by Douglas Kuyo Sensei
Growing up, I had no exposure to any particular religious faith. I’m not sure what my mother was brought up to believe, but my father’s father was a clergyman and educator, one of whose books, “What Jesus Taught” is in my possession. He was Pastor at the Third Unitarian Church in Chicago in the 1920s, but his beliefs were never handed down to me. Instead, due to a chance meeting with Reverend Gyomay and Minnie Kubose on an airplane flight, I was eventually introduced to Buddhist teachings which, in the case of Bright Dawn, had their American roots in the Buddhist Temple of Chicago. This institution was founded by Reverend Kubose in 1944, the year my grandfather died.
I always had an idea that Unitarians were a pretty mellow bunch, but for whatever reason, my father reacted violently to his religious upbringing and turned out to be a staunch atheist who instilled in us, us being me, my older brother and sister, the firm belief that the human mind, using reason, maybe with the help of philosophy, was all that was necessary – in fact all that was available, to address the fundamental questions we all struggle with. Notice that I didn’t say successfully address. He was fond of poems like “Invictus” and Joaquin Miller’s “Columbus,” which celebrated the heroic efforts of the individual against an uncaring universe. I guess he was more an Existentialist than anything else, although that bleak philosophy didn’t bring him much comfort either.
Rugged individualism didn’t work too well for me, either. Although not in very good shape spiritually, I still had a lot of scorn for people who needed the crutch of religion to get by. Not me, thank you. I could be miserable all by myself without pretending there was something else out there. After all, one definition of an atheist is a man with “no invisible means of support.”
Life had to bring me to my knees in order for me to realize that there was some flaw in the way I was thinking and living. Sure, I knew I was right, but other people were happy, and with only one life to live, which would I rather be? When I was introduced to Buddhism, it seemed to be made to order for someone of my particular temperament. I could accept its humanistic teachings, its psychology and philosophy and never really have to mess with the touchy-feely spiritual stuff. Maybe that would come later sort of by osmosis after I had studied for a few years. Meanwhile, maybe I could learn Sanskrit…
In “When the Iron Eagle Flies,” Ayya Khema describes my situation:
Few people are capable of wholehearted commitment, and that is why so few people experience a real transformation through their spiritual practice. It is a matter of giving up our own viewpoints, of letting go of opinions and preconceived ideas, and instead following the Buddha’s guidelines. Although this sounds simple, in practice most people find it extremely difficult. Their ingrained viewpoints, based on deductions derived from cultural and social norms, are in the way.
Grateful though I was for the gift of the Dharma, I still had reservations about the whole thing. Which brings me to the topic of faith. Now, faith is a tricky concept. People trying to convert you to their way of thinking often use it as an escape clause by saying that if their religion doesn’t work for you it’s because you didn’t believe in it enough to make it work — a circular argument, to be sure, but one that I think is fundamentally correct. In the King James version of the Bible it says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” I take this to mean that you can’t wait just around for proof, you have to bring something to the party as well. In Buddhism, this commitment is traditionally demonstrated by taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. The Triple Gem. During our Lay Minister 4 induction I participated in the Ti Sarana ceremony and took the vows as sincerely as I could at the time.
As time has gone on and I continue my haphazard practice, I have noticed a loosening of my critical mind. It seems less important to me to hang onto my deep-seated beliefs and prejudices which my ego-driven mind insists is the real me, and observe the passing parade with some measure of acceptance and humor. One thing I’m bringing to the party is a re-dedication to the practice of meditation. I can easily become comfortable learning about Buddhism, but that falls short of true commitment. Being half in and half out doesn’t cut it. It’s kind of like riding a submarine. When it starts to dive you want to be in the submarine, not on it. For someone like me who tends to over-intellectualize anyway, meditation is a method for getting out of my head and tapping into an intuitive understanding.
As I continue my practice I’m starting to experience what in Sanskrit is called ‘Śraddhā. Usually translated as “faith,” it can be taken to mean confidence in the rightness of something as it unfolds through personal experience. Can this be what Reverend Koyo calls “the sweet smell of the Dharma”?
So, I’m still trying to figure a lot of this out and certainly don’t pretend to have arrived at anything approaching enlightenment. But getting back to the poem, “Columbus,” I remember that it contains the repeated refrain, “Sail on, sail on, sail on, and on!” Which sounds a lot like “Keep Going,” doesn’t it?
Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts, and as we used to say in the ‘60’s,
“Keep the faith, Baby!”
Douglas Kuyo Sensei is part of the Lay Minister program with the Bright Dawn Way of Oneness Sangha. To learn more about Bright Dawn Way of Oneness please visit us here.