Adorable pic of Dharmage
I had the great pleasure of being interviewed on the Dharmage podcast that was released today. The website and podcast Dharmage is done by the same woman you may recall from the Full Contact Enlightenment blog that had a good long run. I’m not saying her name because she wrote that one of the reasons she gave up her former blog was online harassment. Cryin’ shame, because this woman is one of those very special people who easily finds the sweet spot between cool and humble. Her interview style resembles Terry Gross from the Fresh Air radio show—somehow she managed to get this introvert chirping, and even talking over her at times, because I found her questions so intriguing. Listen Now.
How would you suggest integrating Dharma into daily life, based on your own example? Especially, how to overcome the excuse of having no time?
Venerated lineage holder of the Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism
“You have to make time. There is enough time. You work eight hours a day. Some people then say: I have no time to practice. But instead they go to a bar, sit front of the television, go to the movies, or do other things. If you really want to practice, then you have to give up those things. It is not necessary to cut yourself off from life completely, but you must slowly eliminate distraction. If you practice all the time, then your mind becomes tired. That is not so good—you lose concentration. Then you can watch a little television, read some books (not Dharma books), you can go for a walk in the forest or on the beach, or work in the garden—you can do those sorts of things. Also, if you work in a job where you do not need to talk, you can recite mantras while you are working. At work, or when I do my house duties, I recite a lot of prayers; sometimes I do mantras, sometimes I sing Tibetan songs.”
–Jetsün Kushok Chimey Luding
from Cho Yang, Norbulinka Institute, 1996, page 99
“We need the advice of teachers who have actually done long retreat, not those who have simply read about the process from texts. We can read the texts ourselves, but we can’t read between the lines: what it is like to do the practice; how we should feel or not feel; how to know when we are pushing too hard or not enough; when to move on to the next step. This information is not in the text. It has always been passed directly from teacher to student. The texts are generalized instructions; our teacher personalizes the instructions for us. We really do need a teacher.”
Christine Skarda, a Buddhist nun who has spent much of the past twenty-five years on retreat.
Buddhadharma Magazine, Winter 2016, p. 50
“As much as possible, I attempt to step toward my distress rather than turn away at the first whiff of discomfort. A better way to put it might be to turn toward, rather than immediately turn away from, distress—turn toward, then take a good look. It’s clear that responses are often governed by habits that have carved a path over time, and we can develop a habit of turning away from—or rushing toward—distress.”
Setsuan Gaelyn Godwin, the abbot of the Houston Zen Center
From Buddhadharma, the practitioner’s quarterly, Winter 2016, p. 22
I had a wonderful experience today. I attended the weekly family service the Buddhist Church of Oakland. The people were very warm and welcoming. A jolly fellow named Jon Takagaki—from the Board of Directors—showed me around, and sat next to me in the service… kindly showing me through their hymnal-style liturgies. The service is less than an hour long and geared to families with children.
Although the temple primarily caters to the Japanese-American community, the services were mainly in English. The organization is a branch of the Buddhist Churches of America, the American form of the Jodo Shinshu sect of Japanese Buddhism. I believe this is the second oldest Jodo Shinshu temple in America. The roots of the organization begin in 1901, and by the 20’s they had built this large and beautiful temple. In the fifties, the temple was physically divided in two and moved to its present location, due to interstate highway construction.
Amida Buddha and Shinran
Amida Buddha, known as Amitabha in Sanskrit, is an important figure in the broader Mahayana tradition of which all the northern traditions of Buddhism are a part, such as Tibetan, Japanese, and Chinese forms. The Jodo Shinshu tradition was founded by Shinran— a twelfth-century monk who disrobed. He taught that since Amitabha vowed to save all beings from suffering in samsara, the most appropriate practice for later times was to have faith and devotion to Amitabha, and recite his name as an expression of gratitude. Since it was not necessary to be a monk, this simple, joyful, practice thrived among lay people. Here is a statue of Shinran from the church lobby>>>
<<<This is a representation of Amida Buddha in his pure land. One of the senseis, priests, was cleaning before the service.
A bunch of things inspired me as a lay person who hosts Buddhist practices in my home:
- The value of having a super-friendly person to greet newcomers and accompany them throughout their first visit.
- It was great to have a designated time in the service when old-timers introduced new-comers and were welcomed by the sangha.
- Extremely simple, happy English sing-alongs with organ music were uplifting.
- This day a teen girl officiated at the service, and that was really cool.
- Like a church, there was coffee and pastries both before and after. You can’t go wrong with that.
- A sensei gave a short dharma teaching that focused on inclusion. As someone with different (empty) identities than the majority (white, lesbian), I felt I would not be rejected.
- The liturgies were upbeat, focusing on joy and gratitude. Who wouldn’t like that?
Once upon a time, after having been told by a monk that she could not attain complete awakening as a woman, Princess Wisdom Moon made the following vow:
There are many who wish to gain enlightenment in a man’s form, and there are but few who wish to work for the welfare of living beings in a female form. Therefore may I, in a female body, work for the welfare of beings right until samsara has been emptied.
Thus was the intention that gave birth to the Bodhisattva Arya Tara.
“This is wonderful, my dear. In Buddhism, there are no distinctions between people. There is only this—each person must hold fast to the desire to awaken and cultivate a heart of great compassion. People are complete as they are. If you don’t call into delusive thoughts; there is no Buddha and no sentient being; there is only one complete nature.”—Elderly Nun, 13th century Japan
It rolls in like the fog creeping under the Golden Gate. It is the leaden, motherless, mantle of sorrow. The fundamental discernment of how short of expectations this life will fall.
My life hip joint pains me when I flex it outward. All the yoga and bodywork in the world may not make it be otherwise. For, part-by-part, my human body will fail.
I miss the optimistic glistening of a woman’s skin held close in the sunlight of some heroic locale; the tippy-top of a boulder or the City Hall steps of some Republican stronghold. Now: there are only my own soft folds of fat. My facial skin no longer snaps back flat, but falls naturally into pouty, sour, shape. Women reject me. I reject them.
The fog grabs me by the chicken neck. Cold and damp.At these times there is only one way forward: to take the hand of the loving mother as big as the world.
She balances me on her knee and brushes my hair. She stands me up and straightens my clothes. I must merely set down my many platters of good works and let her. The task of the grieving is to let her love
Practicing as Deity/Buddha
Practicing deity gets us out of our narrow little minds and forever changes us. Viewing ourselves as a fully enlightened being from the start of our day to the very finish helps us skip steps on the path of awakening. It’s called “taking the result as the path.” We envision ourselves, not as a flesh and blood mortal with limitations, but as a transcendent being of made of light, in a web of connection with all the Buddhas of the past present and future.
It sounds trippy, and akin to New Age talk. But really it is a very grounded way to practice. You may actually find yourself as being characterized as less “spiritual” than many people around you. You’re not dependent on fantasizing about things like aliens and “the other side.” Your path has nothing to do with reifying supernatural experiences.
As a Buddhist practitioner of deity, engaging in the recitation of the sound of deity (mantra), the self-characterization of your body as light, your mind as vast and awakened, you become a big picture person. You naturally are more patient, and your vocabulary starts to reflect that as words like “aeons,” “universe,” “expanse,” “limitless” creep in, unbidden. As Lama Tharchin Rinpoche one said, “the deity never goes to the emergency room.” Your body goes to the emergency room, but your mind regards the doctors and nurses as the retinue of your deity, and the hospital as the deity’s palace.
The Role of the Wisdom Lama
It is the wisdom lama’s job to give you the empowerment, oral transmission, and instruction on the practice… and to convince you that this deity practice is the most important and special one in the whole world. (I mean the boundless universe.)
Then, you take the sacred text you are given home and merge with it. Let it help you recognize that you were born from stainless purity, envisioned as a lotus seat after having been conceived as a non-conceptual core sound such as TAM, HRIH, or HUNG. You are powered by the turning wheel of a mantra, not material food and cellular mitochondria.
A practical, stable, way of practice that is not dependent on your material body being perfect or the circumstances of life being calm, quiet or pleasant. Perfect for these times, where external appearances are speedy, constantly changing, frightening.
Engage with the wisdom lamas, don’t be a passive lout who just goes to ceremonies for the blessings. Take up a deity practice you are given with curiosity and fortitude and the payoff will be immense.