Posts Tagged ‘suffering’

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


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

A Friend Dies

March 29, 2013

As Buddhists we strive to alleviate suffering.  We do this in many ways, but often in involves following the Eightfold path or trying to perfect the Ten Bodhisattva vows.  Ideally we practice the Buddha Dharma not for ourselves but for the benefit of all beings.  To that end we dedicate our accumulate merit to others, that they my quickly be liberated from the endless cycle of suffering.

In the Pureland tradition, this desire for the all beings to be free from suffering, is at the heart of the Nembutsu, the practice of recollecting the Tathagata by continuously reciting, Namo Amida Bu.  We as self-centered and deluded beings cannot affect even our own salvation, even less the salvation of others. So we call upon the Buddha of Limitless light, Amitabha, that his compassion may liberate all beings.  Hearing and reciting the Nembutsu, means to leaving behind this world of Dukkha and entering the realm of the Buddhas, which is called sukkah, the antidote to Dukkha.

In the Sukkha Realm all beings hear the Dharma, Practice the Dharma, and ripen in the Dharma until they become Buddhas, Awakened One’s, freed of the trap of self, and are able to liberate beings from suffering and the causes of suffering.

As Buddhists who practice the Nembutsu, each recitation of Namo Amida Bu is prayer that all beings will be reborn in the Sukkha Realm, and not remain trapped on the endless wheel of suffering that is the Dukkha Realm.

That is the theory.  But I confess that my heart is broken every time a friend or relative dies.  I grieve at the loss I feel and for the loss and pain of those who love the departed.  As a student of the Dharma, I know that death comes to all of us, that it is part of this Dukkha realm.  As a Pureland practitioner I recite the Nembutsu every day with the hope that all beings can be reborn in the realm of the Buddhas.  As a practitioner I am deeply aware that the only barrier to directly experiencing the Buddha’s limitless compassion is self-clinging. And as a minister I recognize that I must put aside my own grief and try and help the one dying obtain a good birth as well as provide comfort and support to the family and friends.

Though my heart may be torn apart with pain and grief, I am aware, at some level, of something bigger. It does not lesson the hurt or in anyway protect me from the darkest grief. However it does allow me to wakeup the next day willing to love people even more than before and suffer again the pain of loss and the many hurts that is part of caring human relationships. What this is I do not know. Some might call it faith.  But to me it feels more like the years of accumulated practice have created a world in which it is impossible to forget the reality of the Buddhas.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

Not an Easy Path

February 25, 2013

The Nembutsu or the reciting Namo Amida Bu, in the Pureland Buddhist tradition, is usually called the easy path. However, Nembutsu is not so much the easy path as the simple path.  It is the uncomplicated path.  One does not need any special implements or special place to practice the Nembutsu.  It is not even necessary to memorize texts and master complex practices.  Rather the whole of the practice of Nembutsu involves reciting “Namo Amida Bu”, with faith in the saving power of Amida’s vows.

Unlike many other practices and traditions, the recitation of Nembutsu does not come with any promises of mystic visions, instant enlightenment, or the realization of this or that elevated spiritual state.  Rather the practice of Nembutsu only ensures that one’s next birth, one’s last birth, will be in Amida’s Pureland of Sukhavati where one will ultimately become a Buddha and be able to help innumerable beings.

Meanwhile, in this very life, lived in the saha world, one just tries to do the best that one can as an ordinary human being.  This is the ruthlessness of Nembutsu. As a practitioner of Nembutsu we give up all of the fantasies and promises associated with the romance of enlightenment: no more pain, ignorance, aging, sickness, fear, death, suffering and stress.

Instead, as practitioners of the Nembutsu, we continue to live in, and see, and suffer through, all the various forms of Dukkha outlined by the Buddha Sakyamuni: the sufferings of birth, illness, old age, and death, the suffering of the 5 skandhas, as well as the sufferings of ignorance and wrong action.  Our friends and loved one’s still get sick and die, and it tears at our hearts.  We turn on the news and our minds are tormented by images of disaster, war, famine and the many senseless sufferings brought about by human greed, hatred and ignorance.  We must also live with the awareness of the suffering we create for others by our very own existence, even acting with the best of intentions.

In the face of these many sufferings we are essentially powerless. We can do small things, occasionally, and we should do them; practicing the little acts of compassion and kindness that are in our power. We should try to minimize suffering by living lives in line with the Eightfold path. But by and large there is nothing we, as little, separate, and independent beings can do. It is the Buddha’s compassion and wisdom that can heal suffering and bring peace. Reciting the Nembutsu means recognizing our limitations, our shortsightedness, and our ignorance. It is the calling upon Amida Tathagata, as our only hope and refuge. Nembutsu is the prayer for the ending of suffering for all beings everywhere. It must ride our every breath and be the pulse of our heart.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

Praying for Others

February 11, 2013

Lately I have taken on the practice of praying for others as part of my daily Buddhist religious routine. I write the names of individuals, for whom I am praying, in a little notebook, which I keep on my bed stand. The notebook contains the names of those who have died, who are suffering illnesses, or loss, or difficulties in life, people who have harmed me, people I have harmed, people who are challenging and generally anyone who comes to mind. The list contains people I know, people I do not know, people involved in tragedies, animals, and others.

The notebook resides on my bed stand because praying for others is one of the last practices I do before going to sleep. There is nothing elaborate of fancy about the practice of praying for others.  It is simply an opportunity to reflect on others’ suffering, to see their suffering as real, and offer a prayer, a thought, a desire, that they be freed of suffering and the causes of suffering.  For those who are close, it is a time to reflect on real and concrete ways I might alleviate their suffering.

The list changes over time as new sufferings arise and old one’s are resolved.  There is always suffering and beings who need our prayers, our thoughts, our compassion and concern. Often there is very little we can do for those who are suffering. But what little we can do, we should do. As Mother Theresa has famously said, “In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.”

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

New Year

January 3, 2009

The New Year has come and gone.  We survived relatively unscathed, staying indoors out of the craziness of fireworks, gunfire, and drunkenness.  The rain has continued, which I am sure put a bit of a damper on the various neighborhood pyrotechnic festivities.

The beginning of the New Year is a time for resolutions and new beginnings.   Which all sounds wonderful until you actually try to make changes in your life.  Then the rubber hits the road and we see how entrenched we are in our comfortable and familiar habits.  We may not like our habits and behaviors but they are what we know.

This is, of course, why practicing the Buddha Dharma is so hard!  The Dharma runs contrary to what is familiar.  In the Buddhist way of thinking it is our habitual patterns that create and perpetuate much of the suffering in our lives and the world.

To begin “anew” we must be willing to see these habitual patterns and recognize that they are the root of much suffering.  This is why the Buddha’s first teaching, after his awakening, is about Dukkha (suffering) and the causes of suffering.  It is a concise teaching.  Yet it is the foundation for the vast and innumerable teachings known as the Buddha Dharma.

“Now this, monks, is the Noble Truth of Dukkha: birth is dukkha, aging is dukkha, illness is dukkha; death is dukkha; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, & despair are dukkha; association with what is displeasing is dukkha; separation what is pleasing is dukkha; not getting what is wanted is dukkha. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are dukkha.”

Peace, Paul