Alone in a Crowded World - Ananda

Alone In A Crowded World

June 11, 2013

One of the primary illnesses in the West, at least in the United States, is isolation. Traditional social structures have broken down. Families are more insular and we have lost many of the ways in which we traditionally connected with those around us. Technological advances have allowed us, to a great extent, to tailor our information, entertainment, and social interactions, to our specific wants. While there are many positives associated with these changes, one negative is that loneliness and isolation has increased in the midst of all of this autonomy and technological interactivity.

From a Buddhist perspective this is a very interesting dilemma because we as Buddhists are supposedly practicing for the benefit of all beings. Almost by definition, being a Buddhist means turning away from “self-ness” and awakening to that which is “not-self” (other). We strive to become aware of the suffering of others, generate compassion for others, and work for the easing and elimination of suffering of others. Being a Buddhist is about connecting with others. As Buddhists we should never feel alone.  Each encounter is an opportunity to practice the Dharma and seek to fulfill our vows to benefit all beings.

None of us is truly separate and isolated.  Every moment we depend on others. Everything that we are today has been received from others: our many past selves, our parents, our friends, and the many unknowns who provide us with food, clothing, shelter, fuel and the many things of this life. Even the Dharma, that we are fortunate to practice, would not exist with out the work of the Buddhas.

Furthermore, the beings that surround us in this life we have encountered many times before: as friends, lovers, enemies, fathers, mothers, etc. Keeping this in mind, how can we feel alone and isolated?

Being ignorant and deluded beings, we forget the above and feel lonely, isolated, and even afraid of others.  So the question is how do we turn away from our own insecurity (self-ness) and embrace the many beings (others) that surround us with both gratitude and compassion?

Nothing heroic is involved.  We must simply embrace the Nembutsu. Recollect Amida Buddha and his vow to save all beings that contemplate and recite the name, “Namo Amida Bu”.

That name, “Namo Amida Bu”, is a prayer for the salvation of all beings. It is the prayer that beings be freed from suffering, be freed even from the fruits of their own evil actions, and be born is the in Amida’s Dharma realm. “Namo Amida Bu” is the prayer that we, who are not yet Buddhas, may awaken fully to the Dharma.

Most importantly, “Namo Amida Bu”, is the cry of all beings who are tired of suffering, pain and dissatisfaction, and who want to find another way. Amida offers a way.  It is not a way for just our selves as individuals.  Amida offers the way of collective awakening, the liberation from suffering of all beings.

The liberation of all beings begins by reciting “Namo Amida Bu”.  We then begin to see the beings in our lives through the Amida’s vow instead of our many little insecurities, doubts, and fears, which are the cause of our loneliness.  Every encounter becomes “Namo Amida Bu”, an opportunity to connect with others who are also seeking to be free of suffering and the causes of suffering.

Namo Amida Bu!
Peace, Ananda

Fundamental Ignorance - Ananda

Fundamental Ignorance

April 6, 2013

As a long time Buddhist practitioner, and a Westerner, I would say that the four characteristics of Pureland Buddhism that stand out are: Amida, Faith, Nembutsu, and Bombu.

Bombu is the Japanese term used to remind us, that we are deluded and ignorant beings. Of course this is nothing new to Buddhism.  The Buddha taught that the primary cause of suffering is ignorance.  However in the West, at least, there is not a lot of emphasis on the fact of our deluded nature. Zen and Vajrayana, as presented to westerners, is about our potential to awaken. That is the focus. Practitioners strive to awaken as Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, in this very life.  In these traditions it is, of course, implicit that we are not yet awakened, otherwise why would we need to strive for awakening?  But the emphasis is always on the goal of Buddhahood, not on our fundamental ignorance.

In the Pureland tradition, however, we begin by recognizing that we are Bombu, deluded and ignorant beings. Our religious services, our practice, and our language constantly point us to the realization that we are “foolish beings of wayward passions”. Because until we awaken to this fact, we are stuck floundering in the web of samsara, getting ever more trapped and bound up in the ignorance of self, in this life and in innumerable future lives.

Again, this is basic Buddhism. The question is, once we have realized our fundamental ignorance, what do we do? Generally, as Buddhist, we begin by taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.  As Pureland practitioners, we also call upon Amida Tathagata, reciting the Nembutsu, Namo Amida Bu!

Having studied and practiced Zen and Vajrayana before settling into Pureland, I have found the shift in the focus of practice from enlightenment (Zen and Vajrayana) to reliance upon the Tathagata (Pureland) quite liberating. Though I still strive to follow the eightfold path, to keep the precepts, and to practice the Paramitas, I do not get despondent when I fall short. I am no longer obsessed with practices, rituals, and amounts of time spent meditating.  Instead, as a Pureland practitioner, I know that when death eventually comes, my future will be held in the hands of the Tathagata.

In the meantime, while there is still breath in my lungs and a pulse in my chest, I recite the Nembutsu, Namo Amida Bu. I strive to live a noble life, like that outlined by the Buddha, but recognizing my own shortcomings.  I keep the precepts close to mind and try to be a small part of creating a world with less suffering, less pain, less mistrust.

Though the Pureland may be our destination after death, this world, home of the Buddha Shakyamuni, is built by our actions (karma). The happiness or suffering of the beings in the world, depends, to some extend on whether or not we listen to, remember, and try to practice the teachings of the Buddha. And what exactly are the teachings of the Buddha: Be Kind in body, speech, and mind. Protect living beings, give of yourself, be trustworthy, and above all keep the Buddha in mind.

Namo Amida Bu!
Peace, Ananda