Posts Tagged ‘Pureland’

Touching the Limitless

August 6, 2017

“But do not ask me where I am going. As I travel in this limitless world, where every step I take is my home.”

In the above quote Dogen Zenji, the founder of the Soto Zen School of Buddhism in Japan, captures the essence of the Nembutsu — the core practice of Pureland Buddhism. Nembutsu has many forms. In our tradition, Nembutsu involves the recitation of “Namo Amida Bu.”

“Namo” represents us as unenlightened beings. This is not negative, just realistic. As much as we would all like to be enlightened, the reality is that we are caught up in various conditioned thoughts, emotions, and actions. We get annoyed, angry, impatient, etc. We are blown through life by our past actions and our continuing desire to find happiness and avoid suffering. This is fundamental ignorance.

“But do not ask me where I am going.”

Dogen’s first sentence is the “Namo” of the Nembutsu. This is not an ordinary statement. Dogen’s is not saying, don’t ask me a mundane question like, “Are youflip-flops going to the market?” He is saying instead, don’t be confused about reality. There is no “Dogen-ness” that is going.

He is indicating that if we really look within, we cannot find any SELF that is a true first cause. All that we find are moments of experience arising from/with various causes and conditions. Because we do not see/understand the reality of dependent arising in each moment, we are foolish and deluded beings.

“As I travel in this limitless world,”

In the first phrase of the second sentence Dogen reveals the nature of reality as limitless. This is the “Amida” of the Nembutsu. Amida is measureless. Amida is unconditioned, beyond the human habit of dividing, separating, measuring, and comparing. To see the world as it truly is, we must get beyond the measuring mind. Unfortunately, the mind that measures — the thinking mind — cannot think itself out of our reality conditioned by thought. Amida, the measureless, must break in upon us from “outside” and awaken us from the dream world of conditioned thought. Once we awaken, we begin to see the limitless (Amida) in even the most ordinary of tasks and circumstances.

“…where every step I take is my home.”

In the second phrase of the second sentence, Dogen brings us back to earth. It is not good to be caught up and confused by our fundamental ignorance, nor is it possible to live our entire lives “measurelessly.” We are, after all, human beings. We live and die. We eat, dream, and have lives. Our survival depends on our ability to judge, measure, and make distinctions.

Our awakening must be lived in the world. Living that awakening as a foolish and ignorant human being is the “Bu” of the Nembutsu. Nothing is changed. We still get up in the morning and have breakfast and then go to work. We do all the normal things of life. However, we have seen the Buddha. We have been touched by the reality of the limitless. We have awoken, if only briefly, from the dream of conditioned thought. We have discovered the preciousness of each moment. Thus, our lives are lived more deeply. And, hopefully, we act more lovingly in the world.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

Traditions and Beyond

March 20, 2016

“Mr. Shoji had a fifteen-year-old daughter named Satsu. She was smart as a tack and possessed extraordinary powers of insight. Whenever her father went to practice at Shoin-ji [temple] Sats would accompany him. She would sit from evening until dawn in a state of total absorption. Before long she experienced an enlightenment. Once her father, seeing her doing zazen on top of a bamboo chest, scolded her.

‘What are you doing!’ he said. ‘Don’t you know there’s an image of Buddha in that chest!’

Satsu’s reply astounded him: ‘Then please allow me to sit where there’s no Buddha!’”

Hakuin’s Precious Mirror Cave, Edited and translated by Norman Waddell, Counterpoint Books, 2009. Page 199

This is a wonderful story illustrating that once genuine insight has arisen, there is very little difference between various Buddhist traditions. It is story from the Rinzai tradition of Zen, but the message will resonate with Pure Land practitioners as well.

Hakuin_EkakuThough insight transcends tradition, we still need traditions. Traditions preserve and transmit the skills, techniques, and knowledge necessary for deep spiritual practice. They provide an anchor we can hold on to when our identity as a separate and independent being becomes unreliable.

People that are spiritually driven need traditions to guide us. The religious life can be difficult and we need the teachers, fellow practitioners, and guidance that can be found in a particular tradition. For a more casual practitioner, a tradition may not be necessary.

After practicing deeply in a tradition we can broaden our scope to include other approaches. This often happens naturally with mature practitioners. They draw from diverse teachings and traditions to express and deepen their understanding.

Having encountered the Buddha, the Dharma is everywhere. Until we “see” the Buddha, it is best if we follow a tradition that can show us where to look.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

Faith and The Way of the Bodhisattva

February 9, 2016

There are two books that I dip into on an almost daily basis. One contains the shorter and longer Pureland sutras. The other is Shantideva’s, The Way of the Bodhisattva. The Former is epic in its depiction of Amitabha’s valiant vows creating a vast realm of awakening and bliss attainable by all. The latter is a collection of contemplations and meditations to loosen our clinging to self and the world that we believe to be so substantial.

Twenty-Five_Bodhisattvas_Descending_from_Heaven,_c._1300Superficially, these texts seem worlds apart. The Way of the Bodhisattva provides a set of pretty straightforward techniques and trainings in how to cultivate the qualities of a Bodhisattva. It contains chapters on Bodhicitta, Awareness, Vigilance, Patience, Perseverance, Meditation, and other important Bodhisattva practices.

The Pureland sutras, on the other hand, recount a fantastical story that defies rational understanding. They tell the story of a Buddha who lives far to the West and whose compassion and motivation are so pure that he/she has been able to create a realm in which even the most unworthy of individuals can become Buddhas.  Further, the Wisdom and Compassion of this Buddha is so vast that, “There is no place where it cannot be known.” The name of this Buddha is Amitabha (Measureless light), or alternatively Amitayus (Measureless life), or just Amida Buddha (Measureless Awakening).

According to the Pureland sutras, all that is required of us as practitioners is faith in and continuous recollection of Amida Buddha. Doing so ensures our rebirth in Amida’s pureland, where we will eventually become Buddhas. In this life, such recollection of Amida Buddha awakens in us awareness of our connection with the unconditional compassion, deep wisdom, and boundless joy of the Buddha.

Thus we enter the Pureland, and by extension the Dharma, through faith in the Buddha. Faith is not belief. Faith arises as the result of contemplation, examination, and experience. Faith must be reliable, something we can depend on when all else is lost. And to be reliable, our faith in the Buddha must be tested and confirmed by personal experience over time.

Deep faith allows us to let go of “self” centered concern for personal salvation or spiritual perfection, and focus instead on the well-being of others. It is faith in the Buddha that enables us to take up the Bodhisattva Vow to “save all beings.” Faith in, and recollection of, Amida Buddha allows us to participate in the collective expression of Amida Buddha’s measureless compassion. This is the Wisdom Mind-Heart of the Buddhas – Bodhicitta: the desire to free all beings from suffering and the causes of suffering.

This is important. Because if we take up a text like The Way of the Bodhisattva, with the wrong motivation, then we may be confused as to why we are practicing. We may think that we are cultivating patience, for example, so we can become less angry. However, Bodhisattvas cultivate patience not so that they will be less angry, but rather because anger is a barrier to helping others.

We must be careful to avoid making spiritual practice a type of work, a goal oriented practice that we undertake to become better people. The religious life is not about perfecting our personalities. It is, rather, the process of opening. It is the loosening of our death grip on what we believe to be our Self and embracing the Buddha. If we have faith in the Buddha, then awakening and compassion will work through us despite our limitations, flaws, and shortcomings.

If we rely on the Buddha and seek to benefit of all beings, then The Way of the Bodhisattva is an invaluable tool and resource. However, we must be mindful of our motivation. Why are we studying a text like The Way of the Bodhisattva? Do we want to engage in practices primarily to fix ourselves and make us nicer people?  Or do we want dive deep into the ocean of Awakening that is Amida’s Measureless light and become prisms through which that light is refracted in to the world around us?

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

Bodhisattvas are the spiritual heroes of the Mahayana. They have dedicated themselves to the wellbeing of others.

The Jesus Dharma of Love in Action

December 29, 2013

Both Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa describe their work with the poor, the disenfranchised, the sick, and the dying as, “serving Christ in his distressing disguises”. It is a provocative image. How often do we fail to see the value of, and open our hearts to, those whom we know and love? Not to mention seeing suffering strangers as Christ?

In Matthew 25: 31-46, Jesus, as Christ, reveals that the followers of Jesus will be judged based on their treatment of their fellow human beings.

It is a powerful and moving passage, not for the faint of heart. As with the Sermon on the Mount, it grounds the practice of love and compassion in concrete action: Feeding the Hungry, Clothing the Naked, Giving Drink to the Thirsty, Offering Hospitality to the Stranger, Visiting the Imprisoned. There is nothing “airy fairy” here. This is where the rubber meets the road. Either you are living your faith through love in action or you aren’t. No excuses!

Like Buddha, Christ has turned the Wheel of Dharma. He shows us the way to overcome the horrors and sufferings arising out of greed, hatred, and ignorance. Christ has revealed the Dharma of Love in Action.

It is a Dharma that we as Buddhist should pay attention to. Great Compassion does not make distinctions between good or evil, rich or poor, male or female. We, as practitioners of the Mahayana, the All Encompassing vehicle of Awakening, are the heirs of this Great Compassion. We have vowed to set aside our own awakening and bliss, to plunge repeatedly into the world of Samsara to help all beings.

If we take our vows to save all beings seriously, then our lives will refract, in some little way, the limitless light of the Buddhas. We must, however, make an effort. We must set aside our short sighted goals and desire to see results. The work of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas transpires over vast periods of time, built upon innumerable acts of kindness and compassion. We will never know the effects of the good done in our lives.

The Buddhist path, the path leading to the ending of suffering for all beings, begins with the generosity. Practicing generosity is easy.

  • Give time, care, and compassion to others.
  • Give to those who are less fortunate.
  • Give to organizations and people who are working to alleviate suffering.
  • Give your time to silent prayer and study.
  • Give your life meaning by working for the welfare of others!

Each of us plays a role in creating a world with less suffering, less poverty, less warfare, less greed. Both Christ and Buddha show us the way.

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

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