Myriad of Suns, Myriad of Thoughts: A Brief Reflection

A bit over 3 years or so ago, I first came upon the works of a number of Lay Ministers that were inducted into Buddhist ministry by the Bright Dawn Center of Oneness Buddhism. After some time, I connected with a then-local Lay Minister and participated in a Ti Sarana Confirmation, a Refuge ceremony, receiving the three refuges, five precepts and the dharma name Manyo or “Myriad Sun”, a reference that I recall was offered due to my appreciation for and practice of multiple spiritual traditions. Since this time, I have continued to study with Bright Dawn, first participating in a study over a few months which delved into three of the main texts studied by the organization: Everyday Suchness and The Center Within by Rev. Gyomay Kubose and Bright Dawn: Discovering Your Everyday Spirituality by Rev. Koyo Kubose. This past Sunday, I officially completed Bright Dawn’s “flagship” program, the Lay Ministry program and was inducted as a Lay Minister.

My entry into Bright Dawn’s Lay Ministry program was not fueled by a desire to become a Buddhist teacher or clergy person, especially since I am already ordained in a Christian tradition. Instead, I wanted to continue cultivating my knowledge of Buddhism and mindfulness practice. Bright Dawn welcomes all to study within it’s Lay Ministry program. The goal of the LM program is not to elevate individuals as ministers; it is to develop the individual spiritual life of practitioners, in turn sending them into the world as autonomous student-teachers, being available to others in diverse ways. Following it’s roots in Shin Buddhism, Bright Dawn blurs the divisive lines of minister-lay person or clergy-lay with it’s Lay Ministry program, a practice that was displayed in Shinran Shonin’s famous description of being “neither monk nor lay”. While some Lay Ministers go on to act as traditional clergy, others simply continue their spiritual practices unchanged.

Much has changed in my life since I first came into contact with Bright Dawn. My spiritual practice has evolved as I have developed a great appreciation for Pure Land Buddhism with a perspective fueled by contemporary ministers, scholars and other figures. My perspective towards other forms of spirituality has also taken new shape with support from teachings that I received while studying with Bright Dawn. I feel that I have also become much more self-aware, something which I thought I was already as much as I possibly could be. As I go forth in my spiritual life, I intend to be available to others howver I may be, recognizing first and foremost my role as student-teacher; while I may act as a teacher for one, I am also simultaneously learning as a student.

Namu Amida Butsu, Namu Amida Butsu, Namu Amida Butsu

Logo of the Bright Dawn Center of Oneness Buddhism

A Dharma Glimpse – Help

This Dharma Glimpse was originally presented on April 11, 2021, as part of my participation in the Lay Ministry Program of the Bright Dawn Center of Oneness Buddhism.

Photo by Anna Tarazevich on Pexels.com

A few years ago, I was in a very challenging position. One day, an aunt who had been like a grandmother in the maternal side of my family passed away after struggling with some challenges. The next day, my mother suddenly passed away due to complications from an at-work injury. In the next couple of months, my maternal grandparents would pass away, who prior to then were being cared for in part by my mother. During this time, I was in the lower end of my 20s, in the first 6 months of a new job living the next state over from where all these people lived. Bearing that in mind, I think few would take issue with one admitting that this was overwhelming.

I haven’t always been one who has liked accepting help from others. Typically, I have tried to go on solely on my own effort, likely a sense of pride or distrust. Besides the ways in which my family dynamics changed as a result of this period, I find that the way I look to asking for or accepting help from others has changed as well. These days, I see myself trying less and less to maintain an isolationist mindset. Instead, I find that I am often willing to embrace the interdependence of all things, recognizing that even if I fulfill a task no matter the size all by myself, I can see a greater connection with others through previous interactions, transportation means, nourishment consumption, among other ways.

Looking forward from this glimpse, I feel that it is certainly appropriate for us to treasure in mind the interdependence of all things. We are never facing anything alone in life; we are constantly supported, even if it doesn’t look or feel like it at that moment.

A Dharma Glimpse: Changes

This Dharma Glimpse was originally presented on 3/7/2021 as part of my participation in the Lay Ministry Program of the Bright Dawn Center of Oneness Buddhism.

Recently, while scrolling Facebook, I came across a quote that was (to my understanding –falsely)attributed to Thomas Merton. The quote read :“If the you of five years ago doesn’t consider the you of today a heretic, you are not growing spiritually”. Although it’s origin can be disputed, I am rather fond of this quote.

March marks an anniversary of sorts for me. Six years ago, I entered into a role of ministry with a small, progressive Christian community. As I look back, I find that I was certainly in a different place spiritually than I am today; I held views that one could argue as having been much more strict, rigid. However, over time, I have been faced with challenges to these views which have caused me to fall into questioning their validity. Through these challenges, my views have adapted, transforming with the insight gained from both first-hand experience and introspection. Looking back, I certainly feel that the me of that time would label the me of now as “a heretic” and I really don’t think that is a bad thing.

From time to time, we all might find that we have that desire to cling onto something, keep it as we know it forever, even if it isn’t “physical” or“material”.We may find ourselves in a relationship -whether romantic or otherwise -where we hope the conditions remain unchanged forever, including the personality and views of others involved. Yet, through the guidance of both my experiences and teachings on impermanence like those we have encountered throughout our texts, I have come to recognize that this desire to avoid or prevent change is one of the things that causes us the most trouble or suffering. As we have begun to move forward into the practicum for our Lay Ministry program, we have all recognized that our meetings like this one shall also be coming to an end in the near future. Bearing this in mind, I bring to mind Koyo Sensei’s motto to “keep going”, knowing that nothing remains forever unchanged; rather, we and all things are all constantly in a state of becoming or transformation. Moving forward, let us all strive to better “go with the flow”.

Photo by Max Ravier on Pexels.com

A Dharma Glimpse: Never Say Never

This Dharma Glimpse was initially presented on 12/6/2020 as part of my participation in the Lay Ministry Program of the Bright Dawn Center of Oneness Buddhism.

There is a common saying “never say never”. It’s application varies situation by situation but basically it’s another way of saying “nothing is impossible”. This week, I received a lite reminder of how true that is.

For the past few years, I’ve primarily worked in transportation as a school bus driver, with some supplemental income from retail here and there. However, This week marked the “official” beginning of my classes in my Master of Social Work program. I am currently studying to work in a white collar profession, a sharp turn from my current footing in transportation. Yet, I’ve never been one to hold labor-intensive types of employment, shopping cart hauling/attending or retail merchandising being the most strenuous type of work I’ve ever occupied. If one were to tell me prior to the pandemic that I would be painting a portion of a school district building as part of my job, I would have responded “that would never happen”. Yet, that is exactly what I was doing this past week, as hourly regular transportation staff are currently working every other week, performing tasks for our operations department while the schools are closed for in-person instruction.

Perhaps we can all call to mind a time when events have come to fruition which we would have previously dismissed as impossible. The fact is, we often place our certainty behind ideas which are more fragile than we realize. What we assume will “always be “ or “never will” could one day come crashing down, either in our minds or in front of our faces. In the blink of an eye, new causes and conditions could arise which change anything from a minor event in our day to the very way we view life itself. Each moment is a new moment, each life a new life. As we learn from the teaching of impermanence, nothing truly lasts forever.

Working on the paint crew was far from fun. In fact, this is the hardest I’ve physically worked in the past few years. However, this episode served as a reminder for me to “expect the unexpected”. Looking forward from this, I will try to remember the saying “never say never”, or at least try to use “never” more sparingly

Photo by David Waschbu00fcsch on Pexels.com

A Dharma Glimpse: Taking Care of our Emotions

This Dharma Glimpse was originally presented on 1/1/2020 as part of my participation in the Lay Ministry Program of the Bright Dawn Center of Oneness Buddhism.

As a young child, I had a lot of issues processing and expressing “negative” emotions. While some of this could certainly be identified as a product of not having developed enough to process emotions in a positive or otherwise acceptable way, I tend to think that I had a more difficult time than others, falling into outbursts at times. As I got older, I learned to more skillfully take care of these emotions, and by extension, myself. Lately, I’ve been feeling really frustrated, agitated, even angry much more than usual.
I’m certain that I’m not alone with this challenge I’m facing with these emotions. We live in extremely divisive times, likely the most divisive in modern history. We may find that our values are extremely opposed by those of others, regardless of the topic in question. Through encounters – whether subtle or not – that arise out of the various current issues, what is one to do with the thoughts and feelings that arise? For a long time, I thought suppressing the anger, frustration and agitation was the best way. Now more than ever, I certainly feel that this is not the case.
I do not feel that attempts to simply suppress or “push down” our emotions are skillful in any way, shape or form. Although we might find thet this provides us some brief relief, I feel that this contributes to the likelihood of us having a greater outburst or backlash in the future, as our anger and frustration continues to build up. We might also recognize the fact that in attempting to abandon our emotions to that moment, we also seek to invalidate them, rather than seeking to treat them and ourselves in their time of need. Is this the reaction we wish to offer? Personally, I certainly don’t think so.
I feel that a challenge that all people have laid before them by religious traditions, and by extension daily life if they choose to accept it, is to learn how to effectively work with and process feelings and emotions which we might identify as being unpleasant in nature. After all, if we simply push these away, are we really striving to follow teachings such as the Eightfold Path, the path of the Bodhisattva, among others?

Image from Clipart Library

A Dharma Glimpse – Two Roads, One Life

This Dharma Glimpse was originally presented on 9/27/2020 as part of my participation in the Lay Ministry Program of the Bright Dawn Center of Oneness Buddhism.

Just prior to my beginning to write this Dharma Glimpse, I submitted my final assignment as required for my Bachelor of Arts in Religion. This Sunday (the day on which this glimpse will be delivered) will be the official final day of my capstone course and bring my undergraduate education to a close, pending my actual conferral date. For me, this is an odd event in my life which I do not feel that I have fully grasped the significance of yet. In truth, it is an achievement which I at times never thought I would reach.
When we are in times of transition such as this, we often find ourselves contemplating impermanence. There is often a sense of grief that washes over us when a long-traversed road in our lives arrives at it’s end, whether natural or unnatural, expected or unexpected. I am certainly feeling some of this myself as this journey which I have travelled on and off for 6 or 7 years now comes to it’s end. Yet, this feeling is certainly not an end in itself; rather, it is flanked with expectations as I look to the future at what comes next, the new road! We might call this my connection!
Within Zen and other settings of Mahayana, we often come upon what is often called “Shoshin” or “Beginners Mind”. While explanations vary sect to sect, teacher to teacher, I like to draw an understanding out that “Beginners Mind” is about treating different situations or scenarios with life as if we are “beginners”. Rather than falling into a state of stagnation, one seeks to live with a sense of newness, striving for a constant state of renewal. In his writings, Rev. Gyomay Kubose described this concept as living a “fresh, creative life”. Bearing this in mind, I like to ask myself from time to time “Is my life “fresh”? Am I being “creative”? Am I living a “fresh, creative life in this moment, or have I fallen into a state or know-it-all stagnation?”
As I look to the future, I have a rough idea of what I hope will take place in the coming year in my life. For one, as I await the official conferral of my BA, I hope to begin graduate school sometime in Summer or Fall 2021. Of course, in these challenging times that we currently live in, we must take many things “day by day”. While this is the end of one road and the beginning of another, it is all part of the highway of life. As I look to the future, I smile in gratitude, and in gassho, continue to strive to live my own “Fresh, Creative Life” by living a life of “Keep Going”.

Image from Clipart Library

A Little Change

Dear Readers,

As far as posts go, today marks one year of Jeweled Tree!

Writing this blog has been a wonderful practice of journaling my thoughts. In the last year, I’ve pulled some Dharma from bits of experience, pop culture, current events, literature, and ancient texts. I’m grateful that Tommy joined me back in the Fall of 2019 and added his Dharma glimpses to the blog.

After this post, I’ll being going on something similar to a hiatus. I feel I’ve said what I wanted to say so far. You will still see something from me every now and then, but not at the frequency and form I’ve been currently maintaining. Look forward to posts from Tommy and be ready for the possibility of another announcement in the future. We will also continue to hold services at 7:30 om EST every Monday. For more information on that, feel free to contact us!

Again, thanks to those who have been reading regularly here. I’m glad I’ve had an audience to share my ideas with. May you all be well.

Namo Amida Bu,

John

A Dharma Glimpse: Unheard Sounds

This Dharma Glimpse was originally presented on 8/23/2020 as part of my participation in the Lay Ministry Program of the Bright Dawn Center of Oneness Buddhism.

Most of us are likely familiar with the timeless riddle that goes “If a tree falls in a forest but nobody is around, does it still make a sound?”. While there are sometimes different answers given, I typically say “yes” to this question. Lets change this a little; “If a tree falls in a forest with people around but nobody was listening, does it still make a sound?”. As I reflect on this, I still find that I would likely respond with an affirmative “yes”.

Earlier this week, I was out for one of my regular walks throughout the neighborhood. As I was walking through a parking lot, I was examining my thoughts. One of these just happened to be “What will I write about for my Dharma Glimpse this week?”. Suddenly, I find that I become conscious to the loud chirping and buzzing of various insects nearby, likely cicadas. Like many other sounds, this sound is often taking place around us, even if we aren’t conscious to it. We simply “hear past it”, sifting it out of our daily experience of life, unless of course we happen to be listening for it or other sounds in particular.

I find that a number of different teachings in Buddhism can be examined from this perspective. While I am certainly not an authority on the Mahayana, I find that I often associate this line of thinking with dharma teachings, the Buddha Nature in all beings, even the state of spiritual awakening.

What else do we often encounter, yet remain unconscious to in our daily lives?

Closeup Photo of Brown and Gray Cicada on Twig
Image of Cicada on twig from Pexels

Renouncing The World: Nembutsu as Rebellion

People often think that renouncing the world means to turn away from the world as it is and live in personal bliss. However, renouncing the world has a different meaning to me, particularly in relation to the nembutsu.

Though I accept the reality of the world, I renounce or reject the idea that it MUST be the way it is.

This includes:

Capitalism

Racism

Misogyny

Homophobia

Transphobia

Environmental Degradation

In brief, I reject the idea that we must live in a world dominated by greed, hate, and delusion. I affirm a better world, a pure land, where all are welcome and none live in fear. The image of the Pure Land of Amida guides me in doing what I can to make this world a little better. For me, the love, grace, generosity, and compassion inherent in every utterance of the nembutsu is a rebellion against the the very system that locks us all in conflict and turmoil.

File:Dharma Wheel.svg - Wikimedia Commons

Namo Amida Bu

Image from the Shaw Institute

A Dharma Glimpse – Light in Every Dark

This Dharma Glimpse was originally presented on 8/9/2020 as part of my participation in the Lay Ministry Program of the Bright Dawn Center of Oneness Buddhism.

We live in dark times. It is indisputable that there is much new and unnecessary suffering in our nation and the global community as a whole. All we have to do is flip on the tv, scroll our social media feeds or listen by word of mouth. The spread of the Covid-19, the neglect of safety measures, injustices being imposed on innocent peoples and the languishing of the unemployed and economically disadvantaged are only a few of the more prominent challenges that are currently being faced by all. Yet, there is hope. Perhaps it is a sign of privilege but all I have to do to find something to push aside a worldview of nihilism or pessimism is to look outside my patio door.

Interspersed on the small patio of our apartment, as well as several places around our apartment are numerous plants which have been cultivated by my wife, Amanda. These plants range in being big and small, vegetables, flowers and others, with even a miniature “tree” being found among them. While some of these plants were acquired in their adult forms, most were grown directly from seed since the beginning of the “growing” season. One might argue that this is an example of new life sprouting in a time where impermanence and death is on our minds far more than usual.

I view these plants as an example that we are never in a situation which is composed exclusively of suffering. In every example of suffering, there is a glimpse of awakening. In every dark, there is some light to be found. In every Hell, there is a view of the Pure Land. What aspect in your life do you feel provides a sense of balance to something which otherwise seems quite dismal?

A view from my patio, containing many of our plants.