It’s almost Bodhi Day, which is celebrated on December 8th in my tradition. Right now, I’m thinking of the temple, Amida Mandala, which is thousands of miles away. In a few days, members of the Amida Shu community will congregate at the temple in celebration of the Buddha’s enlightenment. It will be a time of retreat and lots of chanting.
I could probably talk about Shakyamuni’s enlightenment in this post, but I’ll just be thankful for it. Over the years, I’ve become less concerned with how buddhas become buddhas and more about letting their light sink into my bones. As it stands, only a buddha may truly know another buddha.
Instead, I’m taking this time to pause and reflect on my time as someone involved in a spiritual practice.
At the time of the publication of this post, I am looking at about five or six years of dedicated practice. When I first got into Pureland, it was because I found something that was a religion “of the people.” It was an easy practice that did not necessarily require prohibitively expensive retreats or extensive meditation regimens. All I had to do was say “Namo Amida Bu.” This particular approach to religion aligns well with my universalist tendencies.
Pureland also allowed me to practice devotion in a simple way, particularly without the trappings of Christianity as I knew it at the time. Not to say there aren’t some problematic elements within the Pureland tradition, they were just easier for me to set aside when I began.
This practice helped me do things I never thought I’d ever be capable of. In the Spring/Summer of 2018, I traveled to another country to stay at the Malvern Temple. I also hosted a rather popular Buddhist teacher. This, to me, is one of the treasures of faith. It allows me to truly come out of my comfort zone and try new things.
It hasn’t all been rainbows, however. Practicing a religion in isolation much of the time, as a beginner, was rather hard. Many Western Buddhists don’t understand Pureland as they tend to be drawn to the more meditation-based aspects of Buddhism. There is also a stark contrast to practicing communally at the temple and practicing by oneself. Some days solitary practice is beautiful and some days its down right lonely. That is, at times, the nature of the spiritual life.
I think my feelings on Pureland have also changed a bit. At first, my practice was a singular dedication to Amida. Now, I find myself reflecting not just on Amida, but also on how Amida, Quan Yin and Sukhavati can be an inspiration for progressive social change. I’m not the only one in my community to holds this view but it took some time and some self-realization for the concept to go from my head to my heart. I might talk more about that in another post.
Since my wife and I moved back to Hagerstown, a new chapter in my journey has begun. First, I started the Jeweled Tree project, having a desire to say something about what I’ve experienced. Soon after the launch of the project, Tommy, a new friend in the Dharma, became part of what is now the Jeweled Tree team and has been helping me establish a sangha.
Right now, I’m grateful to be writing this post. I’m also grateful for meeting so many wonderful Dharma friends. Maybe next season I’ll write another summary of my experiences through the year.
Until then, I hope everyone reading this has a great Bodhi day.
Image from https://redclaysangha.org/event-3228184