Enrich Your Prayer Life in the New Year

Christmas has passed. Christ, as baby Jesus is among us. The New Year approaches. It is a special moment in time when we reflect upon the past and the future. We remember friends and family who have departed. We consider what we have done and what has been left undone? Looking forward, we contemplate our hopes and aspirations for the new year.

For people of faith, the new year marks an opportunity to renew vows or refocus on the interior life of prayer and contemplation. Life is both precious and uncertain. We do not know when we will depart this world. More importantly, we do not know the good that might arise if we cultivate an interior life and turn our minds to that which is beyond self.

The new year is a time to take stock of our lives and make a small commitment to deepening our spiritual practice. Nothing grand or heroic is required. The life of spiritual transformation is lived one day at a time. It is lived in the day to day interactions with the people in our lives. It is lived in how we handle the many small challenges and sufferings of daily life.

Here are three simple things you can do to enrich and and deepen your interior life.

1. Prayer / Meditation: Make a commitment to daily prayer, meditation, or contemplation. Again, nothing heroic, like committing to four hours or two hours or even one hour of prayer every day. While laudable, this level of commitment is totally unrealistic for most and bound to failure.

More realistic is a commitment of 10 to 15 minutes of prayer or meditation a day. The best time for prayer is first thing in the morning. Ten minutes does not seem long, but I assure you that on some days it will feel interminable. The first few days or weeks will go smoothly but before long temptations and hurdles will arise. You will be tired or bored or both. Other things will try to crowd into even those few minutes you have set aside. Resist and remain steadfast. If you persevere, you will be amazed that these precious ten minutes were not always a part of your life.

2. Scripture: Make a commitment to the daily reading of scripture from you religious tradition. Again, nothing grand and heroic is required. Don’t make it complicated. Just take a few minutes everyday and read a short passage. There are many wonderful books and Apps available that can provide you with daily readings throughout the year. There are also books on how to read and contemplate scripture, while valuable, do not let these become barriers to actually reading the texts. The texts themselves, if encountered on a daily basis, will be enough.

3. Community: Consider regular attendance and membership in a church from your religious tradition. I know that this is a big barrier for a lot of spiritual people. I am definitely sympathetic to people who have been turned off by their local Christian Church or Buddhist temple. Dealing with people, church structures, uninspired sermons, mumbled hymns, and bad or offensive theology can be a real challenge. I get that. However, none of us can live a religious life in isolation. We need both the support and challenges that are found in a religious community.

Whatever your path, make a commitment to enrich your interior life in the New Year. If you know what that will look like, try it out in the few days leading up to the New Year. Is it realistic? Is it doable? If yes, then start today. If not, make some adjustments and try again.

Finally, have some compassion and forgiveness for yourself. Even ten minutes of prayer or meditation a day is a big commitment. You are bound to fail occasionally. That is fine. It is not the end of the world. Just start again the next day.

Peace, Ananda

Buddha & Christ


buddha-and-jesus

Buddha gazes upon Christ. Christ gazes upon Buddha.

This wonderful picture, which was taken during a Buddhist retreat at a Christian monastery,  speaks deeply of the relationship between Christ and Buddha.  They, Buddha and Christ, are different, yet they both exist in the shared space of our world.  Because this is a Buddhist retreat, the followers of Buddha are bowing toward the image of Buddha.  This does not devalue the existence, life, and teachings of Christ. Rather it is only a shift in focus.

Likewise, if the photo had been taken from the other perspective, i.e. behind the image of Christ, with Christians at prayer before Christ, their prayer and focus on Christ would in no way diminish the life and teachings of Buddha.

Here Christ gazes over the prostrating forms and sees Buddha.  Buddha looks over the heads of the disciples and sees Christ.

Both, I imagine, rejoice in lives lived in deep faith, love, and compassion.

Namo Amida Bu!
Ananda

Rejoicing in the Birth of the Holy Beings


It is a joyous occasion when holy beings appear in the world.  They turn people’s minds away from hatred and greed and open their hearts to love and generosity. They offer humanity a way out of the cycle of selfishness and violence that causes so much suffering.  Their very lives and words point us beyond our limited selves.

Therefore, we should celebrate the approach of Christmas, which marks the birth of Jesus, the Anointed One, with whom Gautama, the Awakened One, would have found much common ground. Like the Buddha, the mother of Jesus had celestial visions foretelling Jesus’ birth and greatness.  Like the Buddha, Jesus’ birth tells a lot about his message and his audience.

Unlike the Buddha, Jesus was born into a poor family in humble, i.e. impoverished,  circumstances. Shortly after Jesus’ birth, the Holy family is forced by political strife to flee to, and live as refugees in, another country. They do not return home until there is change in political leadership.

It is not surprising then when we encounter Jesus, as an adult,  hanging out with and teaching the impoverished, the oppressed, and the outcasts. His teachings and stories are grounded in the everyday struggles and experiences of a people living in difficult situations with little if any political power or social standing. The miracles that surround Jesus address concrete needs: Hunger, Sickness, Death, and Hope.

The Christian message is not the same as the Buddhist Dharma.  Nevertheless, we should honor Jesus and learn from and be challenged by his teachings.  We should appreciate similarities, praise lives lived in deep faith, and rejoice in all good that is done in the name of Jesus.

Most importantly, we should celebrate the hope and promise that the baby Jesus offers a world filled with war, poverty, and discrimination.  Jesus offers us Love: Love as a way of life and as cure for the ills of the world.

Namo Amida Bu!
Peace, Paul


The Awakened Heart

Personally I find the practice of Noble Speech to be one of the harder religious practices.  It is not difficult because I am running around cursing, or slandering, or gossiping. No. It is difficult because it is so easy to hurt someone’s feelings or cause pain and misunderstanding with speech.

Speech is a reflection of our thoughts. The words we choose, the phrases we use, the tones we affect, all arise out of our own insecurities and fears. Unfortunately, it is this crippling self obsession which closes our hearts to the individuals around us. It is not that we are rude or even unkind.  We are just unable to connect with others at the heart level, the level of love.

A regular, i.e. daily, spiritual discipline of prayer, study, and ethical living can go a long way to opening the heart. We cannot, however, force the heart to open.  The heart awakens in response to the call of that which is beyond self.  In our tradition Amida Buddha is that which is beyond self. The Nembutsu, “Namo Amida Bu”, is the voice of the Buddha calling to us from beyond self.

Sometimes we can hear the Buddha calling us, almost steering us on an unknown but True Course.  Other times we feel lost and can only hear ourselves calling out “Namo Amida Bu”.

“Namo Amida Bu” is the action of the Tathagatha’s measureless compassion upon our hearts and in our world.  To recite “Namo Amida Bu” is to cling to the Buddha amidst the turmoil and challenges of our daily lives.

“Namo Amida Bu” is also speech. It is Noble Speech. It is the speech of an Awakened Heart. Yet over and over again I forget the Dharma, forget the Buddha, forget all but myself and speak in ways that hurt and wound.

Namo Amida Bu!

Ananda

Encountering the Buddha in Your Daily Life


A few years ago I had the good fortune to have coffee with a friend of mine who is a retired Methodist minister. During the course of our conversation I asked him, ” Knowing what you know now, what would your advice be to your younger self?”

Without a pause he responded, “Spend more time studying scripture.”

Now of course he was thinking of the Christian Bible. But his point struck a cord and I have since taken to spending time every day reading sutras.  Usually I break this into two blocks, reading something from the Pali Cannon and then reading a bit from the Pureland sutras.  With the Pureland Sutras my course of reading and study is usually done from beginning to end over the course of weeks, starting with the Shorter Pureland Sutra and ending with the contemplation sutra. Then beginning again with the Shorter Sutra.

Reading the Sutras in this way, over time, in the course of different life experiences brings a depth and relevance to the sutras. Likewise the Sutras  begin to inform and impact the experiences of daily life.

The Buddhist Sutras are the voice of the Buddha. They challenge us to live our lives by the expansive and liberating message of the Tathagathas, not by our little and limited self building agendas that are mired in affliction and suffering.

To read the Sutras daily is to encounter the Buddha in your daily life.  It is a practice I highly recommend.

Namo Amida Bu!
Ananda

Bodhi Day - 2013

Bodhi Day


On this Bodhi Day let us celebrate the awakening of the Buddha Shakyamuni.  The one who came into the world and taught about affliction (Dukkha) and the cessation of affliction (Dukkha).  The Enlightened One who offers us a path to the ending of suffering in our own lives and in the world.  Let us embrace the teachings of the Compassionate One and strive to eliminate greed, hatred, and ignorance from the world. Without greed, there will be no poverty and hunger.  Without hatred, war will cease to exist.  Without ignorance, racism and prejudice will be unknown.

The path is our life and how we live it.  A life of healing flows out of our encounter with the Buddha and the living of the Buddha Dharma.

Life is short and uncertain.  Do not waste a moment. Today, dedicate yourself to helping all beings and striving to eliminate suffering and the causes of suffering.

Namo Amida Bu!
Ananda