Monthly Archives: March 2017

Letter for Shu members

This is the letter we give to people when they join Amida Shu. If you’d like to use it with your own group please feel free to copy/amend as appropriate and let us know if you’d like the Word version.

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Dear

Congratulations for becoming a member of Amida Shu. You are now a part of a Pureland  Buddhist family around the world. You have made a commitment to us, and you have valuable experience of practice, study, and community: you are a precious member of our group.

This letter is to tell you what’s available to you as you continue to deepen your refuge in Amida, and to explore your path as your spiritual life matures. It’s not necessary to take up any of these suggestions, but if you feel some enthusiasm for one or more of them then we encourage you to follow it, and we’ll be happy to support you.

Your Bodhisattva path: Innumerable are sentient beings, we vow to save them all

A Pureland Bodhisattva knows their own fallibility. This awareness allows fellow feeling to arise. When we become vulnerable in front of the Buddha and feel loved in return, we naturally soften our hearts towards others, and long to bring them to the dharma.

The Bodhisattva path encourages us to reflect on our actions and choices. It asks us to to see our human limitations, and to act on the compassionate impulses that appear as we deepen our refuge.

These compassionate impulses might lead you to social engagement, to ministry or chaplaincy, or simply to kinder relationships with other sentient beings.

Mentoring reminder

Now you have joined Amida Shu you will have been allocated a mentor (unless you had one already). Do make use of this person to talk about your spiritual path, ask any questions that you need to ask, and so on. Of course your conversations about spirituality and Pureland Buddhism aren’t limited to your mentor, but it’s good to know that there’s one person you can turn to. You may want to talk to your mentor about some of the things in this letter, for example.

Home practice

By now you might have an established regular home practice. If you want to develop this, or to set one up if you haven’t done so already, do ask for a conversation with a senior member here, take our ‘practice at home’ leaflet or visit:

www.amidamandala.com/how-to-start-to-practice-at-home

Retreats

We sometimes offer retreats or retreat days here at the temple. Having a sustained period of immersion in the dharma can deepen your connection to the Buddha, bring new insights, and lead to a renewed sense of refuge.

It’s also possible to have an individual retreat at the temple in one of our guest rooms. These can be more or less structured. Types of personal retreat include chanting retreats, Nei Quan retreats, or silent unstructured retreats.

Other Amida groups, centres and Order members also offer retreats and workshops. We’ll let you know as and when we hear about them, and you might also want to sign up to the mailing lists of other centres or ‘like’ their Facebook pages to stay informed.

Other spiritual traditions and organisations also hold retreats and events that can be a good addition to an Amida Shu member’s spiritual life.

Further study

Have you completed the online Introduction to Pureland Buddhism course? If not we’d encourage you to take this up. If you have completed it there are different options for continuing to study with Amida Shu.

The online Vow 22 programme offers a systematic education in Pureland Buddhist principles, history, and its practical application to ministry and the spiritual life. Many lessons are based around audio lectures by Dharmavidya.

The distance learning programme in Buddhist Psychology shows how Buddha Shakyamuni was the ideal therapist, and how we can use Buddhist psychological ideas for our own development and in our work with others. See http://courses.zentherapyinternational.com for information on these programmes.

For more ad-hoc study there are audio teachings available at www.amidashu.org, written teachings at our virtual temple at www.friendsofamida.com, and books by Dharmavidya and other Amida Shu members to read.

Start a Home Group

If you don’t live close to the temple or if you’d like the extra support of being in a smaller group, you may want to start a Home Group. Home groups are local Amida groups run by people like you, with the support of an Amida mentor and resources like our guide to running a Home Group.

Home Groups (continued)

Running a Home Group will give you face-to-face connection with other like minded people. It can also be an expression of your Bodhisattva path, as you create a space which allows others to connect to the light of the Buddhas.

Some Home Groups focus on practice, some on study, some are a mixture of both. Some included personal sharing. All have the welcoming spirit of Amida Shu. To find out more see: www.amidamandala.com/homegroups

Do you have a vocation?

Some people feel called to a more formal ministry and want to explore becoming Priests with the Amida Order. The first stage of this is a training position called ‘aspirancy’, with a training programme of a couple of years that includes study, mentoring, personal development, attending retreats and running a group of your own. The ministry training programme is run by Rev Acharya Sujatin, head of the Ministry Team, and Rev Kaspa, her deputy. This route isn’t for everyone and you can be a hugely valuable part of the sangha without becoming Ordained. If this is something that interests you, ask to speak to Kaspa or Sujatin.

What does a mature Amida Shu practitioner look like?

Amida Shu members all reflect the light of the Buddha in their own way. We are like prisms or crystals of different shapes and colours refracting and reflecting the light of the dharma in many different ways.

We are all committed to Amida Shu practice, and to the community of Amida Shu. Some of us are connected to local groups, some of us visit temples, centres and groups that are further away. Some of us are connected to just a few other members, some of us are connected to many other members.

As we deepen our refuge we might begin to follow impulses that change the shape of our lives: leading us to different work, or to increasing the quality of our relationships.

As bombu beings we are fallible and vulnerable, and we take refuge in Buddha Amida.

Namo Amida Bu

With best wishes,

Kaspa & Satya

Letter for refugees

This is the letter we give to people when they take refuge. If you’d like to use it with your own group please feel free to copy/amend as appropriate and let us know if you’d like the Word version.

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Dear

Congratulations on taking refuge. This is a big step in your spiritual life. Hopefully you’re already feeling the benefits of connecting with the Buddha. Here are a few ideas about what you can do next to continue to deepen your refuge.

Making space for your spiritual life

Living a spiritual life can go against the grain of society, and so we need as much support as we can get. Most people find it helpful to attend services and other events at Amida Shu groups when they can, and to stay in touch with fellow sangha members both face to face and online at our virtual temple, www.friendsofamida.com. You might already have a daily practice – if not you might want to develop a short ritual (chanting a mala of nembutsu or doing the prostrations chant) which you commit to every day.

Every so often you might put longer aside to spend a few quiet hours at home reading Buddhist books or doing practice, or to attend an Amida Shu retreat day or individual retreat. It’s important that your spiritual life fits in with the rest of your life (which may be very busy!) – don’t push too hard or feel guilty – just make little changes and as time goes on you’ll begin to feel the benefits of having the firm foundation of Buddhist practice and faith underneath all you do. You may also feel a natural impulse towards practising more – if so, follow it!

Contributing to the life of the temple and to the community

As we deepen our refuge, we tend to find ourselves thinking more about what we can offer to others. We might not be ready to save all sentient beings, but we do aspire to it, and doing our little bit does make a big difference to this sangha and to the wider community.

Ideas for helping out within the sangha are: helping out with events by making the tea or helping to set up or tidy up afterwards, volunteering in the garden, welcoming new people at our virtual temple Friends of Amida, becoming a bellmaster, becoming a Friend of Amida Mandala and making a monthly donation, writing something about your experience for our Running Tide magazine, volunteering to clean the temple etc. Talk to a priest about how to go about making these offerings.

Ideas for helping out within the broader community are: bringing the benefits of your practice to your workplace and family and being more calm and steady when there are difficulties, smiling at the people you come across in your daily life, volunteering for a local charity, bringing food for the food bank box, sharing information about charities with the sangha etc.

Further study

Our Introduction to Pureland course begins simply with the basics of Buddhism and goes on to look at Pureland Buddhist practice and philosophy in more depth. It takes place online and via email. If you want to sign up you will be assigned a personal tutor to send your answers to. We also hold Dharma Study evenings at the temple twice a month so you can ask any questions related to the course or hear how others are getting on. Learning more about the Dharma and why we do what we do can deepen your experience of practice. If you’ve already finished this, you might be interested in our more advanced course, Vow 22.

If you enjoy reading you can start with Dharmavidya’s books (maybe begin with The Feeling Buddha and Who Loves Dies Well) and our introduction to Amida Shu Buddhism: Buddhism for Foolish Beings. Use our library and recommend good books to others on the virtual temple.

Mentoring and sanzen

It can be helpful to have occasional 1:1 conversations about your spiritual life when you have questions or if you want to explore what you believe or how this affects you. If you’d like to have these conversations do feel free to approach any of our priests to arrange a sanzen, a short spiritual conversation. You can also ask to be allocated a mentor if you’d like to have more regular conversations with the same person.

Aspirancy

Some people feel called to commit more deeply to a life guided by Buddhist teachings as a way of help others. These people want to enter the track to Ordination by becoming Aspirants. If you want to talk more about this, speak to Acharya Sujatin who runs the Ministry team or to Kaspa, her deputy.

Joining Amida Shu

Around a year after people take refuge we invite people to join Amida Shu as a ‘school member’ (Shu is ‘school’ in Japanese). This means becoming officially affiliated with this school of Buddhism and that Amida Shu Buddhism is your main form of practice. Shu members receive a wagessa, the ceremonial yellow piece of cloth with an embroidered Amida sun and clouds which we wear around our shoulders. It isn’t compulsory to join the Shu and some people are longterm members of group without becoming Shu members.

We hope you enjoy the continued unfolding of your spiritual life.

Namo Amida Bu!

Kaspa & Satya

 

Amida Shu Buddhism: Faith and Practice

Dharmavidya writes:

When we receive faith, regard and revere the
Dharma and attain Great Joy
We Immediately transcend the five evil realms

– Shinran

Primal Vow
Just as it is
Just as you are

Commentary
The most simple and difficult aspect of Amidism is to trust that one is acceptable just as one is. There is nothing whatsoever to achieve. There is no divine punishment or purgatory for sins. There is nothing to achieve, but there is a deep dynamic already at work in our lives and if we allow it then we will find ourselves seized by it. This inner dynamic is called the primal vow. It is an inner longing. Amidism is a matter of awakening to this inner dynamic. it is not a personal possession but rather a function of the inconceivable measurelessness of existence itself that constantly pulls us beyond ourselves. Mostly people do not feel acceptable as they are and so spend a lot of energy on avoidance and escapism – different forms of hiding – and this prevents them from realising what is most deep and sincere. In the eyes of the Buddha they are acceptable just as they are but they create their own hell because they are not acceptable in their own eyes. Of course, one also meets conceited people who purport to be self-satisfied but this is just a shallow front. It is, in fact, impossible to get out of the habit of escapism without some kind of wake-up call from beyond ourselves. This wake up is “the voice of the Buddha” in one form or another. Sometimes it is provided by inspiration such as from a spiritual teacher, sometimes by a crisis in our life that gives us a shock, and commonly by some juxtaposition of the two. On the one hand, therefore, we need nothing. On the other hand, we need to be woken up by the Buddha. Then we awaken to natural faith. Faith in Buddhism means to entrust oneself to reality – to things just as they are (tathata) – not to anything supernatural, nor to wishful thinking.

Even if the whole world is on fire
Be sure to pass through it to hear the Dharma;
The you will surely enter the Path of the Buddha
And everywhere deliver beings from the river of birth and death
– The Larger Pureland Sutra

Five Refuges

In Amida we take refuge
In the Buddha we take refuge
In the Dharma we take refuge
In the Sangha we take refuge
In the Pure Land we take refuge

Commentary
All Buddhists take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Amida Buddhists additionally take refuge in Amida Buddha and in the Pure Land. The two additional refuges deepen our appreciation of the original three.

The Buddha – by the Buddha is meant the Buddha Shakyamuni, the founder of the Buddhist tradition in this historical epoch, who was a human being who renounced and overcame greed, hate and delusion, thus entering enlightenment and discovering the Primal Vow by means of which he was able to live a life of service to all sentient beings.

The Dharma – Dharma means both the Buddhist teaching and reality. The Buddha pointed out reality: birth and death, bliss and affliction, paths of noble living and paths of corruption. He bade us take our life in hand and set it upon a noble path.

The Sangha – Sangha means the community of those, ordained and lay, who follow the path pointed out by the Buddha. To take refuge in sangha is to commit oneself to being part of the movement that the Buddha founded for the emancipation of this world from delusion.

Amida Buddha – Amida means measureless. The historical Buddha gave teachings about Amida Buddha to help us to see all existence in the aspect of what is immeasurable and ungraspable so that we might turn away from little lives and mean minds and be released into a greater vision.

The Pure Land – there are two paths in Buddhism: the Path of Sages and the Pure Land Path. Amida Buddhism is a Pure Land path, based on faith in the vision of the Pure Land rather than on achieving personal enlightenment by one’s own efforts.

Threefold Faith

Shraddha, Prasada and Abhilasa

Commentary:
Shraddha means to have complete faith in the act of Refuge. Prasada means to have clarity of mind. Abhilasa means to have pure aspiration and willingness to undertake whatever action may be for the good of all. Faith in all its forms is central to the Amidist approach. All forms of ethical behaviour spring from faith. If there is little faith then there is bound to be a selfish intention even if one’s actions are superficially respectable. Faith in Buddhism refers to the overcoming of self and the implementation of the doctrine of non-self.

Threefold Mind

Sincerity, Depth and Longing

Commentary:
Faith is not something imposed from outside. It is something that wells up from within. It is triggered from outside. It is like a hidden treasure that somebody has sewn into our clothing without our knowledge. Perhaps one day somebody points out the lump in the hem of our garment and on closer examination we discover the diamond. The nature of this faith is a feeling of longing for the Pure Land, as if one had been exiled from his true home. Looking closely we discover that this longing is a fundamental part of our nature. it is our deepest place. Being sincerely in touch with this deep longing gives us courage and directs us to “go forth for the benefit of all sentient beings, in the service of gods and humans” to do all that we can to assist the Buddhas to make the Pure Land visible to all so that all are similarly awakened to their most fundamental drive until all are living in the service of all.

Threefold Path

Sila, Samadhi and Prajna

Commentary:
In Amidist Buddhism we do not see ethics, mind cultivation and wisdom as the path leading to enlightenment so much as the path leading from the awakening of faith. If one has faith in the Pure Land then one naturally wants to serve all beings and so one’s behaviour is likely to be kind, compassionate, wise and friendly. Similarly, if one has faith, then one is not troubled by setbacks or confused personal agendas so the mind becomes clear and bright. Amidist Buddhism does not present spiritual perfection as an emotionless or mindless condition. It is a condition in which the feelings of gratitude, awe, longing and reverence become powerful motivators giving a person energy, patience, single mindedness and clarity of purpose.

Threefold Practice

Keeping the Pure Land in mind
Engaging fully with the world of bliss and affliction
Renunciation

Commentary:
Keeping the Pure Land in mind means always to be guided by faith. This may be expressed in many different ways. Many practitioners like to recite the names of the Buddha and especially the name Amida, perhaps in the form Namo Amida Bu. Or to visualise the Pure Land in the form described in the scriptures or naturalistically. Some find their faith strengthened through contact with natural phenomena and others through listening to teachers or inspirational study. The most characteristic method in Amidist Buddhism is to call the name of Amida thereby expressing the depth of faith and longing in one’s heart.

Engaging fully with the world of bliss and affliction means that faith atrophies if it is not acted upon. If we have the vision of the Pure Land before us we can hardly help ourselves wanting to make it a reality in everything we do. Even though we may have very poor capacity and have much spiritual blindness, still, if we have faith, we have some light and if we act on whatever light we have, be it ever so small, more light will appear. If we can trust that the light really is Amida – measureless – then we can entrust ourselves to it. The words for bliss and affliction are sukha and dukkha. The Buddha said that his whole teaching was concerned with pointing out dukkha and the possibility of its transformation into sukha. We will soon realise that dukkha is really to be understood as whatever threatens our faith and sukha as whatever strengthens it. The Buddha told his followers to go forth into the world to help everybody in every way we can – to resist the conditions of ill, assist the afflicted and demonstrate an alternative.

Renunciation means that if we have faith we do not want to be encumbered with things and habits that get in the way of our living in accordance with that faith. This is where all the common practices of Buddhism come to be seen as valuable: simplifying one’s life, making offerings, bowing, contrition, rejoicing in others, reverence to teachers, spiritual ancestors and the objects of refuge, requesting teaching, generosity, hospitality, non-killing, non-stealing, avoiding sexual misconduct, non-use of intoxicants, right speech and so forth.

Transmission of the Dharma

Without our many generations of teachers we would never have awakened to the truth.
Without our awakening to the truth the future generations would be without help.

Commentary:
From Shakyamuni Buddha down through Ananda and more than eighty generations of teachers the faith in the Buddhist Pure Land has come down to us and nobody fully awakens this faith without help. The call from without awakens the call from within. Even though a person may be granted a vision of the Pure Land spontaneously, faith matures through the inspiration of living and ancestral teachers.