--- Namandabs - Namandabs - Namandabs ---
Welcome everyone on this beautiful morning. Thank you for coming to the temple - just as you are. We are always happy to gather with friends - new friends and old friends. I am very happy to be speaking to you two weeks after Rev, Unno’s Dharma Talk. He was such a moving speaker. That said - I am always happy to talk about the Dharma with you.
It is with great joy that I tell you all that Rev. Shelley and I will be moving into the temple and living here full time. This is a big change for us but a bigger benefit for the Sangha. With priests living here, the sangha will be able to offer the Dharma to more people in more ways than before. It is through the generosity of the Sangha that we are able to do this. [Personally it feels like the old trust exercise of falling backwards. “Will they catch me?” I know you will - You already have.
Today my talk will focus on our important Dharma Sisters. Please understand that we consider [what some call] “gender bias” because we know it is inherent and systemic. As with all aspects of Buddhism, awareness is a first step. Seeing reality as it is is the last step. We want to see things as they are - we are OK just as we are. That is wonderful. The Wisdom and Compassion of the Universe - Amida Buddha - is there for us - just as we are.
But as we have noted many times, “We don’t usually feel that way”. Today I want to point out that half of us [Women] get the opposite message - you’re not ok - a bit more strongly than men do. And I am sorry for that. It is pumped out by Hollywood and Advertizing Media in very insidious ways. In counter force to that we intentionally thank our Dharma Sisters. The Shakuni among us.
Today is the “Go get ‘em sister!” aspect of reality brought into focus.
I want to talk about wonderful women who are great leaders and exemplars for us all: Sujata, Mahapajpati, Queen Videhi, Kannon, Green Tara, Eshini, Kakushini, Rev. Unno’s Great Grand mother, and Dr. Alicia Matsunaga. All wonderful Dharma sisters whose contributions make our meeting today possible.
Gender Qualities -
I’ll read a list of Qualities - think in your mind how it fits with the qualities we associate with female life. Generous Disciplined Patient Diligent Focused Wise .
These qualities are called the six Paramitas. Paramita is a sanskrit word that can be translated as “to have arrived at the Other Shore”. In Buddhism we use “Other Shore” to mean enlightenment. Joyful life without suffering. These qualities when expressed well are enlightenment itself.
When we consider them deeply we see that they each contain all the others. To be Generous - we have to be Disciplined, Patient, Diligent, Focused and Wise. As with Patience contained within are Generosity Discipline Diligence Focus Wisdom .
The first paramita is giving or generosity - DANA
Here is a story about giving... In the time just before the enlightenment of the Buddha when Siddhartha was following extreme practices of self denial…
The wonderful Dharma Sister Sujata was a taking an offering of Rice-Milk to a Forest spirit in hopes of getting a good marriage. But she came upon a man collapsed on the road - She put down her tray and saw he was barely breathing, he was very thin and looked like a skeleton covered in skin. Sujata cradled him and brought a bowl of Rice-Milk to his lips. Without opening his eyes he sipped the mixture. Slowly he regained consciousness. Sujata brought food everyday as Siddhartha meditated under the Bodhi tree. Until his enlightenment.
Sujata showed the first Paramita - Dana - selfless giving.
Giving counters greed, and ensures we will have enough resources to helping others in the future. The underlying meaning of giving is letting go.
Two kinds of giving.
giving of wealth, be it material resources or our time and energy.
When our giving becomes increasingly unconditional, we will begin to feel more liberated spiritually. When we give we feel contentment.
giving of teaching. Simply teach whatever we are good at and what others are not. A wonderful form of teaching is the Dharma, which can help people find lasting happiness and liberation.
When the Buddha had been teaching for several years, his father King Suddhodana died, he visited his home of Kapilavastu in Sakaya. Queen Pajapati, his step-mother, ask the Buddha to be ordained as a nun - a Bhikkhuni - The Buddha said “it was not possible”. She tried three more time to ask for ordination on that visit and each time the Buddha said it was not the right time.
After the Buddha had left for the city of Vesali. Queen Pajapati gathered the group of women who wanted to be ordained and proposed that they shave their heads, take the yellow robes and walk to Vesali. They walked the hundreds of miles, begged for food along the way, and arrived at Vesali.
The Buddha’s attendant Ananda was shocked to see the women. He could see from their appearance that they had walked from Kapilivastu. Ananda didn’t know what to do. Queen Pajapati asked to speak with the Buddha. Ananda first asked him…
“Lord, is it possible for a woman to attain the Fruits of Stream Enterer, Once-Returner, Never-Returner, and Arhatship?”
“Beyond a doubt” the Buddha answered.
“Then why won’t you accept women into the sangha? Lady Pajapati nurtured and cared for you from the time you were an infant. She has loved you like a son. Now she has shaved her head and renounced all her possessions. She has walked all the way from Kapilavastu to prove that women can endure anything that men can. Please have compassion and allow her to be ordained.”
The Buddha's concerns we about public reaction to the ordination. But ultimately he ordained the first group of Buddhist Nuns. Mahapajapati [as she was known by her buddhist name] was, Patient, diligent and Focused in the right measure. And benefited the Dharma teaching by opening its doors wide. Mahapajapati was opening discipline of a Buddhist life for all Women and herself.
The second paramita is discipline, which counters worries and unhappiness, and enables us to continue on our way to awakening.
In a broader sense, discipline is ethical behavior. Initially, as we begin to practice discipline, we focus on not harming. Gradually, we begin to develop and increase this virtue to its ultimate form - to benefit others.
The third paramita is patience, which counters anger and hatred, and helps us to avoid arguments and to achieve our goals. We need patience in almost everything we do. If we are in school, we need patience to persevere in our study. At work, patience helps us to properly accomplish our tasks. At home, patience is the foundation for interacting well with family members. Patience enables us to live in harmony.
The fourth paramita is diligence, or enthusiastic effort. It is the joy that we bring to our practice and to all that is worthwhile in our lives. It is the true delight that arises from deep within us when we are doing what is wholesome. It enables us to keep going when we feel tired or overwhelmed. It is refreshing and inspiring. Cultivating enthusiastic effort counters laziness, and brings joy to our lives as we feel a sense of accomplishment in finishing what we have started.
A new story for us is the story of Rev. Mark’s Grandmother. About a hundred years ago. Even though her husband was a priest, by local custom she was not allowed to listen to the Dharma talks [she needed to attend to the guests of the temple at that time on Sunday morning]. But Mrs. Unno, coming from a temple family herself, was deeply concerned with spirituality. To satisfy this need, she would wake up before dawn every morning - dress her children - take them to a morning service at a neighboring temple where the Temple master was famous for daily Dharma talks - and then bring them home and tuck them in bed again - all before her husband woke up. Her deep interest in the Dharma was so strong she kept this schedule for 50 years. And by this she instilled deep Dharma understanding in her children. And without this, the wonderful American Buddhist Rev. Taitetsu Unno would not have made Shin Buddhism accessible to us.
Generous Disciplined Patient Diligent Focused and Wise
This woman planted a seed that bore fruit in American Buddhism.
The fifth paramita is Dhyana or deep concentration. Our practice of deep hearing - to deeply sense the compassion of the universe around us, is possible through deep concentration. We become aware of our place in that compassion and it’s effect on us. Our minds become calmer and less agitated. Joy flows in when the ice of our delusion melts into the water of understanding.
We heard from Green Tara on Diligence as shown in her Vow. Her compassion is boundless. “She Who Ferries Across” is Green Tara.
The sixth paramita is wisdom. Wisdom counters ignorance, and enables us to know how best to help others and to improve ourselves; our ability to get along well with others. This wisdom not learned in books - it is our innate, all-knowing wisdom. Imbued deep in our Dharma sisters.
Another Dharma Sister that is very important is Eshinni - Shinran’s wife. Shinran broke his vows of celibacy by marrying the nun, Eshinni when he was 37. Shinran viewed their marriage as a turning point when he abandoned the traditional life of a Buddhist priest and defined the role of “Fellow traveler” that we follow here at RBC. Shinran and Eshinni both considered their partner to be a manifestation of the Bodhisattva Kannon and held deep reverence for each other.
Eshinni was born in Niigata Prefecture in 1182. We only known about her from ten letters she wrote to their daughter, Kakushinni. These letters were discovered in the temple archives in Kyoto in 1921. The letters give a glimpse into Buddhism practiced by ordinary women of this time. In the letters, Eshinni conveys her deep respect - almost reverence for her husband.
Besides giving insight into Shinran, the letters also tell about Eshinni’s life as an independent woman, managing land and staff and coping with famine during the 13th century. Eshinni did not depend on her husband for a living, she supported Shinran financially and materially. Eshinni clearly followed Shinran’s view that marriage was not an impediment to being a nun and to following her religious path. A life of supporting the Nembutsu path and service to the Dharma. Eshinni is revered for her dedication to Shinran during his teaching years.
Congregations followed the couple's example, where men and women led Shin temples as husband-and-wife teams. Eshinni was the "Mother" of Jodo Shinshu. One Letter reads...
I often think of your children and would like to hear the most recent news about them. I would really like to know about your oldest child. Oh, will there ever be a chance for me to visit you, or for you to come to see me once more while I am alive? Most likely not!
I am ready to go to the land of bliss at any moment. In the land of bliss we will be able to know everything clearly, so I hope that you will live the life of nembutsu and come join me there. I know that if we can meet in the land of bliss, everything will become clear."
Eshinni, age 88
Eshinni’s letters revealed normal concerns for her daughter and grandchildren in far away Kyoto. And important facts of Shinran’s personal life as well as his spiritual journey. Even recounting dreams they had.
Eshinni died at about age 89 in the village of Joetsu.
Generous Disciplined Patient Diligent Focused Wise
Several of us toured Joetsu and experienced a beautiful memorial hall dedicated to Eshini where we saw copies of the letters and had the great good fortune to be able to thank her in person at her grave site.
Shinran and Eshinni had six children - Kakushinni was the youngest daughter. Kakushinni was her father’s caregiver in his final years. She was about 30 years old when Shinran died. When Shinran died in 1263, he was virtually unknown to the Buddhist establishment of Kyoto.
And after Shinran’s death, Kakushinni is revered for planting the seeds of organization grew into today’s Shin Buddhism. She built the first mausoleum for Shinran on her land. In 1277 she donated this gravesite to all Shin Buddhist followers as a common memorial to Shinran. Later this memorial was known as the Otani Memorial (Otani Byodo) that we visited on our recent pilgrimage as well.
She wanted to keep Shinran’s teaching alive 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 recognized by the Emperor as the “Hongwanji” or Temple of the Primal Vow. Kakushinni’s foresight and deep appreciation towards the Nembutsu teaching saved Shinran’s work and established the foundation of Shin Buddhism.
Her great contribution in the formation of our branch Buddhism was essential. Like Sujata’s Rice Milk. Without it our path to the Dharma would have stopped. She was ...
Generous Disciplined Patient Diligent Focused Wise
Shinran himself felt this way toward our Dharma sisters. There is a famous passage which expresses the Buddhist vision of the total equality of all beings in Amida Buddha’s compassion:
“In reflecting on the great ocean of shinjin, I realize that there is no discrimination between noble and humble or black-robed monks and white-clothed laity, no differentiation between man and woman, old and young. The amount of evil one has committed is not considered; the duration of any performance of religious practices is of no concern. It is a matter of neither practice nor good acts…
It is simply [trusting the great compassion of the universe] that is inconceivable, inexplicable, and indescribable. It is the medicine that eradicates all poisons. The medicine of the Buddha’s Vow destroys the poisons of our wisdom and foolishness. - KGSO sect3
When he wrote about this gentle person here - Kannon Bodhisattva - (Kōtaishi Shōtoku hōsan), envisioning the Bodhisattva in many forms as Kuanyin, and Kannon, and Avalokiteśvara, Shinran writes:
He appeared in China
To benefit sentient beings;
He was reborn five hundred times
As both man and woman.
The Bodhisattva manifests as needed to save sentient beings from suffering. As spiritual beings we are not Man or Woman. We are sentient beings lost in the ocean of births and deaths. Capable of great compassion and hideous evil. The wonderful Dharma sisters we have recognized today were Generous, Disciplined, Patient, Diligent, Focused, Wise. They stand as strong examples of Buddhist life in compassion and courage. Showing us life on the other shore is possible and near by.
I have a strong feeling of gratitude to them all. Without any one of them I would not be here speaking to you: Sujata, Mahapajapati, Green Tara, Unno-Samma, Kannon, Eshinni and Kakushinni the mothers of Shin Buddhism.
We can learn from these great Buddhist women and practice their qualities - even in small measure - starting today, gradually, we will begin to look in the right direction, toward the Dharma and gradually we will awaken to the the Wisdom and Compassion of the Universe. Amida Buddha - goodness, contentment, and joy are already within us. We awaken to our true nature, - our Buddha-nature - Eternal, Selfless, and Good.
May you be happy and well;
May no harm or difficulties continue for you;
May you receive boundless compassion and care;
And may peace and harmony be restored to your heart
--- Namandabs - Namandabs - Namandabs ---
Dharma Talk - Celebrating Our Buddha Nature
Rev. Shelley Fisher
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]
Some parts of the story aren't fanciful at all. Queen Maya wanted to give birth at her family home with her mother there, but they didn't make it. That seems pretty realistic. It gives me a sense that this really happened, little surprises and all.
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 represent overcoming attachment to the six senses, we chant from the Heart Sutra - “no eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind”. Remember in Buddhism we have six, including Mind. We get attached and cling to these senses and their sensations [sense objects]. But we need to let go. Life is joyful when we just let sensations happen - without our wanting, clinging, or aversion.
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.”
Universal Buddha-Nature means that “All sentient beings have Buddha-Nature, but it is dormant (asleep inside of us), or covered with our delusions”. Amida Buddha was once one of us. It was through the perfect maturing of his Buddha nature that he completely rid himself of clinging and attachment for the sake of all sentient beings. Amida Once suffered as we suffer now, that brings us close to his heart, awakening our minds to the presence of Infinite Wisdom and Infinite Compassion - Amida Buddha - in us. Amida Himself is our Buddha-Nature. Amida's Great Love and Compassion is our Buddha-Nature. Nirvana (which we can easily realize in the Pure land) is our Buddha-Nature perfectly expressed. Amida’s Great Vow - “I will become a Buddha when, all Sentient beings can easily be born into my Buddha Field through my merits on their behalf.”
This is our Buddha-Nature fully expressed.
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.
Because everyone has Buddha nature, we treat all with the highest respect and greet each other with deep reverence in gassho, a bow. This is a wonderful part of our teaching - we respect others, your family, friends, teachers and even people you do not know as a Buddha. This gratitude begins in our minds and expands out. This attitude in gassho can start to vibrate in our environment. It is through gassho that we can fulfill the Buddha nature within us. Buddha nature is the pure white lotus within us. The lotus flower grows in muddy water, rising and blooming above the muck - coming to full flower we experience enlightenment. The lotus reminds us of the expression of our true spirit, born in murkiness fully flowering in the Pure Land.
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.
Many Dharma talks were shared by Shakyamuni Buddha during his 45 years of giving his important teachings. About 2600 years ago. Often he taught about the Tathagata Amitabha (Amida Buddha). Amida was the truth he had found in his Enlightenment. Shakyamuni Buddha was a manifestation of Amida Buddha, he himself was Amida.
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.
Welcome everyone on this beautiful morning. Thank you for coming to the temple - just as you are. We are always happy to gather with friends - new friends and old friends. The disaster in Nepal is close to my heart. I spent a couple months there traveling and studying and I am so saddened by the images of destruction I’ve seen. We can all give a little to help. Prayers to the Bodhisattva help too.
This week I was interviewed by a student studying Buddhism. It was about an hour interview but it brought many useful thoughts to mind. And I thank Taylor for bringing me to focus on the Dharma. Some of her questions were easy to respond to . Some were less easy. Two of those questions were...
What is Samsara? What is Nirvana?
If you have been a Buddhist for a while you have a provisional definition of these words. We continue to consider and gain understanding. They are good questions. And Shinran shonin was asked similar questions that give us his view of these ideas.
I want to start off with a story that will be helpful through my talk. Some things are difficult to talk about in life and in Buddhism. Sometimes I think maybe we collect these difficult things in Buddhism.
To illustrate this I return to the story of the turtle and the fish….
Once Upon a time, there was a turtle who lived in a pond with a group of fish. One day the turtle went for a walk on dry land. He was away from the pond for a few weeks.
When he returned to the cool pond, he met some of the fish. The fish asked him, "Mister turtle, hello! How are you?
We have not seen you for a few weeks. Where have you been? The turtle said, "I was up on the land, I have been spending some time walking around."
The fish were a little puzzled and they said, "Up on dry land? What are you talking about? What is this dry land?
Is it wet?" The turtle said "No, it is not,"
"Is it cool and refreshing?" "No it is not",
"Does it have waves and ripples?"
"No, it does not have waves or ripples."
"Can you swim in it?" "No you can't"
A school of fish had gathered by now and they all felt very confused. They knew the turtle had been gone, but what he said made little sense. He just said “no” to all their questions. They summoned the smartest fish in the pond - a wise old trout - After going through the series of questions and answers again the Trout thought he had figured out the riddle the turtle posed. trout said, "it is not wet, it is not cool, there are no waves, you can’t swim in it. So this dry land of yours must be completely non-existent, just an imaginary thing, nothing real at all." The trout was very proud of himself and some of the fish looked at him in admiration.
The turtle said, "Well may be so" and he left the fish and went for another walk on dry land….
Point of the story - Wow! What a challenge for the Buddha! Even if a Buddha understands everything. The fantastic challenge of explaining and teaching the Dharma other conditioned beings - That may not be in a Buddha’s power.
We here are all fish together. Fellow travelers as Shinran said. We follow the teaching as we can and we return to the Dharma regularly because it is fundamentally hard to understand.
The puzzle for the turtle is - How do we characterize realms that have similarities and differences without endless negation? How do we tell others about our unique experience and insight?
I describing Absolute Reality - we often find the Buddhist proverb, “Nothing is exactly as it seems, nor is it otherwise” is in operation. We see things in life through a veil, through conditioned views - through our mind state. Imagining past our own mind state is literally impossible. We rely on others who have gone before us to give insight into the next mind state. We rely on the Buddha for the Dharma. We are the fish in the story. We are in the pond, the pond is what we call Samsara.
What is Samsara? It is conditioned existence. An experience of existence that is conditioned by our thirsting mind state. Traditionally we describe Samsara as a state of being where we aimlessly wander in the six realms of existence - The Ocean of Births and Deaths. The six realms of existence are the fundamental modes sentient beings are reborn into. I’ll start by giving the traditional description...
1. Beings in Hell Jigokudō in Japanese. The lowest and worst realm, wracked by torture, burning, and characterized by aggression.
2. Realm Hungry Ghosts Gaki-dō in Japanese. Characterized by great craving and eternal starvation; Big stomach - small mouth.
3. Animal realm Chikushōdō in Japanese. The realm of animals and beasts, characterized by stupidity, servitude and animal urges.
4. Ashura Realm Ashuradō in Japanese. The realm of anger, jealousy, and constant war; the Ashura are demigods; they are powerful, fierce and quarrelsome; like humans, they are partly good and partly evil. Their aggression blinds them to what is real.
5. Humans. Nindō in Japanese. The human realm; Which you may be familiar with? These are beings who are both good and evil; Who experience both suffering and joy. Enlightenment is within their grasp, yet most are blinded and consumed by their desires.
6. Deva realm Tendō in Japanese. The realm of heavenly beings filled with pleasure; the deva hold godlike powers; some reign over celestial kingdoms; living in delightful splendor; they live for countless ages, but even the Deva belong to the world of samsara -- their great powers blind them to the world of suffering and fill them with pride -- and thus even the Deva grow old and die to be born.
Having said this - I don’t want you to think of these realms are only physical places. If that is comfortable that is ok. But did you notice when I was describing these mythic realms you searched your memory of experience for times you have been in these states? [Well maybe my mind does that but some of you are nodding your heads.] These are all states of being and states of mind the physicality is not so important. I just want to get the idea across that we may be born in Hell for a period of time and then find ourselves in a Deva/godlike condition. A process governed by our Karma [actions] and the unfolding of time.
Samsara is a realm of suffering - no matter where you are born.
As limited beings we make the error of equating Pleasure with Happiness. The “I-Me-Me-My” being inside me - my delusion of self - thinks that if I cling to things, or people, or ideas - it will be ok. This self seeks pleasure as an antidote for the pain of suffering. In the Dharma book group on Wednesday nights [at 6:30pm], we are reading a book by the Dalai lama called “The Art of happiness”. And in it he illustrates this very well. Our culture in particular seeks pleasurable experiences at the expense of happiness. We think that satisfying our desires for sensations is the same as happiness.
When we do this we are just like my dear Labrador retriever Chloe. Her greatest desire was for food. She longed for it and never stopped eating of her own accord. One time we left a bag of food open - she at 10 pounds of food in a go. She we very uncomfortable after that. But like Chloe when we seek the sensation of Victory, or when we Want a new pair of shoes. We come to the wrong conclusion that these momentary things will satisfy us in a way that ends the feeling of suffering inside us. But they don’t - they won't - they can't.
The Dalai lama has a fundamental premise that we “have everything we need to be happy”. That sounds pretty radical - “we have everything that we need to be happy”. It sounds obviously wrong. Like the trout in the story - I know what I know, and I know I need a few more things to be happy. Listen to that sentence - we hear it all the time from others and in our heads - “I need a few more things to be happy. “ But when I get that “one more thing” - I will briefly feel pleasure. Then it will be gone.
...as ephemeral as a drop of dew on a leaf, shining brilliantly one moment, gone the next.
He goes on to show Happiness is a state of being that we can all access. When we are content with what we have. When we are not driven by desire. When Chloe sat by the fire. Wanting nothing. She was happy. She existed in abiding joy.
All this wanting, thirsting, and desire for objects and experience is the source of the fundamental character of Samsara - suffering. I suffer without a new car. With the car I suffer with a big car payment for - used to be 3 years - now they are mostly for 6 years of suffering payment.
Samsara is conditioned reality conditioned by my mind state. Conditioned by my thirst for objects, ultimately for a sense of my separate self.
That was a long way around the mountain - but now I’d like to talk about Nirvana.
What is Nirvana? - Dr. Matsunaga told the story that when he came to LA to teach in the University he was completely surprised when on the first day of the first Buddhism class he taught. Several students wanted to know what Nirvana was. In 25 years in Japan He had never heard that question asked. Its because we Americans want to know the END - the GOAL. the Result...before we commit to a thing. So we ask the the question the fish asked the turtle. What is it like? And the turtle said it's not like anything you understand. Definition by negation is a dead end. So I’ll try it….
Nirvana is a realm of not-suffering. Nibbana means to “Blow out the flame of desire” or can mean “unbinding”. No longer bound by desire for becoming we are freed. It is a real of abiding Joy. It is an Unconditioned reality. It is Ultimate Reality. It is this same reality NOT conditioned by our mind state. If you look at reality without the lense of “I - Me -Mine” it must look very different. I literally can't imagine what that is. I go back to the proverb... “Nothing is exactly as it seems, nor is it otherwise.”
Usually people pick up the idea that Nirvana is a place. Samsara is a place - here in Reno. That’s a place and that's samsara, and we conclude that Nirvana is a place too. That is not the view of Buddhism. Nirvana is unconditioned reality. Reality experienced without views, without prejudice, without aversion or attachment. When the Buddha was asked if he experienced life like we all do he said “YES, but I am not take by it”. The regrets of the past and fears of the future are removed. Life is lived right here right now. In the Middle way.
What was Shinran Shonin’s view of these ideas?
Shinran was Tendai Buddhist priest who saw the limits of self power practice and struck out on a radically new and yet old path. Like all Buddhist paths - The aim of the Pure Land path is to break the bonds of Samsaric existence - of the power of the past that compels us through meaningless cycles of birth to death and death to birth. We talked about Samsara. It’s not a good place to get stuck. Sort of a Sargasso Sea of existence. We are driven by the fears of the delusional self for its fate in the future. Shinran saw the break out from Samsara is accomplished when we stop clinging to our imagined self. When we stop treating it as though it is true and real and simply trust in the Infinite compassion and Infinite Wisdom of the Universe. Trust in the activity of Amida Buddha. Shinran showed this path is available to all sentient beings because it is not the result of their self power. This True Entrusting does not happen through our own nature or insight or action, but through the working of the Primal Vow; the fundamental hold of self-attachment is broken by the Buddha.
Think about it, all our judgments of our own worth or worthlessness are based on our capacities - and as beings in Samsara we are conditioned beings our capabilities are flawed - Conditioned by a fundamental selfishness. Our self-power actions are at bottom limited and hollow. The world that emerges when we take refuge in the Wisdom and Compassion of the Universe, is not limited, not darkness, not a place where the only possibility is escape. But as Shinran states:
The compassionate light of the Buddha of unhindered light always brightens and protects the person who has realized true entrusting; hence the darkness of ignorance has already cleared, and the long night of birth-and-death is already dispelled at dawn.
Shinran’s view of Samsara and Nirvana is based on the lineage of the Pure Land teachings. The teacher Nagarjuna [up here] explained the doctrine of the two truths. He saw that Samsara and Nirvana were inter-penetrating realities. They are both real. Not separate places in any sense and not fundamentally dual. All things we see are empty of separateness. Everything we see is an event a not an individual object. Nagarjuna shows us that Samsara is really real. The stuff of Samsara is the stuff of Ultimate-Reality. Ultimate reality is Samsara seen with a Buddha’s eyes.
In the Ka-cha-yana-gotta Sutta the Buddha said,
"By and large, this world is supported by a polarity, that of existence and non-existence. But when one sees the origination of the world as it actually is with right discernment, 'non-existence' does not occur. When one sees the cessation of the world as it actually is with right discernment, 'existence' does not occur."
Easier to follow in the Heart Sutra, the Buddha said,
"Form is no other than emptiness; emptiness no other than form. Form is exactly emptiness; emptiness exactly form."
The absolute is the relative, the relative is the absolute. Together, they make up reality. This helps us not make a mistake in thinking that the the world of Samsara is a false reality and the world of Nirvana is a true reality. No - these are the two truths, not the one truth and one lie. Both truths are true. We can abide in “Nothing is exactly as it seems, nor is it otherwise.”
Why have I told you all of this today? Because we need to know that Abiding Joy is is near by. Very near by. We teach and learn the Dharma to help us make it through the night. To give us insights that will free us from the suffering of Samsara and bring the true Happiness of Nirvana. We shouldn't forget the advice of the Sakyamuni Buddha he gave in the The Water-Snake Sutra. I’ll just read part of it….
Thus have I heard:At one time the Buddha was at Mala, and taught this lesson.
"To those who do not wisely examine their purpose, these teachings will not yield insight. Some people, for example, study the teachings only to use them in argument. To them, these teachings, wrongly grasped, will bring harm and suffering.
"Suppose a man wants a snake. He sees a snake, and when he grasps its tail, the snake bites him. Because of that, he suffers death or pain, and why, because of his wrong grasp of the snake.
"But suppose a man wants a snake, sees a snake, and with a forked stick holds it firmly down. Having done so, he catches it firmly by the neck. Similarly, there are some here who, having learned, examine wisely the purpose of the teachings. To them, these teachings will bring welfare and happiness.
We need to have views. And we need to trust them as long as they make sense. We need to use them skillfully. We need to let them go when they stop helping us. If we are suffering and wounded by our constant thirsting for pleasures in a misguided view pleasure makes us happy. Then we need to leave that snake behind. And Pursue True Happiness.
When we see past the ideas and constructs of this existence and experience the clarity of a Buddha in the Pure Land of Amida Buddha then we can leave these thoughts behind and return to help others reach the Other Shore of understanding.
--- Namandabs - namandabs - Namandabs ---
*We use many sources in the Dharma talk. Nothing here is new or proprietary just retelling of the Dharma presented to the Sangha as a live teaching.
READING - 3may15
The Enlightenment Sutra
Thus I have heard - The holy one gave these teachings to the monks gathered at Rajagiriya…..
You who would follow the Path [Teachings of Buddha]
Should concentrate earnestly morning and night
With resolve in your heart, on these eight Teachings the Buddha
Has given to free us from suffering's grasp.
This is the first of the things to remember:
Throughout all the world there is nothing that is permanent.
Even the Earth has the nature of transience.
Bodies are centers of sorrow and emptiness.
All of my parts are devoid of self,
Are dependent on causes and therefore impermanent,
Changing, decaying and out of control.
Expectations of permanence cause disappointment,
and cause attachments that lead to wrongdoing.
Observing the world in this light, you may
progress toward freedom from birth and from death.
This is the second thing to should remember:
More desire only brings more suffering.
Birth and death, sorrow and weariness all come from
Greedy attachment to things of this world.
But controlling desire cuts the root of unhappiness,
Leaving the body and mind to relax.
This is the third of the things to remember:
Insatiable cravings for things of this world
Only cause you to pile up more useless possessions,
A seeker of freedom should let go of craving
And, seeing it's uselessness, grow in contentment.
Rejecting life's baubles and seek the Way.
This is the fourth of the things to remember:
Laziness leads to your own degradation.
Always work just as hard as you can
Because only this can solve all your problems
And so be released from the things that trouble you,
Finally escaping to Infinite Light.
This is the fifth of the things to remember:
The roots of unhappiness spring from ignorance.
Remember to listen and read to develop knowledge,
So as to aid other sufferers, hoping to
Bring sentient beings Nirvana's release
And awaken them all to Enlightenment's bliss.
This is the sixth of the things to remember:
Do not think ill of the poor
Leading to discord and further unhappiness.
Following Buddha's example, we always
Treat every being with love and respect.
Having malice toward none, dwell in contentment
And aid and encourage all beings to Peace.
This is the seventh thing I should remember:
The passions lead to sin and to sorrow,
But students of Dharma won't drag themselves down
By relying on pleasure to bring themselves happiness.
Better to think of the simple life,
Happy and free from the causes of misery.
Seeing the benefits brought by the Teachings,
This is the eighth of the things to remember:
The flames of existence are hard to escape.
They bring us to pain and to sorrow unlimited.
Resolve to awaken from slumber
And, feeling concern for all sentient beings,
Arouse an intense dedication to help
All to attain Perfect Peace.
These are the thoughts that lead to enlightenment,
This is the path that was traveled by the Buddhas, the great Bodhisattvas.
These are the truths they remembered which brought them release.
Follow them carefully, Develop compassion and wisdom together
Escape to the other shore
Where, freed from suffering, you can return
To the realm of Samsara in comfort and joy,
Bringing freedom and peace to all sentient beings.
These thoughts are tools that will help you remember.
To follow the Teachings, always
Remember these eight ways of looking at life,
Gaining the wisdom and peace of Nirvana
For only by this will you always be free
From the wheel of rebirth with its pain and its sorrow,
At last and forever to finally find rest.