Your Shin Buddhist “go to” page in the Forest City
Things are not what they seem: nor are they otherwise. Realize it. Make it yours. Repeat this puzzling phrase over and over, endlessly. Then the impact will come through in your daily experiences. The truth is always manifested by itself in our life.
Zen Shin Talks by Sensei Ogui, Complied & Edited by Mary K. Gove – Zen Shin Buddhist Publications
Which One Are You?
“Which one are you?” a trick question? You bet. There is an art to framing questions, in fact, an internet search on ‘how to create survey questions’ gets you almost 900,000,000 hits.
The question pigeon holes us into a one or the other choice. But this very simple example has been around so long, that we don’t even question its validity. Just answer this question and you’ll know if you are an optimist by nature, the ½ full people, or a pessimist, the ½ empty people.
We like simple questions with simple answer – they help us navigate each day without having to consider all the ramifications of each action. As an example, once we decide on the I phone or Android, it is unlikely we will spend any time considering both all over again when we need a replacement. Same with the types of food we shop for, stores we patronize, the politics we support – you get the picture
We also tend to do this with friends. Our friends usually see the world much as we do. We’re happy to be a member of a like-thinking group; we validate one another’s beliefs and values. This ‘support-group’ reassures us we are ‘right’. What about those who don’t tend to agree with our views and question our positions? We either go back to the drawing board of thinking it all over again, or we simply say they don’t know the facts. They are our ‘challenge group.’
Can the glass be both ½ full and ½ empty? Isn’t it only language and how it is employed that creates an illusion of one or the other? At the start of this newsletter (at the top) is an image of a yellow vase, or is it two faces in profile? We each “see” from our own perspective. Could it be possible the other person sees it differently?
There is a Buddhist saying – “Even if it is the same thing, one’s view point can make it different.”
Can it be? Can it be that there is no one way everyone sees the world? Can it be that “Things are not what they seem: nor are they otherwise.”
In his book, Intently Watching Death, Dr. Kishimoto wrote back, while he was a visiting professor at Stanford University, he was told he had a cancerous growth and had only six more months to live.
Intently Watching Death was written 10 years after Dr. Kishimoto received this news; so the diagnosis was not altogether correct. During those 10 years, however, Dr. Kishimoto lived with a heightened sense of his life because he realized that each day might be his last. This made him a keen observer of the world about him.
In his book, Dr. Kishimoto says we are losing our sense of life and living. He says this loss is due to the technological society in which we live.
In the past, everything was made by artisans. If it was a house, each worker started by helping to lay the foundation; then he helped raise the walls, and so on, until the house was completed. Each worker helped at every stage of the work; thus, each had a sense of contributing to building the house. He had a sense of accomplishment when the house was completed.
In a technological society, work is extremely specialized. The work we do is such a small part of the whole that we lose sight of the overall function being performed. The classic example of this is the worker who, when asked what he did, answered, “I screw on the nut number forty-three.”
Although this worker was employed on an assembly line that turned out automobiles, he had no sense of helping to create the automobiles. This part of the overall work being performed was so small that he had no concept of why he was screwing on not number forty-three.
This sense of work cannot help but influence our view of life. If our vision is fragmentary, as this worker’s was we have no sense of belonging.
Is this why we are so addicted to television programs? Do we want to become part of something so badly that we are satisfied by vicariously watching other people’s lives? If we do, we are like a doughnut: we have a hole in our center.
There is an interesting Sutra titled Zohuyu-kyo. And it is the following story:
Long ago, some monkeys lived in the large tree that grew by the ocean. One day a huge mountain of foam came floating in from the ocean. When the sun shined on it, the foam glowed in seven colors. The monkeys had never seen anything like it. They lost themselves in the beauty of that mountain of foam. They thought it was an ideal place to live.
“Oh, what a beautiful mountain!” they said. “If we live there we will always be happy! How much better to live there than in our old tree!” One monkey could not contain himself. He jumped into the mountain of foam. The other monkeys thought “that wonderful land is just waiting for us, let’s go too!” And they also jumped in. None of the monkeys were ever seen again.
Because the monkeys were not satisfied with their life in their old tree, they were easily diverted by the shining mountain of foam. If we allow ourselves to become fragmented because of the society we live in, the same thing that happened to the monkeys will happen to us. We will easily be diverted by the inconsequential things that are really detrimental to our lives.
This is why we should center our lives on the Nembutsu.
In all things and actions that are taking place in and around me, I must be able to see them in their pure nakedness, and their real simplicity. But what takes place in our innermost self, which is contaminated by imperfections, ignorance, and desires, is an illusory projection of simple reality.
We see only what we want to see; we tend to hide these shortcomings from ourselves. Like the monkeys that were so shortsighted and could not see and accept all things as they are, we find it difficult to accept things as they really are. This is why we are urged to center our lives around and in the Nembutsu, to let it guide us through this turmoil we call life.
Adapted and excerpted from Insight: A Collection of Essays by Jōdo Shinshū Ministers in America, Buddhist Churches of America, 1980
Wednesday, March 24, 2021 - Save the Date
2021 Cleveland Humanities Festival: IDENTITY
How the Buddhist Teaching on Non-Self Offers a Path in These Uncertain Times
What is identity? Does the Buddhist view allow for discussion of Identity when they assert the teaching of “non-self” (anātman)? It would be a contradiction if non-self means that “self does not exist,” but that is not what it means. It is not about whether the self exists or not objectively or ontologically. We will explore what "non-self" means and what it really means. Does "I" exist or not? If yes, then what is that "self"? If not, then what or who is the "I" in “I am”?
From a Buddhist perspective, we are called to continuously remind ourselves of the dangers of fixed identities, both in the sense of a superior belief of “exceptionalism,” and as a cause of dukkha (suffering/dissatisfaction) in this life. We live in a world that is interconnected and interdependent. The concept of Buddhist identity explores a path that offers understanding and compassion, a path for working together in this time of global pandemic and social/economic uncertainty. How we perceive our own identity determines our response to these times.
A print copy of Ken Tanaka’s latest book Jewels: An Introduction to Buddhism is available for a $6 donation at “Just Ask” on www.clevelandbuddhisttemple.org.
This event is co-sponsored by the Cleveland Buddhist Temple