Posts Tagged ‘Zen’

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

Awakening to the Fullness of Life

June 5, 2016

“This food is a gift of the the whole universe: the earth, the sea, the sky, all sentient beings. In this food is much joy, much suffering, much hard work. We accept this food so that we may follow a path of practice and help all beings everywhere.”

The sacred is present in each moment. Prayer is our ongoing and active relationship with the sacred – with life. While prayer can take place at set times and places, it is not limited to the chapel or meditation hall. The whole of our lives are potentially prayer, filled with wonder, gratitude, and contentment.  Prayer awakens in us spiritual joy (ananda), which is often evoked by even the most mundane of tasks.

Such was my experience as I made Jelly from our abundant harvest of Lilikoi, also known as Passion Fruit. It is one of the fruiting vines that thrives in the few inches of soil that covers the hardened lava in our neighborhood. We have tried to grow many types of plants, in all sorts of raised beds and containers, but only a few flourish without constant attention and fussing over. Even bananas, one of the more prolific plants in our area, don’t do well in the shallow soil.

Making JellyIn the kitchen – bursting with gratitude – I sang and chanted while working. I was aware that these exotic fruits were a precious gift and that I was participating in the fullness of life by making jelly – heating the juice, cleaning the jars, measuring, etc. I found that all of life was present in the kitchen. The making of jelly had become a prayerful act of gratitude, honoring the gifts that nature had so freely given.

We cannot survive without food. Yet it is easily taken for granted in a society of great abundance like the U.S. We forget how fortunate we are and overlook the working of the elements or the human sweat and suffering that is in every bite of food. We do not appreciate how entirely dependent we are on other beings and the whims of nature for our very survival. Each morsel of food is truly a “gift of the whole universe.” It is a gift that often goes unnoticed.

Prayer helps us notice these small gifts of life. Prayer delights in the ordinary, the beat of our heart, the movement of our breath, the way soap bubbles cling to a freshly washed plate, or the cheerful chorus of frogs at night. Wonder and sacredness abound in the prayerful life.

The Zen saying goes, “Before enlightenment chop wood carry water, after enlightenment chop woodLilikoi Jelly carry water.” Enlightenment is awakening to ordinariness, which – it turns out – is not ordinary at all. It is not something we get or achieve or find somewhere else. Enlightenment is found in the many little moments of everyday life.

Prayer, which is a less grandiose term than enlightenment, is simply awakening into the fullness of life, which may be found in something as simple as making jelly on a Saturday afternoon.

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

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