From Susthama 2021
I was and remain a bombu.
Susthama Kim is the Head of the Amida Order.
She has a BASc (Hons) in Geological Engineering and is qualified to teach English as a second language. In her time travelling around the world, she sometimes worked as an engineer, or taught English (TESOL), before coming across Buddhism. She moved into the Buddhist House, Narborough, Leicestershire in 2003 and was ordained later that year as an Amitarya in the Order of Amida Buddha. She trained as a Buddhist psychotherapist with the Amida Trust and qualified as a counsellor in 2009. She is a member of the British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists (BACP) in the UK.
As well as practicing as a psychotherapist, she is also a tutor on the Zen Therapy distance learning programme. She worked as an honorary Buddhist Chaplain in the community hospitals in Leicestershire, and then was invited to join a multi-faith chaplaincy team and so became the first salaried Buddhist chaplain in psychiatric hospitals in the UK from 2009 – 2011. She is currently a trustee of International Institute for Zen Therapy (ITZI).
She was affirmed as an Acharya (teacher) within the Order of Amida Buddha in 2013 by Dharmavidya, and is a member of the organising committee for the Buddhist Teachers of Europe.
She teaches meditation and chanting from an Other Power perspective, and offers supervision from a Buddhist perspective to anyone in a helping, or therapeutic role, as well as counsellors and psychotherapists.
Here we will post essays and reflections by Susthama, most recently as she explores Dharmakara’s 48 Vows from the Longer Pureland Sutra.
Amida’s 48 Great Vows–Introduction, February 2021
In my statement of intent to the Order as part of the election process, I wrote that I would follow Amida’s 48 great vows to guide me. I would like to take some time to look at all the vows, where they come from and what they mean.
These vows are found in the Larger Pureland sutra which was told by the Buddha on vulture’s peak. One could say that his ministry work, often referred to as setting the wheel of Dharma in motion, started at the deer park when he gave his first teaching to the 5 ascetics. Roughly sixteen years later, he is said to have taught a collection of sutras that include the Pureland sutras on vulture’s peak to an assembly of 5,000 monks, nuns, laity and innumerable other Bodhisattva’s.
Although his ministry grew and developed over time; from teaching the four noble truths to the teachings on Amida Buddha; from 5 ascetics to a fourfold community as well as Bodhisattvas from all the four quarters, the essence of his teachings remained the same.
The Larger Pureland Sutra is in many respects an allegory of his own life. He is prompted by Ananda to explain why he is looking so radiant and the story of a monk called Dharmakara unfolds. Dharmakara, like Siddartha, seeking answers to the problem of suffering, came across the Buddha of his day, who told Dharmakara that he himself would know exactly what to do. Dharmakara then vows to fulfil 48 great vows and when he achieves this he becomes Amida, the Buddha of the Western Pureland. What is also clear in this sutra, is just how wise Shakyamuni is because he predicts a future, long after he is gone, when people will be too busy, too deluded to practice the teachings and where the only thing that humans will be able to do is to chant the name. And even that will be too difficult for many.
This sutra, like any effective story, had a huge impact on people’s lives, like Tanluan, Shandao, and Honen, as well as many others. The power of a story is well documented in George Marshall’s book Don’t Even Think About It, mainly because our beliefs and values are held together in the form of stories. If we can piece together experiences, facts, and beliefs into a story that is understandable and hangs together then when we do encounter complex or contradictory messages we have a narrative that can help us to navigate through life. If something is not working, and we want to change, then perhaps we should start by understanding the stories that we are telling ourselves and change them.
The Larger Pureland Sutra is an effective story because it begins with an ordinary person who comes across a problem. The problem is the suffering that exists in the world which leads to seeking a solution. The solution comes to him after many aeons of struggling and he is rewarded for his efforts just as predicted by the Buddha Lokeshwara. After the struggle, he resolves to make 48 vows to answer the problem of suffering and he is successful. He creates a land in the West and becomes a Buddha. In each part of the story there is a direct connection between cause and effect, it all makes sense and hangs together nicely. More importantly, it ends with a positive and inspiring outcome that will benefit all sentient beings.
The Buddhist tradition was originally an oral one. Teachings had to be learnt by heart. The process of learning often goes from feeling wooden and artificial to being on auto-pilot. Once the teachings sink to a deeper level, living them becomes second nature. If we modern Buddhists take the sutras only to study and become knowledgeable intellectually then our great tradition will die out. My attempt in using the 48 great vows as a guide is to see how to bring these vows to life for us.
4 April 2021
The Sixth Vow – The Divine Eye
Oh Blessed One, may I not come to the complete awakening if, when I have done so, beings in my Pure Land should not have the divine eye that enables one to perceive myriad other Pure Lands.
Buddhism is a philosophy, art, therapy, as well as being one of the top five major religions in the world. Globally, there are about 500 million Buddhists.
25 March 2021
The Fifth Vow
Oh Blessed One, may I not come to the complete awakening if, when I have done so, beings in my Pure Land do not have full recall of previous lives.
There were many different beliefs and schools of thought around the Ganges during the time of Siddhartha Gotama. Concepts such as samsara, karma, moksha, nirvana, and Buddha are not exclusively Buddhist. They were concepts that he worked with and which helped shape his understanding and thinking. He would often take the concept and give it a twist which would make it more meaningful and relevant to one’s life.
15 March 2021
The Fourth Vow – No Social or Beauty Discrimination
Oh Blessed One, may I not come to the complete awakening if, when I have done so, there should, in my Pure Land, be any discrimination of regard or privilege between humans and devas or between different individuals on such grounds as colour, relative beauty or other criteria, save the harmless kind of discrimination that is necessary for naming and keeping count of things.
As long as we are bombu we will discriminate. It is in our nature to react positively to things that are similar to us, and negatively to things that are different to us. We fear the unknown. We feel uncomfortable if we are surrounded by unfamiliar things. We learn to distinguish friend from foe from a very early age. We are designed to discriminate as an instinct for survival. Continue reading…
Not long after my father passed away, I went to South Korea to learn about my ancestral roots. I knew that it was a mountainous country, but I didn’t realise how the mountain peaks would be home to Buddhist temples.
26 February 2021
The Second Vow: No Unfortunate Rebirth
Oh Blessed One, may I not come to the complete awakening if, when I have done so,
beings born into my Pure Land should be liable to die from there and thereafter be
reborn in hellish, bestial, tormented or warring realms.
This vow is about what will happen to us after we have been reborn in the Pure Land. Dharmakara wishes to ensure that we continue to have a good rebirths. In Buddhism there is a theory of rebirth. It isn’t the same as reincarnation as in Christianity because what passes on from this life to the next one isn’t a fixed soul. Instead, it is a spirit that is always changing.
20 February 2021
The First Vow
If, when I attain Buddhahood, there should be in my land a hell,
a realm of hungry spirits or a realm of animals, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.
The first of Dharmakara’s 48 vows has to do with the three lower realms. These lower realms are part of our cycle of existence, very much linked to our karma. One can view them from a psychological point of view as well as places where one might experience the the horrors of life.
PASTORAL LETTERS AND NEWS
One of our Sangha members, George Daly, has created a beautiful project on the life of Siddhartha Gotama. The Friends of Amida Benelux Sangha that meets on Wednesdays at 2.30pm (CET) will dedicate time to watch and discuss this starting on Wed 14 April for 5/6 weeks.
Please go to Zen and Now – The life of Siddhartha Gotama for more information and do join us if you would like to take part.
9 February 2021
A lovely poem by Saigyo (1118-1190)
’Tis all the same-
Blossoms in profusion
And on every mountain’s edge
White clouds hang.
This is how it is to be living with Amida’s grace. Even we foolish beings can experience blossoms – everywhere; and yet we are still foolish beings, deluded, greedy, and angry.
4 February 2021
One of the key aspects of our sangha is our diversity. Dharmavidya has always done his best to reflect Amida’s light to shine on us so that we grow, develop, and blossom in our own way. However, the stronger the light, the darker the shadow, just like Mara walking right behind Shakyamuni. read more…
31 January 2021
Even though we are in a time of uncertainty within the Amida shu, I still feel a lot of love. This love was there when I first joined the community in 2003. It was there when my urge to leave was at its peak (18 months after joining). It was there when the training community moved out of the Buddhist House and it is still there now, as we experience a seismic shift happening in the Order.