I haven’t written much lately due to a bad cold and general fatigue. I haven’t felt very inspired either lately, but I consider this a good thing because it means I am wracking my brains over Buddhism less lately while still maintain a sense of forward momentum.
I’ve been watching some interesting threads going on on E-sangha regarding Western Buddhism, and what the right approach to this is. At the same time, I was watching another episode of the Japanese documentary “100-Temple Pilgrimage” (hyakuji junrei 百寺巡礼). In this latest episode, the narrator Hiroyuki Itsuki visited the famous temple of Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion, in Kyoto. I actually did visit the related Golden Pavilion in Kyoto back in 2005. Here’s a picture I uploaded to Wikipedia at one point:
I have to admit I like the Silver Pavilion over the Golden one, which I find kind of gaudy. At one point, the narrator interviewed the head priest at Ginkakuji, and they started talking about Zen and Pure Land practices. Due to my limited Japanese, I had trouble following the conversation, but I believe the head priest talked about how the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa, who built the temple, was a devout follower of Zen, but at the same time he recited the nembutsu of Pure Land Buddhism. The conversation got me thinking about the practice and spirit of Buddhism.
In my time as a Jodo Shinshu Buddhist, I learned some very valuable lessons about life:
- Humility – Not taking one’s self seriously. We live as we do through the kindness of others, not so much by our own efforts. Too often we can get caught up in our practice, and forget who we are. Honen, in his “One-Sheet Document” summed this up nicely:
Even if those who believe in the nembutsu deeply study all the teachings which Shakyamuni taught during his life, they should not put on any airs and should practice the nembutsu with the sincerity of those untrained followers ignorant of Buddhist doctrines.
- Joy – Raising a family, while very challenging, has been a source of joy for me. The early texts of the Pali Canon contain some wonderful poems about the joys of the renunciant life, but Pure Land reminds me of the joys of the lay life as well. As Master Yin-shun said, it’s a matter of inclination, not which life is better.
While watching this documentary, and it’s depiction of Zen, I see some very positive values conveyed there as well:
- Simplicity – Zen emphasizes a simple life free of obstructions by material goods (and one’s own conceptions). This is in keeping with the Buddha’s repeated exhortations about how a worldly life makes one tangled, flustered and confused. While this did not necessarily mean you have to throw out all your stuff, and concerted focus on a simple untangled life has clear long-term benefits over a worldly, material one. Living life in a simple way is also part of the spirit of renunciation by the way. 🙂
- Practice – I think one should have a clear practice to follow, whatever that may be. It’s not enough to just pick and choose things that suit you, I think through the guidance of mentors and tradition, one can shed one’s ego, and just follow the practice. This was a point of frustration for me in the past with Jodo Shinshu, and now with my Shingon experimentation, I am finding that without initiation, practice doesn’t go far. I admire Zen for it’s clear approach to practice. Lately, I’ve been looking more deeply into Jodo Shu (another Japanese Pure Land sect), and it’s approach to practice as well.
So, what I saw between Pure Land and Zen was a nice synthesis of the Buddhist spirit:
I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: I think Zen and Pure Land Buddhism really complement one another, such that they are somewhat incomplete on their own. Kyoushin once wrote a great post on his experiences visiting a Soto Zen center years after he gave up the practice. He noticed that many people who just focused on the practice lacked a certain sense of spirit and reverence; it was a self-oriented effort only. I recall recently hearing a story from the Pali Canon where the Buddha said that not having something respect is a form of suffering, which is a very telling statement if you ask me. At the same time, my frustration in Jodo Shinshu was rooted in the sense of aimlessness I felt in that no one around had any interest in practicing Buddhism, ‘cuz we were all saved by Amida anyways. Of course, a real Pure Land Buddhist wouldn’t think this way, but it was just the environment I was in, and I had had enough.
Speaking of the need for practice, I recently read in Master Yin-Shun’s book something regarding practice as well:
Some people practice this or that, without determination and perserverance, and eventually develop bad habits and accomplish nothing. So one much be cautious. Once one has started a practice, one should proceed from the beginning to the end without giving up. Only in this way can one develop firm will power.
This was in reference to the four powers that one develops through a concerted, long-term practice:
- Superior Understanding
- Firm Willpower
- The power of rest (knowing when to take a break when you’ve pushed too far)
Anyways, this post is a bit scattered, but just throwing out some stuff for consideration.