Gratitude

by Seiyo Thomas DeMann

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Gratitude has always been a shortcoming of mine.  Recently, however, this has begun to change slowly.  With this in mind, I have started to have thoughts of things that I need to be grateful for as I travel on my current path.

Shakyamuni Buddha tells a story of how lucky one is to be born a human.  Gautama says that being born a human is as difficult as if a blind turtle rises to the top of the ocean once every hundred years and his head slips into a yoke as he reaches the top, improbable but not impossible.   How fortunate am I!  Because I was born a human, I have the ability to hear and accept the Dharma which can lead me to enlightenment and nirvana.  I would not have this opportunity if I were born an animal.

Previously, I wrote a Dharma Glimpse regarding the illness that nearly took my life.  It was at this point that things started to change for me in my way of thinking.  Exactly what is this life all about?  From what I have learned in one of the books that we read in this class by Kogen Mizuno who made the statement, “What is the final profound truth?  It is the finding of the infinite life of humankind within the eternal life-force of the universe.”  I found this to be a comforting statement and something to work at.  So how do I work at this?  So what am I grateful for?

First of all, I am grateful for my illness even though I am left with various physical and psychological limitations.  This encouraged my walk down the Buddhist path to find something.  Siddhartha Gautama has pointed his finger to show me what I need to do.

I have learned that life is composed of suffering.  If I do not understand this, I will not search for a way to eliminate this suffering.  

From this………I have learned the following:

I have learned that I should see things as they are.  If I am unable to do this, this will lead to nothing but misunderstanding and delusion.

I have learned that every cause has an effect.  If I do not realize this, my actions will create all effects.  I must control every thought, action and how I speak.  These three things make up my actions.

I have learned the Four Noble Truths are a way to lead me to enlightenment and nirvana.  If I do not understand this, I will be lost in this lifetime.

I have learned that the Eightfold Path is THE way to escape this misery.  If I do not understand this, I will have a miserable existence.  

First of all, I am grateful for my illness even though I am left with various physical and psychological limitations.  This encouraged my walk down the Buddhist path to find something.  Siddhartha Gautama has pointed his finger to show me what I need to do.

I have learned that life is composed of suffering.  If I do not understand this, I will not search for a way to eliminate this suffering.  

From this………I have learned the following:

I have learned that I should see things as they are.  If I am unable to do this, this will lead to nothing but misunderstanding and delusion.

I have learned that every cause has an effect.  If I do not realize this, my actions will create all effects.  I must control every thought, action and how I speak.  These three things make up my actions.

I have learned the Four Noble Truths are a way to lead me to enlightenment and nirvana.  If I do not understand this, I will be lost in this lifetime.

I have learned that the Eightfold Path is THE way to escape this misery.  If I do not understand this, I will have a miserable existence.  

 

Starling

By Marilyn Chiyo Robinson

 

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I will confess to you that I have a history of difficulty holding my hands together in gassho.  To gassho, by putting the palms of both hands together in front of one’s heart, is the highest form of respect symbolizing Oneness.  For me, the gesture never felt authentic, like I was an imposter, awkward in the movement, a stand-out convert who was not raised in the tradition.  Among other things, this is a story about gassho.

Our youngest daughter spent every spring on what my husband and I called “starling patrols” around our neighborhood. This ritual consisted of walking up and down the sidewalks trying to find and rescue a baby bird before the local cats found it.  More than one creature in its death throes has made its way to our home cradled in her t-shirt.  None has survived.

Starlings are known locally as trash birds for their fondness of grain in our agricultural area and impressive reproductive abilities.  But to our daughter, they are wondrous creatures that she watches intently as herds of them mow our lawn for food each morning.  I might add that our daughter is a special child.  She is a continual reminder in my life of the beauty of simple kindness.

3047_Sibl_9780307957900_art_r1So it was not surprising then, now a year and a half ago, upon arriving home from my book club that my daughter announced she had rescued yet another starling.  It was tucked in a box on a towel and put in the shop for the night.  And so began her pleading “please mommy, can I keep her?  I’ve never had a pet of my own, please, please?”

Brief aside here in our defense – we have two dogs, a parrot, hermit crabs, fish and a toad.  It is true that none of the pets is exclusively this daughter’s, but they all benefit from her loving attention.  So, sure, we felt a little guilty, but not enough to acquire another responsibility.  You know when the last one is the last one, right?

Early the next morning, our eldest daughter and I went to the shop to check out the bird.  Sure enough, it was a starling, maybe two weeks old, lying on its side with its neck flopping over.  Its heart was still beating.  “Swell” I thought.  At least it would not die alone.  

I gently lifted the tiny bird from the towel, cupping it in the length of one hand.  As I stood up, I placed my other hand over it for support while carefully taking it into the house.  That’s when it struck me – my hands were in the gassho position with a beating heart inside.  In that moment, I felt compassion well up inside me.  I really saw the starling for the first time.  This creature had given me a gift.

starlingWe are now 1 ½ years down the road from that bright dawn morning.  I will spare you the details.  But I would like to announce the addition to our family of our youngest child’s new pet whom she named Olivia, but who has since become Oliver.  Oliver is imprinted on me, which is to be expected after nursing him to health hourly for most of his early residence with us.  He lives in a large cage given to us by the amused veterinarian who de-wormed him

Oliver has learned to talk, loves to splash in his bath tub and eats like a, well, starling. But our daughter loves him and visibly glows with pride as she watches his antics.

I know now that one doesn’t really know when the last one is the last one.  I suppose it helps to approach life as full of surprises. When we are open to all possibilities, we unconsciously invite the Dharma to enter our lives.

Best of all, for me, gassho will always hold a beating heart.  

I gassho to each of you.   May your days be full of Bright Dawn moments.

 

 

 

This Dharma Glimpse and many other can be found in our Bright Dawn Dharma Glimpses book. You can order one here.  You can also learn about the Bright Dawn Center, links to services, resources and the Lay Ministry Program. 

 

Acknowledging Limitation

Still WaterNiko Byoyo Burkhardt

Recently, our group has been exploring the topic of realizing enlightenment through any means we have. As a group, humans tend towards the dramatic and glamorous so sometimes we think we will get to enlightenment by a grand gesture or event. I have been exploring the concept of enlightenment through acknowledging limitations over the past few weeks and find it very liberating.

There are so many judgments we have as individuals and a society or culture about what we “should” or “should not” be doing. For instance. someone with a very strong work ethic can feel very useless unless they are constantly engaged in some result oriented task.  When we encounter limitations in life, whether financial, physical or mental, we tend to judge ourselves and feel guilt.

In the past few weeks, I have had a chance to choose a different response to my own limitations. Rather than feeling guilty or defeated, I have experienced acceptance. After acceptance sets in for a while, I was able to see reasons to appreciate these limitations and have been able to use them as a springboard for new opportunities I could not have seen before. To me, this is a glimpse of enlightenment and it keeps me going when things seem too challenging.

As long as we are in resistance to a problem, we cannot see the way out of it. By resisting, we are in a state of mind that believes in duality. There is a problem and then there is me – they are two separate entities. By practicing acceptance, we become one with the limitation and thereby are empowered to move past it.

 

 

 

This Dharma Glimpse and many other can be found in our Bright Dawn Dharma Glimpses book. You can order one here.  You can also learn about the Bright Dawn Center, links to services, resources and the Lay Ministry Program. 

 

An Incense Offering

Dharma Glimpse – Rob Kanyo Mican

 

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An incense offering is a very simple thing. It’s a very simple procedure. Approach the incense burner. As you stand a few steps in front of it, bow. Step forward. Take a pinch of granulated incense in your right hand and gently sprinkle it across the smouldering charcoal. Gassho and bow, then step back again to where you started. One final bow and you’re done.

Very simple.

Different temples will have slightly different takes on this process. For example, the attendants of the Jodo Shinshu temple that I currently attend perform incense offerings before the service starts – stepping forward is done with the left foot first; stepping back is done with the right foot first. The Zen temple that I used to attend performed incense offerings at the end of the service, keeping one’s hands in gassho throughout, with an additional final bow toward the priest or disciple who ran the service.

As part of my new temple’s memorial service, however, the incense offering is integrated into the service itself. The monthly memorial service takes the time to invite all those attendants who have lost someone to stand up and offer incense. Some months that line is longer than others. And I am frequently reminded that the purpose of a memorial service is for us, the living, the friends and family members who are still here. There is a line on the temple web site that states, “The memorial service provides an opportunity to express appreciation and gratitude for the many benefits we have received from the person who passed away.”

Smoke rises from the charcoal. The fragrance increases as the incense burns. Inhaling, we can appreciate its sweet smell. But it was just a pinch. Eventually the granules burn out, the fragrance fades, and the smoke dissipates. The charcoal remains lit in the burner, but the incense is now dormant again until the next person in line steps forward.

An offering of incense is an expression of reverence and gratitude. It represents the acceptance of transiency in life. It is not done for any kind of self-cleansing, any kind of personal benefit or any kind of material gain. Offering incense is done for the sake of offering incense, right here and now, in this present moment. An act in which we can express our conviction of the oneness of all things and the transient nature of existence.

The smoke is fleeting. The fragrance expands as the incense burns. Inhaling, we can appreciate its aromatic odor. But again, it was just a pinch. Little by little the granules burn out, the odor fades, and the smoke slowly vanishes. The charcoal continues to glow, but the incense itself is dormant again until the next person in line steps forward.

An offering of incense also represents the acceptance of fulfillment in life. We see potential in the incense, much as we also see the potential in all sentient beings. Before the incense is picked up, as it lays there in the holder, it remains dormant. As the pinch of incense is sprinkled across the charcoal, it lights up, it glows, its potential is finally fulfilled as it releases its fragrance and the smoke carries it upwards towards the heavens. Likewise, our own lives remain dormant until our potentials are fulfilled, until we are lit and glowing, releasing our own potential, our own fragrant smoke.

One more burst of smoke. The fragrance soars upwards as the incense burns. Inhaling, we can appreciate its sweet perfume. Yet again, it was just a pinch. One by one the granules burn out, the fragrance recedes, and the smoke disperses. The charcoal remains smouldering, but the incense itself is dormant once again, patiently waiting for the next person in line to step forward.

The incense cannot release its potential by itself. It requires action. Likewise, unlocking and releasing our own potentials also require action.

At the same time, the incense also helps us recognize that our own lives are all just as fleeting as its sweet fragrant smoke.

Very simple.

Out of work bodhisattvas

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Dharma Glimpse – C. Kakuyo Leibow

Lately I have been thinking of all the out of work Bodhisattvas wandering around smiling with signs saying, “ Will Gladly Share Merit” as people shuffle by with their heads down, some saying, “No thanks, I don’t need any.”  Others just pointing at the goody two shoes, laughing at them, “them bleeding heart liberals” they say, “You gotta earn your own merit boy”, while they walk around dissatisfied, and hollow, singing,  “ I built this! I built this!” scratching their heads because they still feel so unsatisfied.

I think I have always been attracted to the idea of a Bodhisattva. I appreciate the traditional concept of the vow taking and the rebirth back to everyday life, the suprahuman powers to take on a myriad of forms to guide us, help us, teach us and sometimes even pull us begrudgingly toward awakening and always willing to  share with us the merit of their compassion. I also appreciate the more expansive everyday conception of the Bodhisattva as expressed by Taitesu Unno when he writes that the Bodhisattva can be, “anyone who meets the challenge and provides care for the needy…whether that person knows anything about Buddhism or not.”

In the more traditional Mahayana Buddhist view point there is the idea that our positive deeds, acts or thoughts generate a sort of spiritual energy or power that can be accumulated.  This concept is fundamental to the idea of Karma and Buddhist ethics. This view extends to the idea that the merit that is generated by our skillful actions can be shared with other beings. In the early Theravada, it was with  deceased relatives. In the Mahayana that was expanded to all beings.  The Bodhisattva “shares” his merit with all sentient beings to help them toward enlightenment. Taking to its logical conclusion  we see the life and career of Dharmakara Bodhisattva who becomes Amida Buddha.  In the more expansive and less religious definitions, also seen in the writings of Gyomay Kubose and Thich Nhat Hahn, the more mundane merit generated by these Bodhisattvas can come in very concrete and everyday ways.  Something simple as a hand up, a listen and a place to be safe.  Both kinds of Bodhisattvas can be recognized by their practice of  Ksanti, their practice of patience, patience with us and our struggle to receive their help. Patient and out of work until we accept their gifts.  The awakened Bodhisattva knows as Sunada Takagi  has written that life is, “as much about graciously receiving as it is about giving”. 

 The practice of receiving, let alone even asking for help is challenging for many of us. The first time  I really, open heartedly  asked and accepted help wasn’t until I was in my late 40’!  All those Bodhisattvas in my life offering their merit and their compassion and me walking past them, sometimes with my head down, other times mocking them.  In my delusional thinking I believed that to need help was to be weak and to be weak was to be unlovable.

I think at this point it is important to realize that receiving is different than taking. We take food, love, money all the time.  The difference between the two is that when we take, our small-Self is saying, “ I earned this!”  When we get love from our wife or our children, when we get kudos at work, when we eat a lovely meal, we aren’t receiving the love, acknowledgement or food; we see ourselves as earning it. We take it because it is ours.   A similar strain of this construct is when we see ourselves as unworthy to receive anything. This can manifest as self-doubt and shame. In both strains we are stuck in seeing giving and receiving as economic exchanges but how could it be any other way?  I was never taught how to receive. How about you?  Most of us have been taught that it is better to give than to receive but how can that be since to give you need to have someone to receive? Proportionally it doesn’t add up.

Truly receiving is something different from taking. There is an inherent humility. There is an openness of heart, an acknowledgement of our interdependence and an awareness of our dependence on a myriad of things. Receiving is a place of openness and courage in that it implies a vulnerability; we may ask for something in that open space and not get it.   Yet in realizing our lack of control, our inability to fix love, joy and peace in place by somehow earning them, those very things arise naturally. Everything I receive is a gift, a gift to me and a gift to the give. An ever expanding circle of giving, where in the end there is no giver, no receiver and no gift.  A gift is not something earned and the “merit” offered by all the Bodhisattvas is a gift of love of boundless compassion as they watch on in our attempt to control the world. When we insist on ‘earning our keep” and we do not receive the gift , we miss out on the  boundlessness of grace that is offered us by everything and by all of our patient Bodhisattvas waiting for us.  I try to remember that even in the Dharma, what we receive from the teachings is so much greater, exponentially greater, than anything we put into the teachings.

In a previous paper I wrote about the Way of the Nembutsu is the path of gratitude. Before the path can open up there is the receiving; receiving the teachings and the compassion of the Buddhas and for us Pure Land leaning practitioners, receiving and entrusting in the compassion offered by Amida Buddha manifest in the formless form of his Pure Land.  For me the Way of the Nembutsu is the path of receiving the grace of Amida and all the Bodhisattvas and Buddhas, of setting aside calculations, schemes and dualistic and conceptual thinking, of sitting and chanting in an awareness of the abundance of the Buddhas and the Dharma and the Sangha.  I challenge myself and you to make room in ourselves to receive, to receive the abundance the Buddhas have to offer us.

When we turn toward our Bodhisattva ready to receive, she turns around her sign and on the other side our no longer out of work Bodhisattva has written this line,

“The buddhas say come, come, and dance.”*

And we dance.

MIBS

*  a line from Sakyong Mipham’s poem titled Come, Come and Dance.