Why Chant? David Brazier
This booklet contains a collection of short writings about practice in the Amiuda-shu community. These writings first appeared on my weblog on the internet site Friends of Amida in 2008 and 2009. They have been only minimally revised so the reader will need to make allowance for the transfer from one medium to another, from weblog to booklet. The Friends of Amida site can be found at http://amidatrust.ning.com All opinions expressed here are hose of the author and are presented in a spirit of attempting those who wish to sustain their practice as followers of the Amida-shu.
Published by Amida Trust 12 Coventry Road, Narborough LE19 2GR, UK firstname.lastname@example.org 0116.2867476
CONTENTS Page 1 3 4 5 9 13 15 17 18 20 22 25 28 30 32 33 36
Why Chant? Three Fundamentals A Little Bit of Dogma Daily Practice An Other Power Approach Auxiliary Practices: Nei Quan & Chih Quan Spirituality Wavering Faith Recognising Dependency Nembutsu & Precepts Perceiving the Unconditioned Different Styles of Practice Diversity in the Sangha Tolerance & Friendship Love, Beauty & Practice Vocation to Ordain Questions & Answers
WHY CHANT? Everything in life depends upon causes and conditions. Set up the right conditions and the right things happen. Buddhism teaches the right conditions for spiritual growth. A person is what they do. If a person acts with right intention they transform spiritual dangers into opportunities. Buddha taught that times of change (naissance, decay, loss, gain, conjunction, separation, and encounter) are occasions of danger that can also be opportunity. However, a person is seldom able to take hold of such opportunity by their will-power alone. Will-power alone tends to be self-defeating because even when it achieves something it gives rise to pride over and attachment to those results. There is a more effective and subtle path to wholesome transformation via the deeper mind and the most effective way of activating such change is to chant. Actions are conditioned by mind and mind by actions. Since actions are conditioned by mind and mind is also conditioned by its objects, holding a wholesome object in mind conduces toward a wholesome life. Since the most wholesome object is a Buddha, keeping a Buddha in mind is the key to transformation. Since mind is conditioned by actions, the action of calling the Buddha deeply impresses this most wholesome object upon the mind, like a seal pressed into wax. The Buddhas are constantly trying to help us, but generally we resist their help. By calling out to them we open the door to our inner being through which they can help us and, through us, help others. Actually, the Buddhas are always calling to us. Amida Buddha is calling each of us. Amida’s light penetrates the deepest part of us, but unless we also call we remain closed. Once we begin a practice of chanting, however, a process of transformation begins. Something subtle starts to happen. Each person who chants becomes a vehicle for Amida’s compassionate work in the world, whether they are aware of it or not. Mostly, in fact, one is not aware of Amida’s action until one looks back over a period of time and sees that one’s life has changed. One has become more positive and more effective in many ways and obstacles 1
that used to seem big now seem manageable or small. We do not chant in order to change. We do not chant in order to help others. We chant in order to call the most loving presence into our life and to make ourselves available to it, but the effect is that we do change and others are benefitted.
THREE FUNDAMENTALS There are three fundamental teachings in Amida-shu: The threefold nature of Buddha The twofold nature of the practicer The singular nature of the practice. The Buddha is the object of refuge and source of grace in three ways: as absolute truth, as spiritual presence and as physical manifestation. The practicer is 'bombu' in being fallible and vulnerable. The practice is singular in that nembutsu encompasses all. Taking refuge in Buddha we choose the nembutsu as our single practice and, when we have done so, all practice becomes nembutsu. We take refuge because we realise that we are fallible and vulnerable and incapable of saving ourselves from spiritual danger by our own power unaided. We are able to take refuge because we attain faith by perceiving with our own senses, by having that faith enhanced by spiritual realisation, and by grounding it upon the intuition of absolute truth that lies beyond our immediate comprehension. This summary encompasses the whole doctrinal and practice basis of Amida Pureland. Namo Amida Bu
A LITTLE BIT OF DOGMA When we conduct ceremonies of admittance to Amida-shu or to the Amida Order individuals commit themselves to working within a doctrinal framework. Amida-shu is defined doctrinally by three axiomatic assertions. These are: 1. The Trikaya nature of Buddha 2. The bombu nature of the adherent 3. Nembutsu as spiritual practice. There is a line of thought that suggests that dogmas are anathema, though, of course, that would itself be a dogma. The presumption is that dogma and rationality conflict. This is wrong. Rationality is not possible without something as dogma. Euclid's rational development of geometry rests entirely upon the dogma that 'the shortest distance between two points is a straight line'. In modern times some people have invented completely new geometries by making a different assumption. Rationality is the means by which conclusions are drawn from something, but the â€˜somethingâ€™ has to be a given - it has to be dogma. If there is no dogma there is no rationality. We find that it is immensely simplifying to be clear about our fundamental axioms. They provide us with a framework within which we can do our spirituality. They mean that we can disagree with one another and have lively debates and do not have to be afraid of the intellect or the mind as some religious groups (and some repressive political parties) are. A person knows that if they work within this frame they are within Amida-shu even if it happens that they disagree with senior members of the order about this or that. This gives us the freedom to be a broad church and lively one while still being quite clear about where our coherence lies. It is not dogma that should be eschewed, it is intolerant behaviour that should be eschewed. This is why we cherish a little bit of dogma - it really is immensely practical. 4
DAILY PRACTICE I have been asked, what practice should one do daily as a follower of Amida-shu? The simple answer is: say the nembutsu. Many people do, however, like to have a routine. The important first thing to realise is that any such routine or ritual is what we call 'auxiliary practice'. In Buddhism, there is no magic in ritual. Shakyamuni taught us to do rituals in a good spirit and not to think that they have magic power. Ritual is celebratory. When Ananda asked Shakyamuni what guidelines to follow, Shakyamuni said - Do what works. So, with that caveat..... You might like to establish a particular place and routine for practice. This might have a rupa (an object, picture or calligraphy symbolising the Buddha or the Dharma) as a centre piece. It is nice, but not essential, if you can have a representation of Amida Buddha. In the shrine room at The Buddhist House we have a statue of Shakyamuni Buddha in the centre facing east, facing toward a picture of Amida Buddha on the west wall: the Buddha of history contemplating the Buddha of the cosmic era. You might have a table on which you can put associated items and offerings. There are many traditions in Buddhism to do with offerings. The important thing from an Amida-shu perspective is that one regard whatever offerings one makes as nembutsu - as acts of refuge in Amida Buddha or in all the Buddhas, in a spirit of gratitude. Whatever ways we enact the nembutsu, there is the possibility of feelings arising. The practice is touching. This is as it should be. At The Buddhist House we commonly have three formal sessions in the morning. 1. The first is a sutra recitation. We either read the whole of the Smaller Sutra or a part of the Larger Sutra. This usually takes anything from 15 to 45 minutes depending on time available. 5
2. We then have a practice session in which we do three practices. This can take between 30 minutes and several hours. (a) Walking nembutsu: walking while chanting, circumambulating the rupa. (b) Nei Quan: insight practice, e.g. reflecting upon the past 24 hours using the questions (i) what have I received or been supported by? (ii) what have I done in return? (iii) what troubles has my existence occasioned for others? (c) Chih Quan: offering the fruits of he practice and receiving the Buddha's blessing, grace, peace. Sitting in that tranquil abiding. 3. We then have morning service which includes recitations from the Nei Quan Book (see Main Page, right column), offering verses, nembutsu, Summary of Faith and Practice, Tan Butsu Ge, Verses in Praise of the Buddha and performance of prostrations. Again this can be ten minutes or anything up to an hour depending on how much one includes. We also do practice sessions and services in the afternoons and evenings, but not everyday. These also include walking nembutsu, sitting nembutsu, recitation, prostrations, Dharma talks, offerings and so on. Most of our meetings end with the verse: The original and sacred vows Are the unique and essential path To enter the Pure Land Therefore, with body, speech and mind We re devoted to the teachings That all may attain the state of bliss. Now there is no necessity to do all this much practice every day, or even ever. While this is possible in a Dharma centre, it is not possible for most people living work-a-day lives. It just depends how much time one has. One might do Nei Quan and Chih Quan twice a week. One might omit some of the recitations. One might add in other Buddhist texts. One might do walking nembutsu outside. If one goes to different Amida-shu 6
groups one will encounter many different local patterns of practice. The only absolutely essential element is chanting nembutsu. Reciting "Summary of Faith and Practice" regularly can then be a great help as can making offerings and prostrations. Amida-shu is not the kind of sangha in which there is a prescribed form of liturgy centrally determined. Each local group and each practitioner even, is encouraged to be creative and to find what works best for them within some broad parameters, or, more properly, within the spirit of the nembutsu. A practitioner with fifteen minutes for practice each morning might go to their practice place, bow, light a candle, say half a mala of nembutsu, pause in silence for three minutes, say the closing verse, bow, and then go to work. If they have a little longer, they might additionally, read Summary of Faith and Practice. When they have longer, at the weekend, perhaps, they might chant more and additionally do nei quan and chih quan. They might also vary the practice in detail from time to time so that it not become stale or meaningless. And, perhaps once a week or once a month they might meet with other practitioners, if there are any in travelling distance, or visit an Amida centre, and have a more extensive practice session and gathering for sharing. Through the day, say the nembutsu whenever you remember - while walking along the street, paused in a queue, meeting another practitioner, when something goes well or badly, in fact, when anything happens and when nothing is happening. One can have short practice sessions in the morning and/or in the evening. Please, however, do not make this into a chore. If you miss a few days [or weeks :) ], don't worry - just say, Namo Amida Bu. Buddha loves us just as we are. Three further points: 1. Non-possessive Practice It is important not to be possessive about one's practice. There are 7
people who will go to a temple and refuse to join in because "I have my practice". This is improper. So long as the practice of the house where one is a guest is not actually unethical then there is no reason why an Amida-shu follower cannot see the local practice as a form of nembutsu. I have joined in the services in many different denominations of Buddhism and also in the temples of other religions. I would not, however, join in offerings and sacrifices that involve the killing of animals, say. 2. Self-power Practice It should be clear from the above that the spirit in which one practices is more important than the precise form. Some practices, like zazen, say, are particularly associated with schools that are linked with the idea of 'self-power'. It may be inappropriate for the beginner to do such practices regularly if one wants to follow an other-power path. However, the genuine Zen adept, for instance, actually does zazen in an other-power spirit once the conceit of self has 'dropped away'. Adherents of Amida-shu are not forbidden from doing any practice that is helpful, but the important thing for a Pureland Buddhist is that all practice should be nembutsu. 3. Other Pureland Practices If you are already used to doing some form of Pureland practice as a result of exposure to Jodo-shu, Jodoshin-shu, or Chinese Buddhism, say, it is unlikely that anything that you have already learnt will be inappropriate to include in an Amida-shu practice. If you want to move in an Amida-shu direction in your style, then do incorporate elements from those mentioned above, but you do not have to feel that elements that you have learnt and found useful already have to be discarded, though you might start to view them in a new light. Amida-shu reveres Honen Shonin and all his teachers and disciples. What you are likely to find is that Amida-shu is more creative and flexible in the matter of liturgy than other schools, while still holding to the nembutsu as the bedrock. In fact, it is because we regard the nembutsu as the bedrock that we can be flexible. 8
AN OTHER POWER APPROACH Honen Shonin advocates senchaku, which means selection. He says that one should select the nembutsu and discard all other practices. He then says that once the nembutsu is established at the heart of one's practice it is possible to do all manner of practices as forms of nembutsu. It is clear, therefore, that what matters is the manner in which one does the practice and 'where one is coming from'. If one is coming from nembutsu then practice might take many forms and still be otherpower whereas if one is not coming from nembutsu, but from a reliance upon one's own mind power, or omnipotent fantasy, then the practice is not other-power. The nembutsu can be thought of as having two parts. The first part is ‘Namo’ which is the ordinary dependently originated being, fallible and vulneable, who calls out. The second part is ‘Amida Bu’ which is Amida Tathagata, the grace of all Buddhas, the peace that transcends ordinary understanding. These two parts are investigated in the two classic forms of Buddhist meditation, vipassana and samatha respectively. Vipassana, or nei quan, aims to give one insight into the nature of one's being. Samatha [’chih’] aims to give experience of the tranquil abiding that comes through the grace of the Tathagata. Thus, for instance, the meditations on the elements can be taken as a form of insight meditation. Shakyamuni teaches it to beginning disciples and often it was enough to bring about awakening. What is the other-power way to do meditation on the earth element? Here I sit. My body is supported by the ground. The ground is dense and solid. It supports me. It is not me. It is not mine. It is not myself. I did not make it. I did not earn it. Yet it supports me. How fortunate I am. Here I sit. My body is sheltered by this building. The building is hard and solid. It protects me. It is not me. It is not mine. It is not myself. I did not make it. I did not earn it. Yet it protects me. How fortunate I am. Here I sit. Beyond this building there is a world all populated with solid objects people, vehicles, trees, houses, roads, hills, valleys and so on. They 9
make up a world that I depend upon. That world is not me. It is not mine. It is not myself. I did not make it. I did not earn it. Yet it upholds me. How fortunate I am. Here sits my body. My body is solid. It is a material object of bone, flesh, hair and nails, not essentially different from the objects around me. It is not me. It is not mine. It is not my self. I did not make it. I did not earn it. Yet it is the means by which I can participate in and enjoy this world. How fortunate I am. Before me is a statue of the Buddha. Buddhas appear as solid beings like me. By grace of their teaching and example I am able to know the Dharma. How fortunate I am. All these things are other. All are powers that are not self. Reflecting upon all this I see into my nature as dependently arising. I appreciate my good fortune. I understand what kind of a being cries out to the Buddha. Appreciating my dependent nature, feelings arise in me. Gratitude. Awe. Fellow feeling. Despair. Whatever. I give these feelings to the Buddha. I feel the Buddha's peace descend upon me. The Buddha accepts my offering and I know that he smiles upon me. In my imagination, I offer to the Buddha this body, this earth, these buildings, this world. The Buddha accepts my offering and I know that he smiles. I feel the Buddha's peace descend upon me. I dwell in the transquility that fills my frame. As soon as a thought or feeling or imagining or sensation arises sufficient to disturb this peace, I offer it to the Buddha. The Buddha accepts my offering and I know that he smiles. I feel the Buddha's peace descend upon me, more tranquil even than before. In this way I dwell in tranquil abiding appreciating the peace given by the Tathagata. When it is time to end my meditation I give thanks to my teachers and fellow practitioners. I transfer the merit. I give everything away. I do not need to hold on to anything. The grace is all I need. We can use similar principles for meditations on the other elements water, air, fire, space. We can use them for meditation on each of the sense doors too. All the classic meditations taught by Shakyamuni, in fact, are conducive to a deeper experiential understanding of Namo Amida Bu. They do not encourage self-aggrandizement, self-power, or 10
other omnipotent ideas. They are simple and practical. They are not remote or abstruse. They do not require abstract ideas like transcendant mind or inherent enlightenment. They address the simple facts of the human situation. We are dependently originated beings. That is 'Namo'. We need help and cry out to the Buddha and when we entrust ourselves to him we receive grace, peace, confidence and poise. That is 'Amida Bu'. How is this different from doing these practices in a self-power way? In self-power meditation the aim of vipassana is not to realise how ordinary one is but to realize ultimate wisdom and penetrate a condition of universal mind beyond all defilements such as will end all afflictions finally and utterly. From an other-power perspective this is a rather grandiose idea, a trip. In practice, such elevated states are a rare grace, not something to pursue. Thinking that one is beyond the ordinary human condition is merely omnipotent fantasy. It is not really conducive to spiritual maturity. The associated ideas that all is a projection of one's mind, that the whole world is within one's greater self, or that one is on the point of realising one's own inherent Buddha nature make this omnipotent tendency obvious. Similarly, samatha from a self-power perspective is about achieving control over one's own mind and emotions so that one can suppress disturbance and keep one's cool through thick and thin thus adding to one own self-empowerment. So we see that there is a choice between a self-power and an otherpower approach. Samatha and vipassana can each be done from either perspective. The other-power approach eliminates the need for selfinflation; it opens us and this allows a gentle process of unconscious and un-self-conscious transformation to get under way. Spiritual maturity then looks after itself, and there is no need to lay claim to anything. We are and will always be dependent, limited and vulnerable, and thank goodness. Amida Tathagata is not a god. He is simply a Buddha. He wants to help us. If we cry out to him he will help us spiritually. He will not rearrange the physical world. We might wonder if Amida Buddha really exists, but we find that what the teachings tell us does represent something 11
spiritually real even if we cannot fully grasp the sense in which Amida and all Buddhas remain available to each of us even all this long time after their enlightenment. This is the mystical heart of Buddhism. In this other-power approach we do not have to rely upon our own power or our own mind and so we are spared the danger of believing in our omnipotence. The quan meditation shows us we are just made of the elements, just a composite of the working senses. We depend upon food, air, shelter. In these simple realities there is no room for conceit. When conceit falls away we realise that we need help. Our calling comes from the heart. We learn to chant. Over a period we see our lives change. We get evidence. Of course, it is not necessary to do meditation on the elements or any of the other meditations. They are only auxilliary practices. Nembutsu alone is real and true. But many people like to do these practices. At The Buddhist House we do some nei quan and some chih quan (samatha) each day in addition to chanting the nembutsu.
MORE ABOUT NEI QUAN & CHIH QUAN The primary practice of Amida Pureland is nembutsu, the verbal utterance of "Namo Amida Bu" or its equivalents. Nothing else is required. Nonetheless, the auxiliary practices of Nei Quan and Chih Quan do have intrinsic merit and they can expand one's appreciation, both intellectually and experientially, of the importance of the nembutsu in our life. Nei Quan (inner reflection) derives from vipassana and refers to the first half of the nembutsu, that is, to reflection upon "Namo" - what is the nature of this creature that calls out? it is ‘dependently originating nature’ - we therefore reflect upon ‘What have I received?’ ‘What has supported me?’ ‘What burden has my existence placed upon other things and other beings?’ ‘What have I done in return?’ This kind of reflection can be targeted on a particular relationship or upon a situation or a time period. In a nei quan (Naikan in Japanese) intensive one might review one's whole life bit by bit - ‘What did I receive from my mother in the first five years of my life?’ ‘... between five and ten?’ etc ‘...from my father...’ and so on. Gregg Krech’s book called Naikan is helpful. The practice generates many emotions and insights. It does not require formal meditation posture (in fact formal posture may hinder). Some people like to write or draw as part of the practice. It is a spiritual exercise that is not aimed at generating a particular state of mind, but rather a shift in one's orientation to life and feeling for others. It tends to generate gratitude, generosity and fellow-feeling. Chih Quan (reflection on cessation) derives from samattha and refers to our experience of the second half of the nembutsu: Amida's grace. In this practice one imaginatively offers everything to Amida - all feelings, thoughts, sensations, imaginings, circumstances - whatever comes up. If one does Chih Quan after Nei Quan then one probably starts with feelings and thoughts generated by one's inner reflection. Offer them to the Buddha. Imagine that the Buddha receives them with a smile, joyfully (which is not actually just imagination). Whatever we offer to 13
the Buddha, whether it is something that we think is good or bad, worthy or shameful, whatever, the Buddha has a way of using and transforming it. So we can give to the Buddha in a sense of confidence and assurance. There is no judgement from Buddha, only delight. As Buddha receives, so we feel peace - the Buddha's grace - descend through our being. We experience that joy and ease of which the sutras speak. As we feel that joy and ease we can simply dwell in it. Dwelling in that joy and ease, or deep peace, we are actually in the second (or a higher) dhyana (rapture). If something (a thought, sensation etc.) comes along that disturbs that peace, then we simply offer it to the Buddha and so continue. Do not confuse such rapture with spiritual accomplishment, simply enjoy it as spiritual refreshment. Through Nei Quan we gain a deeper sense of ourselves as bombu, dependently originated beings. Through Chih Quan we receive a taste of the Buddha's grace bestowed. Insight and grace make up facets of the nembutsu. When they are totally unified it is called nembutsu samadhi. This unification, however, is not something one can work at or achieve. From one's own side one can merely utter the nembutsu in faith. The two auxiliary exercises, Nei Quan and Chih Quan can, however, give one a stronger sense of oneself as bombu and of the Buddha as gracious and this makes utterance of the nembutsu more meaningful for the practitioner. These two exercises are not salvation nor do they lead to salvation, but they are the joy and ease that is the rightful heritage of practitioners, given to us by the Buddhas, that have been treasured by the faithful throughout the ages.
SPIRITUALITY There are many ways of defining spirit and spirituality. Generally spiritual stands in contrast to material or practical. A full life needs both dimensions. When one does something, one does it in a particular spirit. If a person gives another person a box of chocolates it could be done in a spirit of generosity, of bribery, of repayment of a debt, and so on. The material bit is the box of chocolates. The practical bit is the act of transferring that box from one person to the other. The spiritual bit is the generosity, connivance, remorse, or whatever. Spirit can therefore be good or bad, positive or negative. Commonly, however, as with many terms, when we use the word spirituality we are only thinking of one of its possible valencies, in this case the positive one. So we can then say that spirituality is the faith and grace that imparts nobility of being to all concerned throughout the vicissitudes of life. Spirituality thus transcends the individual act or the individual token. The spirit is thus conceptually distinguishable from the actions and tokens. However, spirituality is expressed through actions and tokens. It can be separated in concept even though it is not separate in practice. A spiritual perspective is one that regards the spiritual dimension of this complex as the most real one. A materialist perspective is one that regards the material transfer as the most real. This, of course, raises questions about what we mean by "real". If by real we mean important or consequential then we can see the strength of the spiritual position. At a recent meeting the question under discussion was the relation between spirit and profession. Nowadays to be professional means either to be expert or to do something for money. However, originally one's profession meant that which one professed; that is, one's faith. A true professional is somebody who in the performance of their work rises above particularity of workplace or circumstance. They have a loyalty to an ethos as a member of a particular profession. This provides a basis of faith or commitment. A doctor is a doctor even if nowhere near a hospital and will have an ethic of how to behave even if the hospital he 15
or she works in tries to make him behave differently. A person who has such a longer term loyalty has the effect of ennobling all concerned. Such a person maintains a degree of dignity even in undignifying circumstances. Spirit provides courage and resolve. Nobility discounts personal gain in the interest of a greater good. The ethos that informs a spirit is related to an implicit or explicit vision. Insofar as the vision embodies truth, good, beauty and faith that is universal rather than divisive, it ennobles. It then becomes infectious and strengthens the whole of society. It generates a sangha. The term sangha originally meant a group that benefits society. There is thus no barrier between spirituality and politics. Politics is often the domain where one's spirit is most challenged, where the temptation to lose honesty or principle can be most sharp and where invidious choices are most apparent, but it is exactly that kind of challenge that tests one's faith.
WAVERING FAITH Question: I clearly understand that I am saved by Amida through his name, but I do not experience this. Knowing cannot compare to feeling. Life is so easily lost and I fear death without certainty of my future. How can I make certain that I shall truly attain ojo [rebirth in the presence of Amida]? If there is still doubt and I die next week, I have lived in vain. Answer: We have doubt because we are bombu. It is our nature to be unsteady. Even Shinran said: "I myself do not know, after all, whether the nembutsu is truly the cause of our rebirth in the Pure Land or whether it is that karmic act that causes us to sink into bottomless hell." Shinran's faith is not built upon an achieved certainty about his salvation. It is based upon realisation that he is incapable of attaining nirvana by his own effort or virtue. Since he cannot reach salvation by his own power he has no choice but to rely upon other power. Shinran also says that the very fact that we do not have ecstatic joy all the time when we think of the saving power of nembutsu in our lives is itself evidence of our parlous condition and should be simply another thing that convinces us that we have to ask for help. The Pureland path definitely begins with reflection upon our own failings rather than with an attempt to accomplish perfect faith. When we make such a reflection we realise that we do not have the necessary self-power to reach enlightenment by our own effort. Surprisingly, when we realise our own condition as hopeless cases, this knowledge is itself releasing. We realise that our salvation is simply not in our hands. Whether we really are spiritually secure or not is in the hands of the Buddha. When we realise this we can stop worrying about it. We just say the nembutsu and get on with what reality presents for us to do.
RECOGNISING DEPENDENCY Buddhism is a middle way. This does not mean that it is a compromise. It means that it avoids extremes. Thus, on the one hand, it counsels us to avoids over indulgence, yet, at the same time, it would be quite unbuddhist to be puritanical. Moderation is a great virtue. Now, of course, if one’s life is already at some kind of extreme, then even a small move back toward balance may seem radical, but I’d like you to keep in mind the basic principle that the path that Buddha taught is one that is essentially natural and easy. When it does not come easily this is generally because before one tried it one had become dependent upon something unwholesome in a way that one now finds difficult to shrug off. In that situation, it is best to trust the process that practice sets in motion and have some patience. In fact, we are all dependent on many things and while this is something that can get out of hand, as in the case of addictions, most people are compulsive to some degree about at least a few things. Recognition of our dependency is an important first step in appreciating the usefulness of the Buddha’s teaching. While Buddhism asserts that we are each individuals, it also points out that we are all dependent. We each depend upon many things. Often these dependency relationships are, to all intents and purposes, one way. Thus, I need the sun to shine on this Earth for my life to continue, but the sun could get along quite nicely without me. I walk upon the ground and the ground supports me, but I did not make the ground and it will still be there when I am gone. Although my relations with other people are a little more two way than this, there are still enormous numbers of people who benefit me that I never meet. Much of my food is imported from far away countries. I rely upon the farmers and the people who sail the ships and fly the aeroplanes. I never get the opportunity to thank them directly. There is much to be grateful for. A staggering amount, when one starts to think about it soberly. Also, and this can cause anguish, sometimes one’s very existence causes suffering to others. The Buddha’s mother died seven days after she had given birth to him. He grew up knowing that he had 18
been a cause of her death, even though there was nothing he could do about it. Our lives depend upon the deaths of others. Even if we are vegetarian - and Buddhism advocates that we should eat as compassionately as we can - we cannot avoid the fact that many other creatures die in the harvesting and manufacture of our food. In all this, our life is mixed up with joy and sorrow. To live a full life is to feel both of these more deeply. So we have already established three very important Buddhist principles: individuality, dependency and gratitude. Just appreciating these three ideas and allowing them to penetrate into us can make a huge difference to our lives. If we were to take a few minutes four or five times a day to think back over the previous two or three hours and consider the ways in which we have each been individual, try to list some of the benefits we have received and the conditions that we have depended upon during that time, and feel a little gratitude, then, over a period of time, we will notice a natural improvement in many aspects of our life. We will experience greater peace of mind, find our relationships improving, our physical health is likely to benefit, and it is probable that we shall become more productive and contribute more to the good of our friends, neighbours and society. All this will come about naturally. Buddhism works like a seed. If one plants the seed and waters it, then it will grow. The resulting plant will differ a bit according to the soil and the aspect of the land and so on, and in the same way the seed of Dharma will develop a little differently in each individual. Nonetheless, it will grow and eventually bear tasty fruit. The planting of the seed happens at one moment, but the growing of the plant occurs over a period of time. Realising the basic points of Dharma is something that happens, as we say, like a penny dropping, but the resulting change then occurs over a much longer period of time. These changes may be imperceptible day to day, but over a longer period we see people becoming kinder, calmer, wiser and freer and this can be the same for each of us.
NEMBUTSU & PRECEPTS Question: Honen Shonin taught us that no matter what one may be doing, do it with the nembutsu. But at times I realize I am doing things that are not in accord with the Buddha way, at such times I feel it wrong to think of Amida. So the thought has come to me that I should try to keep precepts, so I can always recite nembutsu. Do you think it is OK to recite, even though one is in the act of sinning. Or can one see the precepts as an accessory to nembutsu? Gassho. Answer: Thank you for your very good question. Briefly, it is good to say nembutsu in all conditions, so there is no need to worry. In more detail: 1. It is always an inherently good thing to keep the precepts. This is just a matter of definition - the precepts are a description of what is good to do. The precepts indicate the kind of life that Buddha wants one to live: the kind that does not generate suffering for oneself or others. It is, therefore, good to try to keep the precepts. 2. At the same time as Honen encourages us to keep the precepts he also points out that we are not good at doing so. We often fail. The efficacy of saying the nembutsu is not, however, dependent upon one's virtue. One should say the nembutsu whether one is being virtuous or not. 3. Keeping the precepts is, however, broadly indicative of one's state of faith. To break a precept is generally an instance of â€˜short-term-ismâ€™. One breaks the precept in order to get a quick benefit even though one knows that in the longer run one generates trouble. To not do so requires faith in the process of life and this, for a Pureland person, is a reflection of one's faith in Amida. If I am confident that I am one of Amida's people, already in receipt of Amida's grace, in due course to be refreshed in the Pure Land, ultimately destined to assist in Amida's work of transformation, then there is no need for me to break precepts. To steal or lie or cheat or be greedy, etc., will have no appeal if my faith 20
is in my commitment to a purpose that will be hindered by such acts. 4. The precepts, therefore, are not so much an accessory to nembutsu as a natural extension of it. If I realise that I have broken them it is an indicator to myself that my faith was weak at that time. It gives some insight into my bombu condition and the karma that I consist of. I may feel contrite. I should certainly say the nembutsu. 5. If I place my faith in the nembutsu and take refuge in the Buddhas rather than in worldly gain, then the motivation to break the precepts will be undermined by degrees and naturally I shall live a more virtuous life, simply because I will be conscious of the disadvantage of doing otherwise. This process of undermining goes on largely unconsciously. It is like the person who falls in love. They then no longer want to do things that will impede their relation with the beloved - not because they are making a big effort so much as because it would run counter to their aim in life. Sometimes old habits may still prevail, but when they do the person feels anguish at himself. That is exactly the time when the person is likely to reflect upon the name of the beloved.
PERCEIVING THE UNCONDITIONED In the Dhaatu section of the Samyutta Nikaya (SN II 14), Shakyamuni explains: "According to the form perceived, so the reaction. According to the reaction, so come intentions. According to the intention, so come engagements. According to the engagement so the entrancement. And so the desire, the passion, and the quest, and, ultimately, according to the quest, so the gain." He also says that "It is in dependence upon the diversity of elements that there arise the diversity of engagements, and upon engagements, entrancements. The engagements do not arise from the entrancements; the elements do not arise from the engagements." These statements demonstrate how empirical Shakyamuni was in spiritual matters, his conviction that one thing leads to another, that matters are complex rather than black and white and, in the last statement quoted, that he did not hold that the physical world is a projection of mind. He held that experience arises in dependence upon the elements, by which he means the meeting of a sense faculty with an object. He saw this as a one way process through which commonly we become entranced and blinded in various ways. Everything made of earth, water, air and fire has its gratification and its danger, and from each there is the possibility of escape. Enlightenment means to clearly understand the gratification, the danger and the escape. Escape means to see beyond the form. To see beyond, means to construe what is not actually presenting itself as well as what is, the invisible as well as the visible. This can be achieved by a reflection upon relativity. If it were always light, one would have difficulty construing light as â€˜somethingâ€™. It is only because one knows of darkness that one construes light as something. Then one knows at a time when it is dark, that there is also light and at a time when it is light that here is also dark. One is not limited to light, nor limited to dark. Then one can appreciate light and dark. Similarly, because of form one can construe space. Because of perception of what is finite, one can construe the infinite. Because of the conditioned, one can construe the unconditioned. Because of meanness and hatred, generosity and love. Because of 22
ordinary finite love, infinite, unconditional love. If one places one's faith in the unconditioned beyond the immediate one is liberated. Shakyamuni understood that the mind is built upon what it perceives and that liberation therefore depends upon seeing the whole, not just a limited part. Such perception is what is called faith in Buddhism. It is to have faith in the beyond (paramita). To live from the other shore. To see more than just what meets the eye. Thus, ignoring the beyond, perceiving only the limited and ephemeral, one's reactions are narrow, one's intentions are mean, one's engagements are grasping, one is entranced by greed, hate and delusion, one has many desires that rise to passions and one's life is spent in quest of the satisfaction of such passions so that one's gains are mere fleeting satisfactions accompanied by much pain and frustration and one's precious human life is wasted. However, perceiving the infinite and the unconditioned, one's response is expansive, one's intention generous, one's engagements are liberating, one's entrancement becomes spiritual rapture, one desires only the good of all and one's quest becomes the bodhisattva path. As a result, one's gain is an ever renewing spiritual consummation. According to the enlightened ones we have the possibility of a life of altruism and spiritual fulfilment within this world. Such liberation rests upon a change of perception. The change is not so much a withdrawing of attention from what is around us as an opening of perception to include a hugely expanded construal of the vastness of what is there. This is to hold the world to be a limitless realm of unimpeded love, light and infinite possibility. Such is the faith that is the basis of awakening, the dissolution of ignorance and the ultimate spring of our joyful singing. We can be inspired by this vision. In principle, we might fulfil it. Ordinarily, we fail to do so. We get caught up in trivia. Our minds fixate upon this and that and lose touch with the bigger picture. However, by the method of relativity, we can also construe on the basis of our condition. Seeing our own unliberated state, we can construe liberation. To construe liberation is to see the Buddha. To see the Buddha is to take refuge. To take refuge is to live in the unconditioned even while in the 23
midst of the conditioned. It is this bitter-sweet both-at-once condition that is the hallmark of the Pureland Buddhist approach to spirituality. This is not a path of so liberating oneself from oneâ€™s conditioned nature that one becomes Buddha, nor of being so lost in oneâ€™s conditioning that one loses sight of Buddha, but of being and having both together. That is what makes life a rich experience and makes Buddha smile. We are mean, selfish, limited, sinners who, in the very act of perceiving our own benighted condition, partake of the glory of the unconditioned life of all the Buddhas, knowing that we are loved by them whatever our current condition, for to do so is their nature. Everything matters and nothing matters. Everything is soiled and everything is pure. We are lost and we are found, all in the same instant. The very perception of our own failing guarantees our success and salvation. The perception of how limited our faith is enables us to construe the perfection of faith, a perfection that one will never own, but the perceiving of which is itself enough to set in motion an inexorable process of universal liberation. According to what we perceive... so the gain.
DIFFERENT STYLES OF PRACTICE In November 2008 I attended the meeting of the World Fellowship of Buddhists in Tokyo. On the last day of the WFB meeting we processed from our hotel to Sensoji Temple where a service for world peace was held. Along the way we had a photoshoot and a mass tea ceremony. The procession took us on a winding route through the middle of the shopping alleyways that surround the temple that are packed with passers-by. The whole morning was a noisy, jostling, good humoured affair. Some people chanted, others chatted. When we finally got to the main hall of Sensoji we were shepherded into the shrine area for a solemn ceremony conducted by the Tendai abbot, a man in his midseventies decked in brocade robes. Although the ceremony itself was dignified, we were only separated from the hubbub of the temple foyer by a mesh screen and the clatter of falling coins mixed with the voices of the crowds of visitors and tourists and the smell of incense smoke blowing in from outside. Sometimes it was a bit difficult to hear the chanting of the monks or the addresses given by the abbot and other dignitaries. Sensoji was burnt down (I presume in WWII) and was rebuilt fifty years ago, though you would not know from the look of it that it was not five hundred years old. This ceremony was part of the fifty year anniversary celebrations as well as being a good opportunity for Buddhists from all over the world attending WBF to perform an act of worship together. For me, this was the high spot of the conference, but for a number of my Western friends it was bewildering and off-putting. "We didn't do any meditation," "We're so lucky to have a proper contemplative tradition in America," and so on. Somebody asked me what my practice was like and I said that it was much like what they had just experienced in the temple and the response was, "Oh, you don't look like that kind of person, you seem quite a nice guy." So what is Buddhism all about? Is it contemplation on a mountain to 25
perfect one's personal mind, or is it gathering in the midst of the people to invoke the Buddhas' help and vow to be part of the emergence of world peace? Is it silence and reflection or is it invocation, adoration and resolution? “So if you practise like that, how does it work?” I eventually got asked. “What we have just experienced is marked by discipline, faith and devotion in the midst of ordinariness - what more do you need to create a Dharma community, a good work team, a better society?” I was touched that my new friend suddenly showed a new recognition. It is clear to me that there are a number of pre-judgements operating in the Western Buddhist mind that tend to exclude all that is best in the spirit of Japanese Buddhism as actually practised. For the Westerner who thinks that Buddhism equals meditation it comes as a shock to discover that even Zen temples in Japan rarely have a zazen schedule and other schools would put meditation practice, if they do it at all, which most don't, either in the same sort of category as flower arranging and other cultural arts, or in a niche reserved for a very small elite of hermits. Japanese Buddhism is a social affair, with much ‘bells and smells’ liturgy, in which simplicity of faith, everyday kindness and acknowlegement of one's own ordinariness are central values. There is room for both and what has been accomplished in the establishment of Buddhism in the West with its secularised style, intensive meditation retreats, sophisticated intellectual study and creation of havens from the worldly world is already remarkable and admirable. It would be a pity, however, if this blinds us to the equally important values enshrined in the Japanese way where religion is more fun, more noisy, more social. When Westerners reject elaborate ceremony, I suspect it has far more to do with anachronistic worries rooted in fears of 'papism' and other old boggies than any balanced appraisal of intrinsic merit. Japan has had its own historical troubles and they have come out in a completely different mix. Clearly I am a minority, but it has taken me quite a journey to get to this point of inclusive appreciation and I hope not to remain alone in my now much enhanced enjoyment of this joyous, cacophonous, emotional 26
dimension of the faith. I hope that, in Amida-shu, we can get the best of both worlds - or at least a reasonable middle ground, one that does have a place for both the contemplative and the public dimension, is not puritanical and does have the capacity to be a faith for everybody. We're working on it. For my week in Japan, however, it was a delight to sit at the back of the congregation crushed into Sensoji, chatting to my neighbour on the bench, listening to priests chanting delicate invocations of Quan Yin, joining them in thumping out the Heart Sutra, straining to hear the short sermons (and not succeeding), and enjoying the colour and the smell of it all.
DIVERSITY IN THE SANGHA I am aware that within Amida-shu there are people with many different interpretations of the teaching and different approaches to practice. There are people whose understanding is more sociological and others who are more religious. There are those who look for practical application of the Dharma and there are others who have a more private approach. There are people who take the narrative of the Larger Pureland Sutra literally, symbolically, allegorically, or metaphorically. Different members have a different sense of Amida Tathagata and of their relation to the Tathagatha, some being personal, some more abstract. Some people find it easier to relate to Tai Shih Chih or Quan Shi Yin. Some are social activists and some are not. Some are artists and some have little place for art in their lives. Some are very community minded and some are virtually hermits. Some emphasise the psychological, some the ethical, some the doctrinal, some the practice, some the mystical aspect of the teaching. One could go on. One could create, maybe, a typology of different sorts of Amidists, but it would be very complicated and would never do full justice to the people. I see that there are many different approaches according with the many different characters within this movement and I rejoice in it. Amida speaks to each of us in our heart and he speaks to each in a manner that accords with the need of that person at this particular phase in his or her spiritual growth. None of us has the final, complete or perfect interpretation. We are bombu. We all live together within the all embracing love of the Tathagata, within the one light, even though the spectrum that it breaks up into as it passes through each prism is unique. What a splendour of lights! A few years ago I was giving a talk in Hawaii and outside the window there was thick tropical forest. The forest is tangled and complex. The different plants grow together in a mix of individual striving and complex co-operation. The forest needs all its different species in order to thrive. I used this image as a theme in my stumbling attempt to 28
convey the importance to the sangha of our multi-layered, multitalented composite society. The organization of Amida-shu reflects this dynamic, organic philosophy. It is complex. It contains what organization consultants call ‘redundancy’ and what we call sacred space - room for it to be possible to do things in more than just one prescribed way, room for creativity and growth, spaces where the nourishment of the light can be appreciated in new ways. With this kind of organic structure new things are always happening and developing. Part of my role is to protect this richness and resist pressure to replace it with an orthodox monoculture. Such a monoculture might seem more efficient and easier to understand, but it is the domain where spiritual diseases (and you always have some) turn into dangerous epidemics. We are held together by our practise of the nembutsu, by our acknowledgement of our bombu condition, from which flows our compassion for one another, and by our reverence for the Tathagata of limitless light, of unconditional love, who opens to us the portals of bliss. We are held by these three alone. We have many opinions and many styles of application of these three principles, but within Amidashu there is not and never will be only one interpretation of them. As we appreciate more and more the value of diversity within our movement the more richness it will have and the more the transformative Other Power will work in the world and in our hearts. Let us have faith in that. Let us all recite the nembutsu in faith and open our hearts to the miracle in our midst, the ‘mani jewel’ that has so many glittering facets that one cannot hope to comprehend them all.
TOLERANCE & FRIENDSHIP Many years ago Khantipalo Bhikkhu wrote a book called Tolerance in which he gathered together a lot of Buddhist texts and pointed out, rather mischievously, that Buddhism is not tolerant. Buddhism is not tolerant in the sense that tolerance is a matter of putting up with what one does not agree with. Buddhism, socially, is tolerant, of course. It is a philosophy that has historically protected other faiths. It does not do this in a spirit of â€˜putting up withâ€™ however. Buddhism points at universal truth. This means truth that can universally be found. Buddhism does not tolerate animal sacrifice, but it does tolerate compassion and mercy. Buddhism does not tolerate exclusivism when it becomes oppressive, but it does tolerate loving one's neighbour as one's self. Even though Buddhism is not framed in theistic terms, it does well understand the spirit of loving the Lord with all one's heart and soul and might, because it shares that spirit, even if it conceives the object of such love in slightly different terms. A couple of years ago I wrote an article about the bombu paradigm for an interfaith magazine. I argued that if this paradigm were more widely accepted faiths would get on better. This is the paradigm that says that religions point toward something higher but the nature of the beings who do the pointing is such that none of us has the last word on what exactly it is that we are pointing at. Consequently, there is room for us to all learn from one another. I have learned much from followers of other religions over the years and I think that those of us who are Buddhist in countries where Buddhism is not the dominant faith are actually privileged in many ways by that fact because we get to hear a diversity of perspectives all the time. Buddhism is not so much tolerant as friendly. We like to hear diverse perspectives that come from people of good intent. We see the spiritual path as an adventure and along that adventure one will meet with many experiences. Faith is encounter. It is the willingness to meet what is beyond self and to do so in many situations. There are times when one 30
has to act against something in order to preserve wholesomeness and this can lead to conflicts, but even then, one tries to come from a place of understanding all involved and realising that those who get labelled as miscreants in a given situation might be heros in another situation. We hear fascinating discussions in Pureland circles about ‘evil-doers’ (Japanese ‘akunin’). We are all evil doers in the sense that none of us manages to live without doing some harm. Realising one's own bombu nature is the basis of fellow feeling and friendship. Pureland Buddhism does not pretend that people are better than they are. We are all capable of heights of spiritual enlightenment, but we are also rather predatory, deceptive, passionate creatures, capable of all manner of troublemaking. Buddha invited us to live lightly upon the Earth, with a modest and generous attitude, in friendship, in a light greater than our own. If you want to be a light, make the Dharma your light - wherever you find it and no matter what the brand name. Namo Amida Bu.
LOVE, BEAUTY & PRACTICE Recently we have had some discussions concerning the relationship of love, beauty and practice. On the one hand one might think of Buddhism as quite ascetic and vinaya monks are not supposed to go to shows or ‘indulge’ in art or entertainment. On the other hand, not all Buddhists are vinaya monks and the Pureland tradition derives more from the dedicated ‘faith follower’ than the hermit ascetic. Buddha Shakyamuni is depicted as enjoying beauty on certain occasions in the sutras and progress in practice enables one to discern ‘spiritual beauty’. A significant issue is whether one can enjoy and appreciate without becoming unduly attached. However, avoidance of attachment may come more readily through appreciating many things than through limitation. Beauty invites love and love is a spiritual virtue that can easily become a possessive vice, so sages have had to tread a fine line here. Nonetheless, creativity and appreciation of beauty have become an increasing part of Amida practice and this is certainly in keeping with a tradition in which some of the greatest masters - Shan Tao, Saigyo were artists and saw their art as practice. As beauty invites love it can also be an aid to practice, which is why the Pure Land is beautiful every items speaks of spiritual jewels. So a beautiful environment can be therapeutic and is a gift or grace. We talk about bodhisattva action as action to create the right conditions and, in the truest sense, the ‘right’ conditions are beautiful ones. It may sound slightly new age to talk about ‘beautiful people’ but when Buddha talks of the huge value of ‘keeping good company’ he is talking about mixing with those who are spiritually beautiful.
VOCATION TO ORDAIN At The Buddhist House, Amida France and other Amida centres there can be several categories of resident. There are paying guests (short and long term), volunteers, students, trainees (including postulants and aspirants), and resident members of the Amida Order (both ordained and lay). The first three groups pay for their keep and join in activities either according to choice or by an individually agreed contract. The last two (trainees and order members) make up the core of the community. In this piece I want to write about the life of and demands upon trainees. Generally trainees come firstly as paying guests so that they can see how well suited they are to the life of the house and the Order. This is a two way test. The community wants to see what the new person is like and the person him or herself wants to know what it feels like to be part of the community. Although you can read this article there is no substitute for trying it out. If and when it is apparent that the person is behaving as a trainee they may be invited to become one officially. This pattern of nominal recognition following substantive fact is the principle that we try to keep to in many aspects of Amida, though it does not always work out exactly as each person does have unique circumstances. A trainee joins in all the activities of the core community including religious services, educational activities, domestic work, desk work if it is allocated, social activities, socially engaged projects. It is a full, varied and all-consuming life. There is the religious liturgical life that provides the backbone of the community and there is the practical work of keeping the community in being and taking care of visitors, servicing events and socially engaged work. A trainee is in a position of poverty, sobriety and obedience. Thet also have fun. Their needs are few but their life is rich. Initially their responsibility is limited to following the programme and acting as instructed. Gradually this changes as they 33
become more and more integrated into the life of faith that pervades every aspect of the community. The first hurdle for a new trainee is the result of moving from being a guest, who is looked after, to being one of the group who are doing the caring. The second hurdle is whether the trainee is sufficiently enthusiastic to enjoy having such a large part of their time taken up in this way. Then there is the question of willingness to turn one's hand to whatever is needed. Some of the work is elevating and some mundane, some is challenging intellectually, some physically, some is solitary and some involves sociable interaction or teamwork with others. One has to learn to work easily in situations where others tell one what to do and also in due course to handle having authority over others. If a person continues as a trainee they are allocated progressively more sophisticated tasks. They learn leadership. They acquire an enhanced ability to care for others, to work with others and to support both other members of the sangha and strangers. Trainees learn to take responsibility, to work as part of a team, and to think in a collective, not merely individual way. The transition to living as part of a group can be challenging to some people. Being a trainee is unlike having a job. It is a complete lifestyle. It is not something that one can go home from. It is one's new home. Not everybody can take to this different kind of life. It is individual, but not independent. The rewards are as high as the challenges involved. Being a trainee is a full time commitment, a vocation. It is not right for everybody and there are other ways to be involved in Amida work, as a volunteer or student or guest. For those who are in a position to commit in a total way, however, there is nothing better than to be a trainee and in due course to seek ordination. Along the way it is normal for some crises to be encountered as the way of life is very different from that of an independent individual in contemporary society. As a trainee, probably one has very little money and very little free time. One is told what to do and has relatively little private space. Many 34
modern people find these aspects hard. Also, the all-absorbing nature of the life does not allow for outside interests and commitments to any great extent. A trainee must ask permission to go and visit relatives or take part in any activity that is not part of the house schedule. This will generally be granted, but it will always be considered in the light of the trainee's spiritual training and also in that of the needs of the sangha group. This will only work for the trainee who is confident that the community leadership really does have compassionate mind and the best interests of all concerned at heart and if he or she really is committed. If the centre of gravity of one's life is elsewhere then one will probably not succeed. However, if one is able to enter into the spirit of the life of faith fully there is no better way to reach one's heart's contentment. The usual progression is that a person who becomes a trainee spends about one year to eighteen months as a postulant before initial ordination. During that time they will do a One Hundred Thousand Nembutsu Retreat and various other practices preparatory to ordination. At initial ordination the trainee takes vows and becomes a novice. Novitiate lasts three years before the trainee confirms their vows and becomes an amitarya. At confirmation they also opt to be celibate or not. Some trainees might opt to become chaplains, taking a smaller number of vows and choosing a less communal lifestyle and others again might not ordain but might still become lay members of the order. As a novice one lives the full life of an amitarya. One may be sent abroad or given projects to work on that serve the needs of the sangha and its work of compassion. One will participate in the life of a community based on love and faith and experience these qualities translated into action as one lives together with other similarly committed people. One will realise that the relinquishment of some aspects of modern life that one has made and that one's sangha brothers and sisters have made has freed one to have an amazingly fulfilling life. One will certainly grow, change and mature through the process and gain a wide variety of skills and experience that will increase one's confidence and equip one to be a full and useful member in the service of Amida's great work of univseral transformation.
QUESTIONS & ANSWERS Q: Why should I chant? A: Chanting the name of the Buddha of Love opens a window to let love into your life. Q: What is that name and how should I say it? A: The Name is Amida. We often write ‘Name’ with a capital letter as it is so important to us. Usually we say 'Namo Amida Bu'. There are lots of different tunes and rhythms. There are also other longer or shorter forms of the chant. 'Namo Amida Bu' comes from the Sanskrit language. It is short for ‘The Name that I call on is Amida Buddha’. Q: Will it make me kinder, more peaceful or more creative? A: It will do all of that, but, more importantly, if you chant with or for others, the love will spread, like light coming in through one window spreads through the room.. Q: What is your aim in teaching people to chant? A: The ultimate aim is to create harmony throughout the universe. The immediate aim is that each person feel a little more love in their life. When people feel that love they grow as people and become more effective and fulfilled. Q: I find it difficult to chant because I do not have a good voice and because I am self-conscious. What should I do? A: It is nice to chant harmoniously with others, but all that is actually needed is to say the name of the Buddha of love. You can say it anytime either out loud or silently whatever activity you are involved in. Q: I've heard people say 'Namo Amida Bu' or ' Namo Omito Fo' to one another. Why do they do that? A: Yes, for those who chant regularly, among themselves, the Name 36
tends to become an everyday term - a greeting, an encouragement, an apology, an acknowledgment. Whatever happens, 'Namo Amida Bu' brings a little love and harmony into the situation. Q: I’m not a very loving person. I don’t think that I can make love appear like that. A: Love is a power. It is not something that you make by your own effort. It works in a mysterious way as soon as you let it and give yourself to it. Q: Do you have to be a Buddhist to chant? A: If you chant the Name you are a Buddhist, so you don't have to worry about it. At the same time, if you want to learn more about Buddhism, there are formal ways of getting more involved, but only if you want to. Q: What if I belong to another religion already? A: That is not a problem as far as Pureland Buddhism is concerned. Any religion, if it is a good religion, believes in love and spreading it in the world. Q: Does it matter what you chant? A: Yes, what you chant resonates throughout your life so it matters what it means because that is what you are invoking to be the power in your life. If one chanted ‘Heil Hitler’, it would have a different effect. Q: Why is it in a foreign language? A: It works more sub-consciously that way. You can chant ‘Buddha of Love I call to you’ if you like or ‘Infinite Light, / Be my delight / Shine on me / An ordinary’ or whatever, - it’s OK to be creative - so long as it means the same thing. The standard forms, however, are more international and more ancient and so connect us with more people. Q: What does Buddha mean? 37
A: A Buddha is a being who has woken up to the principle of unconditionality - which, in practical terms, means unconditional love. Everything depends upon conditions and our spiritual life depends on the spirit of love. A Buddha fully understands and embodies this. Q: Are there many Buddhas or just one? A: There are many Buddhas. Q: Why Amida particularly? A: Amida is the Buddha of complete acceptance. The word ‘a-mida’ means ‘does not measure’. Amida loves us just as we are whereas many Buddhas expect us to be good or wise or to have done something special before we are admitted to their heavenly presence. For Amida we only have to chant. The Buddha then does all the rest. Q: Do you worship Buddha? A: Sort of. We invoke Buddha. ‘Invoke’ means we ask him to come into our lives. We place our trust in him - in that process. In Buddhism, this is called ‘taking refuge’ We may have many problems in our life and we take refuge in calling on the Name. This allows a change to happen at an unconscious and collective level. Q: Is Buddha a god or the same as God? A: ‘God’ can mean different things. Buddhas love us and try to help us, but they do not judge us and they did not make the world. We say that it does not matter whether Buddha is a god but it does matter whether your god is a Buddha. In other words, it does matter what the qualities are of whatever it is that you put at the centre of gravity of your spiritual life. Some people worship money, some science, some their country, some various gods. If your god is wise, kind, universal, then it is perhaps a Buddha whereas if it punishes cruelly, supports oppression or exclusion, or leads people into unwholesome acts, then it is probably not a Buddha. Q: Can one believe in Buddhas and in God? 38
A: Some people do. Q: What happens when you die? A: What happens to you after you die depends on your karma in this life. In particular upon your â€˜karmic affinityâ€™. What you connect yourself to in this life you will be drawn to in future lives. Chanting connects you to the Buddha of Love and there is no better place to go. Amida appears to everybody at the point of death as a bright light, but not everybody is prepared to be received into that light. Q: What if one does not believe in future lives? A: It does not make any difference. Chanting still brings love into this life. Chanting works in all conceivable lives. Q: Why do Buddhists live in communities? A: Whether Buddhists live in private houses or in groups there is always a tendency toward harmony. That is what it is all about and that is what the world needs. Q: How can I start chanting? A: Letâ€™s do it now
David Brazier, whose Buddhist name is Dharmavidya, born 1947 in England, is head of the Amida-shu, a Buddhist community and religious order working internationally. His teachers include Saiko Gisho sensei who asked him to spread the teachings of Pureland Buddhism and Buddhist psychology to the contemporary world. He has also studied Zen, Tibetan and Theravada Buddhism during more than forty years of Dharma practice. He was taught that “All Buddhism is good.” by the Venerable Master Minh Chao in Vietnam and this inclusivism informs his approach. He is a doctor of philosophy (Keele University), author, poet, traveller, gardener, lecturer, woodsman, father, husband, avid reader, psychotherapist, inventor of pandramatics, founder of several communities, social worker and innovator. His motto is “Keep learning.”
Amida-shu is a spiritual philosophy and practice with roots in the Pureland Buddhist tradition stretching back through Japan and China to the India of Shakyamuni Buddha. Amida-shu respects all Buddhist sutras and traditions and also seeks to present the tradition in a form that works well in the contemporary world. Amida-shu thus has a written constitution, called ‘Provisions for Structure, Continuity and Governance of Amida-shu’ and this makes provision for progressive change and adaptation as well as providing a basic structure within which individuals can develop their spiritual practice and training and groups can co-operate in harmony through teamwork to establish communities and carry out tasks of compassionate engagement with the conditions of this world, seeking always to facilitate the purposes of all the Buddhas to spread love, kindness, friendship and wholesome ways of life. Amida-shu is a path of faith based upon the nembutsu teaching outlined in this booklet.