Save the date: Wednesday, March 24 - 6:00 PM (EDT)
How a Buddhist Teaching on Non-Self Offers a Path in These Uncertain Times
March 24, 2021 - 6:00 PM (EDT)
What is Identity? Does the Buddhist view allow for discussion of Identity when they assert the teaching of "non-self" (anatman)? 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"?
The Cleveland Buddhist Temple welcomes Rev. Ron Miyamura, our Supervising Minister and Resident Minister of Midwest Buddhist Temple to give the Dharma talk on the one year anniversary of our weekly newsletter. Welcome to Cleveland Rev. Ron!
Ohigan – Vernal Equinox
This is Ohigan Season., Ohigan refers to the Other Shore. We observe Ohigan twice a year, around the Spring Equinox and the Fall Equinox, the time of year when the weather is mild, and when the days and nights are equal in length…when the earth is in balance. It is a time to reflect and re-balance ourselves.
And there is an important story that goes with Ohigan; we call it the story of Two Rivers and the White Path. The Two Rivers refers to the River of Fire and the River of Water.
In this story, there is a man walking in the desert when he is suddenly chased by wild beasts who want to kill him and have him for dinner, so the man starts to run, then the wild beasts are joined by bandits who want to rob and beat him…. so he runs even faster. He runs and he runs - he is getting tired. Then he comes upon a river, actually, Two Rivers, the river is divided by a narrow White Path. On one side of the path is an endless River of Fire and on the other side of the path is an endless River of Water. It seems so dangerous.
The man is frozen, not sure what to do. He cannot go back, the bandits and beasts are trying to rob and beat him or to kill and eat him. But to go forward seem impossible, the River of Fire is so dangerous, and the River of Water is so dangerous. He is just frozen with fear and not knowing what to do. Then he hears a voice calling from the middle of the River, telling him to trust himself and cross on the narrow White Path. The bandits and beasts warn him not to do it, it is too dangerous and “you will surely fall into one of the Rivers”
But the voice from the middle of the River is calm and peaceful; the voice is gently encouraging him to walk on the narrow White Path. Slowly and with unsteady steps, the man starts to walk on the narrow White Path…. As he continues along, there is another voice, from the opposite shore, is calling out, “trust yourself and soon you will reach the Other Shore of safety”. With these assuring words, he continues and is soon across the Two Rivers and is on the Other Shore of Amida’s Pure Land. So ends the story.
Of course there are many symbols in this story….the wild beasts chasing him are his own selfish hungers, the bandits are the poisons of ego and selfish pleasures that are always tempting us. The River of Fire is a symbol of our own anger and greed, the River of Water is a symbol of our Ignorance. The narrow White Path is the symbol of the Nembutsu Path, the path that can carry us across to the Other Shore. The first voice is the voice of Shakyamuni Buddha showing us the way to Enlightenment. The second voice is the voice a Amida Buddha assuring us the safety of the Pure Land.
Each of us is that man frozen with fear and not knowing what to do. At various times in our lives, we come to a crisis. However, to me the real significance of this story is that the man does not become a monk or a nun as a disciple of the Buddha. Most Buddhist stories end with becoming a monk or a nun. In this story, the main person is just an ordinary person. Shinran saw the importance of this story and quoted it in his main writing, the Kyo-Gyo-Shin-Sho.
We cannot but appreciate the importance of ordinary people coming to Amida, reciting the Nembutsu, saying Namu Amida Butsu. This is the treasure of Shin Buddhism: ordinary people finding Awakening. Until Honen and Shinran, one had to be a monk or a nun to be even eligible to find Enlightenment. Shinran showed us that Path of the Nembutsu. To me, this is the key to Shin Buddhism. That is, ordinary people living ordinary lives and yet to be Embraced by Amida.
Namu Amida Butsu
The Six Paramitas (Perfections)
Twice a year, as Rev. Ron says in his Dharma talk, the earth is in balance. What is our own balance? What keeps us from living this life fully, with awareness, joy and gratitude? The six Paramitas (perfections) may provide a starting point for such reflections.
The Six Paramitas describe the characteristics of a well-lived Buddhist life.
Endeavoring to practice them in everyday situations is a lifelong journey.
1 - Giving
To freely give with a heart of great compassion.
To give without expecting anything in return.
To give thinking of the needs of others without considering one’s own benefit.
The practice of dāna, giving, was originally prescribed by Sakyamuni Buddha for householders to give in support of the Sangha and the poor. With the rise of the Mahayana, dāna was included in the Six Paramitas of bodhisattva practice.
2 – Discipline
Moral conduct, upholding precepts
Corresponds to: Right Speech, Right Conduct, Right Livelihood in the Eightfold Path
In the face the face of difficulty and injury, to practice patience and forbearance by calming the mind and not giving rise to anger and hatred.
In the Discourse on the Stages of Concentration Practice, three elements of forbearance are described: (1) not giving rise to anger, (2) not clinging to hatred and grudges, and (3) not harboring ill will
The Sutra on the Mahayana Principle of the Six Paramitas states that the perfection of forbearance requires one to transcend the discriminating mind that separates self from other and good from bad.
In the Sūtra on Understanding Profound and Esoteric Doctrine, the following three aspects of forbearance are described: (1) tolerating anger and injury committed by others toward oneself, (2) calmly accepting all suffering that befalls oneself, and (3) discerning the truth in contemplating all phenomena.
To put forth a spirited and courageous effort in seeing the path to enlightenment.
To strive vigorously to cultivate goodness and cease committing evil deeds.
In his Commentary on the Sutra on Superior Birth, Cien Dashi describes the following two aspects of diligence: “[The word ‘diligence is made up of two Chinese characters ‘shō and ‘jin’] ‘Shō’ means ‘purity’ in the sense that no evil is mixed in. ‘Jin’ means to advance on the path without negligence or laziness.”
In modern day Japan, “diligent cuisine” has come to refer to Buddhist vegetarian cooking. This reflects the understanding that one who diligently pursues the path of Buddhist practice will strive to strictly observe the precepts against taking life and consuming intoxicants.
5 - Concentration
Corresponds to: Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration (Samadhi) in the Eightfold Path
To focus the mind on a single point of concentration such that one arrives at a mental state free of distraction.
Through calming the activity of the mind in meditation, one establishes the ground for realizing insight and wisdom.
The working that brings about the realization of awakening by illuminating that which is true and severing the distraction of falsehood.
The ability to correctly apprehend all things and see the true nature of reality.
In Japanese wisdom is written with the Chinese characters “chi” and “e.” “Chi” refers to illumination of the mind and understanding of worldly truth in the realm of discriminating consciousness. “E” refers to illumination of absolute truth in the realm of enlightenment.
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.
For a free PDF download of Ken Tanaka’s latest book Jewels: An Introduction to Buddhism visit www.bdkamerica.org. A print copy is available for a $6 donation. Please visit www.clevelandbuddhisttemple.org to order.