light in our darkness.
What am I?
This story of me
to stop, to answer?
Where there is no stopping?
And the answer is changed by
It’s all about the question,
What am I?
And finding light in the darkness
I became a Buddhist many years ago, or maybe I was always a Buddhist, perhaps I never will be; the meaning of the name changes. I read a great deal, but understand no more than I understand myself, which is little enough. Meditation does not appeal to me, well not for overly long, ten, twenty minutes to settle the mind, though I have always pondered, and wrote about the space between. That soft, silent gap from which a soft beat pushes, pulls me on to the next thought, act, life- where does it come from? Causes and conditions beyond comprehension encompass us all? This is the gap. Still, Buddhism was a game, a puzzle to be solved by thinking this way or that. I waited for it to emerge like a baby from the womb, listened for it between the words of the wise and the frauds, wondering if I could tell them apart. Then, one day I realized, I am a fool. That we are all fools, each living inside our own confusion, our own gap; the space between. In that moment, the puzzle vanished. This is the light of Amida, the infinite wisdom of Amida, shifter of paradigms. I am a fool living inside my foolishness. All things are my teacher when I accept that I am a student; a seeker, and ignorant of answers, that there is no one, answer. Truthfully, I have learned to avoid answers, as well as those who hold to them, unable to move on. People who have nothing more to learn, now that they are sixty three, or twenty five, or eighty: arbitrary lines marking only impermanence. I am troubled by such spiritual pretenders who chatter wisdom like birds, but understand nothing, though I am unsure why.
Truthfully, there is no answer to why I am a fool, no one answer. Instead, I look for that which I have misunderstood, for that which I have not created from my ego. There is only the question: What am I? What have I created from my spiritual ignorance? This is my practice. This is my Buddhism. Namu Amida Buddha
After pondering: May the wisdom of the All-Compassionate One so shine within our hearts and minds, that the mists of error and the foolish vanity of self be dispelled. So shall we understand the changing nature of existence and reach spiritual peace, (page 17 of Shin Buddhist Service book). And remembering a story shared by Reverend Castro about a tragic accident that left three people dead.
Were I perfect, could I exist in this imperfect world? Were I perfect, would I behave so poorly? I ask rhetorically. From my perspective, there is little question as to the nature of my existence. I have long since proven that I am simply a limited, foolish human being; one decidedly imperfect. Were I perfect, I would doubtless have swirled away in a great flush of guilt long ago from having made so little of my life. I am refering to the guilt that comes from being so much less than you feel you could be, coupled with a compulsive need to take responsibility for the short fall. A ridiculously pretentious concept, yet one many people seem to suffer from.
We all make mistakes. None of us is perfect though we act as if we were at times, or should be. Despite the best planning and good intentions, sometimes things just don’t work out. There are a number of reasons this is so. There is the dependent origination the Buddha spoke of: All things change in relation to causes and conditions, nothing exists independently. This is true of our delusions, our bonno. It is said our blind desires, bonno, are so named because they are easier to see in others than in our selves. Given that these things are so, how could we not be limited, imperfect beings? Of course, we make mistakes. My mistakes fail to surprise me anymore, well those I recognize. I suspect there’s more out there waiting for me to notice them. I live in a state of delusion, from rose hued to, too dark to see. I have colored all that I have known with my opinions, given and taken value, adding to and subtracting from each reality. I have stamped every perception with my presence. Once I thought, I understood truth, and built with it as if it were brick and stone, creating mansions of well considered certainty. Now I ponder my delusions and watch my mansions crumble. I have lost faith in knowing any organic truth: truth I have not tarnished with intent or denial. There is no perfection in this world; there can be no guilt from its lack. There is only arrogance in such guilt. How could I achieve perfection in this life? How I could reach so high? Even my remorse in my failure to overcome my ignorance is vanity. Truthfully, knowledge has overcome me; cast me into a well of questions. How can I know? I pause, scratch and ponder, but know? I know this muddied water I drink is from my standing in the stream. And yet, I continue to stand there, looking into the past, lacking the wit to even turn around.
How can any of us know who we are until we know who we are not? Which of us is perfect? Truthfully, there are only those who seek to know and accept what they are, and those who deny the changing nature of reality. All things change. Buddhism changes, if not the truth of the Dharma, though it has many guises. What can be considered good, or bad, when everything changes? To say, I am a good person is to deny or dismiss as unimportant, all that I am that does not fit an image of good. I am limited enough. If I am not capable of being consistently “good” am I then, an evil person? Or am I simply a limited, foolish person incapable of knowing, good from evil? Each of us lives inside our delusions. How can anyone say with certainty, who they really are, much less what they are? Self-power is the process of seeking perfection in this life. I just never got it, though I frustrated my delusions mightily, straining every mental muscle. Now I have taken refuge in the light of Amida’s wisdom and compassion, which shines through each of us, revealing all that we hidden, all that we deny. We must accept the entirety of our deluded self, the kindness and the spiteful, petty, meanness. Are we not that which makes us uncomfortable, that which we feel obliged to deny, that which we hate and fear, our base desires, as well as our loftier pretensions? Alas, there is no perfection in this life. We can only dream of perfection, to awake alone and empty. Perfection is an absolute, a direction, a model, a gauge by which we measure and evaluate. The perfect rose cannot exist. It lives in the abstract, an ideal that represents our eternal dissatisfaction. An absolute cannot exist, who would allow it? It would mean surrender. It would mean accepting that we are all limited, foolish, imperfect people, each in our own way.
We live inside our delusions of self, the delusions we have created. Our fears create our hatreds, our cravings, attachments, and as for our ego needs, are we not each, the center of the world? How can anyone know anything of importance until they know their own limits? Without a true acceptance of our limits, we only push true understanding away. We all are imperfect. I ask you, were we not, would we behave so poorly? Read the newspaper. We all make mistakes. Some mistakes cannot be undone. We fix what we can fix. We try to know ourselves. We try to know the truth about our deluded self and find only more delusion.
Unexamined delusions are limitless, but with examination, when questioned, delusions fade to doubt, to ill-at-ease uncertainty, then, vanish. We banish our delusions by accepting them as delusions. Often, we fail; usually we fail; and in our failure, there is suffering and sorrow. There is a sense of failure in being less than perfect. Even with the light of Amida Buddha’s wisdom and compassion, self-examination is painful. We live in this passing moment, in an on going stream of acts, and what is done is done. What is said is said. What is broken must remain broken. This must be the most difficult truth to accept. This too, is revealed in the light of Amida’s wisdom and compassion. We are all limited, foolish, imperfect people, doing the best we can in an uncertain world. How can we judge anyone else, we don’t even know ourselves? We are imperfect and in our imperfection, must know sorrow and suffering. Humility sits coarse and uncomfortable on our western egos. How difficult is it to be grateful for sorrow and suffering? How could this not be so? How could we fail to take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha? Namu Amida Butsu.
When our car’s engine looses power, we know its time for an overhaul. The mechanic replaces worn-out parts, readjusts the settings and power is restored.
Minds are like engines too. So long as they operate within the knowledge limits set by the owner’s culture, they can operate smoothly, even for lifetimes. Daily, they accumulate knowledge, make decisions and render judgments about everything in the world. In time, our minds figure out how the world works. We become attached to notions about what is good and evil; what is wholesome and what is abhorrent. These ideas are firmly entrenched in our psyche and define who we are and enable us to make sense of the world. But the mind-engine can develop serious malfunctions when placed in an unfamiliar environment. Such was the case for me last month, when Karen and I traveled in India. My Western mind was not prepared for the reality that is India. It turned out that nothing short of a spiritual overhaul could restore balance and calm to my agitated mind.
I knew India was a third world country. In a vague bookish way, I understood that to mean: overpopulation, poverty and pollution. But nothing in my experience prepared me for what awaited us at the train station in Bodhgaha, our first major stop on the trip. We had taken the overnight train from Delhi and arrived in Bodhgaya (the place where the Buddha received his Enlightenment) a little before 5:00 in the morning. It was just beginning to get light. We stepped off the train, gathered our bags and started walking toward the station entrance. As my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I became aware of movement on the ground; of grey shapes stirring. They were people who had been sleeping on the ground, and now rousing themselves. Suddenly, it seemed everyone at once jumped to their feet and moved toward us. “Carry your bag sir?”, “Need a guide, sir?” “Madam, take your bag?” “Sir,…sir…” Beggars with wretched faces closed in, their grimy hands outstretched. “Please, sir! Something for the poor?” The acrid odor of sweat and the sewer rolled over us. We pressed our way through the crowd, (-refusing every offer of assistance). Moments later we were jostled on all sides as other travelers streamed through the front door of the station. The noise was deafening; a cacophony of shouting porters, blaring loudspeakers, crying babies, and shrill whistles. Outside the station door, the way opened onto a large plaza. Scores of people were still on the ground; -some still sleeping and some preparing tea on small fires. Cars and busses roared up the station, weaving in and out among the people, horns ablaring. Cows roamed freely rooting in the trash that littered the plaza; their excrement seen everywhere. Moments later we were in a mini-van lurching our way through a narrow, congested, pot hole-covered street to our hotel. I was in sensory shock, nothing short of total emotional overload. My mind reeled with initial reactions of denial, disbelief and revulsion. “This is insane! It’s awful! How can they live in such misery? Have they no pride?” The only way my Western mind-engine could cope with what I saw, was to conclude: “I am not like these people. I have nothing in common with them.”
Several depressing days followed. At times, I felt close to tears for no apparent reason. Clear thinking eluded me. I felt dopey, unsteady on my feet and vulnerable to physical injury. I struggled to understand what was happening. Over and over, the question came up: “Why all this mental agitation? Why is this so hard for me?” On the fourth day, we were in a bookstore. I happened upon a copy of the Dhammapada; a collection of the Buddha’s teachings. I opened it to the chapter entitled “Twin Verses” and read the familiar:
Our life is shaped by our mind;
We become what we think.
Suffering follows an evil thought,
As the wheels of a cart follow the ox
That draws it.
Our life is shaped by our mind;
We become what we think.
Joy follows a pure thought
Like a shadow that never leaves.
Reflecting on this insight, it came to me that the cause of my depression was in my head. Not out there. The old mind-engine was sputtering because my long cherished Western attitudes didn’t apply here. My spiritual overhaul had begun. The first faulty part to be stripped out was my perception that life here was intolerable. True enough, potable drinking water and toilet paper were not available everywhere, as I expected they should. So what? Life goes on. People adapt. You carry bottled water. You adopt new toileting behaviors. True, life in the street was chaotic and at times frightening. But looking closer, I saw that people were not frantic, no one was yelling; there were no shaking of angry fists. Looking at myself, I still had all my limbs and had not been physically threatened in any way. I realized my first task was to stop characterizing everything as bad or undesirable. The overhaul continued. The second component to get tossed was my foolish delusion that I, me, myself, ……was somehow different from (and superior to) the people around me. Now, it is self-evident that everyone: Americans, Indians, Buddhists, Christians, young or old -all people everywhere grasp at things they believe will make them happy, and avoid situations they believe will bring unhappiness. The Buddha taught that all things and events in the universe are impermanent and interrelated. We suffer when we don’t get what we want, when things “out there” don’t live up to our expectations. He went on to show that what we think of as reality (the world of permanent, separate things out there) is in fact in a constant state of flux. Since phenomena are always in flux they can possess no fixed, permanent attributes of their own. They just are. Neither good nor bad. Neither better nor worse. We can see reality by just looking; before any thought, or judgment, or evaluation is brought to it.
These insights reminded me everyone acts from similar motives. My arrogant belief that I was “better than” the people around me, had no relevance
to Truth. Such views arose purely from my arbitrary judgment that having at nice home, a clean toilet, new clothes, fresh bedding, sparkling water, and wholesome food all conferred superiority. I understood that having or not having these things had nothing to do with goodness or entitlement. They simply represented the unfolding of the universe in this particular moment; all could change in the very next. Nothing is permanent. Things got better for me after that. My Western mind-engine began to perk up. I stopped trying to compare everything to conditions at home. Thereafter, I just tried to be in the moment, …moment by moment, simply watching whatever there was to see. And I began to see all kinds of wonderful things, just as they unfolded. A woman climbing out of the Ganges River, shouted happily, “Om nama Shviya!” (Praise to Lord Shiva!) to no one in particular. A beggar smiled when the 5 Rupee coin dropped into his cup. An old man gently pushed a cow away from his fruit stall. A barefoot child darted past me wearing a garland of marigolds. Everything was just as it should be. There was nothing to fear. There was nothing to need. Letting go of preconceived ideas is a wonderfully liberating experience. Like the Buddha said, you are what you think. Like cars, all minds benefit from spiritual overhauls now and then. *****************
After reflecting upon the lecture of Rinban Fuji regarding the Pure Land and the compassion of Amida Buddha
Since I was a child, I have questioned and I have questioned nothing more than this dream of existence, this delusion called self. Truth grows by each questioned layer stripped away. Like truth, I have only this passing moment of examination: “What am I?” What self lays beneath the fantasies, pretensions, and delusions of self? I question, but doubt all answers, having found answers temporal and relative. Answers have pretensions of permanence, but must perish for they exist only in the strength of conviction of those who cling to them. What are answers, but reflections of the deluded questioner?
Both my successes and my failures have taught me that I am only a limited being filled with blind passions. I examine my successes with a dubious eye and turn a skeptical ear to praise. I make mistakes, do foolish things, I see, but none to clearly, knowing full well that I swim in a sea of delusions. Guilt and remorse are simply part of my deluded sense of self, as is pride, arrogance and greed. How can I be more than I am? We fill ourselves with delusions of who we wish, or fear, we are, and are blinded to our own reality. I am no different. How can I know who I am? I am only a human being, limited and foolish. Still, I do my best, knowing that success and failure are no more than stories, not to be relied upon. Sometimes I wonder, were my delusions to vanish, would I be awake or gone as well?
We are finite creatures with finite intelligence, finite wisdom, incapable of perfection. Perfection is an absolute and absolutes cannot exist, existentially. But the Pure Land, the Pure Land is beyond our limitations. The Pure Land pulls us to that state of purity just beyond our conception, beyond our dreaming wonder and fantasy. It calls, just as Amida calls and in calling creates the possibility of our deepest dreams’ attainment. Yet, Amida accepts us as we are, as we must accept ourselves. This is the compassion of Amida Buddha. Amida alone is infinite. Each of us must do our best and having done that, rely upon Amida’s wisdom and compassion. Namu Amida Butsu
A note of introduction:
To those whom I have confused in the past, you might want to read the fall edition of Pacific World 2003, Journal of the institute of Buddhist studies: Kiyozawa Manshi and the Path to the Revitalization of Buddhism by Alfred Bloom. Personally, I can’t stand footnotes and Dr, Reverend, Alfred Bloom tends to intellectualize a bit, still if you stick with it he has some good insights into the most thought provoking Buddhist thinker since Shinran, Kiyozawa Manshi. It was this Kiyozawa school of thought that is responsible for my becoming Jodo Shinshu, or Pure Lander. Culturally, I am an American, though lately I lie and say I am from Canada and will continue to do so while “That Man” is in office. Yes, I don’t care for President Bush and his policies. As a Buddhist, I believe in Peace and don’t feel that another person’s sexual nature degrades my marriage. While I feel that all life should be protected, the right of a woman to choose when she is ready to be a mother comes first. I think ex-Catholics suffer terribly when they become Buddhist, but really, they have to let this stuff go. The idea of sin is such a handy crutch that the concept should be avoided at all costs. The concept of sin is something imposed from outside. Think for yourself, layout your own moral roadmap, and then question it. Just imagine how much safer the world would be if George W. had learned to question. Dharma in the White House. What a concept?
A practical approach to disappearing into the Pure Land, by Ed Parker
Remember, my words are like the moldering leaves pressed together by the snow lingering beneath the stark bare limbs of winter’s maple.
I have known religious people and people concerned with the truth, even some who pursued it religiously, though these have been rare. I think most people are drawn to the truth, at least in the beginning. Most, stop when they think they have found the answer, become mired in dogma and go no further. And why should they, they have found the truth, the ultimate answer? These people have no where to go, they are stopped. Further thought would only take them away from whatever it is they’ve found. And having found the truth, they feel obliged to share it. How could they not share it? What else is left to them? Should one of these true believers come across someone else with a different final answer, the two invariably fight. There can only be one ultimate and final answer, and each feels they have it. Unless of course, one feels their truth is so obvious it doesn’t need defending. Sadly, there are not many of these, though their arrogance must be a terrible burden. Most answer people feel that their ultimate answer requires their support. Why, I don’t know. As I see it, when it comes to seeking truth, all answers are inappropriate (it stops you) and often dangerous for those who disagree. I say, why go there. Or, if you must, stop with a strongly held opinion and duck all absolute and final answers about truth.
Well, needless to say, this disturbs people who place great store by answers. Answer people get upset when the utility of their answers are questioned. They say: “What is the purpose of truth if it’s not an answer?”
Being something of a coward let me hasten to clarify. As I see it, there are at least two types of answers. Many of which, well some of which, perform useful functions. There are those answers that pertain to questions in the objective world: How big is a bread box? What is a bread box? What time is it? Do you know the way to San Jose? How much is that doggy in the window? These are material questions that require material answers. This and that kind of answers. We can weigh and measure, compare and contrast this with that and find an answer. Most of us spend our day asking, answering, and looking for facts in the material world. We eat, sleep, work, and wash dishes in the material world and the material world is important, it keeps us warm and fed, it’s just, well, a bit limited. We limit the objective world by how we define it. This, of course, is the problem, the Objective world is not Reality, not big R reality, because we have in effect, created it. I mean, what is a bread box anyway?
Then there is the Subjective world, the world of values. I love this and hate that, kind of reality. This is the second type of answer. The created world of, this is good, this is evil, want this, don’t want that, ideas like right and wrong: good people do this, bad people do that, give me liberty, justice, motherhood, security, so on and so forth. These people feel that carrying the flag of freedom means that they are free, that truth and its symbols are one and the same. We rely on such flags and banners to give our lives meaning and measure our concept of self accordingly. To the best of my knowledge, freedom, liberty, even motherhood are processes that are dependent upon how we conduct ourselves toward them. We live in the Objective world, yet we give it subjective meaning based upon causes and conditions we have created, ones we can neither understand nor control. Hold on, this doesn’t mean there is nothing to be done. It just means over coming our delusions is tough, we can’t do it by ourselves. Ah yes, this Subjective reality is fanciful stuff, full of emotion. Consider all those concepts, ideas and beliefs that cause us to love, hate, fear and remain eternally distracted from anything meaningful, they’re not all on TV. Still, it’s entertaining. What would we do without drama? This is the world of delusion. This is the created world of self, of who I think I am. A self image negotiated without conscious thought or intent and then imposed upon the material world as a reference point. How does this benefit me, make me look good, smarter, thinner, younger? In the Subjective world, each of us is our own yardstick, which makes comparisons difficult, or would be if we were not deluded. Try comparing yourself to Amida. After experiencing the infinite, the finite becomes suddenly liberating.
Ok, so each of us experiences the Objective world, subjectively. We give meaning to the Objective world, subjectively. Everything is seen in relation to our needs; our wants, our desires. So how do we know what is truth? How can we know the truth? It all begins with the question: What am I? Wait, wait, there’s
another question, the BIG ONE: could I accept the truth about myself if it was pointed out to me? This is where Amida’s compassion lives.
Actually, Amida lives in the intuitive world. This is the world we visit in those moments when our Subjective mind is desperately pouring over Objective facts and finding nothing that answers; nothing of importance. The intuitive arises when answers fail. When answers fill the world, intuitive awareness must tiptoe around these jack booted, goose stepping certainties, constantly looking over its shoulder, trying to avoid all confrontation with these ruffians. If you want answers, buy a dictionary. If you want truth, Spiritual Truth, you must first get over your answers. The intuitive world of Amida has nothing to do with answers other than to point them out as delusions. If we ignore the intuitive light Amida shines onto our delusions, or deny that our delusions exist, our delusions grow stronger, the light more difficult to see. On the other hand, if we see what is within us, accept our foolishness and in accepting it, let it go, the light grows stronger. All we have to do is ask, “Why?”
It is all in the questions we ask. You got to careful what you ask for. If you ask a material question, you will get a material answer. This and that questions have this and that answers. This, compared to that, is what? Spiritual questions are different, for the variable in every equation is you. Instead of looking outside, you must look within, into the person you have become, the person you have created. The subjective world is subjective because we have created our sense of self from delusion; delusion is our filter, our mask. It is this deluded sense of self that translates the limited Objective world into Subjective meaning, meaning designed by I, the me in ego, amigo. You know, stuff in, garbage out. And we are stuck there, each in our own way. One day each of us will discover that we have no answer for the really important things in life: Why did that child have to die so young? Why do people die all around me, yet I live? Why is there war? Why are some countries so fat, others, so thin? We ask, but don’t expect an answer, there is no answer, or there are too many answers. If we ask: why did I become angry just then, or why am I so selfish, this is different, the question evokes the power of Amida. So just throw that why, high in to the sky, saying, Namo Amida Buddha with humility and gratitude and see what Amida has to show you. Each of us has experienced disillusionment; each of us has expected one thing only to discover that it was another. How much of our pain comes from promises we made to ourselves that reality could not keep. This is what is revealed in Amida’s light, accept it and let it go. Take refuge in the Buddha.
The Light of Amida disrupts objective/Subjective dichotomy by allowing us to see that we have bent reality around who we think we are. This light points out that we are what we do, what we think, what we say. It shows us that when we act from delusion, we set that act in motion with no real idea where it is going. It is like bowling blind folded; hoping for the sound of falling pins, hoping no one will suddenly start screaming. Amida’s light makes us ask, what am I? It suggests that if you don’t know what is making you act, who you really are, all other
knowledge is pointless. How can you say what your intentions are? It asks, how can you judge others when you don’t know for sure why you do what you do? How can we not be tolerant of others?
The light of Amida reveals that we are all limited, foolish people working with what we have. How can we not be tolerant? It is all about the question. When the question calls, Amida allows us to see, to hear, and to accept what is there, and in accepting our foolishness, our delusions become less, until one day our foolish sense of self is gone. On the day our delusions disappear, the self disappears, on that day we will find the Pure Land.
What does this all mean, likely nothing. For me it means that Amida is not out there, but inside me, inside each of us, trying to get our attention. Our lives are filled with distractions, those we create ourselves; those others create for us. Few of us would know reality if it bit us. We are all ordinary, foolish people, limited by our blind passions. There are no exceptions. I take a few minutes when I can, to take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha and look at myself and question why. One day I will do this and find that I have disappeared. Maybe, I will laugh and say, “So this then, is nirvana.” Maybe not.
Sometimes I am asked if I meditate. I meditate every moment. I meditate on each act of my being in this foolish drama that is my life. I simply have no choice; I am a foolish Buddhist. Now there are 84,000 ways to be a Buddhist, but there is only one way to become aware and that is to question what you are doing. Unless you are constantly challenging, questioning, and examining what you do and why you are doing it, you are not following the Dharma of Sakyamuni and Shinran. It is a lot of work, you must read, study and think, and to doubt. Buddhism is about becoming aware.
Buddhism is a questioning religion and it begins by doubting the self. Let me explain what I mean by doubting the self. The self is who we think we are, what we think we are. It is a delusion and like all delusions, exists quite apart from reality, some, perhaps further than others. To doubt the self, means you have stumbled over reality, or one delusion has bumped into another. Either way, something is about to change, and change without understanding is is the root of all suffering.
We all know people who do things that if they saw themselves the same way we do they would stop doing it. There are clothes only skinny people should wear; things no one should wear like thong underwear; guys who pull their underwear up and their pants down. These people do not see themselves the same way I do, which is fine. The point is we all have a different idea of who we are, and see ourselves in ways no one else does. This image changes through out our lives, or should. Unfortunately, we tend to lock ourselves into who we think we are and hold onto this image until some doubt as to the reality of this self emerges. The death of a loved one can do this, or seeing a two year old child and knowing that you were once like that child and you will never again be that cute. In these moments, you grasp the true meaning of impermanence. Life is change and change is the source of all suffering; your only salvation is in understanding this one truth.
This occurred to me the other day while staring at the amount of food on my plate. I had filled it the way I did when I was twenty. I have an attachment to eating a lot and when I do, a lot of it attaches to me. I have an old man’s body and a young man’s appetite, which may explain why I look the way I do. The question I have to ask myself is, must I be fat? If I begin to doubt that my role in life is to be an old fat man, I will start to eat less. No one can tell me this. Those who have tried, my wife, my daughter, my doctor, know I won’t listen. I am fat, but I don’t see myself as fat. I see myself as the strong chunky guy I have always been. Go figure. If this were a matter of logic and reason, I would get myself a smaller plate. It isn’t. Still, when we doubt an attachment, its hold on us loosens and we begin to have options. Hopefully, one of my options will be a smaller plate. It all begins by questioning who we think we are.
The Buddhist way is to question the self as a form of meditation. What is this self, this me, this stream of consciousness into which I seek the moment’s being, to grasp this elusive now, like a drop of water in a swiftly flowing stream. In questioning the self, I find that I am a passing moment’s reflection, existing only in memory, and that deluded by ten thousand things.
There is a sense of futility in all this, but not negatively so. This testing of reality by questioning the state of our own consciousness creates a humbling insecurity, a frightening, yet creative sense of doubt that is the mother of all possibilities. It is a practice, an exercise to be completed by saying the nembutsu with humility and gratitude. It doesn’t happen overnight or without effort.
What am I? What is this I am being? The answer is only another question. There is nowhere to stand, nothing on which you can depend. We suffer in our blind passions like a naked child running through a field of nettles, crying out in fear and pain? And yet, though the child is alone, a voice calls out, “Slow down, see what you are doing.” In hearing this voice, the ego begins to break down; the self dwindles. How foolish, this bag of bones? How terribly foolish?
From this void emerges the Buddha within. It is in questioning, that we find the voice that calls to us. This voice that begins with questioning the self and ends with Amida Buddha: this truth arising of itself in the question, “What am I being? It is only by humbly accepting our limitations that such limitations can be overcome. To reach our inconceivable, unknowable self that is Amida Buddha, we must rely on the power of Amida Buddha. We are simply limited foolish beings and we acknowledge this by saying the nembutsu with deep humility, sincerity and gratitude. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share my thoughts.
What beautiful sunshine
The super thing about it
Is that it is always there
The sun does not decide not to shine; nonetheless,
Even with all its warmth, it is detached
It is a part of the universe
It is its nature to shine
It always has that essence
What a great
It is always there.
When we cannot see it
It is because it is obscured by clouds, pollution
Or other necessary kinds of weather.
But insofar as we can trust and perceive it
We know it is there.
Our "Human Condition" has its own sort of weather report.
And winter can
take a front row seat!
In thinking about this, I came up with the following:
"Have-to" Buddha experiences:
We have to experience separateness,
when we become frozen out of special relationships.
We have to experience Icy fingers of fear,
when we see our world and others in danger
We have to experience discomfort,
when storm clouds of anger cover our hearts.
We have to experience grief, pain, and loss,
when a lightening bolt of death strikes
We have to experience the chill of worry and doubt,
when our confidence and trust are fogged over.
How do we live with all of this?
How do we find some peace?
We have to remember that
"All sentient beings possess buddha nature." ("Ocean", Kenneth K. Tanaka)
We have to know that
"True freedom comes when we follow our Buddha nature; the natural goodness of our heart." ("Buddha's Little Instruction Book" Jack Kornfield)
2. Have-to Buddha Experiences
We have to believe that:
"To open our own heart like a Buddha, we must embrace the ten thousand joys and the ten thousand sorrows." ("Buddha's Lttle Instruction Book," Jack Kornfield)
We have to imagine this:
"That every person in the world is enlightened but you. They are all your teachers, each doing just the right things to help you learn perfect patience, perfect wisdom, perfect compassion."
("Buddha's Lttle Instruction Book," Jack Kornfield)
We have to understand that:
"All have the Buddha nature, but it cannot be seen when covered by the passions."
In a story from the "Bits of Rubble" book: A king asks his teacher about the light by which man is guided. The teacher says, "When the sun has set, and the moon has set, and the fire has gone out and speech has stopped, what light does a person have? "The self (atman), indeed, is his light," said he, "For with the self, indeed, as the light, one sits, moves about, does one's work and returns.'" (Bits of Rubble Turn Into gold", Taitetsu Unno)
In reality, "life has its own principle of operation, and there is really just so much we can do within our power. Japanese people say "Makasu" which means to let the principle work itself. (Everyday Suchness", Gyomay M. Kubose)
It is my belief that that principle is the brilliance of that light that is already within everyone.
We have to perceive our own inner essence
And to trust the "Sunshine" of
Our deepest, innermost self.
What a great and comforting thought,
It is always there
It is our nature
We, too, are a part of the universe.
I see this old fat man in the mirror and know that smiling glassy face is just a passing moment, the last of many. So many faces have looked back at me. The bloodied face of a youth learning to shave; the face my wife married. Now, they are gone and no matter how hard I look, I just see this face. However impermanent, this face, this sense of self has been my closest companion. This self I talk to when no one else will listen. This well into which I drop stones of wisdom. How critical this self has become, so unwilling to hear reasons or excuses. It hides from me what little it knows and mocks my passing certainty. Worse, it tells me there is no one there. It tells me there is no self, no good, no evil, only this sense of being. How rude this thought, that all I have ever been has just this moment passed and gone. I live in this moment and leave behind not even an echo. In being, in this instant, our lives are lived and continuously transformed. Our being is the action of life reflected in our awareness of its passing. How can I know this self who exists only in reflection and memory?
As Buddhist we ask, “What am I?” The answer is: no one, nothing. There is no what - there is only what we do. As Reverend Saito once said, “we are verbs, not nouns.” There is no self that does this and that, there is only action interacting with causes beyond our knowing. We live in a world of multiple causes, the push and pull of which fashion and refashion our perspective on reality. None of us are truly aware of all the causes behind our actions. In our blindness, our actions are often clumsy and misguided causing great turbulence in their passing. Odd, that in our stream of consciouness it is the turbulance that stands out the most. Still, we are judged and we judge ourselves by our turbulance. When we see our actions fully, without dread or pride – ah fool that I am - When do we ever see our actions fully, without dread or pride? We see, learn, and act in a continuous cycle of wishful thinking, dread and delusion. What can we know of a reality that changes, as our perceptions of it change? We are kayakers shooting the rapids of life. We cannot stop even in death, for this turbulant moment carries us onward. For this reason Sakyamuni said there is nothing about him that was permanent.
Permanence is illusion. For this reason Shinran said that because he was incapable of being consistingly good, he must be evil. He said this knowing that there is no good or evil, only actions. Our actions exist in a state of flux, constantly changing, where is the good, which is the bad? They are just words we use to judge our actions, affirming the acceptable and praise worthy, denying the unacceptable. What logic can reveal what we refuse to accept? In accepting our actions as actions taken, words said, thoughts, thought, and gone, we are transformed and freed. How can we learn if we cannot accept that we are imperfect at best and subject to making any given situation worse?
We think dualistically, judgementally. We see something and immediately label it this or that, good or bad. In short, we create meaning and superimpose it on reality. Remember, we think using symbols, words that represent something else, something it’s not, which by its very nature makes it confusing. It’s all part of the human package. It may be necessary, it may be required, but it’s not reality. How can we not have delusions, attachments and spiritual ignorance? We are constantly in action, swimming in the flood of life, and we want to slow it down, make sense of it all. We grasp the froth from the turbulance of our passing and hold on to our success and failure. We form our reality from froth. Saying, these moments are who I am, gives us the illusion of being in control. It’s how we define ourselves. It’s how we define others. It is the most human thing that we do. We all do it and we can’t over come it, not completely. Our foolishness keeps coming back,mocking us. How can we not have compassion for others?
Each of us is striving to understand our self as an object, and this pushes our true self, the action of our being, away. We must accept that this confusion of being subject and object at the same time is the basis of the human condition and be compassionate. It is simply part of our foolish being. We are what we do, and what we do is always being done, forming the basis of what we do next. There is no going back to fix anything. And there is no stopping. We are in a constant state of flux and impermanence: constantly doing; never done, never complete.
Striving to understand our true self as anything other than the on going action of being, leads to frustration and suffering. How can any of us say that we know anything, that we are this or that? This is the truth we all must face, and it is difficult. How can we not have compassion for others?
We are on the cutting edge of now, thinking of the past: our past success, our past failures. We must let them go and deal with this reality, now? The past is only memories, created reality from a point of view that may never have existed. Our insistance on recreating them, over and over just adds to our delusion and attachment. It is difficult being a human being.
We can’t stop being human, but we can lessen the suffering caused by the beast: Be aware of what you do. Take responsibility for what you do. Accept the limitations of analysis and reason. Cultivate a sense of humor. We are finite beings in an infinite world. How can we not have compassion for others?
Our true nature is that of a seeker. In seeking to know our true nature, we discover our absolute ignorance. Our symbolic knowledge is simply limited, inadaquate. How can we experience a reality that is beyond our ability to express? We know, without knowing how, that it is there. We keep tripping over it. In accepting this truth, we find Amida Buddha. In the endless light and life of Amida Buddha, our true nature is revealed. In the light of Amida’s compassion, we are all transparent and foolish. We must accept our foolishness, see through it and move on. Truthfully, we are all doing the best we can. How can we not have compassion for others?
This is the Dharma of Shakyamuni and Shinran, as I understand it. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts with you.
Deep ecology is based on Buddhist principles. It calls for a holistic strategy, what can the earth sustain for the long term? Where will our natural resources come from even in a thousand years. Who are we really? The page below touches and elaborates with some additional description on the points made by Rev. Castro from the Seattle Betsuin in the video clip, this page is a process and it will continue to evolve.
This text looks at 6 Buddhist concepts and how they relate to ecology:
- Middle Path
Illustrated by the analogy of Indra's net. Each intersection of the net holds one jewel reflecting all the others through infinity. Pulling the strand in one place in the web affects everything else, similar to a ripple effect. How hard it is to comprehend the vast net of causes and conditions that brought us here! When you look at what brought you here, you can see that there is no such thing as a "self-made man". If any of your ancestors had not been there, you would not be here now.
To understand Interdependence or interbeing, the contemplative Buddhist traditions use what is called deep looking. Thich Nhat Hanh is well known for his poetic analogy of the seeing the cloud in the paper. When we pick up a piece of paper we don't usually think of the drops of water that evaporate, turn into clouds, rain on the forest which grows through the sun, which then gets logged by the logger, who then transports the logs to the factory, both factory and transport use other people, fuels, trucks and so forth, which is run by yet more people who turn the pulp into paper, which goes to the store where you bought this paper. This paper then helps you understand reality through a poem, or perhaps helps you get a job through a resume. This is a simplified example, but it does bring home the point that you can't really say anything is completely independent. Just as when you physically die, the ripple effect of your life will however minutely and subtle affect life around you. With deep looking one realizes that boundaries from mere observations become blurry and downright dissolve from a deeper perspective.
Buddhists say "Form is Emptiness, Emptiness is form" (see Heart Sutra). Emptiness means empty of a separate self nature, an unchanging identity, something that stands alone and is fixed and permanent. Everything is a process. "Life is consuming life" as Joseph Campbell says. "To be empty of a separate self, means to be full of everything, to be alive" says Thich Nhat Hanh. Once this is understood, the ideas of birth and dying is also overcome, and the fear of death disappears naturally.
All phenomenon's are continuously changing, constantly created and destroyed, but the emptiness is not born and destroyed. Although we don't see this impermanence necessarily in all things on a superficial level, if we look on a geologic scale, we can see how even mountains wear down into dust. We tend to cling to permanence, as in clinging to gain, fame, praise, etc, causing us great suffering when we loose things, or when we cling to an impermanent identity or ego. While it might sound rather depressing that everything is impermanent, it is also a cause for joy, as in this example. How can a child grow up if it isn't impermanent, how can a seed of corn turn into your corn flakes, unless its state is impermanent?
As said previously, the ignorance that gave rise to the attachment to a fictitious self, ruled by fears and desires, creates a separation and disconnect with everything else, resulting in conflict, an alienation from your authentic self, or "friction with impermanence" as Dr. Nobuo Haneda puts it. There now is the distinction between this "me" and everything else "out there". Realizing selflessness dissolves this artificial boundary and suddenly there is connection with everything else, there is interbeing, no more inner conflict, struggle. This is also called our "true Self" or True nature. Can you show your original face before your parents were born? An analogy is to imagine each of us a separate cell in a body. This Body also needs each separate cell to be a whole. The healthier and in touch each cell is with their body, the healthier the whole body. If the cell looses its touch and sense of place, we call that cancer. These cancerous cells treat the body as somehow other than themselves.
The previous example of a person feeling separate is an example of dualistic discursive thinking. Buddhist practice is about transcending duality, being "transparent to transcendence", and cultivating a non-dual awareness that allows the practitioner to see things as they are, rather than his/her thoughts about what reality is. It is said that when opposites arise (in one's thinking) the Buddha mind is lost. As soon as our minds come up with "good", then automatically the opposite arises, "evil". Confusing conceptual dualities for reality can easily turn "us and them" into "Us vs them". An example is to look at war time cartoons, usually, the "enemy" is portrayed as the devil, and lumped together with all the people of a country, this makes it much easier to go out and kill and get voter support to kill and torture.
The path that Buddha laid out, that rides in between the opposites, such as existence and non-existence, being and non-being, this middle path is not affected by these opposites. The historical Buddha went through both opposites himself before choosing the middle path. His life started out as a prince being groomed to become a king, he had all the comforts and luxuries, very self affirming and complacent. He renounced this life once he found out about old age, sickness and death, even his comforts would be impermanent. He got inspired by seeing a yogi ascetic. Becoming an ascetic himself, he went into self-denial, the extreme opposite of self affirmation. When he finally became enlightened, he extinguished his self-preoccupation, and so blew out, or extinguished his selfish attachments, this is called Nirvana.