Remembering our Spiritual Teachers
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 -
Deep Faith in the Dharma
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!