Reflecting on Wisdom, Joy, and Authenticity (July 18)

San Mateo Buddhist Women’s Association Corresponding Secretary and Young Buddhist Editorial member Juliet Bost shares a Dharma Talk on the topic of “Reflecting on Wisdom, Joy, and Authenticity”

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Transcript

Please join me in Gassho.

From Shinran’s “Hymns of the Pure Land” (“Jodo Wasan”):

“The light of the Buddha of Unhindered Light

Harbors the lights of purity, joy, and wisdom;

Its virtuous working supasses conceptual understanding,

As it benefits the beings throughout the ten quarters.”

(#57)

Thank you everyone for joining us for this morning’s service. I am very grateful to Rev. Adams for inviting me to share my Dharma reflection with you all today.

I chose this wasan to share today because it holds a lot of meaning for me, especially these two first lines: “The light of the Buddha of Unhindered Light / Harbors the lights of purity, joy, and wisdom.” Even if you haven’t read a lot of texts like these, you may notice that “light” is a recurring theme or motif used to describe Buddha-like attributes — indeed one name for Amida Buddha the “Buddha of Unhindered Light,” as noted in this wasan, and a common translation of “Buddha” is the “Enlightened One.” “Light” appears in a lot of our everyday language too. For example, “bright smiles” means we’re happy; “bright eyes” means we’re alert and prepared. A single kind gesture can “brighten” our day; our loved ones who bring us much happiness can be the “light of our lives.” Light is all around us, whether it’s light we can see or light we can feel, and every being is nurtured by this light, all of us in our similarities and our differences. 

When I first read this, I couldn’t help but think of a moment from one of my favorite movies: The Lion King. In one scene, the king of the savannah, Mufasa, teaches his son, Simba, about the borders of the kingdom, illuminated by sunlight and contrasted by the shadows of forbidden territory. He also teaches him about the “circle of life,” the cycle of interdependence among all animals. Here I’d like to invite everyone to watch the scene together, and notice what light and dark represent for Mufasa and Simba.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JawCb15MWLc (00:03 – 01:10)

There’s a lot to unpack in this short clip: the teaching of impermanence, illustrated by the setting sun; the teaching of interdependence and interconnectedness; the circle of life, which may be compared to the cycles of birth and rebirth we know as samsara. For now, let’s just look at the role light plays in Mufasa’s lesson to Simba. He says, “Everything the light touches is our kingdom”; then, later, when Simba asks about the shadowy place, he says, “That’s beyond our borders. You must never go there.”

This division between the light and dark places maps neatly into categories we’re familiar with: light vs. dark parallels known vs. unknown, seen vs. unseen, and good vs. evil. But as we know in life, light is not always good, and the dark is not always bad. For example, sunlight brings warmth, but spend too long outside and you may get sunburnt. The darkness of the night makes it difficult for us to see, but many nocturnal animal species find safety in the dark.  

In many ways, the light of the lion’s kingdom mirrors the limitations of our own perspectives. We may not be the rulers of kingdoms, but the distinction between “mine vs. not mine” and “me vs. not me” deludes our worldview just the same. This mindset prevents us from recognizing and understanding that we are profoundly linked to all people and all beings, in ways we may not even understand.

There are a lot of complex and insightful explanations as to why it is easy for us to see the world in these divisions. One common teaching we’re all familiar with is bombu — we are all foolish beings, limited by the fact that we only experience the world through one body and one mind in the present life. Yet I believe this is the crux of the wasan I shared: In order to understand our place in the circle of life, so to speak, we can start by recognizing the “lights of purity, joy, and wisdom” that we encounter in all our lives.

When I first read through this particular line, “Harbors the lights of purity, joy, and wisdom,” I wasn’t so sure what to make of “purity.” “Joy” and “wisdom” are much easier to identify; we have all experienced happiness, even if the source of that happiness was different. We have also all encountered someone wise in our lives, and gained wisdom ourselves by learning and by doing. But “purity” is a little different. Not only is it extremely subjective, changing depending on who you ask, but the word carries with it a lot of assumptions and judgments. A pure substance is devoid of all traces of other substances, like chemical elements or precious minerals, and we value pure substances much more than substances we consider to be tainted with other materials. When we ascribe “purity” to people, we tend to think of innocence and goodness, maybe imagining someone who is optimistic and even naive. But what does it mean to be “pure”?

In my quest for answers, I looked up “pure” in a dictionary — the Merriam-Webster dictionary to be exact. It defines “pure” many times over, but my favorite is “being thus and no other.” This definition makes slightly more sense when used to describe stuff, but still doesn’t make much sense when describing people. What does it mean for a person to “be thus and no other”?

I’m sure you all may have answers to this question, but I’m going to offer my interpretation. I liken “purity” to “authenticity” — a self-awareness unburdened by outside expectations and an expression of that knowledge of oneself as one exists in the world. In other words, someone who is authentic is someone who is true to one’s own values, personality, and interests. 

But there is more to authenticity than just “the self” — and more to “you” than just “you.” The teachings of non-self, interdependence, and interconnectedness caution us against clinging to an idea of an independent self and independent being as the end-all be-all of our existence. The “you” in this moment is the product of many causes and conditions that brought you here, some even beyond the realm of our understanding.

Another way of thinking about this teaching of “non-self” can be to position yourself at the intersection of many different histories. These histories can be specific to your family or shared by the communities you call home. For example, as a Yonsei, a fourth-generation Japanese American, I inherit specific legacies from my grandfather’s military service during World War II in the Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team as well as his family’s story with forced relocation and, for some of his siblings, incarceration. As a queer Asian American, I also inherit legacies of the historical queer liberation movement and the unique struggle of queer Asian Americans to have their voices heard in both the queer community and Asian communities. And finally, as a Jodo Shinshu Buddhist in America, my experience as a religious minority is also greatly shaped by the collective history of the Buddhist Churches of America and the temples residing here.

In learning the stories that have brought us to where we are, we can be mindful of and acknowledge this complexity in others we meet as well. Within everyone are countless experiences we may never know first hand — wisdom outside our grasp. Yet this complexity is universal among all humans and all beings, something worth tapping into as a uniting force, rather than a divisive element. I’d like to share a video with you all that illustrates this point concisely.

I love this simple yet profound explanation. Just as leaves of all colors, shapes, and sizes need sunlight to grow, so too do humans of all colors, shapes, and sizes need the lights of purity, joy, and wisdom to grow and flourish. In this way, we can acknowledge diversity of conditions, contexts, and cultures, and recognize our shared desire to live as our authentic selves, in similarity and in difference.

Let us revisit the words of Shinran Shonin. Please join me in Gassho.

From Shinran’s “Hymns of the Pure Land” (“Jodo Wasan”):

“The light of the Buddha of Unhindered Light

Harbors the lights of purity, joy, and wisdom;

Its virtuous working supasses conceptual understanding,

As it benefits the beings throughout the ten quarters.”

(#57)

Shōshinge: Hymn of True Shinjin and the Nembutsu (Session 2)

We continue to explore the meaning of the Shōshinge and how it applies to our daily lives, focused on the verses:

Bodhisattva Dharmakara, in his causal stage,
Under the guidance of Lokesvararaja Buddha,

Searched into the origins of the Buddhas’ pure lands,
And the qualities of those lands and their men and devas;

Continue reading “Shōshinge: Hymn of True Shinjin and the Nembutsu (Session 2)”

Shōshinge: Hymn of True Shinjin and the Nembutsu ( Session 1)

In this first session in the Shōshinge Study Class Series, we explore the meaning of the Shōshinge and how it applies to our daily lives, beginning with the opening verse: I take refuge in the Tathagata of Immeasurable Life!
I entrust myself to the Buddha of Inconceivable Light!

Continue reading “Shōshinge: Hymn of True Shinjin and the Nembutsu ( Session 1)”

Dharma Discussion: Wisdom/Prajñā (August 23, 2020)

Click here to read about the Buddhist Virtue of Wisdom

Discussion Questions

  1. What is a difficult situation that Buddhist wisdom has enabled you to accept with peace of mind?
  2. What is a difficult situation that Buddhist wisdom has given you to courage to work to change?
Continue reading “Dharma Discussion: Wisdom/Prajñā (August 23, 2020)”

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?
Continue reading “Dharma Discussion: Concentration/Dhyāna (August 16, 2020)”

Shōshinge: Hymn of True Shinjin and the Nembutsu

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

We welcome you to join us via Zoom Meeting from the comfort and safety of your own home on Wednesday, September 9 for this free Dharma Study Class.

6:00 p.m. Shōshinge Sōfu Chanting

The chanting of Shōshinge embodies the heart of daily Nembutsu practice in Jodo Shinshu Buddhism.  Join us to experience the settling of the mind through focused breathing and meditative listening.

7:00 p.m. Reading and Discussion

We will be explore the meaning of the Shōshinge and how it applies to our daily lives, beginning with the opening verse: I take refuge in the Tathagata of Immeasurable Life!
I entrust myself to the Buddha of Inconceivable Light!

To join us for this online Dharma Session, CLICK HERE and sign up for “Study Classes and Seminars”.

The Six Superhuman Powers

Six kinds of superhuman ability attained by a Buddha or enlightened disciple of the Buddha as a result of their spiritual practice.

1. Divine Feet

2. Divine Eyes

  • Also called “Knowledge of Death and Rebirth” or “Knowledge of Samsara”
  • The unimpeded ability to see into every place and to know the future rebirths of all beings.
  • See the 6th Vow of Bodhisattva Dharmakara

3. Divine Ears

4. The Wisdom to See into the Minds of Others

5. Knowledge of Past Lives

6. Complete Extinction of Afflictions

  • The ability to know that one has completely extinguish one’s blind passions (greed, anger, and ignorance), such that they will never arise again.
  • See the 39th Vow of Bodhisattva Dharmakara

48 Vows of Bodhisattva Dharmakara (Amida Buddha)

From the Three Pure Land Sutras, Volume II: The Larger Sutra, pg. 20-29

1

“‘If, when I attain Buddhahood, there should be hell, the realm of hungry spirits, or the realm of animals in my land, may I not attain the perfect enlightenment.

2

If, when I attain Buddhahood, the humans and devas in my land, should, after their death, return once more to the three evil realms, may I not attain the perfect enlightenment.

3

If, when I attain Buddhahood, the humans and devas in my land should not all be the color of genuine gold, may I not attain the perfect enlightenment.

4

If, when I attain Buddhahood, the humans and devas in my land should not all be of the same appearance and should be either beautiful or ugly, may I not attain the perfect enlightenment.

5

If, when I attain Buddhahood, the humans and devas in my land should not remember all their former lives,[1] and thus be unable to know at least the events of the previous hundred thousand kotis of *nayutas of kalpas, may I not attain the perfect enlightenment.

6

If, when I attain Buddhahood, the humans and devas in my land should not possess divine eyes,[2] and thus be unable to see at least a hundred thousand kotis of nayutas of Buddha‐lands, may I not attain the perfect enlightenment.

7

If, when I attain Buddhahood, the humans and devas in my land should not possess divine ears,[3] and thus be unable to hear the teachings being expounded by at least a hundred thousand kotis of nayutas of Buddhas or remember them all, may I not attain the perfect enlightenment.

8

If, when I attain Buddhahood, the humans and devas in my land should not possess the wisdom to see into the minds of others,[4] and thus be unable to know the thoughts of the sentient beings of at least a hundred thousand kotis of nayutas of Buddha‐lands, may I not attain the perfect enlightenment.

9

If, when I attain Buddhahood, the humans and devas in my land should not possess divine feet, and thus be unable to go beyond at least a hundred thousand kotis of nayutas of Buddha‐lands in a thought‐moment, may I not attain the perfect enlightenment.

10

If, when I attain Buddhahood, the humans and devas in my land should give rise to any thought of attachment to their body, may I not attain the perfect enlightenment.

11

If, when I attain Buddhahood, the humans and devas in my land should not dwell in the *stage of the truly settled and necessarily attain nirvana, may I not attain the perfect enlightenment.

12

If, when I attain Buddhahood, my light should be finite, not illuminating even a hundred thousand kotis of nayutas of Buddha‐lands, may I not attain the perfect enlightenment.

13

If, when I attain Buddhahood, my life should be finite, limited even to a hundred thousand kotis of nayutas of kalpas, may I not attain the perfect enlightenment.

14

If, when I attain Buddhahood, the number of sravakas in my land could be counted and known, even if all the sravakas and pratyekabuddhas in the *triple‐thousand great thousand worlds should spend at least a hundred thousand kalpas counting them, may I not attain the perfect enlightenment.

15

When I attain Buddhahood, the humans and devas in my land will not have a limited life span, except when they wish to shorten it freely according to their original vows. Should this not be so, may I not attain the perfect enlightenment.

16

If, when I attain Buddhahood, the humans and devas in my land should even hear that there are names of evil acts, may I not attain the perfect enlightenment.

17

If, when I attain Buddhahood, the countless Buddhas throughout the worlds in the ten quarters should not all glorify and praise my name, may I not attain the perfect enlightenment.[5]

18

If, when I attain Buddhahood, the sentient beings of the ten quarters who, with sincere and *entrusting heart, aspire to be born in my land and say my name even ten times, should not be born there, may I not attain the perfect enlightenment. Excluded are those who commit the *five grave offenses and *those who slander the right Dharma.[6]

Continue reading “48 Vows of Bodhisattva Dharmakara (Amida Buddha)”

Dharma Discussion: Kṣānti (July 26, 2020)

Click here to read about the Buddhist Virtue of Patience

How is patience defined in Mahayana Buddhism?

Three aspects[i]

(1) not giving rise to anger or annoyance—not getting angry in the first place

(2) not clinging to hatred and grudges—if you get angry, not holding onto it

(3) not harboring ill will

Continue reading “Dharma Discussion: Kṣānti (July 26, 2020)”