Thursday, 30 March 2006
"Nembutsu"- To contemplate on the Buddha, in Jodo-Shinshu to recite the "Name" in gratitude.
"Namo Amida Butsu", The sacred Name- A transliteration of the Sanshrit phrase, "I take refuge in the Buddha of Immeasurable [Light and Life]"; Shinran interpreted this phrase as embodying Amida or Oneness itself. Folowers recite it on their own or together at temples as expression of deeply felt gratitude. Reciting the nembutsu repeatedly during the day helps bring Buddha and Dharma to present mind.
"Other Power" (tariki ): The spiritual caring that we experience as the working of Amida's Primal Vow, when we abandon self-power practices or attempts to totally control our lives.
"Primal Vow" (purva-pranidhana or hongan ): In the sacred story Amida raises forty-eight (the 18th being paramount or primal) Bodhisattva vows as the expression of the wish and prayer for all beings to be enlightened.
It declares: "If, when I attain Buddhahood, sentient beings in the lands of the ten directions who sincerely and joyfully entrust themselves to me, desire to be born in my land, and contemplate on my name even as many as ten times, should not be born there, may I not attain perfect enlightenment. Excluded, however, are those who commit the five gravest offenses and abuse the right Dharma. (Pure Land, p. 243)
Upon making the vows, Bodhisattva Dharmakara cultivated the Six Perfections ( Paramitas) practices for a period of innumerable eons. And ten eons ago, he realized full enlightenment as Amida Buddha and has resided ever since in the Sukhavati Pure Land located billions of Buddha lands to the west .
In this sacred story, we find the narrative that makes up the centerpiece of Jodo-Shinshu teaching. Its importance becomes clear when we see that the central object of reverence in the shrine is Amida Buddha, not Shakyamuni Buddha. (Ocean, p 73)
Shinjin Awareness- Transformation in the present life, e-shin, "the transformed mind". In breaking with the earlier Pure Land teachers, Shinran Shonin stressed the here-and-now, rather than the afterlife. This has contributed to Shinran's popularity among spiritual seekers in modern times, "This Shinjin is none other than Buddha nature."
Buddha nature and its related teachings such as the Buddha-womb (tathagata-garbha in Sanskrit) is talked about by virtually all Mahayana schools, including the Pure Land tradition. To compare Buddha nature with Amida Buddha is like comparing apples and oranges. It is more correct to compare Buddha nature with Shinjin. Both doctrines refer to the inner dimension. However, Shinjin and Buddha nature are not possible without the "outer" reality of Amida or Dharmakaya that embraces all beings. Shinran Shonin explains, "This Tathagata (Buddha) pervades the countless worlds; it fills the hearts and minds of the ocean of all beings.''
Shinran Shonin viewed Shinjin awareness as a realization equal to that of the Stream-enterer of the Theravadins, or the Stage of Joy of the Hua-yen or Kegon school. These two stages are accepted by virtually all schools of Buddhism and are essentially of the same level. This level is the initial level of enlightenment at which we are assured of the complete enlightenment that all Buddhas realize. In other words, we can no longer fall back to the lower spiritual levels. That is why it is referred to as the Stage of Nonretrogression. Persons who realize this stage share two qualities: 1) Insight into the truth that all existences are not discrete and separate but are interdependent, and 2) Absence of doubt regarding the teaching.
Shinjin awareness and the "insights of the Stream-enterer" or "at the Stage of Joy" are somewhere in the "middle" of Zen satori's range of meaning. Satori can mean anything from realizing the wisdom of a fully-awakened Buddha, to the gaining of sudden insight about human nature. Those of Shinjin awareness and other similar attainments have not yet fully overcome greed, hatred, pride and ignorance, which are deeply seated and difficult to eliminate.
In Shinjin awareness we become aware of the same truth as the other Buddhists. In reaching the first level of enlightenment we are no longer attached to the idea that everything is separate and not interconnected; we become aware of Oneness through our deepened understanding of the Four Marks of Existence. In Jodo-Shinshu, this Oneness is referred to as Other Power or Amida's Primal Vow. What makes Shinjin awareness special is that we also become aware of our own foolish human nature. These two, respectively, are none other than the supportive ocean (Oneness, Amida, etc.) and the drowning swimmer (foolish self) in our metaphor. The ocean is more fundamental. Ocean is the truth which resolves our drowning human predicament!
The other prominent quality of Jodo-Shinshu is the absence of doubt. The elimination of doubt corresponds to the second quality of the initial level of enlightenment common to all Buddhist schools. Shinran Shonin explains:
"Truly we know, then, that this is called Shinjin because it is untainted by the hindrance of doubt." The doubt that is eliminated in Shinjin awareness is the doubt we have about the truth of the Primal Vow and its meaning.
Shinran Shonin spoke of ten spiritual benefits of Shinjin awareness in the present life: The benefit of 1) being protected and sustained by unseen powers, 2) being possessed of supreme virtues, 3) having our karmic evil transformed into good, 4) being protected and cared for by all the Buddhas, 5) being praised by all the Buddhas, 6) being constantly protected by the light of the Buddha's heart, 7) having great joy in our hearts, 8) being aware of Amida's benevolence and responding in gratitude to his virtues, 9) constantly practicing great compassion and 10) entering the Stage of the Truly Settled (shojoju), the Non-retrogressive State. Shinran broke with tradition to argue that this level of the truly settled can be achieved in this life.
JODO-SHINSHU AS A UNIQUE BUDDHIST SCHOOL
Four factors that set Jodo-Shinshu apart: 1 ) Absence of meditation, 2) No superstitious beliefs or worldly benefits, 3) Non-monastic priesthood, and 4) Superficial similarities with Christianity.
Jodo-Shinshu does not require meditation like most other schools of Buddhism. To use an analogy, if we are like the circus tightrope walkers, then meditation provides us with the technique of how to walk and the pole to balance ourselves. In contrast, Jodo-Shinshu lends little assistance on the "how" of walking but simply says, "Don't worry, there is a safety net in case you fall!" With that assurance, we are able to be ourselves and walk naturally across.
Is there really no practice in Jodo-Shinshu? There are two meanings of "practice". One is to cultivate and change one's nature, especially to eradicate greed, hatred and delusion. This demands utmost dedication which essentially only the monks and nuns can satisfactorily carry out. The second meaning, however, does not call for such extreme change in nature but fosters self-reflection, trust and a new awareness about oneself and the world. Shinran Shonin rejected the first type of practice, calling it "self power" (jiriki) that belongs to the "gate to the path of the sages" (shodo-mon).
"Self-power is the effort to attain birth (in the Pure Land), ... by endeavoring to make yourself worthy through amending the confusion in your acts, words, and thoughts, confident of your own powers and guided by your own calculation. Other Power is the entrusting of yourself to the 18th among Amida Tathagata's Vows, the Primal Vow of birth through nembutsu, which Amida selected from among all other practices."
Shinran Shonin rejected the first type of practice? There are a number of reasons. The first and foremost is that enlightenment is already here and now, right under our feet. Do you recall the drowning swimmer struggling in the ocean metaphor? He awakened to the fact that he was safe and sound right where he was, in the middle of the ocean. Simply by a shift in his awareness, he found himself embraced by a supporting ocean. This awakening did not require him to swim to the distant island to find safety. The ocean was safe all along; the sailor simply needed to awaken to that truth. The ocean is that "Other Power" about which Shinran Shonin speaks so often.
Shinran Shonin chose the second type of practice, "self effort". In Jodo-Shinshu it has primarily taken the form of "listening to the Dharma" (monpo). We listen to the Dharma by seriously and intently listening to the Dharma talks given by teachers and, in a broader sense of the word, by studying the traditional scriptures and writings of contemporary teachers. Through intense and sincere listening, we are transformed to internalize the Buddhist ideals. This internalization (Shinjin Awareness) allows us to practice the teachings in daily life, in general accordance with the same aims of precepts and meditations of the other Buddhist schools.This "self-effort," is distinguished from "self power". Self-effort is vital and needed. It is "practicing" without the self-centered motivation and attitudes of self-power!
Actually, so long as one does not see his or her efforts as directly causing enlightenment, a Jodo-Shinshu Buddhist is free to engage in any of the well-known forms of practice, including Zen and Vipasanna (of Theravada) meditations. Jodo-Shinshu strongly rejects the idea that our actions in themselves cause our enlightenment. When Jodo-Shinshu Buddhists practice, we do it out of a sense of gratitude. The late Prof. Ryukyo Fujimoto, a widely respected teacher of many active Jodo-Shinshu priests in North America, spoke of this gratitude:
"Birth through Faith alone, as based on the Eighteenth Vow, does not by any means discourage other Buddhist practices. They must, however, be performed in a spirit of gratitude toward the Tathagata (Amida Buddha). When we act out of deep-felt gratitude, we become less self-centered."
You can do what you want for practice as long as you do it with the proper attitude of gratitude.
Jodo-Shinshu Services-- Have chanting, singing, pledges and quiet reflection, all centered around the Dharma talk usually delivered by a priest/minister/teacher. Chanting comes closest to what non-Buddhists and other Buddhists would regard as practice.
Chanting the words of Shakyamuni Buddha in the Pure Land sutras or from the words of Shinran Shonin does honor and praise their virtues as well as helps internalize the meaning of their words. Chanting is done together with everyone gathered at the service. Both adults and children chant together. This fosters an intimate sense of connectedness with others, much more so than when we sit in meditation on our own. When we share the same experience through chanting, we develop a positive and trusting attitude toward others and ultimately toward the world. We then become more capable of realizing the caring that we receive in our lives and so become able to identify with the swimmer in our metaphor who demonstrated complete trust in the caring ocean.
Chanting serves a function very similar to meditation in Zen, particularly of the Soto line of Zen where sitting meditation does not in and of itself directly cause awakening. Meditation is understood more as an expression of enlightenment. The same can be said of chanting and particularly of Nembutsu (the utterance of the Name of Amida, "Namo Amida Butsu").
Jodo-Shinshu firmly rejects any use of its teachings to gain worldly or secular benefits. The Jodo-Shinshu Preamble says, "We shall not conduct petitionary prayers for secular benefits or magical acts, and shall not rely on fortune telling and other superstitious acts." This lasting dislike for such acts supports Shinran Shonin's stance against using religion to gain worldly benefits (seeking everything from success in university entrance exams to household prosperity, longevity, and protection from fire). These requests are certainly not evil in the secular sense, but they go against the Buddhist principle (Second Noble Truth) that desire is the cause of suffering. Shinran Shonin was, thus, strongly against such practices.
JODO-SHINSHU HAS MINISTERS & TEACHERS, NOT MONKS
Jodo-Shinshu has a "non-monastic priesthood". Most North Americans who turn to Eastern religions, including Buddhism, look to charismatic spiritual teachers who are monks or nuns. The Dalai Lama of the Tibetan tradition is the best example of this kind of teacher. Zen and Theravada teachers also fit this ideal image. Many westerners find their shaven heads and flowing robes attractive.
In contrast, the Jodo-Shinshu priests look like ordinary people. In most cases, their heads are not shaved and in North America, men wear neckties and suits or dress casually. They wear their religious robes only for ceremonial services. You might see male priests baby-sitting their infant children while working around the temple. They are a far cry from the common Western image of a Buddhist teacher!
Plus, the Shinshu Sangha is often referred to as a "Community of Fellow Seekers and Fellow Travelers" (ondobo ondogyo). In this relationship, though the priests may be at the head of the group, they are nevertheless traveling together toward the common goal. The priests are not agents or representatives of Amida Buddha nor are they regarded as "gurus" who hold absolute authority over spiritual lives of the members. In fact, the tradition has been extremely careful not to foster "guru worship" of any kind and has worked hard particularly in North America to apply democratic ideals to matters related to the role of priests. This view is reflected in Shinran Shonin's self image as "neither monk nor lay".
JODO-SHINSHU TEACHINGS AS COMPARED TO CHRISTIANITY
Human Nature: Christians regard humans as deeply sinful (original sin and acquired sin) while Jodo-Shinshu regard humans as foolish (bombu). Both religions see human nature as self-centered, and assert that almost all people are unable to change their nature fundamentally through their own efforts.
The Ultimate: In Christianity God is ultimate, while it is Amida Buddha in Jodo-Shinshu. Both God and Amida represent spiritual power that lies outside our human capabilities. Both also have qualities that are diametrically opposed to the "sinful" Christians and "foolish" Jodo-Shinshu Buddhists.
God is the all powerful supernatural being who is the Maker, Lord and Father. Amida has none of the same characteristics, but is the "spiritual power" that we experience as understanding and caring in our lives.
Both teachings find humans to be incapable of realizing their spiritual goal by pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps. Because of our sinful or foolish nature respectively, nothing we do can liberate us. So, no works or disciplines are required. Instead, our spiritual resolution relies on power beyond the self: God's grace in Christianity and the Other Power in Jodo-Shinshu.
Human Imperfection: Christian sin implies a failure to keep one's promise with God by not living in accordance with his will. The focus is on one's relationship to God. In contrast, foolishness (bombu) in Jodo Shinshu stems from being awakened by the Buddha's wisdom. The focus is the realization of one's inability to overcome one's self-centered attachments through one's own power. So, they differ in the reasons why humans are believed to be imperfect.
There is a subtle difference in the way we relate to the transcendent spiritual source. Christians maintain an ongoing personal relationship with God who exists independently from humans and the world. This relationship is maintained largely through prayers, sacraments and contemplation. In contrast, Jodo-Shinshu Buddhists do not regard Amida as a divine being with whom they maintain an ongoing relationship. They realize their essential oneness with Amida in their oral recitation, for Amida is none other than the Name, "Namo Amida Butsu"
THE MIDDLE PATH OF JODO-SHINSHU BUDDHISM- SUMMARY
Jodo-Shinshu offers a "middle path." It has many familiar Buddhist teachings as we've discussed earlier, plus the appeal of family orientation and the collective and emotional involvement in the religious services. But Jodo-Shinshu also offers freedom from many of the things seekers give as reasons for leaving their original religions: for example, 1) an oppressive sense of guilt, 2) the constant fear of judgment, 3) emphasis on belief and morality, 4) discouragement of questions, 5) rejection of personal experience, 6) belief in an all-knowing, all-powerful God, and 7) the conflict between a loving God and an unhappy world.
Monday, 27 March 2006
Great and kind Quan Shi Yin
Give us the grace to know and recognise you,
In whatsoever form you may take,
On the streets, in the shops, in our work, in our leisure.
Give us the courage to recognise you in pleasure and in pain,
In happiness and unhappiness;
Give us the wisdom that comes from the ability to recognise you
In all your myriad forms,
Not merely the ones we want to see;
Give us compassion to forgive those who are in the grip of delusion,
Prejudice and bigotry;
Grant them the power to know the spirit of the Dharma,
Not merely the ability to read rules and scriptures;
Give us the wisdom to know that what the Christian church teaches
Has been taught by the Buddhas for thousands of years;
Give us the courage to take the Sufis by the hand
And, in their dancing, to know the joy of meditation;
Give us the understanding that the Jewish festivals are celebrated by Buddhas;
Teach people to know that peace in the world
Can only be gained if we make peace with ourselves within our own hearts;
Teach us to know that we are responsible,
Every one of us,
For the conflicts that tear the world,
Because of the greed and duality in our hearts;
Teach us to face ourselves as we really are
By holding up your mirror, in all your manifestations, before us;
Teach us that the Buddha Nature is within all beings,
Of whatever colour, religion or species they may be;
Teach us to be grateful to inanimate objects
For making themselves available for our use;
Teach us that we have not the right
To expect trees and plants to give themselves to us
Without our expressing our gratitude;
Give us the common decency, if nothing more,
To improve the lot of animals,
Without whose suffering at the hands of experimenters,
Many of us would not be alive today;
Teach parents that their children have the right to respect,
Attention, love and acknowledgement of their opinions;
Teach children that their parents’ words
Should be listened to and seriously considered;
Appear on the television screens and in the theatres
And show us the dangers of drug addiction and the evils of crime
That we may be saved therefrom;
Help us to know that all living things
Have the same basic fears, hopes, loves, longings, hunger and thirst,
That they only pretend not to have them for fear of ostracism by society;
Teach us not to be made cowards by circumstances and the truth;
Teach us that an angry person is a frightened person;
Help us to be friends to the lonely;
Give us the sight of your thousand eyes
To see where help is needed
And give us the strength of your thousand arms to give that help;
Teach us not to look at others’ faults but to see our own;
Teach all Buddhists that it is better to live in harmony with each other
Than to argue and fight over doctrine and dogma;
Teach those who slander, curse and revile others
That the only person who gets hurt thereby is themselves
For all curses must, by the law of karma,
Return upon the heads of those who utter them;
Teach those who are slandered to have compassion
For those who are wretched and misguided who utter such curses;
Teach us that, in the whole universe,
The only real enemies are fear and superstition;
Grant to those who seek to control others
The courage to face themselves and their desire for power;
Give us the courage to look into the great mirror
That all living things and inanimate objects hold up before us
And see ourselves as we truly are;
Grant us the intelligence to do something about the reflection;
Teach us that the Buddhas and Ancestors undergo no conceivable harm
By our living our lives naturally;
Teach us to know that an enlightened person is a whole person,
Unfettered by the opinions of others;
Teach us to love and enjoy the blue sky,
The sun, the rain, the snow and the storms that nature sends us;
Give us the wisdom to use the opportunity for perpetual training that they bring;
Grant us that, in the winter of our lives,
We may be able to look back down the years without too much regret;
Help us to face that which is called death truly
For if one can see gods and angels at the moment of death and feel no elation;
If one can be set upon by devils and demons and feel no fear,
One knows true freedom.
By such means as these do we live in eternal meditation.
Dhyana Master Houn Jiyu
Wednesday, 22 March 2006
I found this Primer on the internet. It was produced by the"Acorn sangha", but, sadly, I am unable to find a homepage for this group anymore. It is based on the Kenneth Tanaka book - "Ocean"
KEY BUDDHIST TERMS & TEACHINGS
Buddhism- A religion of awareness and gratitude.
Dharma- The truths by which we try to think and live, the "Oneness" of reality.
The Four Marks of Existence: Are included within the Eightfold Path which is included in the Four Noble Truths.
The Four Noble Truths: 1) We all experience suffering; 2) Suffering is caused by the Three Poisons of greed, hatred and delusion; 3) The end of suffering is nirvana; 4) The path to nirvana or enlightenment is the Eightfold Path.
The Eightfold Path: 1) Wholesome view (Includes the Four Marks of Existence), 2) Wholesome thought, 3) Wholesome speech, 4) Wholesome conduct, 5) Wholesome livelihood, 6) Wholesome effort,7) Wholesome mindfulness, 8) Wholesome meditation.
Four Marks of Existence: 1) Life is a Bumpy road (dukha), 2) Life is Interdependent (anatman, non-self), 3) Life is Impermanent, 4) Life is Fundamentally Good. So, "Think BIIG!"
Unwholesome views? Expecting life to be 1) smooth and easy, 2) detached, just "mine" 3) always the same, and 4) lousy. "Don't Think SMAL!" (smooth, mine, always and lousy).
Six Perfections (paramita): The well-known bodhisattva practices of voluntary sharing of materials and wisdom (dana), precepts or conduct (shila), patience (kshanti), vigor or effort (viriya), meditation (dhyana), and wisdom or awareness(prajna). The Paramitas serve as a point of reference for a balanced life, often being mentioned as part of spring and fall equinox "Ohigan" services celebrating balance. Their practice expresses gratitude and wisdom in Jodo-Shinshu, not moral goodness nor a means toward some reward.
THE SACRED STORY OF AMIDA BUDDHA
Amida (Amitabha) Buddha, Tathata- An expression of the infinite Oneness, life-giving, formless and beyond human understanding. Out of deep compassion Oneness took form as Bodhisattva Dharmakara (hongan), who eventually became Amida Buddha to establish the Pure Land, and to lead beings to Buddhahood (nirvana).
There are fewer and fewer Jodo-Shinshu Buddhists who take the sacred story as fact. Especially in North America, most teachers and lay members understand it as a myth.
Each of us is part of a cosmic, interdependent network of caring forces, seen and unseen, that protect and support us physically, socially, and spiritually. This caring network often expresses itself via family and social relationships. The sacred story of Bodhisattva Dharmakara symbolizes these compassionate, caring forces.
We can think of this cosmic interdependence as representing a deeper awareness about the principle of interdependence, one of the Four Marks of Existence. In our appreciation of the sacred story, we become more confident that a caring reality lies just beneath this "bumpy" daily existence.
THE STORY OF GOTAMA BUDDHA
Shakyamuni (Gotama) Buddha- The founder of Buddhism, was born as a prince of a kingdom in the Himalayan foothills of Northeastern India around 560 BC. He left luxury to become a holy man. He realized enlightenment, became a Buddha, at the age of thirty-five. After that, he ministered and taught through Northeastern India for the next forty-five years. He remained actively engaged until his death around 480 BC. So he actually lived on earth. He is neither a deity nor God.
He taught that difficulties naturally occur and that our reaction to them causes our own suffering. The Buddha's disciples found this teaching extremely liberating and optimistic. They gained a fresh way of understanding the source of their suffering. Suffering was not brought about by gods, chance or fate. They were now in control of their destiny, for they found a path for overcoming suffering through their own effort.
MORE OF GOTAMA BUDDHA'S TEACHINGS
Duhkha (Natural difficulties): 1) birth, 2) aging, 3) illness, 4) death, 5) being separated from loved ones, 6) having to associate with those we dislike, 7) not getting what we desire, and 8) being attached to the five components (skandha); that we call "I" or "self." The five components are 1) physical elements and the senses, 2) feelings or sensations, 3) perception or conception, 4) mental formations or volition, and 5) consciousness.
Karma: "Our action." Our mental and spiritual well-being is determined by our own actions (karma), not by fate, not by chance, not by miracle, and not by divine being. By cultivating correct awareness about life, we gain an upper hand over the "ups and downs of life" and remain generally at peace with ourselves.
Gassho: "Thanks". Gratitude (similar to Christian "thanksgiving") plays a vital role in the thoughts and actions of Buddhists. This is especially true among the Jodo-Shinshu Buddhists for whom gratitude constitutes the primary motivation for much of their religious and worldly actions.
Practice: Buddhist tradition talks about 84,000 ways to practice. All practices cultivate: 1) precepts, 2) meditation, and/or 3) wisdom. The precepts are the rules of conduct, speech, and thought. They give us a framework to focus our lives so we can live the teaching. Practicing meditation helps us to clear our minds and allows us to see the obstructions of unwholesome views. Cultivating wisdom replaces unwholesome views with insight, which frees us from worry, pain, and negative thinking.
The more we become aware, the more we realize Oneness. This relationship is like that of the drowning swimmer who discovered (awareness) the caring Ocean (Oneness) when he let go of his striving and was then able to float to safety. In actual Buddhist life, we engage in some kind of practice to help us realize this awareness.
According to the Dharma, practice fosters wisdom which in turn eliminates and replaces ignorance, the cause of our suffering. Wisdom helps us to live life as it really is, not how we wish it were.
Three Treasures or Jewels (Tri-ratna): The Three Treasures are the Buddha (Awakened One, Teacher), the Dharma (Teachings), and the Sangha (Community of monks, nuns and lay people)
Buddha Nature--"All sentient beings possess Buddha nature''-- This means that not only humans, but animals, birds, fish, and other creatures are all sacred (Have the potential for enlightenment) and should be treated with respect. Humans do not have any right to rule over them. When their lives are taken so we can have food, we must be grateful to them for their sacrifice. We humans must also live well together. We are part of nature, not rulers of nature. We must cherish and protect it.
"Reincarnation" ("transmigration" or "cycle of births and deaths", samsara) can be believed literally or be used to explain some basic things about our existence; that is, each person's life is far more than just the years we spend in our present life. Each of us arrives here because of billions of little things that have happened since the beginning of time. All those little things come together at just this moment so that we can be here right now. For us to even be here is a wonder that no logic can ever explain.
BUDDHISM IS VOLUNTARY, OPEN, PERSONAL & PEACEFUL
"Voluntary" means it's not a "sin" to turn away from the Dharma or teaching. The Buddha called out, "ehi passiko" (come here and see!). If people are interested, they listen.
"Open" means that Buddhism is open-minded about other religions and sects. Buddhists think there are 84,000 ways to enlightenment. What's more, we don't think people are doomed to be punished if they walk other paths.
"Personal" means that there is much value given to personal understanding. Dharma cannot come alive without speaking directly to our unique experience. We do not accept the Dharma blindly. We test how it works in our everyday life. Just before he died, the Buddha said, "Make yourself the light, and make the Dharma the light." Also he cautioned: "Do not accept a statement on the ground that it is found in our books, nor on the supposition that "this is acceptable," nor because it is the saying of your teacher."
"Peaceful"- Throughout history, Buddhists have taught not to be violent towards others just because they believed differently. Buddhists seek blessings for the happiness of all beings. "May all beings be happy" (Loving Kindness Sutra).
A SHORT BUDDHIST HISTORY
Mahayana Buddhism- Started about 100BC. Followers believe that their teachings express the true intent of what the Buddha taught. In their view, all beings have the potential to become Buddhas, and called this potentiality "Buddha nature." The Mahayanists offered a broad gate with hope for all beings. So they thought of themselves as the "Larger Vehicle" and criticized the older schools as "Hinayana" (Theravada, Smaller Vehicle).
Pure Land Buddhism- The largest Buddhist segment in the world. The Pure Land tradition is part of the Mahayana branch, and started around the first century AD, probably in Northwestern India then spread over Asia and now worldwide. Its teaching is expressed in the Larger Sukhavativyuha Sutra, and strongly stresses the Mahayana ideal of enlightenment for everyone. The early Pure Land Buddhists felt that if everyone is to be enlightened, the teachings have to be for men and women strapped down to family life and who often live in a world full of wars, famine and political instability. Pure Land Buddhists still think so today.
The Pure Land Buddhists found hope. Through simpler practices, they could look forward in their next life to a birth in a special realm called Sukhavati (the Realm of Serene Bliss) or Pure Land. There, they would be able to concentrate on completing their training in a perfect environment with the help of a Buddha called Amitabha (in Japanese "Amida") and Bodhisattvas. All those born in the Pure Land are assured of quickly becoming Buddhas. Many elect to return as Bodhisattvas in this and other worlds of birth-and-death (samsara) to help others realize the same spiritual liberation. Pure Land Buddhists believe their teaching shows the true intent of Shakyamuni Buddha: Compassion, expressed as enlightenment for everyone.
Though this nirvana cannot be captured by one single description, our teachers of the past tried to speak of it in mythical ways that would make sense to their audience. The first teachers were talking to people in India over two thousand years ago. They talked about the Pure Land in ways that appealed to the people in that time and place. So, this is only one among many ways to describe nirvana.
Jodo-Shinshu's Shinran Shonin speaks of the Pure Land as the "Land of Immeasurable Light" or the "Land of All Knowing Wisdom" or that "it is infinite, like space, vast and boundless." These descriptions are more rational than mythological. Myths are not false, but are sometimes the best way to talk about important things in life that we cannot make clear by using other forms of language.
Shinran Shonin (1173-1263): Founder of Jodo-Shinshu. He lived during the Kamakura period (1185-1333), a time of momentous political and social changes in Japan. The Jodo-Shinshu developed out of the Jodo school which was founded by Honen, Shinran's teacher and a Pure Land Buddhist leader. Shinran had practiced as a monk for 20 years then left, joining Honen to help found the new school that enabled regular working people to reach enlightenment. He married, had children and pursued the Dharma as a householder and parent.
THE 4 H'S OF SHINRAN: HONESTY, HOUSEHOLDER, HUMILITY & HERE-AND-NOW:
"Honesty" means that he saw himself as he was and told the truth as he saw it. Despite twenty years of training as a monk, he was honest enough to tell the world that he was unfulfilled as a monk. He admitted that he was filled with ordinary selfish feelings: "I know truly how grievous it is that I, Gutoku (the stubble-haired ignorant) Shinran, am sinking in an immense ocean of desires and attachments and am lost in vast mountains of fame and advantage."
"Householder" means that Shinran Shonin's honesty about himself led him to marry and to have children, and yet pursue the Dharma as a householder.
"Humility" comes across clearly when he says, "I do not have a single disciple," even though there were many followers who looked up to him as their teacher. He felt he could not take credit because their reason for seeking his guidance was not his own doing, but the workings of Amida Buddha.
"Here-and-now," refers to his focus on this life. The teachers before him emphasized the future life in the Pure Land. They neglected the spiritual change that is possible in the present life. They gave all their attention to death-bed rituals and visualizations, hoping to ensure rebirth in the Pure Land. Shinran Shonin took a radically different approach. He focused on the here-and-now.