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84,000 Paths - How to choose?

posted Oct 9, 2015, 10:36 AM by Reno Budd

4 Oct 2015

Good Morning, I would like to welcome everyone again Reno Buddhist Center -  Rev. Shelley and I went on a trip these last 10 days and visited 6 temples and had good talks with 3 temple resident priests like ourselves. This was a great opportunity to hear their perspectives and see their challenges and triumphs.

I speak for all of us when I say - “We have it really good here”.  A caring sangha with all ages and stages represented. We are growing, but at a manageable pace. We care for eachother and are supported by the Honzan, our headquarters in Tokyo.

    Today we are going to talk about finding our path. The quote Cathy read, from Venerable Ananda - cited 84,000 paths to enlightenment.  Thats a lot of paths.  [It might be hard to choose that right one?]  The meaning is that the Buddha showed a way for everyone to reach the sense of Joy and equanimity he had found.  Everyone. Some paths are difficult. Some are tricky. Some are easy.  All are valid path to the Truth.

    Let me say that false paths certainly exist. The Buddha didn’t teach those. Remember if someone tells you that they “have all the answers and all you need to do is donate X-amount of money and they will get you into Heaven- or whatever”.  You should carefully place your hand on you wallet and walk calmly to the nearest exit.   

The teacher Nagarjuna,  in 300 CE, says this about paths...

"There are innumerable modes of entry into the Buddha's teaching.  Just as there are in the world difficult and easy paths - travelling on foot by land is full of hardship and travelling in a boat by sea is pleasant - so it is among the paths of the bodhisattvas.

   Some exert themselves diligently, while others quickly enter enlightenment by the easy practice based on true entrusting."

     My thought about paths is more recent -

Last week Rev. Shelley and I were on a hike. It was in a place we’d gone many times before over the last 30 years.  We’ve hiked there with our kids and my parents and alone.   Its an old and wet and jungly place so the path is always a bit of a mystery.  It had been 7 years since we walked that path.  A landslide had covered one part of the trial, Then we found a landmark [the place my Dad had found a  petroglyph of the rainbow man]  and I felt sure we were  on track.  But Rev. Shelley was largely following my lead.  She had first hiked the trail when she was 9 and the trees were all different now.  It was much more open then.  I reassured he that we were going to the  grove of wild banana trees on the flat ridge a couple miles from the car.  The goal was a special place with a grove of wild banana trees, strawberry guavas, and raspberries.  My intuition was we were on the right path.

There are important things in our life which we only know by intuition. Intuition is not necessarily vague; it can be very precise and specific. We might think we are rational and calculating in life, but, in reality, most of our most important decisions, like who to marry, where to live, what we choose as one's life's work, are made by intuition; and if they are not made by intuition then they are suspect. The person who marries for money, or some other similar calculation, is  they are suspect. The person who marries for money, or some other calculation, is living in a way that we all immediately, and intuitively, recognise as unsatisfactory.

So I felt like we were on the right path. The path was steep at times, very muddy - the shoe sucking kind - it rained some and then the sun came out.

All along Rev. Shelley would have waves of doubt and them a sense of “right path”. Finally I realized I need to give her a concrete promise of “10 min and we turn back”.  At about 9 min  - we walked into the now overgrown glade with ripe fruit and the humming of a million honey bees. It was beautiful.  [My only disappointment was the bananas weren't ripe. ]

This experience gave me some insight into path choosing, path following and the intuition of what is beyond we use as our guide.

We are all seeking - What do we seek?

As humans we are spiritual beings.  Religion is a uniquely human behaviour.  

Buddhism is a religion of awakening - Of  opening to reality as it is.  This has been called “the numenous” by famous scholars I had to study in school [Rudolf Otto, Mircea Eliade].  Though I’m not sure anyone really knows what that latin word means anymore. We can broaden its meaning to include what buddhists call the Dharmakaya - the truth body of the unconditioned. Ultimate reality.  Reality-as-it-is without our distortions and opinions overlaid on it.   

When we consciously seek this we have ignited “Bodhicitta”. The spontaneous wish to attain enlightenment motivated by great compassion. The urge toward enlightenment is not selfish - it is for the good of all sentient beings.
When we chant the Eko at the end of any Chanting session - we are dedicating our efforts to the awaken that spark in each and every sentient being. Without Exception.

We are all seeking...What do we seek?  

We seek meaning.  We may seek psychological health. That is good, but not the deepest motivator. Buddhist history and experience  is a gold mine of knowledge, experience, theory, and practice in psychological health. But that is not what we are fundamentally seeking.

We might feel as though we need a moral compass in our life. Some grounding in right and wrong to guide us.

If we think about it, we may be seeking some ways for relieving the pain and difficulties in our life.  This is a wonderful part of the Buddhist tradition.  Seeking an end to suffering for all sentient beings is what motivated the Buddha.   But that is not ultimately what we are seeking.  

What we are looking for is the meaning in all of this  -  In the reality of the Dharmakaya - the dhrama-body - the spiritual is primary and the physical is a limited domain. We modern people, try to pretend that the physical is primary and the spiritual, if acknowledged at all, is a thin overlay.  Our seeking is at its core a spiritual matter.

Wwe want to see past all particular worlds, forms and circumstances. We want to know and experience the infinite spirit of compassion - we call Kannon Bodhisattva.  We want to be grounded in the unconditioned, the deathless, the eternal truth of all that is, was, or will be.  That is what we are seeking.

I said Deathless and Eternal here. Maybe that's confusing because I always say - “the Buddha taught that  everything is impermanent” - really what I mean by that is that all conditioned phenomena are  impermanent.  I usually leave the “conditioned phenomena “ part out to simplify.   I don't mean to confuse.  I am working my way through understanding - same as you-  sometimes I cut corners I shouldn't.   The Dharmakaya is deathless and eternal.

Remember the phrase “Eternal, Joyous, Selfless and Pure”.  That is our true nature.   We seek that.   We follow a path that we intuit or sense will take us there.  Sometimes the path choses itself.   

    “84,000 paths” - Means that we will find one.  There is a path for us. Suited to us, tailored to our strengths and  safe from our weaknesses.   Fundamentally, we seek to know and understand beings with form and beings without form, worlds we know about and worlds we do not know about, aspects that we can see and a sense of limitless dimensions beyond what we see. We want to wake up to vastness.   

This awakening includes realizing so much is out of our control.  That brings us to deep awe rather than worry. Realising it, we can feel a profound gratitude for all this and we can set about ordering our own life in a realistic, I mean, modest, way.
That is what the Buddha taught.   The path to what he called liberation.   We are freed from a prison of our own making and saved from eons of suffering.

When I use the word “saved” I see a few faces furrow and heads tilt - “did he say that?”.  Sure I did . Saved - saved - saved.   I can say that. And I don’t mean someone comes down and sprinkles us with fairy dust and everything is ok.   I mean that the Buddha pointed us to a path that he created for us.   That thin white path we talked about at our Ohigan service - last time.   It is a path that leads to Amida  Buddha’s  Pure Land of Clarity and understanding - where all this will make sense. We are ok just as we are. Sakyamuni Buddha encourages us to step onto the path.  Amida Buddha is there - wisdom and compassion without limit.  Offering to aid us on the path, in every dark place and every open field.  As Shinran shonin said Amida Buddha is there “for me alone”.  
For each of us especially and truly - just for you.

    What do we have to do to get some of this freedom?  
We step onto the path.   The common ground - maybe the only one - of all schools of Buddhism is a simple act called taking refuge. We take refuge in the Three Treasures, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Buddha is the supreme source of teaching, love, compassion, and wisdom. Dharma - the fundamentals of life and being. Sangha, in this place we find ourselves, this assembly of spiritually seeking beings.  In a Sangha we seek to deepen life.     
    How do we know if the path is right for us?  What  measure can we use?  Measures are abstract, useful for some purposes, but never touch the essence of anything. No measure can tell you how beautiful something is. None can count how pure a person's heart may be. The science of measurement is valuable and useful and limited. The root of spiritual seeking is something else. It is a different field of existence.  A different Buddha Land or realm. It is the one that makes life worth living.  We have to “deeply listen to the light”. This intuition is how we know we are on the right path.

Most of the things that are important to most people – love, loyalty, faith, goodness, meaning, purpose - are not measurable or countable.  They carry the meaning beneath what we can see and count.

We take refuge in the Dharma as a metaphysical map.  Metaphysics is the reality that underlies the simple physical stuff we see. The metaphysical dimension is all important, but you have to explore it for yourself. Doctrines just like maps are useful. They are never complete or final, but they tell you your are generally in the right place. Some maps are more detailed than others and some are more accurate than others, but the activity that matters is to use whatever map we’ve got to navigate and explore so that we can have direct experience of this place.  Of Reality.

In Buddhism, not everything is impermanent. This vast vision conveys to us a sense of life as eternally flowing through innumerable lifetimes and immeasurable diversity of circumstance toward unconditional love, unconditional compassion, joy and peace. Fundamentally the Buddha's teaches, life is meaningful and directional. Direction does not mean predestination: things can go backwards as well as forwards, but it is meaningful and life has purpose within the greater scheme.

Remember the common ground of Buddhism is taking refuge. : in the Three Treasures, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Taking refuge in these three has a saving power.

Some of you may think that the system here is you join the Sangha, learn the Dharma for yourself and become Buddha. That, however, is not taking refuge. We take refuge here. Refuge is not about taking these jewels in your own hands, it is about letting yourself be held by them. Our path is a series of deepenings of this act of refuge. Each step is an awakening of faith - Shinjin as we move along this path.

Refuge is the method of Buddhism. It is the way we connect to the higher meaning and interconnected web of life. It is the way the help of the Buddhas and all bodhisattvas is invoked. The feeling of taking refuge is not something that can be grounded in psychology or explanations. It has material and psychological consequences, but they are side benefits. The whole purpose is to transcend these and open the possibility of being liberated from them.   Don’t worry about it - take refuge.  You are OK just as you are.

Each deepening of refuge is a lessening of ego. One teacher says it “easy’s the I”  More Trust  - less Ego.  More faith, less ego. More Gratitude - less ego. This is how Buddhism releases us from the prison of our separate self.

I was reading Mindfulness magazine at the doctor's office the other day - they made Buddhism seem like a collection of methods for greater self-development, self-assertion, self-cherishing, self-esteem. Its really a psychology magazine. Buddhism is the opposite. Buddhism is not narcissism, but some techniques - misused - lead that way.  Actually in Mindfulness magazine - the never even mention Buddhism - which is odd.

As we participate in temple life and fold Buddhism into our lives, we are encouraged to be ever mindful of the objects of refuge - Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha - we bow to them, make offerings, revere and worship them. Being mindful of their wonderful qualities we become more aware of one's own - um - deficiencies. Becoming more aware of these shortcomings, our need to take refuge increases. Finally we can let go of self entirely, take refuge wholeheartedly and enter the Pure Land.  Entering in the Pure Land we have deep faith and confidence in the Unborn, the Unconditioned, the Unmade, the Deathless. The Absolute.  This is the Dharmakaya - the reality-as-it-is-ness that brought our seeking hearts here in the first place.  We can feel its out there and its in here.

With this faith I can live a wholehearted life, free from the bondage of selfishness. Along this path, we are led to a deep insight into our own being with all its limitation, fallibility, weakness, vulnerability, bind passions, and strengths. The more clearly we are aware of these limitations the more in need of refuge we realises we are.   
Shinran shonin put it this way…

“Although I take refuge in the true Pure Land way, It is hard to have a true and sincere mind. This self is false and insincere; I completely lack a pure mind. Each of us, in outward bearing, Makes a show of being wise, good, and dedicated; But so great are our greed, anger, perversity, and deceit, That we are filled with all forms of malice and cunning. Extremely difficult is it to put an end to our evil nature; The mind is like a venomous snake or scorpion.”

Being part of a sangha - taking refuge here - allows us to examine the limitations of worldly life, the limits of reason and of the limits of materialistic/secular world.  In time there comes a mild distaste for any relying on them. If that was the whole deal this would be a pretty depressing path - It is not.

Buddhists are notably joyful and light of heart.
Why so? Because they have awakened faith in a true refuge beyond themselves. Taking refuge is an act of faith. For a person who takes refuge, Buddha is a deeply treasured presence. If we think that taking refuge is just like joining an organisation  - we miss the essence and miss the supreme mystery. Far from reducing mystery to mundane, Buddhism is about seeing the sacred and wonderful in everything.

We need mindfulness and the other factors of enlightenment that flow from it. We need mindfulness of the treasure of Wisdom and Compassion that are always there for us. We find them on our path. But not just for us. The treasure is universal and unconditional, each of us encounters them in our own unique way on our own unique path.  Buddha speaks to each of us in our own language. Everybody is offered a path - has some spiritual treasure to rely on if they will just listen deeply and approach life naturally.  The name that calls offers it to us.  Buddhism helps us to “easy the I” with ever greater depth and confidence.

As we hiked in the forest when I could “easy the I” and not worry about the deepening mud, the rain - I knew it would be alright.  That is the best path to take.

We are happy to be home.  Let us share the blessing - Please say it too - 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

- Namu Amida Butsu  Namu Amida Butsu  Namu Amida Butsu -

Acknowledgements -  Bill Bollman, David Brazier, David Snyder, and Andrea Loseries


Reading 4oct15 From the Teragatta-“Verses of the Elders” Verses 1024 -1049

Venerable Ananda, the Buddha’s attendant and scribe, said….

1024. 82,000 Teachings from the Buddha
I have received; 2,000 more from his disciples;
Now, 84,000 are familiar to me.

1025. Who has heard nothing and understood nothing, He ages only oxen-like:
His stomach only grows and grows,
But his insight never deepens.

1026. Who has much heard and learned,
But who despises those of poor in learning,
Is like blind man holding a lamp.
So I think of such a one.

1027. Follow one who has heard much,
Then what is heard shall not decline.
This is the tap-root of the holy life;
and a Dharma-guardian you will be!

1028. Knowing what comes first and last,
Knowing the meaning well, too,
Skilful in grammar and in other items,
The well-grasped examine meaning.

1029. Keen in her patient application,
She strives to weigh the meaning well.
At the right time she makes effort,
And inwardly collects mind.

1034. All the directions are dimmed
And the Dhamma is not clear to me,
my noble friend has gone
And all about seems dark.

1035. The friend has passed away,
The Master, too, has gone.
There is no friendship now that equals this:
The mindfulness directed toward the truth.

1036. The old ones now have passed away,
The new ones are not pleasing,
Today alone I meditate
Like a bird gone to its nest.

1039. Through a full 25 years
As long as I have been in higher training
I have never had a thought of lust:
See, how powerfully the Dhamma works.

1046. Then was there terror, and the hair stood up, when he,The all-accomplished one, the Buddha, passed away.

1049. The virtuous, wise man,
The hero strong and ever resolute,
The guardian of the word so true,
Ananda found enlightenment now.