What is the Point of Buddhist Practice?

Recently, I stumbled upon a great essay by the venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi here:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/bps-essay_16.html

This is about the importance of self-transcendence, but one particular statement really hit home:

It is important to stress this transcendent aspect of the Dhamma because, in our own time when “immanent” secular values are ascendent, the temptation is great to let this aspect drop out of sight. If we assume that the worth of a practice consists solely in its ability to yield concrete this-worldly results, we may incline to view the Dhamma simply as a means of refining and healing the divided personality, leading in the end to a renewed affirmation of our mundane selves and our situation in the world. Such an approach, however, would ignore the Buddha’s insistence that all the elements of our personal existence are impermanent, unsatisfactory and not self, and his counsel that we should learn to distance ourselves from such things and ultimately to discard them.

It’s really easy to forget this point and lull ourselves into self-satisfaction when Buddhist practice brings a measure of peace and stability in our lives.  But that’s not exactly the point of Buddhism either.  People who use mindfulness meditation to get ahead in life, for example, will find that life is still ultimately unfulfilling in the long-run.

It’s like poker, where you find a technique to win money more consistently, but at the end of the day, you’re basically still gambling your life away.  Better to just stop playing poker.

Buddhism: Financial Advice from the Pali Canon

Hey all,

Hope you’re enjoying the spring weather (and the 3-day weekend if you live in the States).  I wanted to share an article online about managing finances the Buddhist way here:

https://www.urbandharma.org/udharma5/buddhisteco.html

This essay is a bit long, but does a great job outlining practical advice (summary: live within your means) while referencing important Buddhist sutras from the Pali Canon of the Theravada Buddhist tradition.

As I get older, and am now raising two kids, not one, I’ve had to make some adjustment in my life, including how I spend my money day to day. But while this is painful in the short-term, I’ve also come to realize that the alternative is a whole lot worse, so I am glad I am able to improve my financial situation now before it’s too late.

Enjoy!

Buddhism and Domestic Violence

I was originally going to make a different video tonight, but after hearing my neighbors two houses down fighting (with a toddler crying in the background), I decided to make this video instead.  I wanted to explore how the states of rebirth in Buddhism are real states of being, and that people undergo these states all the time.  Some of these people are living in a kind of hell now, and need help, even if they know how where to find it.

This is even more important where children are concerned because they have no control over their environment.  They are thrust into a terrible situation, and that is all they will know until it is too late.

So, while I don’t have any real concrete advice about dealing with domestic violence, I do want to address people who are tormented (or tormenting others) and tell them to get help.  It doesn’t always have to be like this, especially with children involved.  There is a way out, and it can begin by asking for help.

Thank you,

Doug

A Look At Jodo Shu Home Services

Recently I posted about how Rinzai Zen services at home might look like, so, this time, I wanted to post an example Jodo Shu service as well. Compared to Rinzai Zen there are, not surprisingly, a lot more things to chant.  More on Jodo Shu Buddhism in general can be found on their English-language website.

Further, there is an English-translated version with pronunciation of this service below courtesy of the Jodo Shu Mission in North-American.

In the most formal setting (more on shorter examples below), the format of a home service is often:¹

  • Verse for offering incense (kōge 香偈) – If you happen to have a small Buddhist bell too, the service books say strike it 8 times before you recite this verse. This signifies the start of the service too.
  • Taking refuge in the Three Treasures (sanbōrai 三宝礼) – Similar to other verses recited in other Buddhist sects, this acknowledges that one goes to the Buddha (the teacher), Dharma (the teaching) and Sangha (the community) for refuge.  This is pretty much universal in Buddhism in some form or another.
  • Invitation for all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to attend (shibujō 四奉請) – Sometimes also called Sanbujō (三奉請), this is a common invocation in some Buddhist sects to invite various Buddhist divinities to attend and witness, and share in the good joy.  The inspiration of this verse comes from the 10 vows of Samanthabadhra Bodhisattva among other sources.
  • Verse for confessing one’s transgressions (sangege 懺悔偈) – This is a verse very commonly found in Buddhist services and is part of the general Buddhist practice of self-reflection, and acknowledging one’s faults and striving not to commit again.  A more elaborated example is the 4th chapter of the Golden Light Sutra.
  • Recite the nembutsu 10 times (jūnen 十念) – As explained in a recent post, the tradition is to recite the nembutsu 10 times in a single breath. The first 8 sounds like “na-mu-a-mi-da-bu”, the 9th sounds like “na-mu-a-mi-da-bu-tsu” and the tenth sounds again like “na-mu-a-mi-da-bu”.
  • Verse for opening the sutra (kaikyōge 開経偈) – this short verse helps to set the right frame of mind when starting a home service, so it’s pretty helpful, and can be found almost universally in Buddhist home services. The text may vary a bit, but they basically all say the same thing.  More details here.
  • Recite part of the Sutra of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life (a.k.a the Larger Sutra, Larger Sukhavati Sutra, etc) – This is a common liturgy in both Jodo Shu and Jodo Shinshu, where it is called the shiseige (四誓偈) and juseige (重誓偈) respectively. The full text is posted here. The gist of this section is where Amitabha Buddha-to-be is making a series of great vows to help all beings, vows that he will fulfill upon reaching enlightenment.  For the curious, the full, translated sutra can be found here among other places.
  • Verse for transferring merit (honzeige 本誓偈) – The practice of dedicating merit is very common in Buddhism, but this particular verse relates in the good merit accumulated through reciting the sutra.
  • Recite the nembutsu 10 times again (jūnen 十念)
  • Verse on the importance of the nembutsu (shōyakumon 摂益文) – This is a quick verse that reaffirms the basics of Pure Land teachings: anyone who recites the nembutsu (the name of Amitabha Buddha)is guaranteed to be reborn in the Pure Land through that Buddha’s compassion.  The one-sheet document written by Honen, founder of Jodo-Shu Buddhism, also reiterates this point.
  • Recite the nembutsu as much as you like (nembutsu ichi-e 念仏一会) – I am a bit fuzzy on this one, but it seems to just simply mean you recite the nembutsu continuously as a continuous stream, unlike the junen above, for as long as you like.
  • Another verse for transference of merit (sōekōge 総回向偈) – I am unclear why there are two separate verses for dedicating merit, but verse seems to be more broad in that it dedicates all the merit from this service, and not just specifically for reciting the sutra.
  • Recite the nembutsu 10 times again (jūnen 十念)
  • The Four Bodhisattva Vows (sōgange 総願偈) – The Four Bodhisattva Vows are another very common verse recited in Mahayana Buddhist services across all of east Asia, and express the general sentiment of one undertaking the Bodhisattva Path. Even if one is not now dedicated to the path, it’s still a good thing to recite because you might become inspired someday when the conditions are right. A full explanation of the Four Bodhisattva Vows, and the verse to recite can be found here.
  • Three Prostrations to Amitabha Buddha (sanshōrai 三唱礼) – this is another variation on reciting the nembutsu. Here, it is said three times slowly, drawn-out, follow by a bow. Repeat two more times for a total of nine recitations.
  • A final verse to ask the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to return (sōbutsuge 送仏偈) – basically the opposite of the shibujō/sanbujō above.

Out of all this, the essential practice is to:

  • Recite the sutra excerpt from the Sutra of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life Sutra
  • Recite the nembutsu at least 10 times.

There are also slight variations I’ve seen from the format above, particularly toward the second-half, but the differences are not significant.  One site I read suggested that Jodo Shu services be done in the morning where possible.

At the end of the day though, from the Jodo Shu school’s perspective, the most crucial thing is the nembutsu.  If these extra chants hinder your efforts to recite the nembutsu, stop doing them, but on the other hand, if they bolster your efforts, then definitely keep doing them.

Good luck, and happy chanting!

P.S.  I’ll post more “example service” posts soon.  Hoping to post Nichiren-shu Buddhism home services next.

¹ I consulted a few different source both in English and Japanese,

Sandhi Rules Are Kicking Me In The Pants

I am currently on Lesson 10 of my Sanskrit language textbook, and getting pretty immersed in the Sandhi rules that govern how one word blends into another. The rules are actually very sensible changes that allow the last sound of a word to “get ready” for the first sound of the next word. Not all words undergo sandhi changes, but there are a lot of rules that govern the ones that do. The textbook I use explores these rules over several lessons to give students time to master one rule at a time. Here’s a simple, but painful example.

Anyhow, imagine I want to say “you are beautiful”. The word for “beautiful” is sandaraḥ (सन्दरः) and the singular nominative of “you” is tvam (त्वम्). Thus, grammatically, you can either say “you beautiful are”:

त्वम् सन्दरः असि
tvam sandaraḥ asi

Or, in Sanskrit, you can shorten this to “beautiful you”:

सन्दरः त्वम्
sandaraḥ tvam

The second form is often used because the “to be” verb is often understood. But now I have to apply sandhi rules to make it more natural sounding.

First, the “aḥ” at the end of the first word runs up against the “t” of the second word. According to sandhi rules, the “aḥ” followed by a “t” becomes an “s” in this case:

सन्दरस् त्वम्
sandaras tvam

But as part of Sandhi, words often combine too, unless the first word ends in a vowel (including ṃ and ḥ) and the second is a consonant.1 So, now we have to combine the words into:

सुन्दरस्त्वम्
sandarastvam

Thus if you want to flatter a lady in Sanskrit, this is what you would say, and how you would write it.

1 I am still not 100% clear when words combine and when they don’t, but the use-cases seem to be:

  • Consonant + consonant = combine
  • Vowel + vowel = combine
  • Consonant + vowel = combine
  • Vowel + consonant = not combine

One Of Those Days

Every once in a while, you have one of those days:

It happens, and it’s frustrating. I found myself having one of these days last week at work, where I was super frustrated by things that happened around me, and really wanted to kick some grass. Then, later when I realized that the thing I was frustrated by was actually a non-issue, and just like that my anger and frustration left and the whole thing seemed silly.

Looking back, that day was a combination of:

  • Lack of sleep (stayed up too late making Magic decks for the new Amonkhet set1)
  • Working from limited information, which gave a skewed understanding of the situation.

I learned a couple useful lessons from this:

  1. Sleep is important. If you are not getting enough sleep, your mind just isn’t performing at its best, and it’s easier to snap at other people.
  2. Don’t assume. Get more information, so you can make an intelligent assessment of the situation. Helps to get more sleep too.

Lesson learned. 🙂

1 I play a sealed pool (sometimes also constructed) with some friends and co-workers regularly during lunch. I have yet to play strangers and such like on Friday Night Magic, but I am not really in a hurry too either.

All Good Dharmas

Hello readers,

Been away for a bit, but I am back and wanted to post a quote from one of my favorite Buddhist books, The Way to Buddhahood by the late venerable Yin-Shun (1906 – 2005).  This book isn’t easy to find, and it’s long, but it is one of those rare books that provide a good, intelligent summary of Buddhism overall.  This quote comes at the very end, when it talks about the Lotus Sutra and the general meaning of Mahayana Buddhism, that is Buddhist practiced across East Asia and including Pure Land, Zen, Nichiren, etc.

From the standpoint of the One Vehicle [Mahayana Buddhism as taught in the Lotus Sutra], all good Dharmas lead toward the Buddha Way.  Not only does the good world-transcending Dharma of the Three Vehicles¹ lead there, so do the good dharmas of the Human and Divine Vehicle.² Everything in the world—every iota of kind thought or good deed—leads toward the Buddha Way. The Buddha Dharma is another name for good dharmas.

What are good dharmas, after all? That which goes toward the Dharma, follows the Dharma, and corresponds with the Dharma is good. All that which accords with dependent origination³ with emptiness [of all phenomena] as its nature—in thinking, in dealing with people, in handling affairs— is definitely good. That which is good is the Dharma, and that which is not is non-Dharma.

….So it is not the cast that all sentient beings are without good Dharma; it is just that they have not yet carried it out thoroughly.  If, however, they have good Dharma and aim toward loftiness and brightness, they will eventually turn toward the Buddha Way, stride forward, and ultimately become buddhas.  All sentient beings can become buddhas; this is the ultimate truth.  Those practicing the Buddha Dharma should embrace all good Dharmas and abandon none; such is the real purpose of the Buddha Dharma. (pg. 357-358)

There’s a lot to explain in these paragraphs, but the gist of it is that all beings will ultimately become enlightened Buddhas given enough time, and no small act of good goes unrewarded in the future.  Put another way, you’ve nowhere to go but up.

Also the final statement is really important because there is a tendency toward sectarianism sometimes in Buddhism, and what Yin-Shun is reminding us is that anything that leads toward the Dharma is “good dharma” and therefore should be embraced, not picked apart.

P.S.  The Earth-Store Bodhisattva sutra also teaches the importance of conduct, and that even the smallest deeds (for good or for ill), still have their outcome.

¹ The Three Vehicles is a term in Buddhism referring to the path of the “seeker of buddhahood” (bodhisattva), the path of the “private Buddha” (pratyekabuddha) and the “voice-hearer disciple” (sravaka).  These were seen as three possible outcomes of following the Buddhist path since early Buddhism.  However, one of the big teachings in the Lotus Sutra is that they all ultimately converge at Buddhahood.  Hence the term “One Vehicle”, as opposed to three.

² This refers to non-Buddhist religions or philosophies that focus on ethics, good conduct (e.g. Confucianism, Humanism, etc) or on devotion to a divinity (e.g. Abrahamic religions).

³ This is a universal Buddhist concept that explains how all phenomena, both physical and abstract, arise through other, external causes and conditions.  Like the tree that depends on soil, water and sunlight to grow (not to mention the previous tree that provided the seed), all phenomena depend on each other for their existence, even the conditions are negative.