I got to do this very cool thing....
I got to do this very cool thing....
The latest edition of the Amida magazine:
On December 8 we celebrate the anniversary of the enlightenment of Shakyamuni Buddha. Let us reflect a little upon this.
Siddhartha Gotama was somebody who threw himself into things. In his early life he evidently was a sensitive lad given to reflection and it must have been a deep trouble to him that his birth had occasioned the death of his mother. Encouraged by his family, he did his best to put that inner pain aside by giving himself over to every kind of self-indulgence. Eventually he reached the limit and a sense of revulsion set in. He stole away from home and turned, with similar dedication, to a completely opposite course, that of self-mortification, penance and asceticism. The flesh had to be punished. Again, he pursued this until revulsion and disgust again set in.
When he was at the limit of his powers, down and out, lying in the gutter, his mother descended from heaven and appeared to him. This could, perhaps, have been the end. However, just at this moment, there arrived Sujata, a woman on the way to make an offering to the forest gods. She gave the offering to the poor man and this act of unconditional generosity must have awakened something in his tortured spirit. Over the next few days he passed through a series of life changing experiences and it is this transformation that we celebrate on this day.
It was a great turning around in his life. It gave new meaning and direction. After his awakening, the Buddha was not idle. He spent his life walking the length and breadth of India preaching love, compassion and wisdom and awakening others. He established an order of followers who would spread the light. The way he was was itself the most powerful inspiration. He walked his talk and his most powerful talk was the example that was manifest in his life. He had, it is said, 84,000 encounters and in each case gave an appropriate teaching. Although there are universal principles in the Dharma, the application to each life is unique and his acceptance of people just as they are, even, in one instance, in the case of a mass murderer, was so profound that in each encounter an appropriate blessing naturally emerged.
We are beneficiaries of the great spirit of love that he released into the world. It continues to be transmitted. In order to transmit the Dharma one does not need to have reached some extraordinary level of spiritual accomplishment; one simply needs to set one’s conceit aside and have faith in the grace that he brought into the world and that is always shining. We are all part of the great work, often unconsciously. In simply living our lives in an honest and faithful way, we are as if mirrors for that great light that is so much more than we could shine out of our little stock of personal wisdom.
Siddhartha had tried to avoid his personal pain and then had tried to pay it off. Neither strategy worked. He does not ask us to imitate his way of arriving at the truth, he asks us to be faithful to and grateful for what he has given us. On this day, let us allow ourselves to receive the light and love that have come down through eighty generations from the past and that beckon to us from innumerable generations in the future.
Reflecting upon our own lives, we might feel helpless to tackle the great problems of life and the world and it is true that each individual is often only a tiny influence, but even the smallest dewdrop can reflect the light of the whole moon and the moon in the dewdrop is no less than the whole moon. It is not by the dewdrop trying to be the moon that enlightenment spreads in the world, it is by each of us playing our own part and doing so with a happy heart.
Namo Amida Bu.
Here is piece I wrote for folks in our Sangha who were taking on the One Million Nembutsu practice. It contains suggestions for using a mala. I hope it helps. Ananda
Thank you for joining me on this one million Nembutsu pilgrimage. There are lot’s of different types of pilgrimages. Most are familiar with the exterior pilgrimages that involve travel to far flung destinations.
Our year long pilgrimage is an inner pilgrimage towards the Buddha. We ill be traveling along the path of the Nembutsu. Like a physical pilgrimage, our journey will involve both hardship and periods of overwhelming joy. There will be times when you want to stop saying the Nembutsu and give up. At other times you will wish that the Nembutsu never ends.
Like with any pilgrimage, it is good to start off prepared. Of course, there is no preparing for the true pilgrimage, but at least you can try to ensure that you have enough clothes to wear and dependable guide.
To start this pilgrimage, our supplies will be simple. You will want to have a mala (nenju) with 108 beads plus a “guru” bead where the threads come together in a knot on the mala. You might also want to have a smaller wrist mala of 27 beads. Four rounds of the smaller mala equals one full mala.
When using the mala it is good to train yourself to always move to the next bead on the same syllable. Personally, I move on the “Na” or first syllable of the Nembutsu. You, however, may decide that you prefer moving with the “Bu” or last syllable. The main thing is to be consistent. This consistency will prevent you from zoning out and losing you count on the mala.
When using the mala, you begin with one of the beads next to the “guru” bead. As you recite the Nembutsu, you move around the mala, one bead at a time, until you reach the bead on the other side of the “guru” bead from where you started. At this point you do not count the guru bead or cross the guru bead. Instead, you turn around and continue counting back down the mala. So you never actually make a full circuit of the mala. The need to stop and turn around will help jar you back into attention if I have drifted off into some reverie or train of thought.
Other useful items to have on your pilgrimage: A method for counting your accumulated recitations. You could jot them down in a journal or on the calendar or as little hash marks in a notebook. I have found a mechanical counter the most useful. Mine can count up to 9999. I use it to track each time I count a full mala. When it roles back over to 0000 I know that I have recited 1 million malas.
Sometimes, you will not have your counter with you so you will need another means for tracking the accumulation of recitations. As mentioned before, you can just make little notations in a notebook and add them to your totals later. Also, you can count them on your fingers. If you start with your finger tips you can count up to 16 on one hand. That is the four finger tips and the 3 sets of joints in the fingers. You count using the thumb on the same hand.
You can also buy bead counters to go on your mala. I have never gotten in the habit of using them, but I know practitioners — especially in the Vajrayana — that have used these reliably.
The main thing is to come up with a system that works for you and stick with it.
Finally, you will want to choose a good “route” for your pilgrimage. Where and when will say the Nembutsu each day? As we all know, habits can be our friend. So figure out your daily Nembutsu habit? This is very important. Getting to the end of your day, exhausted, and realizing that you have not recited a single Nembutsu can be dispiriting. After several days, it is downright defeating!
I suggest that you try to have a few minutes at the beginning of your day and right before you go to bed. If possible, try to get a mala of Nembutsu in during the middle of your day. If you plan to say the Nembutsu during your commute, don’t multi-task. Turn off the radio and just say the Nembutsu.
I am really looking forward to making this pilgrimage with you. Do reach out to me with any questions or issues that arise.
Namo Amida Bu!
These are newsletters from the Amida Order, highlighting such things as Dharmavidya's Buddhist teachings, Susthama's Pastoral Letters, news from Amida Mandala and to let you know what various Amida sanghas are up to. They come out, usually, at between monthly and three-monthly intervals.
And it's always easy to un-subscribe in the future, should you want to.
Past issues, sent to the previous subscription list, can be seen
* Amida Trust is a registered charity in the UK. The Trust supports the work of the Shu in the UK and Delhi. It supports people to come to the dharma, to learn and practice and to open their hearts to give and receive loving kindness.
NAMO AMIDA BU
Over 200 leaders of the UK's major faiths met yesterday morning in London to call on the Prime Minister to do more to help refugees fleeing Syria, Iraq and other areas of conflict. The Amida Order's ::Acharya Modgala Duguid, who does sterling and important work as the ::Network of Buddhist Organisation's interfaith officer, is one of the signatories and spoke at this event (see below).
Here is the Faith Leaders' Open Letter to the Prime Minister, signed by leaders and representatives of the Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist communities. It includes the words “The best of this country is represented by the generosity, kindness, solidarity and decency that Britain has at many times shown those fleeing persecution, even at times of far greater deprivation and difficulty than the present day. We rejoice in the mosaic of different faiths and British communities that we now represent.” :: link to letter.
This is a ::newspaper report on the event: "Rowan Williams and 200 faith leaders call for revised refugee policy."
and a ::reflection by the Bishop of Croydon
"Why faith leaders are demanding urgent change to the refugee system."
Amnesty is arranging many 'Refugees Welcome' events, including ::this one in London on Saturday, which members of our Amida Malvern sangha will attend.
Some of our great Buddhist teachers came to the west as refugees and brought with them the teachings of wisdom and compassion.
I travelled giving teachings and in 2003 spoke at a psychology conference in Sarajevo. The main concern of the participants was how to help their traumatised children. From running workshops I learnt more about the terrible long term psychological effects of such a war.
Amongst the refugees here in the UK we have many traumatised children and families, the trauma made worse because they are separated and are worried about family members and the dangerous journeys they are taking to escape war. Families need to be together to recover and then can take their place in society.
Once here much help is already available, many of our Buddhist groups are already linking with local communities to help refugees. In the UK there are many people of all faiths and none waiting to help refugees.
As humans we feel an ethical imperative to help and I join my fellow faith leaders in making a plea to this government to design a safe, legal route that can enable reunions.
Acharya Modgala Duguid
There are various versions of the moral precepts of Buddhism. The following is based, with very slight variation, upon the version offered by my teacher Jiyu Kennett Roshi. The precepts themselves are from the Mahayana Brahmajala Sutra. The phrases that follow are from Keizan Zenji, a successor of Dogen. The paragraphs headed 'comment' are my own.
The Three Pure Precepts
Cease from evil: This is the house of all the laws of Buddha; this is the source of all the laws of Buddha.
Do only good: The Dharma of the Sammyakusambodai is the Dharma of all existence
Do good for others: Do good for others: Be beyond both the holy and the unholy. Let us rescue ourselves and others.
The Ten Great Precepts
1. Do not kill: No life can be cut off. The Life of Buddha is increasing. Continue the life of Buddha. Do not kill Buddha.
Comment: There are many ways of killing. There is killing the physical body and there is killing the spirit. Killing is Mara. Everything that tends toward killing is ‘marana’. To practise the Dharma is to transform marana. At the simplest level, strive not to take life. At the most subtle, have the faith to live and let live.
2. Do not steal: The mind and its object are one. The gateway to enlightenment stands open wide.
Comment: When illumined by the light of the Dharma, all things themselves become Dharma. Possessiveness and grasping hide the Dharma nature of the object. Mind always has an object. When the object is illuminated, we are illuminated.
3. Do not covet: The doer, the doing and that which has the doing done to it are immaculate, therefore desire is empty. This emptiness is the same as that of the Buddhas.
Comment: Covetousness includes all kinds of abusive desire, greed and licentiousness. Such desire is fantasy. Such fantasy can have karmic consequences that reverberate for aeons. However, it is still all empty from beginning to end.
4. Do not say that which is untrue: The Wheel of Dharma rolls constantly and lacks for nothing yet needs something. The sweet dew covers the whole world and within it lies the truth.
Comment: Dharma is Dharma beginninglessly and eternally, but it still calls for expression. To say what is true is to express the Dharma. To say what is not true is to hide the Dharma and to hide from it. There is no place, time or situation when the Dharma is not demanding expression, by words, by silence, by stillness or by deeds.
5. Do not sell the wine of delusion: There is nothing to be deluded about. If we actualise this we are enlightenment itself.
Comment: This refers to anything that colludes with or encourages delusion. Most basically it refers to alcohol and mind altering drugs. Beyond that to whatever undermines faith. People take to drugs and compulsive habits in flight from life. However, it is in this very human life that the great illumination is to be found.
6. Do not speak against others: In Buddhism, the truth and everything are the same: the same law, the same enlightenment and the same behaviour. None should speak of another’s faults. None should make such a mistake in Buddhism.
Comment: How we see and frame the acts of others reverberates throughout the community. Adding energy to quarrels or blackening another’s character is like wiggling in quicksand - one sinks ever deeper. Finding the way to true companionship is the samadhi in which Buddhas appear in all directions.
7. Do not be proud of yourself and devalue others: Every Buddha and every ancestor realises s/he is the same as the limitless sky and as great as the universe.
Comment: There is no need to inflate oneself and even less to diminish others, nor, indeed, the converse. Nothing is added, nothing subtracted thereby. Merely we add to our foolishness.
8. Do not be mean in giving either Dharma or wealth: There is nothing to be mean with: one phrase, one verse, the hundred grasses, one Dharma, one enlightenment, every Buddha, every ancestor.
Comment: What is all this for except to use in the service of the Dharma?
9. Do not be angry: There is no retiring, no going, no truth, no lie; there is a brilliant sea of clouds, there is a dignified sea of clouds.
Comment: Do not lose your dignity nor impugn that of others. Life is a pageant of many colours. It is good to understand the deeper currents and not get caught in the waves.
10. Do not defame the Three Treasures: to do something by ourselves, without copying others, is to become an example to the world and the merit of doing such a thing becomes the source of all wisdom. Do not criticise, but accept everything.
Comment: Taking refuge is true faith and it brings independence of the best kind. With Buddha as one’s friend what need one fear? The Three Treasures appear in many forms casting their radiance upon our lives. By ourselves we are nothing, but in that light everything.
Overall Comment: These great precepts of Mahayana Buddhism describe the life, form, mind and heart of Buddha. We can try to keep them and in the attempt we shall learn many things. In particular, we shall, on the one side, become acquainted with our own weakness, error and vulnerability. and on the other with the excellence of the objects of refuge. May this deepen our faith.
My Zen teacher, Kennett Roshi, often talked about the danger of quietism. By this she meant that it is no good thinking that one has arrived at the perfect understanding or the perfect organisation or the perfect practice. There has to be an endless dialectical process to re-invigorate the practice or things become stale and then become narrow. Wherever we have got to, there is always a next step. It is not that that next step takes us closer to the goal, it is that taking next steps is the goal. As soon as we stop doing so, we fall out of the Dharma creating a gap “as great as that between heaven and earth”.
In a spiritual community there should always be some grit, or it does not produce pearls. The Buddha Shakyamuni had many disciples and his leading ones were very different personalities. There was plenty of dynamic between them. Honen Shonin also had many disciples and after he died there were many different ideas about the precise meaning of his teaching. Different groups were in competition. The result was that Pureland in one shape or form spread all over Japan and became the most popular form of religion in the country. Since the second world war, Nichiren Buddhism has approached similar status and, again, we see many different Nichiren groups in competition.
Competition, debate, and airing of different perspectives can become conflict and go over into a destructive mode. There is, therefore, a middle path to be found between quietism and conflict - between death and destruction, one could say. On the middle path there is life, joy, respect and a continual ‘going beyond’. If we lose this spirit of adventure and exploration, then the Dharma decays. When we have it there is a vibrancy and the Dharma continues - we are all young at heart.
Although I have retired to the country, I am by no means retired in any other sense. We talk about going 'on retreat', but perhaps should be talking about 'advance'. Rather, instead of talking about it, we should be living it. There is no end to this path. The Dharma is not bland - there is always some pepper and salt and sometimes a dash of curry powder too.
Too many people are looking for the one right answer or the one right way. When you find it, give it a good kick and see if it says anything. If it gives a shout, then ask it the direction to somewhere it has never been.
My first thought about the Winter Retreat starting this October is that this is not just 'training'. Many sanghas have adopted the term ‘Dharma training’, but i think that this is a misnomer. There may be elements of training: one might be trained to be bell master, guest master, master of ceremonies, cook, a drummer, a gardener, and so on - in the Dharma life one turns one's hand to many things. These are specific functional roles and, if you live in a spiritual community, any of these roles may be valuable. However, the fundamental aim of the exercise is not training, It is Dharmic Education.
Being One’s Best
The word education literally means 'to draw out' and the purpose of education is to draw out the true nature in people. By doing so one enhances their character. Along the way they may acquire various skills, but that is incidental and an expression of the basic core which is that the person grow and flourish in the Dharma.
Furthermore, the true nature of being human involves relationship. Dharmic Education is not something merely abstract, it is personal and it is inter-personal. It is an initiation and a transmission and it happens heart to heart.
Buddhism cannot be reduced to a set of skills and protocols, each with an appropriate training and certificate. We may use many exercises and procedures, meditations and ceremonies, roles and responsibilities, but they are all expressions of, or means to, or the medium for Dharmic Education - education for Dharmic life. They are subordinate elements, not the prime phenomenon.
All this means that one cannot keep Dharma in an isolated bubble in one's life. If you get involved in Dharma in a real way then it changes everything. It is not like a skill that can be added on or a hobby that is intermittently interesting. It is an affair of heart and mind.
Character & Liberation
We see progress in the Dharma, not so much in how perfectly a person can make a meal for the community - though this mat, indeed, express their love and care - but rather more in how they respond when the meal goes wrong; not so much in how well they have mastered the ritual, but in how they cope when it is changed, not in how many hours they can sit still in the lotus position, but in whether they genuinely care for the other people present, not in their ability to impress with learning, but in their real concern that others find growth and liberation.
Learning the practical functional things is important because it is a way of implementing care and love for other members of the community. However, it is the growth of love, compassion, gratitude, concern for others, and ease in adversity that are the true fruits. A person who has these things will be naturally keen to learn relevant skills and will be flexible in his or her use of them. They will not use them as a prop to the ego, but rather as a means to enhancing the community life. By creating such a spirit of acceptance and joy, all are liberated together.
Education has a good deal to do with leadership and authority. Logically, a person can be in four positions in this respect. One can be in authority over others, one can be subordinate, one can be a peer, or one can be alone with nobody to depend upon in any of the other three already mentioned positions.
Generally speaking we find that for the great majority of people, one or more of these positions brings to the surface personal problems of a compulsive and unsettled nature that cause difficulties both for the person concerned and for others around them. A person who is liberated from inner compulsions can handle all of these positions in a relaxed way and move between them with ease and dignity. To bring a person to the point where they can do so is, therefore, an evident goal of education. At the same time, we can see from these observations that there is an important interface between education and therapy.
Accompaniment & Apprenticeship
In the perspective that I am employing here, therapy does not refer to a procedure claiming to be treatment with a quasi-medical aim; it is a process of accompaniment. Taken in this way, education and therapy are very closely related. In a sense they are two ends of one matter. In therapy, one applies general considerations to one's own case whereas in education one starts from one's experience and draws out the universal lesson. Again, both education and therapy are processes in which a person with a particular kind of experience accompanies another who is exploring the arena within which such experiences are to be found. When we think of it this way we can readily see how it was that, in earlier days, education was substantially a matter of apprenticeship. In the spiritual world, this is still the case. The disciple accompanies the master and the master accompanies the disciple. Both are learning. The disciple is not only learning, he or she is learning how to learn. They are learning to apply lessons to their own person, yet, at the same time, they are learning to leave over-personalisation behind.
There may be an end to the relationship of accompaniment in practical terms, but there is a sense in which it is endless. My major teachers are still very much with me, even though they are all dead. Their spirit lives with me. It is this transmission of spirit that is the essence of Dharma education.
Wei Wu Wei
Following on from the remarks I made earlier about authority and leadership, I think we can also see that a truly spiritual person is inevitably a leader of some kind. Even when such a person plays a subordinate role in formal terms, they are still a leader in moral terms. This would be true even if they were confined in prison. Their leadership may sometimes show in the obvious way, namely that they can take initiative, guide and protect others, and handle responsibility, but it also shows in their humility and willingness to follow. From the worldly view point this may seem contradictory, but I think those who have even a small grasp of spirituality will know what i mean. Their leadership is by example. The person who is a great teacher, may well be the student with most rapt attention when another teacher is giving the lesson. In this manner they are a leading student. They are not trying to lead, it is simply a function of how they are, and that is the outcome of education. This is an example of the Taoist principle of wei wu wei, of unselfconscious-action-without-affectation being most naturally efficacious.
To Be Continued
In the some subsequent teachings I am going to say a little about some of the things that we might do on the retreat. However, I think it is important to enter this caveat first, because otherwise it is all too easy to lose perspective and ‘to miss seeing the wood for the trees’.