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Hello from Japan
I am one of earnest follower of the most famous Zen monk concurrently an enthusiast called as Myokonin influenced by Pure Land in his late life, Ryokan who is also known for a wonderful Japanese short poem poet and calligrapher. I always sincerely respect him and want to become a gentle and approachable person like him. I still have a lot about Buddhism to learn, especially from daily actual life so I registered here to learn as much as possible from other people from now on.
Kind of quiet around here lately! I'd be interested to hear how you came to be interested in actively practicing Buddhism.
Kind of quiet around here lately! I'd be interested to hear how you came to be interested in actively practicing Buddhism.
I did not have any specific motivation to get interested in Buddhism but as you know Japanese people are given a lot of chances to get in touch with Buddhism relevant culture like visiting temples and viewing Buddha statues almost everywhere across Japan. When I was a junior high school pupil almost half a century ago, we went to Kyoto and Nara as part of school lesson and I felt like something with their atmosphere familiar to my innate sense. Since then I sometimes visited there to feel something appealing to my feeling and spirituality calmly and gently. And I joined a local circle to enjoy Buddhism culture in parallel with getting acquainted with some Buddhist monks who told me a lot about Buddhism practices and dogmas. Surrounded by these circumstances, I became a person of having a faith to Buddha naturally and almost unconsciously. Especially in a past few years after all my family members passing away, I came to study and practice Buddhism more in parallel with learning western philosophy to try broadening my knowledge about religions and spirituality. I wonder if I could answer to your question properly.
Yes, that did answer my question, thanks. The idea of growing up in a culture with Buddhism in the foreground instead of Christianity fascinates me, so it's wonderful to hear about it from someone living within such a place. I would expect Buddhism to make for a much less toxic environment than does Christianity here, but, well, people being people I might just be mistaken about that!
But your answer leads me to another question. Since you've said in your introductory post that you are an earnest follower in the Zen tradition, and you describe multiple contacts with monks, I wonder what brings you to a site about Secular Buddhism?
Thank you for your messages. The new question of yours as to my interest in secularism may reflect a fact I am still in doubt about my faith to Buddhism. Indeed I keep practicing Zazen for almost a decade and chanting Nam Amidha for a few years. However, I am still studying Buddhism to make it sure to keep having the faith appropriate for my own sense and humanity as if forming an evidence or an alibi toward deep in my soul or spirit. In view of this fact, I am not so sure of my having a firm faith to Buddhism yet. There is famous phrase cited by Shinran master, a founder of True Pure Land school in "Tan-nisho" memo mentioning some episodes: "Oh Yuien, (one of his faithful follower) you are thinking about the same thing as I, aren't you? Because Yuien told Shinran of his hesitation as to go to Gokuraku Buddhists' heaven yet despite such a wonderful place as all Buddhists desire to go." Like this dialogue, even a faithful Buddhist himself hesitates to pass away against his pledge and wish. What an inconsistent existence a human is! Whenever I read this episode, I cannot but be reminded a scene depicting Kierkegaard's attitude toward rushing into faith to God. Alike this, I cannot describe real myself with what I have currently. One more thing I feel essential is to love other people equally as Buddha shows with his compassion to people. I cannot have bred such broad mind yet and I am a still so selfish as wishing to make other people control. Buddhism tells us of importance of an equal love but does not mention how to cultivate such a generous mind. So I determined to learn it from sources other than Buddhism like western philosophy and science like in a way introduced by Adler etc. I am not sure these explanations satisfies your interest. Last of all, I am sorry for my poor literal translation from Japanese since I do not have any relevant texts written in English.
All that made good sense, so you have no problem I can see with your translation into English.
I think you are right that the Buddha doesn't tell us -- at least not in words we can easily understand -- how to develop compassion. But he does give us practices we can employ that do have the effect of aiding us in gaining greater and greater compassion. It's just that people in his time did not speak in the same way we do. I don't mean that they spoke a different language -- though of course they did. I mean that they used a very different style, what we would call "indirect".
The Buddha shows us the way in Dependent Arising. The middle section is all about how we take in sense data, react to it (good/bad/indifferent) and build on that to shape our views about the world and our place in it. He speaks often of "guarding the sense doors". If we do that mindfully, we come to notice how we build up our assumptions, and how little foundation we have for most of our beliefs. For example our beliefs about why other people do what they do. Once we begin to see more clearly we can recognize that not only do we make assumptions on weak evidence -- and learn to forgive ourselves for it, and do better -- we begin to see that others are doing the same. And we can forgive them. That's the beginning of compassion.
So he does tell us how to develop compassion but he doesn't say that's what happens, he just expected us to give it a try and then we would see for ourselves how it works.
There is one more reason why I joined this forum. Because there is no similar site in Japan though you may think it strange. On a lot of Japanese sites, people concerned are only given an opportunity to get in touch with religious events and propagative news of each sect except with limited columns where people exchange view toward internal sect affairs and thinking. To the contrary to Japanese case, overseas website especially in western countries provides much more various and freely discussion stages where participants can exchange their own views about Buddhism beyond established framework. Among them are forums dealing with Buddhism in view of comparing with western philosophy ranging from ancient Greek/Roman to current structuralism. It is really refined and wonderful to the extent Japanese people cannot but feel envious with. However, I regret to say it very hard that eastern people, of course including me often cannot catch up with western style logic including yours. At least I knew every superficial meaning of vocabularies and grammatical uses in what you mentioned in your past messages. But I perhaps cannot exactly grasp all what you meant like a connotation. Some bundles of even plain word are often prone to exceed our foreign linguistic knowledge unfortunately. In addition, I think there is certainly different trends in purpose of learning Buddhism between the west and the east as even between China and Japan, as well. Reflecting some influence by Taoism, Chinese people seem to believe in Buddhism consisting of both Zen and Pure Land quite in harmony with each other. This kind of habit is, to the contrary, quite rare in Japan except some people including me. In the meanwhile, a lot of western people seem interested more in early phased Buddhism fundamental dogma than in practical habits seen here, I think. To be honest, most of Japanese secular Buddhist are not so interested in such dogmas or they possibly already forget what such is. Eastern people are generally prone to think it not so important to learn and execute fundamental things in addition to having not so exact logic as western people. Therefore, I thought it necessary to learn manners of western people thinking to pass over the gap in the manner of thinking and to reach checking myself understanding over what I want to learn. I am sorry for writing a redundant matters so long this time since I do not get used to phrasing western people usually use at an opportunity like this time.
Regarding all that, Ryokan, two things:
First, when trying, as a native English speaker, to explain Buddhism to other native English speakers, I have the same problem as you are having with understanding me. Part of it is that from the earliest times the Buddha used words everyone knew in his time to mean something a little different. Even now, Buddhists use words that have a particular Buddhist meaning. "Emptiness" is a good example. It means something different to Buddhists than it does to non-Buddhist English speakers.
Second, yes, not surprising if you have an extra challenge understanding what I am saying. But you can always ask me to make things clearer. Maybe say something like, "Linda, when you talk about guarding the sense doors what exactly does that look like when you're doing that?" I'm always glad to talk more!
Let me ask you a basic question why western people having an interest in Tibetan style Buddhism show an eagerness to its retreat and meditation while they seem not so interested in learning Bodhisattva path to be thought the most essential dogma of Mahayana. To say Tibetan Buddhism, there seems not a few sects, and it can be natural to have different thoughts and practices, I do not know it well unfortunately. Even admitting such an aspect, their attitudes look like reflecting the way of Theravada apart from Mahayana. Possibly I might fail to see whole of their attitude whenever I have a digital leaflet from them but I think it impossible to practice true Buddhistic compassion without embodying Bodhisattva path. Do you think this means those leaning to Buddhism retreat or meditation especially Tibetan style seem to pursue only part of superficial Buddhism, fantastic atmosphere?
Interesting questions, Ryokan. I hope some Westerners who have or have had a Tibetan Buddhist practice will come by and answer from their personal experience. I have had little contact with such people, though my local teacher, who is often the leader of our very small local Buddhist group is quite devoted to his Tibetan practice. Of him I can say that his behavior tells me he's on the Bodhisattva path -- this is clear enough just from his dedication to leading the group, and welcoming all who come to our meetings, even a heretic like myself.
The one insight I can offer you from my own experience is that, as a relatively "lonely Buddhist" -- one who doesn't have frequent and regular contact with lots and lots of other Buddhists -- I find I must be careful not to assume I know about any whole group based on the few people or few words I have come into contact with. So, exactly as you say: when judging based on a little contact or a digital pamphlet, we need to be aware that it is a very small sample. Particularly with pamphlets and other things intended to introduce newcomers to a Buddhist practice, the emphasis is on what draws people in, not necessarily on the most important but challenging aspects.
I see this in the Buddha's frequent use of The Four Noble Truths when talking to groups of people. Those four truths are entirely focused on one's own suffering and release from it. Yet the Buddha himself started out not so much looking for his own release from suffering. Instead he was motivated to find a way all of us could be free. But he doesn't start by asking people to start where he did, wanting to free others -- he starts by asking people to recognize their own suffering, where it comes from, to see that it can end.
I see that as a very wise place to start. Heck, it's where I started from -- it was my own misery that drew me to Buddhism. It was only through a practice that caused me to see first how my suffering happened, and then see how the same things were hurting others, that generated in me so much sympathy and compassion for all people. Well, as I see it, that process pulls us onto the Bodhisattva path whether it's called that or not. The fact that someone wrote a pamphlet introducing people to Buddhism is a Bodhisattva act in itself. It might not be in the words, but it's there in the example set by the action.
Thank you for your response to my question on western people's concern toward Mahayana's Bodhisattva path. You seem to notice not-well-examined analysis of mine on their ostensible orientation to it. To be honest, I myself admit it to some extent and also I should possibly admit it does not matter so much for western people based on pursuing their individual faith to Buddhism regardless of its being Mahayana. On the contrary, only Japanese and Chinese peoples may think it a big deal to think the matter of Bodhisattva path that way. In view of this sense, we may not be in position to meddle their attitude. Even young Japanese seem to see Yoga practice as simply a way of shaping up their body and heart with no interest in its religious meaning at all.