Head of Buddha (320.647) Northern India, Mathura, Gupta Period - Cleveland Museum of Art
As rain seeps into
an ill thatched hut,
the undeveloped mind.
As rain doesn’t seep into
a well thatched hut,
so passion does not,
the well-developed mind.
At some point all of us probably had that self-righteous feeling when we discover someone preaching to us about how we should be, feel, believe or act only to find out they don’t walk their talk. We call them hypocrites, and, who likes or trusts hypocrites?
A 2020 Gallup Poll* on the most trusted professions in our country showed nursing ranked the most trusted. Members of congress, car salespeople and advertising people had a three way tie for the least trusted. (Note: Pollsters may influence outcomes of polls by the way they design questions. If you notice, pollsters are never included as a profession on these polls).
A friend confessed to walking away from a group because they taught awareness and compassion but in reality, failed to show awareness and compassion when needed by a member. They did not walk the talk and my friend felt the group could no longer be trusted.
This is a legitimate topic for Buddhists raised in a western culture to consider. Right off, I don’t have answers. I’m not even sure where to begin since I’ve done my share of walking opposite from my talk.
The appeal of Buddhism, for me, is that its teachings make sense. When Shakyamuni taught the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Noble Path, many understood it as a way to live this life to end samsara. The upside for us is, these teachings offer benefits here and now, in addition ending samsara.
We teach these Buddhist truths, but do we live by them? Do we walk the talk? Until our founder Shinran Shōnin, Buddhism was a monastic tradition for monks and nuns who lived away from the world lay people had to survive daily. They didn’t have endless paperwork, bosses, mortgages, family or friend issues, tweets, social media or electronic gadgets that stopped working. They focused on the teachings – and, even with this sole focus, we hear of very few achieving the awakening of Shakyamuni Buddha.
Imagine trying to live by the teachings today as a lay person. The work of enlightenment begins with awareness, not with perfection. And that work, in my understanding, is to understand how I fit into the scheme of things in this life. It is to come to terms with the fact that it is I who has to understand and walk the path. It is only then that a small but real change begins to take place. As long as I think the “other” has to change, dukkha keeps its hold on me.
We are all bonbu, human beings filled with greed, anger and foolishness. Some break hearts, some steal, some kill, some lie, but not always and not perfectly. Then there are others who heal, some who teach, and some who befriend, but not always and not perfectly.
We are all caught up in this life. Do we make bad choices? You bet. Do we want to be a wiser, more compassionate person, one who can not only talk about the path but walk it? I think, ‘yes.’
Amida Buddha assures me of not only my humanity with both its good and bad, but that we are all embraced, regardless. In other words, we have free will to the extent of the causes and conditions we find ourselves in and it is up to us to interact in this world with wisdom and compassion – hopefully more often than not.
Sometimes our talk is in one direction and our walk the opposite. For me, the first step is building the awareness to see this in myself. Over time, by catching this in me I can remind myself that both the walk and the talk will be better off going in the same direction, together.
Excerpts of Buddhist voices across teachings, across contients, across time.
Strength for Living, Courage for Dying
Alfred Bloom, Prof. Emeritus, Dept. of Religion, University of Hawaii
I first encountered the Name of Amitā bha or, in Japanese, Amida Buddha, while I was in the Army of occupation in Japan after World War II. Through my doctoral study, I became aware of the spiritual richness and meaning of this Name for countless believers in East Asia. I later became a convert to the Amidist teaching of Shinran, the Japanese founder of Shin Buddhism, after meeting many devoted members in Hawaii for whom it was a vital reality within their lives.
A heart attack made Amida’s compassion and wisdom real to me in a deeply personal way through the skill of the doctors and the restorative powers of our bodies. Though I faced death, I was at peace and the experience of Amida’s embrace of boundless compassion and wisdom.
Amida Buddha, whose name means “infinite,” is the Buddha of Eternal Life and Infinite Light. In form and concept, he is the symbol of indefinable and inconceivable reality, which embraces all life and being in Oneness. He is the power of ideals, moving us to higher aspiration, though not a substantial entity. In Buddhist terms, he is empty, but manifests in all forms of existence. His mythic Vows highlight the interdependence of all beings and the cosmos. As the spiritual foundation for all value and meaning, Amida inspires our ideals of love, compassion, and wisdom.
Through intoning his Name in Japanese, Namu Amida Butsu, with others or voicelessly in our heart and mind, we are grateful to Life. Expressing our oneness with the Buddha, Namu (“I take refuge in”) refers to our own ordinary or “foolish” being, and Amida Butsu, the Infinite. In quiet contemplation we receive strength for living and courage for dying.
Buddhism, Introducing The Buddhist Experience, 3rd Edition: Donald W. Mitchell and Sarah H. Jacoby – Oxford University Press
Relating to Other Religions
Kenneth Kenshin Tanaka
As a Buddhist, I sure the following basic attitude toward other religions;
Respectful: We respect other religions and honor their members’ hopes to realize the goals of the religion.
Voluntary: we believe that the choice of religion is personal and voluntary.
Oneness: all people and beings are interconnected and makeup the same world that we share. So, we share a lot more in common in our religious outlook than we think.
Excerpt from Jewels: An Introduction to American Buddhism by Kenneth Kenshin Tanaka. Free PDF download available.