Posts Tagged ‘non-self’

Giving It All Away

April 19, 2014

Generosity is essential to our lives. It is so pervasive that we often do not see it. Yet we practice generosity each time we feed our family, friends, or pets. We are generous when we spend time listening to a friend or family member. We are generous when we offer a kind word to someone. We are generous when we give our time to help others. However, we rarely stop and recognize these as generous and kind acts.

Likewise, we often do not appreciate the generosity that we receive from others: the kind words, the smiles, the work that others do. In truth we receive more than we give. Nothing that we now have has not been touched by innumerable other beings. Additionally, the very air we breath, the water we drink, the food we eat comes to us with very little effort on our part. Something as simple as the lettuce in our salad is produced by the hard work of farmers who have cultivated that variety of lettuce over hundreds years with the help of the sun, rain, and the whole living system that is the earth.

Realizing how little we do and how much we receive is to awaken a deep sense of gratitude. It can be a transformative awakening and the foundation for a vibrant and joyous religious life.To study the Saints is to understand that the religious life is about giving everything away. This may mean voluntary poverty but more likely it involves giving away our self cherishing. It is a willingness to give up clinging to our little hurts and petty vengeances. It is setting aside the score card of who has hurt and harmed us. It is embracing forgiveness and opening up the heart and striving to respond to all with love, compassion, and prayer.

The religious life is about giving our lives to and for the benefit others. In prayer, we pray not for ourselves but for the welfare of others. We perform works of kindness and mercy in response to the needs of others. We forgive, that our hearts may remain open and free. We understand that love is life, and is thus transformative. Love is the most valuable gift we can give. Thus we offer love and compassion to all: Friends, Enemies, and Strangers.

This is hard work. It takes time and perseverance. Give as you are able. Offer kind words to everyone you meet. Pray for the well being and happiness of all, especially those who have harmed you. Know that Love is limitless. The more you love the more love surrounds you. It does not mean that there will be not suffering or pain. It only means that such pain will be held within the embrace of a loving and generous heart, a heart which sees beyond the pain and suffering of this world.

Peace, Paul

Happiness: A Better New Year’s Resolution

January 2, 2014

There is a very famous story about the great Indian Saint Ramakrishna. He was quite orthodox and as such held to the belief that bathing in the river Ganges washed away all sins. Now to anyone watching the daily throng of devout Hindus bathing in the Ganges, and then observing their conduct after their morning ablutions, it would quickly become obvious that their sins had not been washed away.

One of Ramakrishna’s visitors pointed just this contradiction out to the venerable saint. Once again Ramakrishna affirmed that the Ganges does indeed wash away sins. However, he conceded, our sins wait for us on the banks of the holy river.

For Westerners, New Year’s is much like bathing in the Ganges. It is a time to wash away past sins and bad habits and start anew. We make vows to loose weight and live healthier. Maybe we strive to be nicer, or more forgiving, or generally a better person. Perhaps we aspire to accomplish some goal or project.

These are all very wonderful. Yet our “sins” do not go away. The are hanging out waiting for us in the new year. Sure we push them aside for a bit, but they are persistent. After all they are fruit of our accumulated thoughts and actions throughout our lifetime, maybe even longer. They are familiar and comfortable habits, and they are really hard to change.

It is not surprising then when we easily fall back into old behaviors. Some of this may be the result of overly ambitious goals. It is better that your New Year’s resolution be small and attainable, rather than heroic and unachievable. Real change occurs over long periods time. Persistence and patience, more often than not, win the day. Even the hardest stone is eventually worn down by the constant motion of water.

Another challenge with New Year’s resolutions is motivation. Often our motivation is too small or misplaced. By this I mean that we are seeking happiness for our selves. Unfortunately, what we think of as our selves is really very transient. Our moods and mind change from moment to moment. That goal, which seemed laudable and attainable yesterday, seems ridiculous today. We may even wonder, “Who made such a goal?” You did, of course, or at least a previous “you” did. However, the mind has changed and it is now hard to believe that it was the same you that made such a goal. Before long your “sins”, your habitual patterns, are back in your life and no real change has occurred.

What then is a solid foundation for change? It certainly is not some self building project. Yes being healthier and nicer are good things, but they are just part of your ego project which is, ultimately, the cause for all of our troubles. That which we call self is empty and unreliable. The self is ultimately not a true source of happiness. And as H. H. the Dalai Lama continually points out, we all want to be happy and avoid suffering.

The cause of real happiness is found in non-self, or that which is other than self, ie. “other people”. Buddha is other than your self. Your neighbor is also other than your self. Real happiness, is found when we look outside ourselves and concern ourselves with the happiness and well being of others. This is the beginning of the practice of compassion (karuna) and love (metta) which is the heart of the Buddha’s teachings.

Change from self focus to other focus is hard. Each day we must try to reflect upon the lives of others to understand their joys and sufferings. We can celebrate their joys with them and try to alleviate, or at least sympathize with, their sufferings. We will make mistakes, we will sometimes cause hurt or be unsympathetic to others. Never the less, continue to offer kindness and compassion, as best you can, to the people around you.

Over a lifetime of practicing love and compassion, your life will be transformed. Your old habits, you “sins”, will have withered from lack of attention. You will be happier and will have found inner peace and meaning. More importantly the people around you will be happier for having known you.

Begin today to make the world a more compassionate and happier place. Look beyond yourself and see what you can do for the people in your life. Sometimes all it takes is the right intention, and attention, to awaken to the amazing world beyond your self.

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

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

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

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