May 292015
 

According to Thailand’s foreign minister the number of migrants in the Indian Ocean has reached an “alarming level.” Migrants desperately fleeing their home countries have been landing on the shores of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. During the past month, over 3,000 people have been rescued by fishermen or have washed ashore, and the UN estimates that several thousand more are still be at sea, abandoned by human smugglers.

Friday, during the opening of an Asean conference in Bangkok aimed at tackling the issue, Thai Foreign Minister Thanasak Patimaprakorn called for governments in the region to address the root causes of the crisis. Both he and the UN singled out Burma, also known as Myanmar, as the country most responsible for the situation.

Most of the migrants are Rohingya Muslims fleeing Burmese persecution, while many others are economic migrants from Bangladesh seeking job in other countries.

At the conference, Htin Linn, the head of the Myanmar delegation, refused to accept any responsibility, while in Yangon, Burma’s largest city, over three hundred protesters, including scores of extremist Buddhist monks, took to the streets to deny that the boat people are Rohingya Muslims. Demonstrators wore shirts and held signs with messages such as “Boat People are not Myanmar, Stop Blaming Myanmar” and “There is no Rohingya in Myanmar.”

Dalai Lama and Aung San Suu Kyi, London, 2012 (Photo:Jeremy Russell/OHHDL)

Dalai Lama and Aung San Suu Kyi, London, 2012 (Photo:Jeremy Russell/OHHDL)

Meanwhile in an interview before a visit to Australia next week with The Australian newspaper, the Dalai Lama urged fellow a Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to speak out: “It’s very sad . . . I met her two times, first in London and then the Czech Republic. I mentioned this problem and she told me she found some difficulties, that things were not simple but very complicated. But in spite of that I feel she can do something.”

Suu Kyi’s silence on the issue has disappointed many of her admirers around the world.

I would hope that if the Dalai Lama, as head of a Mahayana Buddhist sect, feels confident about pressing Suu Kyi, a follower of Theravada Buddhism, to take some action, he would also feel confident about calling on Theravadins in Burma and Sri Lanka to do something about the Buddhist extremism on the rise in both of those countries.

In an article published Thursday at Tricycle, the Buddhist magazine, Theravada Buddhism’s Muslim Problem, Iselin Frydenlund, a researcher at the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, University of Oslo and the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), and Susan Hayward, Interim Director of the Religion and Peace building program at the United States Institute of Peace, wrote that the problem “requires an intra-Buddhist debate on Buddhist principles, religious pluralism, and human rights.” They also maintain that joint statements crafted at local summits between Buddhist and Muslims “carry far more weight than any human rights group’s condemnation of the role of religious leaders in creating intolerance and mistrust.”

This may be true, but joint condemnation or at least some rather loud vocalization from fellow Buddhists would carry some weight as well. In my opinion, Buddhists worldwide have been far too quiet.

May 262015
 

I’ve read a lot in the Buddhist Blogosphere recently on the subject of ethics, as part of the on-going discussion about the secularization of “mindfulness.” The concern for some folks is that as Buddhist meditation moves further into the secular mainstream, it has lost its original ethical component.

I share the concern, to some extent, but don’t know enough about the various secular applications of Buddhist meditation to feel confident about wading very far into the discussion. However, I do like to think I am competent to say a few words about “Buddhist ethics.”

Buddhism and Jainism were the first Indian spiritual paths to contain a strong moral element. The Buddhist take was that as suffering was produced by ignorance (avidya), it was necessary to destroy ignorance in order to bring an end to suffering. The state of no-suffering was called awakening, and the Buddha taught that one could not awaken merely through intuition, mystical ritual, or the practice of austerities as other Indian systems had previously maintained. For the Buddha, a progressive advancement in the practice of moral conduct was essential.

An emphasis on morality in other spiritualities, particularly those in the West, often led to moralizing, almost universally viewed as preaching moral values in “a self-righteous or tiresome way.” Buddhism was able to avoid this by focusing on karma (no need to judge or condemn because wrongdoing inevitably results in karmic retribution) and through promoting bhavana or self-development (as one progresses in awakening, ethical behavior arises in an organic way).

Buddhism and Jainism are very similar, and this is the case with Buddhism and Taoism, too. For many, Taoism appears to lack a moral vision, especially when compared to the ethical teachings of the other major Chinese path, Confucianism.

In Mystics and Zen Masters, Thomas Merton, the Catholic monk who was an ardent student of Eastern philosophy, questioned whether Taoist quietism and “non-action” (wu-wei) didn’t play right into the hands of the totalitarian Chinese communists:

“Theirs is a way of ‘non-action,’ which is falsely interpreted as pure quietism when in reality it is a policy of non-interference and an abstention from useless and artificial action. Taoism is not complete non-action but rather non-activism.” ( 54)

I’m not sure how Merton felt about it, but there are those who feel that ethics in Buddhism should be expressed as social and political action, and since Buddha-dharma seems deficient in this regard, to them it means Buddhism is “absent”. I can’t help but feel this point of view stems from a fundamental misapprehension about the nature of Buddhist dharma.

Like Taoism, Buddhism has never been a social action movement. Buddhism is self-help.  As odious and “bourgeois” as that may sound to some, it is nonetheless dead-on. As I pointed out in my March 30th post, bhavana or “self-development” is the word frequently used by the Buddha for meditation. If, because of one’s self-development, a choice is made to engage in social action, it is highly commendable. But it is not the prime point of Buddhism’s ethical thrust.

In The Tao of the West, J.J. Clarke offers an excellent explanation for how Taoism conveys the moral ideal:

sage001bTaoism teaches an ‘ethics’ of ‘self-cultivation’ . . . At the heart of this is the idea of the sage who, through mirroring and cultivating himself in the way of nature, the dao, exemplifies but does not specify in law-like terms the way for others; like an artist, his self-creative activity should inspire rather than be imitated.” (95)

You can replace the word “sage” with Buddha or Bodhisattva and arrive at the heart of Buddhism. Imitate means to “take or follow as a model. Inspire means “fill (someone) with the urge or ability to do or feel something.” It seems to me that inspiration must come from a deeper place in one’s being than imitation.

I recently came across a blog post by a fellow who has had a somewhat high profile in Buddhist circles in recent years and he was explaining why he was quitting his blog and stepping away from Buddhism. The reasons he gave included the notions mentioned above: a “bourgeois” mindset, Buddhist absenteeism concerning social action, the self-help/feel-good-about-yourself focus. I’ve seen this often, people get very involved in dharma for a short time and then they burn out. I think now I understand why this happens. They’ve learned the teachings and learned from them, but they haven’t been deeply inspired.

The kind of inspiration I’m referring to should stimulate within us a genuine eagerness to be an example to others of how to live ethically and with compassion. There’s no need to teach ethics or preach morality, yet it is important that we find ways to inspire these values.

But first, we have to be a good example for ourselves.  Like it or not, it is difficult to inspire others if you don’t feel inspired yourself, or you are uncomfortable about your own life. So, again, it all comes down to one’s personal development. Our first and foremost task is to win over ourselves.

This may sound pompous and/or self-serving, but I cannot imagine ever turning back, stepping back, or quitting the dharma because I am inspired. What’s more, I am continually inspired.

Q: Do practitioners inspire their own minds or do others induce their inspiration?

A: It has nothing to do with self and others, it is just a matter of inspiration of the mind through response to an inner sense of contact with truth.

Chih-i, Mo Ho Chih Kuan (tr. Thomas Cleary)

May 202015
 

The Dalai Lama is in trouble again. This time, in an interview from his home in India, commenting on the controversy over whether he will reincarnate or not, he sparked another controversy by saying if he does come back it might be as a “mischievous blonde woman.” But, he added, “then her face must be very attractive” or “nobody pay much attention”.

Historically speaking, some blondes have been too mischievous.

Historically speaking, some blondes have been too mischievous.

Some folks have jumped on this and now he being labeled a sexist.

Two things people should know about the Dalai Lama: A) his command of the English language is not that great, and B) he has a sense of humor.

B is good, he doesn’t take himself too seriously and he tries to inject some lightheartedness into what can often be a dry subject, namely Buddhism. However, because of A, his words sometimes come out wrong and he is misunderstood.

Here is what I think happened: A) he was trying to make a joke and he muddled it up, or B) he was trying to make a sly commentary on the sad fact that women are still judged by their appearance and he muddled it up.

But this is what almost everyone is missing: for the Dalai Lama to suggest that he could reincarnate as a woman period is a very radical statement. That’s because the traditional teachings of Buddhism say a woman can never be enlightened. So, if the next Dalai Lama were a woman that would more or less tear that idea to sheds.

Gender inequality is still a problem in Buddhism and instead of nitpicking perhaps we should be commending the Dalai Lama for striking a blow against sexism.

Some of the things written about women in Buddhist literature are rather ugly. They are objects of scorn, their bodies are unclean, they are evil and to be avoided, etc. There are positive things said about women, too; however, the negative remarks stand out as rather large blemishes. The Dalai Lama addressed this issue in 1997 during his teachings on Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland at UCLA. He was discussing a section of the text known as the “Twenty Verses” and here is an excerpt from my transcript of the teachings:

In the 20 verses [from The Precious Garland] I would like to warn you about a passage that reads “may all women be reborn as males.” [Laugher.] When you read that passage it is important to bear in mind the culture and the context that those kind of sentiments are being expressed. If we are to take that literally and that aspiration comes into realization, then it’s going to be rather silly, because if the entire world is going to be populated by men then that means the human species is going to end at some point. [Laugher.] There’s going to be no possibility of procreation. [Laugher.] So, the point is that if one feels that in the form of a female existence one can make a great contribution, be more effective and be of greater service, then reverse the thought and pray that all men be born as females! [Laugher and applause.]

In the Buddhist scriptures, there is another type of sentiment that I have reflected on: when you read the Buddhist scriptures that deal with altruism and compassion, there is always a reference to sentient beings as mother sentient beings, never as father sentient beings. This suggests that within the Buddhist tradition, women are seen as the symbol of compassion and affectionate perfection. It is very rare that a man is the symbol of affection. Women, in the form of mothers, are also the embodiment of kindness.”

May 182015
 

It seems that most folks took my Orson Welles story the other day good naturedly. He really did live for a while on Stanley Drive north of Hollywood Blvd, but I didn’t learn that until many years after he passed on.  When I thought about how I used to ride the bus right by there nearly every day, I engaged in some fantasying and Friday’s story was the end result. If anyone felt my deception bamboozled them unduly or unfairly, which I highly doubt, I apologize. It just seemed a very Wellesian way to celebrate the centennial of his birth.

Today, another birthday: Zen pioneer Shunryu Suzuki was born May 18, 1904. Like Welles, Suzuki has been a huge influence. I’ve mentioned him a number of times on the blog, and you can read it all by clicking on his name in the tag cloud on the left sidebar (in between Shantideva and sufferings).

Suzuki helped popularize Zen Buddhism in the West and the collection of his teachings, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, is a book of deep wisdom that anyone, Buddhist or not, can benefit from reading.

He valued simplicity, so I feel it is a very Suzukian way to celebrate his life and spirit by keeping my words to a minimum and focusing on his:

shunryu_suzuki3In our everyday life we are usually trying to do something, trying to change something into something else, or trying to attain something. Just this trying is already in itself an expression of our true nature. The meaning lies in the effort itself. We should find out the meaning of our effort before we attain something. So Dogen said, “We should attain enlightenment before we attain enlightenment.” It is not after attaining enlightenment that we find its true meaning. The trying to do something in itself is enlightenment. When we are in difficulty or distress, there we have enlightenment. When we are in defilement, there we should have composure. Usually we find it very difficult to live in the evanescence of life, but it is only within the evanescence of life that we can find the joy of eternal life.

By continuing your practice with this sort of understanding, you can improve yourself. But if you try to attain something without this understanding you cannot work on it properly. You lose yourself in the struggle for your goal; you achieve nothing; you just continue to suffer in your difficulties. But with right understanding you can make some progress. Then whatever you do, even though not perfect, will be based on your inmost nature, and little by little something will be achieved.”

From “Calmness” Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

May 152015
 

This year is the centennial of Orson Welles; May 6th was the 100 anniversary of his birth. Welles was a great filmmaker and a colossal failure. He suffered from the curse of being his own worst enemy. He was one of those people who regularly shot himself in the foot.

f-for-fake-3After 1938, when he succeeded in pulling off one of the greatest gags of all time, Welles seemed to have a compulsive need to push the envelope on all his projects, and more often than not he pushed the project into commercial and critical disaster.   Of course, nowadays, those disasters are considered the work of genius.

I became a Welles fan in high school, after listening to a recording of the 1938 War of the Worlds broadcast. It sounded pretty hokey, but still, it was a cool joke, tricking half of America into believing Mars was invading the earth. My mother recalled people out in the streets in Wichita Kansas, all in a panic because the Martians were coming.

About a year and a half later, I saw my first Welles film, the greatest film ever made, Citizen Kane. I had seen plenty of movies already in my young life but nothing like that. If you have seen the film, I need say no more.

Then, many years later, I was living in Los Angeles and working in Beverly Hills. Each day I rode the old Number 1 bus to and from my job.   The bus ran along Hollywood Blvd, that west of La Brea changes from a business thoroughfare to a residential street.

One afternoon I was headed home but decided to get off before La Brea to visit a friend who lived in an apartment building on the corner of Stanley and Franklin. As I walked up the hill, I saw a man standing on the sidewalk who looked very much like Orson Welles.

As I drew closer, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was Orson Welles. A tall, massive, gigantic Orson Welles. Wow, it looked like I’d have a chance to see one of my heroes close up!

He was looking for something.   Walking back and forth, calling out “Rosebud . . . Rosebud . . . Here kitty kitty!”

I mustered up some nerve and came up and said, “Is there anything I can do to help you?”

Without bothering to look in my direction, he growled, “I looking for a cat.”

Orson Welles had a cat named Rosebud? Too much.

I said, “How did your cat get out?”

Now he turned and stared at me.  He took the longest cigar I’d ever seen out of his mouth and said, “Young man, do you know anything about cats?”

“A little.” I explained that when cats are scared sometimes they go into a super-freak-out mode and hide. If it’s an indoor cat, it’s not likely it will go outside because that’s even scarier that whatever frightened it in the first place. A freaked-out cat will head for the first good hiding place it sees and stay there, and no matter how many times you call it, the cat won’t come out until hunger become more overwhelming that fear.

“You’re saying Rosebud is probably still inside the house?”

I nodded. “Yeah, probably. I would be glad to help you look around, if you like.” Then I said something I thought might be the equivalent of shooting myself in my own foot: “I mean, I’m a really big fan and it would be my honor to help you find Rosebud, er, your cat.”

I thought it might turn him off, you know, acting like a star-struck fan, but he loved being adored.

He took me inside his house. It was a Colonial Revival style house, and like most Hollywood mansions I’ve been in, it looked big on the outside, but was rather small on the inside. We found Rosebud hiding behind a bookcase. Welles was grateful for my help. He never did explain what frightened the cat but he told me that his wife was out shopping and he thought the cat had escaped through the front door that he had left open by mistake.

At that moment, star-struckednes got the better of me and I told him I had seen all his films, or at least as many as I was able to because they weren’t screened very often and that when I saw Citizen Kane at age 17 during my first week of college, it completely blew my mind and I couldn’t of anything else for days afterward, and so on and so forth. He loved it.

A few minutes later, his wife, Oja Kodar, a very beautiful woman, came home and Welles told her what happened and she said, “Orson, where are your manners? You should offer our guest something to drink.”

Welles opened a bottle of Dom Perignon. Unbelievable. It was like 4 in the afternoon. First time I had tasted the stuff.

He asked me what I did for a living and I said I worked in the reservations department at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and he said he had stayed there many times but swore he would never set foot in the place again as long as Warren Beatty lived there, and I said Beatty didn’t live there anymore but a lot of people thought he did and women with names like Bambi and Trudi were always calling up wanting his room number.

He did not elaborate about what he had against Beatty but I think I got a clue when later on he mentioned that famous actors who were also producers and directors were always saying how great he was but they would never give him any money.

After I finished my glass, I got up to go. I didn’t want to wear out my welcome. Welles had already finished off the bottle and he was getting ready to open another one.  He told me to stay.  I did.

With the second bottle, Welles got really loose and started in on a monologue. Oja Kodar kind of rolled her eyes as if to say she had heard it all many times before, but I thought he was hilarious and he said some very funny things, like:

“If there hadn’t been women we’d still be squatting in a cave eating raw meat, because we made civilization in order to impress our girlfriends.”

“I’ve spent most of my mature life trying to prove that I’m not irresponsible.”

“When you are down and out something always turns up — and it is usually the noses of your friends.”

“I hate television. I hate it as much as peanuts. But I can’t stop eating peanuts.”

During his soliloquy, Rosebud had come up and rubbed herself (or himself, I never found out which) against my leg a few times, and then Welles said something that astounded me.

“Young man, you seem to know a lot about cats, and Rosebud has taken to you. I have need of a good cat person. We’re going to France next week to speak with some people about directing another Shakespeare film, and I need a cat-sitter.”

“A house sitter, too,” Oja Kodar added.

“Would you be interested?”

Would I? Damn! Baby-sit Orson Welles’s cat? And his house? What an opportunity! Maybe it would lead to something like being his assistant.  Who could tell? Stranger things have happened.

I couldn’t believe it. I thought I must be dreaming.

And I was. I woke up, took a shower, got dressed, and headed down to Hollywood Blvd to catch the Number 1 bus for Beverly Hills. It was another ordinary day.

I never had a chance to meet the great man. He died three months later.

Touch Of Evil2

May 132015
 

Chiron was a centaur, and if you know your Greek mythology, you’ll recall that centaurs are half-human, half-horse. Chiron, however, was a something special. He was extremely wise, and he was an immortal god to boot. One day he was accidently struck by Hercules’ arrow. The wound was so agonizingly painful, Chiron wanted to die. But he couldn’t, because he was immortal. One of the downsides to being a god, I guess.

Eventually, he was able to renounce his immortality and before he went off to Elysium (the afterlife), he taught the art of medicine to man, and gods, including Askelpios, who became the god of medicine. For this, Chiron is known as the “father of medicine” and the “wounded healer.”

Carl Jung borrowed “wounded healer” to describe an archetype he saw in the relationship between an analyst and patients. An analyst, or doctor, is able to treat others because “The doctor is effective only when he himself is affected. Only the wounded physician heals.”

If we unpack that idea a bit, then we can say that generally speaking, as we are all wounded in some way, for we all experience pain and suffering, and because each of us has the capacity to help others to alleviate their pain and suffering, we are all healers. Furthermore, as the myth of Chiron represents the ideal of compassion and selfless service, it is similar to the ideal of the Bodhisattva; so, we can be Bodhisattvas, too.

Jung, in outlining his concept of the wounded healer in Fundamental Questions of Psychotherapy (1951), said he believed disease was the best training for a physician.

Jihi (Compassion): “to care, to cry: to remove the cause for suffering.”

Jihi (Compassion): “to care, to cry: to remove the cause for suffering.”

There is no doubt that the experience of sufferings is beneficial training for the practice of altruism, but in Buddhism the prime cause for helping others is much more fundamental. In Supplement to the Middle Way, Chandrakirti wrote, “Compassion alone is seen as the seed . . . as water for its growth, and as ripening into a lasting source of usefulness. And so, first, I pay homage to compassion.”

He’s talking about Bodhicitta, the wish to realize awakening for the benefit of all living beings. There are two kinds of bodhicitta: “aspiration bodhicitta”, generating the thought, and “action bodhicitta” or putting the thought into practice.

Year ago, at a meditation class I was leading, a first time visitor, a rather cynical young man, wanted to know why we should practice compassion. He thought there should be a reason for it. I must admit that I failed at making him understand that compassion does not need a reason. It is a kind of vicarious identification, you see the suffering of living beings and you feel empathy, you feel compassion. I realize now that he suffered from an acute sense of separation from others and consequently, he thought he needed some rationale for practicing compassion.

That is why it is important for us who understand the inseparability, the interdependence of all things to reflect on thoughts like the one we find expressed in Geshe Langri Thangpa’s Eight Verses of Training the Mind:

By thinking of all sentient beings
As more precious than a wish-fulfilling jewel
For accomplishing the highest aim,
I will always hold them dear.

May 112015
 

Those of you familiar with the Heart Sutra know that “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form. Form does not differ from emptiness; emptiness does not differ from form,” is the most important statement in the text. In one commentary I have on the sutra, an older one titled The Cave of Poison Grass, Seikan Hasegawa, a Rinzai Zen priest, explains the declaration this way:

Sunyata [emptiness] is the beginningless beginning of the world which has two aspects: wisdom, which is emptiness, and love, which is form. Emptiness tells us the sameness, and form tells us the difference. The sameness sees the substance of all forms. Then it can be said that a mountain is not different from an ocean, mountain is ocean; or man is not different from woman, the man is woman. Their value is not different, both are the same. And as humanity, woman and man, the old and young, the poor and the rich, the wise and the foolish, and all such contrasting individuals do not differ; every one has the same respectable value.

It is possible to view emptiness as a “beginningless beginning” because in Buddhism the continuum of consciousness is said to be beginningless; and consciousness arises dependent upon causes and conditions, and Nagarjuna taught that anything which is dependent arising equals emptiness.

Ku: Emptiness

Chinese character for emptiness, calligraphy by Miyamoto Musashi

Hasegawa’s commentary tells us in simple terms not only what lies behind this famous phrase from the sutra but also many of the seemingly paradoxical statements we read in Buddhist literature. The opening sentence of Dogen’s Mountains and Waters Sutra comes to mind: “Mountains and waters right now are the actualization of the ancient Buddha way.”

Emptiness refers to the realm of awakening, but this realm is not separate from the world of suffering. “Form is emptiness” directs us to the path that leads to the transcendence of suffering and awakening, while “emptiness is form” is the reverse path, from awakening to suffering. The point of divergence between these two paths is resolved through non-duality. They are two paths and yet they are not two.

The concept of emptiness is a great equalizer because it shows us how all things are equal in value. It undermines the foundations of hatred, racism, nationalism – all the things that lead to conflict and violence. That’s one reason why emptiness is often called “the insight of equality.”

The Buddha asked, “Manjusri, in what equality do those sentient beings who act with the three poisons abide?”

Manjusri replied, “They abide in the equality of emptiness, signlessness, and wishfulness.”

Maharatnakuta Sutra

May 072015
 

Tuesday, on his PBS talk show, Tavis Smiley hosted Ven. Lama Tenzin Dhonden, Founder and Chair of the nonprofit Friends of the Dalai Lama, and Kelly Thornton Smith, the Founder and Board Chair for the Center for Living Peace. They are organizers of the Global Compassion Summit, a celebration to be held at the Honda Center in Anaheim and UC Irvine July 5-7 in commemoration of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday (July 6).

hhdl80summit2More than a birthday party, the three-day Global Compassion Summit honors the Dalai Lama’s lifetime work spreading the message of peace of compassion. His Holiness will give one public talk and attend three panel discussions during the summit. Also scheduled to attend are fellow Nobel Laureates and professional experts and friends who have either collaborated with the Dalai Lama or share his vision for the achievement of Universal Peace.

Tickets are available and you can get more information at hhd80.org

Lama Tenzin was trained in the monastic tradition of Namgyal Monastery, the personal monastery of the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India. He is a master of the arts of creating traditional Tibetan Buddhist sand mandalas and butter sculptures. For the past 15 years, Lama Tenzin has been living part-time in the US. He is the Peace Emissary for the Dalai Lama.

During Tuesday’s program, Tavis Smiley asked about the Dalai Lama’s feelings about the massive earthquake that recently hit Nepal. Lama Tenzin replied,

Lama Tenzin Dhonden

Lama Tenzin Dhonden

Personally, the situation in Nepal is very sad. But there is another way to look at it. From the positive perspective, it helps us to focus and remind us on our own strength, and it reminds us that we do believe in one humanity, one single global community. It is at times like this that our own sense of compassion demonstrate to be more stronger than our bias, our boundaries, and our politics. And as it is the case with every last disaster brings a tremendous potential for positive outlook.

So, I think His Holiness prays and sends a lot of light to those victims in Nepal. And the strategy and the victims reminds us of the preciousness of all life. And the survivors we see on the media remind and teach us of the vigilance of humanity. So there is a positive way to look at it, and if you try to look at it positively then you see that many people come together and share their hands and their support.”

People who do not understand Buddhism often criticize it for being negative, nihilistic. This is a completely mistaken view. A central understanding of Buddha-dharma has always been that there is another way to look at anything, whether is a natural disaster, a man-made one, or a personal tragedy. There is always scope for a positive outlook.

For Buddhists, when great misfortune occurs, it is an opportunity to deepen both our practice and our understanding of the core concepts of Buddha-dharma. In a situation like in Nepal, it is a time to generate compassion, which brings forth the selfless, unconditioned nature of our being, inseparable from all other beings. It is like lighting a light from within, and I am not sure this light can transcend time and space so that we can send it to others, but certainly, we can cause this light of positive, compassionate energy to radiate throughout of our our being, and that is a very good start.

 Posted by at 9:43 am
May 042015
 

To deal with this subject properly, I feel a great deal of background information is required. However, as I suspect that this topic holds little to no interest for most readers, it’s been heavily edited. I hope it makes sense. I’ve been sitting on this piece for a while now and needed to get it out and done with.

All designations are meaningless when viewed from the ultimate truth. However, we cannot live in the ultimate at all times. In the several recent posts, I have used the terms “own-power” (jiriki) and “other-power” (tariki) which are relative terms that help us distinguish from two separate approaches to Buddhist practice, one where enlightenment is sought from without, and the other, where it is sought within.

For reasons that are not entirely clear, Nichiren, the 13th century Japanese teacher who founded the sect that bears his name, hated Pure Land Buddhism. With a passion. He was not fond of the other Buddhist sects of his day either, his chief criticism being that they have “gone astray concerning the true object of worship.” (Kaimoku Sho/”Opening of the Eyes”)

Despite his severe criticism of Pure Land, Nichiren crafted a form of Buddhism that was nearly identical, the only differences being the chant and the central Buddha.

According to Nichiren, the True Object of Worship for Mappo (the Latter Day of the Law) is the Gohonzon, which usually refers to the hanging scrolls Nichiren inscribed, a sort of a dharma-mandala that depicts a scene from the Lotus Sutra entirely in Chinese and Siddham characters. The scene is commonly referred to as The Ceremony in the Air where the “historical” Shakyamuni Buddha, having revealed himself as original, eternal Shakyamuni Buddha who attained enlightenment in the unimaginably distant past, transfers the true teaching to the bodhisattvas who emerge from the earth.

The Gohonzon is presented variously as a picture of the Ceremony in the Air, symbolizing the Tendai principle of ichinen sanzen (three thousand realms in a single moment of thought), or as representing the enlightened life of the Buddha from the sutra, and, thereby, our innate Buddha nature. The Soka Gakkai explains that the Gohonzon, “was created by Nichiren as the physical embodiment, in the form of a mandala, of the eternal and intrinsic law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. The phrase “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo Nichiren” is written in bold characters down the center of the scroll.”

Regardless of the explanation, in modern Nichiren Buddhism, there is always the caveat that the Object of Worship is not separate from the life of the individual. Two famous quotes are often used to substantiate this point, one about never seeking the teachings of the Buddha outside yourself, the other says never seek the Gohonzon outside of yourself. Both quotes come from works that objective scholars doubt are authentic Nichiren writings. With this in mind, it seems there has been a concentrated effort to align Nichiren’s teachings with the jiriki approach, although that may not have been Nichiren’s original thinking.

There is perhaps another way of looking at the Object of Worship, one that is more in line with Other-power, and therefore, because Nichiren accepted all the tenants associated with tariki, a viewpoint that is quite reasonable to assume.

Early Gohonzon inscribed by Nichiren (Gohonzon Shu)

Early Gohonzon inscribed by Nichiren (Gohonzon Shu)

In one sense, it is incorrect to say that Nichiren “created” the Gohonzon because he viewed it as a other-worldly thing that moved through him, not from him. For Nichiren, the Gohonzon has always existed. He claimed that previous Buddhist teachers such as Nagarjuna, Vasabhandu, and T’ien-t’ai knew of the supremacy of the Lotus Sutra, but as he says in Kanjin no Honzon Sho (“The True Object of Worship”),

[They] did not put Nam-myoho-renge-kyo into actual practice or establish the true object of worship . . . Now is when the Bodhisattvas of the Earth will appear in this country and establish the supreme object of worship on the earth which depicts Shakyamuni Buddha of the essential teaching attending the true Buddha. This object of worship has never appeared in India or China . . . Thus, the revelation of the true object of worship has been entrusted only to the Bodhisattvas of the Earth. They have been waiting for the right time to emerge from the earth and carry out the Lord Buddha’s command.”

The Gohonzon could be established only during the Latter Day of the Law, the degenerate age when faith and not understanding matters and other-power alone is potent, and only Nichiren as Jogyo, the leader of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, the votary of the Lotus Sutra, could at last reveal its presence.

A number of Japanese scholars whose books were translated into English or who wrote English books in the early part of the last century used the term “Supreme Being” as a translation of honzon or “object of worship”. The most notable example is Masaharu Anesaki’s Nichiren the Buddhist Prophet, in which Kanjin no Honzon Sho is rendered as “Spiritual Introspection of the Supreme Being”, and throughout the book refers to Nichiren’s scroll as the Supreme Being.

The question is, was this was intentional? Did Anesaki mean to refer to some sort of supreme being, or was this just an attempt to convey the concept of object of worship into a term that Westerners at the time could easily understand?

One Nichiren school, Nichiren Shu, even today translates Kanjin no Honzon Sho as “Spiritual Introspection of the Supreme Beings” (note how it is plural).

Japanese Civilization by Kishio Satomi, published in 1923, an introduction to Nichirenism, has a chapter entitled “The Supreme Being” (Hommon Honzon) . In Satomi’s explanation, the Sacred Title (Daimoku: Myo-Ho-Renge-Kyo) is considered as the religious subject, while the Supreme Being is considered as the religious object.

Satomi writes,

‘Hon’ means origin and ‘zon’ means augustness or supremacy. The innate supreme substance is the first definition, the second is the radical adoration, and the third is the genuine or natural respect. All these are slightly different expressions of the Supreme Being and its aspects.

There are two kinds of Supreme Beings in general. The one has the abstract principle as its religious object, while the other has a concrete idea of personality or person itself as its object of worship. In this connection, Nichiren has both simultaneously. According to [Nichiren], Buddha Shakyamuni is the only savior in the world, therefore we must have Him as our own object of worship.

Thus he founded two kinds of Supreme Being, the object of worship. . . the Buddha centric Supreme Being and the Law centric one.”

I should mention that “Buddha Shakyamuni” in this context does not mean the historical Buddha, but the Eternal Shakyamuni Buddha revealed in the Lotus Sutra. The two are not quite the same.

Satomi continues,

However high and sublime the Supreme Being may be, if we ourselves do not enter the ideal of it, and do not realize in our own lives its principle and form, it is just an idol and our existence is worthless.”

According to Satomi, the Gohonzon includes all forms of worship, such as “demon-worship in the Mother of Demons, great mandala worship in Tendai, etc. . . god-man-worship in Shakyamuni. . . [worship of] the Four Great Devas. . . Sun-Goddess. . . Hachiman and ancestor worship. . . etc., etc.”

Satomi discusses the presence of both pantheistic and monotheistic elements in Mahayana Buddhism and concludes that none of the various schools have a foundation on which to “unite these opposite tendencies.”

Nichirenism is the answer to this problem. . . According to [Nichiren] thought, the Primeval or Fundamental Buddha, whose deep sense of His existence is explained in Chapter XVI in the Scripture, as we have mentioned already, is unique and sole God in the Universe, and all the beings and all the divines and sages are nothing but His distributive bodies.”

This explanation is in accord with Nichiren’s claim that all the native Shinto gods were merely manifestations of this primeval, fundamental, Eternal Buddha. This entity is then recognized as the “sole and highest existence.” And as I read it, the Eternal Buddha is the Gohonzon itself, the Gohonzon is the Eternal Buddha, not in a merely noumenal sense, but as a phenomenal reality.

What makes me feel that Anesaki and Satomi might have had the right idea about the Eternal Buddha as a Supreme Being? A Sanskrit term: svadi-devata.

Anesaki references Nichiren’s “Supreme Being” to this term.  I found svadi-devata in the Soothill Dictionary of Buddhist Terms. Evidently use of this term in Buddha-dharma is limited to the Nichiren tradition. Here is the definition: The especial honored one of the Nichiren sect, svadi-devata, the Supreme Being, whose mandala is considered as the symbol of the Buddha that as infinite, eternal, universal. . .”

“Daivata” is a variation of “devata”–daivata ganah, classes of divinities; sadaivata, together with the deities, Parama-daivata, highly devoted to the god, and so on. Devata refers to a more personal relationship with a deity, such as a guardian spirit, or more tightly focused upon a deity, and with sva pertaining to “own, etc.” It would seem that svadi-devata indicates a personal relationship with a deity or object of worship.

Nichiren frequently used Indian terms and he knew Siddham. Clearly, he viewed the Gohonzon as more than a scroll or mandala.  It was the enlightened life of the Eternal Buddha Shakyamuni and therefore the ultimate reality.  Whether or not he saw it in terms of svadi-devata, a personal deity, is questionable but nonetheless within the realm of possibility.

Very little has been written in English about tantric influences on Nichiren’s thinking, but certainly Nichiren would had some Shingon influences, not to mention the fact that by this time Tendai, the school he trained in, had a distinct tantric flavor. It is also quite possible he was familiar with the tantric Vajra-sattva (“Diamond Being”) and this served as his model for the Supreme Being/Eternal Buddha.

Shashi Bhushan Dasgupta in Introduction to Tantric Buddhism writes,

Who is then the Vajra-sattva? He is the Being of adamantine substance—the ultimate principal as the unity of the universe . . . the fundamental departure of the Tantric Buddhists is that. . . it may have been sometimes described as a Being—sometimes as the personal God, the Lord Supreme.”

The characteristics that Nichiren ascribes to the Eternal Buddha in the Kanjin no Honzon Sho and elsewhere, are not drastically different from the descriptions given of the Vajra-sattva in Tantric literature.

Here is Anesaki’s translation of two excerpts of a Nichiren writing, Shoho Jisso, “The True Aspect of All Phenomena”:

I, Nichiren, a man born in the ages of the Latter Law, have nearly achieved the task of pioneership in propagating the Perfect Truth, the task assigned to the Bodhisattva of Superb Action (Vishishtachiritra) The eternal Buddhahood of Shakyamuni, as he revealed himself in the chapter on Life-duration, in accordance with his primeval entity, the Buddha Prabhutaratna, who appeared in the Heavenly Shrine . . .

In this document, the truths most precious to me are written down. Read, and read again; read into the letters and fix them into your mind ! Thus put faith in the Supreme Being, represented in a way unique in the whole world! Ever more strongly I advise you to be firm in faith, and to be under the protection of the threefold Buddhahood.”

Here are the same excerpts from the Soka Gakkai version, “The True Entity of Life”:

Although not worthy of the honor, Nichiren was nevertheless the first to spread the Mystic Law entrusted to Bodhisattva Jogyo for propagation in the Latter Day of the Law. Nichiren was also the first to inscribe the Gohonzon, which is the embodiment of the Buddha from the remote past as revealed in the Juryo chapter of the essential teaching . . .

In this letter, I have written my most important teachings. Grasp their meaning and make them part of your life. Believe in the Gohonzon, the supreme object of worship in the world. Forge strong faith and receive the protection of Shakyamuni, Taho and all the other Buddhas.”

 

Apr 302015
 
A selfie of sorts.

A selfie of sorts.

April 13th marked the five year anniversary of  The Endless Further.  During this half-decade, I have posted a lot of poems but very few of my own.  Today, however,  the last day of National Poetry Month 2015, here is some poetry by yours truly.

silver lake

that summer morning when we sat
outside the café in silver lake
and talked over coffee
that turned cold too quickly

a soft gray haze lay over the hills
a breeze lifted her hair
then the sun, breaking through,
touched her hair to gold

I had already fallen under
the arch of her smile

she said
no one owes an artist anything
the world owes us all

a patron is someone
who supports your art
without fucking you

there was something discarnate
in how she subdued passion
with her intellect

she was all light and mystery
and like a brief song or warm coffee
it lasted only a short time
like a dream

whenever I think of her
I also think how dreams
parallel our reality

my dream is my nightmare
my nightmare is my dark journey

sometimes after such a journey
I awaken under some bodhi tree
in the light of the morning sun
with the world touched to gold

 

nuit de noel
(christmas eve)

you drove into three parked cars
one after another
because you were angry
that I was tired of your complaints
and bad behavior
and I wanted to leave

you don’t seem to understand
that you should have some regret
about what you did

rocking on your haunches by the fire

you should have stayed in paris
I should have stayed away

because one rose is as good as three
because a Saturn without rings is on your sign
not mine

and you think that pulling off the bark
Is caressing the tree

the girl as a future schizophrenia
straying on the pacific rim

pitching her dreams into the sea

 

san rio

nights in san rio
are like loose stars
swinging in dreams
the moon sings radiance
until the dawn

the music sambas
past midnight
and all your cares
fandango away
young girls tiptoe
through embraces
while old men
test their wives

well-lit boys
in search of adventure
gamble with their mananas
and everyone’s so at ease
dancing starlight
never counting the time
because

nights in san rio
are like loose stars
falling in slow motion
the moon sings celestial
until the dawn

© 2015 dmriley