Sunday, November 14, 2010

Thoughts upon awakening...


Dharma Friends,

This morning, as I woke up, this thought was bubbling up for me:

WHAT WE YEARN FOR IS THE PURE LAND.

Now I can't remember exactly (so maybe someone will refresh my memory), but I don't think those words are original with me. I'm pretty sure I read them, from either Master Shinran or Master Rennyo.

But it really doesn't matter where I read them. What matters is that those words are true - in my life, at least, and I know in the lives of others, too.

I'm no saint, for sure - and no one who knows me would ever confuse me with one. But the plain truth is that I really do yearn for the day when I will awaken in Amida's Pure Land, and seem Him face to face, and experience the final transformation into Buddhahood.
On some days, my yearning is like a great roaring fire. I feel like I can't wait, like the moment of leaving this body and this life can't come soon enough. Typically, those are the days when the weight of samsaric life hangs most heavily upon me.

And then there are other days where samsaric life isn't so bad - and sometimes is actually damn good. On those days, the great roaring fire of yearning is more like a bed of coals.

There's an old saying attributed to some well-known Japanese Shin Buddhist whose name escapes me right now. It translates to this: "OK if I live. OK if I die".

That's a nice sort of serenity to enjoy - a gentle acceptance of however and whenever the path of life, death and transformation unfolds.

I think most folks - Buddhist or not - finds it pretty easy to accept the first part of that: "OK if I live". Of course, someone who is "in extremis", physically or mentally, might not think it's OK just to keep living. I certainly know what that feels like - and so do many, many others. That's a very real part of what suffering in this world is all about.

But I think that "OK if I die" is not at all a common sentiment for most people, unless they have given up the life impulse (EROS) as folks often do when they are terminally ill.

For most people, the underlying sentiment is really what the poet Dylan Thomas talked about when he said,

"Do not go gentle into that good night
Rage, rage against the dying of the light".

I have to say, that as a person of SHINJIN - the SHINJIN given to me by Amida Buddha, that just doesn't compute.

Of course, I do what I can to stay alive. I've got a daughter who wouldn't want me to leave her. And I have some commitments in this world, to share the Dharma with those who are being called by Amida. Those commitments, both to my daughter and my Dharma friends, are karmic - given to me by Amida - and so I hold them as important, and not to be abandoned lightly.

But certainly, when it is my time to go, I am not going to "rage, rage against the dying of the light".

Why? Because in fact when I leave this world, I will be going into the light - not into the darkness. I will be going into the world of reality, and leaving behind this world of ephemeral dreams.

What seems so real to us - the here and now of our lives, individually and corporately - is really but a dream, the Buddha teaches us. It is only when we become fully and finally enlightened that we awaken from this dream at long last.

I can't prove that this is true, but deep down inside I bear witness that it is, in fact, the truth.

That which we think is substantial is really insubstantial. That which we think is ephemeral is really the true substance of existence.

Do I act that way in my daily life? Sometimes, but often not. I'm just a bonbu, after all - a spiritual idiot easily confused - a forgetful person who can get all caught up in the dramas and attachments of day to day existence. I have Buddhist attention deficit disorder, just like most other Buddhists, do. I'm no sage - but just a plain person, like most everyone else.

But even though I'm just a plain person, I still yearn. I yearn for the Pure Land. I yearn for Nirvana - the quenching of the fire that burns me from deep inside. I yearn for the end of untold ages of suffering, and the beginning of an eternity of Buddhahood.

Ultimately, Dharma Friends, that is what Buddhism is actually all about. Everything else is just details.

The ESSENCE of Buddhism concerns what it is that we actually want. What we want is to become Buddhas. That is the goal. That is the destination.

The DETAILS of Buddhism concerns what paths, opportunities and options we have to get to the great goal - the end of our journey across the ocean of birth and death.

Some 2500 years ago, in a place in Southern India called Vulture Peak, Shakyamuni Buddha first unveiled a particular path - a particular opportunity - a particular option.

It was an option no one had ever heard of before, in all the teachings that Shakyamuni Buddha had given up until that point. But when the time was right, his cousin, the monk Ananda, asked Him WHY he was glowing with such an unearthly glow on this particular day, as He sat in profound meditation before Ananda and thousands of others.

The Buddha looked at Ananda and asked him, "Did you think of this question yourself, Ananda - or did some angelic being tell you to ask it".

Ananda replied that the question was his, and his alone.

Shakyamuni Buddha replied that because Ananda had asked this singular question, untold benefit would accrue to countless beings.

And then, Shakyamuni began to reveal what had previously not been revealed: the story of another Buddha - a transcendental Buddha named AMIDA.

Why was this story - and particularly the revelation of it - so important?

Because Amida Buddha has done what no other Buddha - including Shakyamuni Buddha - could do.

Sure, Shakyamuni Buddha was able to develop and offer many Dharma doors for many people. But those Dharma doors all required intense dedication, if the person was to make any serious and sustained progress towards the final goal of Buddhahood.

Those were Dharma doors for the BEST of us.

But Amida did something far greater. He created a Dharma door for the REST of us.

I've thought many times how ironic it is that the very simplicity of the Dharma door created by Amida is such a great stumbling block for the "educated" folks of our day. For so many, whose minds have been soaked in the modernist paradigms of Jung, Campbell, Armstrong etc, it is just impossible to even admit the possibility that there could be such a thing as a transcendental Buddha. That just seems too...PRIMITIVE.

And so, starting from the premise that Shakyamuni's words in The Larger Sutra can't possibly be true, in any more than a mythical, allegorical kind of way - they try to work their way back to some deconstructed and reconstructed version of Shin Buddhism.

- Amida Buddha becomes an amorphous sort of monism.

- The Pure Land becomes a metaphor for having a Buddha mind.

- And as for what happens after death...well, who knows and who cares, really.

That's very, very sad. It's tragic, really. And one day, those who say such things will recognize just how tragic it really is.

You see, Dharma Friends, those who deny transcendental reality, whether they call themselves Shin Buddhists or not, are not really CHANGING the way that reality actually is. All they are doing is insuring that they will continue on in endless rounds of birth and death, after this life is over.

It's like someone who is impoverished, and comes upon a chunk of rock, and doesn't recognize it for the diamond it is. So he throws the rock aside, and thereby insures that he will continue in his poverty.

Someone who KNOWS that rock is really a diamond would call out to the impoverished one, if he could. He would tell him not to throw the rock away, but rather to guard it with his life, and take it to a jeweler to be polished and cut.

But if a person is deluded and ignorant, will he be willing to let go - tentatively - of his delusion and his ignorance? Will he be willing to suspend his own disbelief? Will he be willing to invest the time, the energy, the effort in REALLY determining whether that rock is actually a diamond, or not?

At any given time, some will and some won't.

Those who will - who will sit in the midst of their ignorance and unknowing - who will ask the Buddha within to lead and guide them into truth - will find the truth is revealed to them.

The old saying, "When the student is ready, the teacher appears" was never more true than it is for a sincere inquirer who is willing to listen deeply to the Dharma, laying aside all pre-conceived notions and ideas, and wait patiently and humbly for the truth to emerge.

Those who won't - well, they will have an infinite number of opportunities to do differently some time in the indeterminate future.

Eventually, even the most stubborn, self-absorbed and block-headed person will come to a place of readiness. In this life, it took me a long long time - and much suffering - before I was able to let go of my own fascination with my nickel's worth of understanding, and became willing to "empty my cup" so the Buddha could pour me some of his tea.

And who knows how many lifetimes it took me to get to this place!

So each and every one has his or her own time - a time when karmic conditions are ripe - a time when the person is ready - FINALLY - to listen deeply to the Dharma of Shakyamuni Buddha and Shinran Shonin.

And how does it happen? How does a person actually GET to this place? What is the catalyst?

The catalyst is what I mentioned in the beginning. It cannot be said too much or too often. It is that sacred YEARNING - the yearning that lies deep inside each and every sentient being - the yearning to become what we were always meant to be - the yearning to become true Buddhas, at long last.

When a person finally connects with that primal yearning - the yearning for Buddhahood - Amida's salvation is not far away.

That's why I say so often that this sacred yearning is the North Star for us all. As long as we follow it - as long as we allow it to pull us along - that yearning will guide us, step by step, until we are actually ready to meet a true teacher of The True Teaching of the Pure Land Way.

And then, it will be that same yearning that empowers us to truly listen deeply - with our minds and our hearts - to the simple Dharma of True Shin Buddhism.

And then, once we have listened, that same yearning will enable us to wait patiently for the Buddha within to reveal the truth of the True Teaching to us.

For me to tell you that Amida is a real Buddha, and not just an archetypal figure, is one thing. For you to hear that yourself from the Buddha within, is something entirely different.

So then, realizing that this is the path to Buddhahood available for us, and that there is no other - that same deep yearning will encourage us to take full and final refuge in the living Buddha Amida - entrusting ourselves and our karmic destiny entirely to Him.

This is all so doable - so easy - for anyone, whether you are an illiterate or a Ph.D. - IF that yearning for Buddhahood is alive and well within you.

And now, the time is right - and the gift of authentic SHINJIN can be received at last.

FINALLY, when the gift has been received, you KNOW. You KNOW that you are saved by Amida Buddha. You KNOW that at the end of this life you will awaken in Amida's Pure Land. You KNOW that as soon as you awaken there, you will complete the transformation into Buddhahood.

And because you KNOW those things...it is OK if you live, and OK if you die.

That's how it is for me. And that's how it can be for you, too.

Namu Amida Butsu.
Thank You, Amida Buddha.
Gassho,

Paul

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