Starling

By Marilyn Chiyo Robinson

 

gassho

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. 

 

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.

Mind of Embracing All Things – Haya Akegarasu

Translated by Gyoko Saito and Joan Sweany

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Excerpt from Kegon Sutra

Reading an early passage of the Kegon Sutra, I came across a poem by the Ho-E Bodhisattva which made me want to cry out, “How wonderful!” Here it is:

Be free from subject and object,
Get away from dirtiness and cleanness,
Sometimes entangled and sometimes not,
I forget all relative knowledge:
My real wish is to enjoy all things with people.

This poem expresses so clearly what I am thinking about these days that I use it to explain my feelings to everyone I meet.

Subject or object, myself or someone else, individualism or socialism, egotism or altruism-forget about such relative knowledge be free from it! Right or wrong, good or bad, beauty or ugliness-don’t cling to that either. Forget about ignorance or enlightenment! Simply enjoy your life with people-this is the spirit of Gautama Buddha, isn’t it? I’m glad that Shinran Shonin said “When we enter into the inconceivable Other Power, realize that the Reason without Reason does not exist,” and again, “I cannot judge what right or wrong is, and I don’t know at all what is good and bad.” I hate to hear about the fights of isms or clashes between two different faiths. I don’t care about these things.

Somehow I just long for people. I hate to be separated from people by the quarrels of isms or dogma or faith, and what is more, I hate to be separated from people by profit or loss.

I don’t care whether I win or lose, lose or win. I just long for the life burning inside me. I just adore people, in whom there is life. I don’t care about isms, thoughts, or faiths. I just long for people. I throw everything else away. I simply want people.

It makes me miserable when close brothers are separated by anything. Why can’t they be their own naked selves? Why can’t longing people embrace each other?

I love myself more than my isms, thoughts, or faiths. And because I love myself so, I long for people. I am not asserting that my way is Love-ism or Compassionate-Thinking-ism! Somehow I just can’t keep myself in a little box of ism, thought or faith.

I must admit I am timid. Because I timid, I can’t endure my loneliness. I want to enjoy everything with people.

I go to the ocean of the great mind.

I go to the mind of the great power.

Once I hated people because they lived a lie; once I saw them as devils. Once I lamented because there was no one who cared about me. But now I long for them, even when they are devils and liars, even when they are evil. I don’t care, I can’t help it-I adore them! They breathe the same life that I do, even though they hate me, cheat me, make me suffer.

I am so filled with a thirst to adore people that there is no room in me for judging whether a person is good or bad, beautiful or ugly, right or wrong. This is not the result of something that I reasoned out, such as that I live by being loved or by loving. Regardless of any ism, thought, or faith, I cannot be separated from people because of that.

My spirit shines with the mind-of-embracing-people. Without reason or discussion, I just want to hug everyone! My missionary work is nothing but a confession of this mind.

Hunting the Great Awakened Elephant

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Dharma Glimpse – April 6, 2014 by  Wendy Shinyo Haylett

Dedication to a spiritual path is a treacherous activity and dedication to a path as a Dharma teacher is ever more treacherous. The innate hazards of attaching to our egos and our self-power as our refuge is ever-present and proportionate to our desire to attain the “end” we have set our sights on … whatever that “end” may be: Dedicated practitioner, teacher, Enlightenment, rebirth in the Pure Land … or whatever.

In the past two months I’ve been involved in two activities for the Bright Dawn Center, one was researching and writing an article about Rev. Gyomay Kubose, Rev. Koyo Kubose, and the Bright Dawn Center of Oneness Buddhism, which recently published in the Amida Order journal, Running Tide. The other was facilitating a sutra study module for the Lay Ministry 6 Class of 2014, focusing on the Tan Butsu Ge and The Heart Sutra translations and commentaries by Rev. Gyomay Kubose.

I have been immersed in the spiritual, philosophical, and teaching history of our Bright Dawn lineage … rereading teachings, exploring lineage teachers, listening to Dharma talks, and, well… something wonderful has happened. I know Rev. Koyo Kubose’s saying is “the Dharma is my rock” but what I have recently experienced is more of the feeling of floating. Immersed in our lineage teachings, I found myself suddenly more buoyant in life, in all aspects of my life. Not like a rock anchoring me, but a natural ability to float. Not a drowning in the details of life, but a floating above.

I felt like I had become one with me, for the first time in many years. Like I was naturally me. I began enjoying every part of my life. I was floating through work, through stress, through chores … even through the endless snow shoveling and cold of the winter of our discontent.  I wasn’t worried about what I should be doing or how I should be acting. I was just living my life, being with my friends, family, co-workers, and clients, but feeling more authentically myself, connected to a natural flow in everything I did, and at ease.

Everything seemed so natural, so free. It reminded me of Dharma song that first captivated me some 25 years ago when I was studying and practicing in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. It is called Free and Easy: A Spontaneous Vajra Song by Venerable Lama Gendun Rinpoche.

 

Free and Easy: A Spontaneous Vajra Song

By Venerable Lama Gendun Rinpoche

Happiness cannot be found
through great effort and willpower,
but is already present, in open relaxation and letting go.

Don’t strain yourself,
there is nothing to do or undo.
Whatever momentarily arises in the body-mind
has no real importance at all,
has little reality whatsoever.
Why identify with, and become attached to it,
passing judgment upon it and ourselves?

Far better to simply
let the entire game happen on its own,
springing up and falling back like waves
without changing or manipulating anything
and notice how everything vanishes and
reappears, magically, again and again,
time without end.

Only our searching for happiness
prevents us from seeing it.
It’s like a vivid rainbow which you pursue without ever catching,
or a dog chasing its own tail.

Although peace and happiness do not exist
as an actual thing or place,
it is always available
and accompanies you every instant.

Don’t believe in the reality
of good and bad experiences;
they are like today’s ephemeral weather,
like rainbows in the sky.

Wanting to grasp the ungraspable,
you exhaust yourself in vain.
As soon as you open and relax this tight fist of grasping,
infinite space is there—open, inviting and comfortable.

Make use of this spaciousness, this freedom and natural ease.
Don’t search any further.
Don’t go into the tangled jungle
looking for the great awakened elephant,
who is already resting quietly at home
in front of your own hearth.

Nothing to do or undo,
nothing to force,
nothing to want,
and nothing missing—

Emaho! Marvelous!
Everything happens by itself.

 

So there it was, a profound and beautiful Dharma song that I didn’t really hear. And it was only in my rediscovery of the riches and power of our Bright Dawn lineage teachers and teachings that I felt this freedom and natural ease. One of the books I have been rereading is the essay collection by Dr. Alfred Bloom Sensei, Living in Amida’s Universal Vow.

Reading that I kept coming back to the first essay by the great reformer in our Bright Dawn Center lineage, Kiyazawa Manshi, “The Great Path of Absolute Other Power and My Faith.” In this essay he talks about his quest to find “the meaning of life at all costs.” It is this quest that brought him to his belief in the Tathagata.

He describes something I believe many of us can relate to, because we have struggled with the same thing. I know I certainly can. He talks about the journey he took to his faith and his belief that self-power is absolutely useless. He said it had been a trying process and he could only reach that conclusion of the uselessness of self-power when he exhausted the entire resources of his knowledge and devices.

He would reach conclusion after conclusion of what the meaning was, then each one would be invariably undermined. As he wrote: “One can never escape this calamity so long as one is hopeful of establishing religious faith by way of logic or learning.”

My recent Bright Dawn immersion experience has brought me, too, to that place Manshi Sensei hinted at; the place where all your previous conclusions about the meaning of life are undermined. They are undermined because they were formed based on logic or learning alone.

I can’t tell you how many times during my life as a spiritual seeker, I have reached that place where I look back and laugh—

out of frustration—laugh because I see I have been traveling for miles and miles, months and months, and sometimes years and years, heading in the wrong direction.

Now what? Now what do I have to learn to get myself oriented and walking in the right direction toward Enlightenment or whatever it is I’m seeking?

Each time I reach that place, I come closer and closer to the discovery that it’s not what I have to learn or acquire, but what I must unlearn and give up.

But to be student, one must learn, right? And there is the rub. That is the treacherous territory of being a student of Buddhism or any true spirituality or religion, and the heightened danger of being a teacher on the same path.

It was Shinran who realized in his own life that the path is not so much about Enlightenment or being reborn in the Pure Land, but about the awakening of faith and a naturalness, or “Amida’s Sincerity.” This awakening of faith is described by Kaneko Daiei, a student of Manshi Sensei, in his essay, “The Meaning of Salvation in the Doctrine of Pure Land Buddhism” also in the book Living in Amida’s Universal Vow.

He describes it as “breaking through at the root of delusion.” When that happens, he writes, we are broken, our self-complacency and our faith in self power, logic, and concepts is shaken.  He says “we are emptied through and through” yet “at the same moment we find ourselves taken in by Amida’s Sincerity” and “for the first time attain true restfulness, because our deepest root of our existential anxiety or suffering, namely ignorance, is cut through forever.”

Of course this doesn’t mean that we won’t experience suffering as long as we remain in the world, but he says “they no longer disturb the fundamental restfulness and serenity.”

All this circles back to what Rev. Gyomay Kubose teaches in so many of his essays in Everyday Suchness and Everyday Suchness. Reread for yourself the essays “Naturalness”, “Living Life”, “Life without Regret”, “Buddhism is Everyday Life”, “Simplicity”. “The Natural Way”, “Gateless Gate”, and “Transcending Means and Ends”, to name a few.

Yes, I have been a student of these teachings … constantly whispering in my ear … while I was still trying to be student, trying to be a teacher, hunting that illusive “self” or lack of self I thought I needed to find, and trying to go wherever I thought I needed to go to find it.

I was listening, but I wasn’t hearing. I wasn’t actually living my life. I was doing what I thought I should to reach the goal of … of … what? Hunting the great awakened elephant!

Running away from myself, looking beyond my own life to find it. I hadn’t emptied myself through and through. No, instead, I had been loading myself up with elephant-hunting gear and elephant-hunting instructions and books. I was collecting that gear from every teacher and it was weighing me down until I was lost and spinning, not knowing what direction I was heading.

Had I listened deeply—not mouthing the words to be a model student or give the right teachings—but listened in me, for me, I would have heard. I would have heard that Enlightenment is everyday … that acceptance is transcendence … that ends = means. And that only in emptying myself, releasing me from the tight grasp of me, that I can truly live as me.

Had I truly listened, I would have heard Rev. Gyomay Kubose saying to me “Only when one lives his life does he know its meaning.” I would have heard him say, “Whatever the true inner heart says is the right way. Listen to its voice.” I would heard him say the true way “is simply the natural way.” I would have heard him say that “the true self is selflessness” … the teaching of “forget yourself.”

And I would have heard the voice of Rev. Akegarasu, as Shuichi Maida wrote in Heard By Me. He wrote, “Rev. Akegarasu is always whispering in my ear, ‘There is nothing to worry about. You had better do whatever you want to do.’ This is the Buddha-Dharma I heard from him.”

 

_/|\_ A deep Gassho to our precious teachers.