31 December 2012

Contemplation: Not Tired of Giving

After reviewing the guidelines for practice, take the following as your object of contemplation:

I always expound the Dharma.
I do nothing else.
I am not tired of expounding the Dharma
While I go or come or sit or stand.
I expound the Dharma to all living beings
Just as the rain waters all the earth.

I am not tired of giving
The rain of the Dharma to all living beings.
I have no partiality for them,
Whether they are noble or mean,
Whether they observe or violate the precepts,
Whether they live a monastic life or not,
Whether they have right or wrong views,
Whether they are clever or dull.

Lotus Sutra (trans. Murano),  p. 111.

19 December 2012

Lotus Sutra Study Questions 5

(All references are to the Murano translation)

In chapter five of the Lotus Sutra, Buddha Shakyamuni explains the meaning of his teaching in earlier chapters through another parable.  Buddha compares his teaching activity to a great cloud that waters the entire world evenly and equally.  Some plants grow only a little; some grow great and tall.  Different plants and trees grow with different characteristics, according to their pattern.  All of them grow in the presence of the nourishment offered by the cloud, but all of them grow differently according to their capacities to grow.  Buddha's teaching is like that:  the Dharma is available to all, and everyone who accepts it makes whatever use of it he or she can, and grows accordingly.

There are different ways to understand this, depending on how you understand the term "Buddha."  Might it mean the historical Buddha Shakyamuni, in the role of a savior to all beings, metaphysically drawing all those who suffer toward the light?  Might it refer instead to the Buddha-nature within each of us?  There are other alternatives.  Reflect on this question and see where it leads you.

This chapter invites all of us to consider our own capacity as students of the teaching.  Here we are, fortunate enough to have an opportunity to learn and to grow; how can we make the best use of this opportunity?  Consider different ways in which you might expand your capacity to practice wisdom and compassion.

17 December 2012

Buddhist Movie Night: Sunday, January 13

Let's spread the word!





SHUGENDO NOW, a film by Jean-Marc Abela and Mark Patrick McGuire


Sunday, January 13, 2013, 6:00-8:30 p.m.
Arlington Central Library, 2nd Floor
1015 N Quincy St
Arlington VA 22201

To RSVP, email JikanAnderson@gmail.com or use our Facebook page:

GREAT RIVER SANGHA is a satellite of the Tendai Buddhist Institute,
based in Canaan, New York.  Tendai is a tradition of Mahayana Buddhism
that includes a diverse array of practices to suit different kinds of
needs and abilities.  The film SHUGENDO NOW by Jean-Marc Abela and
Mark Patrick McGuire gives some insight into one aspect of this
tradition:  rigorous, active, outdoor meditations done in
near-solitude.  Other Tendai practices include seated meditation,
chanting, study of the sutras, and esoteric practices (mikkyo)
analogous to Tibetan Vajrayana.  Great River Sangha meets weekly for
meditation and inquiry into the teachings.  See dctendai.blogspot.com
or contact JikanAnderson@gmail.com for more information.

Everyone is welcome at Buddhist Movie Night, a free event.  We hope to
see you there!

Programming Notice: No Meditation, 25 December

We will not meet for meditation on Tuesday, December 25, 2012; the contemplation will also be on hiatus next week.  Kindly reflect on the four universals of lovingkindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity at that time.

Contemplation: Dying of Thirst

After reviewing the guidelines for practice, take the following as your object of contemplation:

All living beings are dying of thirst.
I will water them.
I will save them from suffering.
I will give them the pleasure of peace,
The pleasure of the world,
And the pleasure of Nirvana.

The Lotus Sutra (Murano trans.), p. 110.

12 December 2012

Lotus Sutra Study Questions 4

(All references are to the Murano translation)

At this point, four of the "'old and decrepit'" members of the assembly--Subhuti, Mahakatyayana, Maha-Kasyapa, and Maha-Maudgyalyayana--decide to speak up.  Speaking as one, they present their understanding of the Buddha's pronouncements in the previous two chapters of this sutra in the form of a parable.  This passage tells us a great deal about the Buddha's way of reaching and teaching people.  Here is a summary of the parable:

Imagine there is a man of great means and a young son set to inherit the entire estate.  The son foolishly wanders away, gets lost, wanders and wanders, finds himself forced to resort to begging, and eventually forgets who he really is (someone with nothing to worry about from birth):  he becomes convinced that the beggar's life is the only one appropriate to him.  His circumstances become, for him, the only possible reality.

Decades pass.  By chance, the father encounters the son, but the son, overwhelmed by the father's social estate, runs in fear from him and does not recognize him as his father.  The father then resolves on a trick to reeducate his son:  he disguises himself and his retainers as beggars only slightly better off than the estranged son, and indicates that at a certain estate down the road (really his own estate), work is available and the pay is above average. 

The son works at shoveling manure for decades on this estate, while the father slowly convinces him that he need not regard himself as someone who is only suitable for such labor--that he has other capabilities as well.  Eventually, the father reveals the whole story at a time when the son is able to accept its truth, entrusts the son with the estate that was his anyway, and all is well.

The Lotus Sutra, the elderly disciples of the Buddha, is like this:  we learn that Buddhahood (the estate) is possible for all of us and always has been, but because we have been too wound up, bound up, and incompetent, we have had to go through this elaborate teaching situation (shoveling manure) in order to accept this reality (the inheritance).

The Buddha accepts this parable and develops its themes in certain ways in the following chapter.  For now, let's explore what the parable tells us about the Buddha's teaching methods.

*The teacher in the parable, the wealthy father, is very patient indeed.  He is willing to give the disciple as much time knee-deep in crap as he needs in order to learn from his experience.  How do you understand this?  Why does he take this approach and not some other, do you suppose?

*If shoveling manure can stand in for meditation practice and study of the teachings in this parable, it suggests that anything can become a form of practice if the context is right and the attitude of the student is positive.  If anything can become a means to the end of awakening, then how does the teacher decide which teaching tool (which method) to use with a particular student?

*What kind of relationship between teacher and student is described here?  Are these people strangers to each other?  Put differently:  What needs to happen between the teacher and student before any kind of meaningful learning can take place?

10 December 2012

Contemplation: Great Joy

After reviewing the guidelines for practice, take the following as your object of contemplation:

Those who do not study the Dharma
Cannot understand it.
You have already realized
The fact that the Buddhas, the World-Teachers, employ expedients,
According to the capacities of all living beings.
Know that, when you remove all doubts,
And when you have great joy,
You will become Buddhas!

The Lotus Sutra, trans. Murano, p. 49-50.

05 December 2012

Lotus Sutra Study Questions 3

Chapter 3

(All references are to the Senchu Murano translation)

 This chapter follows logically from Chapter Two.  If the Buddha's teaching has been characterized by tricks, ruses, and expedients from the start--the Buddha says what he says in any given situation not because it is absolutely and always true necessarily, but because it achieves a certain result in that situation--then does it not follow that the Buddha might be a liar or at least a trickster?

Chapter Three tackles this question on the gap between the content of the Buddha's various and particular teachings on one side, and their impact on people on the other side.  In my opinion, in this chapter seems to say that while the Buddha does use ruses and expedients, and is willing to stretch the truth or roll out a convenient fiction from time to time, the purpose behind these acts is to lead his listeners to an experience that is directly truthful:  a snap-out-of-it, see-for-yourself moment is made possible  by these methods.  This can be seen in the Parable of the Burning House in Chapter Three.

This is the situation:  children have foolishly wandered away from home and are playing in an enormous, rotting, and dangerous mansion.  And it is collapsing and burning.  Their father recognizes this as a desperate moment and resolves to save them, first by telling them the truth:  you kids are in danger, so get out of there and come home!  Predictably, this fails.  He considers another option or two before resolving on a ruse:  he promises them three different kinds of wagons (he knows this is exactly what they want to hear) if they just get out of the burning house already.

It works.  They vacate the house.  And what do they find waiting for them?  What appear to be carts; the father had, by magic, conjured these.  But do these carts correspond to the ones he had promised his children?  Or is there a subtle difference?

Assume that the children recognize the danger they had been in at this point.  They see clearly just what the problem was, and why the father took the action he did.  Is the father a liar for spinning such a yarn, when the truth comes out in the end anyway?

The parable is an allegory for our situation.  We live in a phantasmagoric situation, fascinated by and identified with all kinds of temporary things that seem important at the time:  the he-said, she-said world we call samsara.  This is the burning house.  We--you and I and everyone else--are the children.  The "wagons" promised by the father are the different Buddhist vehicles.  Try to connect the rest of the dots from this parable to our everyday lives. 

03 December 2012

Contemplation: Only One Teaching

After reviewing the guidelines for practice, take the following as your object of contemplation:

There is only one teaching, that is, the One Vehicle
In the Buddha-worlds of the ten quarters.
There is not a second or third vehicle
Except when the Buddhas teaching expediently.

The Buddhas lead all living beings
By tentative names [of  vehicles]
In order to expound their wisdom.
They appear in the worlds
Only for the One Vehicle.

Lotus Sutra, trans. S. Murano, page 36