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