A faith reminder

On this Labor Day weekend in the United States, while people are enjoying the last moments of summer, “faith” might not seem to be a topic to occupy anybody’s mind.

Yet, maybe this is the perfect time to reflect on it, in between burgers and watermelon and games. Our individual understanding of it is what may (and hopefully will) sustain us in the times when we aren’t pleasantly distracted by holidays or celebrations…

“Faith is a response of our being to something greater which calls for our commitment. Some call it God, Buddha, the Tao, Mana, Kami; each person’s faith wears its own garment. We are told that faith moves mountains; that faith is the evidence of things unseen; It is the assurance of things hoped for. Faith is an encounter with the mystery of life which cannot simply be objectified and placed outside us or in our hip pocket. We do not argue faith, we give witness to its power in our lives.”

This is an excerpt from an essay of mine. You are welcome to read it all in Faith Transforms Life.”


Al Bloom

The name that calls

Guest Post…

When I receive correspondence that includes thoughts, opinions, and/or experiences spurred by writings that have appeared in this blog or on the Shin Dharma Net site, I’d like to share them with readers. This is one way we can learn from each other. I trust the following entry will be a source for reflection and add to our joint store of knowledge –Al Bloom

Dear Friends:

I find the nembutsu everywhere. In retrospect I found it when I discovered

Jiddu Krishnamurti’s writings when I was 17 years old. Later, I carried a copy of “Flight of the Eagle” in my back pocket for years, underlining passage after passage, not quite understanding what I was reading but drawn into it.

JK writes about seeing the real versus chasing after the ideal. When you see the reality of the craving, clinging, selfish ego with all its selfish habits (including spiritual seeking) – if you stay with it, really look at it – then something else arises “darkly” (mysteriously).

Also, when I was 17 I bought a book of poetry in a bookstore in Vancouver (travelled there from Michigan with a Canadian friend). In the bag along with the receipt the cashier put a copy of the Hsin Hsin Ming (Sosan, Seng-Ts’an). I had that taped to my wall for years until it got lost in my travels. I still return to that text: “To separate what you like from what you dislike is the disease of the mind.” It seems to me now that it should say “to separate what you like from what you dislike is the disease called the mind.”

The mind seems to only separate. The “inward-turning mind” (Shinran) is the ego, the separator, the ideal-seeker. In one translation at least, the Shin Shin Ming offers what I consider to be a nembutsu teaching. It says (something like) when you see delusion arising, simply say “not two”. That was my nembutsu for years prior to my discovery of Shinran. When I caught myself liking/disliking, loving/loathing/, craving/hating-and seeking something inside me said, or remembered, “not two”.

There’s a contraction – what I sometimes call a gut-crunch or a heart-crunch – and I see my rejection of what is and my desire for something better (or my clinging to what is and my fear of losing it) and when I see this (or when this is “seen”) I hear “not two” or “namandabu namandabu.”

The contraction, the suffering, is my teacher.

There is a simultaneous recognition of suffering and its release in “one thought moment” (if I may borrow that phrase). And so, for me, the “devil” is my teacher, the poison is the cure, the glitch is the key. My own primal, ignorant gut-crunch, when recognized, is actually “the name that calls”!

Prior to hearing this call my only response to this “mechanism of suffering” (to quote non-duality teacher John Wheeler) was to seek an escape from it, to kill it somehow, extinguish it through my own efforts. But my efforts were a part of that mechanism of suffering, and so inevitably my efforts to escape made things worse. How desperate I was!

But one day I was in my car stopped at a red light and the phrase “knot, too” popped into my head. And I thought, the knot (contraction) is “it”, too! So, “not two/knot, too” was punned by my puzzled, puzzling, self-powered brain. That pun stopped, for a moment, my constant effort to make myself better. I relaxed. (I may have teared up.)

A silly pun “came to me” and I felt a kind of grace. And when I say grace, I don’t mean that theistically. I just mean grace as a poetic descriptive word for the indescribable (call it Amida, call it Samantabhadra, just don’t call it supernatural!).

That wasn’t the first time I felt that grace – which is my home, despite myself. It just clicked then, like my blinkers as I was ready to make a turn. As it clicks now when I see this “self”-created primal contraction.

Then something happens “darkly”: I am embraced by true reality.

I find the nembutsu in Zen/Ch’an, in Dzogchen, in Advaita, in the great sage Nisargadatta (his phrase “I am That”, to me, is the same as namu amida butsu). I find it everywhere, because I find my self-seeking everywhere.

Must I condemn myself? Must I damn myself for constantly clutching and grasping and hating?

I can’t get rid of myself. I want constant bliss (pleasure). Where is it? I don’t’ want what I have, I don’t want to be where I am, I don’t want to be who I am.

If I keep seeking, will I find paradise?

My sole occupation is to drive myself crazy. Yet, somehow, I’m hearing something else. What is that?

The truth about all this nonsense is seeping through. Is that the name that calls? Is my craziness itself somehow the gift?

Namu amida butsu.


Embracing effortlessness

Guest Post…

When I receive correspondence that includes thoughts, opinions, and/or experiences spurred by writings that have appeared in this blog or on the Shin Dharma Net site, I’d like to share them with readers. This is one way we can learn from each other. I trust the following entry will be a source for reflection and add to our joint store of knowledge –Al Bloom

While saying the nembutsu once I had a sense that Amida’s light is never an object of our awareness but it is the light that illuminates ourselves. What I mean is that Amida’s light can’t be seen but can be felt when we see the darkest bits of ourselves (illuminated by this invisible light, so to speak). This made me question the way in which I was reciting the nembutsu. Until then I had thought that jiriki was a drive within me to go on reciting the nembutsu forever, whereas tariki was the drive to stop it whenever I felt it was a reasonable time to stop. Then, it seemed the other way round. The drive to let the nembutsu resound forever was in fact beyond my control whereas the other one was my desire to control or channel that flow, my own calculation. However, this does not mean that I recite the nembutsu 24/7 but that in a sense it is always there and my awareness returns to it again and again, though by no means all the time. I think part of what I’m referring to was underlying a question I asked you previously about Tao Cho’s definition of perfect (tariki) and imperfect (jiriki) shinjin. There’s no need to keep reminding myself to say Namu Amida Butsu, since it comes naturally to me and when it does it feels as if it is always there, in the background, ready to leap to the foreground at any time.

Also, as I have been exploring my own sense of failure in regards to Buddhist practice, which did underlie my years of Tibetan Buddhism, I’ve come to a new understanding of myself. I realize I have been trying hard for years to prove myself or to change certain aspects of myself, to no avail. At the end of that effort there’s a sense of despair and failure. At the core of the drive to (im)prove myself is a fundamental lack of confidence or the feeling of being unloved. Without going too much into the details of my personal story, I can identify as a constant thread in my character the resistance to being loved, accepting gifts or any other form of kindness, out of an arrogance that is ultimately fear of being vulnerable or exposed. I can’t obviously love without first feeling loved and therefore I work hard at building the self-protective shell of arrogance, success, achievement that covers my own needs and feelings of vulnerability. Before coming to Shin Buddhism, I realized that I had been using the practice of meditation in that way and that I had neglected the fundamental need to be loved and accepted.

In wrestling with nembutsu and shinjin I realized how I was obviously doing the same thing, building a shell, trying to control and attain something through the drive to prove myself by achieving things by my own efforts. Then I saw the difficulty of accepting shinjin, which was the same resistance I’ve always felt to accepting gifts or affection. I realized that shinjin was indeed the Buddha’s gift, nothing to do with my efforts or wish to prove myself, and how difficult it was to welcome it, to let that years old resistance go. In a sense, there’s nothing I could do to bring about that gift and that’s what made it so difficult to accept. I couldn’t earn it, control it or even deserve it. It’s a completely free gift and that is very hard to deal with. It showed me the depth of my own arrogance and fear, which in an indirect way were cries for protection and warmth. In that realization there’s a giving in to the gift, if only briefly, that fills me with joy and makes me feel loved in a fundamental, unconditional and non-threatening way. This doesn’t feel like the kind of love that would go away or would be transformed into hatred if one does something wrong. In other words, it is not conditional or coercive.

I felt as if a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders. There’s nothing I could do to improve or earn the gift nor could it be taken away or destroyed by whatever I might do wrong. It was beyond me, nothing I could do. That was a great relief and the following imperfect haiku came to mind: “Effortless rainbow/my heart reli(e)ved becomes/namu amida butsu.” Still, the fear, the resistance, and the arrogance are there and they come and go, as they always have. But I feel there’s a little hole of hope; the view is somehow shifted. Also, the constant need to work hard and prove myself is eased, if only slightly, by this sense that I need not do anything to be welcomed into Amida’s realm of awakening (i.e. being loved, becoming awakened, etc.), but simply to accept the gift (s)he extends in namu amida butsu. It’s almost a scary thought, since it exposes and undermines the drive that has articulated most of my life. On the other hand, it feels refreshing, relieving and liberating; both worth relying on and difficult to do because of its utter easiness. It feels somehow like a home, a place I can return to, but certainly not a place I inhabit all the time, or even often. There’s a sense of gratitude towards this space of warmth, this home, which paradoxically reveals further and further my own coldness and lack of gratitude.

It seems to me that your choice of the phrase “self-acceptance” to describe Shinran’s journey is very insightful. Self-acceptance couldn’t happen without first feeling accepted by an-other, likewise with love and compassion. It is impossible to love others if one does not love oneself and it seems equally impossible to love oneself if one does not feel loved by an-other. Self-acceptance happens because others accept us. To accept that acceptance seems to me what lies at the core of letting shinjin happen. By accepting the acceptance, the mind of the Buddha merges or takes over us, because in such accepting space there’s no room for the dichotomies, judgments or insecurities of our little mind (or the mind of doubt, I suppose it could be called too).

E. G-A
Manchester UK

Buddhism and ‘survival of the fittest’

Dear Friends:

There is no clearer evidence for the relevance of Buddhism to the current political debate on the vision for our society and democracy than the reaction of conservative politicians and their supporters to President Obama’s explanation that no one, including the rich, has attained success alone and without assistance from others in some form, whether personal or social/government involvement. He clearly was articulating the principle of interdependence, which is the heart of Buddhist teaching in all traditions. It is really an obvious principle beginning with our individual births. We are part of a vast net and subject to innumerable causes and conditions that create the foundation of any achievement we experience.

Human beings require the longest period of nurture until they can fend for themselves in the environment. No one would survive if from the first day they had to care for themselves, lacking a family or some type of caregiver. We understand the process of socialization through which demanding, ego-centric infants are gradually integrated by discipline into the social fabric and made aware of their mutual relations and responsibilities that are needed for a peaceful family and harmonious community. As Hillary Clinton wrote, “It takes a village.” No one is raised in a vacuum. How many times do we hear modest athletes and even politicians and leaders acknowledge that their victories are the result of the support of others, though they themselves possess significant abilities.

Those who criticize the President for articulating this principle in the context of the vitriolic political atmosphere and an obstructive congress must ignore much of their own experience. The Chinese Sage, Mencius, in the 4th C. BCE described the division of labor in society where each artisan and producer requires each other for society to function properly. Each depends on the other for the product they need but cannot produce themselves. This is was another perspective on interdependence.

Our society has been permeated by the libertarian philosophy taught by Ayn Rand, illustrated by Ron and Rand Paul. She emphasized an untrammeled individualism of each for him/herself. In “Atlas Shrugged” she states: “My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”

A rational selfishness is the dynamic for progress in society as each person works to advance and protect their own interest. “Happiness is possible only to a rational man, the man who desires nothing but rational goals, seeks nothing but rational values and finds his joy in nothing buy rational actions,” Rand declares.

Progress in society is marked by how easily a person can pursue his/her own benefit. There need be no external authority like government to regulate behavior, since each person will self-correct as their efforts are successful or thwarted. Though Ayn Rand and her proponents reject strenuously that her philosophy is associated with social Darwinism, her advocacy of laissez-faire capitalism with its stress on competition suggests that the principle of “survival of the fittest” is also implied by Ayn Rand’s view.

The forthcoming Presidential election gains its significance in part because citizens will decide which vision of society will be the path for the future.

Thank you. Gassho,

Al Bloom

Buddhism in society

The United States is in the throes of a critical and contentious political campaign. The character of the nation is at stake as the effort to defeat President Barack Obama carries overtones of racism, and is flooded with money from unfettered corporate funding. What claims to be conservatism is really radicalism, bordering on anarchy. The outcome will determine whether society moves definitively to the right becoming a body of disparate individuals competing for the survival of the fittest – or whether it defines itself as a mutually interdependent society where all share responsibility in providing for the basic needs of its unprotected and neediest members.

Buddhist teaching in all traditions highlights the interdependence of all aspects of reality. Each of us attains well-being when all others achieve it. We’re a net, with every node supporting and enabling all other nodes. For years, most Americans have believed in the safety net for all. Now, even this is threatened. Buddhists must make their voices heard in the marketplace of ideas and help to create and sustain a society where everyone can be assured a decent life with dignity and security.

One area of particular concern is the contradictory thinking dominating recent debate over the health care law. No better illustration of this can be found than in the discussion of the mandate, which requires everyone to have health insurance. The party that initially supported it now opposes it because it was included in President Obama’s program.

The original reason for creating the mandate was to prevent “deadbeats” and “freeloaders,” in line with Republican thinking about personal responsibility and the work ethic. Now, however, they oppose the mandate as coercive and unconstitutional because the government imposes the individual requirement with a penalty. In reality, its effect is to enlarge the shared risk pool.

But, whether it’s a tax or a penalty under the commerce clause is semantics and irrelevant. The word “tax” has become a forbidden political term. Yet, in the mandate it only affects those who refuse to buy insurance when they’re able. Chief Justice Roberts simply indicated that it is constitutional if construed as a tax. It doesn’t mean that everyone across the board is taxed.

The law reaffirms the interconnection and interdependence of all citizens in supporting the shared risk of insurance. It’s here that Buddhists can play a role by helping to make clear the principle behind the mandate and promoting a clearer understanding of government’s role in firmly establishing human dignity and security in receiving health care.

Health care must be seen as a human right and part of the pursuit of happiness, a pillar principle of our society.

Gassho _/_ Al Bloom