Welcome again to Reno Buddhist Center - so Happy to see you all this morning. Wow - some rainy cloudy days!
We have been occupied with the work of the temple and many projects around here. Thanks to all for the generous donations toward the Solar panel project. We are just a few hundred dollars away from our goal. Even small donations are much appreciated to get us to our goal. Dana - or giving - at the temple takes many forms and serves as the most important Buddhist practice. It helps us learn to let go. Sustaining the Dharma is the highest compassionate action. Thank you.
We’re going to talk about meditation today. Most people in America when you mention Buddhism - automatically think of meditation. Specifically silent seated meditation. This is a narrow view but accurate. Really - There are so many ways to meditate. As we have mentioned before Most Buddhist don’t sit and meditate - they chant. But we are not most Buddhists - we are … RBC.
What do we mean by meditation - mindfulness - Bringing to mind Buddha - Nembutsu?
Since one of our three main sutras is called the Meditation Sutra we do have a long and important connection to meditation. The techniques and practices the sutra describes are profound. This sutra is most accessible for me.
Buddhism always and only focuses on this core question - How can sentient beings live in abiding joy?
It’s the question that propelled Siddhartha from his home [palace] to his great “re”-discovery” of the Dharma. I say re-discovery because often in Gotama Buddha’s sutras he mentions the many Buddhas that preceded him. Buddhism is not about him and its about a transcendent path that exists in the universe - whether anyone follows it or not - The Dharma. The ultimate goal of Buddhism is the state of natural joy, wisdom, and compassion we call this bodhi or enlightenment.
The Buddha taught that understanding the changefullness of your self will make you happier and more compassionate. If we embrace our essential self-less-ness…
"guilt, shame, embarrassment, self-doubt, and fear of failure,
ebb away and we become a better neighbor."
The Buddha taught a way to live life in joy. We experience life as we do now, but without attachment. Most people are challenged to take the time to meditate or practice each day. Most people are not Gotama Buddha.
A common confusion comes from people who want to emulate the Buddha rather than follow his teaching. The Buddha was a Mahasattva - a great being - a kind of spiritual hero on a grand scale. Sakyamuni Buddha's great renunciation was a heroic first step toward the enlightenment of all, but it required his separation from his wife and child. He studied 2 forms of meditation with the greatest teachers of his time. This was all a Great individual sacrifice. He needed to do that to fulfill his bodhisattva quest to end suffering - to find a way of living in abiding joy for all. This is not required, not expected, or even not possible for all of us. And that is ok.
And too - Amida Buddha was an ancient Buddha of the same stature. A Mahasatvaa - Great being. A “wheel turner”. As the Bodhisattva Dharmakara he persevered through great sufferings, deep meditations, and ages of arduous practice to manifest his Buddha Field - for us. What we call the Pure Land.
They both were deep meditators - Let's look at the word here a bit - the English word meditation means -
think over, consider; study, practice, and in the original Greek it even means the practice of declamation [saying a thing out loud]. Shin Buddhism has four kinds of meditation activity.
These do not form an actual practice. We dislike and kind of don't use use the word Practice: This is the real thing. Not just practice for something else. We see life as a spiritual experience with a physical manifestation. We see that every action, even the most insignificant of daily life, can be an essentially religious action within the Way of the Buddha. No separation is reasonable. Since we Shin Buddhists live in the world and do not have the luxury of separating things the way a monastic lineage can. Our chief concern is the receiving of Shinjin - true entrusting - true and deep trust in the Infinite Wisdom and Compassion of the universe - Great Compassion - Amida Buddha.
Our meditation activities bring us to true entrusting and are the result of that awakening of faith.
The three important kinds of meditation we practice are: Chanting, Study, and Quiet sitting.
1. Chanting - Of all kinds - rituals and traditional chants in the temple and at home. The most basic chant is the Nembutsu. “Na-mu-A-mi-da-Bu. The word Nem-butsu - literally bringing to mind the Buddha. That is our meditation. Bringing to mind. Shinran Shonin saw more to this than a simple chant. He saw that when we bring the Buddha to mind we are truly and deeply connected to the ultimate. At that moment. The nembutsu is “the name that calls” - that’s a little mysterious - it means that when we take refuge in Amida Buddha - it is really a momentary experience of non-duality. It is Buddha bringing Buddha to mind.
2.Then we have Study - Maybe this is the most important meditation practice - actual participation in discussions at the temple. Rennyo - the second founder - is this gentle person here…
He pointed out in a pastoral letter that when we come together at the temple it is important that we consider and discuss the Dharma. I think he said something like “we shouldn't just get together and have rice and sake. We should talk about the Dharma.” This is an important meditation. We consciously contemplate the Dharma. Think and discuss what it means with fellow travelers on the path.
3. Quiet sitting - In Golden light Meditation on Wednesdays we call it Shamata - This is the form of quiet contemplation we first think when we say meditation. Many Shin temples offer this experience. It is a mental cultivation of Peace above all. The Buddha taught that it was necessary to clear the clutter of our monkey mind before deeper insight into the wisdom and compassion of the universe was possible.
This meditation is a means to calm and clear the mind in the turmoil of the world within and all around us. It is used to prepare the mind to hear, listen, and question the Dharma or contemplate Amida Buddha. We can become more understanding of the Now and grateful for the circumstances of life. It is Presence. Shinran said meditation is ”not a practice or a good deed”. It is not a practice we do to get enlightened, and its not a good deed we use so we gain merit. He rejected these motivations on principle as non-starters. This Quiet Sitting of Shamata has a long history in Buddhist culture. We sit, either with or without a subject of thought, and quiet our mind.
Lets try that now - very simple, but powerful. We will sit and simply identify the in-breath as “in-breath” and the out-breath as“out-breath”. So please close your eyes. And I’ll guide things a bit. Just Breath naturally.
o o Bell
Just look at your breath. when you breathe in, you know that this is your in-breath. When you breathe out, you are mindful that this is your out-breath. this is an in-breath, this is an out-breath.
Very simple, very easy.
The object of mindfulness is breath, and just focus attention on it.
Breathing in, this is in-breath. Breathing out, this is out-breath.
Lets keep doing that for a bit….
When you just see the breath, mental discourse will stop. Don’t think anymore. Bring attention to in-breath and the mental discourse just stops. That is the magic of this practice. You don’t think of the past anymore. You don’t think of the future. There is only breath.
Now enjoy in-breath. The practice is pleasant, joyful. Feel life - breath. You are breathing in, and while breathing in, you know that you are alive. The in-breath is a celebration of life, joyful. Every breath is a celebration of the infinite life of the universe you are part of.
o o Bell
Whenever anything in life challenges you and you feel your composure leaving - anger or fear or worry welling up - the Buddha counseled “return to the breath”. Simple real, practical and profound.
Some kinds of meditation are not right for us - The founder of our lineage, Shinran Shonin meditated as part of the Tendai monastic system for 20 years [from 9 to 29]. Tendai meditation had many stages of practice in which the ultimate was the 1000 day spiritual endurance practice, testing the physical and mental strength of the student. But it was not right for him. The problem was his strong passions and self-righteousness seemed to increase the more he practiced. Actually the practice make him less joyful and more unpleasant to live with. For him this system was not working. He saw, such practice led to comparing himself with others and self-congratulation at his skill. We need to avoid this. This is exactly what Rev. Jeff Wilson describes after his 10 year experience at the New York Zen Center. By the end of his stay there he was so proud of his sitting abilities that he was quite unpleasant to be with. He would enter the meditation hall with his perfected movements and perfect posture and pity the poor shlubs that were hacking their way through. That is when Jeff realized he needed to turn to away from a self-power practice toward Shin Buddhism. For him the Self Power path was not going to work. It was making things worse.
Shinran’s view is the same as the modern mindfulness movement - meditation is not going to lead to enlightenment. It can deeply calm the mind and let our natural intuition of gratitude for all this flow in.
When he realized this he left the monastery and studied and practiced with his teacher Honen. The person here. Honen’s teaching is for all of us. We know from the Larger Sutra that Amida Buddha vowed to embrace and liberate all beings from their entrapment in passion and ego. This is not a teaching for the highly attained - it is for the weak and not so perfect. Honen taught the ancient meditation of the Nembutsu - bringing to mind the Buddha. An easy way for people in a difficult age to simply seek re-birth in the Pure Land where they could then attain enlightenment. His view suggests we first just get out of the chaos. Then understanding can come. By his great vow for all sentient beings, Amida Buddha created his Buddha Field where conditions are ripe/right for attaining enlightenment.
The only condition to be born there is trust - simply trust - in the sustaining intention, of the wisdom and compassion of the universe - it is there for you. Trust develops with reciting Namu-amida-Bu. Through the power of this meditation on The Name a confused and calculating individual can be born into that land. This satisfied Shinran and he could see that “progress” and “attainment” were off the table. It is satisfying for me. Striving and self congratulating are off the table. Simply trust. In your heart.
Let's pause and try the nembutsu. All together. When we chant the Nembutsu we contemplate the great compassion that hold us all. Just as we are. We cultivate deep gratitude, so have a feeling tone of gratitude in your heart. Lets try it now. Right here. Warm gratitude feeling…. ok let's do the chant together….
Namu-amida-Butsu, Namu-amida-Bu, Namu-amida-Bu…
The Nembutsu is our primary form of meditation - focusing our mind on Amida Buddha and the meaning of his Vows for our lives. Nen means thinking on or recalling. Butsu is the Buddha. It is contemplation and reflection on the Buddha in our lives - the wisdom and compassion of the universe. Through our recitation of the Name, the mind can become focused on the nurturing and loving reality that embraces our lives. We are held - never to be let go.
The Nembutsu also expresses our gratitude for all this - this fantastic opportunity. As I said we don’t separate regular life from religious life. This is living the nembutsu in deep gratitude for all the compassion we receive all the time. And so we take refuge in Amida Buddha.
I want to extend Amida’s deep wish to all of you. 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 -
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.