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Ohigan - the Other Shore and the Middle way

posted Sep 20, 2015, 5:32 PM by Reno Budd


Good Morning, I would like to welcome everyone you again Reno Buddhist Center - Thanks to everyone who came to our Sangha picnic yesterday. Old friends and new.   We shared food and thoughts and just played together.

We are here today to celebrate the Fall Equinox - a perfect balance between daylight and darkness occurs on this day - it is natural balance.  The middle of two extremes.  For Buddhists in particular, this is a significant happening. Dr. Matsunaga always used to say that It reminds us of the natural balance of life and to try and maintain that sense of equanimity each day.    A Middle Day.     In ancient Buddhist societies this day twice a year was a natural reminder of the Buddha’s teaching of the Middle Way.   In most places the equinox day has mild weather and the hard work of farmers has eased.  A good time to learn the Dharma.  In Shin Buddhism the Holiday for this day is Ohigan - literally “OtherShore” day.  As we saw in Zendo’s White Path Parable - it is not without dangers.

The last Dharma Talk was about the Heart Sutra - The sutra’s actual name is “Insight that Brings the Other Shore  - Sutra”. We talked some about the Other Shore then.    In the  Ala-gadu-pama Suttra Buddha describes the Dharma as raft that has to be grasped correctly to cross from this shore [the Eastern shore of our Saha world] to the Other Shore, the Western shore of clarity and understanding. The metaphor of the Other Shore is common in Buddhism  - meaning the non-dual state of seeing reality as it is. On this special - Middle Day-  we can pause and reflect on the Dharma.

Dr. Matsunaga  - my teacher- had a funny way of describing the Middle way at New comer’s circle we hold here after the Service.  This is a place for people new to Buddhism to ask questions about the Dharma.  He said the MIddle way was like driving a car on the road - you should stay right in the middle. - Not too much this way - not too much that way.   That makes good sense. [But don't do that on a two way road!]

I want to talk about three different aspects of this Middle Way we have embarked upon together.

The Middle between Being and Non-Being

The Middle between Indulgence and Denial

The Middle between The Past and the Future

When the Buddha first taught about the Middle way his insights into life were simple and profound. He saw that ….

  1. Life is a Bumpy Road  - we don’t get through it w/o difficulties and challenges.   The old word for this is Dukkha.

  2. Life is Impermanent - nothing stays the same from moment to moment.   The old word for this is Annicca.

  3. Life is Interdependent - We are all part of everything we have effects and are affected by the universe.

  4. Life is Fundamentally Good - Joy and meaning are here, occasional bumps and all.   The old word for this is Nibanna

The Buddha wants us not to suffer.  That is an expression of the Primal Vow. And we can do that by living life in this moment  in the Middle Way.

The Middle between Being and Non-Being.

Last  service I talked a lot about Ryuju - Nagarjuna - The first teacher in our lineage -  and his views on Emptiness.  Does anyone remember what is meant by Emptiness?    “Empty of Separateness”  Yes.   On page 13 of the Shoshinge - Ryuju “destroyed false views of Being and Non-being. “

How did he do that?   He showed that all things are really events.   It was a deep philosophical discussions - the middle between the views of the self -   Some hold that there is an Eternal and Changeless Soul  - We reject this view.

Some hold that there is no ongoing existence - We reject this view.   

The first type of view is called "the error of eternalism" (sassata-vaada), while the second is called "the error of annihilationism" (uccheda-vaada). They both in fact miss the point.

The Buddhist view is that a real stream of consciousness flows onward — impelled by ignorance and craving — from life to life. Though the process is impersonal, the illusion of personality continues as it does in this life.

This is the Middle View and so the Middle Way.

Middle way was taught by Sakyamuni Buddha in the...
      The Sutra on the Middle Way  Translated by Ven. Thic Nat han

Its short, so I’ll read most of it….

Ananda Said….

I heard these words of the Buddha one time when the Teacher was staying at a forest guest house in Nala. At that time, the Ven. Kacha-yana came to visit him and asked, “The Buddha has spoken of Middle Way. How would the Buddha describe the Middle Way?”

The Buddha told the venerable monk….

“People in the world tend to believe in one of two views: the view of being or the view of nonbeing. That is because they are bound in a kind of delusion - a wrong perception. It is wrong perception that leads to the concepts of being and nonbeing. Kacha-yana, most people are bound by their prejudices and and preferences, grasping and attachment. Those who are not bound by the internal knots of grasping and attachment no longer imagine and cling to the idea of a self.

They understand, for example, that suffering comes to be when conditions cause it, and that it fades away when those conditions are absent. They n o longer have any doubts. This understanding has not come to them through others; it is their own insight. This insight is called Right View of the Middle Way, and this is the way the Buddha would describe the Middle Way.”SA 301:   Saṃyukta Āgama Translator: Thich Nhat Hanh

Sakyamuni  helps us see that reality is surely real, but that it is in constant flux or change.   When we have the wrong perception of the eternity of things when we cling to that  - just like when we cling something moving - suffering results.   And likewise when we deny the reality of existence, suffering results.

The Other Shore is the Middle Way.   Seeing reality as it is.   Living Now.

Dr. Matsunaga always counseled us to find the “dynamic middle” in life.  We are confronted with many choices each day.  A notion of this dynamic middle is  helpful  here too.

The Middle between Indulgence and Self-Denial
In our lives in America it is easy to have a pretty distorted view of this. What is Indulgence?   What is self-denial?    In the time of Sakyamuni Buddha it was easier to see.   It was dramatic and mythic.  

If we look at the world today we are like Princes. Most people in the world don't have what we have. Most people in the world don't have what the poor in America have.

I am reminded of the story of my sister one Christmas.  She was about 12 years old and had received a few dollars from grandparents that didn't know what to get her and so did my brother.  They pooled their money and bought it all on bacon!  In our house usually each person got one piece of bacon [“normally” if it was a special occasion breakfast we had bacon]. Rarely two pieces .

So they probably felt denied of adequate bacon.  And they wanted to indulge their craving for bacon. They went to the store and bought two pounds of it. Came home and while I was playing with my new Aquaman action figure - they fried it up.   I remember it smelled good.  Then the big feast.  But I was shocked when I wasn't allowed even a piece. “Its my bacon” she said and slapped my little hand. They ate and ate until it was all gone. I don't know maybe 20 pieces each.

Needless to say they were uncomfortable the rest of the day and unable to enjoy Christmas dinner.  If there is a moral to the story I think it is pretty clear - self indulgence does not bring happiness.  It brings problems.  It makes us unable to see the world as it is.  If the indulgence becomes habitual even dependence and addiction can follow and many more sufferings fill our life.

But similar troubles come from self denial.   In the case of the Buddha he pursed extreme ascetic practices for several years and nearly died from inadequate nutrition.  If not for Sujata the village girl giving him a bowl of rice porridge - he would have not survived.   And we would not be here.

In our modern world it might seem that self denial is not a problem - my Bacon story is more common. But there are many who harbor difficult feelings for themselves.  Strongly criticizing themselves and denying themselves the basics love that we all need to care for others - Self love is important.  Appreciating our great gifts has to come before we can share them with others.   When we practice the Metta Meditation we always start with sending feelings of warmth and deep caring toward ourselves, then our loved ones and then the rest of the world.

  Many people in our society harbor these unfortunate feelings toward themselves. It may begin as a harsh word internalized and grow into a life threatening condition such as anorexia or suicidal thoughts.   If you struggle with any form of these self hatred problems - it is very important that you seek out help.
Under the condition of this distorted mind we can think that denying ourselves is good.  Some religious traditions put high value on the ability to deny the body its basic needs in seeking a higher plane of consciousness.  Buddhism completely rejects this type of aesthetic practice.   Just as indulgence distorts the mind and blinds us to reality as it is, so  severe denial  blinds us.   When the Buddha tried this practice he almost died if not for the kindness of Sujata.

There is a Middle Way.  This is the path we follow to give ourselves the nourishment we need both physically and spiritually without overindulging. Sometimes it is a difficult path to follow.  We aren't sure if we are doing enough, or studying enough, or if we are resting too much or playing too much.   Relaxing the I-Me-Me-My is the thing to do.  Take a dispassionate view of you life and chart a course that feels like the dynamic middle to you.  The Buddha recommended that we shine our own light on our life and chose our own actions care-fully.  this is the Middle way between indulgence and  self-denial.   

The Middle between The Past and the Future

This is an essential teaching.  The Buddha taught us that there is no existence except in the present.   This moment now is all there is.  The past and our memories of it are not reality.   They are echoes of the real moment called now.

The same is true of the future. There is no reality in the future.  It is an imagined fiction we conjure up to satisfy our separate self and its need to pretend it is a stable self existent thing.  Its not.

If I long for a vacation to the Disneyland all year. And don’t think of much else all year - to the exclusion of friends and family sometimes. I am living in a dream. What happens if I break my leg the day before the trip?  I can’t go -  The dream of the trip didn’t really exist and I am disappointed. I suffer a little bit.

In the Araña Sutra the Buddha was asked why his students have such good complections….

They do not mourn for the past,
They do not yearn for the future,
They live on the present...

This is the essence of Middle Way.   Somewhere between the two extremes there lives a juuuust right way of living.  In the Dhammapada the gatta on Craving the Buddha says…

Let go of the past, let go of the future.

Let go of the present.
Having gone beyond becoming,

with mind completely freed,

you will never again come to birth and aging.
                                                  DP verse 348

This adds a wrinkle - because letting go applies to all aspects of life.  Letting go of the past is very difficult.   When we remember an experience our brains actually react similarly to it happening to us.  Sometimes we can’t see the difference. The point is that living happens in this present moment.

Life lived only in pursuit of goals and tasks is distorted. And the living is lost.  The Buddha taught us that living only really happens right now. This is one aspect of the Middle Way.

Do your remember the Harry Chapin song “Cat's Cradle”?  It is about this effect.  Not living in the Middle Way.  I can’t read the lyrics now or I’d  break down crying - just the sadness of life unlived. If you remember the song...

“When you comin' home, Dad

I don't know when, we'll get together then

You know we'll have a good time then”

The father puts off his relationship with his son until someday. A day that will never arrive.  This is a practical immediate teaching to apply today.  Please don’t let this precious unrepeatable life go by without hearing deeply - what wonderful, joyful world that surrounds you. We call this Monpo - Deep hearing of the Light of Amida Buddha.  Wisdom and compassion are everywhere if we can just get out of the way and see it.   It is a core practice of the Middle Way.

The Middle way exists in the Nembutsu - saying Namu Amida Butsu.   This practice is a completely present moment in the now. The dynamic middle where I am fundamentally connected to all that is was or will be.  The Vow of Amida Buddha only acts exists in the now.  To save all beings no matter their nature.  That is the universal vow.  The only act required is to sincerely and deeply call out.   The small self calls out to the larger universe and is rescued - never to be let go. You are ok just as you are. The Wisdom and Compassion of the universe help you to be happy. Help you to be free from harm. Help you to receive boundless compassion.  And fill you heart with peace and harmony.  

The Buddha’s teaching invites us to discover the world with ease. Not expecting, not projecting, not clinging. This ease can be found everywhere: in chanting the Nembutsu, in meditation, in the supermarket, wherever we are. With the middle way, we come quietly to rest in the reality of the present, where everything exists.  The Middle is a joyful experience of moving out of should, out of gaining, out of duality. It is living in the reality of the present. As one teacher put it, “The middle path does not go from here to there. It goes from there to here.”  The middle path lets us see the presence of the infinite wisdom and compassion of the universe.  In the reality of the present, life is clear, vivid, awake, empty of separateness and filled with possibilities.

    When we discover this middle path, we neither remove ourselves from the world nor get lost in it.  We can be with all our experiences in their complexity, thoughts and feelings and drama as it is.
We can be at peace with tension, paradox, and change.  Instead of seeking resolution, waiting for the chord at the end of a song, we let ourselves open and relax in the middle.  In the middle we discover that the world is workable. The Buddha teaches us to open to the way things are. Of course we can always imagine more perfect conditions, how it should be ideally, how everyone else should act.  But it’s not our job to create an ideal world. It falls to us to just see how it is, and to learn from the world as it is.  For the opening of the heart, conditions are always good enough.  Amida Buddha tells us, we are ok just as we are.

Thank you for your kind attention -  Lets share a blessing with each other ...

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 -