Friday
May122017

Not only should we do what is right,

we need to do so correctly.

What are some incorrect ways? One is to envisage a coveted outcome. This invariably sets us up for disappointment since things rarely turn out as we anticipate. Another is to act egoistically. Perhaps we dream of succeeding where many have failed. No one need not know, we just long to hear that inner voice: “Yes! I knew I could do it!” Or possibly we do indeed imagine others congratulating us. How can we avoid such pitfalls? Just as a horse with blinders on his bridle is forced to focus on what lies ahead, we concentrate on our goal. Thus focused, our aspiration to do what is right becomes free of expectations and ego. We seek to do something for one reason: it’s the right thing to do. Personal views, fame, success do not matter. We do our best hoping conditions will provide fertile ground in which the seeds of our aspirations can take root, and maybe, just maybe, even grow a little. 

Tuesday
May092017

Those who do not understand, ask “Why?”

Those who do, struggle; but move on.

When faced suddenly with a tragic loss of life, an initial response is often the grief-stricken moan, “Why?” But as heartrending as the loss is, even more terrible is remaining stuck, forever searching for an answer. Never understanding how such a tragedy could happen. Never moving forward. As Buddhist practitioners, such loss still leaves us with a wrenching sorrow, but we have thankfully learned the answer to “Why?” Everyone, even the young and innocent, planted the seeds for what happens to them in this lifetime. Our minds are not yet clear enough for us to know the karmic cause of an unexpected death. But we can at least grasp that the cause existed because the result would not have happened otherwise. The loss is tragic, but not unfair. Such understanding does not magically erase our pain. It does, however, enable us to move on and figure out how to exist with our grim new reality.

Sunday
May072017

An Introduction to the Amitabha Sutra: Chap. 39: The Buddhas in the Western Direction

In the worlds of the western direction there are countless other Buddhas, like the Buddha “Infinite Life,” the Buddha “Innumerable Characteristics,” the Buddha “Innumerable Banners,” the Buddha “Great Light,” the Buddha “Great Illumination,” the Buddha “Jewel Appearance,” and the Buddha “Light of Purity.” Each of them . . . [teaches in his own land with the truthfulness of a Buddha] and covers a whole cosmos, speaking these sincere words: “all of you sentient beings should believe this sutra extolling inconceivable virtues, which all Buddhas protect and keep in mind”.

As previously seen, the names of the Buddhas in the eastern direction teach us the fundamentals of learning and cultivation. We also learned that the names of the Buddhas in the southern direction teach us to cultivate wisdom. Now, from the names of the Buddhas in the Western direction, we will learn to accumulate good fortune. As we do this, we need to remember that we do not seek good fortune for our personal enjoyment.

Rather, through our own life serving as an example, people will wonder how we came to acquire many advantages like a long and healthy life, a good appearance, prominence, and wisdom. We will then be able to show people that, through practice, they too can attain such advantages. Thus, our objective in accumulating good fortune is to help others by leading them to practice.

The first Buddha named in the western direction was Buddha Infinite Life. Infinite Life is not only the name of the Buddha of the Western Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss; it is also a name shared by many other Buddhas. Buddha Infinite Life is named first in this passage because infinite life is of vital importance. Even within the context of this present lifetime, a long lifespan is one kind of good fortune. When one has a long lifespan, one has a greater opportunity to practice and thus to awaken sooner.

We can better understand this when we consider how hard it is for us humans to succeed. The average human lifetime is a matter of mere decades, and much of that time is spent sleeping, working, socializing, and with family. We allocate very little of our day to actual practice. With a longer lifespan, however, our cumulative practice time can be increased and thus so will the likelihood of our success.

The second Buddha named was Buddha Innumerable Characteristics. Characteristics, such as a youthful complexion and a graceful gait, are the auspicious physical attributes that adorn a Buddha’s Manifestation Body. Such features symbolize good fortune.

As with all forms of good fortune, when we have both a long lifespan and a pleasing appearance, it is for the benefit of others, not for personal enjoyment. In one’s continual efforts to be of assistance to others by helping them to understand and accept Buddhism, such attributes can be very compelling. They provide good examples. Therefore, it is most helpful if a long lifespan, a pleasing appearance, and other positive attributes are evident. Appreciating this helps us to understand the next Buddha better.

The third Buddha named was Buddha Innumerable Banners, who signifies superiority and prominence. In times past in China, a banner would be displayed prominently at a monastery to signal that a virtuous and wise monastic was teaching the Dharma. In a similar, but much grander, manner, “Innumerable Banners” in this Buddha’s name signals his great prominence in virtue, wisdom, and prestige. Due to these accomplishments, he is respected by countless beings. Again, we see the importance of good fortune, which in this example occurs as prominence.

The fourth Buddha was Buddha Great Light, whose name refers to the “light” of wisdom. Longevity, good fortune, and prominence all originate from great wisdom.

The fifth Buddha was Buddha Great Illumination. This name signifies the function of great wisdom. Perceiving that a being has attained great wisdom assures others that the being is qualified to help them also achieve such benefits.

The sixth Buddha was Buddha Jewel Appearance, whose name signifies an excellent appearance. As we learned from Buddha Innumerable Characteristics, an excellent appearance is a sign of great good fortune.

The seventh and final Buddha named in the western direction was Buddha Light of Purity. This name signifies the foundation for cultivating good fortune. For us to perfectly attain great good fortune, our three karmic activities of thought, speech, and action must be radiant and pure just like this Buddha’s name, “Light of Purity.”

The Buddhas cited in this sutra passage can help us reinforce our dedication to chanting the Buddha-name and learning the Pure Land teachings. In so doing we will purify our mind and thus accumulate great good fortune.

 

Friday
May052017

When inclined to take the easy way out,

determine whether you can 

live with the consequences.

When confronting an unappealing job, we often resist. Not because we question whether it is appropriate to do, we lack the necessary skills, or it entails some other valid reason. The chore is something we just don’t feel like doing. So, day after day we sense a stirring of discomfort inside us as yet again reminders of the still uncompleted task loom up before us. And, once again, our response is delay. Aversion. Laziness. Resistance. Call it what you will, we’re like little children stamping our feet and yelling, “I don’t want to!” Sounds silly, when we think about it. But our resisting could prove grave. What might happen if we don’t finish our task? An acrimonious relationship? An even more dreaded task? Diminishing good fortune? We need to consider the logical outcomes and ask ourselves, “Will the consequence be more painful to endure than the job itself?”

Tuesday
May022017

It is not the quantity of teachings that matters,

but how we practice those we have.

Our goal is not to become a “nightstand Buddhist,” but a focused practitioner. The former consumes teachings: reading one book, moving it to the read pile, and picking up a new one. Those focused in their practice read the book, get to the last page, turn the book over, and begin reading again. And again. And yet again. A book reviewer once complained that a master’s books kept repeating the same thing. A commenter replied it was because we still weren’t doing what the master had instructed in the earlier books. In other words, until we internalize and practice a book’s teachings, we’re not ready for more. So, we do not need a bookshelf full of books. We need to practice what we have. In Pure Land Buddhism, we do not have dozens of books to pile on our nightstand. And that’s okay because the ones we possess provide abundant teachings. We just need to clear away the clutter on our nightstand for our one book.