Present: Gordon Gibb, Fr. Jim Fredericks, Rev. Kusala, Ven. Karuna
Dharma, Al Albergate, Anita Merwin, Dr. Matt Dillon, Dr.
Michael Kerze, and LMU students: Nick Pinto, Nicole Campangi,
Peter Glen, John, Linda, Brandon, Isaac Kerze.
John read a poem by the 13th century Persian
poet, Rumi. We discussed rootedness in our traditions and
transcendence. In terms of Buddhism, is Christianity a dharma
gate? Can enlightenment be achieved without Buddhism? When
and where is Nirvana?
Rev. Kusala: Nirvana has no qualities; it's everywhere and
nowhere at the same time. At the relative level, Nirvana
and Samsara cannot exist without each other, on the absolute
level there is no distinction. How is it in the Pure Land
Gordon Gibb: Hsi Lai Temple represents both Pure Land and
Ch'an Buddhism. Pure Land is more popular and has the most
devotees. Up to this century, Pure Land was someplace you
prepared to go especially by the repetition of Buddha's
name, Amitabha, like the repetition of Jesus' name in the
Jesus Prayer. "Namo" means "All praise to ... " or "I am
...". Amitabha is infinite light, infinite life. To recite
it challenges the idea of rootedness in one time, one place,
one name, in infinite light and life, and therefore having
no obstructions. Obstruction or blockage is a better term
to use than "defilement" which makes me, as a Westerner,
think of sin. It's different than sin.
Land is like heaven, a bright place of clarity where one
can meet one's true self and therefore enter enlightenment.
It quickens the process to enlightenment so one can return
to samsara to aid all sentient beings, to aid the conditions
in which we live, to enhance our abilities to live in balance.
The Ch'an Pure Land monk, Tai Hsu, realized what was happening,
that people were misguided for people were living one way
to get out of this life for another. But he declared: this
life is a Pure Land, the perfect place to wake up in, and
that is why it is such a painful place. It can contract
the heart but given kindness, it can expand the heart. There's
a spaciousness to it, the uninjured quality of being.
Al Albergate: One of the criticisms of Pure Land was that
it was very pessimistic. Nichern attacked the desire to
escape to another land. There is no escape and no need to
Ven. Karuna: Hsi Chi, a Japanese mystic, defined Pure Land
as a blink of an eye away. We are in the Pure Land, right
now, if we can see it.
Fr. Fredericks: What is at the heart of Buddhist practice?
Is it awakening or is it faith in the power of Amida to
bring us to Pure Land?
Ven. Karuna: There is great faith, great doubt, great effort.
There is great faith that we can gain enlightenment. If
you don't believe it you don't get it. There is great doubt
for everything must be doubted. There is great effort, one
cannot give up.
Gordon: To believe in the enlightenment of Buddha ... how do you
use it in reference to a creed? What is the relation of
belief and practice?
Ven. Karuna: Meditation is the foundation of belief. You
experience more and more of the possibility of enlightenment.
Dr. Kerze: Are you sure that belief and faith in Buddhism
means the same as it does in Christianity? Faith is tied
to history; it is tied to promises being made and living
one's life in the conviction the promise will be kept &endash;
as one does with promises made in marriage or in a contract.
God promised Abraham to make him the father of a great people
through whom all the earth would be blessed. He promised
to give him a land he would show him. Abraham left his home
on the basis of that promise. God kept his promise to Abraham's
family when he liberated them from Egypt in the Exodus.
He gave them the law, the Torah, to tell them how to live
so the promise could be kept. In Christianity, the promise
is salvation through Jesus Christ who was the promise of
blessing to all the earth. Faith in Jesus means participation
in his divine life. There is a historical dimension to faith.
It is very different than the sense Karuna used it as having
confidence in. Belief also is very specific. To say "I believe..." is
something one does in Christianity, and it is a liturgical
statement, something said during ritual performance.
first time is in Baptism where one confirms onself in
the promise and then repeated during Eucharistic celebrations
with the recitation of the creed: I believe in God the
Father Almighty, in Jesus the savior, in the Holy Spirit,
in the Church. Creed comes from the Latin word credo: "I believe...".
It comes from same root, kardia, that the word "cardiac"
comes from. It means: "I set my heart upon this...". It
is much more than assent to a series of propositions .
It is a staking one's life upon the truth of God and Christ.
Should a Christian liturgical utterance be used indiscriminately
to denote the content of all religions? I worry about what
we won't understand about other religions as a result.
Peter: This is helpful for I have been reflecting a lot
on my own faith experience and I am seeking clarity. Can
we see the Kingdom of Heave here and now? Isn't awakening
an equal part to faith? We can do what Jesus did because,
Jesus, as God and man, means we can do it too, and that
is like confidence in the Buddha.
Fr. Fredericks: When I was in Kyoto last year and taught,
they were interested in what Christians meant by the resurrection
of the body. Resurrection is something that can happen to
you after you die, but more importantly, resurrection is
something that can happen to you right here and now. The
more I look at the scriptural texts, the more useful I find
the Zen notion of awakening. Resurrection is awakening,
is opening your eyes, letting the ignorance fall away, so
you see the world for the first time. There's parallels
one of the Pure Land traditions there is Shanto's story
of the man chased by brigands who comes to a river of
fire and there's a tiny path across it and the Buddha
is on the other side saying: come over, don't be afraid.
This is a very intriguing image for faith. Wouldn't it
intriguing to think about it with the story of Jesus
walking across the waters of the Sea of Galilee. The
disciples are in a boat and Peter sees the Lord coming
and he says: Peter, come!" Peter walks
across the water until he realizes he can't walk across
the water, and he begins to sink. That is a powerful
image of faith as obedience, as response. Clearly there
are thematic similarities with this tradition in Pure
Ven. Karuna: Zen talks about standing on a mountain and
jumping off. There is a man hanging off the edge of a cliff
who sees a strawberry. He reaches out to eat it and falls
off the cliff. The important point is to take that leap.
Brandon: To reach awakening you need great doubt. Is it
instinctual so that you say I cannot let go of this twig
or else I will fall and I will die?
Ven. Karuna: Great doubt is to question the very basis of
Rev. Kusala: Awakening is not Nirvana. It is more like enlightenment.
And there are different levels of enlightenment. You reach
Nirvana through the eight fold path. Along the path, you
would experience awakening, experience interconnectedness,
and experience emptiness. Annica, impermanence, dukkha,
unsatisfactoriness, and Anatta, not self, are the elements
of early Buddhism. Anatta is the seed of the great emptiness
you find in Mahayana Buddhism.
Gordon Gibb: In Mahayana, one postpones Nirvana for sake
of returning for the benefit of sentient beings, but more,
there is no separate self that needs to be relieved of suffering
to enter into Nirvana. The last thing we need to give up
is entering into Nirvana for that still alludes to a sense
of self as something entering into. Is it like Jesus' joy
after resurrection, that you get to come back and share
the joy with all?
Dr. Kerze: I was thinking about Jesus and the resurrection
and faith and awakening. There was the aspect of Pure Land
that it is here and that you just have to see it. If you
get clarity you see the Pure Land here in the midst of the
suffering. In Christianity we have the idea of the Kingdom
of Heaven being here and not here at the same time. Thinking
of faith as living according to the promise being kept,
if you live as if the promise will be kept, the promise
is being kept. The faith is confirmed in your experience
and that is a taste of the Kingdom and presence of God which
is why you can step out of the boat and walk on water. Jesus
is there. You are in the midst of suffering but nonetheless
God is ruling like a king. His order is the actual order
Ven. Karuna: The poem of Rumi says: all there is is breathing,
all there is is breath. That's such an important part
of Buddhist meditation. You get to the point where you
realize nothing exists except breathing itself. Every
living thing, whether it is plant or animal, breathes.
In meditation you realize everything is breathing. That
poem was wonderful. Thanks.