I want to begin my talk this evening by mentioning this wonderful book called "Buddhism of the Heart: Reflections on Shin Buddhism," which is Pure Land Buddhism, "and Inner Togetherness," by Jeff Wilson. It is a wonderful book. He is an excellent writer.
Some books you read and it is really hard to read it and you put it down, and you have to reread it page by page. This is not one of those. I wish I had more time to read it, because I can't get enough. I want to go to the next page and the next page. I have already read the whole book twice, and I'm on my third reading now. I just love it. I hope he writes more books.
In this book, "Buddhism of the Heart," he says it is a reflection on Pure Land Buddhism and inner togetherness. I love that—inner togetherness, because Pure Land Buddhism does emphasize the truth of our togetherness. The reason why is because in the tradition of Pure Land Buddhism, the mytho-poetic metaphor that is used to help us to really get in touch with the truth that goes beyond all concepts—
You see, there are many different approaches to get to the truth, which is beyond concepts. The Zen approach is just to help you to stop having concepts altogether. The Pure Land approach is to use poetic mythological metaphorical concepts until you can go beyond that to the truth. So there are different approaches.
For instance, there is a kind of meditation where you empty the mind of thoughts until you get to the place of just being with reality as it is without overlaying it with your own interpretation, but just pure reality. That is one approach, just to keep emptying the mind.
But another approach, like in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, is to fill the mind so much with mantras and visualization until you just cannot think of anything else. And then you suddenly break through into reality beyond all concepts and all thoughts by completely filling yourself with so many good thoughts and positive thoughts that all of the negative thoughts just melt away, and you are only left with reality as it is.
It is interesting—two completely opposite approaches, but they both work, and they're both valid. That is why we have so many different traditions, because different things work, but they just work in different ways.
For example, if your child is trying to learn how to cook something in the kitchen with you, you can use the approach of gently talking about the stove and how you don't want to leave the gas on, or if it has a flame, you don't want to touch the flame. You explain that with a lot of compassion and love and affection and tenderness so your child understands that you love them and you do not want them to get hurt. That is one approach. But, if they happen to be putting their hand and reaching it right toward the flame, and they do not know any better at that moment, what is your approach? Is it "Oh, my sweet dear"? No. It is like "No!" You grab their hands away as quickly as possible, even if they don't understand and may misinterpret your action. But that will help them prevent them from being burned and hurt.
We take different approaches toward spiritual practice based on our particular personality type, our particular circumstances, our particular needs, and our particularly level on the path of enlightenment.
There is actually a story in this book that illustrates this very well. The story is basically the Buddha taught about different kinds of people are like different kinds of horses. Some horses, they are superior type horses, who when they just see the shadow of the whip—these are ancient times, when they used whips on horses—and the moment they hear or see the shadow of the whip, they immediately go or obey. Other kinds of horses need a little bit more. Perhaps they just need a little kind of sound of the whip, and then they will obey and go. Then there are other horses that will not do anything until you actually whip them to obey and go this is an illustration about our practice and way we are at on the path.
We might think the story is about we want to become more superior horses, but actually what it really is about is that the Buddha, the enlightened ones, the universe will do whatever it takes to compassionately help us to go on the right path. So that means that nobody is forsaken. Nobody is left alone to be lost, but everyone is helped in some different way. In fact, the universe shows special attention to those who are kind of the dense horses—shows special attention, special care, special compassion. So do not think it is a bad thing if you happen to be one of the more dense horses. It just means that the universe needs and wants to take more special attention of you and more special care.
So, tonight I wanted to do a little bit more teaching lecture teaching style rather than inspired style. Sometimes I just sit and breathe and waits until whatever channels, and then it is an inspired style of speaking, but tonight I feel led to do more of a teaching style, like a lecture style. I will try to close with something a little bit more inspired.
The topic for tonight I promised would be the shortcut to peace, happiness, and enlightenment, but that was a compassionate way to reach out to someone out there in the Dallas area who might happen to come across the website and kind of wants a shortcut. The reality is, there are not any shortcuts, but there are ways in which you can practice that do not weigh you down so heavily. So even though there are no shortcuts yet, there are ways in which we can stop making it harder on ourselves, right? So what I mean by shortcut, then, is just to kind of not reinvent the wheel and not make it harder than it actually has to be.
One of the practices that comes from the Buddhist tradition and particularly the Pure Land Buddhist tradition, as well as the Tibetan Buddhist tradition is the practice of opening your heart to the support of those who are a little bit further ahead on the path then you are. It is kind of like if any of you grew up in families with several siblings, you know maybe in the family you have younger siblings and older siblings, and if there is harmony in the family and not too much fighting—which sometimes there is fighting—but sometimes there's also a lot of love and support between siblings. If there's a lot of that support, then what happens is the older siblings kind of help the younger siblings along. The older siblings have had to learn a lot through trial and error with the parents, and then the younger siblings got the benefit of this trial and error on the older sibling, so the younger siblings have a little bit easier time maybe, and the older siblings kind of help out and take care of the younger siblings, maybe babysit and tell them it is not so bad and it is not going to be terrible forever. There is a hope.
That is the way it is with us. There have been people on the earth in history who have blazed the path in a way that they found that was helpful to peace and happiness and enlightenment. And so it would be wise of us to learn from them so that it is a little easier for us, you see? And there are enlightened beings in the universe who have matured on the path much more than we have so far, and it would be wise of us to be open to their guidance, to open our hearts to the wisdom and the energy and the support that can come from these elder brothers and sisters on the path that some of us called Buddhas. You might call them your spirit guide or whatever.
And so, in Buddhism, we have the Buddha, who is an enlightened teacher, but there are many enlightened teachers and not just one. This enlightened teacher became enlightened to the truth of the universal reality, which I will call the Dharma reality. When you become fully enlightened to the truth of reality as it is, you are called Buddha, and the Buddha taught lots of people, some of whom became initially enlightened.
In the early tradition of Buddhism called Theravada, Thera means elder and vada means way. It is the way of the elders. So this way of Buddhism is prevalent in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Burma, which is, I think, Myanmar. So they believe in 4 stages of enlightenment, and the 4th is the final stage, and when you become enlightened on the final 4th stage, you become an arhat. If you become enlightened the 1st stage, you are called a Sotapanna, but you do not need to know that word. I will just call it by its English translation, stream enterer. Okay?
Now there are other traditions of Buddhism that developed from the original song of the Buddha and over the 1st couple of centuries there were 18 schools of Buddhism that developed. They were very similar, but some of them were a little bit different from each other, which is understandable, because what the Buddha taught for 40 years was a lot, and they did not write any of it down. It had to be memorized by groups of monks and nuns and orally recited in chants so that the next generation of monks and nuns could remember it. You can imagine it's impossible for most monks to memorize the entire teachings of the Buddha.
You know what the Bible looks like, right? The Bible is usually about this thick in a certain print. The same print style, if you were to take the Buddha's teachings that he spoke, it would go from about here all the way to that wall of several books. So it is a lot more than what we have in the Bible, and the Bible is a lot too. Can you imagine trying to memorize the entire Bible? Now imagine memorizing the entire books of the Buddha's teachings.
That is why monasteries divided up the teachings, and this monastery would memorize this portion, and this monastery would memorize this portion, but what happens when you have different groups memorizing different texts? You have different emphases on the teachings, and therefore over time, you get different schools of Buddhism that develop. That is natural.
Now, in the development of Buddhism you have a Theravada school, which is one of the 18, and it is the only one of the original 18 that survives to this day. There was another one related to what we call the Mahayana school of Buddhism, and it was the precursor to the Mahayana school, which was a little bit more of a liberal school. Maha means great, and yana means boat or vehicle—so, the big boat.
What they thought is that the Theravada school was too strict and too focused on the monks, and they basically were focusing more on the final stage of enlightenment, arhat, which in their opinion meant that you become enlightened and you leave this world and you do not help all the other beings. You just get enlightened and, "Bye-bye." That was sort of their kind of idea in some way in the early years.
Now of course, it is not really like that anymore, but that is how it may be was perceived by the Mahayana. So they said "No. We need to create a kind of spiritual community of Buddhism that is going to be broad and that's not just monks can practice, but everybody, including laypeople, and we need to emphasize the initial stages of enlightenment. Everyone can do it." You know, encourage everybody, and that actually becoming an arhat is not the real goal, it even though it might be sort of like the whip that the Buddha used to kind of motivate you. Oh. Enlightenment as an arhat means you do not have to come back to this miserable world. You can be completely at peace. It was like the whip to convince people to go for something greater.
But the Mahayana said the real goal is not to become an arhat but to become a bodhisattva. Now what is the difference between an arhat and the bodhisattva? They're both enlightened, but a bodhisattva's motivation is to become enlightened so that he or she can always come back to this world or any world that has suffering and share the light and give the light.
So, for them, reincarnation, whether you want to think of it metaphorically or literally for the Mahayana Buddhists, it starts off where it is kind of like, well, in Buddhism anyway, you get reincarnated depending on your karma. You know, if you have some pretty bad karma, your next birth is going to have lessons that are going to have to reflect on how to undo what you just did. It is like a heavy burden that you carry.
To the Mahayana Buddhists, when you are on the path of enlightenment, it is not like you are forced into rebirth by your karma. It is more like you choose consciously to come back to help all other beings, you see? So that is sort of the attitude toward rebirth, whether metaphorical or literal.
Now, Mahayana has many schools that developed over time, but the 3 main surviving schools—and there are some really wonderful smaller schools in Japan, but I will not get into that right now. The 3 largest schools that survived to this day are Zen, Pure Land, and the Tibetan tradition, which also is beyond just Tibet. It is also in China in Japan and Korea, too. It is the esoteric tradition or the Vajrayana tradition.
So therefore the 4 biggest schools we have today are the Theravada, Zen, Pure Land, and Tibetan schools. Of all the schools, the largest school of Buddhism is actually Pure Land, which makes sense because Mahayana means big boat, and the Your Land approach is the broadest approach. Anyone can connect to Pure Land Buddhism very easily. It does not have as many requirements as the other schools. It is a big boat.
In America and the West here, people are very unfamiliar with Pure Land tradition. It is actually one of the smaller traditions in America because it has not really been popularized yet. I am hoping it will be someday. Maybe I will write a book about it and help, but there are people who have already written better books, like Jeff Wilson.
I don't want to talk about the differences today unless you want me to, but I guess I will just briefly talk about some differences, and then I want to talk about the similarities. Now, I like to think of these 4 major schools like an iceberg in the water. The Theravada school is at the top, and then the Mahayana schools of Zen and Pure Land and Tibetan.
One thing I want to mention is that the Tibetan tradition has practices of Pure Land within its tradition. In China, Zen combined itself with Pure Land into a sort of synthesized approach. Is that the word? A synthesis. So does not like they're completely divided in different. But here is the thing.
In Carl Jung, the psychologist, he talked about the 4 quadrants of the human being, okay? You have the physical quadrant. You have the emotional quadrant, the intellectual quadrant, and the spiritual quadrant. These are 4 different areas of the human life and experience. Now what is interesting is that the 4 major schools actually correspond to that very nicely.
I think of the Theravada school as the intellectual quadrant because they kind of go by the book. Basically whatever the Buddha actually said, that is what we go by, and we take it literally as the step-by-step process. So you can call it the rational approach.
However, the Mahayana approach is trans-rational. This means not that it is irrational, but trans-rational. Trans-rational means it is going beyond just the rational mind, so it is going beyond the literal. That is why these schools of Buddhism not only rely on the teachings of the Buddha at spoken literally, but they also are okay with relying on teachings of the Buddha that were developed after the Buddha through other enlightened monks or nuns or through their own experience of the heavenly realms by listening to enlightened beings in other dimensions of time and space and getting the teachings of Buddha from them as well. Mahayana Buddhists are much more open to evolutionary changes in the teachings and open to new ideas in the teachings, and it is okay.
So, the Pure Land approach is a more poetic approach. I think of it as more of the emotional, heartfelt approach. It is very, very heart full, full of gratitude, full of love, full of joy. It is just pure devotion to the Buddha, and it is wonderful practice.
The Zen approach every day is one form of pure consciousness or spirit, the absolute essence of Buddhism—cutting through all the words, cutting through all the rituals, cutting through all the developments, and just going to the absolute essence of the Buddha's experience.
Tibetan tradition likes to be very creative, using ritual and magic and mantras and focusing more on using the energies, like shamanic energies, as shortcuts, because sometimes we are so stuck in our intellectual minds, we need energy ways of cutting through that rational mind to get the core of our liberation. That is why there are different incantations and hand mudras that help us to get out of our small intellectual mind and into the body, the energetics of the universe.
It is kind of like mind, heart, spirit, and energy body. That is how I think of it. The Buddha actually taught in all 4 ways, but what actually came out of his mouth was just that. How do you express infinite love? You cannot do it in words, in literal words. You have to use poetry, metaphor, mythology to express and chanting to express that energy of the love of the heart. That is what the Pure Landers did.
Also, sometimes the Buddha did not even say anything, but people got a message in their heart. How? He radiated the message. The energetics of his own presence radiated the message, and how do you express that in words? It is hard, unless you use rituals and mantras and mudras. They can help embody that same energy.
And then of course, beyond words, beyond metaphors, beyond energetics is the pure unadulterated consciousness and spirit of Buddha nature that is beyond even just any individual leader. The Zen tries to go beyond even the Buddha to the Buddha nature. For Zen, we do not have to copy exactly what the Buddha said or did. We want to go to the source that enlightens the Buddha, so it is okay to use any methods or teachings if maybe even other traditions if it helps you cut through to the core essence that is the source of Buddhas. That is sometimes why Zen also has forms that look very different from what the Buddha said or did.
In fact, in Zen, they say, "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him." It sounds sacrilegious. The Theravadans roll their eyes about these crazy Mahayana Buddhists, because in Theravada you respect the Buddha and you respect the statues of the Buddha and anything about the Buddha, you respect. In Zen it is like do not rely on the appearance of things. Go to the core invisible reality of it. That is what the Zen would do.
All 4, I believe, even though they are very different approaches, I believe they are all for valid because they are just 4 different ways of going and angling at reality. They are all useful depending on her personality types. Some people need this step-by-step approach, by the book. I call them by the book Buddhists. Then the Mahayana, some people really resonate with simple—keep it simple, stupid—the KISS approach, like the Pure Land Buddhist. Just one practice and just do it over and over and over again until you get it, right?
The opposite would be the Tibetan way. You see in the Pure Land practice, Amitabha Buddha represents all Buddhas. So instead of visualizing all of the Buddhas, just one Buddha is enough. It can represent all of them, and that is enough. The Tibetan Buddhist, on the other hand, they have thousands of different Buddhas and visualize all of them until their head explodes. That is another approach, because if you fill yourself with all of these different Buddhas and you cannot think of anything else.
The Zen approach is cutting through all of that to the core, and that core can be expressed in different ways, which is why Zen is the most adaptable practice of all of the Buddha's practices, because you can actually be a Zen Buddhist or a Zen Christian or a Zen secular humanist, because Zen cuts through all the forms to the core assets. That is why it is so portable, depending on what form you want to put it in or the cup you want to put the essence in.
All this that is to say that the commonality of all of these various schools of Buddhism—and of course you can apply that to other religions also. For me personally, all religions have validity. They just have a different approach to the truth. They all have validity, and they have a oneness, a unity between all of them. What is that unity? I believe that unity is the heart of love, the enlightened heart of compassion.
Now, the Theravadans call it metta and karuna, which means lovingkindness and compassion, and they have many practices to cultivate that. The Mahayanas, they call it bodhichitta. Chitta means consciousness or mind, and bodhi means enlightened, so enlightened consciousness or enlightened mind or enlightened attitude. Enlightened motivation is how it is really used. So we practice with the motivation of enlightened consciousness, which is love. There is a secondary meaning to it, but I am not going to get into that tonight, and it refers to the wisdom of emptiness. I do not want to get into that aspect, but I want to get into more of the compassion aspect, the heart aspect, rather than the infinite aspect of emptiness.
Now, the Pure Landers embody bodhichitta in the symbol of Amitabha, and the Tibetan Buddhists have many, many ways to do it. The most popular is om mani padme hum, which is a mantra of Avalokiteshvara. Now, scholars have found out that it was actually originally Avalokit-a-shvara. There is a slight difference of meaning, but basically it means the one who hears the cries of the world, whereas 'e-shvara' would mean the Lord who hears the cries of the world. The mantra is om mani padme hum.
Om is composed of 3 sounds, ah, ooh, um. Om, ah, ooh, um. Ah is the sound of the enlightened body of the Buddhas. Ooh represents the enlightened speech of the Buddhas, and um represents the enlightened heart or consciousness or mind of the enlightened ones. So, om is referring to enlightened activity in body, speech, and mind.
Mani means jewel, and padme means lotus. Hum is another sacred sound of enlightenment, but I like to think of it as a very activating presence, here and now of sound. Basically, it means enlightened. The jewel represents compassion, and padme represents wisdom, but sometimes you could think of it the other way also, because I think of the jewel as wisdom and the lotus as compassion, so it depends on how you want to think of it. So enlightened wisdom and compassion activating.
Now why wisdom and compassion? Because wisdom and compassion are the 2 qualities of a Buddha. Today we are just talking about the compassion aspect, but there is a wisdom aspect as well, which I do not have time to get into today.
The Zen Buddhists express this in a way—I don't really know how to put it into words yet. I have to meditate on not one little bit more, but I do know that the Zen Buddhists also practice this aspect. I don't know what they call it. I thought about it a lot, but you know how Zen is. It is kind of beyond words. I guess the best way to express the Zen approach is that the everyday life of reality and just living out enlightenment here and now, that is compassion. It is not something separate from life. Compassion is just your ordinary response in the moment to life, and you just allow wisdom to express itself in the moment, and that is compassion.
Bodhichitta is the heart of love. That is the essence of all the schools of Buddhism. They call it different things. They use different symbols. It all boils down to this.
Now, I am going to talk today and in 2 weeks from now about the Pure Land approach, because it is, in my opinion, a wonderful "shortcut." Because when you say Amitabha or Namo Amitabha—do I have time? Gosh. When you say Amitabha, it means everything in that one word. It means the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. It means wisdom and compassion. It means all beings. It means all enlightened one. It means everything all compact it into one simple word. It is kind of like the microchip or USB thing. You just download everything into it—all the mantras, all the wonderful things you can think of: I am home, all is love, all is well. It is just input in there already. All of the support of all of the Buddhas of the universe are in this one word, and as we express it, it comes through.
Now, when you say Namo Amitabha, Namo means to bow or to say thank you or to honor, to respect, to devote yourself. Then, the meaning is the same, but what you have done is you have given recognition to the human element of enlightenment. There is the human self and the enlightened self, but they are not separated. They are always together: Namo Amitabha.
So when you say namo, you recognize that you have a part to open your heart, and the enlightened nature that is within you and all around you has a part to play also, which is simply to completely embrace your human nature with complete love, complete acceptance, without rejecting it. There is no rejection of the human element. The human aspect of life is a part of enlightenment comment not separate from enlightenment.
This is different from some of the religious traditions you may be familiar with from growing up. I know the one I grew up with was very much saying that being human was depraved, the depravity human nature. But in this approach, the human nature is part of enlightenment. You cannot have enlightenment without the human nature. You must have the human nature for enlightenment. Without it, you cannot be enlightened.
Male: So are you saying that human emotions of greed, anger, jealousy, whatever can still be embraced and used as tools of enlightenment if looked at a certain way?
Yes. Yes. Yes. All of those things are just energies, but when those energies become enlightened, they serve enlightenment. You hate your monkey mind when you meditate, right? And yet you don't realize it yet, but when you become fully enlightened, guess what the monkey mind becomes? It becomes the creative thinking of the Buddha. That's right. It becomes the creative mind of a Buddha. If you did not have the monkey mind, you would not be able when you become enlightened to come up with new ideas to help all beings, but your monkey mind becomes the tool of the Buddha when you are enlightened to come up with creative ways of thinking and to help others.
So even anger is just an energy. When it becomes enlightened anger, it is motivation to stop injustice and to stop people from being stupid. And sadness is an energy of compassion for the suffering of others. All of the emotions including negative ones have a place in enlightenment.
There is another way of saying the mantra, Namo Amitabha Buddhaya, and when you add this 3rd part, it gives it a little bit more of a richer dimension. So we think of the human self and the ultimate nature of all things. Namo, we think of we are here, and to reach for the ultimate nature of reality is Amitabha, but that is not full enlightenment yet. To reach for ultimate reality, emptiness, because to become fully enlightened requires the downward motion once again, represented by Buddhaya.
Because the true Buddha—our practice is to become enlightened, to really get in touch with their true nature, but once you get in touch with your true nature, what do you automatically do? You come back and help all beings, and that is when you are a real Buddha, because now it is a downward movement back. Now that you are enlightened, you come back down and help all beings. If you do not have that part of your practice, helping all beings, you are only halfway to enlightenment. Full enlightenment is always completed by the Buddhaya.
Now there is a final way we say it, with the Om. Om Namo Amitabha Buddhaya. Why? Because Om, remember, is enlightenment, enlightened activity. It is a reminder that even though we started here at Namo, the source of human reality is enlightened nature, Buddha nature. Actually, it is more like this. The movement of reality is like this: Om Namo Amitabha Buddhaya. We all start from ultimate reality. We became incarnate in the human reality so that we could learn and grow and make enlightenment more diverse as we become enlightened and then express that in infinite varieties of ways in the universe, helping all beings.