Three Keys to Shin Buddhism
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 ---
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