06 February 2016

Nembutsu Practice

Let's say you've learned enough about Buddhism that you are now eager to begin practicing but you find yourself isolated and without a chance to learn how to practice. Many beginners are in this situation: where can I find someone who will teach me, down in the West Texas town of El Paso, or in Klamath Falls, or in Harrisonburg?

What you need in this situation is a practice you can do now that will bring real benefit, one that will help you create the causes and conditions that will put you next to an authentic teacher of Dharma. Nembutsu is a practice like this: open to the public and very profound. Here is how to do it:

Nembutsu is the mindful repetition of the name of Amitabha Buddha. You will need to be mindful of three aspects in this practice: your body, your speech, and your mind.

With your body, move mindfully with the understanding that the Buddha Amitabha is present and that your surroundings are ultimately a pure land, that you inhabit a sacred place where realization comes easily and all beings are blessed. During formal practice periods, we do nembutsu while walking mindfully. It is quite alright to do nembutsu while washing dishes, cooking, cleaning, or carrying on your other ordinary tasks so long as you can maintain the pure view of your location as being in essence inseparable from Amitabha's pure land. Do not fidget or fuss with extraneous things.  Turn off the television, the radio, the blackberry, the internet; cut away extraneous distractions and focus on the essential. Keep an upright posture and relax: not too loose, not too tight.

With your speech, gently repeat the name of Amitabha Buddha again and again like a flowing river. It need not be loud. If necessary, say the nembutsu with "the tongue of the mind," which is to say, in your imagination only. In Tendai, we recite it as Namu Amidabu, and this sounds like Nah Moo Ah Mee Dah Boo (you know the sound of "a" in "apple"? don't use that sound. Use the "ah" sound as in "open up and say 'ah'". If the pronunciation is difficult, send me an email and we can work on it.) It is possible to say this a million or two million times over and not exhaust the benefit of it. Just keep going.

With your mind, be very aware that Amidabha Buddha is near you. You can visualize Amitabha above your head as a standing Buddha emanating very bright clear light. Wherever this light touches and penetrates becomes purified of all negative past karma, and what is more, the seeds of bodhicitta are planted in the minds of all beings touched by it. As your practice strengthens, extend this Buddha-power to all corners of all worlds until Amitabha's pure light touches and blesses all without exception (your neighborhood, your town, your region, your nation, the continent where you live, the planet Earth, the cosmos) with no exceptions: the people who have helped you and the ones that have hurt you, the ones you like or don't like, all the beings from the cancer ward to the pigs in the slaughter to your daughter's classroom. All of them.

Studying images of Amitabha can help you get started and get inspired. If you put yourself into this practice one hundred percent, it begins to take on a life of its own and becomes more real than a heartbreak or a toothache. Too see this, however, you must try and not hold back.

The great Ch'an master Hsuan Hua made some profound comments on recitation practice. I'll repeat them here for your consideration:

Your goal is to dispense with all extraneous thoughts and to consolidate your thoughts into one mindful thought of the Buddha. If you don't have extraneous thoughts, you won't have any evil thoughts, and when nothing evil is arising in your mind, you're on the road to goodness.

(Surangama Sutra commentary, p. 231)

Finally, I would like to dispel a concern many beginners express when introduced to nembutsu practice: how do I know Amitabha Buddha is real and not just another bit of make-believe? My answer: Earnestly put it into practice and see which is more real, the body of Amitabha or your own aging body; your everyday distracted mind or Amitabha's enlightened mind; your everyday contradictory and not-always-perfectly-honest speech or the pure teaching of Amitabha Buddha.

In reality, your nature is no different from Amitabha's, and with practice, all the enlightened characteristics we associate with Amitabha arise in you. This is a method for accomplishing it, and it is free for you to try. I encourage you to do just that, to realize the nature of mind and be of real and lasting help to all who suffer.

22 January 2016

Great River Tendai Sangha's Sunday Services on 1/24/16 are Canceled

The Great River Tendai Sangha's January 24th Sunday Services at Yoga in Daily Life have been canceled due to a declared weather emergency. We hope everyone stays safe this weekend, and we encourage you to practice at home. We look forward to seeing everyone the next Sunday when we will resume weekly services. Event Details ---------------------- What: Sutra Service and Meditation Who: Great River Tendai Sangha When: Sun Jan 24, 2016, 9:30-11 am EST Where: Yoga in Daily Life (upstairs!) 2402 Mt Vernon Ave Alexandria, VA 22301

18 January 2016

Welcome to Our New Sangha Leader

It is with open joy that the Board of Directors of the Great River Tendai Sangha welcomes our new Sangha Leader, Rev. Junsen Chris Nettles, PhD.  On January 10, 2016, the Board of Directors convened a special meeting to ratify the appointment of Junsen Chris Nettles by the Tendai Buddhist Institute as the new Sangha Leader. Monshin and Shumon Naamon, of the Tendai Buddhist Institute in Caanan, NY, also attended the special meeting via conference call. 

The Great River Tendai Sangha Board wishes to give Jikan Daniel Anderson, the former Sangha Leader, our sincerest gratitude for providing our sangha with gentle leadership and wise counsel.  His efforts have provided us with good direction and inspiration to our community’s practice.  The Board also recognizes the strong partnership between Jikan and Junsen, who, along with our active lay community, have built a firm foundation for this sangha.  We look forward to our future, with new and continued opportunities for growth and practice under Junsen’s leadership.  Please join us in welcoming Junsen as our new Sangha Leader!

The Great River Tendai Sangha Board of Directors:

Hoshu Anne Christoffel                                                
Jishin Michael Buck
Kosen Bill Pugh
Monshin Paul Naamon
Yusei Lan Van

05 January 2016

The Great River Tendai Sangha thanks Jikan for his service and leadership

A few days ago, Jikan Daniel Anderson publicly communicated, through a number of channels, his resignation as the Sangha Leader of the Great River Tendai Sangha. You can read his public letter on our blog,

In his letter to us, the Great River Tendai Sangha Board of Directors, Jikan indicated that the challenges around managing the ordinary commitments of life, work, and family, are difficult to balance with his sangha leadership role. Furthermore, he indicated his intention to leave the Tendai clergy and continue his Buddhist practice in the role of a layperson.

It is with a mixture of emotions that the Great River Tendai Sangha Board of Directors accepts Jikan's resignation. We are very sad to lose our Sangha Leader of the past 5+ years; yet, we celebrate the transitions that Jikan and his family are making.

We wish to express our deepest gratitude for the many years of service and leadership that Jikan has provided to our little community. Furthermore, we rejoice in the new roles Jikan will be assuming in his life.

We have made a formal request to the Tendai Buddhist Institute in New York for the appointment of a new Sangha Leader. When that process is complete, we will make an announcement to our membership.

For now, the programming of the Great River Tendai Sangha is not changing. We will continue our evening meditation meeting each Tuesday evening at 7:30, in the downstairs chapel at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington. We also will continue to meet for Sunday morning services, starting at 9:30am each Sunday, at Yoga in Daily Life (upstairs) in Alexandria.

Together in the Dharma,

The Great River Tendai Sangha Board of Directors:

Hoshu Anne Christoffel                                                
Jishin Michael Buck
Junsen Chris Nettles
Kosen Bill Pugh
Monshin Paul Naamon
Yusei Lan Van

31 December 2015

Jikan's Resignation

A few moments ago, I emailed my resignation from my leadership of Great River Tendai Sangha to the leadership of our Board of Directors.  I made plain my reasons for doing so (see below); they do not reflect negatively in any way on our local community, Tendai Buddhist Institute, myself, or anyone else.  This is simply a transition that ought not to be postponed.

When I was invited to take over the leadership of our little community five and a half years ago, I didn't know how long I would be living in the DC area and I had no idea what to expect.  So I set myself one primary goal:  to ensure that, somehow, this group could persist and thrive in my absence.  I have been on leave from leading the group for about three months.  In that time, the community has prospered.  So I say with confidence that my goal has been met. 

I can also say that, due to life circumstances, I am no longer in a position to lead our community.  These are the ordinary commitments that we all have, such as caring for children and aging parents, searching for jobs, trying to make ends meet.  Leading a Buddhist community requires a significant commitment of time and energy--a commitment that is greater than what I have to offer now or for the next two decades.  I am no longer up to the task, but I am delighted that Junsen is.

It is with a mix of gratitude, respect, and relief in a job accomplished that I offer my resignation.  I will not be deterred from practicing Dharma as a layperson, and I am eager to offer what support I can to the community in the cherished role of an ordinary person in ordinary clothes, just some nobody. 

Every member of this sangha has enriched my life in some way.  Thank you for that. I hope I have made some positive contribution to yours so far.

Great things are afoot.

Yours in friendship always,
Jikan Daniel Anderson

This community will persist, and I rejoice in the Dharma practice of our members.  I say "our" because I do intend to participate as a layperson to the best of my capacity.

Jikan Daniel Anderson
31 December 2015

12 December 2015

Contemplation: Tendai Daishi's Endonsho

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

The perfect and sudden calming and contemplation from the very beginning takes ultimate reality as its object. No matter what the object of contemplation might be, it is seen to be identical to the middle. There is nothing that is not true reality. When one fixes the mind on the dharmadhatu as object and unifies one’s mindfulness with the dharmadhatu as it is, then there is not a single sight nor smell that is not the middle way. The same goes for the realm of self, the realm of Buddha, and the realm of living beings. Since all aggregates and sense-accesses of body and mind are thusness, there is no suffering to be cast away. Since nescience and the afflictions are themselves identical with enlightenment, there is no origin of suffering to be eradicated. Since the two extreme views are the middle way and false views are the right way, there is no path to be cultivated. Since samsara is identical with nirvana, there is no cessation to be achieved. Because of the intrinsic inexistence of suffering and its origin, the mundane does not exist; because of the inexistence of the path and its cessation, the supramundane does not exist. A single, unalloyed reality is all there is – no entities whatever exists outside of it. That all entities are by nature quiescent is called “calming”; that this nature, though quiescent, is ever luminous, is called “contemplation”. Though a verbal distinction is made between earlier and later stages of practice, there is no ultimate duality, no distinction between them. This is what is called “the perfect and sudden calming and contemplation.

Donner, N. and Stevenson, D (1993) The Great Calming and Contemplation: A study and annotated translation of Chih-i’s mo-ho chih-kuan. Honolulu; A Kuroda Institute Book: 112-114.

15 November 2015

Contemplation: The ocean of impediment

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

The ocean of impediment of all karmas
Is produced from one's false imagination.
Should one wish to repent it
Let him sit upright and meditate on the true aspect [of reality].
All sins are just as frost and dew,
So wisdom's sun can disperse them.
Therefore with entire devotion
Let him repent of his six sense organs.

The Sutra of Meditation on the Bodhisattva Universal Virtue (translated by Kojiro Miyasaka with revisions by Pier P. Del Campana), The Threefold Lotus Sutra, pp 365-6.