Posts Tagged ‘nembutsu’

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

Alone In A Crowded World

June 11, 2013

One of the primary illnesses in the West, at least in the United States, is isolation. Traditional social structures have broken down. Families are more insular and we have lost many of the ways in which we traditionally connected with those around us. Technological advances have allowed us, to a great extent, to tailor our information, entertainment, and social interactions, to our specific wants. While there are many positives associated with these changes, one negative is that loneliness and isolation has increased in the midst of all of this autonomy and technological interactivity.

From a Buddhist perspective this is a very interesting dilemma because we as Buddhists are supposedly practicing for the benefit of all beings. Almost by definition, being a Buddhist means turning away from “self-ness” and awakening to that which is “not-self” (other). We strive to become aware of the suffering of others, generate compassion for others, and work for the easing and elimination of suffering of others. Being a Buddhist is about connecting with others. As Buddhists we should never feel alone.  Each encounter is an opportunity to practice the Dharma and seek to fulfill our vows to benefit all beings.

None of us is truly separate and isolated.  Every moment we depend on others. Everything that we are today has been received from others: our many past selves, our parents, our friends, and the many unknowns who provide us with food, clothing, shelter, fuel and the many things of this life. Even the Dharma, that we are fortunate to practice, would not exist with out the work of the Buddhas.

Furthermore, the beings that surround us in this life we have encountered many times before: as friends, lovers, enemies, fathers, mothers, etc. Keeping this in mind, how can we feel alone and isolated?

Being ignorant and deluded beings, we forget the above and feel lonely, isolated, and even afraid of others.  So the question is how do we turn away from our own insecurity (self-ness) and embrace the many beings (others) that surround us with both gratitude and compassion?

Nothing heroic is involved.  We must simply embrace the Nembutsu. Recollect Amida Buddha and his vow to save all beings that contemplate and recite the name, “Namo Amida Bu”.

That name, “Namo Amida Bu”, is a prayer for the salvation of all beings. It is the prayer that beings be freed from suffering, be freed even from the fruits of their own evil actions, and be born is the in Amida’s Dharma realm. “Namo Amida Bu” is the prayer that we, who are not yet Buddhas, may awaken fully to the Dharma.

Most importantly, “Namo Amida Bu”, is the cry of all beings who are tired of suffering, pain and dissatisfaction, and who want to find another way. Amida offers a way.  It is not a way for just our selves as individuals.  Amida offers the way of collective awakening, the liberation from suffering of all beings.

The liberation of all beings begins by reciting “Namo Amida Bu”.  We then begin to see the beings in our lives through the Amida’s vow instead of our many little insecurities, doubts, and fears, which are the cause of our loneliness.  Every encounter becomes “Namo Amida Bu”, an opportunity to connect with others who are also seeking to be free of suffering and the causes of suffering.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

Awakening into the Vastness of the Buddha Dharma

May 1, 2013

“Life flies by, faster than an arrow. What are we to do?” ~ Buddha

Traditionally Buddhists spend a considerable amount of time thinking about death and its inevitability. There are many contemplations and reflections that help drive home the point that we, special as we think we are, must die.  The body will age and cease, or disease will wreak destruction, or some calamitous event, or accident, will destroy the body. Death is certain but the time of death is unknown.

As a longtime Buddhist practitioner I have contemplated these things. Additionally, I was exposed to death, in various painful forms, at young age.  As an adult I spent five years as a hospice volunteer sitting with those near death.  I have also come close to death several times in my own life.

However, what I have been encountering in the last year or so seems to be the piling on of the suffering and death of those loved ones who are near and dear. I have found this bitter taste of reality unsettling.  It feels as though with each illness and death a little bit of myself dies.  The world that I occupy, the self that I have built up, becomes a bit more porous.  Allowing death and impermanence to flow more freely around the edges of my awareness. This awareness brings with it a deep sadness that gives life, which in my mind is mostly about our relationships with others, a sharp preciousness.

No one can save us from death and the many sufferings of this world, neither gods nor Buddhas.

I am a person of deep faith.  The closer death and disease come, the more I see the importance of the long-view.  The view of the Buddhas who describe awakening as a process involving incomprehensibly vast time spans.  Victories, when they come in this life, are nice, but they are not the point.  A life of striving to live the Buddha Dharma is the point. Living an ethical life, practicing love and compassion, following the wisdom and insight of the Buddha Dharma is the Way.

The Nembutsu is one gate to awaken into the vastness of the Buddha Dharma. The recitation of, Namo Amida Bu, the continual contemplation of measureless awakening (Amida Bu) is a way to glimpse the vastness of the universe of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

To grab onto the Buddha by reciting Namo Amida Bu is to set aside one’s little goals and work for an end of suffering for all beings. It is to add one’s small acts of love and compassion to that of all the Buddha’s and Bodhisattvas.  Namo Amida Bu is about surrendering one’s little life and one’s little goals to the measureless path of awakening and compassion lived and preached by the Buddhas.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

Karma

April 17, 2013

Karma is a term that has insinuated itself so deeply into American culture, that one can hear it at the grocery store, in the laundry matte, as well as in your local Buddhist community.  It is a term that is misunderstood and misused by Buddhist and non-Buddhist alike. Which is unfortunate, because Karma, in Buddhism, is both the cause of our suffering and the means to attain liberation from suffering. It is the cause of our suffering when we cling to self, and it is the liberation from suffering when action arises out of non-self.

In is simplest form, Karma means action.  It is causal. The effect is known as the “fruit of karma.” The Buddha, being practical, focused on the former, the cause, which can be changed, and not the latter, the effect, which can’t.

Our daily actions of Body, Speech, and Mind condition our future experiences. Constructive actions tend to create constructive or positive future experiences. Destructive actions tend to create destructive or negative future experiences.

Now of course our daily actions are just one aspect of the multitude of causes and conditions that are acting on us at any given moment. Unfortunately we have almost no ability to change the majority of causes and conditions impacting us, including the results of our previous actions.

However, we do have an opportunity to influence the multitude of our daily actions of Body, Speech, and Mind.  The Buddha recommended the five precepts as the best tool for creating constructive or positive conditions in our own lives.  Practicing the five precepts helps create the conditions in which we can deepen our practice of the Dharma and ultimately awaken as Buddhas.

The five precepts are:

  1. To abstain from taking life
  2. To abstain from stealing
  3. To abstain from sexual misconduct
  4. To abstain from wrong speech
  5. To abstain from intoxication

The precepts are not just applied in a few grand moments of our lives. The precepts are to be lived and practiced in the minutia of our lives.  For if we want to change, if we want to create constructive conditions in our future experiences, then it is the little moment-to-moment actions and choices that we must change. We change how we interact with the people and beings around us, and try to align those interactions with the precepts and the Buddha Dharma.

Each moment, each interaction provides us with an opportunity to create the conditions for more suffering in the future or less suffering in the future. If we act in accord with the Buddha Dharma, which is after all not self, then we are create the conditions for positive future experiences.  The ultimate positive future experience being, awakening as a Buddha and helping beings escape from suffering and the causes of suffering.

If, however, our actions of Body, Speech, and Mind are just part of our self building project, actions that arise out of greed, hatred, and ignorance, then our future experience will tend to have more suffering.

We will fail to practice the precepts in hundreds of little ways.  To drive in a car is to take the lives of innumerable insect beings.  Because of our own limitations, we will offend some with our words, or speak words that are unkind, or speak words that are untrue. And as Gandhi pointed out, living with more than we need is to steal from those who do not have enough.  The list of our shortcomings is almost endless.

We are, after all, deluded beings.  Only the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have perfected the precepts.  We do the best we can, confessing our failures and striving a little harder each day to practice the precepts and the Buddha Dharma.

Ultimately we must take refuge, recite Namo Amida Bu, recollect that the Tathagata is the source of all virtues, and give our lives over the Buddha Dharma.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul