This is a repository of various dharma talks from RBC. We try to post the latest talk here in case you missed them live. You are always welcome to come to RBC and experience a Sunday Service in person. Please understand that these are ancient teachings and none of these talks represent original content. Dharma explanations are freely borrowed and shared.
--- Namandabu - Namandabu - Namandabu ---
Next week we’ll have our Moon Rabbit Cafe and share food and community with 150 guests. Bring friends, invite anyone.
The title of my talk is “Chop Wood and Carry water”. As I prepared and studied, I found an interesting effect. I would do some writing and then I would see those words “Chop Wood and Carry water”. And I would think of some chore or project, and off I would go to do just that. Then I'd get back to the Dharma talk writing, see the words “Chop Wood and Carry water” and - you see where this goes - the Dharma talk isn't exactly finished - But wow! I sure got lots of chores done!
Here is what I have….Buddhism is often called a religion of enlightenment. A way of enlightenment is better for some - The Great Natural Way. The way of Suchness. How to approach this idea of Suchness? Have many of you heard this term in Buddhism before? Ok - some. You’ve heard the word “Tathagata”? That's the Buddha: “He who comes from Suchness”. Suchness = Tathata in Pali. Maybe that's not helping.
The Buddha taught that we are not seeing reality around us in an accurate and honest way. We see through the distorting lense of the self. Our self tends to be very centered on only its interests and has the nature of clinging. This is the source of all our sorrows and difficulties. This clinging of the self to a dynamic universe. An analogy would be if we grabbed on to things that are moving, trouble follows. Grabbing onto a moving car is unpleasant. - If you’ve ever tried that [I have] - It’s moving and you're not, usually your hand is the thing that breaks.
Suchness then in my analogy is the motion of the car. The true nature of reality. Dynamic, vibrant, energetic. My self delusion sees the car as static. We could say that the actual reality of the car is conditioned by my self and so I have a distorted picture. What we call a conditioned view.
We see things as more complex than they are. We conjure up subject and object out of what is really just suchness. We condition this reality with an extra dimension that doesn't really exist. We are “dimensionally challenged”. Even the Buddha had difficulty explaining un-conditioned reality to conditioned beings? Language and vocabulary are not suited. Both Suchness and our selfish delusion are exist in the same space and time. They are not separate. They are interpenetrating realities.
Suchness is the true mode of being that underlies all. It is non-duality. “Diving into the oneness of reality!” as we do in gassho.
This might start to sound a bit cooky. Since we believe our selfish perceptions are “reality”, then for our world to be real, we have to perceive it as something. It can’t just BE. We have to judge it, or name it, or describe it in some way. The self thinks we perceive the world through words, through ideas. But in fact that is chattering of the monkey mind, drowning out the harmony of reality that lies before us.
Have you noticed, everybody is taking pictures of things lately. I made fun of Selfie-ness last time. Somehow if I have a picture of me with the cake, it makes the cake more real - right. This obsession with posting pictures is just the self wanting to freeze things, capture moments in data, petrify them in time, and make them fixed - a wish that comes counter to the fact that everything is moving and changing. But Suchness, is right now. Before we name it or describe it or form an opinion about it. Suspend the monkey chatter and you will be relating to Suchness, each moments the as-is-ness there to experience.
Where can we see this Suchness? Everywhere. Everyday. When life is simple it's much easier to experience Suchness - a pre-conceptual oneness with reality. It lives in everyday moments. Tiny moments. Like our breath. Or dew drop on a blade of grass. Those little teeny tiny baby toe nails! In the “Chopping of wood and the carrying of water” we all must do.
Too often we approach life looking for the next “big thing”. When really, what we seek is there all the time.
“Chop wood carry water” comes from a Zen Koan. A word puzzle give to a student to shake them out of a conditioned view. Once a Zen student in China asked his master. “What do I need to do to follow the Buddha's way?” The answer he got was…
“Before Enlightenment , chop wood carry water, after Enlightenment chop wood carry water”.
Often students would practice for many years in the monastery before the teacher shared an insight like this. The tendency is for us to think that Buddhism is a thing we do - Like chanting, or meditating or studying the Dharma. In this message is a clue. A hint that the grand experience of a life free from suffering - What the Buddha offers us - is actually right here. Right now. But we don't notice.
If we are mindful in daily acts that sustain life, we can we forget our self-centered strivings. Koans are supposed to be puzzling. They hint to us. The Pure Land is not far away. You don't have to die to go there. It is right here in your chopping and your carrying. It will be here once your mind changes. We encounter suchness everyday - the true nature of reality - undistorted and immediate - but we don't allow it in.
What usually happens is we fall back on bad habits - Called The 5 bad habits of the self - they have kept us bound and blinded for so long. These old upside-down views are what we use to explain and categorize our experience whole life. As the Lotus Sutra described us “dried-out living beings, abiding in suffering and without peace and bliss”
The many troubles in our lives exist because we do not live in harmony with the Suchness that surrounds us. The Buddha warns us against The 5 Bad habits of self -
competition - to believe I must win and you must lose for me to be happy is a grave delusion. Really win-lose thinking is actually lose/lose thinking.
deception - we tend to deceive others and ourselves. We compromise and rationalize to avoid criticism or acquire some gain.
dependency - We look to others to provide our livelihood and basic needs. We look to others to tell us how to think, feel, and be.
egoism - thinking and acting as though only my way is right results in unfortunate Karmic fruits.
laziness - we think that we can succeed without exerting our own effort in life.
These are all unnatural and calculating acts. Our small mind believes we have to do these things to survive, but like the monkey caught in a trap. To be freed we have to let go. These five habits blind us to the love and compassion that is here, everywhere for us. We can’t see that we are ok just as we are. When we return to chopping wood and carrying water these five habits can melt away.
In our Shin Buddhist tradition we have the example of the Myokonin - these wonderful sincere people. Their lives are without these five bad habits. In contrast, they show us how to live a peaceful life in a Buddhist way. By following the natural flow of life. By listening deeply to the Universe around us. By accepting the predominant effects of Other Power. And by living in a state of True Entrusting. They live without calculation or pretense. They cultivate a habit of profound trust and confidence. That is what we can call faith in the Buddha - Shinjin. The Myokonin show us how to align faith with confidence in the Dharma - To just Chop wood and Carry water.
Myokonin are people like Doshu, Saichi and Issa. Doshu of Akao traveled with our second founder -here- Rennyo Shonin. He was his bodyguard at times. These were tough times and as Rennyo revived Shin Buddhism, he experienced growing popularity and violent jealousy from older schools. Doshu was a protector.
He is famous for many things but I will share his New Year's resolutions 1501. He made 21 of these, but we’ll just hear a few….
The Resolutions Made on 24th December, 1st Year of Emperor Bunki
The Myokonin way of living follows the flow of life. Being in the flow of the universe - Suchness. An infinite universe that is full of compassion and wisdom. Naturalness is the way. Accepting the gentle Dharma Rain where it falls. This simple mindful living allows Deep hearing - Monpo- to develop. Deep hearing of the light. Hearing the call of Amida Buddha. Infinite love is here, calling to us all.
The Myokonin life of naturalness answers the deepest question: "Who am I? with this...
"I am nothing but this moment in the flow of life. I am nothing but this moment in the flow of life. This flow is not in our control. It is the flow of the universe itself. The life of the universe flows in me and I just flow with life and that is myself. We do make plans. We have to. And we do make good efforts, but in the end what happens is not our own doing - It is Life's doing." - Rev. Kiyozawa
For Doshu everyday was a good day because it flowed from within naturally. Without pretense - no false front was necessary. He was sincere and earnest in living himself as he was. Many of us worry because we are hiding something. We live double lives and that causes our worry. What if they find out my secrets? I am not that smart? I am not that strong? Will they still love me? But does it help?
And Saichi the Clog maker, he was a simple man in the 1800’s. A wonderful person for whom Suchness was accessible and available in his daily life. As he literally chopped wood, making wooden shoes, for a living. He would work and all the while say the nembutsu. When a poem came to him, he would write it down on one of the wood shavings from his plane. He wrote thousands of poems. Here are a few….
No clinging to anything
No clinging to the small self,
No clinging to the Teaching.
This is in accord with the Dharma
And writing about his realization of Suchness...
My eyes change, the world changes.
This place turns into the Pure Land.
How happy I am! Namu-Amida-Butsu.
And writing about his experience of Suchness...
How happy I am!
I cannot see Namu-Amida-Butsu with my eyes,
Because it is too vast a gift to see with my eyes.
To see Suchness
I have to be embraced in Suchness.
Everything is entirely in Suchness.
And Kobayashi Issa was a myokonin of the 1700s. A Shin Buddhist poet/priest who some of you have heard of. He was a master at seeing naturalness. He captures an essence with this insight into cherry blossoms…
Simply trust simply trust! Cherry blossoms in bloom
Simply trust, simply trust! We can experience Suchness every day. As we chop our wood and carry our water - we feel it. We can simply trust. We can let go the calculating mind. Avoiding the 5 bad habits of self and allow ourselves to hear deeply. The Dharma Rain is there. It comes to us in the form of the Nembutsu. We can let love rain down on us as Saichi did. If we take refuge in the Buddha. Our simple trust is important. It is profound - trust that you are ok just as you are. The Great Vow is for you.
A very insightful definition of happiness is to be "in the flow" where we lose our self in suchness. This happens to artists, and athletes, and moms washing babies. You and me [duality] melt away. There is life happening. We do glimpse Suchness when we “Chop and Carry. "I am nothing but this moment in the flow of life". I need to let it flow over me. I melt away. It rains down everywhere. On good and bad, without distinction. Good will flow when we continue to chop wood and carry water. Present in each moment of the simplicities of life. Mindful of the wondrous miracle the enfolds us. We hear deeply the patter of Dharma Rain - it is wisdom and compassion of the Buddha gently falling.
In the flow of a the task at hand, our Chopping and Carrying we Simply Trust. With deep confidence in the wisdom and compassion of the universe that wishes us well. In those small moments reality calls out to us and says these words…. Please repeat after me...
May you be happy;
May you be free from harm:
May you receive boundless compassion;
And may peace and harmony fill your heart
Rev. Shelley Fisher 15may16
Good morning to you all and welcome! How many of you noticed our beautiful new sign on the front lawn as you walked to the Temple? Isn’t it wonderful? Thank you to Rev. Matthew, Mike Croft, Monty Deorhing and Kris Nash for your help in making it all come together! Thanks to everyone who helped with setup yesterday. It was a lot of fun!
Today we celebrate Shakyamuni Buddha’s birthday! Let’s take some time and reflect on the birth story Rev. Matthew read to us. It is helpful to understand the meaning behind the legend. It sounds like a very fanciful story. The Buddha had many many lives before he descended from Tushita Heaven. In Dharma school we often read one of these Jataka tales and reflect on its meaning in our lives.
What interesting imagery is in the story? The White Elephant. The baby standing upright. The Seven Steps. And the “elephant in the room”from the beginning of the story - it is an immaculate conception of sorts. [to borrow a phrase]
What about the six tusked white elephant that appeared in Queen Maya’s dream? You all saw it here - in this beautiful painting donated by Moon, Sunny and Dan especially for today's celebration. The White Elephant is a sacred animal representing fertility and wisdom. In several sutras, Bodhisattvas are said to ride on a six-tusked white elephant like this one.
And why six tusks?
The six tusks can also represent the Six Paramitas - the six ways to the Other Shore - giving, morality, patience, diligence, contemplation, and wisdom. When we apply these values life becomes joyful.
When Shakyamuni Buddha was born he stood up straight, took seven steps, and declared "I alone am the World-Honored One." (so beautifully portrayed in Moon’s painting here) And he pointed up with one hand and down with the other, to indicate he would unite heaven and earth. The seven steps he took represent the seven directions -- north, south, east, west, up, down, and right here -- seven steps going beyond this self centered world of Samsara. He declares, "I alone am the World-Honored One" - showing his awareness that after so many lifetimes, he will be a great teacher and lead all sentient beings to a joy filled life - free from suffering.
When we celebrate the amazing birth of Shakyamuni Buddha we are also celebrating our own birth. We honor and treasure each birth today. It is a rare and unique event to even be born human, so we celebrate. The Buddha’s teaching of the interdependence of all things makes it clear that our birth is the result of sooo many causes and conditions. Realizing this we can see that our birth is truly a rare and wonderful gift. We have a deep obligation to live this life in mindfulness and Joy and compassion. Sharing the teachings of the Buddha when we can.
Shakyamuni Buddha was born a bodhisattva - a Wonderful Being - who fully realized his Buddha Nature. He taught that we are all born with Buddha Nature - it is universal. Why did Shakyamuni Buddha speak of Buddha-Nature? He wanted to tell us all that we each have Buddha nature - We have the potential of becoming a Buddha.
Bodhidharma’s insight says, “To find a Buddha, all you have to do is see your nature.”
Everyone has Buddha nature, the potential to become a Buddha. It is in the sky-like nature of our mind. Utterly open, free and limitless, it is fundamentally so simple and so natural - it is never complicated, corrupted, or stained. It is so pure that it is beyond even the concept of purity and impurity. When we think of our Buddha nature as sky-like it helps us to imagine its all-embracing boundlessness; beyond that Buddha nature has an added quality - open and expansive and clear like the radiant sky but with awareness.
Why is Amida's Land called pure? Because Amida's Mind is pure, Pure Wisdom and Pure Compassion. The sentient beings born in His Land realize this same Pure Mind - the very same Pure Mind. Amida's Pure Mind and the believer's muddy mind become one and the same. Just as the white lotus rises out of the muddy pond pure and untainted.
Today during this special Flower Festival service is a time for us to recognize our Buddha nature and rededicate ourselves as we contemplate the importance of the birth of our teacher, spiritual guide and friend, Shakyamuni - The Sage of the Shakya People - the Buddha.
We celebrate the Buddha’s birthday today. We remember to be grateful for all that he has taught us - grateful to be born human - this wonderful unrepeatable life, grateful for showing us that we are all connected to each other, grateful to know that we all are born with Buddha nature, and grateful for Amida’s Vow reaching out to all of us, no matter how troubled, no matter how happy - that we may find Joy in life.
- 3 apr 16 - Rev Matthew Fisher -
--- Namu Amida Butsu - Namu Amida Butsu - Namu Amida Butsu ---
So happy to see you all here today. It really feels like spring to me this morning...this time for sure? Though shoveling snow on Monday was fun. The life of the temple has been full and joyful. Last weekend we had our Moon Rabbit Cafe and shared food and community with 180 guests. A couple hospital visits and a professional clergy association meeting filled out week of priestly duties. I take a moment to remember Aki Miller a Dharma sister who passed on this week.
Today we focus on Dharma Sisters and their contributions - the essential spirit of Buddhism absolutely includes all beings, male and female, small and big, new and old. These are just fictional dualities - Constructs that lack in any real substance. That said - Women have always been integral to the unfolding of Buddhist life. You all play a role that is essential to us being here together today.
I have considered so many ideas in preparation for this talk. The role of women in many Buddhist countries and historical periods. The very nature of the Duality of women and men. Its place in the sutras and the thought of Buddhist teachers and Bodhisattvas. Much of this I will save for another time. These thoughts might obscure my deep gratitude for all the women who have done most of the work of sustaining Buddhism for 2,600 years.
I had meant to give this talk closer to mother's day. But now is always a better time to do anything - right. As we talk about many fine women of our lineage, please consider the core Buddhist values of... COMPASSION, ACCEPTANCE, and RIGHT EFFORT- that they teach even today.
The story of Buddhism has many important women...
If it were not for these women it would be impossible for us to be here together. We say to them - “Thank you so much!”. Let's say that together - “Thank you so much!”
Ok - Mahapajapati - Eshinni
Let me consider Mahapajapati -
As he grew up the king sheltered him from any religious teaching. It must have been Prajapati who quietly nurtured Siddhartha's spiritual growth. Is it a surprise that the young prince resolves to be a religious seeker - when his father gave him a purely materialistic upbringing? Kids will do that sometimes. The pendulum swings.
With Maya’s death - Pajapati did her duty and assumed her sister's role in the palace. She gave up whatever plans and dreams she had for herself and became queen. This is the experience of impermanence - that life does not always go according to our own plan - it was deeply felt by Prajapati. Out of compassion for all she assumed this role, and focused on her new son and raised him.
As for Siddhartha, he later came to appreciate deeply the many elements that led him to his awakening, acknowledging the many Buddhas before him whose legacy made his awakening possible. This realization did not come to him in only six years of religious study and ascetic practice, growing up there was natural exposure to the religious thought of his time. Queen Pajapati was his first teacher. A teacher of Wisdom and Compassion.
Fast forward to ten years after Siddhartha's enlightenment - He returned to the Sakya kingdom for the first time when his father died. There was a funeral and the Buddha shared the Dharma. Upon hearing the teaching Queen Pajapati asked to join the order. This was a big ask. Since there was no order of nuns and the general culture treated women as property - often expecting a widow throw herself on her husband's funeral pyre. It was a big ask. The Buddha considered the effect on the newly created sangha.
The story in the Pali canon is as follows:
Mahapajapati went to the place where the Buddha was, approached and greeted him, and, standing at a respectful distance, spoke to him:
"It would be good, Lord, if women could be allowed to renounce their homes and enter into the homeless state under the Dharma and discipline of the Tathagata."
The Buddha considered this suggestion but gave no response. He traveled to the next town on his circuit - she asked again that the Buddha allow women to be ordained into an order of nuns. He said ”no” to this second request. As they walked to Jetavana, Ananda asked the Buddha many questions about Pajapati’s request. He asked the Buddha if women were able to reach enlightenment, the Buddha said they can. This was a very significant thought. All previous religious traditions specifically excluded women from this attainment. 2500 years ago the idea of gender equality was not common.
After having been rejected two times, this was probably her last opportunity to get a “yes” from the Buddha. Ananda, [Pajapati’s other nephew and attendant to the Buddha] intervened this time to help Pajapati and her followers. His questions had affected the Buddha’s view.
On her third request the Buddha agreed to create the order of Bhikkhunis provided Pajapati accept the eight conditions. After Pajapati accepted these administrative conditions, her requested was accepted.
Mahapajapati was really a parallel leader in early Buddhism. Her attainments and her ultimate enlightenment were important to the sustained growth of the Buddhist sangha. Mahapajapati request was not for herself, but out of compassion for 50% of humanity - all of humanity. She continued to guide and nurture the order for the rest of her life. At peace with the changefulness of existence she was not content to live out her days in courtly pursuits and embarked on a challenging and rewarding spiritual path. She wrote…
I've been mother and son before;
In the end, Gotama Buddha himself carried her body to the funeral pyre with deep gratitude. We all have deep gratitude of Mahapajapati she was a wonderful Dharma sister: strong, independent and, compassionate.
We had that long list…Who else can I tell you about? - Eshinni! Partner and wife of Shinran Shonin.
When Shinran left the monastery on Mt. Hiei and studied with Honen in Kyoto there were many other students there. Myoko Tanemori [Eshinni] was a hand maiden for an important lady it the imperial court and met Shinran in the Pure land Buddhist groups of the time. Honen, Shinran and others who were making the Pure Land teaching - available to all. Eshinni wrote in a letter…
“Numerous as clouds in the sky, all sat with sleeves touching - court ladies and grave diggers, monks and lepers. No distinction. No discrimination. All reciting the nembutsu until it felt as if the place filled with an ocean of sound.”
The idea of sharing Buddhism among everyday common people did not sit well with the politically powerful monasteries and monks at the time.  Honen even allowed Shinran to marry Eshinni.
“...It is important to live the Nembutsu - if you can live the Nembutsu as a monk then do that - if you have to be married to live the Nembutsu then do that...”
They were married and soon after all of Honen’s disciples were exiled . Likely Eshinni was pregnant when they had to quickly leave Kyoto. Some were executed, but the new couple was sent to Eshinni’s home province of Echigo located between the Japan sea and the Japan Alps - it is a beautiful and sometimes harsh place to live.
Their marriage is important - it was the first openly recognized marriage of a priest - this is a tradition we continue today in Shin Buddhism. Really a teaching partnership between wife and husband and sangha. It makes Shin Buddhist temples welcoming to householders and families. Eshinni was essential because she was the one who supported the family through their exile and travels to the Kanto region. Her management of family lands produced and supported Shinran and their children. Shinran and Eshinni began to share the Buddhist teaching - our Nembutsu - with the people of Echigo. The oldest Shin Buddhist temples are there. [We visited one last year on our Japan trip.] Shinran would go on long teaching tours in the neighboring region. In those times Eshinni would share the Nembutsu with the sangha.
When famine struck in Echigo in 1214, Eshinni collected their 4 children and several servants and migrated to the Kanto region in the East. On foot across the spine of Honshu must have been a difficult journey. Pregnant at the time, Eshinni is said to have chanted the Nembutsu as she carried the little-one over the mountains to Hitachi. A new place, and a new life, but the same role. As keeper of the home temple, Eshinni supported the family and stayed in the village of Sakai in Hitachi prefecture. Shinran traveled and taught ranging all over the Kanto area - spreading the Nembutsu teaching.
Their life was more comfortable in the Kanto, with more nembutsu followers many viable Shin Buddhist sanghas were established. One we visited outside of Kosama,
was just a ginkgo tree where Shinran would teach when his travels came through the village. It is now just a stump with a protective roof over it. In memory of those days.
In his 60’s Shinran retired and quietly returned to Kyoto where the whole story had begun. Eshinni and the two younger children followed Shinran to Kyoto. Later Eshinni had to return to Echigo, she to attend to the family businesses manage their the land. She never saw Shinran again and corresponded by letter when possible.
We know so much about Eshinni because of 10 letters written in her hand that were discovered in 1921. They bring us vibrantly in contact with this remarkable woman. Here is a bit on one of those letters...
“Also, [I recall] a dream I had while we were at a place called Sakai village in Hitachi. There was a dedication ceremony for a temple building...In front of the building there were lanterns [burning] bright...there were [two] Buddhist images suspended from the horizontal part of ... a shrine gate. In one there was no face... but only a core of light, as if it were the radiance of the Buddha... distinct features could not be seen, and light was the only thing there. In the other, there was a distinct face ... I asked what Buddhist images these were, and a person - I don’t remember who ... - said "The one that is only light is Master Honen. He is the bodhisattva [of wisdom] Seishi." When I asked who the other was, he said "That is [the bodhisattva of compassion] Kannon. That is none other than the priest Shinrna." Upon hearing this I was shocked [out of my sleep], and I realized that it had been a dream.”
Then she confides in her daughter…
“... I [have remained] silent, not telling other people [about this]. But I did tell my husband [Shinran] the part about Master [Honen]. He said, "Among dreams there are many different types, but this dream must be true. There are many [other] instances of dreams in which people have seen Master [Honen] … as a manifestation of the bodhisattva Seishi. The bodhisattva Seishi is the ultimate in wisdom, so he [appeared simply] as light." I did not say anything about my husband being Kannon, but in my own mind I never looked upon him from that day forward in any ordinary way. You should ponder these things well…”
Their relationship was profound. Each considering the other an emanation of Great Compassion itself. Eshinni shows us that when life challenges us, when we are ready to face real adversity in our lives that’s when our hearts can truly open: we hear and appreciate the wisdom and compassion of the Universe. This is when our personal spiritual journey begins - with hearts open to reality we find ourselves on the Dharma path. Eshinni always acted out of COMPASSION. As a mother and a wife and a teacher and Nembutsu follower.
She deeply understood - the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism…
Following the path Eshinni embodied right effort above all. Tirelessly supporting Shinran's teaching and writing. Showing that our struggles with change are not real. Things change and we naturally change with them. In gratitude and with right effort - we hear the wisdom and compassion all around us. Joy and gratitude were hers for all of her days.
After his death, Kakushinni wanted to keep Shinran’s teaching alive and perpetuated it for his followers. She built a temple enshrining an image of Shinran. As a result, the Nembutsu teaching began to reach more people. About 50 years later, this mausoleum became an official temple and was named the “Hongwanji.” The Hongwanji temple has developed into the Jodo Shinshu school as one of the largest and most powerful Buddhist schools in Japan.
Kakushinni’s foresight and deep appreciation towards the Nembutsu teaching saved Shinran’s work and established the foundation of Shin Buddhism. She is truly the Mother of the Honganji.
All the women I listed at the start were Builders and Sustainers of the tradition. Mothers to the way of COMPASSION. They endured and thrived in very difficult times and selflessly gave to others the gift of the Dharma. The four noble truths teach that joy flows from ACCEPTING CHANGE. These dear women saw changes again and again. And learned to accept and embrace teh becoming of the world around them. Most of all they inspire us with their RIGHT EFFORT. Each of them faced life with strength, resolve, and kindness.
As Shin Buddhists we have the advantage of being part of the Pure Land tradition, and we have a married clergy, we have a congregational system, we share a path to Enlightenment available to all - within a lifetime. It is a path of gratitude, a path of mindfulness of Wisdom and Compassion. These kind women brought the universal message of the Nembutsu - You are Ok just as you are. Troubles and all we can go forth in joy. Grateful for the Wisdom and Compassion of the Universe. Amida Buddha.
I am so grateful to the women who did much of the work of sustaining Buddhism for 2,600 years. They have done so much for all of us. Please send their good wishes to all sentient beings - just repeat after me...
May you be happy;
May you be free from harm:
May you receive boundless compassion;
And may peace and harmony fill your heart
Thanks to to the clear thoughts of : Rev. Patty Naikai, Rev Jōshō Cirlea, James Dobbens
...Intergenerational Reading for 20mar16 Dharma talk....
Three Little Pigs - middle way
Once upon a time, far far away, in India there were three little pigs. Their names were Tandita, Devadatta, and Gotama. They enjoyed dancing and singing and living outdoors together, but sometimes it was rainy or too sunny and they wished that they had a house.
Tandita built a house of straw. It was easy to bundle up the straw and he finished his house in only half a day. It looked a lot like a pile of straw, but Tandita didn't care. He was done so quickly he spent the rest of the day singing and dancing - he was a little lazy.
Gotama - the second pig - built his house with wood. He built the house at a steady pace and sang while he worked. He spent a whole week building the little house. He built the house so that it could easily be repaired. It was a handsome house that would last a long time if it was cared for. When he was done he danced and sang with Tandita - it was his favorite.
Devadatta was very worried about everything. What if a monsoon storm came? What if a flood came? What if a big bad wolf came to their neighborhood? “I will make my house the best of all the piggies’ houses” - It will be perfect in every way.
Devadatta worked very hard for two weeks and built his house with bricks. He would sing his favorite Simon and Garfunkel song - “I am a Rock - I am an Iiiiiiiland”. The materials were costly and he was so worried about his house being strong that he didn't eat or rest. Eventually they were all finished building their houses. The piggies sang and danced - it was their favorite.
Interestingly, a big bad wolf named Mara saw the three little pigs dancing and singing and thought, “What a juicy tender meal they will make!” He chased after the three pigs and they ran and hid in their houses.
The big bad wolf went to the house of straw and thought that if he huffed and puffed he could blow the house down. Mara is a pretty special wolf, in fact he is a demon of sorts so he could summon the power of a hurricane to blow the house down. Naturally - He huffed and puffed and down came the straw house. Just a flattened pile of straw was left, but Tandita had run away. Saying “run away, run a away, run away….”
The frightened little pig ran past Gotama’s wood house to Devatatta’s brick house. But the big door was locked, so he ran to Gotama’s house where he was welcomed. Mara - The big bad wolf followed to the brick house. And he huffed and puffed blew a great wind! But the bricks could withstand the wind. Mara got a little angry and thought about the brick house.
What is a brick house like? It is Heavy, Solid. Rigid! So Mara the wolf summoned an earthquake to roll through the neighborhood. The very ground rolled up and down like a big wave, the brick house broke to pieces and when Mara searched the pile of bricks, he did not find piggies Devadatta or Tandita. They had run away. Saying “run away, run away, run away…” They ran to Gotama’s house where they were welcomed.
Then Mara, the big bad wolf, went to Gotama’s house. He huffed and puffed but the wind blew through the wood house’s boards and the few boards that did come loose Gotama quickly replaced. Gotama taught Tandita and Devadatta to do the same. Mara the wolf tried again, but eventually ran out of breath. Gotama could fix the house as fast as it got damaged. It took good mindfulness and awareness of the present moment, but with Devadatta and Tandita’s help he could keep up.
Mara got a little angry and thought about what had worked on the brick house. Earthquake! Mara the wolf summoned an earthquake to roll through the neighborhood again. The very ground rolled up and down like a big wave, the pile of straw flew up in the air and the pile of brick rubble rumbled a bit. But the Wood house flexed and swayed as the ground moved and it didn't fall down. I think it was because Gotama used screws and not nails to build his house [that is a running argument Rev. Matthew used to have with his dad - nails - screws - nails - screws ] - anyway - Gotama fixed the boards that came lose and the house was ok, just as it was.
He kept trying for hours but the house was very strong and the little pigs were safe inside. He tried and tried and eventually - as is the way with Mara, be became bored with tormenting the piggies and moved on to someone else who needed tormenting.
Through all of this Tandita realized that being lazy was not good. And Devadatta realized that being too rigid and worried all the time was not good. They saw the Gotama’s house was safe because it was able to change, it could flex and move when needed and it was easy to fix up if anything did break. The other two piggies both built wooden houses and they all lived happily ever after.
Dharma Talk: Finding Life's Balance - Spring Equinox
*** Namandabutsu - Namandabutsu - Namandabutsu ***
Good Morning, I would like to welcome everyone to Reno Buddhist Center on this morning - New visitors and old friends you are all very welcome here.
We celebrate the Equinox today. A very special day when the Daylight and Nighttime are equal. This has always been an important time of year for Buddhists. Nature shows us a peaceful balance today. In the story the piggies examined the two existential extremes of indulgence and perfectionism, but real life lives in between. Are we like one of these piggies sometimes? Which one? Sometimes we are guided to the middle way by seeing the extremes.
Three Little Pigs and the Middle way was a Buddhist adaptation of a story we all know. We shared it with the children to encourage them to see life as an ongoing series of challenges that we can handle. Sometimes we will get bumps and bruises, but we can handle life.
In the story the Piggies are building houses. Constructing an abode. The space we live within. The Buddha talked about this house building process when he was enlightened...
"Seeking but not finding the house builder,
I hurried through the round of many births:
Painful is birth over and over
O house builder, you have been seen;
You shall not build the house again.
Your rafters have been broken up,
Your ridgepole is demolished too.
My mind has now attained the unformed - I see reality as it is - Nibbâna
And reached the end of every sort of thirst."
Is this house what we construct around us? - our life - do we really construct that? The causes and conditions that lead to our life are so many, that we can hardly take any credit or authorship for our life. Really what we construct is our way of looking at the world. Our refuge. The protective but permeable bubble we live within everyday.
Who is the house builder the Buddha is speaking to? The self? Mara?
When the house builder is seen - it disappears. Ignorance? The Self. Clining, thirsting, and wanting. They all swirl around ignorance. With seeing. With Deep Hearing ignorance melts away. That is what the Buddha’s enlightenment is all about.
Our friends the piggies build their houses as shelters against the cold and the hot. We all need refuges at times. A balance between activity and contemplation is important.
What about the piggies?
Tandita’s little house is barely a shelter. It falls apart so easily. It lacks a foundation. It lacks structure. It lacks the discipline of a life well lived. It looks a lot like a haystack.
The Buddha described three kinds of laziness.
The third kind [of Lazy] Buddha describes is being busy with worldly things. How can being busy be a kind of laziness? We can just overfill fill our time by keeping so super busy. Constantly having many tasks on a list can even make us feel virtuous. But usually it's just an escape. When feelings and thoughts come up, we are too busy now - we’ll get to it later. We can’t be troubled with being face-to-face with who we are. If we fill the cup to the brim there is no room for Right Action, Right Contemplation, there is just the “I’m too busy escape”.
We are all regular people with regular lives. Our days are very busy, our days can be frantic, it feels like we never have any space to sit for even a minute and just be. That escape is an easy way out. Because if we did take the time and make the effort we would be confronted with real life work. As Gotama the piggy did - mindfully fixing the boards in his house as they change and needed attention. Right now.
And the Piggy Devadatta is too strict. Too worried. He’s wound very tight. He worries and worries. And his house is very rigid. In his fear he constructs a life that can not accommodate change. Brick and mortar can’t adapt. A view of life that is too rigid is destined for trouble.
The Piggy Devadatta is full of fears and they drive him to build the brick house. Ultimately we can see that fear of death is what drives his actions. This at the expense of life. Building a rigid view seems safest, but it really shows a lack of faith in life. It is vulnerable to change and lacks flexibility.
In the sutras Devadatta was a real person - Gotama's cousin. He was often second guessing the Buddha and always pushing for more. When the Buddha allowed the monks to stay in huts for the rain retreat Devadatta thought that was too easy. As the Buddha got older Devadatta suggested that he should be the Buddha’s successor. He would do away with the robes, and begging, and the Dharma halls. The students would live in the forest eating insects. This is very similar to the extreme asceticism that the Buddha rejected before his enlightenment. He knew it didn't work. It does not allow us to openly examine life and hear deeply the Wisdom and Compassion of the universe.
Gotama piggy’s wooden house is an example of the middle way. It is Juuuust right? It is strong but flexible. The wind can blow through its boards. The roof keeps the rain off. The earthquake shakes it but it moves and gives as the earth wave passes. The wind blows a piece off here or there, but it is easy to repair and return to juuust right in the moment. It is not perfect but it is juuuust right. As we follow the Middle Way along the Eightfold Path we are not seeking perfection and we are not seeking escape. We are present in life’s ups and downs. We are able to hear deeply the wisdom and compassion of the universe. We can sit with the silence and simply be grateful - Naturalness is there for us. We can let go the struggle and striving, the guilt and doubt melt away. We can be happy in our little house with our little piggy friends.
In the story, the middle way is the way of the wooden house. That’s different than we usually think. Usually we think the big solid massive unyielding thing is the best. In a vast ever changing universe, this is a pure delusion. An externalization of the desire expressed in Devadatta’s favorite song - I am a rock. The fallacy of strength.
He sings... A winter's day
In a deep and dark December;
I am alone,
Gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
I've built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It's laughter and it's loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
Don't talk of love,
But I've heard the words before;
It's sleeping in my memory.
I won't disturb the slumber of feelings that have died.
If I never loved I never would have cried.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
I have my books
And my poetry to protect me;
I am shielded in my armor,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries.
In that song, he desires to avoid pain and brokenheartedness so he builds a fortress. He doesn't want to be hurt, so he shuts out his friends, he'll be isolated in a fortress - a prisoner. Maybe it sounds determined to build a strong house, really sounds like he’s walling himself in. This isolates him from real life. He is only fooling himself into thinking he can. It is a just brick delusion of self.
The last two lines express this; he's not a rock, he's a piggy that can be living life. Life is a bumpy road and it supposed to be. That is natural. It is Ok.
The "island never cries" line brings home the feeling. As he sings this, he is really crying out for love. A rock doesn't feel anything. An Island can’t be connected. We do feel, we are connected to everything. The vast love and compassion and wisdom of the universe is here for us. We are part of it. And so we live in the middle between indulgence and escape.
We celebrate the Middle Way of the Spring Equinox today - a juuust right balance between daylight and darkness occurs on this day - it is natural. For Buddhists in particular, this is a significant happening. Dr. Matsunaga would say that it can reminds us of the natural balance of life. We can try to maintain that sense of equanimity every day.
In our Japan this day is the holiday we call Ohigan - which translates as The Other shore...day. In the Ala-gadu-pama Sutra the Buddha describes the Dharma as raft - when grasped correctly we cross from this shore [the eastern shore of our Saha world] to the Other Shore the western shore of clarity and understanding and acceptance and gratitude and compassion. The metaphor of the Other Shore is common in Buddhism - meaning the non-dual state of seeing reality as it is - wonders and warts and all.
The Other Shore is reached by making a new habit of living. Not one of selfish isolation, not a fortress, but an open and giving habit of life. This is done by active application of our energy. By following what we call the six Paramitas. In Sanskrit ‘paramita’ literally means ‘having reached the other shore.’ It also can mean ‘transcendence,’ or ‘clarity of vision.’ Practicing the paramitas is to practice in accord with selflessness and non-attachment, for the dual benefit of self and others.
What are these six paramitas that I speak of?
Generosity Dana Paramita
Ethics Sila Paramita
Patience Kshanti Paramita
Joyous Effort Virya Paramita
Concentration Dhyana Paramita
Wisdom Prajna Paramita
So let’s consider these the six Paramitas with our minds on the activity of the three pigs...
Dāna pāramitā: generosity or selfless giving. This is the first Paramita, we give what is helpful and good and give without “I-me-me-my” in the mixture. We talked a lot about this last time.
Remember there are many ways to be generous: (1) giving material things to support the Dharma (2) giving loving protection, and (3) giving loving understanding. Participating in the Men’s Group or Women’s group is a good example. True generosity is giving whatever we possibly can with pure motivation and enthusiasm like when Gotama welcomed the other piggies into his house.
Śīla pāramitā, the 2nd way to the other shore, is virtue, morality, discipline, good conduct. We refrain from negative actions. We habituate what is positive, and and we help others. Gotama the piggy build the wood house and shows the others its strength - Modeling and practicing virtue and aiding others in their development is what Sila Paramita is all about.
Kshanti pāramitā : is the 3rd way to the other shore - Patience, tolerance, forbearance. Living life with acceptance, endurance [sometimes], and gratitude always. Two aspects of Kshanti I would mention -
The first, the patience of not being offended when someone hurts us. We patiently understand that the action did not come out of the blue - it’s the result of causes and conditions (karma) created in the past – causes and conditions we all contribute to. Of course, this is easier said than done!
And, patience in having confidence in the supreme qualities of the Three Treasures. Confidence arises through taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha and develops through practicing the teachings that we receive. Buddhism takes time and patience. Kshanti is a very difficult practice for all of us.
Vīrya pāramitā : The fourth paramita is joyful endeavour Good effort, exertion, and perseverance toward understanding and supporting the Dharma. The Piggy Gotama had this as he built his wooden house. We earnestly feel that we are beginning anew with every tiny step toward understanding and acceptance.
Dhyāna pāramitā : 5th paramita. One-pointed concentration, contemplation or meditation. Meditation and deep contemplation can be practiced in many forms: a long, peaceful walk in nature, gardening, chanting and sitting in stillness either alone or with the combined positive energies of others at Golden Light Meditation on Wednesdays. Piggy Gotama focused as he built his wooden house.
Prajñā pāramitā : the 6th paramita. Wisdom or insight. Piggy Gotama wisely built his house from wood - to make it easy to repair and flexible in the face of life. Studying the Dharma with curiosity, asking questions, reading Buddhist texts, attending Dharma talks and book discussion group or talking with sangha members are wonderful ways to gain wisdom and insight into reality as it really is. Ultimately wisdom is seeing clearly.
These are ways for finding the middle way. Being mindful of the Paramitas and naturally practicing them in our daily life is the Buddhist way. We are so blessed to have been born as human beings in this life. As humans, we have the ability to Give, behave well, have Patience, expend Joyous Effort, Concentrate deeply, and gain Wisdom. We will reach the Other Shore. Please remember and practice these six paramitas.
The Noble life is life is a life lived with our struggles not an escape from them. A joyful life not in spite of difficulty but because of the challenges we face and surmount and endure. The Middle way is to live life fully, with its struggles and joys - Not too lax, not too constricted. Remember our piggy friends. And occasionally ask, “Which piggy am I today?” It is a choice we can make with wisdom.
Our sincere wish for all sentient beings in the universe on this Equinox day. [Just say after me]....
May all beings be happy;
--- Namandabu - namandabu - Namandabu ---
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to gather some thoughts and share them with you all. These are ideas I have been considering, if they are useful to you, that is good. If they cause you to bridle or clutch, that is OK too. Usually worth looking at. Every time we come together on Sunday is a big deal for me. Thank you.
Today we will talk about faith. Whenever we talk about this there are some who feel that faith has no place in Buddhism. If that is you - that is ok. But please bare with me as I work through my thoughts. I know some people have been burned before and might hesitate to open to faith. That is a mind-state that can heal and you can find faith again. Faith is important. It is essential.
What am I talking about - Faith?
Usually in churches of many traditions, faith is equivalent to “blind faith”. If humans are seen as inferior beings that can’t know or understand, they just need to accept the truth given. A blind trust - By means of scriptures, position of speaker, and tradition. We don’t mean it that way here. In the Kalama Sutra, the Buddha was very specific about this -
Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor surmise; nor an axiom; nor specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another's seeming ability; nor the consideration, 'The monk is our teacher.'
Your own experience of faith is the only touchstone.
In Buddhism faith is aware. It is seeking and it is supported by experience. The word the Buddha spoke was Saddha . I’ll translate it as faith, or Confidence or maybe Conviction. He taught that it is one of the Five Spiritual faculties - what are those five...
When we have come in contact with the Dharma and have weighed it against our experiences and come to a measure of faith, this energizes us. Like looking for a lost treasure at home - You have the feeling that you are Confident it is here somewhere [that’s faith]. When you find it you have a burst of energy - yes! - I got it. This energy in turn propels us toward mindfulness - like turning on a light in the room - you can’t do it without energy. This Mindfulness leads to concentration - a heightened ability to stay focused and free of distractions. Confident, Energized, Aware and Focused true wisdom comes. These are the five spiritual faculties - Faith - Energy -Mindfulness - Concentration - Wisdom.
Today we’ll look closely at Faith. Another time we can explore the other faculties.
At the beginning of the service we take refuge. Really - all Buddhists start by taking refuge. What do we take refuge in? The Buddha, The Dharma, and the Sangha. Taking refuge is an act of faith, confident aware resolute. You can’t take refuge in something you don’t trust. So this Faith is confidence in the Buddha, the Dharma and the sangha.
Confidence in the Buddha -
We have confidence in the Buddha as a real enlightened teacher. We have confidence that he taught about Amida Buddha [in the about one hundred different sutras]. We have confidence in the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha - that the wisdom and compassion of the universe is there for us. This is faith in Buddha Nature - our true nature - in all of us and all things. Faith that our true nature - is eternal, joyous, selfless, and pure.
Confidence in the Dharma -
The teaching of the Buddhas of how the universe works: The basic principles of karma and rebirth - the interdependent co-arising of all things.
Dharma is also the Buddha’s various methods of reaching unconditioned peace, happiness, and joy. Ways of becoming truly human. They are Effective methods. Dharma is not conceptual or hypothetical - it is an experience. ‘Come see for yourself” as the Buddha said to the Kalamas.
We have confidence in the Sutras - they are the teachings of the Buddha. 84,000 volumes of dharma talks like this one. Spanning the 45 teaching years of the Buddha’s life.
This is an Ancient heritage that is relevant now. It was relevant in Shinran’s time 750 yrs ago, it was relevant 2600 yrs ago when the Buddha traveled and taught. This is something we can have confidence in - we can have faith in the Dharma.
Confidence in the Sangha -
A community where we are accepted nurtured and supported on our spiritual journey. We see in the sangha compassion, peace, caring, independence. We are all part of that. We often show each other that we are trustworthy - the sangha is trustworthy. And this gives rise to deep confidence, faith in the sangha. When Dr. Matsunaga died six years ago, we gathered together and took refuge in the sangha. When we looked into each others faces we knew that one way or another RBC would continue and be a positive place in our community.
Taking refuge is made possible by faith. This Confident faith is a force, a strength, and a power inside you - we say it is a spiritual ability or faculty. We can develop it.
It is important to remember that knowledge is not enough - to have confident faith. Professor John Holt - my advisor in college - was a religion professor and had lots of knowledge about Buddhism. He was very sympathetic and he had an affinity to Buddhism, but he had no faith in the Dharma. He was content with his Lutheran upbringing and the values it taught; he them taught to his children. When I studied Buddhism in his classes I was changed by the experience. I had that feeling of bright energy that comes - The experience of the Dharma was like “This is really something special.”
Faith comes in stages - there is an initial spark awakened inside us when we come to Buddhism. The impulse toward understanding and joy. Like a first taste of brownies - you take a bit - you experience the brownie - and you think - this is good. I could eat this. This can sustain me. And then over time we continue our studies. Different recipes, different ingredients, choco chips, no choco chips. white chocolate chips, gooey, crispy ….what were we talking about?
Over time - Deeper understanding and deeper confidence. It feels so true. This is when deep faith develops. From long experience.
At the new member dinner last weekend we went around the circle and shared our path. And though everyone’s experience was unique, the common thread was that Buddhism made sense and was worth diving deeper. That is that initial taste - that awakening of faith and confidence in the teaching in our life. Then we deepen that faith though experience and study and natural absorption that happens over time. The Buddha Dharma and Sangha.
Why is this worth having, this faith. We live our lives in varying states of worry. the Buddha called it Dukkha, wonkyness is the literal translation. Like a shopping cart wheel that is just not right - it goes wobba-wobba-wobba. It is very annoying.
We want things we can’t have, we lose things we want. This clinging to things and people and ideas is never satisfying. It may be briefly pleasurable -- but not satisfying. So we fear the loss. And we react by imposing control. We grab tighter. We we use anger to control, we use all manner of calculation to avoid losing what we cling to. We just keep banging our heads against the same challenge.
We try really hard to control things. At work if we are a manager or on the line, we try our best to control. But does it give us peace of mind? If everybody is doing what they are supposed to be doing - then you can relax. But do you? When business is going good, you can relax. But do you? When we are getting what I want, we can relax. But we don’t.
As a species we are all about control. We are this way about our mind and our bodies - judging, controlling. Even more so in relationships, we try to control.
But any feeling of control, is brief. With this grasping for control come the feelings of frustration, fear and anger. Our sense of security is challenged. Our sense of self is challenged. This is how we live. Sometimes it’s difficult to admit, but it’s the truth. The Dharma.
The Buddha saw that we are not happy. He saw that we are not happy because we want and want and want. He saw that we can stop the wanting and joys flow in.
What can we do? The grasping is the result of being attached to a specific outcome - that we are sure is best for us. As if we always know what’s best for us?
When we have faith and let go - When we trust that we are okay no matter what comes our way, we don’t need to control the universe. We let go. And we open ourselves to all sorts of wonderful possibilities that aren’t there when we’re attached to one narrow path.
The energy we get from faith accomplishes much more than the energy of doubt. When we are doubting or afraid, our vision narrows, breath is shallow, and heart rate jumps. Our monkey mind jumps from thought to thought and from past to future very quickly. Our concentration is gone, memory gets foggy, and we have almost no awareness of this present moment. The present moment is important! that's when life happens.
When we have faith, were calm and peaceful. Our breathing is deep, we are present in this moment. We see clearly and our vision extends all around, we literally see the bigger picture. Gratitude washes over us.
It’s like the Chinese finger trap - when we try to control things we actually feels more constrained - less in control. We pull against the trap and it hold us tighter.
When we have faith, we take refuge and stop trying to make what we want happen. We stop pulling against the universe and the natural flow of things. Stop calculating and resisting and pushing against reality.
We have Faith that all is well, even without my input. Maybe more so without my clever trying. Natural, accepting life is peaceful. Joyful.
This is not inaction - it’s aware, present, accepting of the natural flow of life. there’s a famous Einstein quote…
The Buddha teaches we live in a friendly universe. He taught us how to be receptive and allow things to happen. This faith in the Wisdom and Compassion of the universe is a faculty we can practice and deepen. Amida Buddha made a great vow - to bring all beings to realization of oneness in his pure land. The Wisdom and compassion of this friendly universe is supporting us at every turn - we don’t have to worry over the details all the time. In Buddhism there are many paths - We can always choose to do things the easy way or the hard way. We can muscle through trying to purify ourselves and teach ourselves and enlighten our selves, or we can let go of the trying - and gently remove our fingers from the trap.
What I am saying is - relax - it’s all out of control! Accept that. It’s the truth. We make tiny inputs, but really its all just happening - inter-dependently co-arising with everything else. Faith is letting go of control. No fear. No control. No worry. The Buddha leads us toward Joy. And joy comes when we have deep faith in the wisdom and compassion of the universe. Not when we have control, when we have faith. This Faith leads to acceptance, openness, compassion, gratitude. It leads to Wisdom. No fear. no control. no worry.
Faith is really good stuff - its useful and valuable and maybe essential to a happy life. So how do I get some of that? In the reading Matt shared with us we heard about faith in the story of Shinran and his teacher Honen - this person here.
Just to re-cap the story - There was a running argument between Shinran and the other students of Honen. Shinran would claim, "my faith in Amida Buddha and Honen's faith in Amida Buddha are identical". The other students would strongly counter saying, "How can you claim that our master's faith and your faith are identical! You have only been studying with Honen for a few years". To this Shinran replied, "Our master's wisdom and knowledge are truly profound and to say that our understanding of Amida are identical is preposterous. But as far as faith in Amida Buddha, leading to birth in the Pure Land is concerned, no difference exists at all. Both are the same." They we quite enraged by this statement. They challenged him, "How can that be possible?"
They finally decided to settle the argument once and for all by asking their teacher Honen. When Honen listened to the two views, he said, "The deep faith of Honen is a gift granted by the Buddha, and the deep faith of Shinran is also a gift from the Buddha. They are the same. “
What Shinran saw and Honen supported was that faith is not ours. It is part of the wisdom and compassion of the universe. When it comes to us it is the karma of the Buddha bearing fruit, not our own.
Faith is not countable or dividable. Just like life - is the life in me the same as the life in you? What do you think. Is the livingness in me different from the livingness in you. I can’t see a way they are different.
Or the candle flame here - from one candle to another from one source. The same flame in different places. The faith in my heart and the faith in your heart? The same from one source - Amida- the infinite compassion and infinite wisdom of the universe.
In Conclusion - The Buddha saw that we are not happy. He saw that we are not happy because we want and want and want. He saw that we can stop the wanting and joy flows in. He taught a way to let go of wanting. Of abiding in gratitude. This abiding peace that the Buddha offers is so close to us. We start by having faith in the teaching. Ultimately faith in the goodness of the universe - Amida Buddha.
The old word for this faith is Shinjin - true entrusting - knowing there is something profound and meaningful here - an inspiration that gives you energy. The energy propels you forward on your spiritual path of greater understating. The process continues, more faith more energy, deepening and affirming. That is why we continue to study and experience the Dharma. We deepen faith through our own experiences in life. Our faith in karma, rebirth, and non-self develops. Interdependent co-arising starts to make sense to us and faith deepens.
Taking refuge requires faith -- If its raining, and I take refuge under an awning, if it leaks I move on. If it provides true shelter and I experience that, I truly take refuge. Initial faith, ultimately deep faith.
Practically in our everyday life - Faith protects us from fear. Fear is the thing that stops us from living life. Something eventually goes wrong - a failure - then what we fear comes - blame, criticism, loss. That always happens. It’s Ok if something goes wrong - its a wonderful mess. Everyday of your life is a big wonderful spontaneous mess! Embrace the wonder of that - the miracle of that. We look at the future with hope - this creates a reality. The Buddha specifically taught that our mindset creates reality. Look to the future with Faith and you let go of wanting, to let go of controlling. Let go of fear and embrace joy.
Faith doesn't come from us. We don't make it. It is part of the universe like. My faith, your faith, Shinran’s faith - its all the same thing.
Please share my faith in the Bodhisattva’s deep wish to all of you. Please say it too - just repeat after me...
Reading for 7 feb 16
From the Epilogue to the TANNISHO
By Yui-en-Bo student of Shinran Shonin
According to our late master Shinran, it was the same at the time of his teacher, Honen. Among his disciples, there were only a few people who truly entrusted themselves to Amida. There was once a debate between Shinran and fellow disciples. Shinran claimed, "my entrusting and Honen's entrusting are identical," Seikan, Nenbutsu, and others strongly refuted this, saying, "How can you claim that our master's faith and your faith are identical!" To this Shinran replied, "Our master's wisdom and knowledge are truly profound and to say that our understanding of Amida are identical is preposterous. But as far as true entrusting, leading to birth in the Pure Land is concerned, no difference exists at all. Both are the same." Still they continued to press Shinran, challenging him by saying, "How can that be possible?"
They finally decided to settle the argument once and for all by going to Honen, relating the details. When Honen listened to their differning views, he said, "The true entrusting of Honen is a gift granted by the Buddha, and the true entrusting of Shinran is also a gift from the Buddha. Thus, they are the same. People whose entrusting is different will probably not go to the same Pure Land as I"
[Yui-en-bo contunues] ...Since my life, like a dew drop, still hangs onto this body which may be likened to withered grass, I am able to hear the doubts of my fellow practicers and tell them what I have learned from my teacher. But I fear and lament that after my eyes close and life comes to an end, there may arise confusion because of different interpretations. When you are confused by different views, such as the above, you should carefully read the scriptures recommended and used by our late master...
The master constantly said, "When I consider the compassionate Vow of Amida, established through five kalpas of profound thought, it was for myself, Shinran, alone. Because I am a being burdened so heavily with evil karma, I feel even more deeply grateful to the Primal Vow which is made to decisively save me"...
In reality, all of us, including myself, talk about what is good and evil without thinking of the Buddha’s compassion. Our master once said, "I do not know what the two, good and evil, really mean. I could say that I know what good is, if I knew good as thoroughly and completely as a Buddha. And I could say I know what evil is, if I knew evil as thoroughly and completely as a Buddha. But in this impermanent world, like a burning house, all things are empty and vain, therefore, untrue. Only trusting in Amida Buddha is true, real, and sincere….
In tears I have dipped my brush in ink and have written this in the hope that conflicting views of true entrusting will not prevail among fellow practicers of nembutsu gathered together in a single room. [signed] Yui-en Bo 10th year of Kōan era, 9th month
Good morning friends. It is good to be together again. Two weeks passes so quickly. So much happens. Olivia and Tan had their baby! Alexander Mai 5lbs 8oz 17in. Yeah! Mother and baby are doing fine.
Welcome again to visitors and new friends. It is good to come together and consider the Dharma.
So - How did you do on the homework from last time? We talked about non-harming and we were going to try to gently shade our thoughts, words and actions away from harming - toward harming less. Not harmless - just harming a little less. How did we do? Some people remembered - some people tried. That is good.
Today we will talk about Karma. What it is this Law of karma we speak of?
About the kinds of karma we may create - Good or Bad? We will consider what Shinran meant when he said that Evil Karma can be transformed into Good - he described a process of transformation by the karma of the Buddha - “The Ice of our delusions transforms into the water of enlightenment.”
Karma means Action - Now I’m back to explaining a word from an ancient language. Karma is a Sanskrit word. It comes from the same root as our word Create - Kri - which means to order or to do.
Karma means Action - your karma are your actions, your intentional actions. When we make things a certain way. The fruits of your actions are the effects of those actions on your life.
The Buddha taught on karma often and understanding Karma is very important to spiritual growth. Karma is, like everything, in constant flux and change. We create our own present and future by the choices we make in each moment. This is a just right understanding. The Buddha’s teaching of karma empowers us to become the drivers in the unfolding of our lives
There are other views - Sometimes we hear people saying “That was his karma” when referring to a punishment for someone’s bad actions in the past. In other world views - like Jainism - karma is like that, seen as an explanation of bad events. If something happens to someone - they deserve it. Really close to Fate or Predetermination. But not in Buddhism.
Sometimes we hear karma used to mean justice or punishment. The old phrase - “time wounds all heels”. Some idea that the universe has a balancing agent that metes out punishment. We’d like to think the universe is just, but that is a fanciful idea. Not found in Buddhism.
The Buddha came from that way of thinking and moved into the effective and healing understanding that he taught. Karma refers to your Intentional Action in the present, the Fruits of these actions - Fruits of Karma happen later. The causes are the actions and the results are the fruit.
In the Devadaha Sutra the Buddha discussed these common misunderstandings of karma. In his time people concluded from his talks that Karma was something like this. …
"Karma is a basic principle that governs human conduct. It declares that our present experience of pleasure or pain is the result of our past conduct and that our present conduct will condition our future experience."
In the sutra he shows this is a misunderstanding. It does not accurately describe his teaching on karma, and is instead a fairly accurate account of the Jain tradition’s teaching. The Buddha actually ridicules this view. The Buddha explains that the present experience of pleasure and pain...
is a combined result of both past and present actions….
a combined result of both past and present actions.
This is very important because it acknowledges our free will and the possibility of putting an end to suffering before the effects of all past actions have...ripened.
This addition of “combined result of both past and present actions” is what makes Buddhist practice possible and effective our life. If the cause of my present difficulties is located only in the past, I can’t do anything in the present moment to stop that suffering. But that cause is not only in the past. The sutra explains that I can effect my experience in the present and change where I am going. The Buddha’s teaching on karma recognizes we have some power to drive the unfolding of our lives.
We learned from Dr. Matsunaga, that in life there are three categories of causes 1) objective conditions, 2) personal karma, and 3) Buddha’s karma. If someone experiences a painful circumstance - they crash their car - objective conditions point to myriad circumstances that contributed to the accident. I want to make this clear - We do not think most events are caused by personal karma? It is not your fault.
The victim’s personal karmic actions did not cause the accident, because by definition personal karma refers to how each of us responds to a situation on a spiritual level. The Personal karma aspect in this example is how the person responded to the accident emotionally and the kind of spiritual insight gained through the experience, despite the difficulties and pain of the situation. Maybe because of the difficulties and pain of the situation. Personal karma are actions in the spiritual part of our lives. This usually has to do with how we treat ourselves and others.
“Karma” means “action”
Actions take three forms: actions of the body, speech, and mind. What we think, what we say, and what we do; primarily in the spiritual context.
It is empowering to realize that we can affect the course of our spiritual lives. This is clearly different from ideas of predetermined fate or Divine Will that explain away the same events. Always remember, karma is applied primarily to our self (first person). It is not a way to judge others (third person), especially to explain why some people find themselves in unfortunate conditions. In Buddhism, Karma has a very special usage. It is the cause and effect in our spiritual efforts to follow a path toward understanding - clarity - enlightenment . A positive cause (=karma) leads to a positive result. A negative cause (karma) leads to negative result. The pail words associated with karma are “skillful” and “unskillful”.
When we reflect on our actions - Karma - we are considering causality in our lives. Karma is a fundamental part of the Buddha’s teaching because our actions are causes of our mind state. Ultimately our actions determine if we suffer or are joyful. Buddhism is really a study in these causes.
Why do I say that?
The Buddha realized that life is fundamentally joyful. But that most sentient beings do not experience it that way. He looked for the causes of joy in life. And the causes of our suffering. The Buddha’s great quest and the 48 vows are focused on creating a cause for abiding joy in the lives of all sentient beings. We realize that everything is the result of a chain of causes and effects. We see all things and all beings as events rather than objects. We are all Inter-dependently-co-arising through time and space. When we feel separate from anything it is really a misunderstanding in a sea of interconnectedness. The I-me-me-my we feel inside is a little misunderstanding in a vast sea of interconnectedness. We live in a sea of inter-being as the teacher Thic Nat Han describes it. Because of this we need to look at the causes of our aloneness.
That is why we focus on what causes what? It is not just an exercise. It is very practical - We focus on causes because - A condition with a cause can be ended when the cause is removed. This is true of suffering. Suffering can be ended - joy flows in. This is the third noble truth.
I feel like we are getting closer our question - What is Karma? We often talk about different kinds of karma - What is good karma? and What is bad karma?
Positive karma is any thought and its expression in words and bodily action that are in accord with the Buddha’s teachings and lead toward enlightenment. The Buddha used the word skillful - for what we might call “good” karma But it's been translated in many ways.
In the - Sevi-tabba Asevi-tabba sutra,
the “Things that should and should not be practiced” sutra.
The disciple Sariputra asks the Buddha to clarify what actions are skillful and what actions are unskillful. Buddha describes 10 skillful and 10 unskillful actions that affect our path toward experiencing reality-as-it-is -
Skillful actions are these:
Giving, Morality, Mental culture, Reverence or respect, Service in helping others, Sharing merits with others, Rejoicing in the merits of others, Teaching the Dharma, Listening to the Dhamma, Straightening one's views.
The unskillful acts are...
Killing of beings, Stealing, misusing sexuality, Lying , Slander, Harsh speech, Frivolous and meaningless talk , Covetousness, Ill-will, Wrong view - in relation to others, denying generosity or denying mother and father
If these are the groupings of good and bad karma - how do they affect us? How does karma work?
The Buddha taught that it works on our habit of mind - our tendencies. If we habituate positive actions, they become common in our experience. If we habituate bad actions, we get used to them and they dominate our lives. When we talked about Ahimsa last time - non-harming- we could see that moving our thinking, speaking, and acting away from harming would transform our lives in the joyful direction. There are pathways in the mind, if they get used a lot they get easy quick and common. Karma operates through its effect on our consciousness. Cultivating skillful actions of body speech and mind results in our having those thoughts more often, we say skillful things [or maybe just don't say things] more often and we act in useful skillful ways more often.
For example, we take the first one on the Buddha’s list of skillful actions - Giving - we say Dana. This is the first practice in Buddhism. What is Dana?
Dana is generosity, giving. The action of giving. We give to the temple to support the three treasures. Most of the time people make monetary offerings in support of the teachings. Sometimes people give their time and skills to maintain or create our Dharma refuge here.
At 3pm Saturday before a Sunday service members come and help prepare the temple for the service. This is a big job. We sweep, vacuum, straighten chairs, setup everything in Hiroma hall, and generally get the old girl ready. This is a great opportunity to cultivate good karma. And we have a chronic problem with low attendance. Yesterday this was done by 4-5 people. If you can mark it on your calendar and make it a habit.
The big project we are working on now is the Solar Array for the temple roof. Everyone was generous and giving to make that happen. It is taking a while to finish due to the winter - but in the spring we’ll finish it. the PUC has muddied the waters, but we will finish.
Please understand that Dana is not payment for goods or services; it is freely giving from the heart without expectation. We say selfless giving. Your generosity is a gift that supports not just the Center, but also the Sangha, the larger Dharma community, and your own practice. Buddhism exists in the world because of the dana of millions of people over 2600 years. [ It's been awhile since I pointed out that there are Dana boxes by the doors in the hondo and downstairs as well. That is where people give their dana.]
Dana is a skillful action - Good karma - The practice of dana orients our minds in the direction of the Buddha. When we give we are less selfish and begin to understand the third noble truth - take away clinging and we are joyful. So that is positive karma - a positive action. It's not easy or natural at first because it is a new habit, with just right effort it becomes normal.
Bad karma, on the other hand, goes against this and turns us away from the Dharma. Of course, these actions are carried out in the arena of our everyday life, but they have significant spiritual effects. They are our personal karma. They become habits and troubles we carry with us. The unresolved thoughts and actions that chew away at us on a very deep level.
Positive actions have positive results. This makes sense.
A positive result is being closer to seeing clearly our interconnectedness - enlightenment. This means to experience in life with a greater joy, serenity, gratitude and concern for all beings. But what can we do about the unskillful actions?
Can Evil Karma be transformed into Good karma?
Remember there was a third category of karma Dr. Matsunaga taught...
1] Objective Condition, 2] Personal Karma, 3] and Buddha’s karma.
Amida Buddha is infinite compassion and infinite wisdom in the universe. Amida Buddha made 48 vows to reach out to all those simple folk who are unlikely to reach Buddhahood on their own. He dedicated the merit of his many kalpas of strenuous practice to this end. This is the great store of Buddha’s karma in the universe. It is a transformational energy.
We have all had the experience of doing something and it feels later that we regret or wish we could take back - This is the application of wisdom. At the time it seemed the thing to do - “He crossed me so I slugged him” as the school yard story goes. But with reflection. With the application of wisdom and compassion even a grave error can be a source of growth and transformation. This is the Buddha’s karma bearing fruit.
This effect is very important in our Mahayana teaching, and particularly in the Pure Land path of Shin Buddhism. Shinran Shonin observed that as a foolish ego-centered being [Bombunin], he - or I can say we - are not able to effectively practice positive personal karma. We just sort of bumble along. Like the first individual in the Lonaphala Sutra Cathy read. An unskillful person who does a small unskillful act can have large effects. It seems we are traveling on thin ice as it is. Without tremendous personal strengths and a perfect spiritual environment to live in, positive personal karma is really impossible for us. This insight about his spiritual limitations came to Shinran through twenty years of practice and struggle as a Buddhist monk.
In desperation, he left the monastery to seek guidance from the Bodhisattva Kannon. [right here] In a dream she directed Shinran to the teacher Honen, who helped him to awaken to the Buddha’s karma, expressed in Shin Buddhism as “the karmic power of the great vow” of Amida Buddha.
I often tell the ocean parable in the Newcomers circle - The story of a sailor fallen overboard in the sea - After almost drowning - He awakens to the futility of struggling in the middle of an ocean. Instead, he lets go of his frantic efforts to keep afloat by his own power and lies back - facing the stars - completely relaxed. To his wonderful surprise, he finds himself floating and supported by the ocean. When he first fell in - the ocean was his enemy and he fought against it - but with wisdom he awakened to the compassion of the ocean - the stormy sea is transformed into a supporting friend. The sailor switched from a futility of relying on personal karma perspective to taking refuge in the awesome power of the ocean of Amida Buddha’s karma.
This idea of easing-off on the “I-me-me-my” power and deeply hearing-feeling-sensing - that there is something bigger out there - this idea is central to Shin Buddhism. It is expressed in our most important sutra, the Larger Sutra. In the sutra Sakyamuni taught us that Amida Buddha’s Vow’s to aid all beings were taken long, long ago. It speaks to the existence of spiritual help beyond the limited self. Available to us if our ears and minds are opened to this karmic power of the Buddha. We are freed from the grip of Mara when as we turn to Other Power we feel all around us. Other Power is a word for Amida’s compassionate actions - his karma in the world.
When we reconsider and reflect and think better of an action we are expressing the wisdom and compassion of the universe. The Buddha’s karma and personal karma come together because we all have Buddha nature. It is inside us. We have this inside us, we need to Simply Trust to let it take us onward.
Unskillful karma can be transformed into Skillful Karma by the Other Power of wisdom and compassion. That is to say, I alone cannot effect such a change. It happens naturally when I completely trust in Amida Buddha - when I completely trust in the wisdom and compassion of the universe. Quoting Shinran...
Through the benefit bestowed by unhindered light,
One realizes the shinjin of vast transcendent virtues:
Unfailingly the ice of blind passions melts
And immediately becomes the water of enlightenment.
Obstructing evils have become the substance of virtues;
It is like the relation of ice and water:
The more ice, the more water;
The more hindrances, the more virtues.
Shinran is showing that we are ok just as we are. Worts and all. Regrets and sorrows and bad judgement - they are transformed when we give up our separate ego mind and simply trust in the universe. It is a deep and quite trust that expands in all directions.
So that is karma.
As Bonbunin we bumble along, we try our best to act in good conscience and kindness. Most times we fail. When we do we are redeemed by taking refuge in the greater goodness of Amida Buddha. Karma really applies to ourself in positive reflection and meditation. It is not like fate, predestination or retribution. Karma means action of thought, speech, and body. Karma really has much more to do with the present and the future than the past.
Buddha’s karma is available to those who come to realize the futility of perfecting our goofy selves. The Buddha’s karma is none other than Amida’s Compassion or Vow-power.
Lets share in Amida Buddha’s deep wish for all beings -
May you be happy;
May you be free from harm:
May you receive boundless compassion;
And may peace and harmony fill your heart
--- Namandabs - Namandabs - Namandabs ---
Welcome everyone. So good to be back. Our New Year's service was quite wonderful. We had so many guests and generous donations of food and offering of song, drumming and deep thoughts on compassion. We are so very grateful to all who participated. About 175 people packed this hondo! All faiths all kinds of drums. It really felt like a joyful expression of Indra’s sparkling web.
Todays talk is on non-harming. The Buddha called this Ahimsa.
What did the Buddha mean when he taught Ahimsa?
Usually I try to avoid using the ancient words for Buddhist concepts. I try to bring things into the 21st century. But today maybe we’ll try thinking about the word Ahimsa and its deeper meaning. In sanskrit a-himsa means not+himsa. Himsa = Harm injury or violence. The Sanskrit root hims, meaning to strike. We begin with the idea of non-injury. In some ways it literally means not hitting. It doesn't contain an sense of the victim of violence in it. Even acting out violently against a tree or a flower pot or a wall is included in actions to be avoided.
There is profound spiritual damage done by violence - it inflicts deep karmic scars on the perpetrator. The word Harm in english is rooted in “degradation, insult, pain, grief and sorrow”. Ahimsa, is a Buddhist teaching of non-violence toward all living beings. Ahimsa encourages compassion for all life, human and non-human. It also acknowledges the “degradation, insult, pain, grief and sorrow” that happens to the perpetrator as well as the victim. We cannot harm another without being spiritually harmed ourselves.
In the time of the Buddha grand animal sacrifices were common. He saw this destruction in the name of religion as an obscene abomination. In many sutras he systematically criticises these large scale sacrifices and advocates for harmlessness.
But his teaching against harm has deeper aspects. Many times in his discourses the Buddha speaks of four kinds of people – those who (1) harm themselves, (2) harm others, (3) harm both self and others and (4) who do not harm anyone.
We have all met people who fall in these categories. The first group may inflict harm because of self loathing or as some kind of misguided attempt to purify themselves. The second group are those that externalize their rage and lack the ability to see the interconnectedness of all beings. The third group includes those who damage themselves and others. Most of us fall in this category. Because of ignorance and misunderstanding of the law of karma we lash out like a bull in a china shop - without care for the harm we do. The Buddha counsels us against being part of these three groups because it causes lasting damage. The last group, who do no harm to themselves or others, he admires. They are those who follow a way of compassion like the Buddha himself taught create a habit of non-harming.
Many important people who were not Buddhists have considered this idea of Ahimsa as a high virtue - everyone from Gandhi to Tolstoy.
The Mahatma explained…
"Ahimsa means not to injure any creature by thought, word or deed, not even to the supposed advantage of this creature."
"[Ahimsa] is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man."
"Truth is my religion and Ahimsa is the only way of its realisation."
Thomas Edison thought that Ahimsa "leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution. Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages." And Leo Tolstoy who said “Violence produces only something resembling justice, but it distances people from the possibility of living justly, without violence.”
The idea of “living justly, without violence” that is Ahimsa - and that is what we seek to cultivate.
Buddha taught that our thoughts manifest in our speech; Our speech manifests in our actions; Our actions develop into habits; And habits hardens into our character. The easy place to effect this chain is to watch our thoughts and with care, and let them generate from love and concern for all beings.
If we hold thoughts of harm - or harm-full thoughts - If harmful thoughts exist within me, then pathways leading to harmful words, deeds, and habits also exist, and it’s a very slippery slope. As we learned in the Buddha’s Brain thoughts and experiences literally transform the brain on a neurological level. Patterning and considering harmless thoughts create new pathways or strengthen existing ones for kindness in our brains. For people who think that chanting and mantras are for the pink-tofu-mumbo-jumbo Hippy-dippy crowd - think again - and again - and again. It can create a good habit. Chanting and mantra are effective tools of mind to pattern wholesome actions and habits of mind. They transform our thoughts, speech, actions, and ultimately the world. Meditation on Ahimsa, as Gandhi said is the “greatest force at the disposal of mankind.”
The Ahimsa meditation that we often share to exclude harmful and violent thoughts is the Metta practice. The Loving Kindness practice...
May all beings be peaceful.
May all beings be happy.
May all beings be well.
May all beings be safe.
May all beings be free from suffering
We say “May All beings.”
That includes yourself, your dear ones, strangers on the street, the worm in the apple, and the trees along Plumas street.
“Happy” and “well” and “safe”.
These most basic, inalienable rights of all beings, we too often wish only for those in the human realm.
If all beings everywhere are happy and safe, then violence and harm would not exist - there would be no place, no reason to exist.
Opportunities for Ahimsa are subtle and ever present. Ahimsa can be as easy as sharing a ride to work instead of going alone. Ahimsa is looking in the mirror and thinking “you’re lookin good today”. Ahimsa is as easy as remembering that all beings everywhere have the right to be happy and safe from harm. Cultivating Ahimsa requires mindfulness. Ahimsa grows into reality when we start to think that way.
How can we live in the most non-harming way possible. How do we keep the idea of the middle way in harmony with non-harming.
All sentient beings and even celestial bodies live the same way - by causing harm to others. We lean on them for food, shelter, and energy of life. Everyday beings are bumping into other beings, smashing them, killing them, eating them, drinking them, wearing and using them, walking and lying on them, destroying their homes. There is no real boundary to this karmic responsibility - Shinran called it the crushing weight of evil karma - it radiates through every jewel in the interdependent fabric of Indra's net. We are not advocating being perfect. We are teaching mindfulness and harm a little bit less -ness.
The Sakyamuni Buddha was a most compassionate person - but he wore a robe [made from cotton], ate from a bowl [made from a tree] , and unintentionally crushed the life out of many grasses, flowers, and insects as he walked from place to place and sat and taught the Dharma from his many lotus seats. He asked that animals not be killed on his behalf but ate meat when it was served at a lay person's home out of graciousness to the host. Through his awareness and compassion, he took responsibility for these costs and redeemed them.
We can do the same. We use our precious human life to acknowledge and repay the kindness and the sacrifice of all beings who have willingly or unwillingly surrendered their lives so that we may live. The Buddha is encouraging us to Harm Less.
I was a vegetarian for many years. When I first came into a first awareness of the frightful suffering of our meat animals, being a vegetarian made sense. [I came upon the slaughter of a lamb in a meat-market in Sri Lanka.] Over time though I resumed eating meat - out of compassion for family and friends - I take my responsibility for the suffering of beings that feed me, this arouses a compassionate heart and loving mind every time I receive their gifts..
When we say - Itadakimasu before eating - it is out of respect for all living things. Before the meal, itadakimasu is said as a thanks to the plants and animals that gave their lives for the meal we’re about to eat. It also gives thanks all those involved, from the rancher/farmer to the one who prepared of the meal. We mitigate in some way the harm done by acknowledging and accepting this harming aspect of our being.
Indras web of interconnections makes us careful and sensitive to avoid harm, but it’s closeness also makes this harming inevitable. What can we do? If harming is a natural part of living and we are living out the results of countless actions in the past. If we remember that our actions are infinitely reflected in Indra’s web we can gain a measure of control from that awareness.
The Buddha shows us that through mindfulness we can always moderate our thoughts, speech and actions. When we think on something we don’t like, we can curb any harmful thoughts that arise. If we don’t like someone, we can de-energize the pathway of hurtful thoughts. When we speak we can avoid harsh judgements and attribute kind motives even to those we oppose. We can use words that lessen the hold of harming - remove the habit of harming. Even in our actions we can calm and moderate our movements and avoid abrupt and harmful actions. This habituates us to Ahimsa.
Lets try a thought exercise together - Remember ahimsa is the removal of harm and violence from our mind and body. Here are two ways we can challenge ourselves to remove that violence and be loving kindness.
Ahimsa in the mind: it begins here.
The mind is our the most powerful tool. Everything begins here. If we plant a seed of negativity, of self-harm, that seed can grow. Soon we look in the mirror and critique ourselves, and rather than celebrating our the gifts. We cut ourselves down for not being the good looking, smart, super fit, or whatever story you’re mind is telling. So for today, observe your thoughts. Recognize that thoughts lead to actions, and in order to remove violence in our everyday life, we have to remove it from starting point - the mind. Plant the thought “You are beautiful, you are whole as you are and perfectly imperfect”. Accept that. Be with that. Just say to yourself now - “I’m ok, just as I am”
This will Harm less.
Ahimsa and the body: we are what we eat.
The body is amazing. This machine allows us to move around this world, to breathe and live - we accomplish amazing things. To nourish and love our body fully, we can remove aspects of violence from our way of living, which includes our food. In today’s world we’ve removed ourselves from the food that we eat. The principle of ahimsa challenges that trend; we should know and understand what we are eating and where it comes from and be grateful. For one day try to eat a vegetarian diet. Try to appreciate the harm done to food animals and just not be part of that for a day. Celebrate the sacredness that is life and plant a seed of non-harming.
This will Harm less.
We can live a life of Ahimsa if we cultivate its causes. The story of Indra’s web helps us to see others as parts of ourselves,. If we do this we will not harm them. But often we become annoyed with friends and coworkers. We should not let people annoy us because of our reactions - they may be harmful - Annoyance in its extreme form can lead to the impulse toward harm - at first thorough thought, then by speech, and then by action. Some more advice from the Buddha from the Aga tapati vinaya Sutta…
"...there are these five ways of removing annoyance, by which annoyance can be entirely removed by a bhikkhu when it arises in him. What are the five?
Loving-kindness can be maintained in being towards a person with whom you are annoyed: this is how annoyance with him can be removed.
Compassion can be maintained in being towards a person with whom you are annoyed; this too is how annoyance with him can be removed.
Onlooking equanimity can be maintained in being towards a person with whom you are annoyed; this too is how annoyance with him can be removed.
The forgetting and ignoring of a person with whom you are annoyed can be practiced; this too is how annoyance with him can be removed.
Ownership of deeds in a person with whom you are annoyed can be concentrated upon thus: 'This good person is owner of his deeds, heir to his deeds, his deeds are the womb from which he is born, his deeds are his kin for whom he is responsible, his deeds are his refuge, he is heir to his deeds, be they good or bad.' This too is how annoyance with him can be removed.
These are the five ways of removing annoyance, by which annoyance can be entirely removed in a bhikkhu when it arises in him."
- [AN V.161 Aghatapativinaya Sutta]
And what of this Buddha here ? Amida Buddha - The vows of Amida Buddha are clear. We are OK Just as we are. Harmfulness and all. This is not because Amida condones violence, but it is because the violent are most in need to acceptance and support - more than anyone. This is the ultimate resolution of the puzzle of harming - how to pursue the ideal of Ahimsa. We contemplate this ideal, we accept our limitations and are grateful for the deep compassion of the universe that is there for us just the same.
When Shinran’s teacher Honen was young, his father Tokikuni was killed in front of Honen. Young Honen told his father that he would take revenge, Tokikuni last words were,
"If you take revenge on Akashi , his children will take revenge on you later. There is no way to cease anger and hatred from generation to generation. I want you to learn the Buddha-Dharma and find a way to overcome such a cycle of revenge."
Ordained at the age of 15, Honen studied and practiced various paths of Buddhism for almost thirty years in order to find the answer to overcoming anger and hatred in ordinary people. Then, when he encountered the writing of Zendo, the Chinese Pure Land master, he found the answer is the path of Nembutsu to liberate us equally. We take refuge in the infinite Wisdom and Compassion of the Universe.
The Nembutsu is the path where all sentient beings can experience the Buddha's infinte Wisdom and Compassion, particularly those who have suffered from what we call the “blind passions” of anger, hatred, greed, and ignorance.
It is this wisdom which makes us aware of suffering and pain arising from our harmful actions. It is this compassion which embraces the anger and hatred and transforms them into virtues. The essence of the Nembutsu teaching in Pure Land Buddhism is deeply rooted in the idea of Ahimsa. Practicing the Nembutsu path means practicing ahimsa. Shinran Shonin made this with for peace in our world...
“Those who feel uncertain should say the Nembutsu aspiring first for the birth of their own understanding - the Buddha Land. Those who feel that their own birth is completely settled should, mindful of the Buddha’s benevolence, say the Nembutsu in gratitude with the wish, “May there be peace in the world, and may the Buddha’s teaching spread!”
Opportunities for Ahimsa is subtle and ever present. Ahimsa can be as easy as sharing a ride to work instead of going alone. Ahimsa is looking in the mirror and thinking “you’re looking good today”. Ahimsa is as easy as remembering that all beings everywhere have the right to be happy and free. Cultivating Ahimsa requires mindfulness. Ahimsa grows into reality when we start to think that way. We can harm less. That is good for the world and good for us.
Please repeat after me the Metta practice...
May you be happy;
May you be free from harm:
May you receive boundless compassion;
And may peace and harmony fill your heart
- Namu Amida Butsu Namu Amida Butsu Namu Amida Butsu -
Reading January 10th 2016
The Story of Indra’s Net -
Far, far away, in the abode of the great god Indra, king of heaven, hangs a wondrous vast net, much like a spider's web in intricacy and loveliness. It stretches out indefinitely in all directions. At each node, or crossing point, of the net hangs a single glittering jewel. Since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. The sparkling jewels hang there, suspended in and supported by the net, glittering like stars, dazzling to behold.
Close your eyes, now, and imagine what this magnificent jeweled net looks like, spread across the vast expanse of space. Now, keep your eyes closed and move in close to one jewel in the net. Look closely, and you will see that the polished surface of the gem reflects all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number, just as two mirrors placed opposite each other reflect an image ad infinitum. Each jewel reflected in this gem you are gazing into also reflects all the other jewels, so that the process of reflection is itself infinite.
Now open your eyes, and know that you are a sparkling jewel in Indra's Net, as is every person around you. Every jewel is connected with all the other jewels in the net; every person is intimately connected with all the other persons in the universe. Each has an independent place within the net and we all reflect and influence each other. A change in one jewel—or person—produces a change, however slight, in every other. Realize, too, that the infinite reflections speak to the illusory nature of appearances. Appearances are not, in fact, reality, but only a reflection; the true nature of a thing is not to be captured in its appearance. However powerful that appearance might be, it is yet only a reflection of what is real.In addition, whatever you do to one jewel affects the entire net, as well as yourself. You cannot damage one strand of a spider web without injuring the entire web, and you cannot damage one strand of the web that is the universe without injuring all others in it, whether that injury is known or unknown to them. This can work for good or ill because, of course, just as destructive acts affect the entire net, so do loving, constructive, compassionate acts affect the entire net. A single helpful act—even a simple act of kindness—will send positive ripples across the infinite net, touching every jewel, every sentient being in existence.