Tantric Buddha Vairochana. Central Tibet, last half 12th Century - Cleveland Museum of Art
Dhammapada 15 - 18
If he recites many teachings, but
– heedless man –
doesn’t do what they say,
like a cowherd counting the cattle of
he has no share in the contemplative life.
If he recites next to nothing
but follows the Dharma
in line with the Dharma;
his mind well-released,
either here or hereafter:
he has his share in the contemplative life.
The Cleveland Buddhist Temple welcomes Rev. Landon Yamaoka. Rev. Landon is Tokudo Minister, Palo Alto Buddhist Temple. He is active in the Young Buddhists Association and TechnoBuddha programs of the BCA for many years. He is currently pursuing a Master of Divinity in Shin Ministry and Buddhist Chaplaincy at the IBS.
Saying the Name
In Shin Buddhism we often talk about the importance of saying the Name or Nembutsu. We rely on the 18th Vow of Amida that grants us rebirth into the Pure Land, as Amida Buddha has done meritorious acts on our behalf. What is stressed is the importance as practitioners, to come to an understanding about the gravity of this gift being given to us, and to really take in the profoundness of waking up to this experience.
We do not do anything to be awarded this gift, hence “come as you are”. This message provided the people of Japan hope, many whom were not traditionally viewed as being worthy, capable of understanding, or even practicing Buddhism at the time. The reasons for this were; they were uneducated, had jobs that created negative karmic merit, and many were considered a lower class or sub human in some ways.
While this idea is not pushed to the same extent today, we do see how people are treated lesser not only in our society but around the world. Shinran’s take on Buddhism is important as all Jodo Shinshu practitioners are on equal terms. I believe today this idea is put into effect when our Sangha members and communities stand up for those who may be “othered.” I believe we must speak out when we see harmful acts and should always remember how this sect of Buddhism grew, as historically many of the people of Japan were considered less than human.
The Vow of Amida reaches us all, and was created to ensure no sentient beings were left behind. This is what drew me to really dive into the more doctrinal aspects of our religion. As I read more and asked questions, I made a switched from just reading books to attending services again. I started to see just how much Shinran continuously talked about his own imperfections. To see him profess his own anxieties about his own practice, really shows why he believed this was the path. I began to appreciate the teachings moving from just theoretical appreciations, to trying to understand how this plays out in everyday life.
Vow is the most important aspect for our members to focus on, but I think at times we forget to really consider Shinran’s deep reflective nature as well. We are not told we have to do this, but through his writings he shows the readers a type of self-monitoring, and this is important for us to take into consideration. We are beings full of blind passions, our egos at times run unchecked, and because of this the Vow was created with us in mind. I believe to get a deeper appreciation of his teachings and what the Vow means to us, it would be useful for us to also take the time to consider how hard it is to really come to terms with our own egos.
This is not to say one MUST do this. We are able to come as we are, and yet I feel if change is to really happen, we have to be willing to consider our own blind spots. NOT because it is part of our Buddhist practice, but when we can be honest with ourselves, I feel we will appreciate Amida Buddha’s workings even more. I think this is how society starts to change, as I believe we would then see how we are truly the people the Vow was created for, and out of gratitude will strive to give back. Again, this is not because we gain anything from it, or get “Pure Land Points” as that has already been done for us. Rather we can become even more altruistic as we gain even more appreciation for the workings Amida has done for us. Paying it forward, since we already have the endless compassion flowing towards us from Amida.
I believe our religion has the background to really help promote change in the world, and feel the change has to start with in us. We cannot truly fathom the working of the Buddha, but we do understand when we have received selfless acts of compassion from others, and we see the impact of our actions when we can do it for other people.
We don’t have the capacity to do this all the time, but the more we reflect on the Name, we are getting closer to becoming the type of person Amida knows who we can be. Not perfect, but just someone who is getting closer to understanding what compassion really is.
I hope this finds you well, and let us keep the working of Amida close to our hearts so we can continue to live with our religion in our lives. Namo Amida Butsu.
Excerpts of Buddhist voices across teachings, across contients, across time.
The Meaning of Life
Rev. Marvin Harada
Last month, and the Orange County Register, there was a tragic story about a middle-aged couple that had taken their life in a suicide pact. This couple had everything in life. They were both attractive and in good health, were very successful in real estate, under beautiful home with an immaculate yard, and each had a beautiful car, a Corvette and a Cadillac. But although they seems to have everything going for them in terms of material things, they somehow weren’t happy.
Because they had achieved everything that they have helped or in life materially, they had lost meaning in life. What is there to look for when one has achieved everything in life? They also feared the suffering of growing old, and could not bear to live through it. They took their lives together, leaving a videotape behind with instructions for their funeral service and what to do with their assets.
I know that this is a very sad and tragic story to bring up, but it is a vivid example of what may happen to one who has lost any sense of meaning in life.
We spent a great deal of our lives after goals like this couple’s to own a dream home, to drive my dream car, to succeed in our careers to the top. If those are the main goals in our life, and what we do when we are fortunate enough to achieve them? Will we find ourselves lost, wondering what now to do with our lives?
When our children are growing up, our main purpose in my is to raise and care for them. Where then becomes of our life’s meaning when they are grown and married?
If our meaning in life is solely dependent on things external to us, then how will we cope with life when these external things are gone?
Buddhism points to finding a meaning of life that comes from within, and not from something external to one. It is to discover a meaning of life that is not dependent on career, family, material possessions or even health or beauty.
When I was in Japan, I once met a devout Buddhist man who was a lay speaker at a conference along with myself. This man was a quadriplegic who I become that way because of an acute high fever from an illness. From the devastating experience of losing his physical facilities, he came to truly meet the Buddha Dharma, and now travels around Japan and other Southeast Asian countries sharing this insight into the Dharma.
Without Buddhism, we might fail to discover the meaning in our life that goes beyond the material, external things that we all seek after, but through the Buddha Dharma, we have the opportunity to discover the meaning of life that will remain with us for the rest of our lives… And even beyond.
Discovery Buddhism In Everyday Life – Rev. Marvin Harada, Buddhist Education Center, 2011