Dharma Discussion: Concentration/Dhyāna (August 16, 2020)

Click here to read about the Buddhist Virtue of Concentration

Discussion Questions

  1. Have you ever experience a state of deep concentration that enabled to you do an activity skillfully and without distraction, sometimes described as a “flow state” or being “in the zone”? What gave rise to that state of mind? Were you able to replicate it on more than one occasion?
  2. Has Buddhist practice in general, and the Nembutsu specifically, helped you to cultivate a concentrated mind at times?
  3. What the greatest obstacles you face in maintain mental concentration?

Further Reading

From the Larger Sutra

“The bodhisattvas rejoice together, play celestial music in the air, and sing songs with wondrous voices praising the virtues of the Buddhas. They hear and accept the teaching with great joy. After paying homage to the Buddhas in this way, they instantly return to their own land before their mealtime.”

(Three Pure Land Sutras, Vol. 2: The Larger Sutra, Part II, Section 28)

19th Vow of Bodhisattva Dharmakara (Amida Buddha)

If, when I attain Buddhahood, the sentient beings of the ten quarters, while awakening the mind aspiring for enlightenment and performing meritorious acts, should desire to be born in my land with sincere aspiration, and yet should I not appear before them at the moment of death surrounded by a host of sages, may I not attain the perfect enlightenment.

From the Saihō Shi’nanshō (Record of the Compass that Points to the West), Shinran’s record of the teachings he received from his teacher Hōnen

As we face the moment of death wracked by the pain of illness, our hearts inevitably cling to the three kinds of attachment: attachment to this world, attachment to our bodies and attachment to the life we have lived. However, Amida Tathagata will shine a brilliant light and appear before the practicer, extraordinarily giving rise to a heart of taking refuge that is free from any other thoughts.  The three kinds of attachment will be eliminated, never to arise again. Moreover the Buddha will draw close to provide compassionate support and guard the mindfulness of the practicer.

In the Sutra Proclaiming Praise for the Pure Land (Shōsan jōdo kyo) it is taught that the Buddha provides compassionate aid and causes the mind to be undistracted.  In the moment this life is cast off, birth in the Pure Land is realized and one dwells in the stage of nonretrogression. In the Amida Sutra it is taught that Amida Buddha appears before the practicer along with a great assembly of sages.  At the end of that person’s life their mind will not be disturbed and they will immediately attain birth in Amida Buddha’s Land.

For the mind to be undistracted and undisturbed is the meaning of right mindfulness.  However, it is not the case that Amida Buddha comes to welcome the practicer because he or she maintains right mindfulness in his or her last moments.  It is clearly the case that the practicer is able maintain right mindfulness because the Buddha comes to welcome him or her.

The person in whom the practice for birth in the Pure Land is fulfilled in daily life will without fail be welcomed by the assembled sages at the end of their life. When they receive that welcome, they will immediately attain the heart that dwells in right mindfulness.

However, most practicers these days fail to understand this truth.  The simply go about their daily practice in a timid and cowardly manner, and then when they come to the end of their lives, they pray for right mindfulness.  This is most perverse. Nevertheless, is it is easy for practicers to fall into this way of thinking. 

Do not give rise to a timid and cowardly heart in your daily practice.  Understand that right mindfulness in one’s last moments arises from being truly settled.  This is the essential meaning.  Those who hear this teaching should rest their minds on it.

(Taishō Shinshū Daizōkyō, No. 2647 in Vol. 83, page 848, column b, line 18, Translated by H. Adams)

Wisdom from the Life of Osono of Mikawa

Osono was traveling with a renowned scholar priest named Shōkei who was giving a series of lectures on Buddhism throughout her native province of Mikawa. She had been put in charge of receiving donations and managing all of Shōkei’s expenses, so she was delighted to have the opportunity to attend every one of his talks.

As the tour drew to a close, Osono asked Shōkei one night, “I have listened carefully to all your talks, but being the fool that I am, have forgotten all that you said.  Could you give me one simple teaching that I can remember?”

In response, Shōkei remarked, “I have heard that the bridge here in town was washed away.”

“Yes that is true” replied Osono

“It was such a sturdy bridge that one would not expect it to get washed away, would they?” Shōkei continued.

“Indeed, the recent flood was worse than anything we have seen in recent years, so that even that sturdy bridge was washed away.” Osono replied.

“Is that so?  And yet, even though the sturdy bridge was washed away, surely the moonlight that shines down could not be washed away, could it?” He asked.

Before he could even finish speaking, Osono broke into a smile and exclaimed, “Thank you!  The liberating moonlight has shined clearly into my mind! Namo Amida Butsu, Namo Amida Butsu.”

Thereupon, Shōkei and Osono recited the Nembutsu together.

[Rev. Kakehashi’s insight:] Just as the moonlight continues to shine down, even as great flood waters rise and wash everything away, Namo Amida Butsu, the moon of Amida’s Primal Vow shines brightly in our minds. Carried away by the flood of afflictions, my mind is continually defiled by passions, fickle, forgetful and distracted.  The voice of the Tathagata that remains unchanging, yesterday, today and tomorrow resounds in my mind, assuring me “Be at peace, for I will liberate you without fail.”  That voice is Namo Amida Butsu.  And so whenever we hear the Nembutsu, we receive the message “It’s okay.  It’s okay.”

(From Myōkōnin no Kotoba (Words of the Marvelous People) by Jitsuen Kakehashi, pg. 35-37 Translated by H. Adams)

Gary Snyder on Parenting

“It is as hard to get the children herded into the carpool and down the road to the bus as it is to chant sutras in the Buddha-hall on a cold morning.”

(The Practice of the Wild: Essays, p. 163)

The True Teaching, Practice and Realization (Kyōgyōshinshō), Chapter on Shinjin, Section 9


9 The Commentary on the Treatise states:

One says the Name of the Tathagata in accord with the Tathagata’s light, which is the embodiment of wisdom, and with the significance of the Name, wishing to be in correspondence with it by practicing in accord with reality.

One says the Name of the Tathagata means to say the name of the Tathagata of unhindered light. In accord with the Tathagata’s light, which is the embodiment of wisdom: the Buddha’s light is the manifestation of wisdom. This light is completely unhindered in shining throughout the worlds of the ten quarters, and it dispels the darkness of ignorance of the sentient beings of the ten quarters. It is not like the light of the sun, the moon, or a gem, which dispels only the darkness of an enclosure. [In accord] with the significance of the Name, wishing to be in correspondence with it by practicing in accord with reality: the Name of the Tathagata of unhindered light dispels all the ignorance of sentient beings and fulfills their aspirations. But if you ask why ignorance still remains and your aspirations are not fulfilled even though you say the Name and are mindful of Amida, it is because you do not practice in accord with reality, because you are not in correspondence with the significance of the Name. Why is your practice not in accord with reality and not in correspondence with the significance of the Name? Because you do not know that the Tathagata is the body of true reality and, further, the body for the sake of beings.

Further, there are three aspects of non-correspondence. In the first, shinjin is not genuine, for at times it appears to exist and at other times not to exist. In the second, shinjin is not single, for it lacks decisiveness. In the third, shinjin is not enduring, for it is disrupted by other thoughts. These three act reciprocally among themselves and mutually give rise to each other. Because shinjin is not genuine, it lacks decisiveness. Because it lacks decisiveness, mindfulness is not enduring. Further, because mindfulness is not enduring, one does not realize shinjin that is decisive. Because one does not realize shinjin that is decisive, the mind is not genuine. The opposite, positive side of this is termed, to be in correspondence [with the significance of the Name] by practicing in accord with reality. For this reason, the author of the Treatise states at the outset, “I, with the mind that is single.”

(Collected Works of Shinran, pg. 82-82)

Notes from discussion of Buddhist terms in Japanese