I would like a show of hands. How many people in the audience work presently or have worked in the past? Now, please be honest, how many of you are happy and love your jobs every day and have never experienced any anger, stress, anxiety, frustration or irritation at work?
I am an Ophthalmologist. I finished my residency in 1979 and have been treating eye diseases for the last 35 years. You would think that I should love my job every day. After all I get to save people’s eyesight one of the most precious gifts we are given in our lives.
Well, in the early years I would have agreed with you. My happy days far outnumbered my unhappy days. But gradually as the years passed things started to change. The self centered attitude which is our downfall started to rear its ugly head. Every time a new rule or regulation came down the pike from insurance companies or the government I looked at it as a personal attack on me and my ability to practice medicine the way I wanted to practice medicine. In other words, the Four Noble Truths about suffering. I wasn’t getting what I wanted when I wanted it. Other people were interfering with MY happiness.
The other thing that happened was my motivation began to change. Even though I continued to take good care of my patients gradually I was becoming more and more concerned about my finances and the sense pleasures which they could buy as well as the praise and reputation which came with being a physician. Does this sound like the Eight Worldly Concerns? As these concerns became more important my happiness quotient at work dropped ever lower. Suddenly stress, anxiety, frustration and irritation were replacing satisfaction and contentment at work. I was blaming others for my poor attitude and unhappiness.
Last July I had to go on an extended medical leave and then I planned to retire at the end of the year. During my medical leave I was pretty happy being away from the office. I was fairly new to the Dharma and this gave me an opportunity to do a great deal of reading about Buddhism. For the first time in my life I had time to study and reflect on many things. I was able to think and meditate on the teachings. I started to realize that my bad attitude at work was not due to insurance companies, the government or other people.
I was attached to having things my own way and hated change, impermanence and lack of control. And I gradually started to realize that I wasn’t the center of the universe. Don’t we all operate as if we are the center of the universe?
This spring I got a call from my clinic. They were suddenly very short handed and asked me to come back to work on a part time basis. Initially my inclination was to say no. But then I realized that the Dharma is not just an intellectual and theoretical exercise but is made to be used. If I am to progress in my Buddhist practice I need to throw myself back into those situations that gave me dukkha in the past and start to re-wire my brain and change my attitudes and behavior. What better place to do that than work. I started working again on April 1st with a new attitude and a better motivation and I am already seeing a difference in my level of happiness. The external world cannot provide us with happiness. Only we can do it through our mind and our understanding of reality. It is our false sense of self and the attachments and aversions which that creates which is the cause for all of our mental afflictions and suffering.
I recently read a book called “Awake at Work” by Michael Carroll. I would highly recommend this book to all of you who are unhappy at work. In chapter 22 he talks about the “Six Confusions.” He says that we have multiple ways of imprisoning ourselves at work. We grasp for certainty in a world that is constantly changing and offering no guarantees. It is in trying to protect ourselves from life’s difficulties that we actually end up imprisoning ourselves in them. The “six confusions” are actually six styles or mind-sets that describe how we imprison ourselves at work.
1) Work as Drudgery. We don’t want anything out of the ordinary or new. We prefer our livelihood to be manageable and predictable. We feel work is an impediment to living life rather than an opportunity to do so. We separate livelihood from the rest of our lives.
2) Work as War. This is a win-lose mentality. Livelihood makes sense only if we win. Everything at work is the enemy. Our every act focuses on eliminating any possibility of failure and ensuring success. We must protect our sense of self at all costs.
3) Work as Addiction. We are obsessed with overcoming a feeling of inadequacy. We never seem to do enough. We are perfectionists and become unnerved by the incompetence of others. Our desire for praise and recognition is like a bucket with a hole in the bottom.
4) Work as Entertainment. We look around at work and see others looking good, laughing and having a wonderful time of it and suspect we have missed the boat. Others are getting promotions and seem to have mastered the work world. We are overcome with envy and jealousy. We look to work as a source of amusement and entertainment that somehow we are not participating in.
5) Work as Inconvenience. The need to make a living is an unfortunate accident of nature. We are entitled to a life that runs smoothly. Having to earn a paycheck is keeping us from our true calling as a famous artist or poet. We are victimized by work and always comparing our fate and position to others. We are entitled to so much more.
6) Work as a Problem. We need to get work to behave and stop being so unpredictable and unruly. If everyone would just listen to me I could fix all the conflicts, errors in judgment and mistakes. Work doesn’t have to be this messy.
I think during my career I can see myself in all six of these confusions. In fact, some days I have experienced all six. What the Dharma is teaching me is that it is I, not work that is the problem. It is our own minds that imprison us at work and in all of life’s pursuits. And it is only through the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha that we can see reality and free our minds from this cycle of suffering.
I have now been back to work for 2 ½ months. Buddhism has helped me to re-program my mind so that I am focusing less on the self and more on being of benefit to my patients, staff and fellow physicians. This has resulted in far less dukkha and much greater happiness in the workplace.
This is my first Dharma talk so please be kind.
I entitled this talk “What’s Wrong With The World, Me.” You probably already know where I am going with this. But I will proceed because we have some time to kill before we go downstairs for snacks.
My wife and I watch the evening news (we are trying to wean ourselves off of it) and just shake our heads. We are barraged with a constant stream of bad news: armed conflicts around the world, gun violence at home, stories of infidelity, politicians and famous people acting badly, human rights infringements, ethnic cleansing, etc., etc. So much hatred, violence, greed and prejudice. I have always been a cup half empty person (I’m working on that part of my personality). If you ask a cup half full person like H. H. the Dalai Lama he would say that these items make the news because they are rare and that acts of kindness far exceed acts of harm by 1000:1.
Sensei Paul gave a wonderful Dharma talk at the Joya-E service New Year’s Eve. During that talk he mentioned that us humans have 108 Mental Defilements or Afflictions. I thought to myself No Way. How is that possible? Really 108? So I asked him for the list.
Well here it is from A-Z or actually A-W starting with things like abuse and aggression and ending with wrath. No wonder there is so much suffering in the world. So if I can eliminate just one of these afflictions every year it would only take me 108 years to be free of them. But if I am really being honest to myself it would actually take 108 kalpas to eliminate them all and attain enlightenment. Obviously I can’t do this alone. It is for that reason that I need to take refuge in the Buddha of infinite wisdom and compassion. Amida Buddha is the embodiment of all that is good and true in the world and can free us of our suffering. For us to make any progress we must accept the fact that us humans are foolish, ignorant and full of blind passions. And how we view ourselves and the world around us is totally incorrect.
By the way, the number 108 has a lot of significance in Buddhism. There are 108 prayer beads in the long malas or rosaries.
In Buddhism we learn about the Four Noble Truths and the way to avoid suffering through the Noble Eightfold Path or the Six Perfections. Ethical conduct requires that we eliminate the Ten Non Virtues. Ten, I can handle that better than 108. So let me run down the list and think about my own actions as you think about yours. Remember “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5).
1. Killing. I haven’t murdered anyone at least in this lifetime. But have I swatted mosquitoes, killed spiders and intentionally stepped on ants?
There was a man who used to be on TV by the name of Billy Mays. He was probably the king of infomercials pitching those “As Seen On TV” products. I hated Billy Mays. He had a loud obnoxious voice that sent me into a rage every time I heard it. Juliet will attest to this. I know there is a mute button on my TV. I wished this man harm. One day I heard that Billy Mays had suddenly died. I felt absolutely horrible and remorseful as if I had been responsible for his death. I was ashamed of myself for having such animosity for a fellow human being. Remember, Karma is not only our actions but also our speech and thoughts. I am sure I generated a ton of bad Karma over Billy Mays.
2. Stealing. Or better taking what has not been given to you. I am not a bank robber but what about those pens and stationary that I take home from work?
3. Unwise sexual behavior. Particularly adultery or using sexuality in a way that harms others physically and emotionally. This causes so much suffering in families especially for the children. My wife will be happy to know I have never cheated on her. However, if Michael Douglas would suddenly leave Catherine Zeta Jones there is no telling what I would do. I am sure I will experience some dukkha later today for that comment.
Now comes four non virtues which are all too easy to commit because we speak more than we listen.
4. Lying or deliberately deceiving others. How many little white lies have I told just to satisfy my own self centered thoughts and desires?
5. Divisive speech. Who hasn’t spoken in a way to cause disharmony at home or in the workplace because we don’t like someone or just want to get our way?
6. Harsh words. How often do I look back and say to myself “I could have said that in a kinder gentler way without insulting, teasing or deliberately hurting another’s feelings?”
7. Idle talk. GOSSIP. Need I say more? Who doesn’t engage in this activity on a daily basis?
And wait, it gets much worse.
8. Covetousness or Jealousy and Envy. Do I share in my co-workers joy of getting that promotion which I “deserved?” What about my neighbors bigger house, newer car and more exotic vacation?
9. Maliciousness. Do I have a kind heart or do I wish to hurt those who hurt me and stay awake at night fuming about what someone said behind my back?
And #10 which is probably the most important and the basis of all the other non virtues. Distorted views. Not understanding emptiness, dependent arising, impermanence, attachment and karma. In other words, dualistic thinking and not understanding reality.
When I first heard about emptiness and dependent arising I was a little dismayed. The illusion that I was independent and self actualizing was just that, an illusion. My very existence on this planet is due to an infinite cascade of causes and conditions and I am totally dependent on the kindness of others to survive. Think about it. Do we grow our own food, make our own clothes, build our own houses and cars and treat our own diseases? Even if we do some of these things who provided the raw materials? My whole image and rugged individualism was illusory. And when I die all the money, possessions and reputation that I worked so hard to accumulate will be left behind.
But what about my goal to have a meaningful life and make a difference in the world and help reduce all this suffering. Then I remembered back to the days when I was a big bicycle rider. One summer I did 14 century rides. That is riding 100 miles in a day. And that was without any blood doping. I always took good care of my bike keeping all the parts in good working order because I knew if one chain link would freeze up or one spoke was too tight or too loose I would have a very uncomfortable ride. Well, each one of us is like that chain link in an enormous chain or that spoke in an enormous wheel. If just one of us isn’t working properly the rest of humanity suffers a very uncomfortable ride through life. So we can all do a lot to make this world a better place with more happiness and less suffering for all by fixing ourselves before we try to fix everyone else.
Join me in Gassho. Namo Amida Butsu.
In my younger years I conducted anthropological field research in northern India. Of the 3500 people who dwelled in the village where I lived and worked, approximately 3300 were adherents of Hinduism, 200 were Muslim, and one man professed to be a Buddhist. Why did this solitary individual elect Buddhism as his personal faith? The answer lies in Buddhism's egalitarian character. Hindu society is intensely rank-conscious. Hindus are organized into hereditary status groups called "castes." At the pinnacle of the Hindu social hierarchy are the Brahmans or priestly caste. At the base of the social ladder are those groups classified by the British colonial authorities as Untouchable. Mohandas Gandhi referred to these people as "Harijans, People of God." The sole Buddhist resident of the village in which I lived was a Harijan. Unlike Hinduism, Buddhism has not historically stigmatized those members of Indian society who were labeled as Untouchables. For this reason the Harijan man from my Indian home village felt more welcome in the Buddhist religious community than in the Hindu fold.
Since its inception 2600 years ago, Buddhism has eschewed making invidious social distinctions based on rank or gender. As specified in the classic Dhammapada, "Not by matted hair, not by lineage, not by caste does one become a Brahman. He is a Brahman in whom there are truth and righteousness. He is blessed." As this quotation implies, early Buddhists welcomed both men and women of all social grades into the Sangha, the religious community. Moreover, all communicants were considered eligible to attain enlightenment and spiritual freedom.
By the time several centuries had passed, Buddhist thought had become increasingly scholastic and abstract among the cloistered monastics of the Sangha. As it departed further and further from the straightforward teachings of the Buddha, its popularity waned among a certain segment of the laity. As a result, informed members of the clergy felt the need for basic doctrinal reforms. Whereas hitherto the arhat who sought his or her own personal enlightenment had served as the object for emulation, this spiritual model was replaced in reformist Mahayana Buddhism by the selfless bodhisattva ideal. The bodhisattva is an "enlightenment being," one poised on the brink of bodhi itself. According to the fourth-century sage Asanga, bodhisattvas "embrace the intention to bestow benefit and gladness upon sentient beings." Moreover, it is "their intention to lead sentient beings to enter the wisdom of omniscience." In this regard they do not draw distinctions among beings; all are worthy to receive assistance in their aspiration for bodhi or enlightenment. As the scholar Lex Hixon puts it, "The bodhisattva ideal is democratic."
In addition to the various bodhisattvas, Mahayana Buddhism - the Buddhism of the Great Vehicle - recognized a plurality of Buddhas as well. Among the latter was the Buddha Amida, the devotional focus of Shin Buddhism. With their commitment to the spiritual evolution of all living beings, the several Buddhas and bodhisattvas added significantly to the popular appeal of Mahayana Buddhism. So too did the concept of "buddha-nature," the notion that there exists a panhuman endowment or potential for attaining enlightenment.
Popular reform in Buddhism did not cease with the emergence of the Mahayana, however. Basing his approach on the Larger Pure Land Sutra, the thirteenth-century Japanese monk Shinran - founder of Jodo Shinshu or Shin Buddhism - recognized the salvific power inherent in the vows of Dharmakara (Amida Buddha in his bodhisattva form), the consequent potential for enlightenment attainable through trust - shinjin - in Amida's "other power," and the value of affirming that trust by articulating the nembutsu.
"True entrusting" or shinjin and the nembutsu phrase represent the "easy practice" recommended by Shinran to all followers of the Dharma. Through these means Shinran reformed Buddhist practice in such a way that it speaks to the common people, to everyman and everywoman. It is thus a path open to all humanity.
In honor of Mother's Day, a story about a Mother & son...
THE ELEPHANT AND HIS OLD BLIND MOTHER
Long ago, in the hills of the Himalayas near a lotus pool, the Buddha was once born as a baby elephant. He was a magnificent elephant, pure white with feet and face the color of coral. His trunk gleamed like a silver rope and his ivory tusks curled up in a long arc.
He followed his mother everywhere. She plucked the tenderest leaves and sweetest mangoes from the tall trees and gave them to him. "First you, then me," she said.
Then they rested in the soft muck with their trunks curled together. In the deep shadows of afternoon, the mother elephant rested in the shade of a rose-apple tree and watched her son romp and frolic with the other baby elephants.
The little elephant grew and grew until he was the tallest and strongest young bull in the herd.
And while he grew taller and stronger, his mother grew older and older. Her tusks were yellow and broken and in time she became blind. The young elephant plucked the tenderest leaves and sweetest mangoes from the tall trees and gave them to his dear old blind mother. "First you, then me," he said.
He bathed her in the cool lotus pool among the fragrant flowers. Drawing the sparkling water up in his trunk, he sprayed her over the top of her head and back until she shone. Then they rested in the soft muck with their trunks curled together. In the deep shadows of afternoon, the young elephant guided his mother to the shade of a rose-apple tree. Then he went roaming with the other elephants.
One day a king was hunting and spied the beautiful white elephant. "What a splendid animal! I must have him to ride upon!" So the king captured the elephant and put him in the royal stable. He adorned him with silk and jewels and garlands of lotus flowers. He gave him sweet grass and juicy plums and filled his trough with pure water.
But the young elephant would not eat or drink. He wept and wept, growing thinner each day. "Noble elephant," said the king, "I adorn you with silk and jewels. I give you the finest food and the purest water, yet you do not eat or drink. What will please you?" The young elephant said, "Silk and jewels, food and drink do not make me happy. My blind old mother is alone in the forest with no one to care for her. Though I may die, I will take no food or water until I give some to her first."
The king said, "Never have I seen such kindness, not even among humans. It is not right to keep this young elephant in chains."
Free, the young elephant raced through the hills looking for his mother. He found her by the lotus pool. There she lay in the mud, too weak to move. With tears in his eyes, he filled his trunk with water and sprayed the top of her head and back until she shone. "Is it raining?" she asked. "Or has my son returned to me?" "It is your very own son!" he cried. "The king has set me free!" As he washed her eyes, a miracle happened. Her sight returned. "May the king rejoice today as I rejoice at seeing my son again!" she said.
The young elephant then plucked the tenderest leaves and sweetest mangoes from a tree and gave them to her. "First you, then me."
"First you, then me" one line, so powerful in it's simplicity. Speaks to the idea of selfless giving . It is the idea of moving beyond this ego-centerdness and striving to understand our interconnectedness or interdependence with others and in fact, the entire universe. With this understanding, the act of selfless giving for the welfare of others, giving even more than is required, giving more than of your self, takes root. This selfless service is the very definition of Mother.
"First you, then me". This is unconditional love. It is a love that requires a lot of courage and acceptance. It is a love that expects nothing back in return, no reward for services rendered. A love that does not discriminate between foolish and wise. A love that has no boundaries or limitations. It is the Bodhisattva ideal. It is the enlightened being, out of unconditional love and compassion, that forgoes awakening, until all sentient beings have attained the same awakening. It is Dharmakara Bodhisattva's 18th vow. It is a mother Elephant drawing the water up in her trunk and spraying clean her infant. "First you, then me."
So here we are, on Mother's Day, all recipients of this immense unconditional love. How do we ever begin to repay them? Is plucking the tenderest leaves and sweetest mangoes for our mothers enough? I'm sure if you asked them they would say yes. It just doesn't seem to be enough. The Buddha taught in the sutras that it is not easy to repay your mother for your "precious human birth." In fact, he specifies that even if you carried them on your shoulders for a century, taking good care of them, and allowing them to relieve themselves on you, you would still have a debt to them. That goes way beyond the rather vague Judeo-Christian commandment to honor your parents. It seems like a scenario where Peter Graves has set us up with a "Mission Impossible". I don't have the answer. All I can do is call my Mom every week, listen to her talk about the latest project from her quilting classes, crack wise and make her laugh, prepare dinner for her when she visits, send flowers on her birthday, and tell her with deep sincerity and gratitude that I love her. Oh, and when there is a door, open it for her and say "First you, then me."
Please join me in Gassho,
You know you’re young to your Mother when
she wants to hold your hand to cross the road.
You know your Mother is old to you when
you want to hold her hand to cross the road.
You know it’s not too late when
you can still cross hand in hand.
Is it not time to guide each other
to cross the sea of Samsara together?
Namo Amida Butsu.
The title of my dharma talk this morning is Rude Awakening and it’s about chickens. Some of you know that Paul and I have officially become urban farmers. Earlier this spring we brought home 3 one-day old baby chicks from the feed store, to raise as egg laying hens. It was still very cold in early March and so we were told that we could keep them in a protected, heated area of the house for up to 6 weeks before moving them outside. That gave us plenty of time to build a coop and fenced yard, or so we thought.
We had a couple of family emergencies come up that unexpectedly took up a lot of the time we were planning to spend on the coop and fence. First my parents, who are in their 80’s, where both badly injured in a car accident and have needed a lot of assistance with their recoveries. Then our old dog, Duffy, had to have an emergency eye surgery that required a couple weeks of care-giving while he was healing.
What I’m trying to say is, it’s been 2 months now and we have 3 nearly full grown chickens still living in an enclosure in our basement. They are in for a rude awakening when it comes time to move outside. This artificial, cozy, protected space is all they have ever known. But it’s not where chickens are meant to live. The reality is that chickens are meant to live outside.
I can’t help wondering, is this in any way similar to what the Buddha’s awakening was like? Realizing that reality wasn’t what he thought it was. Maybe becoming enlightened is a bit of a rude awakening. After all, he was only human, like us, and he lost literally everything that he knew to be true. Can we even imagine what that would be like?
We all experience rude awakenings when we discover we are not our thoughts, or our actions, or our relationships, or our careers. The recent retiree, the recent divorcee, one who has lost a loved one, one who has been active and is now disabled, Duffy possibly loosing his eye sight, my parents facing loosing their independence. In a small way, they are all becoming a little bit enlightened when they wake up to reality as it is, not as they thought it was.
There is a story by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato called the Allegory of the Cave. In it he describes a group of people who have lived chained in a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall. These people watch shadows projected on the wall by things passing in front of a fire behind them, the shadows are as close as the prisoners get to viewing reality. He then talks about what it is like for a prisoner who is freed from the cave and comes to understand that the shadows on the wall do not make up reality at all. What a rude awakening to go from seeing only shadows to seeing the full display of reality. But then, after that initial shock has passed, then how wonderful, how indescribably wonderful to really see.
If we are not who we think we are, then who are we? Last week Rev. Dennis Fujimoto from the Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple was here to give a lecture and dharma talk as part of Japan week and our Hanamatsuri service. He gave an excellent explanation of the difference between the Buddha, the man who has this awakening, and Amida, the image represented on the altar. He said that when the historical man we call the Buddha became enlightened he woke up to the true nature of reality as it is. Amida is the name that we have come to give this “reality as it is”. All things are part of this reality. When the Buddha woke up to reality as it is, he experienced being part of Amida. So who are we? In reality, we are part of Amida.
That is true for all of us. The problem is we’re still living in a dark cave watching shadows go by and mistaking them for reality. We have lost track of who we are and make up a definition that seems to make sense. It is as if we were a light bulb that has forgotten about electricity and believes that it is light. That is what it’s like when we do not recognize the reality of Amida in our lives. We may require a rude awakening, being shaken to our core, to see who we really are, and what we are, and where we are.
Paul has been working very hard to build a safe, wonderful backyard set-up for the girls. Once they get used to being outside with lots of space and fresh air and their nesting boxes, I’m sure that they won’t miss their little in-door enclosure at all. Just as chickens need to be outside to grow and thrive because it is where they belong, we need to be in the presence of reality that is Amida. It may feel like a rude awakening at first, to let go of our comfortable thoughts about who we are, but that’s exactly what we need to do in order to grow and thrive. Because it is where we belong. Namo Amida Butsu.
Good morning. Some of you know that I’m a big Bob Dylan fan. I can listen to the same songs over and over and have a line or phrase pop out to me in a new way every time. I’ll find myself thinking, “That’s a really Buddhist statement”. In fact I have a scrap of paper and a pencil in my car, which is where I usually listen to music. When these random lines stand out to me as representing a Buddhist thought on any given day, I jot them down. I’ve always wanted to write a dharma talk based on these quotes and call it, “The Dharma of Dylan”. The trouble with that idea is that only people who also recognized the song lines would get it. So, here is a much simpler attempt to incorporate one phrase into a dharma talk. The Dharma of Dylan.
Here I sit so patiently, waiting to find out what price,
You have to pay to get out of going through all these things twice.
There are 2 parts to this verse from “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again”. One relates to the price “waiting to find out what price”, and the second refers to “getting out of going through all these things twice”. I’m going to start by looking at each aspect separately.
Last month a group of us were in Tacoma for the annual Northwest Buddhist convention. Paul and I went to one of the workshops where Rev. Gregory Gibbs from Portland was speaking on the idea of how do we get to and from the Pure Land. Who pays for the ticket? Rev. Gibbs said that, “The Buddha pays for the ticket. Our own worthiness is irrelevant. Our own efforts and abilities are irrelevant.”
What does he mean by the Buddha pays for the ticket? By the Buddha I think in one sense Rev. Gibbs means Shakyamuni Buddha who became enlightened and pasted his teachings on to us. One part of the content of his enlightenment was the idea that there is immeasurable wisdom and compassion in the world. In Jodo Shinshu, we recognize this immeasurable wisdom and compassion in the representation of Amida Buddha. So, in another sense I think he means Amida Buddha pays for the ticket. In other words, because there is immeasurable wisdom and compassion acting in the world, I already have access to the Pure Land. I don’t have to Do anything to earn it. So this is not the same as the Christian notion that Jesus has paid the price for our sins. It’s more like realizing that there is no price to pay in the first place because the Pure Land is already here.
Rev. Gibbs also said, “In the Jodo Shinshu view, the ticket is completely paid for before we even consider making the journey…If we improve the character of our moral living it is in gratitude for the liberation flowing into our lives and out of genuine concern about how our actions will affect others.”
“Here I sit so patiently, waiting to find out what price”. So, now we know that the price doesn’t matter. The Buddha sat so patiently. The Buddha paid the price by recognizing that immeasurable wisdom and compassion exist in this world.
Here I sit so patiently, waiting to find out what price,
You have to pay to get out of going through all these things twice.
From a Buddhist point of view, the second part of this verse could refer to transmigration or re-birth. What exactly does that mean?
Once the price is paid to go to and from the Pure Land, then what does it mean to go to and from the Pure Land? In Rev. Gibbs’ talk, he discussed three different interpretations of what going and coming from the Pure Land might mean from a Jodo Shinshu perspective. One way of thinking is I literally die and am born again with a new life, in a new body, on this Earth, to benefit others. Another interpretation accepts that I might not literally be reborn in a new body, but that in some capacity, some aspect of myself, or my energy returns to help others. The final way of thinking is that I don’t come back in any real sense. That whatever benefit my actions have on the world, they are the actions that I have performed in this life only, and the results of those actions may carry on for years to come.
My yoga teacher David Garrigues recently addressed this last idea of transmigration occurring not from one lifetime to the next but from one moment to the next. He said, “I believe this does not necessarily refer to reincarnation. It refers to here, now, to repeating the same thing over habitually in dullness, by rote, without seeing the wonder, the splendor of what IS now. Going around and around in samsara is a mental round that must be seen for what it is NOW- not in the future. The wretched headless repetition is happening now, never mind the future, or future lives. Each of us can stop spinning the wheel now.”
Here I sit so patiently, waiting to find out what price,
You have to pay to get out of going through all these things twice.
So, no matter what your personal beliefs on rebirth or birth in the Pure Land, know that you’re in good company in Jodo Shinshu Buddhism. Infinite wisdom and compassion exist in this world and this life. The bottom line is that we can’t really know what happens at the end of this life. The teachings use metaphors to attempt to give a glimpse of what might happen. Some say it’s like lighting one candle with the flame of another. Some say it’s like one drop coming in and out of being in the ocean of life, or in the constantly moving river of life. Hum. If this life is just a drop in the constantly moving river of life, then “I’ll just sit down on this bank of sand and watch the river flow”.
Thank you, Namo Amida Butsu.
It’s the end of January. Some of you may have made New Year’s Resolutions at the beginning of the month and are finding your resolve starting to fade. I’ve never been a big fan of New Year’s resolutions and I think it has something to do with the word “resolution”. In my dharma talk this morning, I’m going to talk about the difference between a resolution, which seems very Western and ego centered to me, and an intention, which I believe represents a much more Buddhist approach.
When I resolve to do something, I am saying that I will do it. I am doing it under my willpower. If I perceive that I’m successful, it boosts my ego, and encourages more judgment of self and others. If I perceive that I’m unsuccessful, I may feel guilt, blame others, or become defensive.
It’s one thing to make a resolution to get more exercise and eat more vegetables in the coming year. I hope you all do get more exercise and eat more vegetables, but let’s pick a really worthy Buddhist resolution. From the Golden Chain, which we just read to the children, “I will be kind and gentle to every living thing”. If I make that into a resolution, it’s because I think it’s worthy. Then it becomes important to me to see myself as successful. I resolve to be kind and gentle to every living thing, becomes “I am kind and gentle, what a good person I am”. That’s a delusion. The reality is that it’s not possible to be kind and gentle to every living thing, perfectly, all the time. If I am resolved to do this, then it leaves no room for me to see when I’m not doing it. Flowers are living things. If we are honest, to cut these flowers was not being kind and gentle to every living thing.
The Buddhist way is completely different. As a Buddhist, I set an intention to be mindful of being kind and gentle. It acknowledges that I know I won’t be perfect. In fact to really make this intention Buddhist it would be to say, I will be mindful of when I’m not being kind and gentle. This is mindfulness of reality as it is, not as I want it to be. And the result is gratitude not guilt or blame. When I’m mindful that I am not being kind and gentle to every living thing and I cut flowers, I am grateful for them. I enjoy their impermanent beauty that much more.
Buddhism isn’t about behaving perfectly. It’s about being aware of reality. If I am only noticing and being mindful of the times when I am kind and gentle, I can delude myself into thinking that I’m kind and gentle all the time. That’s not reality. But if I make it my intention to be mindful of the times when I am not kind and gentle, then I open myself up to the wisdom of reality. I am also opening myself up to compassion. Compassion toward myself in acknowledging that it’s okay to not be perfect, and compassion toward others to accept their imperfections as well. How can I not be grateful for the wisdom and compassion that come to me when I practice being aware of my own delusions in this way?
When I become aware that I am not thinking pure and beautiful thoughts about that difficult person at work. Then I can be grateful for the mindfulness. Because, it is only in those instances of awareness that I can find the pure land, that I am in the realm of true wisdom and compassion. So, do get more exercise and eat your vegetables, but also make room for mindful intentions. It’s at the heart of Buddhism. This is what leads to an understanding of what Shinran meant by the deluded self, the impermanent self. This is an example of wisdom and compassion acting in our lives. Please join me in gassho: Saying Namo Amidabutsu is being grateful for wisdom and compassion. Namo Amidabutsu.