QUESTION: Dear Dharmavidya, I just read your essay on the first of the 12 Steps in Running Tide number 33. In it you say, "In Pure Land Buddhism we admit that we do not have the power to enlighten ourselves.In this there is a kind of despair and a kind of faith."I certainly know the despair; but, how does that engender faith?

SHORT ANSWER: There is only room for faith in Other Power when we give up (despair of) faith in self-power.

LONG ANSWER: Self-power, jiriki, is the belief that one can achieve one's own salvation (however one conceives that) by one's own effort. All schools of Buddhism seek to demolish this kind of arrogance, but they go about the task in different ways. In some schools, such as Zen, the strategy is often that of having you try as hard as you possibly can until eventually you give up. That giving up is called kensho or satori if it is genuine. It is genuine when you know in your blood and bones that what you have been doing up to that point is futile. This is in imitation of Shakyamuni Buddha who, on awakening, realised that what he had been doing up to that point had been "vain ignoble and useless." In other schools, such as some branches of Theravada, the method is to deconstruct the idea of self, partly analytically and partly by such experiential exercises as the charnal ground meditations. In other schools, notably the Pureland ones, the emphasis is more upon making a choice and turning to the Buddhas from a position of acknowledging one's inherent incapacity. This is very similar to the 12 step method. Obviously,  different approaches tend to suit different personalities, which is to say, different initial koans. However all of these and other methods derive directly from the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha who, in his great compassion, provided something for everybody. To some people practising Pureland the fact of personal incapacity - bombu nature - is pretty obvious whereas to others it takes some arriving at. The latter often practice some other form of Buddhism first. Many of the great Pureland masters in history did so. They came to Pureland in the end after years of trying to enlighten themselves by strenuous meditation of rigorous vinaya discipline or profound textual study in some other branch of Buddhism. A relatively modern example of somebody who did the same thing within the Pureland tradition is Kiyozawa Manshi who drove himself to the limit trying to find out if it was really true that he could not do it himself. We should remember the example of Shakyamuni Buddha. He had his self-power period, which was his period of asceticism. It was at the point when he despaired and took the rice milk offered by Sujata that faith awakened, dependent origination was understood and flowers fell from the sky.

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  • It's in the Opinion section.
  • Well, I've found the NYT but where is the editorial?

  • The pieces is at !

  • Hi Amida Shu family, There's an excellent editorial article in today's New York Times called "What Do We Owe Each Other?" Check it out. Namo Amida Bu, Steve
  • Living in a Dharma community is certainly a good thing to do, both for oneself and others. However, when we ask such questions as "Why am I always getting caught...etc." isn't it generally because we want a formula by which to achieve our own salvation and shed our bombu nature? However, it is surely only to bombu beings such as ourselves that Amida comes. While we are engrossed in finding our own deluded solutions to our own delusions, I think we shall not experience the presence of the Buddha even if he is standing right in front of us. We all have many habit patterns. When we see the disadvantage of this or that pattern, we may give it up, but there will be others.

  • So why do some of us keep getting caught even when we recognize the essential truth of this? Is it a lack of grace? A failure of faith? Inadvertent arrogance? Or just bad habit patterns? Could this be a good reason for choosing to live in community — especially with a good teacher and/or sangha — as a way to practice filling ones life with beauty and colour without clinging to it....
  • We are all caught in the web of samsara. Thinking that we can figure it all out is like wriggling in the web and ending up with more sticky threads around us. On the other hand, enjoying what comes and exploring in the manner of an innocent curiosity is rather wonderful. At the beginning of the Heart Sutra it says:

    Kanjizai bosatsu gyo jin hannya haramita ji sho ken go un kai ku do issai ku yaku.

    Quan Shi Yin bodhisattva practising prajna paramita experiences kensho by seeing all the five skandhas as empty.

    The skandhas are our wriggling in the web of samsara, but this itself is emptiness. It is empty color. We can enjoy the colours when they are empty. When we want them to be substantial and solid - things we can possess and rely upon - they are a source of distress. When they are empty colour then they are part of the glorious scenery of this multi-faceted pageant that we call life.

  • Thank you for this. I can certainly relate to Kiyozawa Manashi. At the moment I have periods where it feels as though I am seeing through the endless maze of life, recognizing that there is no way of figuring it all out. With this comes a feeling of surrender, even a sense of relief and release. But then the old patterns take over again and I feel like a fly strughling in a spider's web. The image of Kensho or satori seems to be that once seen, one is free, but... to attempt a metaphor, it's kind of like living on two sides of a looking glass at the same time (the relative/ dependent world and ?

    I imagine i am free but then I find myself caught again, trying to work things out, to explain, to understand...

    Sometimes it feels like existential panic; as if, if I just let go, I will keep fallng forever. Yet, really, there is nothing to cling to, even the ego...

    Any helpful thoughts or guidence?
  • Thank-you very much Dharmavidya.Namo Amida Bu
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