Your Shin Buddhist “go to” page in the Forest City
May the wisdom of the All-Compassionate One so shine within our hearts and minds, that the mists of error and the foolish vanity of self be dispelled.
So shall we understand the changing nature of existence and reach spiritual peace.
Shin Buddhist Service Book, Buddhist Churches of American, 1994
The Cleveland Buddhist Temple welcomes Rev. Kailyn Kongo Mascher-Mace to our Sangha. Rev. Kaitlyn is the Tokudo minister at Tri-State/Denver Buddhist Temple in Denver, Colorado.
Hello Cleveland Buddhist Temple!
I am very happy to “meet” you all, although I wish it was in person rather than via text.
I did not grow up with in the Jodo Shinshu faith structure, nor was I Buddhist. I first came across Buddhism in a meaningful way in 2005 on a trip to Japan, and didn’t really come across Jodo Shinshu until 2012 at the Tri-State/Denver Buddhist Temple.
Coming from a mix of Lutheran and Catholic upbringing, I was always taught that while there is universality in faith, there is often a qualitative nature to it, with a binary response. That is, you are either a good person or a bad person and based on that qualification, your very existence and nature through the rest of history is dictated.
Within our culture, this sort of dichotomy plays a central role, the idea of good or bad, right or wrong, righteous or foolish become the qualifier for a majority of action. In our calculation, it becomes a measuring stick for how we see people, how we should treat them and ultimately what their fates are.
With this understanding of the world being my baseline for seeing society and those who were around me growing up, I came into my experience and eventual conversion into Buddhism with the same understandings and qualifications. This is where I received my biggest shock, and in the end, was the thing that has drawn me to Jodo Shinshu so fully that I have become a priest, and will spend the rest of my life focused on this teaching.
The egalitarian nature of the Nembutsu. The Nembutsu, the Namo Amida Butsu, Amida Buddha’s great practice which is our guiding wind on the ocean of samsara, of birth and death, is given freely to all people, regardless of how we, humans, perceive them. This is a baseline difference between our qualifications as humans, and that of the Buddha’s, between our reality and that of suchness.
Shinran said in the Tannisho:
Amida made His Vow out of compassion for us who are full of evil passions, and who are unable to set ourselves free from samsara by any practice. Since the purpose of His Vow is to have the evil person attain Buddhahood, the evil person who trusts the Other-Power is especially the one who has the right cause for Birth in the Pure Land. Hence, the words “Even a good person is born in the Pure Land, how much more so is an evil person”.
On first reading, this passage is hard to understand, why would an evil person be the target of Amida’s compassionate vow? Isn’t an evil person, well, bad? Under our understanding, a good person seems like a much better target of Amida’s vow, right?
I think there are two key words here that we have to focus on when looking at this passage, and they come to the heart of what is Jodo Shinshu Buddhism. The first one is evil, and within our societal context, we often think of evil as something that is in opposition of what we are, against our values. Try this on though, maybe we are the evil people, but not in the let’s go burn down a forest full of cute bunnies’ way, but in the, I am human way. To be evil in this context means that I have the three poisons in me, greed, anger and ignorance, and that I am, as a human, incapable of making any choices that are not influenced by these three, greed, anger or ignorance.
If we make that assumption then I am the evil person Shinran is talking about. The second key word then is trust. Shinran says, the evil person who TRUSTS the Other-Power. For those of us who have the greed, anger and ignorance as part of our calculation of how we see the world, it becomes very hard to trust something that is not of ourselves, to step outside of our selfishness. However, when one answers the calling voice of Amida Buddha, given to us through the Nembutsu, and puts their trust in the Vow, despite the greed, anger and ignorance that colors us, then how much was that Vow made for us. When we say the Name, the Namo Amida Butsu, we are putting our trust in Amida Buddha’s work, to become part of this stream, and to eventually cross to the other side.
The calculus for us then is that, being the evil person does not mean we are a bad person, but rather seeing ourselves as we are, limited, foolish, and yet, human. The interconnection of events, forces, wants, desires, hopes, dreams, fears and love all drive us forward, but in the end, it is our deep trust in the Nembutsu, in Amida’s Vow which will set us free, outside of our calculative mind into the calculation of Amida Buddha.
The Nembutsu is given freely to everyone, no matter who you are, equally, without reservation. It us then up to us to open our eyes to it, knowing ourselves, recognizing that we are human, and its ok to not be perfect, but that we are enveloped in the vow none the less.
I hope that all of you stay safe as we work our way through the rest of this pandemic, and that we are all able to meet together and share the joy that the Nembutsu brings to us. And remember, you are good, just as you are, Sono Mama.
Rev. Kaitlyn Kongo Mascher-Mace Tri-State/Denver Buddhist Temple Denver, Colorado
Pain and Longing
(excerpt from Chapter 1)
If we ponder the matter seriously, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that our life in this world is a profound mystery. Indeed, depending on the kind of person one is and the life one has led, it can also be wonderful, gratifying, anxious, miserable or simply an object of indifference. Regardless of our attitude to life, there remains something fundamentally inexplicable about our individual situation in the world. We have no say in who our parents are or the conditions into which we are born. Neither can we do much about our natural endowments. The variety of human temperaments and aptitudes is endless, as is the plethora of circumstances that influence our uncertain destinies.
Eventually, a reflective person will be prompted to ask searching questions about their life with a view to understanding its meaning. Why are we here? Do our lives have any purpose? Does it matter if they do not? What should our priorities be in the very short time we have on this planet? Of course, many people find some measure of fulfillment in raising a family, following a particular career or creative location, falling in love, helping others and so forth. These are noble and meaningful endeavors that can enrich our lives.
Yet, despite our varied attempts at seeking fulfillment, we often find ourselves disappointed. Either we are confronted by insurmountable obstacles in pursuing our goals or we find that the level of satisfaction for which we were hoping is never realized. In other words, our initial expectations are seldom met, so we feel let down. When life fails to meet our hopes and desires, we suffer. We suffer when things do not go our way or change suddenly, such as we find with relationships, health or financial security. We also suffer when we have to endure violence, cruelty, greed, prejudice, dishonesty or ignorance in the world.
We are not deliberately setting out to commence this book on a pessimistic note but acknowledging, at the outset, a fundamental, self-evident and inescapable fact about the human condition. This realization came to the historical Buddha (also known as Shakyamuni - ‘Sage of the Shakya clan’) 2500 years ago, who thought this insight so important that he made it the bedrock of his teaching. Why did he do this? Why focus on the negative aspects of life? Because he understood that coming to terms with suffering, disappointment and anguish was critical to uncovering its underlying meaning. By helping us see the implications of viewing life is unsatisfactory (a state of disease), Shakyamuni could then clear the way to introduce his more positive teaching about wisdom, compassion, enlightenment and Nirvana.
Despite the all-pervasive nature of impermanence in our world, the human ego finds it very difficult to accept. Nothing could be more natural, it seems, than the state of constant flux in which we find all things. They are, as the Diamond Sutra states, “like dreams, illusions, bubbles, shadows; like dewdrops or a flash of lightning.” Yet we invariably tend to resist this truth by trying to make the objects of our desire last in ways that are not possible; this is yet another cause of suffering.
It is also natural for us to form attachments to people, animals, possessions and ways of life. We want to hold onto those things that we love and value and to keep at bay the forces that seek to deprive us of them. However, death, illness and calamity are never far away and even if we have been spared the ravages for the time being, the very fear that we may be next is a source of acute anxiety in itself.
This leads us to another fact about our human condition: it is frail and brittle. Hence, we find ourselves looking for ways to feel secure and shield our vulnerabilities. We are also be set by apprehension as the specter of old age, death and oblivion hangs over us, even if this is not always consciously acknowledge. We desire what we do not have, and you dread losing those very things once we get them, only to find that they too fall short of giving us the fulfillment for which we are so desperately longing.
Call of the Infinite: The Way of Shin Buddhism by John Paraskevopoulos. Sophia Perennis, an imprint of Angelico Press. www.@angelicopress.com
Wednesday, March 24, 2021 - Save the Date
2021 Cleveland Humanities Festival: IDENTITY
How the Buddhist Teaching on Non-Self Offers a Path in These Uncertain Times
What is identity? Does the Buddhist view allow for discussion of Identity when they assert the teaching of “non-self” (anātman)? It would be a contradiction if non-self means that “self does not exist,” but that is not what it means. It is not about whether the self exists or not objectively or ontologically. We will explore what "non-self" means and what it really means. Does "I" exist or not? If yes, then what is that "self"? If not, then what or who is the "I" in “I am”?
From a Buddhist perspective, we are called to continuously remind ourselves of the dangers of fixed identities, both in the sense of a superior belief of “exceptionalism,” and as a cause of dukkha (suffering/dissatisfaction) in this life. We live in a world that is interconnected and interdependent. The concept of Buddhist identity explores a path that offers understanding and compassion, a path for working together in this time of global pandemic and social/economic uncertainty. How we perceive our own identity determines our response to these times.
A print copy of Ken Tanaka’s latest book Jewels: An Introduction to Buddhism is available for a $6 donation at “Just Ask” on www.clevelandbuddhisttemple.org.
This event is co-sponsored by the Cleveland Buddhist Temple