Some days you just want a signpost to show you which choice is the right one, which path will take you to where you want to arrive. Or, who do you believe when you need facts to decide and hear conflicting information?
As Buddhists we understand causes and conditions contribute to us being at this very spot in this very moment. This is not predestination. Nothing is written in stone in Buddhism. Simply put, we are in this spot at this moment because of a combination of events, not necessarily in our control, combined with our own choices that proceeded this moment.
Dr. Kenneth Tanaka, in his Cleveland Humanities Festival presentation on non-self, talked at length about how we view our “self” as a combination of factors. This self-image contributes to the choices and decisions we make. I have my biases, my memories, my emotions and my rational for doing and saying what I do.
Do I view myself as a risk-taker or cautious; a political party member or an independent; a high energy person or laid back, a spender or frugal, prefer to hike or watch sports on TV? How I see this “self” of me contributes not only to my choices but likely contributes to my dukkha, dissatisfaction.
We justify choices by saying: we didn’t have time to explore all the facts; or we had information overload; or we mistook opinions for facts or just had decision fatigue. We mostly make ordinary decisions with little cause for the “woulda, coulda, shoulda” tape to play over and over again as it does with ‘big’ choices gone wrong.
The Dhammapada is a collection of verses attributed to Shakyamuni Buddha. One may view them as the ethical teachings of the Buddha. These verses are about the mind, and through its actions (kamma), it is the chief architect of one’s happiness and suffering, both in this life and beyond.
The paired verse at the beginning of this issue of the Buddha Post shows there are two major ways of relating to how the choice we make influences our lives: “as a wise person, who is heedful enough to make the necessary effort to train their own mind to be a skillful architect; and as a fool, who is heedless and sees no reason to train the mind.”
So we have signposts, but are they relevant? The teachings have stood the test of time. As the Buddha said, each one of us must decide for our self if these teachings are valid.
Are these verses possible to use as a guide to live a life with less suffering in the 21st century? As anyone who tried to drop 10% body weight per doctor’s order knows, this is easier said than done. Imagine how much more difficult it is to train the mind compared to just counting calories and exercising. For many, these verses are like the North Star, they point to a path that is rational and observable. Those of us on the path know in our hearts the teachings are true. We make the effort knowing all the time of the all-embracing acceptance of “come as you are” teaching of Amida Buddha.
Buddha said, “It’s very important to keep your heart clean and pure. If your heart is pure, you will find much happiness.”
You wash your hands and body with soap and water. But how about your heart? If you don’t misbehave, your heart will stay clean.
Don’t lie. Don’t steal. Don’t hurt people or animals. Don’t use bad words. Don’t speak badly of others. Don’t be greedy.
Starting today, remember to keep your heart clean. It’s easy if you try.
Discussion: Buddha said that happiness follows a pure heart, whereas nothing but suffering follow a corrupt heart. If you heart is corrupt, all your actions will tend towards evil, which will ultimately only result in suffering. Teach children that their heart will grow polluted if thy misbehave and hurt the feelings of others. Those with a polluted heart will not find happiness. This is a valuable lesson for all of us, regardless of age.
Excerpts of Buddhist voices across teachings, across contients, across time.
Amida’s Birth, Our Birth
by Jeff Wilson
Long ago-so long ago that we might say it was before the beginning of time as we know it-Amida became the buddha of boundless light and infinite life. These things, boundless light and infinite life, are, among other things, symbols of perfect wisdom and compassion. For eons before Amida became enlightened, this buddha-to-be was a bodhisattva named Dharma Store-house, who spent his life accumulating enough merit that he would be able to share it with all living creatures and thus bring about the awakening of every single creature in the universe.
When Dharma Storehouse became Amida Buddha, the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss sprang into being, powered by the force of the profound vows the bodhisattva made when he began his career. This Pure Land is the ultimate nature of reality, and stepping into that realm is entering nirvana and being free of all suffering and delusion. Although we are all foolish, self-centered people, full of unwarranted pride and prone to hateful ways, Amida’s boundless light embraces us all and never abandons us, no matter what we do.
It is always pursuing us, working to jolt us out of our egocentricity and wake us up to the wonder of this world that is ultimately “empty” of unchanging nature and yet minutely interconnected on every level.
When we finally stop relying on the leaky vessel of the false self and flow instead on the warm ocean Amida’s compassion, we are liberated, just as we are, from the foibles of mortal existence. We are filled up with joy, and with a heart bursting with thankfulness, we proclaim our gratitude by saying “Namu Amida Butsu,” intoning the name of that power beyond the ego-self which has opened us to true and real life. While our circumstances may be difficult, there is a touchstone of underlying peace and assurance that remains with us through the good and bad times, and when this life finishes and we leave our karmic attachments behind, we are welcome fully into the Pure Land of Bliss.
This is the sacred story, recorded as a tale told by the Buddha in one of the first Mahayana Sutras, at the center of Pure Land Buddhism. It is a story of how we achieve our freedom and are awakened in this life, and how awakening is perfected when our life is over and we go beyond form and dualistic, ego-centered thinking. It is a promise of escape from our woes, of peace for our loved ones, and of reconciliation with strangers, enemies, and all forms of life. It is a re-statement of the fundamental Buddhist truths in a mythopoetic form, one that puts in positive terms the things that the earliest Buddhist tradition described negatively, in terms of absence, such as “emptiness” and “extinction.”
The Pure Land tradition goes back to India, to the earliest days of the Mahayana tradition, and it has spread from there to many parts of Asia and onto the West. Millions of people alive today experience their lives within the symbolic universe of the story, seeking to embody humility, trustingness, benevolence, simplicity, and pure happiness-even amidst suffering.
This story has had a profound impact not only on the spiritual lives of such people, but also on art, literature, politics, social structure, and many other aspects of Asian culture, especially in the eastern part of the continent. Far more than smaller monastic traditions like Zen or Tendai, it is the pure land tradition, shared by commoners and royalty alike, that has formed the basic Buddhist backbone of cultures like Japan and China for centuries.
It is amazing really, when we think about.
A story, just a story, has so much power to move individual hearts and entire nations. It is just a tale told over and over again, ancient and yet still alive today, continuing the work of liberation that the Buddha put into motion in ancient India. The story goes on and on, inviting new generations to take it up and discover its riches.
And every time someone hears the story and feels his or her heart respond with awe, Amida is born once more and the Pure Land is reopened to welcome home a long-wondering friend.
Buddhism of the Heart: Reflections on Shin Buddhism and Inner togetherness – Jeff Wilson, Wisdom Publications, Boston 2009
The Rat in the Cage
by Takeko Kujo
The rat race is intently on the wheel in its cage. After all the effort of turning the wheel thousands of times, however, the rat is still where it started.
It is good to be loyal to what we believe, but to exert oneself without being led by the light of wisdom leads to nothing.
A warm faith is a praise-worthy thing. But to pray in order to satisfy our own deluded belief is sad indeed. Without reflecting, which comes from the light of wisdom, we can never be free from the deluded circumstances of our life.
Muyuge: Flowers Without Sorrow by Takeko Kujo, Nembutsu Press, Los Angeles - 1985