The Importance of Buddhist Texts

While cleaning out the bookshelf at home, I was thumbing through the writings of the famous Korean monk, Jinul (지눌, 知訥, 1158–1210), in Tracing Back the Radiance.  I found some great quotes in his greatest work, the Excerpts from the Dharma Collection and Special Practice Record with Personal Notes (법집별항록절요병입사기, 法集別行錄節要幷入私記, beopjip pyeolhaeng nok cheolyo byeongip sagi).

In his preface, Jinul writes:

I have observed that people of the present time who are cultivating their minds do not depend on the guidance of the written teachings, but straightaway assume that the successive transmission of the esoteric idea [of Seon Buddhism] is the path.  They then sit around dozing with their minds in a haze, their labors all in vain, or else they lose their presence of mind in agitation and confusion during their practice of meditation.  For these reasons, I feel you should follow words and teachings which were expounded in accordance with reality in order to determine the proper procedure in regard to awakening and cultivation.  Once you mirror your own minds, you may contemplate with insight at all times, without wasting any of your efforts. (pg. 151-152, trans. by Professor Robert Buswell)

This reminds me of the words of Dogen, where Dogen states that the sutras and texts are there to orient the student of Buddhism toward the correct path.  Sometimes, you hear some Buddhists today disregarding Buddhist sutras and texts as crusty, ancient, while insisting that they need meditation or faith alone.  But the words of Jinul and Dogen are a reminder that such self-confidence is a surefire way to go off the rails.

The Buddhist path is not a trivial path, but it’s systematic, well-organized and reproducible for those willing to invest the time, and willing to set aside ego.

Thank you Youtube Subscribers!

I am grateful to all the subscribers on my Youtube channel.  1000 subscribers may not seem like much by Internet standards, but this is a channel about a guy sitting in front of a wall, talking about the Four Noble Truths, so I can’t tell you how happy I am that the channel has grown this much.

As with the blog, thank you all for your support and your comments and best wishes!

Girls’ Day 2017 Wrap-Up

Hey Folks,

Just wanted to post a few pictures from our Girls’ Day celebration at home.  This is another doll set that Little Guy made in his Japanese preschool:

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Here is the sakura-mochi we had.  Lately, it’s been harder to find it around here, even at Asian-food markets, so we were happy to find this one.  It was delicious as usual.  I enjoy sakura-mochi once a year, but like the Thanksgiving turkey, or Christmas treats, it’s worth the wait.

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My wife also made a nice clam soup.  I can’t recall what kind of clams these are, but usually we get Manilla clams.  The small colored balls are fu, which are dried wheat balls (naturally colored) that expand in water.  The soup itself is made from shira-dashi, which is like a clarified fish broth (dashi).

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Finally the piece-de-resistance: a large plate of chirashi.  Chirashi is basically sushi rice garnished with sashimi and such.  This is mostly maguro tuna, egg, shrimp, and some boiled spinach on the side.  The rice itself is mixed with shiitake mushrooms and such.

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We played lots of karuta games with my daughter.  The particular game we played was a karuta game based on famous Japanese yojijukugo phrases.  Since neither my daughter nor I am that familiar with them, my wife read the cards for us, while we found the right cards to match.  My daughter won most games, though not without some serious competition.  😉

All in all, it was a great Girls’ Day and looking forward to Easter and Children’s Day next.

A Brave New World

So, recently one night, I had a quiet moment in my life and spent some time reflecting back on the last six months, starting with the last weeks at my old temple, my resignation, and subsequent efforts to find a new path, new projects, etc.  It’s been a more difficult transition than I thought, and I was definitely burned out and exhausted going into the holidays, but now that a few months have passed I feel a lot better about my decision.

Years ago, I switched my job from a certain online company (starts with an “A”) where I had been for 9 years.  That job was a huge part of my life, and I had been there so long, that even though it was a toxic, stressful environment¹ it was familiar and I was hesitant to leave.  I wanted to make it still work somehow, but after 9 years, it was enough.

Changing my job to a new company (think talking mouse) was challenging at first.  I was unfamiliar with the environment, I had to relearn a lot of things, and had to start over from the bottom.  I felt really stupid sometimes.  But after a couple years, I am so glad I changed.  My stress is much less than before, and it’s rubbed off on my family who’s a lot happier.

In the same way, I feel that way about my path with Jodo Shinshu.  I liked many things about the temple community I was a part of, and even now I miss a lot of people there, but I also had lingering personal misgivings about Jodo Shinshu teachings for a long time. However, since I had already invested so much though, and I really wanted to have an opportunity to teach Buddhism in person, I still tried to make it work for a long time.  But all it did was stress me out further.

Now that I’ve finally made a break with that tradition, it’s taken a while to adjust to the change in my life.  After my post about the primacy of practicing Buddhism, I decided that the best way to find my path was not to read about Buddhist schools, but to try them out.  I started a 28-day practice where I did some kind of Buddhist practice (chanting, meditation, etc) for 10 minutes a day.²  Each day I could choose whatever I wanted, but I had to do something.  Within the first week, I quickly lost interest in certain practices and settled on a personal routine that worked well for me.  I am now on day 23, and have stuck with it much longer than I thought I would.

So, in the end, a change in environment was probably the right thing for me.

Losing my community and friends was difficult, rebuilding my blog was painful too, but as the dust has settled I feel I have stepped into a brave new world, and am looking forward to many more years of blogging, exploring the many facets of Buddhism, and sharing with readers and viewers on Youtube.  🙂

P.S.  Double-post today.  Haven’t one of those in a while.

¹ The fact that I started having gastritis attacks almost monthly was a symptom of that.  These days my attacks are much less frequent partly due to improved eating habits, but also probably due to decreased stress.

² My idea was based on Dogen’s advice that all other aspects of Buddhism (sutras, chanting, etc) should be guide to and support for your practice, not an end of themselves.  How I wish I had read this years ago.

Buddhism in the Digital Age

Hello Readers,

I wanted to share this article I found in the BBC about the way religion is changing n the digital age:

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20170222-how-smartphones-and-social-media-are-changing-religion

It is interesting to see how people’s approach to religion has changed, and this certainly applies to Buddhism as well as much as Christianity.  The article shows how people’s sense of boundaries between various texts fades, and people are more inclined to rely on specific quotes and “bites” of information, rather than reading the entire text in context.  This leads to a “wikipedia” style approach to studying religion, too.

Also interesting was how the article said that a mutated form of Christianity has emerged as a result:

“A new kind of mutated Christianity for a digital age is appearing,” says Phillips. “One that follows many of the ethics of the secular world.” Known as moralistic therapeutic deism, this form of belief is focused more on the charitable and moral side of the Bible – the underlying tenets of religion, rather than the notion that the Universe was created by an all-seeing, all-powerful leader.

Further, people are looking for a more personalized religious experience than a community one.

Reading this article reminds me of myself and my approach to Buddhism so far, and I wouldn’t be surprised if readers find resonance too.  I don’t really know if it’s a good or bad thing with respect to traditional religion, but it’s interesting to see how much technology is changing our fundamental behavior.

Anyhow, enjoy!

Happy Girl’s Day 2017

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It’s that time of year again!  March 3rd is “Girl’s Day” or hinamatsuri (ひな祭り) in Japanese.  Time to enjoy excellent sakura-mochi and chirashi, and spend quality time with the kids, especially my daughter “Princess”. My son made this in one of his activity books for the family by drawing in the faces (Mommy obviously did the rest). We are very proud of him.

To all the ladies out there, young and old, happy Girls’ Day!

P.S.  Past Girls’ Day posts for 2015, 2014, among others.

Getting Back to Basics

Every once in a while I like to read the following sutra from the Pali Canon, the Gotami Sutta (AN 8.53), translated by Ven. Thannisaro Bhikkhu:1

I have heard that at one time the Blessed One was staying at Vesali, in the Peaked Roof Hall in the Great Forest.

Then Mahapajapati Gotami went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down to him, stood to one side. As she was standing there she said to him: “It would be good, lord, if the Blessed One would teach me the Dhamma in brief such that, having heard the Dhamma from the Blessed One, I might dwell alone, secluded, heedful, ardent, & resolute.”

“Gotami, the qualities of which you may know, ‘These qualities lead to passion, not to dispassion; to being fettered, not to being unfettered; to accumulating, not to shedding; to self-aggrandizement, not to modesty; to discontent, not to contentment; to entanglement, not to seclusion; to laziness, not to aroused persistence; to being burdensome, not to being unburdensome’: You may categorically hold, ‘This is not the Dhamma, this is not the Vinaya, this is not the Teacher’s instruction.’

“As for the qualities of which you may know, ‘These qualities lead to dispassion, not to passion; to being unfettered, not to being fettered; to shedding, not to accumulating; to modesty, not to self-aggrandizement; to contentment, not to discontent; to seclusion, not to entanglement; to aroused persistence, not to laziness; to being unburdensome, not to being burdensome’: You may categorically hold, ‘This is the Dhamma, this is the Vinaya, this is the Teacher’s instruction.'”

That is what the Blessed One said. Gratified, Mahapajapati Gotami delighted at his words.

This sutra is a nice reminder of what Buddhism is all about. It’s not about a particular chant, or Buddha, or sutra. It’s about training the mind to remain steadfast amidst the ups and downs of life, letting go of things you don’t really need, living a balanced, moderate life and so on. Anything that is not conducive toward those goals ought to be let go.

This is something that everyone must weigh for themselves in their own lives…

1 There is an almost identical sutra addressed to Upali as well. Not sure why there are two.