Dhammapada, a collection of verses of Shakyamuni Buddha
Seated Shakyamuni Buddha, c. AD 120 Northern India, Uttar Pradesh, Mathura, Kushan Period - Cleveland Museum of Art
The Mind: 38
For a person of unsteady mind,
not knowing true Dharma,
serenity set adrift:
discernment doesn’t grow full.
As absurd as that sounds, we (me) make similar claims all the time. In our Shin Buddhist tradition we say ‘come as you are.’ What does that really mean?
Everyone now is about inclusion. But do we all understand it the same way? Or, is our understanding of it varied enough that when we talk about it it ends up creating more distance?
Just research “inclusion,” it is all over the place: political, educational, societal, familial, etc. It doesn’t seem to have a “unified” workable definition for our current use of the word.
When Shin Buddhists say ‘come as you are,’ it is a unified workable definition. It encompasses all aspects of inclusion, and I mean all.
‘Come as you are’ is the fundamental concept taught by Shinran Shōnin (1173-1263). As our unease and anxiety of our place in this life increases, more people are turning Shinran’s teaching as both rational and healing.
The inclusiveness of ‘come as you are’ is short hand for Jōdo Shinshū Buddhism. It is an English expression meant to cut through language, culture and hundreds of years of tradition to get to the heart of the matter with clarity and precision.
We are all unconditionally embraced, just as we are. Shin teachings of Amida Buddha’s calling out to us, accepting us as we are gives us a glimmer of the compassion and wisdom we too can emanate to reduce our own suffering, then that of others.
Some may say “What about the evil person? Are they embraced too?” In a future issue we can talk about that aspect called “licensed evil.” But for now, long story short, Shinran Shōnin taught that because we are all accepted as we are, it does not mean we are licensed to do evil. Because there is a medicine to cure a disease, we do not go out actively to seek out and contract the disease.
In Shin Buddhism we are unique individuals free to make choices. Our choices may be limited by the causes and conditions we find ourselves in, but within the time and space we find ourselves, we always may choose.
Shinran Shōnin teased out the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha and the Seven Masters and wrote:
“I know nothing at all of good or evil. For if I could know thoroughly, as Amida Tathagata knows, that an act was good, then I would know good. If I could know thoroughly, as the Tathagata knows, that an act was evil, then I would know evil. But with a foolish being full of blind passions, in this fleeting world – this burning house – all matters without exception are empty and false, totally without truth and sincerity. The nembutsu alone is true and real.” (CWS p. 679)
Can we really judge others when we are incapable of even understanding ourselves? Shin Buddhism’s ‘come as you are’ is just as simple as that – come as you are. This is as true for the positions of the stars in the cosmos as it is for me and for you.
Alan Watts put it another way: “Things are as they are. Looking out into the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations.”
Excerpts of Buddhist voices across teachings, across continents, across time.
Wishes, Hopes and Prayers
Rev. Fumiaki Usuki, West Los Angeles Buddhist Temple
Rain falls, winds blow, plants bloom, leaves mature and are blown away. These phenomena are all interrelated causes and conditions, and I brought about by them, and disappear as the causes and conditions change.
Blossoms come about because of a series of conditions that led up to their blooming. Leaves are blown away because of a series of conditions led up to it. Blossoms do not appear independently, nor does a leaf fall of itself, out of its season… [The Teachings of the Buddha, 41 – 42].
When we consider nature and life, this passage makes sense. Nothing happens independently and out of nowhere. If we are walking the path of the Buddha Dharma, we know this to be true. Yet even on a good day, why are we often overwhelmed with thoughts that provoke tension, anxiety, regret, anticipation and other dark feelings that compel us to wish, hope and pray?
Even complaining about the traffic, bemoaning the cost of groceries, or hoping for better weather can represent deeper anxieties you may not easily recognize. Despite the many wonderful moments in life, most people still wish for only good things to happen. If we are sending personal wishes to other beings, such as in the Metta Prayer of loving kindness, we are expressing our own intentions and it has nothing to do with calling on the supernatural to intervene.
On the other hand, perhaps we have unthinkingly prayed for some miracle or magic to happen, whether it is for something serious like saving a life, or whether it is for something frivolous, like having our favorite team win a championship. It is very difficult to be constantly grateful for the life we have unmindful of the teachings of our Jodo Shinshu tradition.
In the private confines of our minds, uncontrollable emotions are always causing us to yearn for what we feel we lack. This is the true nature of our existence as outlined to us by Sakyamuni Buddha. It is impossible to find equanimity when we fail to be aware of our craving and attachment that naturally derived from our senses. When such tension arises in us, we may end our discomfort instinctively reach out for a way to appease our grasping, even if that way is either reliable or realistic.
This is not limited to adults for, as children, most of us can remember reacting despondently or at least wistfully about something denied or dreams thwarted. No matter our age, we may find ourselves reverting to wishful thinking, especially as our society and the media are constantly telling us that we can have it All if we wanted enough. In such a fantasy, it’s no wonder that wishes, hopes, and prayers seem so normal.
Acknowledging that we live in a Christian-dominated society, it is easy to understand why petitionary prayer and supplication is common. As Buddhists, we are not immune to such influences if we do not truly understand our teaching.
According to the principles of karma and interdependence, everything comes about due to a concurrence of interrelated causes and conditions, as in the following:
When this exists, that comes to be
With the arising of this, that arises
When this does not exist, that does not come to be
With the cessation of this, that ceases
In other words, no amount of wishing, hoping or praying is going to change the circumstances if the causes and conditions do not exist.
The practice of the Buddha Dharma has evolved and changed in a multitude of ways since Sakyamuni Buddha (566 BCE) first shared it. Since Buddhism is a teaching religion that offers a path to relief from our dukkha (dissatisfaction, frustration, discontent, suffering, sense of dis-ease), some traditions have founded opportune to encourage prayer as a basis of their Buddhist practice. Some also reach out to the metaphysical and supernatural. Pure Land Buddhist sects, too, very with regard to rituals and practices. However, Jodo Shinshu Buddhists do not practice petitionary prayer, nor do we need good luck rituals or charms. Amida Buddha is neither a god nor a deity to whom one can pray. Instead, it is Immeasurable Wisdom and Compassion that pervades All life and is present for us regardless of our blind passions. We have only to awaken to its truth-reality working in our lives.
The Essentials of Jodo Shinshu clearly outlines our religious creed. Let us be mindful of this passage as we experience both the joys and challenges of our daily lives:
As Jodo Shinshu Buddhists, we seek to be mindful of our words and deeds, be responsible citizens of our society, and share with others the truth and reality of Jodo Shinshu. Understanding following the principle of causality, we shall not practice petitionary prayer or magic, nor shall we rely upon astrology or other superstitions.
The Cleveland Buddhist Temple and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Cleveland will hold a short joint observation marking the 76th year that the last atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. It is our aspiration it continues to be the last.
The bell will be rung 76 times. All those present may take turns in the ringing of the bell.
We will recite the Metta Mediation, a meditation on loving kindness that is universal for all faiths.
This observance will end with a moment of silence.
Sunday, August 15 Service:
9:45 AM - Sitting mediation, all levels, including beginners
10:30 AM - Shin Buddhist Service and August Memorial Service