Welcome all - Many fun things happening at RBC. Chanting, Meditation and Book group. Men’s group was last week and women’s group is next week. We made progress on the new sign. Re-modeled much of Hiroma Kitchen and weeded! Sometimes Rev. Shelley suggests we rename RBC - “Our lady of the perpetual project”. But stuff’s gotta get done- Right?
Starting with a story - The apricot and plumb blossoms remind me of growing up in Marin county. In the Spring we used to climb and climb among the blossoms. One time we wanted to make a rope swing. The only rope we could find was tied and tangled on another branch. I remember sitting there and trying to untie the rope. I was in 2nd grade so it was like trying to untie the Gordian Knot. Anyway no short cuts, I had to untie it to have a long enough piece to swing by. I tried pulling and prying with a stick. That didn't work - I think it made things worse. Then I tried working the rope back on itself. I was in mid knot so that didn't work. Then I tried working it backwards from the free end. That seemed to do the trick. And we made the swing. The puzzle of non-self is like a knot. Forcing and pushing doesn't solve the puzzle. Gently loosening is the best.
The Buddha taught about Anatta - non-self - In a world where all other world-views assumed a permanent eternal unchanging soul was in every being. Buddha realized that what we feel is actually a delusion of self. When we live this way we are not joyful. He taught that if we wake up to the true reality of things - realize selflessness - troubles will fall away and joy flows in. Why is this so and what can we do about it?
The selfie-ness is the cause of Anger - Craving - Jealousy- Pride and Ignorance. Ignorance is the worst - the root cause of the delusion. We don’t know who we are. We are ignorant of who we are and we identify with this presumed “self”. Right now we all have the feeling “we are here and we are listening to the Dharma talk” - what we call identity is formed around our name, our job, our likes and dislikes - we strongly identify with this construct. It drives our choices in life. The trouble is identifying with the attitude of I-Me-Me-My divides us from reality. We feel as though there is duality in the world - us and them - When really there is oneness. In large part we believe in the self. The self is the experiencer of pain and pleasure. As long as we believe there is someone - Me - here who experiences the pleasure and pain we will continue to have difficulties. Under the feeling of self we are in a state of constant bouncing between the two - between the wanting and the not-wanting. This makes for a very agitated being. Constantly bouncing back and forth between the two. Always waiting for the next shoe to drop is a hard life. We can’t find peace Joy or- Equanimity that lasts.
The Buddha recommended that we examine life. Why do we feel this way? Where does this “I-me- me-my” that we feel reside?
Is our name our self?
We are very attached to names - we are frustrated when someone misspells it, or when another person has the same name - its a little befuddling. “Hey - buddy that’s my name”. Its almost like we lose our identity if someone has the same name as us. Well - yes - identity is separate and the world is not. The Buddha wants us to look at things - closely and calmly - are we really our names? No.
Many people have changed names and they are still apparently the same person? When I was ordained as a priest I got a new name - Shaku Shu Nen - it means Wisdom of the Nembutsu - having this other name doesn't really change who I am. It didn’t make me wise when I got that name. Maybe they wanted me to work toward that and I do try.
What about the Body? Maybe the body is the place where the “I-me- me-my” resides. When we look at a picture of our selves 15 years ago. Is that the same you that is you today? Well the cells are all replaced - blood cells last about four months. The grandad cells are the bone cells they live for about ten years. My point is that after 15 years there is very little - of that previous you alive there any more. And don't forget. there are more living organisms in and on your body than there are people on planet earth. They live and die every day. Is this colony “me”? With constant change how can the body constitute the permanent self?
The Buddha saw that we are actually constantly re-constituted from five categories of stuff - really they are Heaps-of-Stuff - what he called the 5 skandas...
form feeling consciousness perception mental-formations
Say them with me …
form feeling consciousness perception mental-formations
He taught that when a sense organ comes in contact with a sense object - like when your nose comes in contact with the aroma of fresh baked bread - consciousness arises. Once this happens we have a feeling about it - feelings come in three types Pleasant feeling, Unpleasant feelings, and Neutral feelings. Notice this is before we know what is is. The we experience perception - nose consciousness recognizes the smell as baking bread. Then we experience what the Buddha called Metal formations - all the ways we react to a sensation process - mentally - so our wholesome or unwholesome intentions that arise in response to the sensation process. “I want bread”, “I want the bread with butter”, “Where’s the butter”. These metal formations are the habitual intentions that lead to actions of body speech or mind - they lead to our Karma. This Metal formations stuff is where we develop all our ideas, opinions and prejudices - it is the place where we develop positive qualities of mind - or not. This is where we have some measure of ability to shape our metal habits and the person we want to become. The Buddha described about 51 different metal formations we experience. [not going to list those]
This is important because the Buddha shows us that we are not at the mercy of our previous actions, we have a measure of control to influence our impulses and intentions as they arise. But habits of mind are hard to break. These five aggregates all occur interdependently and are changing from moment to moment. No one of these is the self. The self we identify with is really the confluence of these five heaps of stuff. And my five heaps of stuff are at times intermingled with the heaps of stuff that constitute you. And the room and the world and the solar system all intermingling and inter-being together.
If we develop some awareness of this process of the becoming of the self in each moment, we can change and direct our self in a wholesome way. We can decide whether or not to we act-out when someone at work makes a snide comment - or we can develop the habit of responding with forgiveness when faced with a challenge. If we understand this teaching, we kind of de-personalize the thought. We won’t see the thought as “my thought”, instead it is the thought arising. If its not my anger, then I don't have to go to the mat for it. Do I. I can walk away. Or engage constructively.
This teaching shines the light of day on the workings of the false self - the delusion of self. And the great thing about delusions is that they are like vampires - they wither in sunlight. This helps us see thoughts and impulses for what they are just the heaps of stuff happening and not “our precious identity” that must be defended. We can become peaceful observers of the unfolding of the mind. This brings calm and joy where there was agitation and difficulty. Belief in this permanent and inherently existing self brings suffering. Freedom from this delusion brings joy.
The Buddha used the common example of a car - well he said chariot - A car is made from different parts - chassis, wheels, engine, glass - there is no real one thing that is CAR there. It’s just an assembly of parts. The self is like that - its all these different processes happening together that seems like something solid and permanent - but its not - really. We are bound by this delusion. We are constrained by the misperception that we are a self. We can only go so far. We can’t grow and become as sentient beings. Because we are bound to the “I- Me-Me-My”. Believing like this we are limited and constrained in a world that is open and free. Being limited in a free world is not joyful. We can be joyful if we let go the self and leave the self behind. That is what the Buddha wants us all to do. He wants all sentient beings to do that.
All of them. Everywhere. Yes - You too.
We are not our body. We are not our thoughts. We are not our feelings. We are not our perceptions.We are not our mental formations. If realize that, we can be freed from clinging to the idea of self - and the difficulties of life end.
“HE hurt ME” “YOU took MY thingy away” “THEY forgot MY promotion”. “THEY did this to ME”- none of these work anymore. They stop making sense. If you remove “I- ME-ME-MY. In fact the seem pretty silly. Equanimity comes and joy flows in. We can be at peace. When we focus on these thoughts, we spend all our time agitated, clinging to the “I- ME-ME-MY”. Imagine trying to hold onto the water in a stream - hands clenched and grasping onto the water that slips between our fingers at every instant - a very frustrating experience - add to it that we actually believe our life depends on this grasping and the opportunities for Joy are far between. Stress tension, and anxiety comes from this clinging - grasping - suffering and Dhukka result. If we can let go that clinging. Open our hands in the cool water of the stream - feel it flow over us - Real clarity flows in. Peaceful and calm become easy and accessible. This has happened to us all from time to time for brief periods. Our judgement becomes realistic instead of skewed. Relationships become whole instead of “sided” and dualistic - Us and Them goes away. One Buddhist teacher in Thailand says it this way...
If you let go a little, you will have a little happiness.
If you let go a lot, you will have a lot of happiness.
If you let go completely, you will be completely happy. -Ajahn Chah
Sometimes when we talk about letting go the self. People worry that this is somehow dangerous or suicidal. “If my clinging to self was gone would would I have reason to eat? or even get up in the morning?”
The example of the Buddha is clear. He didn't disappear or turn to smoke. He became a wonderful compete person. Joyful and kind. He still had form - feeling - perception - mental formations - and consciousness. He just didn't identify with them. The thought that I am this body, or I am this thought, or I am this gender...I am this whatever was gone. From the Bahuna Sutra...
"Freed, dissociated, & released from form, the Tathagata dwells with unrestricted awareness. feeling... perception... fabrications... consciousness... birth...aging... death... stress... defilement, the Tathagata dwells with unrestricted awareness.
"Just as a red, blue, or white lotus growing in the water, rises up above the water and stand with no water adhering to it, in the same way the Tathagata — freed, dissociated, & released from these ten things — dwells with unrestricted awareness." -Bahuna Sutta
The Buddha lives like we do, but without clinging to the self ideas. Freed and aware in joy and compassion. We aspire to this realization. We are all capable of this realization. We all have this Buddha nature inside of us.
How do we get there? What is the path?
The path has eight aspects - like the spokes of this wheel - Understanding Thought Speech Action Livelihood Effort Meditation and Concentration.
This constitutes what we call Buddhist practice. Living life in a Buddhist way. What we find is that the illusory self - really a delusion of self - when it is looked at with any effort, tends to weaken. It wilts a bit when examined. It fries in the bright light of understanding. Dogen Zenji said it this way…
“To study the Path is to study the self.
To study the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things”
― Dōgen Zenji
Applying Buddhist teaching is an ongoing process. Untangling and untying the knot of self takes time. Being a Buddhist is not an end, its a process. Sometimes in my interactions with folks from other traditions I run into the Rabbi. The Rabbi is always after me about not being a good Buddhist. I should do this and I should be active for that cause. He seems to not understand that I am not The Buddha, I am a Buddhist. I am not responsible to perfection, rather I completely acknowledge my bombu nature and walk a path toward wisdom and compassion. We need to recognize this is a very difficult process. It goes against our programming. Modern culture is absolutely opposed to the Buddha’s insights. We walk this way against the stream.
The “Self Help” the title of this talk refers to is this process. Help the self melt. We engage in the process of gently and compassionately calling-the-self-out for its actions and habituating away from “I-Me-Me-My” mode in a real human life. That is the Buddhist path.
How do we do it? Sometimes we say that the first practice in Buddhism is Dana - Selfless Giving. Generosity is a self melter - Self grows through possessiveness. Like a knotted fist: when you open the hand to give, there’s no more fist—no more self. Giving untangles the knot of self.
We can give so much in our life - many opportunities to untangles the knot of self. For example, you can give time, helpfulness, donations, restraint, patience, non-contention, and forgiveness. Any path of service - raising a family, caring for others, many kinds of work - incorporate generosity. We also give to the temple. A lot of traditions do.
I asked an LDS friend how they did Dana in their tradition. He said they had an institutionalized tithe. They bill the members 10% of their annual income on a monthly basis. He said it was from the bible somewhere. I’m not a bible scholar, so I take him at his word. But 10% - ouch.
So then I asked the Imam at the NNMC how Dana was handled in their tradition. He explained that zakat was a Pillar of Islam. All things belong to Allah, wealth is just held by human’s in trust. Zakat means ‘purification’. The Kor’an is quite technical. It says the percentage a believer should give is calculated as follows - Of the gold, silver, and cash funds that have reached an amount of 85 grams of gold and are held in possession for one lunar year; 2.5% percent and should be given those in need. “We can also give more if we like” he said...Pretty clear.
In Buddhism we have our tradition of Dana. We give our gift of money or time and value flows from our regular life to the spiritual realm of the Dharma. It is a selfless gift received selflessly. We see selfless giving in many forms throughout our community. Members are fixing things, improving things every week. Selflessly giving their time and skills. We saw Mike and Steve and Chris this week - Thank you. Giving untangles the knot of self.
Selfless giving also happens when temple members give money to the temple. Yes, I did use the word ‘money’ and NO, religion is not just about money. I know that some of you probably left their old spiritual home because of money talk that got out of hand. But, we have to occasionally talk about...it. New people often ask - How does this place sustain? Some assume we are supported by the HQ temple in Tokyo. We are not. And we do not pay annual tribute to them either. We are independent.
Remember, money is not thought of as evil in Buddhism. It represents value and opportunity to support the Dharma. Everything we have in the temple is the result of members and friends sharing some of their money with the rest of us. That is why we have heat in the temple. Someone gave so we could pay the heating bill. The same for the water and the lights. Even the priests small salary is the result of members and friends practicing Dana. Every single thing, even the tiny push-pins in the bulletin board, are there because of Dana. When I look at this place and think about that, I’m humbled and grateful to be with you.
Doug Erwin was kind enough to spearhead getting the little payal “donate” button on the website. So its even easier to give Dana. As a matter of fact there are new QR codes on the Dana boxes to make a small donation with your phone super easy. If you don’t know what a QR code is…..just don’t worry about it.
The point is that members donate regularly and that sustains the temple. All the members make a simple pledge for annual Dana, some give this at one-go in December, others through monthly gifts. Even if we do an annual donation, we still give something in the Dana basket each time the basket is out. At meditation, or at the service, or book group or at Shin Buddhism 102 Class [next week]. When we receive something from temple, we always give back in this way. Buddhists have always chipped away at the self in this way. Self help for non-self.
In my examples of other traditions they had ready formulas on how much is right. We have our system of juuuust right to guide us. Like the tuning of a guitar string. If I give so much that I am short on money in my everyday life that is too much. If I give an amount that is inconsequential, that that is too little. It will have no self-melting effect at that level. Juuust right is in the middle there and has the best effect. Not too much, but it should be noticeable to have positive effect on the self.
Another self help for non-self - Healthy Humility - that is a self melter.
Most of all, self grows through promoting self-importance; it’s antidote is healthy humility. Being humble means being natural and unassuming [not being a doormat, ashamed, or inferior.] It just means you’re not setting your self above others. Humility feels peaceful. You don’t have to work at impressing people, and no one is at odds with you for being pretentious or judgmental. When we bow. We are briefly experiencing this humility. We bow to the Buddha nature in the other person. Some folks are uncomfortable bowing more than ever so slightly. Try it. Its ok - its good. Nice big bow from time to time. When we offer incense, the bow there is bowing before the Wisdom and Compassion of the UNIVERSE, go ahead and bow.
In the Shoshinge chant we repeated the line - “Namua Amida bu” many times. And each nembutsu section ends with an extra Namu. This is the act of bowing down and taking refuge in the wisdom and compassion of the universe. Something like…
I take refuge in the wisdom and compassion of the universe.
I take refuge in the wisdom and compassion of the universe.
I take refuge...
This is a self-melter.
There are many of these traditional practices….
Let go of being “special”.
See the big picture in mundane moments
Stop identifying with objects
Relax About What Others Think
We will look at these another time. I want to conclude with a quote from Albert Einstein. He wrote to a father who had lost his son…
A human being is a part of a whole, called by us “universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest... a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. “
The Buddha’s teaching does not justify the self. But neither does it demean or suppress self. We don’t make self special - it’s just another mental pattern arising in our mind stream - not different or better than any other mind-object. When we ease off on the selfi-ness we center on openhearted spaciousness, goodwill toward our own thriving, and contented peaceful relationships with all other beings. With a substantially diminished self we are free to be healthy and strong and live. To be caring and kind. To awaken, abiding as radiant, spacious, loving consciousness. To feel protected and supported by the universe. To be happy and comfortable, serene and fulfilled. To live and love in peace.
Let's do a little self melting by wishing well to all sentient beings in the universe - just repeat after me...
May they be happy;
May they be free from harm:
May they receive boundless compassion;
And may peace and harmony fill their heart ...
How are you all doing this morning? Welcome to new folks who are here again. It seems to take a few visits to get a feel for our temple. Founders dinner last weekend was a friendly gathering in honor of our dear teachers. We got to know each other. Played a few icebreaker games that Rev. Shelley came up with. It was fun.
What a beautiful day! Spring is coming soon.
We remember the founders of RBC this month because Dr. Matsunaga died in February - the anniversary brings them to mind. They were our spiritual teachers. Really all these people with pictures up here were the spiritual teachers in our lineage.
What is a spiritual teacher? We have all had thesel teachers in our lives. Please consider that the obvious people are not always the actually ones. A priest or Sunday School leader - sometimes. Often the most significant spiritual teachers in our lives are other folks. Who naturally teach us - sometimes through their actions rather than their words - to see reality as it is to be grateful for our lives and to become more fully human.
For many that is a grand mother or an important acquaintance. Sometimes it is a brief encounter that sets the mind just so - to see well and clearly. They help us to see wisely. They help us to see compassionately. These two are so important - in the triptych scroll here - Amida Buddha is supported by two Bhodisattvas - Seishi and Kannon. Wisdom and Compassion. These are gifts a student experiences in relationship with a teacher.
When we start to think about our place in this great mystery of being, we are still mostly stuck in habituated patterns. Teachers help with that. We are limited in our perception in a world colored by old habits of thinking. We often benefit from a teacher, who, standing outside our world, can show us how to proceed. They challenge us to clarify our view and give up what was not working for us.
In Shin Buddhism we don't put too much stress on this teacher-student relationship - In Shinran’s view we are all “Fellow Travelers on the path” - we are all “bonbunin”. Embracing our limited nature with humor and acceptance. Shinran saw that infatuation with the guru becomes an impediment to learning the Dharma and so valued everyone equally as a source of wisdom and compassion. He did always referred to Honen as his teacher and referred to what he taught as a simple sharing of what he learned from Honen. Shinran would be embarrassed that we call him the founder of our lineage, because all his insights and guidance came from his interaction with Honen Shonin.
What about our own spiritual teachers. In my case spiritual teachers have been many, in early days I learned so much from my older brother - he’s 12 years older than me - so more of an uncle. We camped and took weekend trips together - I asked questions and he was always active and engaged and kind. Answering every question in great detail.
My first Buddhist teacher was the Theravada monk Silvamsa at the Seema Malaka temple in Sri lanka. That is a beautiful little temple in the middle of a lake in the city of Colombo. He taught meditation and the Dharma. In my time studying with him I realized what it meant to be a Buddhist and took refuge for the first time.
Another important teacher of mine is Rev. Sam Wright he really put me back on a path to studying and teaching. My favorite way of explaining the idea of non-self came on a canoe trip with Sam on Lake Tahoe. As we watched little silver balls of water skitter across the surface of the lake. Each one thinking of itself as separate, but really being part of One Lake. Most of all my teachers are the Doctors Matsunaga - Daigon and Alicia. Their kind attention and shining example is what I want to talk about today.
Alicia was a very wise woman. Not only smart, but wise. She got her masters and PHD from Claremont College. She taught at UCLA or 20 years - Japanese culture and history of Buddhism . Her parents Henry and Alvira Orloff retired in Reno. I think that's really how RBC - we - got here today. She came here to care for them and started the temple. Coming from UCLA this must have been quite a change, Alicia only lived and taught here for nine years. She was the temple master of Reno Buddhist Church - at that time. Daigan was the temple master of Eikyoji in Hokkaido. Weakened by cancer, Alicia passed away at the age of 66 from a heart attack on July 27, 1998.
We heard Rev. Alicia’s voice and her way of thinking and teaching during the reading. It was about the Simsapa Sutra. Where the Buddha counsels us to focus on one path and one goal - a joyful life and leave the other stuff for later when we have that sorted. As we heard in the reading. Rev. Alicia was a very careful and precise person - you can hear that in her voice. She was very scholarly.
Her last sermon was in the spring of 1998. It was on Impermanence - Anicca in pali - the quality of change that characterizes everything in our conditioned universe of samsara. Anicca means - changefulness. The Buddha taught, life is like a river. A series of different moments, joining together to give the impression of one continuous flow. It moves from cause to cause, effect to effect, one point to another, one state of existence to another, the river looks like one continuous and unified thing. But in reality it isn’t. The river this morning is not the same as the river this afternoon. The river in this moment is not the same as the river of the next. And so flows life. It changes continuously, constantly becoming from moment to moment.
In her Dharma talk, Alicia started by placing all kinds of medications and prescription bottles along the top of this rail here. “Look at all these pills!” she said. “I take all of these to try to make it so things don’t change.” But they do.
If we don't understand the ephemeral nature of life we get attached to things and when they do fall away we suffer. Not because they fall away, but because we cling to them as they fall. She said “It is like falling off a horse.” - She had done that many times in her youth- If you try to stay on the horse and grasp at the saddle and hook your foot in the stirrup what happens? Nothing good. Suffering, injury, maybe death. If you accept the fall - accept the change - and look forward to what comes next you are better off. Anicca- changefullness is the nature of all conditioned reality. Things come and go. They become and they decay. If we understand and adapt to this reality of life - we don’t suffer so much.
Unrealistic expectations of life are the cause of suffering. The Buddha called it ignorance. We can do what we can, but need to accept reality. When we consider our loved ones. We fear their parting from us. Even if we are just dating someone, we fear they will break-up with us. That can get so bad that they want to dump us just to get away from the crazy time. If we can just see that we two are flowing through life with our own karma and we spend time together with each other according to that karma, when those causes and conditions are spent we wont be together any more. That life we can live and love fully without any of the pain.
At Book group on Wednesday we discussed this. If we think of all the other humans as flowers instead of possessions, their beauty and transience is interdependent. We love them so much more for the brief experience we have together. What do you call a flower that never dies? A cheap plastic flower. I’ve seen them in the desert, someone has cast them off and they are just garbage. But come upon a solitary lily growing in the desert and it is a most beautiful experience. People are the same way - if we can see their changefulness as the essence of their beauty - we will feel joy. We treasure the moments together and never wait to share our love.
Alicia pointed out another aspect of Anicca - impermanence - that unfortunate conditions or unpleasant circumstance - these too will change. The good stuff is wonderful because it is only with us for a short time, and the difficult things are bearable because they will only last a short time. I remember Alicia said “Things don’t stay the same --- It’ll will either get worse - or it will get better”. And everyone laughed.
When things are difficult we remember the Persian proverb - “This too will pass” - it gives us some respite - a quantum of solace - to know it won’t be like this forever. In this way too impermanence is our friend.
In Buddhism, impermanence is the number one inescapable - sometimes painful - fact of life. It is the singular existential problem that all Buddhist practice seeks to address. To understand impermanence at the deepest possible level, and to merge with it fully, is the whole of the path to joy. The Buddha’s final words express this: “Impermanence is inescapable. Everything vanishes. Therefore there is nothing more important than continuing on the path with diligence.”
Appreciating Anicca we focus on what is important. Alicia was dying, she was taking to heart an aspect of Buddhism she had taught many times before. Finally, she quoted Rennyo Shonin...
“In view of these facts, it does not make sense to focus on the things we can not change? We cannot control the passing away of both young and old alike, but each of us can take refuge in the Buddha of Infinite Life who promises to embrace, without exception, all beings who simply bring to mind Amida Buddha - Namo Amida Butsu - This you can do here and now, freeing yourself of any worries concerning life.”
That’s all I can remember from her Dharma talk. She’s still with us every day. Her character was very much that of Seishi Bhodisattva. A wise teacher sharing the Dharma with all of us.
I’ve been sharing my teachers thoughts for a bit. Lets take a moment and consider each one of you your own spiritual teachers -
Lets take a few deep breaths - naturally and easily, from deep down. Relax the tummy and let it rise and fall... And close our eyes to meditate on these questions….
• • Who was there for you when deep questions of life first came? Bring them to mind, Look on the person, smile broadly and say “thank you”.
• • When you had built some sense of things - the way existence works - Who was there to challenge those habits of mind with questions and puzzles? Bring them to mind, Look on the person, smile broadly and say “thank you”.
• • Who is your spiritual teacher now? A relationship of sharing
and insight, challenge and compassion.
Bring them to mind, Look on the person, smile broadly
and say “thank you”. • •
OK - open your eyes. That was good to do.
I want to do some remembering of Daigon as well. Daigon Matsunaga grew up in a Buddhist temple in Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan. His grandfather founded the “Temple of eternal light” - Eikyoji in 1900, and Daigon followed his father as the third temple master there. He had a strong connection to the United States. He learned english from cowboy movies as a boy. He was a great admirer of DT Suzuki and patterned his career after him. Following Suzuki’s example, Matsunaga went to Claremont College and received a master's and doctorate degrees in theology. He met Alicia there - she was a little ahead of him.
He taught cultural history and Buddhism at Cal State Northridge for 13 years. All along he knew that someday he would have to return to Japan as successor at the temple. He said "Fortunately my father lived a long time!"
Dr. Matsunaga’s personal goal was to ensure the future of American Buddhism. Well sensei - I think you did it!
He and Alicia chose Reno to do that because it had a very small Asian population. He had seen the limitations of the ethnic temples in Southern California - where assimilation quickly pulls the young folks away. His Temple here was founded in a community of common seekers with a bond of faith in the Dharma.
We are his experiment at age 27. After Alicia died Daigon visited us about four times a year. When he was in Japan, he would give his Dharma talks by Skype on a big 60” TV that used to be here. To pay the mortgage on this place he did fund raising in Japan. Many Japanese people were very skeptical. They didn't really understand why he was so eager to bring the Buddhism to Reno. But they gave just the same.
He really thought of the US as his second home and he wanted to see American Buddhism grow. The spirit of enlightenment enriches our culture and benefits everyone who lives here.
In 2009, I went to see him in Hokkaido at his temple. He was dying then. We were only able to talk a few times a day for just an hour before he needed to rest. The rest of the time I would walk in the snow or read.
My last conversations with Dr. Matsunaga were about RBC. We talked about its progress from something like a dependent child - to semi-autonomous teenager - and finally a mature temple. We talked about Amida Buddha - and the challenges of sharing the Dharma both in Reno and in Japan. Here its hard to introduce so many new ideas. In Japan, it is so ingrained they seem to not ask questions.
But mostly he told stories about his life and reflected on impermanence. When he was a student in Kyoto, one of his professors, a very famous Buddhist Master - wrote many books - and one was entitled Flowers Fade and Scatter. We always wish that beautiful flowers will last forever. Carlis was very kind and offered flowers for the altar, and I’m sure he hopes that the beautiful flower will last for days, but unfortunately they don’t last. I come here during the week and there are petals on the ground. They scatter and fade away.
Matsunaga talked about how the spirit of Buddha’s teaching has been depicted in different forms of statues, icons and carvings - a big variety of Buddha images have been created in 2600 of Buddhism. We’ve all seen these different Buddhas and Bodhisattvas - sometimes its confusing there are so many - The one Dr. Matsunaga talked about that day was the Buddha Master of Medicine. I assumed he came to this thought because of all the doctors in his life. He was only a couple months away from death and the colon and then liver cancer had made eating anything but liquid food impossible.
So he talked about why the Buddha is called Master of Medicine. The teaching is very practical - very scientific in a way - The Buddha’s method was to look at the pain and suffering of humankind - really all sentient beings - his approach to the problems was very logical. He taught us to observe our situation with it’s pains - what is the nature of the pain we feel. Longing, fear, illness - we face these difficulties in our lives.
The doctor has to diagnose a patient carefully - by observing and examining carefully, and skillfully. Then a good doctor finds the cause of the problem. What is the cause of our pain and suffering? Then a good doctor will prescribe the appropriate method of a treatment to heal the patient. Any pain can be cured or healed. So the Buddha is a the Master of Medicine.
We face not only physical pain and trouble, also spiritual difficulties. Buddhist teaching is designed to localize the causes of our inward, spiritual pain and suffering. Then try to - without evading the issue - try to find the cause, and then to apply the best possible remedy or treatment - a Buddhist practice so that we will be able to liberate ourselves - free ourselves from that pain.
That has been the traditional Buddhist teaching and approach taught for centuries. The reason we often find Buddha called Yakushi Nyorai, the Buddha Master of Medicine. When you see his statue, he sits cross legged with a jar of medicine in his hand.
Matsunaga wanted us to understand our situation. The fundamental teaching of the Buddha is the fact that we have to live in this world filled with pains - large and small. We all age, and we suffer from illness, and sooner or later, we all die. Ageing, illness and death is an inconvenient reality for all of us.
(Only a few of us want to age - right? - and they just went to Dharma school.)
None of us want to be ill. None of us want to die. But the fact of the matter is, we can’t escape from reality. As a symptomatic remedy we look for permanence in life. A job - a relationship - to be famous maybe - It is just a wish, contrary to the reality of life. I don’t think Matsunaga wanted to sound pessimistic. He never wanted us to have a pessimistic outlook on life. But life is impermanent. Our normal human wishful thinking wants things to last and be permanent. We want happiness last forever and our youth and health - last forever. But that’s not the way it is.
Lets stop for a moment to think.
What if none of us ever aged, and we’d stay young forever? Or if none of us will ever got sick - just healthy forever. Or what if none of us ever had to die? - live forever! The world would be a big mess! Think about that.
Our life is transitory, when our time comes we say farewell to this existence and move on to another birth, and another world of different dimension. Our world is so transitory, and our life is not that long.
We have good reason to learn to appreciate every day of our lives. If you think you are going to live forever - there is no reason to appreciate this day, this week, this month? But because life is short, and we have what Matsunaga called “an inconvenient reality” hanging over us, we learn to cherish every moment.
When we approach life with gratitude - we are happy and appreciate every moment. It really is great that we are mortal. And think about that, if no one ever died, the earth would be flooded with the humans - total chaos would prevail - Because our lives are brief we appreciate the little things. We look in wonder at the little crocus flower under a cap of snow and we appreciate it. It’s beautiful. It’s poignant. The birds singing in the morning outside the window. We appreciate the beauty of those happy little creatures.
Many things we think are inconvenient, when examined carefully are not so inconvenient at all. They are really very, very important reminders for all of us to be grateful, and appreciate every moment of our life.
He said he knew a lot of people who lived in a great, million dollar homes in So-Cal and Japan, but when you look inside their lives, often many of them lived very difficult, miserable lives. He knew many people who lived in very simple homes, with lives full of joy and happiness.
It’s all up to us, if we learn to appreciate every moment of our life, and what comes to us briefly. We will have less disappointment and worry less about difficulties. We can turn it around and learn to appreciate those things, those seemingly difficult things in life. Impermanence of our lives is the most inconvenient reality, but yet, because of impermanence, we seek out the teaching of the Buddha, and we decide we can take a step forward to follow the path to joy, ultimate liberation, and enlightenment.
Matsunaga sensei was a very kind man. Always smiling and energetic. He always took time with people who came to the temple. He wanted to share more time with us, but he returned to Amida Buddha’s Pure land on February 25th 2010. He was very much like the Bodhisattva Kannon - Compassionate and giving. Alicia reminds me of Seishi Bodhisattva - wise and clear. Wisdom and Compassion from these dear teachers. When we look at the triptych up there Amida Buddha is flanked by wisdom and compassion. The Buddha is accessed or experienced through the actions the two Bodhisattva's here in Samara.
Today I want to give our good wishes to these dear teachers - where ever they are, guiding sentient beings to the Dharma. Please send your good wishes 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 -
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to gather some thoughts and share them with you all. These are ideas I have been considering, if they are useful to you, that is good. If they cause you to bridle or clutch, that is OK too. Usually worth looking at. Every time we come together on Sunday is a big deal for me. Thank you.
Today we will talk about faith. Whenever we talk about this there are some who feel that faith has no place in Buddhism. If that is you - that is ok. But please bare with me as I work through my thoughts. I know some people have been burned before and might hesitate to open to faith. That is a mind-state that can heal and you can find faith again. Faith is important. It is essential.
What am I talking about - Faith?
Usually in churches of many traditions, faith is equivalent to “blind faith”. If humans are seen as inferior beings that can’t know or understand, they just need to accept the truth given. A blind trust - By means of scriptures, position of speaker, and tradition. We don’t mean it that way here. In the Kalama Sutra, the Buddha was very specific about this -
Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor surmise; nor an axiom; nor specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another's seeming ability; nor the consideration, 'The monk is our teacher.'
Kalamas, when you yourselves know: 'These things are bad; these things are blamable; these things are avoided by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,' abandon them.
And ...when you yourselves know: 'These things are good; these things are blameless; these things are done by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to joy and freedom from suffering,' do them.
Your own experience of faith is the only touchstone.
In Buddhism faith is aware. It is seeking and it is supported by experience. The word the Buddha spoke was Saddha . I’ll translate it as faith, or Confidence or maybe Conviction. He taught that it is one of the Five Spiritual faculties - what are those five...
When we have come in contact with the Dharma and have weighed it against our experiences and come to a measure of faith, this energizes us. Like looking for a lost treasure at home - You have the feeling that you are Confident it is here somewhere [that’s faith]. When you find it you have a burst of energy - yes! - I got it. This energy in turn propels us toward mindfulness - like turning on a light in the room - you can’t do it without energy. This Mindfulness leads to concentration - a heightened ability to stay focused and free of distractions. Confident, Energized, Aware and Focused true wisdom comes. These are the five spiritual faculties - Faith - Energy -Mindfulness - Concentration - Wisdom.
Today we’ll look closely at Faith. Another time we can explore the other faculties.
At the beginning of the service we take refuge. Really - all Buddhists start by taking refuge. What do we take refuge in? The Buddha, The Dharma, and the Sangha. Taking refuge is an act of faith, confident aware resolute. You can’t take refuge in something you don’t trust. So this Faith is confidence in the Buddha, the Dharma and the sangha.
Confidence in the Buddha -
We have confidence in the Buddha as a real enlightened teacher. We have confidence that he taught about Amida Buddha [in the about one hundred different sutras]. We have confidence in the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha - that the wisdom and compassion of the universe is there for us. This is faith in Buddha Nature - our true nature - in all of us and all things. Faith that our true nature - is eternal, joyous, selfless, and pure.
Confidence in the Dharma -
The teaching of the Buddhas of how the universe works: The basic principles of karma and rebirth - the interdependent co-arising of all things.
Dharma is also the Buddha’s various methods of reaching unconditioned peace, happiness, and joy. Ways of becoming truly human. They are Effective methods. Dharma is not conceptual or hypothetical - it is an experience. ‘Come see for yourself” as the Buddha said to the Kalamas.
We have confidence in the Sutras - they are the teachings of the Buddha. 84,000 volumes of dharma talks like this one. Spanning the 45 teaching years of the Buddha’s life.
This is an Ancient heritage that is relevant now. It was relevant in Shinran’s time 750 yrs ago, it was relevant 2600 yrs ago when the Buddha traveled and taught. This is something we can have confidence in - we can have faith in the Dharma.
Confidence in the Sangha -
A community where we are accepted nurtured and supported on our spiritual journey. We see in the sangha compassion, peace, caring, independence. We are all part of that. We often show each other that we are trustworthy - the sangha is trustworthy. And this gives rise to deep confidence, faith in the sangha. When Dr. Matsunaga died six years ago, we gathered together and took refuge in the sangha. When we looked into each others faces we knew that one way or another RBC would continue and be a positive place in our community.
Taking refuge is made possible by faith. This Confident faith is a force, a strength, and a power inside you - we say it is a spiritual ability or faculty. We can develop it.
It is important to remember that knowledge is not enough - to have confident faith. Professor John Holt - my advisor in college - was a religion professor and had lots of knowledge about Buddhism. He was very sympathetic and he had an affinity to Buddhism, but he had no faith in the Dharma. He was content with his Lutheran upbringing and the values it taught; he them taught to his children. When I studied Buddhism in his classes I was changed by the experience. I had that feeling of bright energy that comes - The experience of the Dharma was like “This is really something special.”
Faith comes in stages - there is an initial spark awakened inside us when we come to Buddhism. The impulse toward understanding and joy. Like a first taste of brownies - you take a bit - you experience the brownie - and you think - this is good. I could eat this. This can sustain me. And then over time we continue our studies. Different recipes, different ingredients, choco chips, no choco chips. white chocolate chips, gooey, crispy ….what were we talking about?
Over time - Deeper understanding and deeper confidence. It feels so true. This is when deep faith develops. From long experience.
At the new member dinner last weekend we went around the circle and shared our path. And though everyone’s experience was unique, the common thread was that Buddhism made sense and was worth diving deeper. That is that initial taste - that awakening of faith and confidence in the teaching in our life. Then we deepen that faith though experience and study and natural absorption that happens over time. The Buddha Dharma and Sangha.
Why is this worth having, this faith. We live our lives in varying states of worry. the Buddha called it Dukkha, wonkyness is the literal translation. Like a shopping cart wheel that is just not right - it goes wobba-wobba-wobba. It is very annoying.
We want things we can’t have, we lose things we want. This clinging to things and people and ideas is never satisfying. It may be briefly pleasurable -- but not satisfying. So we fear the loss. And we react by imposing control. We grab tighter. We we use anger to control, we use all manner of calculation to avoid losing what we cling to. We just keep banging our heads against the same challenge.
We try really hard to control things. At work if we are a manager or on the line, we try our best to control. But does it give us peace of mind? If everybody is doing what they are supposed to be doing - then you can relax. But do you? When business is going good, you can relax. But do you? When we are getting what I want, we can relax. But we don’t.
As a species we are all about control. We are this way about our mind and our bodies - judging, controlling. Even more so in relationships, we try to control.
But any feeling of control, is brief. With this grasping for control come the feelings of frustration, fear and anger. Our sense of security is challenged. Our sense of self is challenged. This is how we live. Sometimes it’s difficult to admit, but it’s the truth. The Dharma.
The Buddha saw that we are not happy. He saw that we are not happy because we want and want and want. He saw that we can stop the wanting and joys flow in.
What can we do? The grasping is the result of being attached to a specific outcome - that we are sure is best for us. As if we always know what’s best for us?
When we have faith and let go - When we trust that we are okay no matter what comes our way, we don’t need to control the universe. We let go. And we open ourselves to all sorts of wonderful possibilities that aren’t there when we’re attached to one narrow path.
The energy we get from faith accomplishes much more than the energy of doubt. When we are doubting or afraid, our vision narrows, breath is shallow, and heart rate jumps. Our monkey mind jumps from thought to thought and from past to future very quickly. Our concentration is gone, memory gets foggy, and we have almost no awareness of this present moment. The present moment is important! that's when life happens.
When we have faith, were calm and peaceful. Our breathing is deep, we are present in this moment. We see clearly and our vision extends all around, we literally see the bigger picture. Gratitude washes over us.
It’s like the Chinese finger trap - when we try to control things we actually feels more constrained - less in control. We pull against the trap and it hold us tighter.
When we have faith, we take refuge and stop trying to make what we want happen. We stop pulling against the universe and the natural flow of things. Stop calculating and resisting and pushing against reality.
We have Faith that all is well, even without my input. Maybe more so without my clever trying. Natural, accepting life is peaceful. Joyful.
This is not inaction - it’s aware, present, accepting of the natural flow of life. there’s a famous Einstein quote…
“The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.”
The Buddha teaches we live in a friendly universe. He taught us how to be receptive and allow things to happen. This faith in the Wisdom and Compassion of the universe is a faculty we can practice and deepen. Amida Buddha made a great vow - to bring all beings to realization of oneness in his pure land. The Wisdom and compassion of this friendly universe is supporting us at every turn - we don’t have to worry over the details all the time. In Buddhism there are many paths - We can always choose to do things the easy way or the hard way. We can muscle through trying to purify ourselves and teach ourselves and enlighten our selves, or we can let go of the trying - and gently remove our fingers from the trap.
What I am saying is - relax - it’s all out of control! Accept that. It’s the truth. We make tiny inputs, but really its all just happening - inter-dependently co-arising with everything else. Faith is letting go of control. No fear. No control. No worry. The Buddha leads us toward Joy. And joy comes when we have deep faith in the wisdom and compassion of the universe. Not when we have control, when we have faith. This Faith leads to acceptance, openness, compassion, gratitude. It leads to Wisdom. No fear. no control. no worry.
Faith is really good stuff - its useful and valuable and maybe essential to a happy life. So how do I get some of that? In the reading Matt shared with us we heard about faith in the story of Shinran and his teacher Honen - this person here.
Just to re-cap the story - There was a running argument between Shinran and the other students of Honen. Shinran would claim, "my faith in Amida Buddha and Honen's faith in Amida Buddha are identical". The other students would strongly counter saying, "How can you claim that our master's faith and your faith are identical! You have only been studying with Honen for a few years". To this Shinran replied, "Our master's wisdom and knowledge are truly profound and to say that our understanding of Amida are identical is preposterous. But as far as faith in Amida Buddha, leading to birth in the Pure Land is concerned, no difference exists at all. Both are the same." They we quite enraged by this statement. They challenged him, "How can that be possible?"
They finally decided to settle the argument once and for all by asking their teacher Honen. When Honen listened to the two views, he said, "The deep faith of Honen is a gift granted by the Buddha, and the deep faith of Shinran is also a gift from the Buddha. They are the same. “
What Shinran saw and Honen supported was that faith is not ours. It is part of the wisdom and compassion of the universe. When it comes to us it is the karma of the Buddha bearing fruit, not our own.
Faith is not countable or dividable. Just like life - is the life in me the same as the life in you? What do you think. Is the livingness in me different from the livingness in you. I can’t see a way they are different.
Or the candle flame here - from one candle to another from one source. The same flame in different places. The faith in my heart and the faith in your heart? The same from one source - Amida- the infinite compassion and infinite wisdom of the universe.
In Conclusion - The Buddha saw that we are not happy. He saw that we are not happy because we want and want and want. He saw that we can stop the wanting and joy flows in. He taught a way to let go of wanting. Of abiding in gratitude. This abiding peace that the Buddha offers is so close to us. We start by having faith in the teaching. Ultimately faith in the goodness of the universe - Amida Buddha.
The old word for this faith is Shinjin - true entrusting - knowing there is something profound and meaningful here - an inspiration that gives you energy. The energy propels you forward on your spiritual path of greater understating. The process continues, more faith more energy, deepening and affirming. That is why we continue to study and experience the Dharma. We deepen faith through our own experiences in life. Our faith in karma, rebirth, and non-self develops. Interdependent co-arising starts to make sense to us and faith deepens.
Taking refuge requires faith -- If its raining, and I take refuge under an awning, if it leaks I move on. If it provides true shelter and I experience that, I truly take refuge. Initial faith, ultimately deep faith.
Practically in our everyday life - Faith protects us from fear. Fear is the thing that stops us from living life. Something eventually goes wrong - a failure - then what we fear comes - blame, criticism, loss. That always happens. It’s Ok if something goes wrong - its a wonderful mess. Everyday of your life is a big wonderful spontaneous mess! Embrace the wonder of that - the miracle of that. We look at the future with hope - this creates a reality. The Buddha specifically taught that our mindset creates reality. Look to the future with Faith and you let go of wanting, to let go of controlling. Let go of fear and embrace joy.
Faith doesn't come from us. We don't make it. It is part of the universe like. My faith, your faith, Shinran’s faith - its all the same thing.
Please share my faith in the Bodhisattva’s deep wish to all of you. Please say it too - just repeat after me...
You will be happy;
you will be free from harm:
you will receive boundless compassion;
And peace and harmony will fill your heart
- Namu Amida Butsu Namu Amida Butsu Namu Amida Butsu -
Reading for 7 feb 16
From the Epilogue to the TANNISHO
By Yui-en-Bo student of Shinran Shonin
According to our late master Shinran, it was the same at the time of his teacher, Honen. Among his disciples, there were only a few people who truly entrusted themselves to Amida. There was once a debate between Shinran and fellow disciples. Shinran claimed, "my entrusting and Honen's entrusting are identical," Seikan, Nenbutsu, and others strongly refuted this, saying, "How can you claim that our master's faith and your faith are identical!" To this Shinran replied, "Our master's wisdom and knowledge are truly profound and to say that our understanding of Amida are identical is preposterous. But as far as true entrusting, leading to birth in the Pure Land is concerned, no difference exists at all. Both are the same." Still they continued to press Shinran, challenging him by saying, "How can that be possible?"
They finally decided to settle the argument once and for all by going to Honen, relating the details. When Honen listened to their differning views, he said, "The true entrusting of Honen is a gift granted by the Buddha, and the true entrusting of Shinran is also a gift from the Buddha. Thus, they are the same. People whose entrusting is different will probably not go to the same Pure Land as I"
[Yui-en-bo contunues] ...Since my life, like a dew drop, still hangs onto this body which may be likened to withered grass, I am able to hear the doubts of my fellow practicers and tell them what I have learned from my teacher. But I fear and lament that after my eyes close and life comes to an end, there may arise confusion because of different interpretations. When you are confused by different views, such as the above, you should carefully read the scriptures recommended and used by our late master...
The master constantly said, "When I consider the compassionate Vow of Amida, established through five kalpas of profound thought, it was for myself, Shinran, alone. Because I am a being burdened so heavily with evil karma, I feel even more deeply grateful to the Primal Vow which is made to decisively save me"...
In reality, all of us, including myself, talk about what is good and evil without thinking of the Buddha’s compassion. Our master once said, "I do not know what the two, good and evil, really mean. I could say that I know what good is, if I knew good as thoroughly and completely as a Buddha. And I could say I know what evil is, if I knew evil as thoroughly and completely as a Buddha. But in this impermanent world, like a burning house, all things are empty and vain, therefore, untrue. Only trusting in Amida Buddha is true, real, and sincere….
In tears I have dipped my brush in ink and have written this in the hope that conflicting views of true entrusting will not prevail among fellow practicers of nembutsu gathered together in a single room. [signed] Yui-en Bo 10th year of Kōan era, 9th month
HOONKO - Thanksgiving for our Founder Shinran Shonin 29nov15
Thank you all for being here. Such a busy weekend with going and returning from feasts and family gatherings. It is good that we take the time today to be together in our sangha with the Buddha. For Shin Buddhists this week is a traditional time to reflect and give thanks. It is the anniversary of the death of Shinran Shonin, founder of our denomination. In many temples it is a week of continuous Nembutsu chanting and services. We celebrated it with our Thursday Thanksgiving Dinner and this Sunday service. I think we had 28 people share diner together. My thanks to everyone for making that happen in my absence.
Lets reflect on the benefits we receive and the spiritual gifts that Shinran gave just for you.
When Shinran lay dying, he said:
Though I, my life having run its course,
Return to the Pure Land of Eternal Rest,
I shall Come back to earth again and again
Even as the waves of Wakano Bay.
When alone you rejoice in the Sacred Teachings
Believe that there are two.
And when there are two to rejoice
Believe that there are three
And that other shall be Shinran.
Shinran lived in the 13th century. He could never have left Japan. But his teaching can be found all around the world - this week in Shin homes in Japan, in Europe, in Africa, in North and South America, people are celebrating this occasion by reciting their gratitude to the Buddha for Shinran ‘s transmission of the Buddhist Dharma. These teachings once had only a few followers, today there are millions. But, we should remember the words of Rennyo, who said...
“Speaking of the great prosperity of this sect, it is not a matter of the number of people in the assembly and the depth of its solemnity. If anyone, even just a single person, experiences faith in Amida Buddha, this is the great prosperity of our sect.”
In the story George read - while the priest and his self-righteous congregation were celebrating the feast of Thanksgiving and Gratitude, Shinran, who was the very object of their thanksgiving, was off celebrating with a beggar under a bridge.
It is not enough to just sit around saying how grateful we are! As Rennyo said, we must “express our gratitude in our every action, in our every deed.”
A Sanskrit poet once said:
Good men are like trees.
They furnish shade to others
while standing in the sun themselves;
The fruit they bear is for other’s sake;
Sanskrit Poetry, from Vidyākara's Treasury
We should try to be trees.
They give their shade and protection and their fruit freely. Most of us are more like a cactus, very prickly. We cover ourselves with defences so no one can approach us, even our families are kept at a distance. The choice we face is a barren life, alone, prickly in a desert; or, we to stand great and strong, stretching out and up and bear fruit for all, like a tree - Like Shinran.
This is the choice which Buddhism offers us and the message Shinran hands down to us, a message from the time of Shakyamuni Buddha.
When we talk about Buddhism, we usually think of its profound message - its long lists of principles, like the Eight Fold Path, the ten Paramitas, the 12 step chain of causation...
This is not the important part of Buddhism.
Not just knowledge - Buddhism is an open frame of mind, an attitude of life. The Dalai Lama described his religion as “Compassion”. Shinran would have summed up his view in the single word, “GRATITUDE”.
This gratitude comes from many sources and understandings, but above all, it arises from our coming to understand ourselves. Another Another Sanskrit poem says:
When I knew but very little,
I grew crazed like a rutting elephant and in my proud heart thought I was omniscient.
Bit by bit, from consort with the wise, when I had gained somewhat of knowledge, I knew myself a fool;
and the madness left like a fever.
When we come to understand ourselves, we know that we are totally and completely foolish... Shinran called himself a Bonbunin - a goof-ball or Gutoku Shinran, the “stubble headed Shinran”... and, when we truly realize our own foolishness, we become instantly grateful for all the wonderful things that have happened for us in this life.
The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the roof over our heads, all depend on other people. To all these people, I owe my gratitude; to all the thousands of people who I will never know - I am thankful. I am most thankful to the Buddha for understanding that I am inter-related with all and everything in the universe. And for teaching this. But most of all, I am thankful to Amida Buddha for the flow of infinite compassion and wisdom that these gifts are made from.
For all these people, lets take a moment - and take the hand of the person in the next row - look them in the eye and see the thousands you can never repay - and thank them. Just say Thank You.
Shinran has handed down to us this teaching of the Buddha, and he taught us that everything we do, should be our expression of gratitude to everything in the universe. Out of our gratitude, we practice the six paramitas; out of our thankfulness we are generous in Dana, we are proper in behavior, we are patient, we are energetic in our actions on behalf of everyone, to seek for wisdom. We live a Buddhist life out of Thanksgiving and Gratitude.
On this special day when we bring to mind our gratitude to Shinran for giving us the wonderful teaching of the Buddha, we understand that just saying we are grateful is not enough. We show our gratitude in our daily lives, so that our whole life is an expression the Dharma.
You know the custom of a party favor? - The little gifts given to the guests at a birthday party a kind of gift in return for your kindness - In Buddhism, if we live truly grateful, our whole life is one great gift in return, the gift of ourselves.
The teachings that Shinran gave us are important and vital; these teachings are a path to freedom from suffering, frustration, anxiety, and worry. These teachings lead to happiness and joy.
Sometimes we want the happiness and joy - but we are not always ready to walk the path that leads to it. Shinran taught that when we truly live a life of gratitude and thanksgiving, we treat all people well; we are generous and free, giving of ourselves for the benefit of all.
I had a funny conversation last week…. we’ll just say this person asked me -
“Why should I join the temple and become a member...”
They pointed out that they could take advantage of services and our Dharma School for kids, and Golden Light Meditation and Dharma book group, and Saturday Yoga and everything - without being a member. And if they need to, they could still have a wedding or even a memorial service at the temple without being a member. So there really was no incentive for them to become a member. - You can experience all the benefits without membership - I guess I could see this person’s logic, if we just base becoming part of the community on some kind of cost/benefit analysis.
Why pay for something if you can get it for free? This sums it up.
It is true -- by becoming a member of the temple you will not get priority seating or early bird entrance to Sunday service. You will not get a discount dinner at Moon Rabbit Cafe next Saturday night. In fact, if you become a member, you may even be asked to serve on the Membership or Building & Environment committee or some day on the Sangha Council. Why become a member when it may mean working late on clean-up duty or taking on a burden of responsibility?
What was my answer?
I told this person the reason we become a member is Because you can experience of all the programs, learning, and events that the temple offers for free. Members make that possible.
The Three Jewels of Buddhism are taking refuge and relying on the Buddha, the teacher; the Dharma teaching, and Sangha, the community that helps us awaken to reality. The community is an important part of our foundation in Buddhism. The Sangha provides a network to help in difficult times and shares in the happiness of joyful times.
For those who are members, many have found great experiences working on the temple or at Moon Rabbit Cafe or in Dharma discussions and practice. They glimpse the wonderful cooperative spirit of different generations working together. These opportunities to participate in temple life build skills and create diverse friendships we would not have otherwise.
In Buddhist terminology, this is called creating Go-En. Go refers to the Buddha or the Buddha’s Teachings. En refers to the infinite karmic connections that tie us to one another. In other words, Go-En is the matrix of infinite possibilities that lead us to be intertwined with each other and leads us to Dharma understanding.
People do not become members of a temple with the thought that they will then get some benefit out of it - They become members because they have already received the benefits of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. They are moved to repay that great debt of gratitude, so they become members of the temple. By their support, they will ensure that others in the present and future have that opportunity to hear the Dharma of the Buddha - enriching and deepening meaning in their own lives. Becoming a member of the temple is not Self-benefiting, but Other Benefiting. This is the true heart of compassion. This is the true heart of Shinran’s teaching.
The whole of our teachings, which we accept from Shinran are summed up in the Creed of Shin Buddhist Life...
Trusting in the vow of Buddha and calling the name, we pass through life bravely and cheerfully.
Revering the light of Buddha and always reflecting on our own actions. We proceed in gratitude and thanksgiving.
Following the teachings of Buddha and listening to the Right Path, we spread the true dharma.
Rejoicing at the compassion of Buddha, respecting and helping one another, we exert ourselves for the sake of all.
We honor Shinran today on the 752nd anniversary of his death. Shinran has not vanished into some other world. He lives among us in order to guide us to see the presence of Amida Buddha...
Although my body will pass away,
My teaching shall live forever;
As fresh as the green grass of Wakayama
So long as human beings live.
He lives in the sacrifice of our teachers that came before us,
in the optimistic and constructive spirit of our new members
and in the steps of the next person who finds the temple for the first time.
Now it is time for our New member ceremony…
Namandabs - Namandabs, Namandabs
“The beggar and the priest” written down by Gosei in his Myonkoninden, in about 1770.
“Once upon a time.....The feast of thankvillage in Japan long ago. Under a remote country bridge, not far from a Shin temple was the shack of a beggar, who deeply believed in Shinran’s teachings.
The beggar wanted to attend the special holiday services at the neighboring temple, but hesitated to go because he might not be welcome.
At last, he set up his offerings before his own tiny altar and resolved to celebrate the Holy day alone. Came the night of the feast- day, the temple on the hill was brightly lit, and the villagers in their finest clothes were streaming to the sanctuary.
In his shack beneath the bridge, the beggar was feeling sad that he had not been able to invite a priest to officiate in his home, when there was suddenly the sound of someone at the door. The beggar opened it to find a man in a tattered robe and kesa.
The stranger asked if he might come in out of the chill, and our beggar was overjoyed and explained that he was about to celebrate the feast of Thanksgiving and Gratitude. The beggar then asked the stranger if he would officiate. Together they chanted the Shoshinge and then talked of the Buddha’s teachings. When the service was done, the strange clergyman said he must be on his way. The beggar explained that he had nothing with which to pay for the service, but he hesitatingly offered a single flower from his altar.
The stranger accepted it gratefully, and the beggar watched sadly as he saw the strangers tattered robe go slowly up the road and finally enter the now darkened temple on the hill.
Later in the day, the beggar decided he wanted again to thank the strange clergyman, who had so mysteriously appeared to celebrate the Feast of Thanksgiving and Gratitude with him.
The beggar went up the hill to the temple and asked to see the stranger in the tattered robe, but the housekeeper said that there was no such person there. The beggar insisted that he had seen the man enter the temple, and finally the resident priest was called. The priest, too, denied the mysterious stranger was in the temple. When the beggar persisted, the priest in exasperation, said: “Well, look around for yourself!”
When the beggar had carefully searched the ante-chambers and the residence, he came back into the sanctuary where the annoyed priest was waiting. Just then, an assistant, who was cleaning, opened the door of the shrine where Shinran’s image was placed. There, in the hand of the image, was the single flower which the beggar had given the mysterious cleric the night before!
Good morning friends. It is good to be together again. Two weeks passes so quickly. So much happens. Olivia and Tan had their baby! Alexander Mai 5lbs 8oz 17in. Yeah! Mother and baby are doing fine.
Welcome again to visitors and new friends. It is good to come together and consider the Dharma.
So - How did you do on the homework from last time? We talked about non-harming and we were going to try to gently shade our thoughts, words and actions away from harming - toward harming less. Not harmless - just harming a little less. How did we do? Some people remembered - some people tried. That is good.
Today we will talk about Karma. What it is this Law of karma we speak of?
About the kinds of karma we may create - Good or Bad? We will consider what Shinran meant when he said that Evil Karma can be transformed into Good - he described a process of transformation by the karma of the Buddha - “The Ice of our delusions transforms into the water of enlightenment.”
Karma means Action - Now I’m back to explaining a word from an ancient language. Karma is a Sanskrit word. It comes from the same root as our word Create - Kri - which means to order or to do.
Karma means Action - your karma are your actions, your intentional actions. When we make things a certain way. The fruits of your actions are the effects of those actions on your life.
The Buddha taught on karma often and understanding Karma is very important to spiritual growth. Karma is, like everything, in constant flux and change. We create our own present and future by the choices we make in each moment. This is a just right understanding. The Buddha’s teaching of karma empowers us to become the drivers in the unfolding of our lives
There are other views - Sometimes we hear people saying “That was his karma” when referring to a punishment for someone’s bad actions in the past. In other world views - like Jainism - karma is like that, seen as an explanation of bad events. If something happens to someone - they deserve it. Really close to Fate or Predetermination. But not in Buddhism.
Sometimes we hear karma used to mean justice or punishment. The old phrase - “time wounds all heels”. Some idea that the universe has a balancing agent that metes out punishment. We’d like to think the universe is just, but that is a fanciful idea. Not found in Buddhism.
The Buddha came from that way of thinking and moved into the effective and healing understanding that he taught. Karma refers to your Intentional Action in the present, the Fruits of these actions - Fruits of Karma happen later. The causes are the actions and the results are the fruit.
In the Devadaha Sutra the Buddha discussed these common misunderstandings of karma. In his time people concluded from his talks that Karma was something like this. …
"Karma is a basic principle that governs human conduct. It declares that our present experience of pleasure or pain is the result of our past conduct and that our present conduct will condition our future experience."
In the sutra he shows this is a misunderstanding. It does not accurately describe his teaching on karma, and is instead a fairly accurate account of the Jain tradition’s teaching. The Buddha actually ridicules this view. The Buddha explains that the present experience of pleasure and pain...
is a combined result of both past and present actions….
a combined result of both past and present actions.
This is very important because it acknowledges our free will and the possibility of putting an end to suffering before the effects of all past actions have...ripened.
This addition of “combined result of both past and present actions” is what makes Buddhist practice possible and effective our life. If the cause of my present difficulties is located only in the past, I can’t do anything in the present moment to stop that suffering. But that cause is not only in the past. The sutra explains that I can effect my experience in the present and change where I am going. The Buddha’s teaching on karma recognizes we have some power to drive the unfolding of our lives.
We learned from Dr. Matsunaga, that in life there are three categories of causes 1) objective conditions, 2) personal karma, and 3) Buddha’s karma. If someone experiences a painful circumstance - they crash their car - objective conditions point to myriad circumstances that contributed to the accident. I want to make this clear - We do not think most events are caused by personal karma? It is not your fault.
The victim’s personal karmic actions did not cause the accident, because by definition personal karma refers to how each of us responds to a situation on a spiritual level. The Personal karma aspect in this example is how the person responded to the accident emotionally and the kind of spiritual insight gained through the experience, despite the difficulties and pain of the situation. Maybe because of the difficulties and pain of the situation. Personal karma are actions in the spiritual part of our lives. This usually has to do with how we treat ourselves and others.
“Karma” means “action”
Actions take three forms: actions of the body, speech, and mind. What we think, what we say, and what we do; primarily in the spiritual context.
It is empowering to realize that we can affect the course of our spiritual lives. This is clearly different from ideas of predetermined fate or Divine Will that explain away the same events. Always remember, karma is applied primarily to our self (first person). It is not a way to judge others (third person), especially to explain why some people find themselves in unfortunate conditions. In Buddhism, Karma has a very special usage. It is the cause and effect in our spiritual efforts to follow a path toward understanding - clarity - enlightenment . A positive cause (=karma) leads to a positive result. A negative cause (karma) leads to negative result. The pail words associated with karma are “skillful” and “unskillful”.
When we reflect on our actions - Karma - we are considering causality in our lives. Karma is a fundamental part of the Buddha’s teaching because our actions are causes of our mind state. Ultimately our actions determine if we suffer or are joyful. Buddhism is really a study in these causes.
Why do I say that?
The Buddha realized that life is fundamentally joyful. But that most sentient beings do not experience it that way. He looked for the causes of joy in life. And the causes of our suffering. The Buddha’s great quest and the 48 vows are focused on creating a cause for abiding joy in the lives of all sentient beings. We realize that everything is the result of a chain of causes and effects. We see all things and all beings as events rather than objects. We are all Inter-dependently-co-arising through time and space. When we feel separate from anything it is really a misunderstanding in a sea of interconnectedness. The I-me-me-my we feel inside is a little misunderstanding in a vast sea of interconnectedness. We live in a sea of inter-being as the teacher Thic Nat Han describes it. Because of this we need to look at the causes of our aloneness.
That is why we focus on what causes what? It is not just an exercise. It is very practical - We focus on causes because - A condition with a cause can be ended when the cause is removed. This is true of suffering. Suffering can be ended - joy flows in. This is the third noble truth.
I feel like we are getting closer our question - What is Karma? We often talk about different kinds of karma - What is good karma? and What is bad karma?
Positive karma is any thought and its expression in words and bodily action that are in accord with the Buddha’s teachings and lead toward enlightenment. The Buddha used the word skillful - for what we might call “good” karma But it's been translated in many ways.
In the - Sevi-tabba Asevi-tabba sutra,
the “Things that should and should not be practiced” sutra.
The disciple Sariputra asks the Buddha to clarify what actions are skillful and what actions are unskillful. Buddha describes 10 skillful and 10 unskillful actions that affect our path toward experiencing reality-as-it-is -
Skillful actions are these:
Giving, Morality, Mental culture, Reverence or respect, Service in helping others, Sharing merits with others, Rejoicing in the merits of others, Teaching the Dharma, Listening to the Dhamma, Straightening one's views.
The unskillful acts are...
Killing of beings, Stealing, misusing sexuality, Lying , Slander, Harsh speech, Frivolous and meaningless talk , Covetousness, Ill-will, Wrong view - in relation to others, denying generosity or denying mother and father
If these are the groupings of good and bad karma - how do they affect us? How does karma work?
The Buddha taught that it works on our habit of mind - our tendencies. If we habituate positive actions, they become common in our experience. If we habituate bad actions, we get used to them and they dominate our lives. When we talked about Ahimsa last time - non-harming- we could see that moving our thinking, speaking, and acting away from harming would transform our lives in the joyful direction. There are pathways in the mind, if they get used a lot they get easy quick and common. Karma operates through its effect on our consciousness. Cultivating skillful actions of body speech and mind results in our having those thoughts more often, we say skillful things [or maybe just don't say things] more often and we act in useful skillful ways more often.
For example, we take the first one on the Buddha’s list of skillful actions - Giving - we say Dana. This is the first practice in Buddhism. What is Dana?
Dana is generosity, giving. The action of giving. We give to the temple to support the three treasures. Most of the time people make monetary offerings in support of the teachings. Sometimes people give their time and skills to maintain or create our Dharma refuge here.
At 3pm Saturday before a Sunday service members come and help prepare the temple for the service. This is a big job. We sweep, vacuum, straighten chairs, setup everything in Hiroma hall, and generally get the old girl ready. This is a great opportunity to cultivate good karma. And we have a chronic problem with low attendance. Yesterday this was done by 4-5 people. If you can mark it on your calendar and make it a habit.
The big project we are working on now is the Solar Array for the temple roof. Everyone was generous and giving to make that happen. It is taking a while to finish due to the winter - but in the spring we’ll finish it. the PUC has muddied the waters, but we will finish.
Please understand that Dana is not payment for goods or services; it is freely giving from the heart without expectation. We say selfless giving. Your generosity is a gift that supports not just the Center, but also the Sangha, the larger Dharma community, and your own practice. Buddhism exists in the world because of the dana of millions of people over 2600 years. [ It's been awhile since I pointed out that there are Dana boxes by the doors in the hondo and downstairs as well. That is where people give their dana.]
Dana is a skillful action - Good karma - The practice of dana orients our minds in the direction of the Buddha. When we give we are less selfish and begin to understand the third noble truth - take away clinging and we are joyful. So that is positive karma - a positive action. It's not easy or natural at first because it is a new habit, with just right effort it becomes normal.
Bad karma, on the other hand, goes against this and turns us away from the Dharma. Of course, these actions are carried out in the arena of our everyday life, but they have significant spiritual effects. They are our personal karma. They become habits and troubles we carry with us. The unresolved thoughts and actions that chew away at us on a very deep level.
Positive actions have positive results. This makes sense.
A positive result is being closer to seeing clearly our interconnectedness - enlightenment. This means to experience in life with a greater joy, serenity, gratitude and concern for all beings. But what can we do about the unskillful actions?
Can Evil Karma be transformed into Good karma?
Remember there was a third category of karma Dr. Matsunaga taught...
1] Objective Condition, 2] Personal Karma, 3] and Buddha’s karma.
Amida Buddha is infinite compassion and infinite wisdom in the universe. Amida Buddha made 48 vows to reach out to all those simple folk who are unlikely to reach Buddhahood on their own. He dedicated the merit of his many kalpas of strenuous practice to this end. This is the great store of Buddha’s karma in the universe. It is a transformational energy.
We have all had the experience of doing something and it feels later that we regret or wish we could take back - This is the application of wisdom. At the time it seemed the thing to do - “He crossed me so I slugged him” as the school yard story goes. But with reflection. With the application of wisdom and compassion even a grave error can be a source of growth and transformation. This is the Buddha’s karma bearing fruit.
This effect is very important in our Mahayana teaching, and particularly in the Pure Land path of Shin Buddhism. Shinran Shonin observed that as a foolish ego-centered being [Bombunin], he - or I can say we - are not able to effectively practice positive personal karma. We just sort of bumble along. Like the first individual in the Lonaphala Sutra Cathy read. An unskillful person who does a small unskillful act can have large effects. It seems we are traveling on thin ice as it is. Without tremendous personal strengths and a perfect spiritual environment to live in, positive personal karma is really impossible for us. This insight about his spiritual limitations came to Shinran through twenty years of practice and struggle as a Buddhist monk.
In desperation, he left the monastery to seek guidance from the Bodhisattva Kannon. [right here] In a dream she directed Shinran to the teacher Honen, who helped him to awaken to the Buddha’s karma, expressed in Shin Buddhism as “the karmic power of the great vow” of Amida Buddha.
I often tell the ocean parable in the Newcomers circle - The story of a sailor fallen overboard in the sea - After almost drowning - He awakens to the futility of struggling in the middle of an ocean. Instead, he lets go of his frantic efforts to keep afloat by his own power and lies back - facing the stars - completely relaxed. To his wonderful surprise, he finds himself floating and supported by the ocean. When he first fell in - the ocean was his enemy and he fought against it - but with wisdom he awakened to the compassion of the ocean - the stormy sea is transformed into a supporting friend. The sailor switched from a futility of relying on personal karma perspective to taking refuge in the awesome power of the ocean of Amida Buddha’s karma.
This idea of easing-off on the “I-me-me-my” power and deeply hearing-feeling-sensing - that there is something bigger out there - this idea is central to Shin Buddhism. It is expressed in our most important sutra, the Larger Sutra. In the sutra Sakyamuni taught us that Amida Buddha’s Vow’s to aid all beings were taken long, long ago. It speaks to the existence of spiritual help beyond the limited self. Available to us if our ears and minds are opened to this karmic power of the Buddha. We are freed from the grip of Mara when as we turn to Other Power we feel all around us. Other Power is a word for Amida’s compassionate actions - his karma in the world.
When we reconsider and reflect and think better of an action we are expressing the wisdom and compassion of the universe. The Buddha’s karma and personal karma come together because we all have Buddha nature. It is inside us. We have this inside us, we need to Simply Trust to let it take us onward.
Unskillful karma can be transformed into Skillful Karma by the Other Power of wisdom and compassion. That is to say, I alone cannot effect such a change. It happens naturally when I completely trust in Amida Buddha - when I completely trust in the wisdom and compassion of the universe. Quoting Shinran...
Through the benefit bestowed by unhindered light,
One realizes the shinjin of vast transcendent virtues:
Unfailingly the ice of blind passions melts
And immediately becomes the water of enlightenment.
Obstructing evils have become the substance of virtues;
It is like the relation of ice and water:
The more ice, the more water;
The more hindrances, the more virtues.
Shinran is showing that we are ok just as we are. Worts and all. Regrets and sorrows and bad judgement - they are transformed when we give up our separate ego mind and simply trust in the universe. It is a deep and quite trust that expands in all directions.
So that is karma.
As Bonbunin we bumble along, we try our best to act in good conscience and kindness. Most times we fail. When we do we are redeemed by taking refuge in the greater goodness of Amida Buddha. Karma really applies to ourself in positive reflection and meditation. It is not like fate, predestination or retribution. Karma means action of thought, speech, and body. Karma really has much more to do with the present and the future than the past.
Buddha’s karma is available to those who come to realize the futility of perfecting our goofy selves. The Buddha’s karma is none other than Amida’s Compassion or Vow-power.
Lets share in Amida Buddha’s deep wish for all beings -
May you be happy;
May you be free from harm:
May you receive boundless compassion;
And may peace and harmony fill your heart
--- Namandabs - Namandabs - Namandabs ---
Welcome everyone. So good to be back. Our New Year's service was quite wonderful. We had so many guests and generous donations of food and offering of song, drumming and deep thoughts on compassion. We are so very grateful to all who participated. About 175 people packed this hondo! All faiths all kinds of drums. It really felt like a joyful expression of Indra’s sparkling web.
Todays talk is on non-harming. The Buddha called this Ahimsa.
What did the Buddha mean when he taught Ahimsa?
Usually I try to avoid using the ancient words for Buddhist concepts. I try to bring things into the 21st century. But today maybe we’ll try thinking about the word Ahimsa and its deeper meaning. In sanskrit a-himsa means not+himsa. Himsa = Harm injury or violence. The Sanskrit root hims, meaning to strike. We begin with the idea of non-injury. In some ways it literally means not hitting. It doesn't contain an sense of the victim of violence in it. Even acting out violently against a tree or a flower pot or a wall is included in actions to be avoided.
There is profound spiritual damage done by violence - it inflicts deep karmic scars on the perpetrator. The word Harm in english is rooted in “degradation, insult, pain, grief and sorrow”. Ahimsa, is a Buddhist teaching of non-violence toward all living beings. Ahimsa encourages compassion for all life, human and non-human. It also acknowledges the “degradation, insult, pain, grief and sorrow” that happens to the perpetrator as well as the victim. We cannot harm another without being spiritually harmed ourselves.
In the time of the Buddha grand animal sacrifices were common. He saw this destruction in the name of religion as an obscene abomination. In many sutras he systematically criticises these large scale sacrifices and advocates for harmlessness.
But his teaching against harm has deeper aspects. Many times in his discourses the Buddha speaks of four kinds of people – those who (1) harm themselves, (2) harm others, (3) harm both self and others and (4) who do not harm anyone.
We have all met people who fall in these categories. The first group may inflict harm because of self loathing or as some kind of misguided attempt to purify themselves. The second group are those that externalize their rage and lack the ability to see the interconnectedness of all beings. The third group includes those who damage themselves and others. Most of us fall in this category. Because of ignorance and misunderstanding of the law of karma we lash out like a bull in a china shop - without care for the harm we do. The Buddha counsels us against being part of these three groups because it causes lasting damage. The last group, who do no harm to themselves or others, he admires. They are those who follow a way of compassion like the Buddha himself taught create a habit of non-harming.
Many important people who were not Buddhists have considered this idea of Ahimsa as a high virtue - everyone from Gandhi to Tolstoy.
The Mahatma explained…
"Ahimsa means not to injure any creature by thought, word or deed, not even to the supposed advantage of this creature."
"[Ahimsa] is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man."
"Truth is my religion and Ahimsa is the only way of its realisation."
Thomas Edison thought that Ahimsa "leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution. Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages." And Leo Tolstoy who said “Violence produces only something resembling justice, but it distances people from the possibility of living justly, without violence.”
The idea of “living justly, without violence” that is Ahimsa - and that is what we seek to cultivate.
Buddha taught that our thoughts manifest in our speech; Our speech manifests in our actions; Our actions develop into habits; And habits hardens into our character. The easy place to effect this chain is to watch our thoughts and with care, and let them generate from love and concern for all beings.
If we hold thoughts of harm - or harm-full thoughts - If harmful thoughts exist within me, then pathways leading to harmful words, deeds, and habits also exist, and it’s a very slippery slope. As we learned in the Buddha’s Brain thoughts and experiences literally transform the brain on a neurological level. Patterning and considering harmless thoughts create new pathways or strengthen existing ones for kindness in our brains. For people who think that chanting and mantras are for the pink-tofu-mumbo-jumbo Hippy-dippy crowd - think again - and again - and again. It can create a good habit. Chanting and mantra are effective tools of mind to pattern wholesome actions and habits of mind. They transform our thoughts, speech, actions, and ultimately the world. Meditation on Ahimsa, as Gandhi said is the “greatest force at the disposal of mankind.”
The Ahimsa meditation that we often share to exclude harmful and violent thoughts is the Metta practice. The Loving Kindness practice...
May all beings be peaceful.
May all beings be happy.
May all beings be well.
May all beings be safe.
May all beings be free from suffering
We say “May All beings.”
That includes yourself, your dear ones, strangers on the street, the worm in the apple, and the trees along Plumas street.
“Happy” and “well” and “safe”.
These most basic, inalienable rights of all beings, we too often wish only for those in the human realm.
If all beings everywhere are happy and safe, then violence and harm would not exist - there would be no place, no reason to exist.
Opportunities for Ahimsa are subtle and ever present. Ahimsa can be as easy as sharing a ride to work instead of going alone. Ahimsa is looking in the mirror and thinking “you’re lookin good today”. Ahimsa is as easy as remembering that all beings everywhere have the right to be happy and safe from harm. Cultivating Ahimsa requires mindfulness. Ahimsa grows into reality when we start to think that way.
How can we live in the most non-harming way possible. How do we keep the idea of the middle way in harmony with non-harming.
All sentient beings and even celestial bodies live the same way - by causing harm to others. We lean on them for food, shelter, and energy of life. Everyday beings are bumping into other beings, smashing them, killing them, eating them, drinking them, wearing and using them, walking and lying on them, destroying their homes. There is no real boundary to this karmic responsibility - Shinran called it the crushing weight of evil karma - it radiates through every jewel in the interdependent fabric of Indra's net. We are not advocating being perfect. We are teaching mindfulness and harm a little bit less -ness.
The Sakyamuni Buddha was a most compassionate person - but he wore a robe [made from cotton], ate from a bowl [made from a tree] , and unintentionally crushed the life out of many grasses, flowers, and insects as he walked from place to place and sat and taught the Dharma from his many lotus seats. He asked that animals not be killed on his behalf but ate meat when it was served at a lay person's home out of graciousness to the host. Through his awareness and compassion, he took responsibility for these costs and redeemed them.
We can do the same. We use our precious human life to acknowledge and repay the kindness and the sacrifice of all beings who have willingly or unwillingly surrendered their lives so that we may live. The Buddha is encouraging us to Harm Less.
I was a vegetarian for many years. When I first came into a first awareness of the frightful suffering of our meat animals, being a vegetarian made sense. [I came upon the slaughter of a lamb in a meat-market in Sri Lanka.] Over time though I resumed eating meat - out of compassion for family and friends - I take my responsibility for the suffering of beings that feed me, this arouses a compassionate heart and loving mind every time I receive their gifts..
When we say - Itadakimasu before eating - it is out of respect for all living things. Before the meal, itadakimasu is said as a thanks to the plants and animals that gave their lives for the meal we’re about to eat. It also gives thanks all those involved, from the rancher/farmer to the one who prepared of the meal. We mitigate in some way the harm done by acknowledging and accepting this harming aspect of our being.
Indras web of interconnections makes us careful and sensitive to avoid harm, but it’s closeness also makes this harming inevitable. What can we do? If harming is a natural part of living and we are living out the results of countless actions in the past. If we remember that our actions are infinitely reflected in Indra’s web we can gain a measure of control from that awareness.
The Buddha shows us that through mindfulness we can always moderate our thoughts, speech and actions. When we think on something we don’t like, we can curb any harmful thoughts that arise. If we don’t like someone, we can de-energize the pathway of hurtful thoughts. When we speak we can avoid harsh judgements and attribute kind motives even to those we oppose. We can use words that lessen the hold of harming - remove the habit of harming. Even in our actions we can calm and moderate our movements and avoid abrupt and harmful actions. This habituates us to Ahimsa.
Lets try a thought exercise together - Remember ahimsa is the removal of harm and violence from our mind and body. Here are two ways we can challenge ourselves to remove that violence and be loving kindness.
Ahimsa in the mind: it begins here.
The mind is our the most powerful tool. Everything begins here. If we plant a seed of negativity, of self-harm, that seed can grow. Soon we look in the mirror and critique ourselves, and rather than celebrating our the gifts. We cut ourselves down for not being the good looking, smart, super fit, or whatever story you’re mind is telling. So for today, observe your thoughts. Recognize that thoughts lead to actions, and in order to remove violence in our everyday life, we have to remove it from starting point - the mind. Plant the thought “You are beautiful, you are whole as you are and perfectly imperfect”. Accept that. Be with that. Just say to yourself now - “I’m ok, just as I am”
This will Harm less.
Ahimsa and the body: we are what we eat.
The body is amazing. This machine allows us to move around this world, to breathe and live - we accomplish amazing things. To nourish and love our body fully, we can remove aspects of violence from our way of living, which includes our food. In today’s world we’ve removed ourselves from the food that we eat. The principle of ahimsa challenges that trend; we should know and understand what we are eating and where it comes from and be grateful. For one day try to eat a vegetarian diet. Try to appreciate the harm done to food animals and just not be part of that for a day. Celebrate the sacredness that is life and plant a seed of non-harming.
This will Harm less.
We can live a life of Ahimsa if we cultivate its causes. The story of Indra’s web helps us to see others as parts of ourselves,. If we do this we will not harm them. But often we become annoyed with friends and coworkers. We should not let people annoy us because of our reactions - they may be harmful - Annoyance in its extreme form can lead to the impulse toward harm - at first thorough thought, then by speech, and then by action. Some more advice from the Buddha from the Aga tapati vinaya Sutta…
"...there are these five ways of removing annoyance, by which annoyance can be entirely removed by a bhikkhu when it arises in him. What are the five?
Loving-kindness can be maintained in being towards a person with whom you are annoyed: this is how annoyance with him can be removed.
Compassion can be maintained in being towards a person with whom you are annoyed; this too is how annoyance with him can be removed.
Onlooking equanimity can be maintained in being towards a person with whom you are annoyed; this too is how annoyance with him can be removed.
The forgetting and ignoring of a person with whom you are annoyed can be practiced; this too is how annoyance with him can be removed.
Ownership of deeds in a person with whom you are annoyed can be concentrated upon thus: 'This good person is owner of his deeds, heir to his deeds, his deeds are the womb from which he is born, his deeds are his kin for whom he is responsible, his deeds are his refuge, he is heir to his deeds, be they good or bad.' This too is how annoyance with him can be removed.
These are the five ways of removing annoyance, by which annoyance can be entirely removed in a bhikkhu when it arises in him."
- [AN V.161 Aghatapativinaya Sutta]
And what of this Buddha here ? Amida Buddha - The vows of Amida Buddha are clear. We are OK Just as we are. Harmfulness and all. This is not because Amida condones violence, but it is because the violent are most in need to acceptance and support - more than anyone. This is the ultimate resolution of the puzzle of harming - how to pursue the ideal of Ahimsa. We contemplate this ideal, we accept our limitations and are grateful for the deep compassion of the universe that is there for us just the same.
When Shinran’s teacher Honen was young, his father Tokikuni was killed in front of Honen. Young Honen told his father that he would take revenge, Tokikuni last words were,
"If you take revenge on Akashi , his children will take revenge on you later. There is no way to cease anger and hatred from generation to generation. I want you to learn the Buddha-Dharma and find a way to overcome such a cycle of revenge."
Ordained at the age of 15, Honen studied and practiced various paths of Buddhism for almost thirty years in order to find the answer to overcoming anger and hatred in ordinary people. Then, when he encountered the writing of Zendo, the Chinese Pure Land master, he found the answer is the path of Nembutsu to liberate us equally. We take refuge in the infinite Wisdom and Compassion of the Universe.
The Nembutsu is the path where all sentient beings can experience the Buddha's infinte Wisdom and Compassion, particularly those who have suffered from what we call the “blind passions” of anger, hatred, greed, and ignorance.
It is this wisdom which makes us aware of suffering and pain arising from our harmful actions. It is this compassion which embraces the anger and hatred and transforms them into virtues. The essence of the Nembutsu teaching in Pure Land Buddhism is deeply rooted in the idea of Ahimsa. Practicing the Nembutsu path means practicing ahimsa. Shinran Shonin made this with for peace in our world...
“Those who feel uncertain should say the Nembutsu aspiring first for the birth of their own understanding - the Buddha Land. Those who feel that their own birth is completely settled should, mindful of the Buddha’s benevolence, say the Nembutsu in gratitude with the wish, “May there be peace in the world, and may the Buddha’s teaching spread!”
Opportunities for Ahimsa is subtle and ever present. Ahimsa can be as easy as sharing a ride to work instead of going alone. Ahimsa is looking in the mirror and thinking “you’re looking good today”. Ahimsa is as easy as remembering that all beings everywhere have the right to be happy and free. Cultivating Ahimsa requires mindfulness. Ahimsa grows into reality when we start to think that way. We can harm less. That is good for the world and good for us.
Please repeat after me the Metta practice...
May you be happy;
May you be free from harm:
May you receive boundless compassion;
And may peace and harmony fill your heart
- Namu Amida Butsu Namu Amida Butsu Namu Amida Butsu -
The Story of Indra’s Net -
Far, far away, in the abode of the great god Indra, king of heaven, hangs a wondrous vast net, much like a spider's web in intricacy and loveliness. It stretches out indefinitely in all directions. At each node, or crossing point, of the net hangs a single glittering jewel. Since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. The sparkling jewels hang there, suspended in and supported by the net, glittering like stars, dazzling to behold.
Close your eyes, now, and imagine what this magnificent jeweled net looks like, spread across the vast expanse of space. Now, keep your eyes closed and move in close to one jewel in the net. Look closely, and you will see that the polished surface of the gem reflects all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number, just as two mirrors placed opposite each other reflect an image ad infinitum. Each jewel reflected in this gem you are gazing into also reflects all the other jewels, so that the process of reflection is itself infinite.
Now open your eyes, and know that you are a sparkling jewel in Indra's Net, as is every person around you. Every jewel is connected with all the other jewels in the net; every person is intimately connected with all the other persons in the universe. Each has an independent place within the net and we all reflect and influence each other. A change in one jewel—or person—produces a change, however slight, in every other. Realize, too, that the infinite reflections speak to the illusory nature of appearances. Appearances are not, in fact, reality, but only a reflection; the true nature of a thing is not to be captured in its appearance. However powerful that appearance might be, it is yet only a reflection of what is real.In addition, whatever you do to one jewel affects the entire net, as well as yourself. You cannot damage one strand of a spider web without injuring the entire web, and you cannot damage one strand of the web that is the universe without injuring all others in it, whether that injury is known or unknown to them. This can work for good or ill because, of course, just as destructive acts affect the entire net, so do loving, constructive, compassionate acts affect the entire net. A single helpful act—even a simple act of kindness—will send positive ripples across the infinite net, touching every jewel, every sentient being in existence.
Welcome to you all. I see some new faces and some old friends - we welcome everyone at RBC. That is a very specific statement. 750 years ago Shin was one of the few paths in Buddhism that said that and really welcomed everyone. We can be proud of that heritage and uphold it.
I trust you all had a wonderful holiday of generosity and gratitude on Friday. I see that some of our friends are still over the hill and through the woods with family. The big snow storm was a fun holiday treat. We got to fire up the snow blower after 5 long years of storage, and I even plowed the parking lot. It had been so long I really had no idea how I'd done it before. So I just started in the middle and plowed away. It was a hoot!
So we are here together now and we can share some thoughts on the Dharma. Buddhism often seems difficult to understand. Sometimes I think the mysterious side is overemphasized in books and documentaries. Some scholars work hard to complicate and systematize what is really not that complicated. Today I want to offer three keys that might unlock understanding a bit.
To prepare this talk I looked at the Shoshinge. The sutra book in the seat back that we chant every time we meet. It was written about 700 years ago by the founder of our denomination - Shinran Shonin. This person here. Shoshinge means “Verses of true faith” and it is a poetic description of our lineage of teachers and their contributions to Buddhist thought.
Many of you have encountered these three ideas in your experience of Buddhism. The Three keys are…
Mindfulness = Vipassana = Monpo
Faith = saddhā =Shinjin
Non-Self = Other Power = Tariki
Naturalness = Jinen
Key Number One Insight - Monpo - What we call Deep Hearing. Americans usually call it mindfulness.
This is a fundamental Buddhist practice. We listen to the world around us. I studied Insight meditation in Sri lanka many years ago.
I found a meditation teacher at a large temple in the capital. There were a few other foreign students and the teacher Ven. Silavamsa spoke some English. At a wonderful little meditation hall in the middle of a lake on the temple grounds we started our training. Just like our Sunday morning beginners meditation class here at RBC, we began with observing our breath and worked to deeper and deeper levels of insight. After a few months our class was over. Ven. Silavamsa explained in the last few classes that this was all intended to develop our ability to see - our sight. At first within ourselves but ultimately all around us. Ultimately all around and within. Ultimately all around and within - all the time.
Sitting meditation is a wonderful way to calm our very busy minds. In our modern society, many things happen in short sound bites. We rush to learn faster, play faster, read faster. The faster computer is better. We hold multiple conversations with multiple people at the same time by text -by email - and by phone. Many of us never take the time to slow down and observe. To see. To feel. To hear the world around us. We take things in without any reflection. With this handicap, many things we think are going on, are just our own thoughts, playing back to us. Not what is really there. As Buddhists, we want to be able to see what is really there.
How can we listen to the Dharma with an open and aware - mind?
It is good to start small. We often talk about returning to the breath but you can also use these methods...
Right after you wake, just as you open your eyes, but before getting out of bed in the morning, Say an intention to be mindful for the day. And smile in appreciation of your intention.
Right after you finish getting dressed in the morning, sit in your meditation place, and practice breathing mindfulness for a few seconds let it grow naturally. Counting breaths at firest is a good way to easily increase w/o “a whole minute more”. Then smile in appreciation for doing that today.
Or - Right after you turn off the light at night, do 30 seconds of the loving kindness practice, wishing yourself and then loved ones, and then all other beings well. Finish by a smile of appreciation for remembering to practice. - BJFogg
Remember that small strong habits of mind are the best beginning.
In the Meditation Sutra - one of our three Pureland sutras - the Buddha taught 13 methods of seeing/hearing the infinite compassion and infinite wisdom in the Universe - Amida Buddha. Particularly the visualizations of the Sun and Water. I went on an early morning run yesterday - with little Stanley the Beagle - I thought of these: Sun and Water - The Golf course we run across was covered in a smooth white blanket of snow. As we ran across it, kicking up a little rooster tail sparkling in the sun. Stanley kept diving his head into the snow - It felt a little silly, but also very free and blessed. By these sources of the life we know. Sun and Water on a bright frozen morning.
The key to Buddhism I am describing is mindfulness. Pervasive penetrating sight of reality as it is. We say “Deep Hearing of the light”. In DEEP HEARING we allow ourselves an expansive awareness. We are all capable of that, but our ego shuts it down most days. One description of full awareness is this...
Have you had an experience of an emergency situation where it seemed that everything slowed down? What is really happening there is your awareness is at full throttle. You are not ignoring as much. Deep hearing is a mode of perception that heightens awareness of the light and life that surrounds us.
[ Amida Buddha vowed we would hear him on page 3 in the Shoshinge.]
Rennyo Shonin - right here - was the 8th abbot of Hongwanji, lived in the 15th century. He is called the “second founder” of Shin Buddhism. He inspired the common people to embrace the teachings of Buddhism. He shared this source of illuminating wisdom for their daily lives. He described the culture of mindfulness in the Shin Buddhist tradition like this...
“Each day, we practice mindfulness through a morning Buddhist service. Each month, we practice mindfulness through a visit to a local temple where an image of the founder of our teaching (Shinran) is enshrined. Each year, practice mindfulness through a visit to the head temple of our school (Hongwanji) in Kyoto.” - Rennyo Shonin Goichidaiki-kikigaki 46
Dr. Matsunaga was more gentle than this. he’d say, if you resolve to come to the temple a little bit more often than last year, that is a good method. The mindfulness practice of Shin Buddhism is based on hearing the Dharma, that is the teachings of the Buddha, with an open mind and heart. Here at RBC Rev. Shelley and I begin each morning hearing the Dharma. We have a small Shoshinge service and this sets a tone of mindfulness for the entire day. We can open our eyes and appreciate the infinite wisdom and infinite compassion that embraces us all day long.
That was Key Number One, Mindfulness - Monpo - Deep Hearing
Key Number Two is Faith = Shinjin is your Shin Buddhist word is around page 7 in the Shoshinge.
What kind of faith do we foster in Buddhism?
If we consider for a moment our daily activities - some faith is always required in relationships and life in general. This stop sign on Taylor street is a good example. We stop there. The drivers on Plumas pay us no attention, because we have the stop sign. They have a kind of faith that we will stop. This faith is reasonable, considered and well proven - but still provisional - it stays open to new information from reality. If someone runs the stop sign we still have to avoid them. This is the kind of confident faith we have in Buddhism - settled and aware. Not blind faith, but clear and confident.
The Buddha Shakyamuni talked a lot about faith - the Pali word is saddhā. He spoke of ...
faith in the working of the law of karma kamma saddhā
faith in the consequences of actions vi-pāka saddhā and
faith in the reality of the Buddha’s enlightenment tathāgata bodhi saddhā
He said these were essential to progress in understanding and attainment in Buddhism. He said we must have faith or we cannot progress on the path.
A good example is the Nembutsu here on the scroll...Namu Amida Butsu
Namu is a courageous act. But it requires faith.
When I say Namu Amida Buddha = I take refuge in Amida Buddha. I am showing a deep and strong confidence. Unno Sensei described the nembutsu as “diving into the oneness of reality”. It takes faith - strong confident faith to dive into anything. Even more the unknown. But we do.
Shinran shonin showed us that our faith in Amida Buddha is essential to our transformation and rebirth in the Pureland of clarity and understanding. Through this faith, we can see the infinite wisdom and infinite compassion of the universe and know they are here for us.
Rennyo Shonin was very concerned with faith. In the 1400's, Japan was a violent society torn by civil wars. He endured vicious repression and repeated sacking and burning of Shin temples by the militant Tendai monks of Mt. Hiei. He had a difficult time remaining firm against this repression and preserving his faith. His best method of supporting Shin Buddhism was writing pastoral letters to distant congregations. He wrote many letters as he lead the Shinshu to full expression. In his letters he suggests that the members meet twice monthly "in order to discuss their faith". Also in these letters he points out that faith was not always discussed at the meetings as it should be. He criticizes the members for turning the meetings into social occasions, forgetting their true purpose. He urges deep Dharma discussion and questioning in order to arrive at settled faith. The meetings provided opportunity for members to interact and discuss their faith in a more personal way. In our gatherings at RBC there are often conversations about faith. We experience each other's stories of how we came to be here together. Here is an excerpt from a Rennyo letter that really struck me in my reading this week...
“On Semi-monthly Meetings“
For what purpose have there come to be meetings twice each month? They are held for the sake of realizing one’s own faith which leads to birth in the Land of Utmost Bliss and for nothing else. Although there have been “meetings” everywhere each month, from the past up until now, there has never been anything at all that might be called a discussion of faith. In recent years in particular, when there have been meetings, everyone has dispersed after nothing more than sake, rice, and tea. This is indeed contrary to the fundamental intent of the Buddha-Dharma.
When I consider this letter I do wonder if Rennyo is talking to us?
Are we following the tradition well? Can we do better?
I think the answers are - Yes - He is talking to us. We are doing well and Yes - we can always do better.
The meaning of our tradition’s settled mind is, regardless of the depth of our own hindrances, there is no doubt whatsoever that Amida Buddha will save all sentient beings who simply put a stop to their inclination toward the sundry practices, single heartedly take refuge in Amida Buddha, and deeply entrust themselves to him to save them in the most important matter, the birth that is to come. Those who thoroughly understand in this way will be born in the Pure Land - one hundred out of one hundred.
That is what we are all doing here today. Just as Rennyo asks us. When you are studying Buddhism and a question arises - ask the question. It is only natural to ask -- No blind faith is required --- your questions foster your confidence. The process of making sense of life is yours to do. When we do that and share with others we help them along their path.
The Teacher Zendo would commends us -
"To realize faith oneself and to guide others to faith is the most difficult of all difficulties: To tell of great compassion and awakened beings everywhere is truly to respond in gratitude to the Buddha's benevolence ".
It is wonderful to be together and it is important to share with each other our struggles and insights into living a truly spiritual life. A deep and abiding faith that enables us to dive into the oneness of reality.
People have asked me if they have received Shinjin? Or they tell me they don’t think they have. Either way it is not a question I can easily answer. We all experience doubt and questions. I can only answer that - for me - it is as Shinran once said…
“if this path is a total bust and I find on my death a birth in a hellish place - I know this is the best I can do. And I would do it again.”
This second key to Buddhism is a Faith. We say Shinjin. Same thing.
The third key idea is non-self - We have two important ways to see this Other Power and Naturalness.
The Buddha’s teaching is based on four important insights that he had while sitting under a tree about 2600 years ago. He saw that ….
Life is a Bumpy Road - we don’t get through it w/o difficulties and challenges. The challenges are good and noble and to be handled well. The old word for this is Dukkha.
Life is Impermanent - nothing stays the same from moment to moment. The old word for this is Annicca.
Life is Interdependent - We are all part of everything we have effects and are affected by the universe. The old word for this is Paticca- samuppada
Life is Fundamentally Good - Joy and meaning are here, occasional bumps and all. Life of all feeling beings contains this wonderful aspect - if we could just get past ourselves. The old word for this is Nibanna
Item three here is important - Everything is really in constant flux or change. From our selfish point of view, we think that if we can just cling to something we will be OK. We will know that we are something real and permanent. But unfortunately we are not - Well - we are real - but we are not permanent. That is the deepest source of our suffering. There is no self as we experience it. It is a non-self. This separate bubble of “I-Me-Me-My” I am currently inhabiting is not real. It is an ignorant viewpoint. A misunderstanding. We are confused or even deluded all the time about this. We suffer because we want things to be different than they really are.
In the Shoshinge, we see the mention of Ryuju - the first of our Pure Land Teachers. We chanted “Shitsu no zai ha un mu ken” - on pg13 “Ryuju destroyed the false views of being and non-being”. The most important Buddhist concept of non-being is the idea of non-self. Anatta we say in Pali language. Sometimes your hear No Self but I like non-self better. Ryuju exhaustively studied metaphysics and could not find a single object that has its own “self-existence”. He explained and illuminated the Buddha’s conclusion that everything is dependent on everything else to exist.
Is a child born only because of its parents? Naturally, we say "Yes."
But if that is true, then those parents must have existed before the child was born.... But they weren't Parents before the child was born. Are there any parents without a child? Actually no; it is because of the child that the parents are there and vice versa. Both of them are the cause of the other. A kind of circle of interconnectedness.
Because you are here, I am here as a speaker, Because of you, we are having this service today and because of the service, you are here. We are here because of the infinite wisdom and compassion that is Other Power. In our Shin Buddhist path we see this best described in a contrast between the selfish and other. The contrast between self power and other power.
We might naturally think - “I am here because I decided to get in the car this morning and come over”. But as Dr. Matsunaga often pointed out, in reality things happen because of many conditions, and if those conditions are removed, what would happen? Something very different.
If we do the same thing with ourselves - Examine the causes and conditions of who we are. Remove the causes and what remains?
The answer is that nothing would remain as you think of yourself. This is the meaning of "non-self". We are non-self, but because of many causes and conditions, we are here. I am non-self, and I am temporary. We are here in this relationship. All things exist as they are, because of causes and conditions in relationship. This truth is known as interdependent co-arising and is the matrix of Other Power. There are directed energies in this matrix the vows of the bodhisattvas are actualized here.
Deep down I think we can admit that we don’t live through our own self-power. Many causes and conditions allow us to live. But, we normally think that “I am here” and “I exist” through my own power. We may listen to the Dharma and be content hearing about the working of Other-Power, after the Dharma talk we forget and think that there is really an “I” and that "I live my life the way I want to!"
Lets listen and be content with hearing the teaching. And then try to live the teaching of non-self and cultivate mindfulness of Other-Power in our lives. We can try. But we quickly forget. It is so hard for us to live as we are - we need to listen to the Dharma again and again. It reminds us that we all part of everything originally. And that we will return to the everything when all of our causes and conditions disappear. And the everythingness will say we never left.
In the shoshinge we see many mentions of other power and the problems of Self-power thinking. On page 20 in your books-
O gen ne ko yu ta riki
“Our going and returning, is through through Other Power alone;”
and then on page 22 Man zen ji riki hen gon shu
“Doshaku discouraged self power practice; because it has a trap.”
Non-self is a natural immersion in the oneness of reality. Naturalness is an important Shin Buddhist idea. - page 15 - “Jinen so ku ji” -We are all foolish beings - in the shoshinge called Bonbunin. By our nature we are always scheming and calculating to reach a goal - whether that goal is material success or spiritual enlightenment or birth. We live in a dualistic world - us and them - this and that. In Naturalness we become aware of this foolishness and open to the wisdom and compassion of the universe. It leads beyond this scheming to a realm of spontaneous freedom. This spontaneity is called jinen honi, the “suchness of spontaneity”, or more simply, naturalness. Naturalness is non-self. When we live life in freedom and spontaneity the compassion and wisdom of Amida Buddha flows through us. Maybe this was the feeling of running across the snowy golf course, free and nurtured by the Sun and Water.
Shinran counseled us to moderate our discussion of naturalness. If you think about it too much it slips away and just becomes another calculation.
The third key is non-self we can see this through Other Power and naturalness.
Conclusion - So these are three keys to Buddhism we chant every day in the Shoshinge. Mindfulness = Monpo, Faith = Shinjin, and Non-Self = Other Power = Tariki. Lets listen and feel content with hearing the teaching. And then try to live the teaching in our life. We can develop a settled faith - open and clear and adaptive - but confident. We can see deep interdependence in our lives, the ‘I-me-me-my” is just a bad habit. We can cultivate Mindfulness of Other-Power in our lives. We study and reflect on our lives. We are grateful for the Wisdom and Compassion of the universe that is Amida Buddha.
Above all this friendly universe wants us to be joyful. Lets all say the deep wish of the universe has towards us - together...
May you be happy;
May you be free from harm:
May you receive boundless compassion;
And may peace and harmony fill your heart--- Namandabs - Namandabs - Namandabs ---
--- Namandabs - namandabs - Namandabs ---
I’m happy to see you all here today. We like to over welcome visitors and guests….it’s just our style. For Bhodi day we moved the chairs in a circle of sorts so we could share together. The Buddha is here under the enlightenment tree.
I moved down here - I’m getting back to my roots. In Sri lanka the teacher always sat on the floor.
[Reflections on the weeks]...Moon Rabbit cafe 180 people had dinner here saturday night and Bhodi Day retreat was a wonderful afternoon together.
When I was studying in Sri Lanka we took refuge like this…
Buddham Saranam Gacchâmi.
Dhammam Saranam Gacchâmi.
Sangham Saranam Gacchâmi.
Dutiyampi Buddham Saranam Gacchâmi.
Dutiyampi Dhammam Saranam Gacchâmi.
Dutiyampi Sangham Saranam Gacchâmi.
Tatiyampi Buddham Saranarn Gacchâmi.
Tatiyampi Dhammam Saranam Gacchâmi.
Tatiyampi Sangham Saranam Gacchâmi.
As you can hear we said the three hommages three times each. My teacher explained it is important to be truthful with yourself. We can’t accidentally say something three times - our intentions are clear.
I have taken refuge in the Buddha Dharma and Sangha. Like Billions of people in the last 2,600 years - the Buddha's teachings make sense to me. The world is a difficult place - the teachings have me a sense of meaning in the difficulties. They’ve made sense out of what was confused in life. They have given me a strong compassionate framework to raise our children and lead my life. I hope they can do that for you too.
So let’s talk about Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, and what taking refuge really means. We talk about these ideas often - which is good - it helps them soak in and become part of us.
A refuge is a place where we go when they are distressed or when we need safety and security. There are many types of refuges. When we are unhappy, we take refuge with friends. When we are overwhelmed we may take refuge in a bottle. When we are worried and frightened, we may take refuge in false hopes and beliefs. When death approaches we might take refuge in a dream of an eternal heaven. But the Buddha taught none of these are true refuges because they do not give comfort and security based on reality. They are based on ignorance and childish wishes.
The Buddha said….
Truly these are not safe refuges,
not the refuge supreme.
Not the refuge whereby one is
freed from all sorrow.
But to take refuge in the
Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha
and to see with real understanding
the Four Noble Truths.
Suffering, the cause of suffering,
the transcending of suffering and
the Noble Eightfold Path that leads
to the transcending of suffering.
This indeed is a safe refuge,
it is the refuge supreme.
It is the refuge whereby one finds joy.
Taking Refuge in the Buddha is a confident acceptance of the fact that I am ok just as I am. The Wisdom and Compassion of the universe is here for me, when I accept that truth with deep faith. We call that Amida Buddha. One day I can become fully enlightened, fully human, fully sentient as the Buddhas are. And until then I will not worry. Taking Refuge in the Dhamma means understanding the Four Noble Truths and living life along Noble Eightfold Path. Taking Refuge in the Sangha means accepting support, inspiration, and guidance from all who walk the Noble Eightfold Path. Doing this we find we are Buddhist and take steps on the path for the sake of all.
Most of you have heard the story of the Buddha. In bits and pieces from Dharma talks or reading [old path white clouds is a wonderful -long - version of his life]. He was born a prince, renounced his position, studied with spiritual masters, was enlightened and became a great spiritual teacher. For the Buddha part of this talk I will focus on his experience of Enlightenment. I want to transport us in time and space, so I’ll use the language of the sutras as much as I can. I’ll tell the story….
Long ago and far away….About 2,622 years ago, when Siddhartha Gotama, was about 35 years old, He had studied with many teachers and mastered their systems. But - He was still dissatisfied with his understanding. Ultimately he studied on his own as a forest recluse. He followed a discipline of extreme self-denial eating minimal food and water. In the tradition he followed this was thought to free the soul to be one with absolute reality. But he was very weak and on the verge of dieing. As he made his way to a place near Bodh Gaya in India, he collapsed from hunger. The village girl Sujata offered him rice milk and he regained his strength. And he realized that the truth was to be found in a middle way. He selected a good place for meditation and sat - under a tree. There he practiced, a meditation called “space-like concentration on the Truth of everythingness” - the Dharmakaya - focused single-pointedly on the ultimate nature of all phenomena. He had been training in this meditation for six years - his insight was sharp and he realized that he was very close to making a breakthrough, and so he sat in the shade of the Bodhi Tree. He crossed his legs and vowed not to rise from meditation until he had attained perfect and complete enlightenment. With deep determination he entered the “space-like concentration on the truth of everythingness”.
This resolve came to the attention of Mara, the chief of all the demons. And he became concerned. Mara’s job was to keep sentient beings trapped in ignorance and delusion and now one was about to pass into wisdom. So Mara tried to disturb Siddhartha’s concentration by conjuring up many fearful apparitions. He manifested any army terrifying demons, some throwing spears, some firing arrows, some trying to burn him with fire. Through the force of his concentration, the spears and arrows appeared to him as a rain of fragrant flowers, and the raging fires became like offerings of rainbow lights. [Like the ones on the tree here.]
Seeing that Siddhartha could not be frightened into abandoning his meditation, Mara tried to distract him by parading his three voluptuous daughters, Taṇhā (Craving), Arati (Aversion), and Raga (Passion) in front of Siddhartha. You probably know them by their english names - Craving, Hatred, and Rage...
“They had came to him glittering with beauty — Taṇhā, Arati, and Rāga — But the Teacher was unmoved and swept them away
As the wind blows a, a fallen cotton tuft.”
- The Three Watches of the Night - from the Pali Canon
When his mind was concentrated, purified, bright... he recollected his manifold past lives -, one birth, two... five, ten... fifty, a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand, many eons of cosmic contraction, many eons of cosmic expansion. What we now call the Jataka tales came into focus: There he had this name, belonged to this a clan, had this appearance.... Passing away from that state, he re-arose elsewhere. There with new name, a new clan, and so on. He ate this food, experienced of pleasure & pain, and saw the end of that life. Passing away from that state, he re-arose in yet a new place. On and on. And that is how he remembered his myriad past lives in their modes & details.” told to Janusson In the brahman in the Bhaya-bherava Sutta
In the first watch of the night - the Buddha saw the nature of rebirth - he saw all his rebirths. The spiritual flow of consciousness from life to life.
I’ll read from the sutra…
"This was the first knowledge I attained in the first watch of the night. Ignorance was destroyed; knowledge arose; darkness was destroyed; light arose — as happens in one who is heedful, ardent, and resolute. But the pleasant feeling that arose in this way did not invade my mind or remain.”
Then the Buddha experienced the second watch of the night…
His mind became even more concentrated, purified, bright. He directed it to the knowledge of the passing away & reappearance of sentient beings. He saw — by means of the divine eye, pure and beyond the human vision — beings passing away & re-appearing, and he discerned how they are inferior & superior, beautiful & ugly, fortunate & unfortunate in accordance with their kamma: Beings with bad conduct of body, speech, & mind, who avoided the noble ones, held wrong views and undertook actions under the influence of wrong views — with the breakup of the body, after death, re-appeared in the plane of deprivation, the bad destination, the lower realms, [we know where this is] in hell. But beings — with good conduct of body, speech & mind, who kept the council of the noble ones, who held right views and undertook actions under the influence of right views — with the break-up of the body, after death, re-appeared in the good destinations, in the heavenly world. So - by means of the divine eye - He saw beings passing away & re-appearing, and he understood how they are inferior & superior, beautiful & ugly, fortunate & unfortunate in accordance with their karma.
"This was the second knowledge I attained in the second watch of the night. Ignorance was destroyed; knowledge arose; darkness was destroyed; light arose — as happens in one who is heedful, ardent, & resolute. But the pleasant feeling that arose in this way did not invade my mind or remain.”
In the Second watch of the night the Buddha understood the working of Karma and the 6 realms of existence in samsara.
In the Third Watch of the night…
When his mind was unblemished, rid of defilement, pliant, malleable, steady, he directed it to the knowledge of the ending of the mental defilement and infection. He saw, as it had come to be, that 'This is not joyful... This is the origination of the absence of joy... This is the cessation the absence of joy... This is the way leading to joy... In the third watch the Buddha saw deeply into the Dharma. The truth of the way things work. He saw the four Noble truths,
"This was the third knowledge I attained in the third watch of the night. Ignorance was destroyed; knowledge arose; darkness was destroyed; light arose — as happens in one who is heedful, ardent, & resolute. But the pleasant feeling that arose in this way did not invade my mind or remain."
As the Morning star rose…
His heart, knowing this, seeing this, was released from the defilement and infection sensuality, released from the defilement and infection of becoming, released from the defilement and infection of ignorance. With release, there was the thought - “I’m free, I am free, and freedom tastes of reality…”
Well, the actual words in the sutra are…
Through the round of many births I roamed
seeking the house-builder.
Painful is birth
again & again.
House-builder, you're seen!
You will not build a house again.
All your rafters broken,
the ridge pole destroyed,
gone to the Unformed,
the mind has come to the end of craving.
— Dhp 153-4
Siddhartha removed the final veils of ignorance from his mind and in the next moment became a Buddha, a fully enlightened being. He touched the earth with his right hand - the earth was witness to enlightenment.
At that time, he sat there in complete understanding for several days.
Then he came to the question of teaching the Dharma. The story goes, the Buddha was of two minds, he considered whether to teach others this profound truth he had discovered. Thinking that it would be quite troublesome for him, since the Dhamma is deep and difficult, and people, enmeshed in worldly enjoyment, are not really interested in freedom. He initially decided not to teach, but instead to ‘live on at ease’. Brahmā, the great god, having sensed the Buddha’s decision, appeared before him, bowed down, and requested that Buddha teach. He argued that some beings had “but little dust on their eyes”, and would quickly find enlightenment if they heard the Dhamma. In the face of Brahma’s request - The Buddha changed his mind and decided to teach. And so we are sitting here today.
It is important to remember when the Buddha was enlightened, he did not pop! off into another dimension, he did not grow 20ft tall or defy gravity. He lived in the world and continued to practice. He taught and learned from teaching for 49 more years. He had challenges as a teacher and a leader. Reactionary elements in society were unhappy with his total undermining of caste system and on one occasion murdered a prostitute and buried her behind the Buddha’s hut. The authorities figured it out in a few weeks time. There were tough times. The were schisms in the sangha when Devadatta tried to name himself the Buddha’s successor. The significance of the Buddha's attainment is in how he experienced life. At the end of each watch the sutra says “the pleasant feeling that arose in this way did not invade my mind or remain.” The pleasant feeling did arise and he experienced it, then it went away - naturally. All the difficulties of life associated with clinging and wanting and thirsting - were gone. And Joy flows in. This is what we learn from the Buddha. Life's a bumpy road, it is impermanent, it is interdependent, and it is good - full of wonders.
That’s is all I wanted to say about the Buddha today. Bhodi Svaha!
Its interesting how as we discuss the Buddha, the Dharma - his teaching about the truth of the way the universe works - comes out too. I think we’ve largely covered the Dharma as well.
I would say that Taking Refuge in the Dharma is a comforting process. When we take refuge in the way the universe works we are unburdened of trying to attain some kind of super understanding. In our rationalist society, we think we need to “figure everything out”. But we don’t - the Buddha did do that. A buddha can do that. We are just regular folks with regular lives. We have insights and these lead us to the Dharma, but we are never responsible to figure it all out. What happens when we try to do that with limited tools? Like children in a broken home. We create fanciful misunderstandings - limited provisional explanations and live by them. Imagining that we were the cause of some family strife or traumatic event - delusion grows. Taking refuge in the Dharma helps us let go of these childlike explanations in favor of the clarity and depth of the Dharma. The universe in the Buddha’s vision is ordered, it does make sense and it has deep and abiding wisdom and compassion for us.
The Dharma is my refuge. When I catch myself trying to make sense of something too complex to really penetrate, I am reminded “matt - matt - you're trying to make sense of it”. Let that go - and I take refuge in the Dharma.
And taking refuge in the Sangha…
You probably know sangha means the community of Buddhists collected together. What binds a sangha together is love. We all need love. Without enough love, we can’t survive, as individuals and as a planet. Sakyamuni taught that the next Buddha will be named “Maitreya,” the Buddha of Love.
The Sangha is a jewel, no less important than the Buddha and the Dharma. We start our service by taking refuge in The Buddha, The Dharma, and The Sangha. Please practice Sangha building. Stand by your Sangha. Rennyo - the teacher below Shinran said - “Without a Sangha, sooner or later you will abandon the practice”. Take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. The Sangha always carries within it the Buddha and the Dharma. The Sangha is a sacred body. Don’t look for that wonderfulness somewhere else. Don’t think that holiness is only for the Dalai Lama or Mother Theresa. The sacred is sitting right in this room - within you and within the body of the Sangha. When a community of people chant, breathe, walk, and eat in mindfulness, scared is here, and we can recognize it. When we repair the temple, care for the grounds, sweep and shovel. That sacredness is here.
We had 13 new members of our sangha at the ceremony last time. Welcome to you all. A Sangha is a stream of life flowing in the direction of deep and abiding joy, moving toward peace. The only thing we have to do to enter the stream of the Sangha is to become part. To take part. To participate. If we do, we be “held never to be let go” by the Buddha. These are the words used by the Buddha. If we accept the presence of Other Power in our lives. If we turn toward Amida, we join the Sangha and enter the flow toward the Pure Land. Toward deep and abiding Joy.
The Sangha is your protection. It is the raft that will carry you to the Other Shore of liberation, freedom, salvation. Joy. Without a Sangha, even with the best intentions, you will falter. “I take refuge in the Sangha” is not a declaration of faith. It is a daily practice. Rennyo shonin reminds us in his letters - we need to return to the sangha regularly or we will lose our way.
Conclusion - The Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Our three jewels. Treasures we share together as we travel the path toward joy. The Buddha gave us these jewels out of deep compassion for us. Out of true and real love for all sentient beings. This is the Buddha’s wish fo0r all of us. Please look across to some - look into their eyes and say 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
Welcome to you all. It is a great joy to be with you today. These Sundays when we are together give me a wonderful opportunity to experience the Dharma. I hope you have this feeling too. Thank you.
This morning I would like to share some thoughts on what we call the three poisons - Greed, Anger, and Ignorance. And maybe some ways to “let go” of these poisons. Deep down one of these is always there when things go wrong. The Buddhist path is a path toward freedom from these afflictions. We’ve talked about these many times before. And while they seem to ebb and flow in our lives. Even when we make progress on The Path - they return in ever more subtle ways, that’s why we bring them to mind often.
Its pretty easy to think - “Well, I don’t have these afflictions”.
When was the last time you were greedy? take a moment and recall. Bring it to mind. Its a matter of degree. If I share I am not being greedy, but if I share less than I could that is greed insinuating itself in my life.
When was the last time you were angry? Take a moment and recall. Bring it to mind…. what happened? If you are thinking and saying to yourself, “I don’t get angry” - a little more reflection is needed.
What happened? How did the red wave overtake you?
When was the last time you caught yourself unawares or even in a delusion? This is a hard one.
We immediately think. “I’m never ignorant”. It is natural to bridle at this inquiry. But it is in the nature of delusion to be - elusive. When I am seeing things as I want them to be, not as they are that is delusion.
I’m probably going to interchange ignorance or delusion through my talk - they are the same thing for today.So for now and in everyday of our lives, I want to show how our Buddhist path serves to antidote us from these poisons through true entrusting in Amida Buddha’s primal vow and chanting the Nembutsu.
The unwholesome feelings of greed and hatred always occur associated with ignorance or delusion.
So the Buddha declares:
“All unwholesome states [of mind] have their root in ignorance, they converge upon ignorance, and by abolishing ignorance, all the other unwholesome states are abolished.” SN 20:1
Ignorance does not mean a simple lack of knowledge. It is the lack of right understanding of the Four Noble Truths: Ignorance of fact that we can live Joyfully , Ignorance of the reason that we do not, Ignorance of the fact that there can be an end to suffering and Joy flows in, and Ignorance of the path that leads to Joy.
From the Dhammapada chapter 12: The Self - Atta Vagga
"By oneself, indeed, is evil done; by oneself is one defiled. By oneself is evil left undone; by oneself, indeed, is one purified. Purity and impurity depend on oneself. No one purifies another."
Buddhism teaches us that these poisons are something we create, not something we are or an outside force that infects us. The important point is that we are empowered to effect our lives. When we set an intention and follow it with diligence - good results come. This is not a matter of moral judgment. It is a matter of mindfulness of the effects created by what we do.
The sorting humanity into "good" and "evil" is a dangerous trap. When others are thought to be evil, it becomes possible to justify doing them harm. Anger is fostered. THEY are different from US. or They cause Our suffering. In that thought are the seeds of genuine evil. The Buddha's teaching of the Four Noble Truths tells us that suffering is caused by greed, or thirst, and greed is rooted in the delusion that we are isolated and separate. We should not fall into the habit of thinking of ourselves and of others as good or bad. Ultimately there is just action and reaction; cause and effect - the Law of karma.
The Buddha repeatedly taught that the reason we are not joyful is due to Greed, Anger, and Ignorance. The poisons cause harm both to yourself and to others. We use the word “unwholesome” to characterize all actions of body speech and mind that bind sentient beings to Samsāra, the round of rebirth and suffering. “Wholesome” thoughts and actions are those that free us to be joyful. Wholesome actions are sources of benefit for both ourselves and our community
These wholesome and unwholesome roots should be of great concern to us. They mold our character and our destiny and determine the nature of our rebirth. They can habituate us to our delusion or free us to be joyful.
These three poisons: GREED or thirst, HATRED (ill- will) and DELUSION (ignorance). Maybe you have seen paintings with three animals - the Snake the Rooster and the Pig - ceating each other’s tail in a circle. The Rooster symbolizes Greed, The Snake Hate, The Pig Ignorance.
The Rooster - Greed is the cause of many unfortunate acts. The five greedy desires are for: wealth, sex, fame, food, and sleep. Greedy desires are endless and can never be satisfied. Greed is a state of lack, need and want. GREED is always seeking more satisfaction, but it is insatiable. It literally grows the more - whatever - we get - the more we want.
We need to notice that our culture often values greed or desire - People who have lots of stuff are considered successful. So we measure everyone. There is some implication of virtue or strength to those who materially succeed. <We do see that this does not result in joy - only more wanting.> Sometimes we use the word thirst here for greed.
When we cling to desire we are trapped. And I think the Buddha was teaching non-clinging - not non-feeling. We all have desires. The Buddha had desires - to share the teaching, to help others find a joyful life. But he was not grasping after them. He calmly went about the good work of teaching and fostering the sangha, even when confronted with fantastically challenging circumstance. His cousin tried to divide the sangha and become the next leader. When more traditional religions were threatened by these ideas they hatched a plot to have the Buddha implicated in a murder. He calmly responded that this was not what happened. His desire to teach did not spurred him to to anger or revenge. We will always feel these feelings. When we don’t get what we want and we cling to these desires - we may experience grief, sadness, despair, envy and jealousy—states of hatred, anger, and violence. But when we don’t clinging to them joy flows in.
[To antidote and overcome greed, we learn to cultivate selflessness, generosity, detachment, and contentment. If we are experiencing greed, strong desire, or attachment and we want to let it go, we can contemplate the impermanence or the disadvantages of the objects of our desire. We can practice giving away those things we would most like to hold onto. We can also practice acts of selfless service and charity, offering care and assistance to others in any way we can, free of all desire for recognition or compensation. In truth, there is no objection to enjoying and sharing the beauty, pleasures, and objects of this material world. The problems associated with greed and attachment only arise when we mistakenly believe and act as if the source of our happiness is outside of us.]
That brings us to The Snake -
Hatred and anger towards ourselves and others is a poison. Its true origins are internal, we have frustrated desires and wounded pride. External circumstances do exist, but making anger out of them is our thing. Buddhist psychology extends the range of what we call hatred beyond simple anger to include emotions of disappointment, dejection, anxiety and despair - these are all reactions to impermanence, insecurity and imperfection embedded in our experience of samsara.
What did Yoda say?
“Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering. “
Anger is a caustic substance in the mind. We don’t agree that there is something called “righteous” or “justified” anger. Anger is always a poison. It limits our ability to apply Right action to a situation and blinds us to what is really going on.
“By doing this you are like a man who wants to hit another and picks up a burning ember to throw and so first burns himself.”
Visuddhimagga IX, 23.
Anger is unpleasant but kind of seductive in a way. As we can see from the internet, there is something about finding fault with others that feeds the ego. We often protect and cultivate our anger. This is a very dangerous thing to do. The Buddha described an angry person as follows...
"The person possessed of anger; discoloured,
Does not have sound sleep.
Even when experiencing the beneficial
He mistakes it as mischief.
Then he harms another
By thought, speech and deed
As result, he will suffer.
Loss of property (fines or punishment).
Crazed by wrath he behaves thus
That invites ill-repute.
His relatives, friends and acquaintance
Shun him, for his temper - hot.
Anger fathers misfortune
Anger maddens one's mind
It is a danger that rises from within
But we do not realize it.
The angered knows not what is right
Nor does he see what really is
Surrounded by darkness he dwells
Who now does anger defeat?
Captivated and maddened by anger
He does what is unwholesome with ease
But in time when anger is spent
Regret, as one burnt by flames."
Buddha, Anguttara Nikaya
[To antidote and overcome hatred, we learn to cultivate loving-kindness, compassion, patience, and forgiveness. When we react to unpleasant feelings, circumstances, or people, with hatred, anger, or aversion, we can use these sublime antidotes to counteract the poisons. Here we learn to openly embrace the entire spectrum of our experiences without hatred or aversion. Just as we practice meeting unpleasant experiences in the outer world with patience, kindness, forgiveness, and compassion, we must also practice meeting our own unpleasant feelings in the same way. Our feelings of loneliness, hurt, doubt, fear, insecurity, inadequacy, depression, and so forth, all require our openness and loving-kindness. Our challenge in spiritual practice is to soften our habitual defenses, open our heart, and let go of hatred, aversion, and denial. In this way, we can meet and embrace ourselves, others, and all inner and outer experiences with great compassion and wisdom.]
The Pig - Delusion or ignorance is a belief in something false and distorted.
Why do we use the pig? Imagine him in his pig sty, rooting around for potato skins. Thinking of the farmer as his benefactor - Happy is a pig in his sty. When in reality he is destined for Easter dinner and his benefactor is his executioner.
If we don't believe that causes have effects - Karma - then we commit offences frequently, we will suffer from the results. Delusion, in the form of ignorance is a state of confusion. False views, can take on a fanatical or obsessive character. The mind becomes rigid and closed.
The truth of suffering is hidden by The Four Great Delusions:
seeing permanence in the impermanent,
seeing happiness in what is truly suffering,
Separateness in what has no self existence,
and seeing beauty in the unbeautiful.
These distortions, powerful universal manifestations of ignorance and delusion, close off understanding why we suffer and how we can be joyful. We see these propagated in our society every day. Millions are spent on feeding us these delusions through the media. But we also - like the piggy - harbor and even foster them ourselves.
Remember the image of the three animals chasing their tails in a circle. Both greed and hatred are always linked with delusion. They are grounded upon delusion and produce more delusion as we pursue the objects we desire or hate. It is the delusion beneath our attraction and aversion that really blinds us. They are chasing their tails in a circle.
The basic delusion, from which all its other forms arise, is the idea of a permanent self: my belief in the permanent separateness of my self. Believing in this I-me-me-my self - must be clearly understood as a delusion - a wrong view. I am not permanent - I am not separate. I am just this moment in the flow of everything.
The master Dogen, said this of no-self:
To study Buddhism is to study yourself; to study yourself is to forget yourself; to forget yourself is to be awakened and realize your intimacy with all things. Can you see you are one drop, at one with an ocean? You are but one small point on a large, warm blanket. Itivuttaka 68
[To antidote and overcome delusion, we cultivate wisdom, insight, and right understanding. Learning to experience reality as it is, without the distortions of our self-centered desires, fears, and expectations, we free ourselves from delusion. Deeply sensing and acting in harmony with the interdependent, impermanent, and ever-changing nature of this world. We realize that all living beings are inseparably related and that lasting happiness does not come from anything external we free ourselves from delusion. As we develop a clear understanding of karma, knowing the positive, wholesome actions that bring happiness and the negative, unwholesome actions that bring suffering, we cultivate the wisdom, insight, and right understanding that free us from delusion.]
Our founder, Shinran Shonin and his master Honen Shonin point to the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha. Dharmakara vowed:
If, when I attain Buddhahood, sentient beings in the lands of the ten quarters who sincerely and joyfully entrust themselves to me, desire to be born in my land, and call my Name, even ten times, should not be born there, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
Amida's Vow does not distinguish between people based on any Characteristic. It doesn’t say it is for young or old, or good or evil. Shinjin ("true entrusting") alone is necessary to receive the Vow that saves all sentient beings who are weighed down by their delusions. The Bonbunin - the goof-balls among us.
The very purpose of the Primal Vow and the construct of The Buddha’s Pure Land is to save all who are burdened by greed, hatred and ignorance. Amida Buddha’s original motivation is to provide a path for sentient beings who are so burdened they are unable to shake these poisons.
Shinran was a person who reflected deeply on what he was. After twenty years on Mt. Hiei - he confessed that because he was so filled with evil, no matter how diligently he tried to do good, there was nowhere for him to go in the next life but hell. Through deep self-reflection he realized what he really was. This was Shinran’s subjective evaluation of himself; from years of meditation and reflection. He was a bonbu - a goof ball.
“My mind is full of snakes and scorpions,
And since even the good I try to do
Is tainted with the poison (of my self-centered effort),
It must be called the practice of an idiot.”
That is how deeply he looked into himself, and realized how the three poisons were always present. When I look closely I see that.
“Amida Buddha made His Vow out of compassion for us who are so filled with passions that we cannot free ourselves from samsara by any practice...”
Shinran deliberately shows us that the transformation of the Primal Vow takes place in the present. We are freed from the poisons right now. When we truly trust in great compassion and infinite wisdom of the universe. It works right now. Not in some dim future or a distant past.
The moment we receive shinjin, hard and diamond like, Amida’s light embraces and protects us, cutting us off completely from the cycle of birth and death. This means we are freed from the three poisons.
Shin Buddhism gives us three simple antidotes to Greed, Anger, and Delusion. They are Gratitude, Trust and Listening.
Gratitude - If we approach our daily life with gratitude we antidote and overcome greed. You can’t be grateful and greedy at the same time. If we are experiencing greed, strong desire, or cloying attachment we can say the Nembutsu in deep gratitude.
Trust - To antidote and overcome hatred, we learn to cultivate trust, loving-kindness, compassion, patience, and forgiveness. When we react to unpleasant feelings, circumstances, or people, with hatred, anger, or aversion, we can use these wonderful antidotes to counteract the poisons. If I say the Nembutsu I can’t be hating at that moment. It’s not possible. Amida loves and embraces all. Even more the wicked. That’s who he wants to help.
Listening - In Shin Buddhism we call it Deep Hearing - To antidote and overcome delusion, we cultivate wisdom, insight, and right understanding. We listen. We allow ourselves to see that Great Compassion and Great Wisdom are all around us. That they are there for us. And that we are ok, just as we are.
Learning to experience reality as it is, without the distortions of our self-centered desires and fears, we free ourselves from delusion. Deeply hearing and acting in harmony with the interdependent and impermanent nature of this world—realize that all beings are inseparably related and that lasting happiness does not come from anything external. Listening to Amida’s call - The call of the infinite - This listening frees us from delusion.
After thinking on these three poisons and recognizing how slyly and how often they insinuate themselves in our thoughts, I can see the Three Poisons more clearly. Even for a great being such as the Buddha they offered considerable difficulties. The Buddha taught the Dharma of the 4 Noble Truths and the 8 Fold Path as an antidote to these poisons.
At first Shin Buddhism may seem preoccupied with recognizing our Bonbunin nature, but this does not lead to a guilt-laden, depressed state of mind. That is because Buddhism links the quest for truth with the development of the compassionate heart, the heart of concern for all beings...compassion and wisdom are inseparable. If I am wise enough to see I have consumed the Three Poisons and compassionate enough to know that I am ok just as I am,I am made whole.
For a regular Bonbunin - or goof ball such as myself - the three poisons seem lethal. Just seeing this is an important step. I realize that greed, hatred, and ignorance, permeate samsara. And they resides in me. When I turn toward Amida Buddha with Deep Trust - I am no longer afraid. When I approach life with gratitude it washes away greed. When I Listen Deeply to the compassion and wisdom of the universe, delusion melts away.
- Namu Amida Butsu Namu Amida Butsu Namu Amida Butsu -
Mara Comes for Tea -
Retold from Thich Nhat Hanh's Heart of Understanding
Reading 20 april 2014
One day the Buddha was sitting in meditation in his cave on Vulture Peak while his trusted disciple, Ananda, was outside collecting food for their next meal. Ananda looked up from his chores when he saw, coming toward the cave, the Buddha's nemesis, Mara. Mara was a demon king who sought to prevent the Buddha from reaching enlightenment under the Bhodi tree. Since then he had continued to be a perpetual thorn in the Buddha's side, so to speak, cultivating greed, desire and hatred in men. Ananda new this and was immediately enraged by his appearance at the Buddha's cave.
Ananda approached Mara: "Get out of here! The Buddha does not wish to have his cave invaded by demons!"
Mara replied: "Go and ask him for yourself. I simply wish to speak with your master."
Reluctantly and nervously Ananda did as the demon king asked and entered the Buddha's cave. "World Honored One, the demon king, Mara approaches your cave and seeks an audience with you. I have already told him to leave but he insisted I ask you myself."
The Buddha's eyes opened from his meditation and he smiled, widely. "Mara is here? Really? It has been so long since we have spoken. Yes, yes, ready some tea and invite him in and we'll talk."
Dumbfounded, Ananda did as the Buddha asked, putting a pot on the fire to boil and then going outside to tell Mara that he was welcome in the Buddha's cave. "As I knew I would be, little Ananda," said the demon king arrogantly, brushing past the Buddha's humble disciple.
When Mara entered the cave the Buddha sprang to his feet, nearly leaping into the air with excitement. "Mara, my good friend, it has been so long since we have seen each other. Please sit, have some tea and tell me why you have come to visit."
Ananda was very nervous now and listened to the conversation between his master and the demon. Mara sipped his tea slowly and then spoke. "Buddha, things are not going well. I wish to be something else. Something other than a Mara."
"But, Mara, you are so good at being Mara. Remember when you sent images of sense pleasures and warnings of how difficult it would be for me to fully reach enlightenment when I sat beneath the bodhi tree? That was a fantastic job of being Mara. I really had to struggle to get where I am now. I truly owe you a debt of gratitude."
Now Ananda was getting very fearful. He did not like the idea of Buddha having a debt of gratitude to Mara. This was very upsetting but he listened further.
"Well, I suppose you are right," said Mara, "but being Mara I always have to be sneaking around in the shadows, talking in riddles and half-truths. It is such hard work always trying to think of the best things to say and do. I just...I think it would be easier to be something else. And the worst part: my disciples have heard about your the Dhara and are talking of non-duality, peace, justice, non-violence...it is so frustrating being Mara. I think it would be much better if you took my disciples. Maybe we could switch for a while? You could be Mara and I could try being Buddha?"
At this request Ananda's heart really began to pound. He knew that his master had just said he owed Mara a debt and he also knew how profound his master's compassion truly was. He had seen him give to others when he had almost nothing. He was terrified that he would now become the disciple of Mara and the Buddha would become a demon king. No worse thought was imaginable.
The Buddha thought. He sipped his tea. And then he spoke: "Mara, do you think it is just frustrating being Mara? Being the Buddha is equally...no, doubly frustrating, I guarantee. You think you have trouble with your disciples? Mine put words in my mouth and write them into sutras that I have never said. I teach them about non-attachment to material things and what do they do? They build stupas and erect shrines in my name! They even build enormous statues of me out of gold just to pray to even though I have told them time and time again that I am not a god. And they sell trinkets in temples with my words blazed upon them. It is an absolute pain. But I do not give up being Buddha because that is what I am."
Mara sighed and vanished into the shadows. Ananda felt slightly relieved but continued to worry that one day Mara would get what he ultimately wanted.
- Namu Amida Butsu Namu Amida Butsu Namu Amida Butsu -
Welcome again to Reno Buddhist Center - so Happy to see you all this morning. Wow - NOVEMBER!
I am still processing a tour I had to a gold mine in Elko this week. It doesn't really have to do with Hell. But at ¼ mile underground it was about 85deg and very very dark. It made me think.
We just had Halloween last night. That brings the mind to stories of ghosts, darkness, and Death. Plumas street seems to be strewn with pumpkin parts this morning. Dead pumpkins.
We had a three memorial services last month. One included a funeral service at the crematorium. We met the family at the facility. A very industrial place on Greg St. - I don't think they get many visits. Being present at the dissolution of the loved one’s body is a powerful and important Buddhist experience. It leads to the closure that acceptance gives.
"We open a sacred door now to do the solemn business at hand and close it when we are done".
We entered the room and there was Mandy. She was a dear sister and a daughter and an Aunty. She couldn’t endure the pain of life anymore. So she ended it. But that pain didn’t end there. There she lay, oddly pale. As Rennyo says -
“the attractive countenance like peach and plum blossoms is lost.“
As I approached the body I could feel the fear and worry creep into my mind. I remembered the words of the Buddha “return to the breath”. A few calm breaths brought me back. Her sister Alice began sobbing deeply and uncontrollably, supported only by her husband’s arms. She was racked with guilt - worrying that if she had tried to be there for her sister - if that would have helped? If that would have saved her?
Nothing reminds us of transience of all this like an experience like this. Everything is so temporary. The Nembutsu came to my mind. I chanted it silently as we arranged things - who will stand where? A very solemn duty to perform.
In the Buddhist tradition death is not something to be avoided. As a fact of life it is our solemn responsibility to care for the dead and their onward journey as best we can. Part of this is to be there at the cremation. Traditionally the closest relative is the one to light the funeral pyre.
Most Americans are not Buddhist so the tradition of a close family member lighting the funeral pyre seems strange - “Better to have a stranger do it.” This is an upside down view. To be present at the dissolution of the loved one’s body is a powerful and important experience. It leads to the closure that acceptance gives. Mandy’s Brother-in-Law volunteered to take this duty on and stepped forward. There was a big red button on the control panel - fighting back tears - he pressed it. With a rumble of fire the process began.
“Words fail to describe the sadness of it all.”
We chanted for a time and our service ended. In all the empty moments I chanted the Nembutsu. I realized now that the reflex of bringing to mind the Buddha has seeped into me somehow. The refuge of the Buddha is there for me as well. In challenging circumstances this Dharma came to me. When fear and other emotions threatened to dissolve my composure the Nembutsu offered up.
Loss is real and painful. Suffering manifested large for all to see. Even the stoic and the strong break down in tears. Alice was left with Mandy’s pain - transformed but real. A hungry ghost she would live with for a time.
Read - White Ashes from Rennyo's Letters trans Inagaki
So - What is Obon?
This is our Obon service. A holiday celebrating those who have come before us. Our Mothers and Fathers, grandparents and ancestors. As some of you know - this holiday has its roots in the experience of Maha-Moggallana. One of Sakayamuni's ten primary students. We had a visit from Moggallana when the Relic Tour was here. Because of his high level of practice Moggallana was known for having clairvoyant powers, a common trait amongst spiritually accomplished people. He began to think deeply about his parents, and wondered what happened to them after death. He used his second sight to see where they were reborn. He found his father in the heavenly realms.
But, his mother had been reborn in a lower realm, the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. His mother took on the form a preta. A being that has a very small mouth and a large belly - so it is always hungry.
His mother had been a kind mother but had been a difficult person. It is said she had broken all five of the basic precepts: Not to Kill, Lie, Steal, misuse sex or intoxicants. All this was done with the goal of gaining riches. For this reason she was reborn in the realm of hungry ghosts.
As the story goes - Moggallana wanted to ease his mother's suffering. So he asked the Buddha for guidance. The Buddha said,
"your mother's offenses are deep and firmly rooted. You alone do not have enough power.... The awesome spiritual power of the assembled Sangha of the ten directions is necessary for her liberation to be attained. "
He received the instructions for freeing pretas from the Buddha. The Buddha told Moggallana to offer food, recite a mantra, bless the food, snap his fingers to call out to the deceased and finally tip the food onto the ground. By doing so, the preta's hunger would be relieved. Some years passed by and Moggallana steadfastly performed the offering. These actions created merit and his mother was reborn as a dog under the care of a noble family. You might see this as an improvement?
But Moggallana again sought the Buddha's advice to help his mother gain a human birth. The Buddha established a day after the traditional summer retreat on which Moggallana was to offer food and robes to five hundred monks. Many years passed of this offering. Through these merits dedicated to his mother, she finally gained a human birth.
Moggallana was diligent and faithful in his efforts to rescue his mother. When she was released from torment Moggallana danced for joy and that is the origin of the Obon Dance. [ I think the Dharma School kids are learning my favorite Obon dance - The Coal Miner’s. ] We can learn a lot from Moggallana’s story. Utmost, that caring for our parents is the highest duty and honor now and forever. We will never be able to repay their kindness and sacrifice. Also that we can heal old wounds. That no trouble is permanent and it is never too late. We are also reminded of the 6 realms of existence.
What are the six realms? I’ll list the realms of existence for the most pleasant to the less pleasant… They are the realm of the ..
Titans or demons (Asuras)
Hungry ghosts (Pretas)
and for want of a better word - Hell - This has many aspects but all are very unpleasant.
Dr. Alicia Matsunaga [our founder] wrote a whole book on the Buddhist conceptions of Hell. We want you to understanding these realms in the best way for you.
The Buddha once said,
'When the average person makes an assertion that there is a Hell down below, he is making a statement which is false and without basis. The word 'Hell' is a term for painful sensations.'
- Patala Sutta
Dr. Alicia saw two levels of understanding of these realms. A literal level and a psychological or spiritual level. She argued that for uneducated people the fear of Hell was a kind of social control - To promote good behaviour. For more insightful people the meaning of hell and indeed all these realms is largely psychological. How you see them is up to you.
I can say from experience that when we are in a hellish state of existence it sure doesn't feel symbolic - It is difficult and painful and very real. Maybe not a physical place “down there” - but very unfortunate. We understand these realms to be states of being we are reborn into. Understanding these realms gives us a vocabulary to describe the experience of life.
When we are very cruel we are reborn in the hell realm. When the bad karma was worked off. We are re-born into another realm. Some of us have felt like this before. Everything hurts; its all suffering - driven by uncontrollable forces.
When we are very greedy - like Moggallana’s mother -wanting more and more of everything - we are born into the realm of the Hungry ghosts - This is an unhappy place - on to the edge of human existence like a ghost. All the time feeling craving - always unsatisfied.
When we act on impulse and drive rather than thought - we are born into the Animal realm - We are driven only by basic impulses and no spiritual life exist for us.
Then there is the human realm. Although we often suffer, we are lucky because we have insight into the Dharma. This was a most fortunate state or realm because here we awakened the desire to be enlightened: Bodhichitta.
When we are bold and effective and competitive we are Titans (Asuras] - We can talk about this another day.
We can talk about the Heaven realm another day. Just remember no mindspace lasts forever.
We have all experienced all these realms - many times. These are the realms of rebirth our ancestors have migrated to.
This Obon time is a good time to consider our own Personal Ancestors. Lets take a moment now and call out their names. We will do a “saying of names” together.
Many of you have lit a candle for a departed loved one. You brought a picture and placed it on the alter. When I ring the bell - If you would please say the name of the people you are holding in our thoughts. Just say it out and I will ring the bell • • • Robert Fisher • Hershel Wolfe • Alma Wolfe • • •
We should sometimes ask ….How did they live? Who were they?
Where were they laid to rest? Where are they now?
What gifts do we enjoy from them?
This reflection brings me to think of one of my ancestors - my Grandfather Herschel Wolfe. Gran Daddy Herschel was a pharmacist and an optometrist that went to Cal Berkeley. He was born in 1882 in Des Moines, Iowa. - That was a long time ago - He was married in 1900, in San Francisco to a concert pianist - Merne - that marriage was complicated. And after some time he realized his dreams of a family and a settled life would probably not happen if he didn’t make some changes. Her Show-Biz aspirations were also being stifled - no time for kids. He loved the outdoors and fishing in the Sierras and the city life didn’t offer that opportunity very often. My grandfather divorced and moved to the small town - Sonora, California. He built a life there with a little Drug Store. One of three in town, so he could get two weekends off every month [when he was not on call]. He loved the mountains and the beauty of the Sierras. With a new wife and a daughter he made a new life.
A gift - He gave me the idea that it is ok to fail at first. It is OK to rebuild your life. It is up to me to have the clarity to know what I need and build that into my life.
Its funny but, he had a habit of crossing just his feet when he sat. My grandmother would point that out and say I was sitting just like her husband. Sometimes they give us little meaningless things - and we carry them forward.
Grand daddy Herschel was a old school man who expected everyone to pull their weight and never complain. He could be quite stern and a little frightening. I got some of that from him as well. I acknowledge it as a gift because everyone has dark sides - passing on the fullness of humanity is a gift. Without our pains we would not be spurred to grow and to move onward. So I say thank you to him - even for that. Acknowledging this gift and accepting it. This heals him too. As Moggallana showed us - We can go back and mend broken lives. The wisdom and compassion of the universe makes that possible. The depth and breadth of mind makes it possible.
A Gratitude meditation for a loved one who has passed on -
Let's do this together - cultivate gratitude for all their gifts. Love and acceptance can release a ghost from Hell.
Sit in a centered and quiet way - better if you close your eyes - As you sit, breathe softly and feel your body, your heartbeat, the life within you. Feel your connections. To the chair to the room, to each other, to your ancestors. … Now, bring to mind a lost loved one. Someone close to you, who you dearly love. Picture them and feel your natural caring for them. Notice how you hold them in your heart. How they are with you even now. Smiling with you.
Let yourself be aware of one gift they gave you. One way of being or seeing the world that they taught you - that lives on in you. A warm memory, or a skill, or anything that comes up for you.
Be with that - feel it well. o o Bell And say thank you to them for that. o o Bell
Now return to that dear one and find a neutral gift they gave you. Something benign that lives on in you. Funny little habits of life - the way you eat peanuts, a turn of phrase, whatever comes up for you.
Be with that - feel it well.
o o Bell And say thank you to them for that. o o Bell
Now return to that dear one and find a hungry ghost that lives in your heart from that relationship. A difficult and painful something they left you with. Something dark that lives on in you. Destructive habits of life - fears and worries passed from generation to generation, whatever comes up for you.
Be with that - feel it well.
o o Bell And say thank you to them for that. o o Bell
These are all great gifts. Maybe small ones, but great. And the sum total of all your ancestors gifts are the foundations of who you are. All the wisdoms and compassions that we have learned and experienced are really the greatest gift. And we live those onward. They are not separate from us.
These are part of Amida Buddha - Wisdom and compassion imbued in many things and thoughts and actions. Really the universe imbued with infinite light and infinite life. Every small piece of goodness is part of Amida.
I am grateful to Amida Buddha - He doesn't know me, he doesn't see me, but he loves and cares for me just as I am. He locves mandy just as she is. Flaws and all . Amida made these vows for you. Working for many kalpas Dharmakara Bhodistavha manifested the Western Pure Land. He dedicated his good works to all sentient beings unable to end their own suffering and reach enlightenment. Just as Moggallana dedicated his merit to help his mother. Just as our ancestors dedicated their efforts to us.
Lets all think of that ancestor who most needs our love and compassion - we can extend deep compassion to them and to dear Mandy.
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 -