Thursday, January 14, 2016
Dharma Discussions versus Debates
For me the words of the sutras and the Masters are supreme, the story told by Shakyamuni about Amida is the true Dharma, while for others the 'Dharma' is a continuous process of change and adaptation to their unenlightened minds, personal beliefs or opinions. So, what can we talk or debate about here? I accept the actual and literal existence of Amida Buddha and His Pure Land, while they think of them as metaphors, symbols or even compare Amida with a fictional character. It is like we live on different planets. What can we really discuss about?
The truth is that unless one is ready to empty his cup of personal interpretations, there is no reason to talk with him or her about Amida Dharma. The karma of some fake followers is simply not ripe for true listening as even when they read or hear the Dharma they listen only to the noise of their own minds. They have no devotion and treat the Dharma like property, not like the supreme medicine given by the Buddha. So what can we talk or debate about?
I have always said it and will continue to say it - the Amida Dharma is not debatable because it is THE DHARMA. You can debate on any worldly matter and agree or disagree, change this or that, etc, but you cannot debate on the Dharma, because the Dharma is the supramundane Path taught by the Buddha. As long as you do not have a supramundane or enlightened mind, you are in no position to debate or change the Dharma. Unenlightened beings should instead approach the Amida Dharma with awe, devotion and faith, as Shakyamuni instructed us to accept His Larger Sutra:
“You should single heartedly accept in faith, uphold, and chant this sutra, and practice in accordance with its teachings”.
“I have expounded this teaching (sutra) for the sake of sentient beings and enabled you to see Amitayus (Amida) and all in His Land. Strive to do what you should. After I have passed into Nirvana, do not allow doubt to arise.”
Mind you, the Jodo Shinshu is not a Dharma gate of smart koans or of doubting everything until you reach satori, but the Dharma Gate of Faith. Please do not confuse the various Dharma Gates taught by the Buddha, because what applies to one Dharma gate, it does nor apply to another. The various teachings of self-power schools do NOT apply to the Dharma Gate of the Pure Land where the key element is listening with devotion and accept in faith. If one really thinks that this Dharma Gate is not for him, it is better to leave it than trying to transform it to suit his doubts.
As a priest I am always here to help, and I want so much to help others receive faith. But I cannot help those who do not want to hear the Dharma as it is - I mean, as it was taught by Shakyamuni and the Masters. I cannot help people who lack devotion to hear and understand a Dharma Gate which is based on devotion and faith.
Far from me to say that people with doubts should not approach Amida Dharma! On the contrary, they should and must approach it! But while acknowledging their doubts they must accept that the Dharma is what Shakyamuni and the Masters taught, and resist their tendency to change it because they doubt it.
I am available anytime, and ready to help and support people with doubts if they have the will to listen and solve those doubts, but I cannot help people with both doubts and arrogance. The first can be saved because although they have doubts, they are in a learning mood, and they accept that the Dharma is different from their personal opinions, while the later cannot be saved because they think the Dharma should be changed to accomodate their doubts or personal opinions. The first want to discuss about the Dharma, while the latter want only debates, that is, to promote their egocentric visions to others. Master Shinran and Rennyo encouraged sincere Dharma discussions in which people can acknowledge their doubts, chose between true and wrong understanding, and be helped to receive faith, but were against debates where only the noise of ego can be heard.
Here are a few well known passages for reflection:
"Each of those lacking faith should by all means raise their doubts and discuss what it is to have faith or be without it".
" In brief, it is essential that each of those lacking faith have discussions of faith with one another from now on".
"The meetings are occasions when, even if only once a month, just those who practice the nembutsu should at least gather in the meeting place and discuss their own faith and the faith of others. Recently, however, because matters of faith are never discussed in terms of right and wrong, the situation is deplorable beyond words.
In conclusion, there must definitely be discussions of faith from now on among those at the meetings. For this is how we are to attain birth in the true and real land of Utmost Bliss".
(Rennyo Shonin, Letters)
"Regardless of our doubts, if we listen intently with our entire being, we will be given shinjin because of Great Compassion. The Buddhist teaching begins and ends in hearing."
(Thus I Have Heard from Rennyo Shonin)
"What I have been saying to all of you from many years past has not changed. Simply achieve your birth, firmly avoiding all scholarly debate".
Shinran Shonin, Letters
Also Shinran related the contrast between Master Honen's encounter with people opened to Amida Dharma and those having their minds closed and focused on debates:
"I remember him (Master Honen) smile and say, as he watched humble people of no intellectual pretensions coming to visit him, 'Without doubt their birth is settled.' And I heard him say after a visit by a man brilliant in letters and debating, 'I really wonder about his birth.' To this day these things come to mind."
Clearly, those who are focused on debates do not even think there is something wrong with their understanding, so for them, there are no doubts to be solved. According to Rennyo Shonin, they are in the category of those who "lack good from the past". In one of his letters he described such people as false followers which are incapable to detach themselves from their wrong views:
"These days, as in the past, it seems that many of those who call themselves followers of the Buddha-Dharma and extol and proclaim the teaching in various places in the provinces are themselves not truly grounded in the right teaching of our tradition. When we ask the reason for this, the answer is that in the first place, although they act as if they knew the Buddha-Dharma in depth, no part of their understanding has been gained from authentic sources. Some have heard the teaching quite by chance, from the edge of a veranda or from outside a sliding door; their aspiration for the Buddha-Dharma is in truth shallow, and they think there is no one who knows better than they what the Buddha-Dharma is all about. Consequently, when they happen to see people who proclaim our tradition's right teaching in the correct manner, they cling persistently to their own biased views. "
and with whom the Amida Dharma should not be discussed, much less debated:
"When we consider presenting our tradition's Other-Power faith, we must first distinguish between the people who have good from the past and those who lack good from the past. For, however long ago a person may have listed his name as a participant in this tradition, it will be difficult for one who lacks good from the past to attain faith. Indeed, faith will of itself be decisively settled in the person for whom past good has unfolded. And so, when we discuss the two [kinds of] practices - right and sundry - in the presence of people who lack good from the past, this may lay the foundation for slander, contrary to what one would expect. To teach extensively in the presence of ordinary people without understanding this principle of the presence or absence of good from the past is in total opposition to our tradition's rules of conduct.
Hence the Larger Sutra says, 'If a person lacks roots of good, he will not be able to hear this sutra' and 'to hear this sutra and to sustain faith (shingyō) are the most difficult of all difficulties; nothing surpasses these difficulties".
It is clear now why the modernists or so called, "progressive Buddhists" cannot accept the story of Amida Buddha in the Larger Sutra, and why they call Amida a myth, metaphor, symbol or fictional character. It is clear why they cannot take into consideration the fact that ALL the audience gathered together at the Vulture Peak to hear this sutra actually saw Amida Buddha and His Pure Land:
“I have expounded this teaching (sutra) for the sake of sentient beings and enabled you to see Amitayus (Amida) and all in His Land. Strive to do what you should. After I have passed into Nirvana, do not allow doubt to arise.” (Shakyamuni Buddha)
Indeed, what can be said to such people, and what debates or so called "discussions" can a person of true faith really have with them? We should clearly follow the advice of our Masters and step aside, leting them experience the full extent of their wrong attitude in the hope that one day, better sooner than later, they will realize their mistakes and enter that learning mood which will help them to solve their doubts.
Believe me, that I engaged many times in endless talks with closed minds, trying to open them like one opens a sealed tin can, and instead of helping, our so called 'discussion' became more and more a "foundation for slander" (as Rennyo described it) on their part. When one does not realize he needs help and does not ask for help in solving his doubts, no ammount of scholarship or wise debates will make his mind open.
So, again, my heart advice is this - stay away from debates and try your best to help those who really want to be helped.
- fragment from a letter to a friend -
 Koan is a word or a phrase of nonsensical language which cannot be “solved” by the intellect. It is used as an exercise to break through the limitations of conventional thought and to develop intuition, giving the practitioner the chance to reach an awareness beyond duality. They are used as meditation objects in Rinzai Zen. However, very often these koans are treated by many as mere intellectual interesting games, loosing in this way their original function.