Dhammapada, a collection of verses of Shakyamuni Buddha
Standing Buddha 5th Century, Northern India, Sarnath, Gupta Period Cleveland Museum of Art
Focus, not on the rudeness of others, not on what they’ve done or left undone, but on what you have & haven’t done yourself.
Do we create, contribute to and exacerbate dukkha? Over the years we’ve talked about dukkha, but sometimes we lose sight of the fact that dukkha is caused not only by birth, illness, growing old and death but also caused by our own doing.
We want everything to be the way we want it. We fight change, but like tides and time, change is the eternal persistent flow that nothing can stop. We get anxious, stressed and ill because of change. The Buddha is recorded as saying “I have taught one thing and one thing only, dukkha and the cessation of dukkha.” Buddhism does not get any simpler than that.
The myth of Ariadne is believed to originate around 900 BCE with the Etruscans. By around 500 BCE, the Greeks slightly modified the myth we know today. It is the story of Ariadne, Theseus, the Minotaur, Daedalus’ Labyrinth, Athens, Crete, Minos and a red ball of string.
After Minos of Crete defeats Athens in a war, Athens is required to send youths to the Island of Crete for sacrifice to the Minotaur. Now the Minotaur (a real adventure story in itself) is imprisoned in a Labyrinth built by Daedalus. Once one enters the ingeniously designed Labyrinth, it is impossible to find the way out. The fate of all who enter is to be found and killed by the Minotaur.
So far, we have dukkha created not by birth, old age, illness and death, but by humans. We have war where one wins and one loses. We have the Minotaur, an outcome of human ego. We have Daedalus, whose genius was turned not to benefit others, but to harm. We have Minos who extracts revenge.
We also have Minos’ daughter Ariadne who is smitten the moment she sees the handsome Theseus, one of the youths sent from Athens as tribute and sacrifice to the Minotaur. Both Ariadne and Theseus are driven by their human nature, one to possess the other and the other to do what is needed to survive another day.
People create dukkha in epic proportions in myths. Perhaps there isn’t much difference between the dukkha they create and what we create in the here and now. We have wars; victors impose impossible conditions on losers. Our inventions are turned to destruction on the grand scale; science now modifies crops (think creation of Minotaur). Our humanness of greed, anger and folly pretty much wraps up the rest seeing this myth in our own day, our own life.
Where does the red ball of string fit in? Theseus agrees to take Ariadne to Athens and marry her if she helps him survive the Minotaur and the Labyrinth. Ariadne cajoles Daedalus for the secret to the Labyrinth - string. She gives Theseus a red ball of sting to fasten to the inside door of the Labyrinth and unwind as he goes deeper in and then follow out after killing the Minotaur. He does and they run away together. Check out the rest of this story for even more dukkha these guys create.
When we are desperate, when we feel totally alone and isolated in this world, we look for a way, any way to help us. We want the trick of the red ball of string someone gives us to follow out of where we are now. Some of us fall into addictions to try to avoid these feelings. Addictions can be anything including busyness. They use up our minutes and hours and divert us from the work of facing our own Minotaur.
We can look at that red ball of string as a Buddhist path, a Shin path. The teachings of Siddhartha Gautama after he awakened to the realities of this life and became the Buddha, the awakened one, work as much today as they did thousands of years ago. These teachings are eternal solely because they are reality itself.
If you read this week’s Nightstand Buddhist, you’ll read how Sensi Ogui’s red ball of string when he was desperate, was a single flower. We hear the teachings of the Buddhadharma, we come together as a Sangha once a month, we slowly come to make the Buddhadharma our own, a part of our life, the red ball of sting, the way to awakening.
Excerpts of Buddhist voices across teachings, across continents, across time.
The Primal Vow: Namo Amida Butsu
by Sensei Ogui
You may have heard the story of Bodhidharma saying, “there is no merit in virtuous acts,” to the emperor who had done extensive great deeds. The emperor was quite disappointed with this answer. What Bodhidharma was talking about relates to being in desperate situations. Yes, we can build up karma with good deeds, but almost always there is self-pride in these actions, the feeling of, “Look what I did!” In contrast, when we become desperate, we have to give up, our spirits fall to the depth. Often it is at such times we can realize the oneness of the immeasurable, unhindered life which brightens in ten directions. We can realize we are living in it.
It is easy to misunderstand Shin Buddhism. To have realization of Shin, one needs to be spiritually mature. Can you realize that we are living in the unhindered life of immeasurable wisdom and compassion? This is quite a realization, isn’t it? In order for you to get a feeling of this, I will share personal experience. I came to the United States in 1962, when I was 20 years old. I attended a university in Los Angeles extending my training as a Jodo Shinshu priest. I had great difficulty with my English. Plus the culture here was vastly different than from what I was used to. After I was in this country about a year, I was involved in a car accident. I was unconscious and in the hospital for two days. After that, I became extremely short tempered and I had a fight with the head priest. I had to stop going to the University and I was sent back to San Francisco. While in San Francisco, I had a chance to meet with Suzuki Roshi, but that is a different story. After I was in San Francisco for about six months, in a sense I had something like an emotional breakdown. I woke up in a hospital room with about 20 patients. I saw the patient around me who had trouble related to the brain. Some had bandaged heads; others had difficulty holding the spoon when they ate. Many of them could not talk and others would scream out. I was in the neurological wing of the hospital, but I did not know this then. Actually at that time I did not know the word neurology even. I was given a lot of neurological tests. I could not help myself. I became scared and worried. I thought, “what if I end up like these people around me?” I felt so alone, so frightened, so desperate. I thought about calling my family in Japan. But I knew calling them and telling them that I was in the hospital would only worry. There was nothing they could do for me because they were far across the ocean from San Francisco. I felt very alone and desolate. I had no friends because I have been in this country for a short time. The only person who came to visit me was a social worker and an executive from the Buddhist Churches of America. I have to sign papers relating to neurological tests the doctors were giving me. I didn’t understand what the paper said, but I signed them anyway. With such insecurity, uncertainty and feelings of loneliness and desperation, the thought came to me, “what am I doing? I am a Jodo Shinshu priest.” I decided to call the name of Amida Buddha to come to help me. Namo Amida Butsu, Namo Amida Butsu, Namo Amida Butsu. I pulled the cover over my face and recited Amida’s name so as not to bother those around me. I also prayed to Shinto-God to help me. I also have the consciousness to pray to God. “God, please help me. Please help me. Please, God, help me.” I think many people who go to Christian churches do more or less the same thing. I did this for several days, but nothing happened. Yes, now I can laugh. At the time I wasn’t laughing. People were screaming around me. I continue to worry I would be like them. I thought to myself, “here I have been praying and invoking Amida Buddha’s name to be held and I began to feel more alone and desperate.” Also I felt bad because I had lied to the people when I talk to them about Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow to save all beings, whatever situation they were in. Then, after about two weeks, I was staring flatly, depressed, looking at a single flower a nurse had placed on my bed stand. I saw the flower expanded by light coming out from the flower. The bright light intensified the red, yellow and green of the single flower. I was astonished. I was caught in these immeasurable lights. Then some words arose in my mind. The words were of home I had memorized in the past:
Roses are blooming on the roast tree, There is nothing strange. The flower blooms silently and falls quietly without sound, Though never again to return to its branch. Her total existence is expressed in that one place At that moment. This is the voice of the flower, The truth of the single flower on the branch. Therein lies the joy of life, infinitely radiant and everlasting.
These were simply repeated themselves in my mind as I looked at the flower. The light of the flower became brighter and larger. I was taken into the light. Then I realized immeasurable light and life of Armida Buddha. Namo meant the taking in of me into this light. Namo Amida Butsu meant I and immeasurable life and light are one. I felt the unhindered light of immeasurable wisdom and compassion. I realized I had been living in immeasurable compassion and wisdom since I was born.
Tears came to my eyes. I recited Namo Amida Butsu. Then I began to notice how the nurses were working to help me. A nurse had placed the flower on my bed stand. Nurses brought me food. The food had once been living-chicken, green beans, potatoes. Now they were nourishment for me. Now I realized I had been living in the kindness and sacrifices of others.
I was lucky for one of the nurses was a member of the temple for which I later became a minister. She told me and others after I became a minister, “Rev. Ogui lived in thankfulness even when he was in the neurological wing of the hospital.” I told her, “yes, but not at the beginning of my stay.”
It is indeed true we are living in a great Vow of Amida Buddha. This light is always shining on us. We are living in the life and light of Amida Buddha.
Excerpt from: Zen Shin Talks by Sensei Ogui, Compiled by Mary K. Gove, 1998, Zen Shin Buddhist Publications
9:45 AM: Sitting mediation, all levels, including beginners
Shin Buddhist Service: Rev. Anita Tokuzen Kazarian
November Memorial Service
To include the name of a loved one or friend in the November Shin Buddhist Monthly Memorial Service, please email Rev. Anita with the name. This is an expression of gratitude for those who have come before us and does not require they be Buddhist