monday morning dharma: who am i?

Today’s bit of Dharma comes from my good friend Rev. Harry Gyokyo Bridge. This is a talk he gave last fall at the San Francisco Zen Center. Not only is it a good overview of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, he spends a good bit of time answering questions from those in attendance.

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the eshinni honen connection

Last month, Shin Buddhist scholar Dennis Hirota delivered the Ryukoku Lecture at the Institute of Buddhist Studies. Prof. Hirota is rather well known in both the academic and practitioner communities largely due to his translation work, much of which is used on a near daily basis in North American Shin Buddhist communities.


Over the weekend, thanks to the miracle that is the Internets, I found out that I was quoted in the Winnipeg Free Press in an article about a newly opened Buddha Bar in that fair city. Funny, I thought to myself, I don’t recall having been interviewed by anyone from the Winnipeg Free Press, or ever having traveled to Winnipeg, let alone to any Buddha Bar. But, there I am. Waxing philosophically about the evils of capitalism and everything that’s wrong with a drinking hole named after the founder of my religion.

dealing with others

In preparing for a talk I’m giving at the San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin next week, I’m reviewing the classics, the Kyogyoshinsho, the Tannisho, and so on. And I came across the following passage from the latter:

Supposing that followers of other schools ridicule us by saying that the Name is meant for those of low intelligence and that this teaching is shallow and inferior, we should avoid any dispute and reply: “As we are convinced that the ignorant who are poorly gifted and illiterate like ourselves will be delivered by Faith, for us this is the supreme doctrine, even though it may seem contemptible to those of higher ability. Although other teachings may be superior, we cannot practice them because they are beyond our powers. Since the original intention of all the Buddhas is to free everyone from birth-and-death, we request those of other views not to interfere with us.” If we treat them without malice, who then will harm us?

digest: deep fried dharma

As the first official the buddha is my dj post of 2010 (feel free to pronounce it twenty-ten or two-thousand-ten), I give you the following digest post.

  • I’m not sure which is worse, the stupid things that people say on Fox News or people actually being upset about the stupid things that people say on Fox News. I mean, yes, I agree, Brit Hume’s fifteen-second rebuke of Buddhism was both offensive and ignorant. But being surprised and offended by the stupid things that people say on Fox News makes about as much sense as expecting to loose weight while eating deep-fried butter. You know it’s not going to end well, no matter how good it tastes. My advice, fellow Buddhists (and left-leaning bloggers everywhere): ignore them. Every time you click that video, Fox News has one more reason to shill patently offensive schlock and boost their ratings.
  • In self-promotion news, I’ll be attending (parts of) this year’s BCA National Council Meeting in San Jose at the end of February, specifically for the BCA’s Shinran Shonin 750th Memorial Observance. (Remind me at some point to talk more about this important event.) I’ve been asked, among other things, to do a presentation of Shin Buddhists on the Internets from around the world. If all goes well, I hope to take this information and start up a new web project, something of an online directory of Shin resources. There’s a lot out there, and it would be good to help folks sort through it all and better connect with one another. That’s the hope, at any rate, and details remain fuzzy, to be sure. But keep your eyes on this one in the weeks and months to come, and I’ll let you know how it’s coming along.
  • On that note, and in carrying on my desire to present less-obvious, less Zen-centric Buddhist bloggers, today I’d like to point your attention to OneInchBuddha. Written by Wamae Muriuki, a PhD candidate at the Ohio State University (I’m told by my mother-in-law that it really is the Ohio State), OneInchBuddha hasn’t been updated in the last couple of months, but what’s there is worth reading. It’s more on the academic side, buyer beware, but oftentimes academic stuff is downright necessary. And if more folks show up, maybe we’ll see more posts from OneInchBuddha in the year to come.
  • Planning continues for the Institute’s March conference on Buddhism in the West. If you haven’t already made your spring plans and want to spend the weekend in beautiful, sunny Berkeley, California, register now. Oh, and apart from the weather, the conference promises to bring together some of the best thinkers on American Buddhism around which would probably be worth it even if the IBS was located in a yurt in Alaska or something.
  • Rumor has it you may be seeing my rambling shenanigans elsewhere on the Internets in a week or two. I don’t wanna tip my hand too much on that one, but I’ll pique your curiosity by telling you to look for my by-line in an unexpected place. And while I have your curiosity piqued, look for a more formal, bigger, exciting announcement of Things to Come early February. Along with the help of some friends, something new and exciting is coming to the Internets, and you, dear readers, writers, artists, and ne’er-do-wells, may be playing a role in it.

shin buddhist dharma war

I’d like to make a comment about something I wrote in my last post, something (wait for it…) hyperbolic. In pointing your attention to Prof. Toshikazu Aria’s blog, Echo of the Dharma, I made an off-hand remark about his being involved in a sort of “Dharma War” with Josho Adrian Cirlea. I am probably overstating the issue.

As far as I can tell, there are (largely academic or scholastic) disagreements among what we may call “modernist” Shin Buddhist thinkers who downplay certain aspects of strict Shin doctrine and up-play the symbolic or psychological or purely spiritual aspects of the tradition. This tendency among modernist Buddhist thinkers is nothing new; David McMahan in his The Making of Buddhist Modernism discusses at length the characteristics of Buddhist modernism, among them the trend of “psychologizing” traditional Buddhist cosmology. Shin modernists will quickly downplay the supposed reality of Amida’s Pure Land and cast the experience of birth in said land as a psychological or purely spiritual experience, not a literal one. This is something that a host of Buddhist modernists have done since Anagarika Dhamrapala and D.T. Suzuki at the turn of the last century right on down to, oh, just about every prominent Buddhist who writes for an English-speaking audience today and has had their work published in the so-called mainstream Buddhist press.

So, it’s not surprising that there would be modernists in the Shin school. And it should not be surprising that where there are modernists there are traditionalists — folks who are more conservative in their beliefs and are reluctant to change or reinterpret centuries-old doctrines, practices or rituals to suit the whims of contemporary practitioners who, no doubt, will be easily distracted by the next shiny thing coming out of Cupertino. Religion, for the traditionalist, is the last bastion of stability in a constantly changing world. So let’s not go changing anything.

my awkward summary post

I’d like to switch gears here for a moment, away from all that sardonic snark of earlier this afternoon. (I’m not sure if sardonic is the right word, here. Sure it was mocking, but not really grim. Oh well. Let’s let it ride.) The Bottom of Heaven, one of my favorites, routinely posts short summaries of random media or links. I like this idea. It seems to me a good way to deal with something I struggle with; namely, how do I share information with my readers without resorting to the restrictions of 140 characters which, it seems to me, often get lost or go unnoticed?

So, without further ado or explanation, I’d like to draw your attention to the following…

bitter, with a splash of loving-kindness

Via @claudia_m, I came upon this brief bit about Facebook (and promptly posted the article to my Facebook page where a couple of folks commented on it — ah, irony!). The article is provocatively titled “Quit Facebook” and is about the obsessive amount of time we spend constructing our online identities.

Next Friday we’ll be releasing the second installment of the live podcast. And in this episode, someone in the audience (you know who you are) asks about the stereotypes or assumptions people make about Buddhism that really bug us. When Harry reminded me of this question (I’d completely forgotten about it (they say the mind’s the fist thing to go) and Harry’s in the process of editing it), I got to thinking about where this question may be coming from. I’m sure I’m projecting my own egotistical shit onto the questioner (sorry about that), but I can’t help but wonder if my own online identity prompts people to think I’m little more than a rabble rouser, bitter and angry.

Not infrequently, people I consider to be very good friends (in one or two cases, people I’ve known since I had Flock of Seagulls hair), will call me up or send me an email asking if I’m okay. They’re wondering what the backstory is to whatever travesty must have inspired some random thing I Twittered/blogged/Facebooked about. And my usual response is, “what?” I have no idea what they’re talking about. Whatever travesty of injustice got me so riled up on the Internets was a fleeting concern, something that really chapped my hide during a lunch break, but now that I’m home, now that I’m with three dimensional people, now that I’m sitting on my sofa listening to music or hanging out with my wife — I’m sorry, what were we talking about?

news and updates galore

First and foremost, my dear readers, it is the second Friday of the month which means you’re all being treated to a new episode of the DharmaRealm podcast. And not just any new episode — but the first episode recorded before a live studio audience!

Actually pulling this event off was pretty rewarding, I gotta say. Between you and me, we kind of threw it all together without much foresight (a consequence of a more-than-insanely-busy late summer, early autumn). Harry and I learned a lot from the experience, though and are looking forward to recording more stuff with an audience. And next time we’ll do it on a Saturday so more people can attend (and maybe I’ll look into live-streaming — but don’t hold your breath!). Apart from all that behind-the-scenes stuff, the content of this episode is, in my humble option, actually quite good! We were inspired by a question about the nature of the Pure Land, and to the extent this is the kind of question us Shin Buddhists get asked a lot, it was good to hash out our ideas. Harry’s perspective, that the idea of whether or not the Pure Land is really real and how that forces us to question the reality of our mundane world, is something worth considering. Needless to say, he blew my mind once or twice.