Thursday, June 21, 2018

Some ideas about the temple altar - how is done in Japan and other places and how we'll do it at Amidaji


As some may already know, the naijin (inner area) is the altar area of a Jodo Shinshu temple in Japan where usually only priests are allowed to enter. This situation is copied by many Shinshu temples outside Japan, too. There, in the naijin, the Buddha statue, whose face is sometimes partially covered by a kind of rich material, is enshrined in a big decorated box. Also there are some minor altars of Shinran, Rennyo, the seven Patriarchs and Shotoku Taishi. Another important element is that the naijin is placed on a little raised platform, which means that priests actually stay higher than lay people. Because of all these, and also because the altars are in the back of the naijin, lay people who attend the service and Dharma talks from the gejin (outer area/sitting area) can hardly see the statue and the images on the minor altars.

However, at Amidaji temple we’ll never follow these Japanese customs. Now the Hondo (main hall/Dharma Hall) is small, but even when it will be bigger, there will be no naijin or special area for priests.

When priests conduct services or give a Dharma talk they will be at the same level with  lay people. This is because, although the priest and teacher may be useful in leading people to shinjin (faith in Amida Buddha), actually the shinjin of the priest and that of the lay person, as well as salvation, comes only from Amida Buddha. 

Also, priests who chant hymns and conduct religious services will face the altar. Sometimes, in Jodo Shinshu temples in Japan or elsewhere, priests chant facing each other, but we’ll not do this at Amidaji. Of course, teaching will be done facing the audience.

Next, the main object of worship, that is, Amida statue or image (the bigger, the better), will never be put in a box, but only on the table altar, so that it can be easily seen and venerated by all people in the audience. I think its of utmost importance that Amida statue can be seen and approached by devotees. People should be able to come close to it, put flowers and incense, touch it, etc. I do not understand why there is this custom that only priests enter the altar area, and lay people are not allowed. It really has no scriptural support, and is not faithful to the spirit of Shinran's teaching and Amida Buddha's indiscriminative Compassion.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Faith in Amida Buddha is not the creation of our mind



"Since Amida makes you trust Him
And responds to your trust,
Your trusting heart does not arise
From within yourself."[1]

The reason why in a Nembutsu follower’s heart coexist both faith in the Primal Vow and his blind passions and illusions is that this faith doesn’t belong to him.   

This is another important aspect of the Jodo Shinshu teaching. It is said that in a poisonous Eranda forest grow only Eranda trees and not the famous Chandana trees with their fine fragrance. It is a miracle if a Chandana tree grows in an Eranda forest. Similarly, it is a miracle if faith in Amida Buddha flourishes in the people’s hearts. How can it be possible that from human passions the faith in Buddha be born? The answer is that this phenomenon is practically impossible and that faith in Amida is not the product of our minds, but what Amida plants in us. That is why shinjin or the entrusting heart is called “rootless faith” for it has no roots in the human mind but in Amida’s Power and Compassion. The same thing happens with saying the Name which expresses faith. Everything comes from Amida and manifests like an echo in our minds and on our lips, just like a child who faithfully answers his mother’s calling.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Birth in the borderland of the Pure Land



I already explained in detail the Primal Vow (18th) and showed that faith in Amida’s Power is the cause of birth in the Pure Land. However, the situation is that not all practitioners are able to give up entirely the attachment to their personal power in reaching birth in the Pure Land. They simply cannot rely exclusively on Amida but think there is still something they need to add to His Power so that they will deserve to be born in the Pure Land. Thus, they remain attached to the idea of merit accumulation even if they also put some trust in Amida. This kind of faith mixed with reliance on their own so called “merit” and personal power is not in accord with the Primal Vow, but still Amida does not abandon such people. Especially for those who are not capable to rely exclusively on Him, but still wish to be born in His Pure Land, Amida created the 19th and 20th Vows[1]

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The true disciple of Amida and all Buddhas



As I already explained, Shinran Shonin taught that the true reason for all Buddhas appearance in the world is to help sentient beings entrust to Amida and be born after death in His Pure Land, where they can easily attain Nirvana. Thus, the logical conclusion he draw from here, is that the person who has faith in Amida is the true disciple of the Buddhas because he is in accord with their inermost intent. He said:

"The true disciple of the Buddha means this: 'true' contrasts with false and provisional. 'Disciple' means a disciple of Shakyamuni and other Buddhas, namely, the practitioner who has attained adamantine faith (shinjin). Because one certainly realizes great Nirvana with this faith and practice, one is called a true disciple of the Buddha"[1].

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Three Refuges in Jodo Shinshu Buddhism

revised and updated on May 8th 2018
download in pdf from 1) my google drive, 2) my page on Academia.edu



The Three Refuges[1] are:

I TAKE REFUGE IN THE BUDDHA
Buddham saranam gacchami[2] (Namo kye Bu[3])
I TAKE REFUGE IN THE DHARMA
Dhammam saranam gacchami (Namo kye Ho)
I TAKE REFUGE IN THE SANGHA
Sangham saranam gacchami (Namo kye So)

     1) The meaning of taking refuge in the Buddha 
       This means to take refuge in Amida Buddha who is the central Buddha in Jodo Shinshu. Only through Him can we attain Buddhahood in the Pure Land as He is the only Buddha among all Buddhas who made the Vow of saving everybody, no matter their spiritual capacities.  

By taking refuge in Amida, we automatically honor and take refuge in Shakyamuni Buddha as the Teacher who showed us the path of Amida Dharma (His main reason for coming into this world) and in all Buddhas in the ten directions, as all encourage us, teach us and guide us to entrust to Amida Buddha.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

The Ten Benefits of faith in Amida during this life: 10. The benefit of entering the stage of the truly settled (non-retrogression)


By receiving faith (shinjin) and saying the Name of Amida we enter, in this life, in the stage of the truly settled for birth in the Pure Land, where we’ll actually go after death, and where we’ll immediately attain Buddhahood (Nirvana). This is also called the stage of non-retrogression, the stage of definite assurance, the group of the rightly established stage, the stage equal to perfect Enlightenment, the stage equal with Maitreya, etc.
Here are some passages related with this stage:

„If one is mindful of that Buddha’s infinite power and
merit,
One will instantly enter the stage of definite
assurance. So I am always mindful of Amida”[1]

"When we, ordinary people filled with evil passions, the multitudes defiled by karmic evil and subject to birth and death, attain the faith and practice transferred by Amida for our going forth, we will immediately join the Mahayana group of the rightly established stage. Because we dwell in the rightly established stage, we unfailingly reach Nirvana".[2]

Monday, April 23, 2018

The Ten Benefits of faith in Amida during this life: 8.The benefit of being aware of Amida’s benevolence and of responding in gratitude to His virtues; 9.The benefit of constantly practicing great compassion





As I explained at the chapter related with the Primal Vow, faith gives us two kinds of awareness:
1) that we are people of deep karmic limitations, incapable to attain Buddhahood through our own power; and
2) that only Amida Buddha can save us through His Vow Power (Other Power), without asking anything from us.

The repeated births and deaths of samsaric existence are not a matter of mythology but a real danger for the unenlightend beings and the most important problem to be solved while we are still enjoying the rare karmic circumstance of being born a human being and meeting Amida Dharma. If the follower deeply realizes that samsara is not the place where he should build himself a destiny, but a never-ending cycle of momentary or false hapiness and disatisfaction, and that he cannot escape from it through his own powers, he may reach the point when  he accepts Amida Buddha’s helping hand that is extended to him.
In the next passages we see  how Shinran expressed his awareness of Amida’s benevolence after he received faith: