NEWS AND TEACHINGS

On this page, Susthama Kim, Head of the Amida Order, will provide updates, reflections, and Pastoral Letters. 

To contact Susthama, email
susthamakim@gmail.com

THOUGHT OF THE WEEK
14 June 2021

If life is about climbing and reaching the summit, then there are three ways to get there. One way is by thinking that we must get there without any help. It’s hard, arduous, and takes a long time. Another way is by thinking that it’s someone else’s responsibility. We hitch a ride in someone else’s cable car. It’s easy, relaxing, and eventually we’ll get there but we don’t really know when. The Buddh’s way is by taking a moving escalator.  It is there for everyone to use, smooth and steady, and if we want to get there a bit faster then we can put in a bit of effort and walk up some or all of it.

20 January 1955 – 31 May 2021

SUNDARI GINA CLAYTON
engaged with life on many levels. 

She had a brilliant mind but was led and guided by her heart. She specialised in the area of Asylum Law and work tirelessly to create a Pure Land in our midst. She died peacefully in hospital, surrounded by her loving husband Bhaktika, and two very close friends, Leah and Milan.

 Her funeral will be broadcast via zoom so please email susthamakim@gmail.com if you knew her and would like to attend.

REMEMBERING SUNDARI GINA CLAYTON

Here are a couple of blog tributes to Sundari. They are both a wonderful heart felt expression of who she is.

FROM KUSUMA: ‘Just over a week ago I heard the sad news that my Dharma Sister Sundari Gina Clayton had passed away. How do I even begin to tell you about this incredible woman, she was a shining example of compassion to us all. Let me tell you my memories of her in the hope you will receive some of the light of her life in your own.’ Read more…

FROM THE REFUGEE ACTION FAMILY: ‘The Refugee Action family was very saddened to hear the news this month of Gina Clayton’s passing. Such news has come at a time when people like Gina are needed the most in our sector and in our world, in both the context of her work in immigration but also as a wonderful human.’ Read more…

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PASTORAL LETTERS AND TEACHINGS
Here we will post Susthama’s essays and reflections 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 Bodhisattvas.
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.

23 May 2021    The Eighth Vow – Empathic Understanding – Divine Mind

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 ability to understand the workings of other people’s minds, the minds of all the vast multitude of different kinds of people scattered through myriad worlds and circumstances.

We grow and develop behaviours that are important to our survival in our environment, be it at home, at work, or at play. We become very good at some things, but equally we can be terrible at other things. We might be able to get away with never seeing our flaws if we never had to deal with another person.
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16 April 2021   The Seventh Vow – The Divine Ear
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 ear that enables one to hear the Dharma simultaneously being taught in a myriad ways by myriads of Buddhas in myriads of Pure Lands, and if they should not have the ability to retain and comprehend those great teachings.

The ear picks up sounds. At any given time, there may be any number of different things making a noise but how many do our ears pick up? I had an ear infection a few years ago and I couldn’t hear a thing from my right ear for about a year.
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 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.
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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.
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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…

 

8 March 2021
The Third Vow 

Oh Blessed One, may I not come to the complete awakening if, when I have done so, beings born in my land should not all be of one colour, the colour of gold.

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.

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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.
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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.
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