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Why Nembutsu in Tao Sangha?

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There are many things that people ask me about Tao Sangha.

I would like to start with how I feel when I chant Nembutsu. Firstly, I must explain that each and every Nembutsu experience is different for me.  Many many things happen each and every day of our lives, so how could one expect Nembutsu to be the same each time?   There are a few things that remain constant however.   The fact that I have an opportunity to practice regularly, to work towards a higher unity of Ki-mind-body always brings with it a deep gratitude.  So let’s begin with Gratitude. For the purpose of more easily understanding the feelings of gratitude during Nembutsu, I would like to generalize people’s attitude towards gratitude into 3 possible types.  I have experienced each type, and through my writing here, hope to help those interested to better their practice in their effort towards leading a happier and more fulfilling life. The first type of gratitude is the most common type of all.  We all feel this when we receive something we perceive to have some value.  The key words here to focus on are, ‘perceive to have some value’.  It is actually a very selfish and subjective way of living, always observing and calculating that which we feel is beneficial only to ourselves, based on our personal notions and illusions of what we consider to be good and bad.  This type of gratitude is very unstable, since the perception of good and bad can change with the direction of the wind, leading to a roller-coaster state between happiness and unhappiness, between feeling fulfilled and full of gratitude to suddenly feeling empty and desiring more and more. The second type is simply having no gratitude at all.  Being in this state, it can be said that one is living in a kind of perpetual unhappiness, with jealousy, and even hate eating at the very core.  The reasons for this state may be attributed to the very real difficulties, traumas and turmoil faced by people in their lives. With a clear focus only on their bad luck and ‘unfair hand that life has dealt them’, the attitude of “Why should I have gratitude?” pervades every aspect of their life. The third and final type of gratitude is the constant ‘practice of gratitude’.  This type of gratitude refers to having gratitude ‘without any visible’ reasons for having gratitude.   ‘Visible reasons’ refers to the spiritual aspect of a person’s practice and the connection to life itself.  If one is in a unified state of Ki-mind-body, one does not have to look far or deeply to appreciate all that one receives from the universe every moment, from each breath of air to the sounds, smells, sights, and tastes surrounding us. Even after trying and difficult situations, the Ki of Gratitude changes everything!   In my case, for example, following an oil fire in my home, and the trauma of 2nd and 3rd degree burns to my wife’s arm and my right hand, the gratitude both my wife and I felt left us in a positive state and the healing that occurred was quick and almost miraculous. Many people wonder how anyone can feel gratitude at a time such as this, however, without going too deeply into the matter, the oil fire could have been much worse and the outcome far more devastating…  In other words, I was and am grateful to the universe for the experience and the possibility to continue my life. This 3rd and final state of gratitude I recommend to anyone wishing to live a happier life, and through Nembutsu practice, I have come to understand myself more deeply.  Each time, Nembutsu practice profoundly reveals to me the different types of gratitude that will forever exist within me, and within each and every human being.   I carry this feeling of gratitude for what i have received through Nembutsu with me always.

 For this I feel ever-more gratitude.                                                  

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Receiving the Robes of a Monk

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Exactly one week ago, in Wada Ji Temple in the countryside of Japan, I partook in a ceremony to receive the robes of a monk. It was an exciting time, and yet very natural and ‘mundane’ in a way. What surprised me most upon my return to Canada however, were the questions I faced about how I felt following the ceremony, and if I felt “any different in any way?

Before answering these questions, let me start with the story of Mazu (or Ma Tsu), a Zen Master, who as a student spent many hours doing zazen (seated meditation).  I will do my best to retell the story as I learned it.  One day, Mazu’s teacher, Master Nanyue was walking by  and observed Mazu sitting in zazen, and he called out to him,  “Why do you sit in zazen each and every day?”  Mazu  replied to his teacher, “I intend to become a buddha.”  Master Nanyue then picked up a roof tile laying on the ground, and proceeded to grind it on a rock.  “What are you doing?” asked the young monk of his teacher.  “I am trying to make a mirror,” replied the master.  “But how can you make a mirror by grinding a tile?” asked the perplexed Mazu.  The master turned to him and asked, “How can you become a buddha by doing zazen?”

At this point, here is my interpretation of this zen story, and the connection to my recent ordination.  In the story, the young student is so focused on the sitting form of zazen, that he is not mastering the essential principle.   When the form takes precedence over the most important aspect of why we do something, we need to step back and remember why we are doing it.  In the story the Master reminds his student that when we sit or do something to become enlightened, we destroy the attainment of enlightenment.  Upon hearing this, the student suddenly has a moment of satori, or enlightenment.

As human beings, it is easy to get stuck on a form, forget the true meaning of life, the true meaning of the practice, the true meaning of why we are here.  The answer exists within each and every one of us, and not in any form.

If you truly understand zazen or Nembutsu or any spiritual practice, you understand that it is not about sitting or chanting or praying, how many hours or years one practices, or any ceremonies you do for that matter.   Getting stuck on these external forms, is as if “the cart has stopped moving and we whip the cart instead of the horse”, as Master Nanyue later in the story mentions to Mazu.

When we realize and practice non-abidance (avoiding mental constructs and creating illusions in our daily lives) true wisdom appears, and we know exactly what to do when the cart stops moving.   We do not need to do anything special or be anything special in order to be responsible for the life we were given, to work for the benefit of self and others, and all our practices I hope lead us to this realization.  Since the ceremony, my wish for the world has increased, my responsibility as well.

And regarding my answer to the question of if I feel any different now?

“Make it a beautiful day.”

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Wada ji Temple in Shimane Prefecture, Japan.

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