In the practice of spirituality, there is always an interesting tension between form and spontaneity. Too much form can easily become empty hypocrisy whereas too much spontaneity can easily become self-indulgence and dilettantism. The sage Kuya once said "Accumulating merit and practising good one's desires and ambitions increase - nothing is comparable to solitude."

Related to this is the tension between the expression of practice in the world and the inner secret practice in one's heart. On the one hand, if practice does not result in a more virtuous life and an increase in concern for one's fallow beings, it is questionable how genuine it is. On the other hand, spirituality cannot be merely nor primarily such performance. First and foremost it is something secret that goes on in the heart.

In this regard, those forms of spirituality that involve a sense of relationship - with Buddha, with the god(s), with a guardian spirit, however - have a certain advantage. In the privacy of one's room one can talk to the divine one, confess one's doubts, give voice to ones adoration, and reflect upon what one has received and done in return. Even without such a relationship, one can contemplate life and death.

These matters are private, but they are the root from which other more visible aspects spring forth, just as the root of a plant cannot be seen. A plant with a deep root is more stable and enduring. Contriving what look like flowers and fruit when there is no root beneath will achieve nothing real, yet when there is a healthy root, much else will occur naturally.

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I like this very much, and recognise myself well within this spectrum: the dilemma, or limitation, of spirituality that's lived as a 'purely private matter'.  

I liked this part especially: 'Contriving what look like flowers and fruit when there is no root beneath will achieve nothing real, yet when there is a healthy root, much else will occur naturally.'

Thank you Dharmavidya. Your words have reminded me of those ones of the Bible (Mathew 6:6):

“…but when you pray, go into your room, shut your door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you ( in public)…”

I understand that all that, which is rooted in secret (our “room” , our heart), will blossom in life, that is, it will “result in a more virtuous life”(public reward)…And it will bloom in a natural way, as a gift of nature. It does not depend on ourselves…And Nature or Life does not always respond as we expect or want. …I feel an invitation to faith

Beautiful, thanks for this Nati. 

Nati said:

Thank you Dharmavidya. Your words have reminded me of those ones of the Bible (Mathew 6:6):

“…but when you pray, go into your room, shut your door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you ( in public)…”

I understand that all that, which is rooted in secret (our “room” , our heart), will blossom in life, that is, it will “result in a more virtuous life”(public reward)…And it will bloom in a natural way, as a gift of nature. It does not depend on ourselves…And Nature or Life does not always respond as we expect or want. …I feel an invitation to faith

I've a couple of thoughts generated by my reading of your post David and by the comments of others. Once is how difficult it is for some people I have sat with and talked with in my work as a chaplain on the hospital to yell at the God they are sorely dissapointed in and very angry with. And they even tell me they want to cuss and yell at him but are afraid to do so until I say it is alright. I've been asked many times by Christians if it is alright. I don't think Jews have e problem arguing and yelling at God, that's sort of what defines part of their relationship. But not so for many Christians based on solely my experiences. Once I tell them it's OK, or ask them if they think God might just be big enough to take their cussing, then many have indeed right then and there start screaming and cussing. On occasion I've had nurses come dashing in but when they see me sitting there they usually turn around (I go explain later). And it usually seems it is quite cathartic, this physical and verbal high energy response. I've not so far witnessed nor heard of any unexpected bad consequences, nor heard tales of any.

The other thing which came to mind was the 'contriving what looks like flowers....' reminded me of discussions from members of a group I once used to belong to about making offerings of plastic and silk flowers. Such offering pose an interesting dilemma. They are indeed an offering, if I say they aren't then I am judging the person on many levels I'm not qualified nor empowered to do so, my comments should be wisely and carefully given so as to both teach and cherish without diminishing, devaluing, or disrespecting. I've handled this in various ways sometimes perhaps unskillfully and occasionally perhaps with some skill. Now when it comes up as people move from one group to another I usually ask a question or two and say nothing much, I let them sort it out for themselves. Perhaps that way they can out down a deeper root and one that comes from within rather than from without.

Thanks, Ryusho. Yes, the word "Israel", I've been told, means "struggle (with God)". Of course, this kind of thing is more in place in the kind of religion that believes in a divine creator since if He made it then He is responsible, no? So anger comes in quite naturally, but, yes, often a bit of a problem for Christians.

I don't think there is anything wrong with plastic flowers per se - as you say, it is an offering. Going off at a tangent - when real flowers are offered there are different opinions I've noticed about whether to leave dad ones on the shrine - some thing it disrespectful, others that it is a reminder of impermanence. I guess what matters is the intention.

Thanks Ryusho Jeffus, that's very interesting.

It also reminds me of the Franciscan priest Fr Richard Rohr encouraging people to speak to God of their disappointment and rage, just as you say here. To 'shout at God, but don't sulk with him. Come out and tell him how you feel'.

This 'secret deep root' feels a very central thread for me. I'd like to explain why, but if this veers off into my own personal issues, feel free to ignore it.

After many years of Buddhist practice, which began with Nicheren Shoshu in my late teens, and which settled latterly into Amida pureland practice through meeting Dharmavydia, I began two years ago to pray the rosary in the company of a long-time (one time) Zen Buddhist friend.

I would - I do - struggle to explain why exactly I've begun, thus, to address Nyorai as Mother of God, but this thread really does that job for me, rather well: whatever it does or does not lead me to call myself, praying the rosary has allowed me to reclaim just this sense of a 'quiet inner chamber' - a direct conversation with the all-accepting Divine face, and to tease that 1-1 conversation apart from any position-taking with respect to lineage, etc. (The need to do this, I think, really arose from having spent nearly two decades steeped in lineage-centric Tibetan Buddhist practice, which proved harder to put down than I imagined.)

The '54-day novena' rosary format we use brings a chosen petition for 27 days, then brings thanks for it having been answered, for the next 27, and so on. In many ways this please-and-thankyou rhythm has returned to me to where prayer first entered my troubled 19 year old life, with daimoku, and the deep power of asking for help.

I realise that 'praying the rosary as a Pureland Buddhist' opens considerably more questions that it answers. But in Buddhist terms, I would say that I see Mother of God and Amida Buddha, for all their deep doctrinal differences, as themselves just concepts, as sambhogakaya, as so many skilful means to allow a conversation in the heart - that conversation itself being the thing that matters.

I've probably conflated and confused many things here. Emracing that confusion, then, as the mark of a work in progress, I'm reminded too of the definition of prayer once offered by the Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe devotee, Dr Clarrisa Pinkola Estes:

"Prayer is whatever works."

As said, I think I may have gone rather off-topic, but the conversation is of much interest to me, thankyou.

Namo Amida Bu, Nam Myoho Renge Kyo

The Tathagata can appear in many guises.

Indeed - put more simply!



David Brazier said:

The Tathagata can appear in many guises.

Wonderful comments!! Thank you all of you…Yes Mat, It is not confusing, I fully understand you… many times I finish my practice of nembutsu by making the sign of the cross. I know it may sound strange but I feel it quite natural, my last “Namo Amida Bu”…

The Cross is a symbol of suffering, and the man on the cross is humanity…even Jesus Christ yelled at God, in extreme pain, “Why have you abandoned me?”, feeling hopeless and helpless, like any other human being… Yes, I think we need to express our vulnerability for being able to surrender later on.

A piece of tangential information. "+" is the Chinese character for "ten". It also has the implication "100%" like "ten out of ten", thus meaning excellent or wholehearted, so when you make the sign of the cross it may have different implications in different cultures.

Really happy that makes any kind of sense, Nati. Thank you. A muddled affair, but a sense of slowly coming through for all that. Abidingly grateful for the foundational (to me) understanding of spirituality that nembutsu teachings offer, and the good people its introduced me to.

Curiously, that foundation feels like the reverse of your point Dharmavydia: just as a given gesture may have many different resonances across cultures, just so the same root 'gesture of the heart' will reach for whatever comes to hand, but in essence will have the same shape and colour - an instinctual movement towards opening, entrusting as what is native to us.

You've written about this on many occasions of course, a no brainer I suppose.

Namo Amida Bu

Namo Amida Bu

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