Politics Magazine

Relics – Grace

By Andrew Furst @a_furst
relics The Relics series are throwback articles from previous years. They seem timeless enough to be relevant today.

Try as you will, you cannot annihilate that eternal relic of the human heart, love. – Victor Hugo

 

Grace

I want to continue on the topic of Pure Land Buddhism that I’ve been writing about in recent posts 1

I think Buddhism has a mystical appeal to westerners. I mean that in the popular sense of the word. When people hear that I’m Buddhist, I often get a friendly but comical bow or the nickname “grasshopper”

Relics – GraceI have to admit, my path to Buddhism probably did start with David Carradine and Kung Fu. Before I set foot in a room with a true Buddhist teacher, I had a long affair with the martial arts. I read Jack Kerouac, Alan Ginsberg, and William Burroughs. I survived a philosophy degree and brushes with psychedelia. All the while my interest remained fueled by reading any book I could find on Eastern thought, always enamored with the concept of enlightenment

No doubt, I benefited from these experiences. But none of them offered a real step forward from a spiritual perspective. More than anything they showed me that books and fringe experiences don’t lead you to the truth about the world.

But still, I came to Buddhism. I came with a scientific bent, a philosophy degree, some life experience, and a sense that I could eventually figure it out.

When I joined my Sangha, my head was full of ideas, questions, and a confidence that I was just there to fill in the gaps in my theory of everything. Talk about the cup being already full.

But, there was one thing of value that experience had instilled in me. It was a balance of openness and skepticism. I think this was what I really needed to accept what was to come next.

Who Walks the Path?

Relics – GraceThe Buddha’s path is friendly to the scientific and philosophic at heart. It frames the problem clearly and offers a rational solution. It’s a well designed experiment that can be replicated. It has clear assumptions and conclusions. Everything someone like me would be attracted to.

The Buddha described the problem this way. Dissatisfaction with life is caused by ignorance of our true nature. If we look for satisfaction in things that are temporary, we will always fall short. If we look to the temporary aspects of ourselves for contentment, like our beauty or our youth, we’re in for a big let down. Relying upon this body for happiness will ultimately fail, for the simple reason that it will die.

The Eightfold Path is prescribed as the way to free us from ignorance. It introduces us to our true nature, invites us to relate to others in a way consistent with this nature, and gives us ways return when we stray.

The Path consists of Wisdom (Right View, Right Intention), Ethical Conduct (Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood), and Mental Development (Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration).

It touches on all the big questions. Wisdom tells us who we are and how the world we live in operates. Ethical conduct tells us how to relate to the world and others. Mental Development shows us how we can live in harmony and be content.

These are the big issues. We all struggle with them. What makes Buddhism’s answers special? For me, it goes like this: There is one truth and there are many paths.

Wisdom

Ironically, it all starts with wisdom. For me, wisdom is something you’d expect to come towards the end of the list. It’s an interesting twist. Wisdom is described as right view and right intention. What does this mean?

Relics – GraceThe Buddha said that looking to temporary things for lasting contentment is the first mistake. This is what is meant by Right View. Right intention is the commitment to act in accord with this. If we want to avoid dissatisfaction, we need to recognize how we misplace our faith in temporary things. Our intention must be to constantly re-center ourselves and realign our intention with the right view.

Easier said than done. When I get angry at someone because they’ve created an obstacle to some thing that I want, right intention requires me to stop, recognize that I am grasping and realign my actions with right view. This is an excruciating process of self examination. But it makes sense that the effort would reap great benefit.

In This Lifetime?

While we’re pursuing the path of Wisdom, we are forced to grapple with the messy parts. Our ego being at the forefront. Try it for a day. You’ll find its a monumental task.

Right view and right intention is a work in progress and demonstrates the power that our habits and patterns have over us. These habits and patterns are what the Vedic traditions call karma. We are always pulled by our karma. We constantly slip back into the mindset that if only I had such and such, or if only things could be different, then I could be happy.

Oddly we come to the right conclusion – that our karma is what leads us to dissatisfaction, but we often can’t see the way to free ourselves from it. Typically we end up reinforcing our karma by running through the same old patterns of behavior.

Here is where scientific aspirations and human imperfections arrive at an impasse.

Other Power

In Pure Land Buddhism, there are three cornerstones; Faith, Vows, and Practice.

Faith means faith in Amitabha Buddha’s Vows to rescue all who recite His name, as well as faith in one’s own Self-Nature, which is intrinsically the same as His (to recite the Buddha’s name is to recite the Mind).

Vows are the determination to be reborn in the Pure Land – in one’s pure mind – so as to be in the position to save oneself and others.

Practice generally means reciting the Buddha’s name to the point where one’s Mind and that of Amitabha Buddha are in unison – i.e. to the point of singlemindness. Samadhi and wisdom are then achieved.2

By taking refuge in Buddha Amitabha, we are doing two things. First, we are recognizing that the effort to succeed on the Eightfold Path on our own would take many, many, many lifetimes. Second, by engaging in faith, vows, and practice to receive the grace of Amitabha (our own true self nature) we are choosing a path to peace that works instantly.

Relics – GraceIf you’ve ever prayed, sung, or chanted with great devotion, you know it has a great healing effect. Even if you haven’t, you’ll recognize it’s power. Imagine a great burden. If you are able to release that burden into the hands of someone more capable, the relief is tangible. This is the power of faith in Other Power, the power of faith in Buddha Amitabha.

Faith in Amitabha, is faith in our Selves. Not faith in the small “s” self which is weighted down with karma and ego. It is faith in the true undying eternal Self.

Faith in Other Power is the acceptance that we have very little control over our own circumstances. Our efforts to create happiness are fraught with failure and missteps. This is because all of these efforts arise from our small self, not from our true Self. When we release control and accept that in our true nature contentment exists, we rest in fruit of the Buddha’s Eightfold Path.

- Om Sarva Tathagata Pada Vandanam Karomi

I give thanks to the wise ones who have come before and passed along the Buddha’s Beautiful Way

1(Going Towards the Light and Master Rich Sittinger’s The Meaning of Namo Amitofo)

2http://www.amtbweb.org/tchet224.htm From the Namo Amitabha Pure Land Web Site, Introduction to Pure Land

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