Happy Birthday to the Buddha!

In Japanese Buddhism the birth of Shakyamuni Buddha, the founder of Buddhism the religion, is celebrated on April 8th in a holiday called Hanamatsuri or the “flower festival” in English.

In honor of the Buddha’s birthday, I wanted to pass on this small quotation from the Amitabha Sutra:

“Shariputra, just as I now praise the inconceivable virtue of other Buddhas, they also praise my inconceivable virtue, saying, ‘Shakyamuni Buddha, you have accomplished an extremely difficult and unprecedented task. In this Saha world [world of defilement], during the evil period of the five defilements — those of time, views, passions, sentient beings, and life-span — you have attained the highest, perfect Enlightenment and, for the sake of sentient beings, have delivered this teaching, which is the most difficult in the world to accept in faith.’

“Shariputra, you must realize that I have accomplished this difficult task during the period of the five defilements. That is to say, having attained the highest, perfect Enlightenment, I have, for the sake of all the world, delivered this teaching, which is so hard for them to accept. This is indeed an extremely difficult task.”

Thank you Lord Buddha!

Namo tassa bhagavato, arahato, sammā-sambuddhasa
Namu amida butsu

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Conspiracy of Compassion

I was so excited to see Kenji Akahoshi and his wife Karen at Dharma Exchange today. I had met Kenji at Seattle Betsuin Dharma Exchange about ten years ago when Rev. Don Castro had invited him to speak about his work in transpersonal psychology and experiential learning. I had been involved in staffing a number of personal growth seminars for teens and families at that time and was intrigued with the idea of using some of the same experiential approaches to help some of us newcomers to the Seattle Buddhist Temple learn about Buddhism and Jodo Shinshu in  a new way.

I worked with Kenji and Rev. Castro to organize a retreat later that spring at the Huston Camp & Conference Center near Gold Bar, Washington, adjacent to beautiful Wallace Falls State Park. We had a lovely group of several couples and several individuals who had recently started attending the Temple (including me). Rev. Castro also joined us for the retreat. It was a most relaxing and yet invigorating experience for us all. We enjoyed the healthy vegetarian meals prepared by the Conference Center and the opportunity to hike in the sweet-smelling woods to view the water falls, interspersed with activities and conversations to help us gain a deeper experience of Buddhism and Jodo Shinshu. On Sunday morning I prepared a simple meal (per Kenji’s guidelines) of steamed rice and miso soup. I had never made miso soup for that many people before, so I had to get the recipe from my mother-in-law (an excellent cook). It was challenging for  me, yet so satisfying to provide this simple food for a silent breakfast — full of ceremony and mindfulness. I really felt like I belonged.

Apparently the others felt the same way. Almost all of them have continued attending the Temple — at least on occasion. One, Joe Schwab, has gone on to become a Minister’s Assistant at the Temple. Another, Ann Oxrieder, is taking the lead on working on Temple communications and the newsletter. What a path to involvement and leadership!

A couple of years later, we organized another retreat with Kenji and his son, Kirk. This one took place a few months after the launch of the War in Iraq in 2003. It was a raw time for all of us and for our younger members, in particular. Kirk took the lead in working with the teens, who came not only from our Seattle Temple, but White River and Portland, as well. (Later the teens organized a trip to Portland O Bon to further cement their friendships.)

So, here we are, some seven years later, and Kenji is at Dharma Exchange again. Only this time he is now a retired dentist studying at the Institute of Buddhist Studies to complete his ordination. On to a new career! He speaks to us about the importance of finding words and phrases that are meaningful to each new generation — and, in particular, to our new American generation of Jodo Shinshu Buddhists. The phrase he used that jumped out at me was “Conspiracy of Compassion.” Suppose it were the case that there was a conspiracy in the universe, but it wasn’t a conspiracy to create bad things; it was a conspiracy of compassion. Could I possibly take a closer look at my own life and consider whether that might not be the truth?

The universe surrounds me with compassion… if only I choose to notice.

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Religion has no purpose

This evening something I read in D.T. Suzuki’s lectures on Jodo Shinshu Buddhism (in the book Buddha of Infinite Light) really struck me. I’ve read this book countless times in the past, but it’s interesting to pick it up again years later with a fresh new perspective. The passage was:

It may sound strange to hear that one can go beyond teleology or live in purposelessness. Everything we do in life has a purpose, but in the religious realm we become conscious of realizing purposelessness, going beyond teleology, meaningless meaning, and meaning itself. This is another mark of faith, stating “Let thy will be done,” whereby we let go of self-power and let Amida do his work through us and in us. For this reason there is no prayer in the conventional sense in Buddhism. When we pray to acquire something, we will never get it. When we pray for nothing, we gain everything. (pg. 64)

This brings to mind Shinran’s concept of jinen-hōni (自然法爾) or “made to become so, by virtue of Amida Buddha”, though D.T. Suzuki translates this as “Let thy will be done”. Too often, I’ve treated the Buddhist path as something with a purpose, and in so doing, it becomes another project in my busy, hectic schedule, with measurable goals and so on. What foolishness.

Namu Amida Butsu

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Dr. Payne to Lecture at Seattle Betsuin!

Seattle Betsuin is hosting a lecture on Saturday, April 10th by Dr. Richard Payne, famous Buddhist scholar and faculty at the Institute of Buddhist studies:

To the Spring English Seminar at
Seattle Betsuin Buddhist Temple
1427 S Main St, Seattle, 98144
(206) 329-0800

Saturday, April 10, 2010 – 10 AM to 4 PM
Confidence and Clarity: Realizing Shinjin
with Richard K. Payne, Ph.D.
Dean and Yehan Numata Professor of
Japanese Buddhist Studies
Institute of Buddhist Studies, Berkeley, California

Details on the lecture and workshop, in Dr. Payne’s words:

Pure Land Buddhist thought is wide-reaching and has a long history going back through Japan to China, Central Asia, and India. This workshop will focus on two particular moments in this history. The first will be the text known in Japanese as the Jōdo-ron, attributed to Vasubandhu. This work has usually been treated as a “commentary” on the Larger Pure Land sūtra. Far from being an ordinary commentary, however, a close examination of it reveals it to be a ritual manual designed for use in visualization practices focusing on the Pure Land.

The second section of the workshop will look at a text called the Xinxinming, or Verses on the Mind of Faith. This brief work attributed to Sengcan, counted as the Third Chan patriarch in China, gives us access to the medieval Chinese understanding of the notion of shinjin. The following is a link that contains the text that I will be discussing in the second half of the seminar: http://www.deeshan.com/sosan.htm

Contact the office at Seattle Betsuin for more details.

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Don’t Rush!

Another great article by Rev. Ogui. Enjoy! 🙂

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Buddhist Anime

I found this a while back on my own blog, but wanted to share here. This is a Japanese anime on the Immeasurable Life Sutra published by the Nishi Honganji a while back:

It’s dubbed into Chinese, but has English subtitles. The Immeasurable Life Sutra is the largest of the 3 Pure Land Sutras, and is therefore the most important in a way. It provides a good overview of the nature of Amitabha Buddha, what the Pure Land is, and how it fits into Buddhism in general. Enjoy!

Namu Amida Butsu

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Snow… what better way to slow down

I found myself in Washington, DC this past week attending a conference. I was planning to stay on in Annapolis for the weekend. But, then the big snow storm came.

I managed to reach my hotel before the snow began to stick. I purchased a few items at a store, and a friend gave me a box of crackers, some peanut butter, and a six-pack of yogurt cups. I settled into my hotel room and watched the flakes come down. By morning, there was over a foot of snow and it kept on falling. I walked over to the main building to eat the complimentary breakfast (hard-boiled eggs never tasted so good). I didn’t go anywhere else the rest of the day, but in the evening, I walked through the snow drifts about 300 feet to the neighboring hotel, which had a restaurant. (Crackers and yogurt were getting a little old.)

It was strange to be by myself in such a setting. I had hoped to spend the weekend with my son (who was visiting his grandfather in Alexandria, VA) and my daughter (who goes to school in Annapolis). So near, and yet so far.

Instead, I took it easy, watched some movies, read a bit, worked on some websites, and got caught up on email.

By Sunday, it was getting really slow. My daughter and her friend took a taxi over and helped dig my rental car out of the snow. We drove into town, but the streets were still packed with snow. I headed back to the safety of the hotel before the temperature dropped in the afternoon.

My Sunday afternoon flight home got rebooked to Tuesday. Well, maybe that didn’t matter. It’s as easy to access Internet here as it is at home (or at work). I had a couple of appointments on Monday. One got handled with a conference call and the other I’ll reschedule when I return. Tuesday was going to be a free day. Now it will be a travel day.

So, surprise! On Monday evening, my daughter invited me to join her at a concert at the U.S. Naval Academy by the Moscow State Radio Symphony Orchestra — Rimsky-Korsakov and Rachmaninov. It was magnificent, and such a joy to hear it with her.

I would probably never have “treated” myself to the extra days here to allow me to enjoy such a wonderful experience. But, the weather did it for me.  How grateful I find myself after all.

My rental car snowed in

My rental car snowed in on Saturday morning (it got worse by Sunday)

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