May I ever…


Informed by wisdom and impelled by compassion,

May I ever heal the sick, nurture the young,

Protect the weak, love the beautiful,

Serve the good, honor the wise, and align with the highest.

Bless me to benefit all beings, spontaneously and constantly!

Ritual and Superstition

Great Middle Way

imagesIn some religions, ritual is believed to be efficacious ‘from its own side’ ―that is, the words and actions that constitute the ritual are considered effective, independently of other causes and conditions, and even in situations in which causes and conditions are unfavorable.

In some, the careful pronunciation of mantras and the elaborate observance of certain practices (ritual exactitude) are believed to produce results. In others, rituals are operative if the forms are respected, independently of the purity of the performer. In still others, ‘accepting the Lord in the heart’ through the utterance of a formula is considered sufficient for salvation. Spells and incantations are often considered efficacious (à la Harry Potter) if the correct substances are employed and the directions are followed without deviation. And in yet others, if you can visualize it, declare it, and affirm it, it will happen…

Buddhist rituals have very little in common with…

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But There Is

There is an unborn, unbecome, unmade, unconditioned.

If there were no unborn, unbecome, unmade, unconditioned,

no escape would be discerned from what is born, become, made, conditioned.

But because there is an unborn, unbecome, unmade, unconditioned,

therefore an escape is discerned from what is born, become, made, conditioned.

— Buddha Shakyamuni

The least and all*

‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ … ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’  — Matthew, 25:40, 45.

All tremble at violence; all fear death. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.  All tremble at violence; life is dear to all. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.  — Dhammapada, 10:129-130.

* Mahayana amendment.  We understand “the least of these brothers and sisters” to include all sentient beings — seen and unseen, known, unknown, and unknowable.

Hōkyōintō, Yasakaji Temple, Matsuyama, Japan. Jul 1, 2012.  The Hōkyōin Darani Sutra gathers relics of "all the Buddhas of the past, present, and future."

Hōkyōintō, Yasakaji Temple, Matsuyama, Japan.     July 1, 2012. The Hōkyōin Darani Sutra gathers relics of “all the Buddhas of the past, present, and future.”


A timely quotation every Dharma Fool will want to read

— shared from Ven. Tashi Nyima and The Great Middle Way

Iwamotoji, Kochi Prefecture, Japan. Ceiling detail.  February, 2012.

Ceiling, Iwamotoji, Kochi Prefecture, Japan.  February, 2012.

(The ceiling at Iwamotoji features 575 panels by local artists.                                          Click on image to view this section in greater detail.)


The foolish proclaim their qualifications;

the wise keep them secret within.

A straw floats on the surface of water,

but a precious gem sinks to the depths.

Those with little learning show great pride.

Grown wise, they are quiet.

Torrents always make much noise,

but the ocean seldom roars.

— Sakya Pandita, A Precious Treasury

Beyond all comings and goings

Mahaparanirvana, Shōzan-ji, Tokushima. January, 2011.

gate gate pāragate pārasaṃgate bodhi svāhā

Are the Buddhas and great Bodhisattvas “out there” or “in here”?  Are they external beings or are they “us” (or we them)? A bit of both — sometimes without and sometimes within? Neither wholly without or within?  This is dizzying to contemplate, and it remains a fruitless line of thought until we realize it is a trap concocted by our own minds.

Because language is a function of conventional reality, we speak of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas as if they are separate and distinct from ourselves — and so we must speak in order to communicate with a measure of ease and efficiency.  With mantra practice, however, we evoke qualities already present in the heart and mind: the True Self of our Buddha Nature.  When we align our minds with those of the Buddhas through mantra recitation, subject-object & self-other divisions fall away, at least temporarily.  We are not separate from the Buddhas because there is no “out there” out there and there is no “in here” in here.

The Tathāgata is the One thus gone, thus come, and beyond all comings and goings.

Overcoming indifference to suffering

Leo, Battle Cat. April, 2012.

While walking on the pilgrimage (henro) in Shikoku last summer, my mind turned frequently toward questions pertaining to karma.  I don’t know about others, but the henro walk is an excellent time for me to attend to such questions.  I have not lived in Japan for decades so my speaking ability is limited to courtesy words, directions, and basic survival phrases.  I thus spend most of my time walking in solitude and silence.  I enjoy this.  It is meditative, and my questions were not so much internal dialog, but rather more like sustained mental attention.

One night, after some days of walking meditation on karma and rebirth, I had a disturbing dream, which involved me behaving with unspeakable and neglectful callousness toward one of my pets.  It was the heartlessness of the scene – the complete indifference to the suffering I witnessed, and my tacit consent – and not deliberate cruelty that stood out.  The animal in the dream was a kitten I rescued last spring.  I love him and it is impossible that I would ever do him any harm or stand by and allow him to be hurt.  But in my dream I stood by as he suffered.

The truth of the dream was that I have been neglectful and callous to the suffering of others – to those who “don’t matter” – be they people, animals, or unseen beings.  The kitten dancing around my feet as I type was, and was not, the kitten in my dream.  It represented all beings who, when kindness and warmth was most needed, have instead been treated to stone and ice.  If one loves one kitten, or person, or any living creature, and wishes them to be safe and happy and healthy, one cannot help but see that each and every other creature has the same wish to be happy and free from harm and neglect.

If caring for animals softens us, turning a blind eye toward their suffering hardens us.  Our hardened hearts bring us misery and unhappiness.  Living in this joyless state, we suffer because of who we have become.  I don’t understand the mechanisms of karma, but I get its truth as I have not before.

The usual instruction is that we not pay much heed to our dreams except when the Dharma is clear and obvious.  This dream was an extension of my waking thoughts and walking meditations.  At one point during the dream, I woke up and tried to shake it off but when I fell asleep again, I saw its nightmarish misery — a sign its substance was really on my mind.  It allowed me to see the consequences of indifference to the suffering of “the other kitten.”

We all recognize that we cannot give material aid and comfort to all who suffer – that is too much to ask of any ordinary being – but we ought not steel our hearts to the pain and anguish of others.  Even if we can do nothing, we can always spare a kind thought, and a wish for future happiness.  What we do for the beloved at our side, and learn to do for antagonists and adversaries in our midst, must also be extended to the distant and the unseen, the unknown and the unknowable.  Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman; but do not pass by the living and the dead in callous indifference.