, to take up the work of the saints. We cannot wait for someone else to come forward and do the work. We have the answers. All that is left is to live the Truths that we all know to be true but have been afraid to accept and put into practice.

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

Buddha and Christ

December 26, 2013
Buddha and Christ behold one another.

Buddha gazes upon Christ. Christ gazes upon Buddha.

This wonderful picture, which was taken during a Buddhist retreat at a Christian monastery,  speaks deeply of the relationship between Christ and Buddha.  They, Buddha and Christ, are different, yet they both exist in the shared space of our world.  Because this is a Buddhist retreat, the followers of Buddha are bowing toward the image of Buddha.  This does not devalue the existence, life, and teachings of Christ. Rather it is only a shift in focus.

Likewise, if the photo had been taken from the other perspective, i.e. behind the image of Christ, with Christians at prayer before Christ, their prayer and focus on Christ would in no way diminish the life and teachings of Buddha.

Here Christ gazes over the prostrating forms and sees Buddha.  Buddha looks over the heads of the disciples and sees Christ.

Both, I imagine, rejoice in lives lived in deep faith, love, and compassion.

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

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