Throughout countless streams of Buddhism, spiritual practice and secular society in general, there persists an inclination that all are one, all is the same. At times, this leads to the desire for folks to repress whatever they may feel sets them apart as themselves, instead opting for a stone-faced demeanor out of the desire for some form of spiritual or social advancement or progression. While some may think this sounds all fine and well, I can’t help but take away an unpleasent perspective from it. While I certainly personally affirm that we all have a commonality about us – perhaps one may wish to call this our Buddha Nature – I could never fully wrap my mind around this practice in life, no matter what terminology or form it was presented.
Oneness is a major teaching in most if not all forms of Buddhism. In his celebrated book Everyday Suchness, the late Rev. Gyomay Kubose dismissed the aforementioned interpretation of this teaching. Instead, Rev. Kubose advocated for an understanding of Oneness that affirms the unique yet interconnectedness of all things.
During a recent conversation with a Facebook friend of a similar yet different religious group, I had offered the remark that “our divisions are our diversity”. At the end of the day, does it truly matter what pew, chair or cushion we sit on? As long as one is feeling nourished and progressing in their own personal journey, I think not.
Let us always strive to be the best “us” that we can be. Let us affirm each other simply for being oneself rather than striving to embody some other idea or image. Let us embrace the Oneness of all by cherishing the uniqueness of all.
Prayer has many aspects. It also has many meanings for many people. Growing up, I understood it as some special way of speaking to God. Nowadays, I have a different understanding.
Sometimes, prayer is used as a means to gain protection. For instance, there are many instances when Buddhist may pray to protect themselves, their communities, and their nation. In Japan and other countries, it has been a tradition to pray and recite sutras to protect the sovereign.
Sometimes, prayer is a show of solidarity. I personally consider phrases such as “I’ll keep you in my prayers” as a gesture of support and goodwill.
Still, for some, prayer is seen as a form of development for the mind. The activity of prayer certainly does help create good conditions for practice because it can direct the mind to a wholesome object.
Then there is the cry for help, the petitionary prayer for when there is nothing one can do.
In my case, I cry out to the Buddha.
There is a common teaching in Japanese Pureland that the “Namo” of Namo Amida Bu is the foolish being calling out to that which is compassionate and wise, the “Amida Bu”. In this way, Amida Buddha provides a refuge to feel fear, pain, loss, sorrow and the whole range of human emotions. To cry out to Quan Yin is similar. She too embraces the humanity of the person who calls out to her, taking many forms to do so. In this way, calling out to the compassionate, is a form of prayer.
Such a prayer can be a source of relief, like opening a valve. To me, it’s preferable to holding in pain until it festers and erupts.
To pray is to be human. Humans pray for different reasons and all reasons to pray are valid ways to turn to the Dharma.
Since practicing social distancing, I’ve been thinking more about my solitary retreat at Amida Mandala. My first post was about part of that experience, where, during a 48 hour period, I stayed in one room (with occasional outings to the back garden) and chanted the nembutsu.
I had very little contact with anyone except Rev. Satyavani and Rev. Kaspalita during the retreat. It was lonely and quite frustrating at times but it was also punctuated by moments of joy. Most of those moments came in the form of food.
Satya and Kaspa delivered meals to me three times a day. When they knocked on my door, I felt a great relief. In the brief time that they whispered a greeting and passed along my tray of food, I was elated.
As hard as I try, I can’t remember most of those meals. However, I do remember the cherry tomatoes.
I’m not really a fan tomatoes. I can live without them. However, those cherry tomatoes were an exception. As far as I was concerned, they were a blessing.
As I ate them, I found myself savoring them. Generally, I eat pretty mindlessly, but this was different. For those moments, as I sat alone, nothing could compare to the taste of those cherry tomatoes. As I ate them slowly, one by one, I felt a a rare sense of genuine gratitude.
Slowing down can be a challenge. For me, it can be quite frustrating. However, in the midst of it all, the Light trickles through the clouds illuminating little miracles here and there. For that, I give thanks.
This is a dharma glimpse that I originallyed presented on 4/12/2020 as a participant in the Lay Ministry Program of the Bright Dawn Center of Oneness Buddhism.
At the time I was preparing to leave the couch in the living room to come and write this dharma glimpse, I looked at the clock and found myself disappointed. “What a waste of time” I said, surprised that I allowed such a large portion of the evening to slip away in front of the television. Normally, I don’t like to spend large amounts of time in front of the TV unless I am watching a specific film or series, finding this time to be near impossible to be used for anything else simultaneously. Yet, as I look to the news and my social media feeds, I am quickly reminded that home media consumption has suddenly become one of the most approved way of spending one’s “free time” as a good application of social distancing.
We all know why this “change of perspective” has occurred, given the current state of the world in the face of the pandemic. Yet, it is still quite astonishing to a certain degree. One day, the most useless waste of one’s time and resources suddenly transitions to not only being socially acceptable, it is strongly encouraged if not expected. I feel that this can prove to be a good lesson for all of us in the usefulness of the teaching of non-attachment, particularly when it comes to our own thoughts, feelings and conceptions of nearly all things in life. It is unreasonable to expect something to never change as life is change itself. Yet, these times will always have their way of appearing in life when we least expect them, upending closely-held conceptions we may not have realized we even had in our daily lives.
What other thoughts or perspectives do we hold closely in our lives as universal? What events could cause these to be upended? Let us strive to approach these thoughts with a greater sense of non-attachment as we go about our days, particularly in these challenging times.
According to many Japanese traditions, today, April 8th, is the Buddha Shakyamuni’s birthday. Happy birthday to the Buddha!
Often, I look at my little statue that represents him and feel the jagged parts of me soften. His teachings have slowly sunk into the depths of my spirit, often bubbling up when my bombu nature starts getting the best of me.
The Blessed One is never far. Shakyamuni once said to one of his disciples, Vakkali, that if one sees the Dharma then one sees the Buddha.
When I look outside I see the Dharma. When I look at the candle burning in the shrine, I see the Dharma. When I feel my breath rise and fall, I see the Dharma. It is my world. And so is Buddha.
I just got done watching a video in which a Shingon monk, who goes by Nobu on his YouTube channel, reacts to some negative reception of another video he posted in a Facebook group about a Shingon-based celebration. For those who don’t know, Shingon is a form of what is known as Esoteric Buddhism, where followers use mantras and certain kinds of ritual in their practice. Shingon is similar (though I can’t say it’s the same) to many of the Tibetan Vajrayana traditions in many respects.
In the Facebook group Nobu was told that the celebration had nothing to do with Buddhism. His post was then taken down for being a “Japanese cultural event.” He stated that there does not seem to be an acceptance of Shingon in a certain country. I would take a wild guess and say that country might be the U.S. Unfortunately, this non-acceptance of certain Buddhist traditions is a common occurrence in much of Western Dharma Discourse™.
Many Westerners who have an interest in Buddhism are given a certain narrative about the tradition. Generally, this narrative often is rooted in little bit of the Theravada, Zen, or Tibetan traditions and then presented through a lens largely based on psychology and secularism. This narrative appeals to those who might have become disillusioned with their former faith or are looking for a way to calm their minds. I don’t have a problem with Buddhists who might tend toward this perspective. After all, that’s how I entered the Dharma.
However, when Western converts treat ancient traditions and those who practice those traditions with a dismissive attitude, there is a problem. And it’s not just dismissiveness that’s the problem. There are converts who, in their ignorance, try to dominate the narrative about what Buddhism is. This leads to an othering of Buddhists who’s roots run much deeper than that of converts.
Within the context of Buddhism in the U.S., it’s another example of how White Supremacy ruins things. Asian American Buddhists have dealt with this it for a long time. For more on that, I suggest the Angry Asian Buddhist blog by the late Aaron J. Lee.
And I’m not saying I’m innocent in this. I’m complicit as well. Learning about Pureland opened my prejudices to me quite profoundly. And I’m still learning. I may be a foolish being but that doesn’t excuse me from being dismissive toward other other traditions and writing off their practices and beliefs as “baggage.”
Speaking of Pureland Buddhism, Honen, the founder of the Pureland tradition in Japan, had a similar problem as some of his disciples causing trouble with Buddhists of other traditions. This lead him to write the Shichikajo-kishomon or Seven Article Pledge.
1. Refrain from denigrating other Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and from attacking Shingon and Tendai, for you are not versed in any of their teachings.
2. In your state of ignorance, refrain from indulging in disputes with men of wisdom or when encountering people with other religious practices.
3. Toward people of other persuasions or practices, refrain from saying, with your mind ignorant and biased, that they should abandon their practice. Refrain from wanton ridicule of them.
4. Refrain from saying that there is no observance of the clerical precepts in the nembutsu path, from avidly encouraging sexual indulgences, liquor, or meat eating, from occasionally calling those who adhere to the precepts men of indiscriminate practice, and from teaching that those who believe in Amida’s original vow have no reason to be afraid when committing evil deeds (zoaku muge).
5. As an ignorant being who is unable to distinguish between right and wrong, you should refrain from deviations from the scriptural teachings, from what is not the teachings of your master, from arbitrarily putting forward your own doctrines, from needlessly seeking out disputes, from being laughed at by the wise, and from leading the ignorant astray.
6. In your state of ignorance, refrain from delighting so much in rhetoric, since you know nothing of the true teachings, from expounding various heresies (jaho), and from converting ignorant priests and lay people to the various heresies.
7. Refrain from expounding heresies which are not the Buddhist teachings, and from regarding them as true teachings. Refrain from the deception of calling them the teachings of your master.
It think it would be beneficial that we heed Honen.*
I hope that Nobu does not get discouraged from sharing his love of Shingon. I also hope that converts remember that Buddhism is much more than what’s found in Tricycle or some group on Facebook.
To those converts who think Buddhism is this or that based on quotes and introductory books, there is still much to learn. The Dharma is vast. Be kind and learn.
If you can’t learn, then be kind.
Namo Amida Bu
*The seventh article could be debatable as to what is a heresy but the gist of the Seven Article Pledge is rather useful in a multicultural context.
Below is a dharma glimpse that I presented on 3/29/2020 as a participant in the Lay Ministry program of the Bright Dawn Center of Oneness Buddhism.
Whether looking to the current crisis that this world faces together or even before it, one need not look far to find all sorts of talk, debate or rhetoric about what we deserve or are entitled to. It is a wide field of thought where even among us we are likely to find divergent answers: What do we deserve as humans? What about as sentinent beings? Living beings in general? Simple forms of matter on this one giant living rock? Of course, this isn’t a matter I am going to attempt to spark debate with here. Instead, I wish to offer a different perspective for looking at all of these recent fields of thought: One of simple thanks, of gratitude.
As the current pandemic situation continues to escalate in my state, our State Superintendent of Schools announced this week that our schools would remain closed for another month and declined to offer a definitive answer that they would reopen at the end of that time, citing that the situation needs to be monitored. The school district is the largest employer in my county and as a result countless people are currently out of work. Although we may be largely homebound with everything except the most essential stores closed, the majority of us have less to worry about than some others when it comes to the ability to “get by” financially, as we were assured that all regular, permanent staff would continue to be compensated for their “regular hours”, even if our position (such as a School Bus Driver) is unable to be performed during this closure. Rather than acknowledging this as a “right” or “something we deserve” as an employee, I have found a sense of comfort in simply trying to observe this occurrence with a sense of gratitude, knowing that things could be in a much worse position otherwise.
As I conclude this thought, I find my mind going through daily events or tasks that I take for granted. As we go forward, perhaps it would be in the interest of living a more skillful, happy life to strive to be grateful for more of “the everyday”, even if we wouldn’t normally think twice about whatever form it may manifest in our daily lives.
One of the Three Jewels is the Sangha. Depending on the tradition, this could mean the sanghas of monks and nuns or larger sangha that includes lay people. It could even mean something else. In Amida Shu, there is a piece of liturgy in the Nienfo Book that we often affirm as we take refuge.
I take refuge in the Sangha,
The community that lives in harmony and awareness
Though the ideal of a community that lives in harmony and awareness may seem to be little more than an ideal, it gives members of the sangha something to work toward. It is important to remember that the spiritual life involves traveling toward perfection but not perfection itself. As a sangha, we travel together.
It’s also important to remember that what we are taking refuge in is the sangha as a body and not the individuals themselves. This can help keep one from getting hung up on every little quirk that different members may express.*
The sangha helps us in many ways. Members of the sangha can act as mentors or even just a sounding boards. As I have mentioned before, the spiritual life is not all nectar and lotuses. Sometimes when we go into contemplation, we fall into dark places. Spiritual support is very important in this regard.
Even just the presence of one’s sangha, whether in-person or online, can be a source of strength. When I see members of my various sanghas, whether they are discussing the Dharma or just being themselves on Facebook or wherever, I know that I’m not alone, even if I’m stuck in my home.
And then there is the ocean of buddhas. When I sit, I often think of the countless buddhas filling space like the stars in the night sky, much like what is described in the Pratyuptpanna Samadhi Sutra. Those buddhas, along with their bodhisattva and arhat disciples, are truly a community that lives in harmony and awareness. Pointing my mind toward them, no matter where I am, I trust that I’m loved and supported by a most noble and unfathomable sangha.
With much gratitude,
*This does not mean overlooking abuse of any kind.
If there was ever a time for us to seek out new or alternate ways to remain connected with each other, now is the time with the current worldwide situation with Covid-19 or the Coronavirus. One facet of change that is hitting close to home for many of us relates to our beloved houses of worship, prayer or fellowship as they are either choosing or forced to close their doors for the foreseeable future. Many areas are moving to allowing only grocery stores or doctors to remain open, some permitting restaurants to offer services to the public on a carry-out or delivery-only model. While the extent varies from individual to individual, it is an indisputable fact that human beings are social creatures. How do we respond to the social difficulties presented by the pandemic?
We are fortunate to live in a time with countless different social media platforms. We are able to have a video call with programs like Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp and Skype with several different friends and family members at once. Some faith communities are choosing to adapt to the current situation by offering services temporarily online with similar methods, while others such as the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Larger Fellowship, Soto-Zen Treeleaf Zendo, Jewish Sim Shalom, our own Jeweled Tree (albeit on a much smaller scale!), among countless others are pre-existing online faith communities geared to offer services and fellowship to those seeking an alternative faith community experience or are otherwise unable to participate in a traditional in-person community. As someone who has written a paper on the topic in the past, I believe that these online faith communities are a taste of the future of religion as a whole. Yet, more importantly, they are a model to remain more closely connected with one another than the level that one would be otherwise able to with a text-based message or social media post.
From my perspective, while as Buddhists we do not espouse attachment, it is completely safe and healthy to treasure these contemporary tools, particularly during these challenging times. Let us remember to remain socially engaged in the lives of one another, bearing the social health and well-being of all in mind for it’s true significance.