A Special Time of the Year
April is the month of the Cherry Blossom Tea and of Buddha’s Birthday. Then we shouldn’t forget Spring Equinox. At the end of this month, April, there are also the National AGM and Ministerial Association meetings.

These are important events for us, both socially and financially. They are also a source of joy in the Dharma and joy in the Sangha. But wait! Doesn’t our involvement in money and social activity show that we really don’t believe in the religion? If we just focused on the teachings we wouldn’t need money or work, right?

There are some people in the modern world who are so fed up with organized religion that they think we should just have pure religion. But if we could have pure Dharma teachings where would we sit? What would protect us from the weather? Who would teach us in a responsible and qualified manner? The existence of the media, computers and books give us the impression that we don’t need a place---temple, school or otherwise--- and we don’t need other people. But is this self-centric life supported by the media really possible? It may seem superior religion to do without other folk, sitting alone in silent bliss. All this falls short of real spiritual teaching and of community.

Real religion requires real work in all senses of the word. That is to say we need to reflect on our selves as human beings then ask how we can best live out our lives with our fellow human beings on earth. That is where the teachings start, in answer to the needs in our lives together. That is to say, religion and morals arise out of this word ‘together’ which is not an abstract theory but our actual experience as a physical and conscious being in the midst of other beings. Spiritual awakening and everyday life intertwine together. Indeed they involve all life on our earth. There is no split between the physical, spiritual and psychological. They are all intertwined so that one emerges out of the other.

In Buddhist communities where the Triple Treasure is chanted at every opportunity, earning money, cleaning, repairing, sitting a few moments in reflection, reciting the nembutsu and chanting are all Dharma activities. In fact thinking that there is a way to have awakening without others, or even without guidance of some kind leads us down many by-ways. We need others, and they need us. Realizing this is the first step to understanding Other Power.

I am reading a book by Noah Levine called Against the Stream. He is the son of a well-known Buddhist writer and scholar. However, he spent many years on the street in gangs with all the negatives that this means. While he was in jail on a drug charge he hit bottom. Then he began a spiritual quest, much like the historical Buddha did. Finally he ended up in a Theravada monastery where he began his training in mindfulness meditation. He is now returning to the very jails, where he himself once sat, to teach Dharma. At first he thought that all that mattered was becoming good at meditation, better and better in fact. All this stuff about love and dedication that led to work on behalf of others was just fluff—brought in by lesser types, or so he thought in his immature understanding.

Eventually though, he came to realize that love and service were natural results of practice. They were inevitable if the practice were done skilfully. That’s where the joy of service in the life with others emerged for him. Now he takes great interest in the experiences of joy and love of community in serving Dharma. They have become the bright side of life in his practice. Noah’s father wrote the introduction to the book. He was proud and amazed that he and his son had ended up in the same place by very different routes. These two famous men are an important example of some of those who have come to experience that Dharma and the mundane things of life are not separate.

So we, on our part, have recited the Triple Treasure together hundreds of times. We have recited the nembutsu thousands of times. We have also cleaned the temple thousands of times, cut hundreds of carrots---eaten tons of sushi. We have stayed awake nights worried about temple finances. Smiled at new members and shed tears at the death of older members. Scooped snow, scraped mud off the floor. We have put great effort in making the joyous events on our temple calendar the great successes they indeed are. Eventually we come to experience our everyday life as not separate from the nembutsu and the nembutsu as not separate from our everyday life. Work and awakening are with the nembutsu intertwined. How could it be otherwise?

Sensei Ulrich

March 23, 2008