Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Aspiration To Be A Buddha

Lately, I've been very unhappy. There's been a lot of stress. There has been loss. I am in a lot of physical pain from my teeth, that is driving me crazy and negatively influencing my mood horribly. My dad hasn't felt well. A friend of mine in another country was suicidal and I don't know if he is even still alive. I am seeing a lot of the worst this life has to offer.
According to my new Dharma teacher, in a video he posted, the First Pillar of True Shin Buddhism is the aspiration to be a Buddha. A Buddha understands how and why the universe works the way it does and how and why things happen to people the way they do. A Buddha has the power to help when no one else does. Last night, I was struggling to come up with words to help my suicidal friend. If he truly is dead, he's moved on to another life where there will be more suffering, as there always is in life. My dad, I don't know how long I have him. He is not a Buddhist but in my belief system, he will move on to more suffering. And, unless I do something about it, so will I.

I can offer my prayers to these people. When I used to pray and I was powerless to help tangibly, praying made me feel like I was at least trying to do something. Or I could tell them, "If you need me, I'll be here." But here to do WHAT? I am a finite being, completely incapable of removing the inherently painful nature of samsara. So, I am stuck in suffering and everyone I know and love is stuck in suffering. Without going into the Bodhisattva ideal of trying to bring all sentient beings to enlightenment, that fact of everyone I care about being mired in endless suffering is enough to make any compassionate person want to toss over the universe in search of a cure for the pain.

Becoming a Buddha offers it. A Buddha can transmit the Dharma to people at the level they need it, so that it makes sense to them, so that it frees them from the cycle of birth and death. So, if I am going to respond to Amida's offer to have faith in him to go to his Pure Land after this life to achieve enlightenment, the very first, very most important stage is wanting to be a Buddha. Wanting it and then knowing that the surest and best and fastest way of accomplishing it is taking Amida up on his Primal Vow. So, deep down, I may still love things about this life... I may still be filled with delusions and attachments... but I am fed up enough with the world as it is and not having anything to do in my power to make it better... that I am overwhelmed in my heart with the cry to become a fully enlightened Budda, freeing myself from the agonies of life and reaching out to all sentient beings and saying, "Now, I can do something. Now, if you need me, I REALLY AM HERE!"

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

All Intercession Is Already Complete

I do not pray. For a long time, that was because I didn't believe in prayer. I had no one to pray to or I believed in Gods and Goddesses who didn't answer prayers. But now, I have a different reason for not praying.

In Shin Buddhism as I understand it, there is only one prayer that means anything. "Take me to the Pure Land so I may become a Buddha." By having faith in Amitabha's Primal Vow, this prayer is already answered. He sends blessings but I do not need to ask for anything any longer. Karma and my choices and the nature of life will make my life what it will be. I have nothing to fear. The worst pain in the world is simply illusion and ignorance of reality. It hurts now but it is the key to the ultimate awakening.

But I talk to Amitabha. I have a relationship with him. I just do not see the need to ask for more than his boundless compassion has already given. Would I like it if this move were made easier? Sure. Would I like more earthly happiness? Sure. And would I like life to be better for my friends and family? Of course. If I lacked even that compassion, I'd make a dreadful bodhisattva. But my prayer is enlightenment for myself and everyone and everything else and Amitabha has already vowed that. It is given. A Christian in 2011 does not pray for Christ to be sacrificed for the forgiveness of sins. What is done, by Amitabha's love, is done now and forever. I simply wait and live life as best I can, in gratitude, taking what moments of joy come, until I see him face to face and he teaches me all there is to know. This is his gift, his promise, my answered prayer.

If I prayed for him to grant me my wishes, I would be praying for him to further my attachments to illusion. Instead, I await the day he will gladly cut all my ties to illusion. He sends his compassion to me to strengthen me in shinjin, faith in his promise and in my guarantee of birth in the Pure Land. This is enough.

No one is punished for not having faith in Amitabha. No one is punished for not being a Buddhist. Life can be a punishment for all of us. If your faith makes it better for you, you are blessed. Buddhists believe that living a good life will lead you to a more blessed rebirth. I want this for all my loved ones so live good lives, whatever your beliefs. I haven't lived the best life but I have found my way to what I want and that faith is making me a better person. I don't need to remember a million rules. I can meditate without worrying when my nose itches that I'm screwing my enlightenment up. I will be taken care of. The illusion I live in now is the very stuff of Amitabha's vow, the stuff of this cyclical life of joy and suffering, the stuff of transcendence. Namu-Amida-Butsu.

Sorrow Held By Compassion

I have been very sad the past couple of days. A lot is going on in my life. We are moving. I have to pack, leave somewhere I was comfortable, start again somewhere new. Same thing in my spiritual life. I have found something different than I had been practicing before. I have left behind many of my old comfortable ideas. I am striking out on a new path. Along with that, most of my friends are very busy with school and the holidays. I always feel alone. I spent a great deal of time by myself wondering where I'm going, what I'm doing, if anyone notices that I'm hurting.

I switched blogs because I no longer wanted to spew venom at life and the world. I still have a great deal of pain in my heart and soul but that is the state of being human. I think I just tend to be more sensitive to it than most. Some will push it aside. Myself, it knocks me down and leaves me shaking and lost. Sensitivity is not normally associated with strength, which is reserved for the warriors of emotions who downplay anything negative and soldier on stoically. Well, sensitivity requires enormous strength if you don't let it break you. And if you don't solely focus it inwards, it provides you with insight into all the other beings you share the world with. This is the approach I attempt to take.

Lonely. Namu-Amida-Butsu. Sad. Namu-Amida-Butsu. Confused. Namu-Amida-Butsu. Gratitude for the endless compassion of the Buddha of the Infinite Light. I do not have to wait until death to see his Pure Land. I do not even have to wait until my mood improves. The Pure Land is in my suffering. Amitabha grasps me ever closer in my heartbreak and I speak the Name out of gratitude for that compassion beyond compassion, that love for me as for an only child, a wayward child in pain. He doesn't take the pain away. But he feels it with me, even more keenly than I do, for infinite compassion feels a finite pain infinitely. And thus he keeps his vows. Nothing needs to change miraculously. Nothing needs to suddenly get better. I do not need to beat this sadness and get a big smile back on my face. I just need to live, keep living, in this broken world, in this perfect Pure Land. When I transcend all illusion and all suffering, my compassion and my sorrow will be an ocean like his and my peace will be unshakeable. And the only difference will be, I will see that it was me all along and he waited for me to find that out.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A New Beginning

I am the artist formerly known as The Entity In The Chapel. In that blog, I discussed philosophy, religion, art, music, life as someone suffering with mental illness. I imagine that will continue here. But I started a new blog. I have been growing out of the negativity of The Entity identity. Through the use of art as therapy and the discovery of Shin Buddhism, I am learning how to be more at peace. These are qualities I hope to enhance in my life and perhaps share some of that journey with whomever reads my blog. I will always have a dark side. It's not gone forever. But even my dark side will fit under the Child of Amitabha blog because Amitabha calls most strongly for the most deluded and unenlightened people generating endless rebirths and deaths and drowning in samsara. That's me.

I have always been attracted to Buddhism. I have studied Tibetan Buddhism in-depth and Theravada and Chan and Zen to lesser extents. I knew about Shin or Pure Land Buddhism for some time but it never seemed rigorous enough as a discipline to qualify by my definitions of Buddhism. But I've started investigating it further because I was at the spiritual end of my rope and it kept coming up.

Pure Land Buddhism is the Buddhism for lay people. All the other varieties of Buddhism focus primarily on the monastic experience. To achieve enlightenment, you withdraw from the world, you use your own efforts to meditate and study and grow in perfection. Pure Land is for the people who can't or simply do not want to do that or lack the personal mettle to make it work. I am in the last category. I meditate but I will never be another Gautama. Pure Land begins with three Buddhist Sutras, the Pure Land Sutras. The longest and most detailed of these is the story of Bodhisattva Dharmakara's efforts to reach enlightenment and, in particular, his vows for enlightenment. In his 18th of 48 vows, he vows that all beings who sincerely speak his name even 10 times will be taken to his Western Pure Land to study Dharma in the perfect environment and become Buddhas.

That is a very very very basic introduction. Pure Land faith has gone through many changes over the years. Shin Buddhism says that the saying of the Name, the nembutsu, Namu Amida Butsu, is said in gratitude for the boundless compassion of Amida Buddha for making his Primal Vow. The saying of the name is not attempting to persuade him to let one into the Pure Land but instead to thank him for making it certain one will go there. It is a religion of joy in the midst of knowing that life is suffering, as all Buddhism agrees, and that we are the most helpless of beings, unable to stand up and claim enlightenment for ourselves.

Amitabha wants all beings, from a grasshopper to a man or woman, to achieve Buddhahood. Some will meditate and meditate and take countless lifetimes working on it and, for them, that is wonderful. It is good there are those like that. Others, myself included, follow Bodhisattva Nagarjuna's advice to take the easy way over the water, the water of the endless compassion of Amitabha. He is not a Jesus figure. He does not suffer and die. He just loves and teaches and waits for us through countless lives to join him in his holy place and to show us that enlightenment has been with us all along.