We have a wonderful newsletter this time around with contributions from:
- Christopher Leibow on Spiritual Communities
- Adriana Luna - On Suffering
- Terry Huff - Breathing with Rabau
- Christopher Zen-em Frutal - False Speech
- Why we Chant and Noah Rasheta’s young daughter singing the Nembutsu.
- Gretchen Faulks wonderful book review on BUDACOMIX!
- and a poem from Christina Phillips
A lot of wonderful changes have happened since our last newsletter. As you have probably noticed, our fellowship has grown considerably and we have added what we offer the community. We are in our second month of offering
- Regular meditation opportunities outside of our Sunday gathering
- Mindfulness for children,
- Peace Bead Mantra meditation
- Laughter yoga!
Here are some other things going on with our sangha:
Our practice leader Christopher Leibow will be inducted (ordained) as a Bright Dawn Way of Oneness Lay Minister earning the title of Sensei.
Our Sangha Teacher course is more than halfway over and we will be soon offering our Intro to Buddhism course in July.
We will also be offering a Ti Sarana ceremony at the end of June for anyone who wants to formally become a Buddhist.
We are still planing a full day retreat if we can find a good location.
We are looking at starting a chapter of the fellowship in Utah Valley; a twice monthly gathering. If you are interested in helping out let me know.
All of this is because of you and your willingness to be open and compassionate to each other and in following in the footsteps of the Buddha -
Namu Amida Butsu.
As a fellowship we share and focus on similar values and ideals that we see and feel as important, worth while. We also look for commonalities within and without the group. We find strength and refuge in our common values and ideas. At the same time in expressing and practicing these commonalities, we also identify those that are different than our own, we separate ourselves and may even set ourselves up to be somehow better than the other group or at least not as “self-righteous”. I think this is what Shinran is speaking about when he talks about us being “foolish beings” When we really look at such comparisons, we realize that it is the same type of spiritual egotism thing that we are trying to distance ourselves from. Rev. Roland K. Tatsuguchi, in referring to Shinran’s teaching has written that. “Our efforts to do good, upon deep reflection, are constantly tainted by our pretentious spiritual egoism, regardless of whether we be monks or ordinary householders.” The “ego” separates us from others and is an obstacle to compassion, the same is true of our spiritual egotism.
Let me give an example. When our Sangha was just starting a friend was participating with us and he and his girl friend really like the community. Then he stopped coming. I asked him why and he said in effect, because you are like all the others, you think your way is the better way and people were disrespectful of others’ Christian’ beliefs, even laughing at some of the things others believe. I remember being confounded by this comment, then after talking with Linnea I came to realize my own blind spots. It wasn’t that anyone was being outright mocking or even demeaning, but there was this general attitude that our way is better, and then there was laughter. It is good to remember that laughter can heal and laughter can hurt. Remember being laughed at as a child?
I don’t think that anyone meant to come across that way or meant to hurt anyone. Many of us come from different traditions, and for some it may feel more of an “escape” from a tradition. Some of us were deeply wounded by the experience and in expressing our own issues, wounds, experiences, our self justifications, our blind passions, we may unknowingly come across as intolerant or even be intolerant.
Honen and Shinran taught us about our foolish natures, that we are full of blind passions. I think sometimes these can be manifested in our collective group thinking. We want to be special or at least not like those who have hurt us. Don’t get me wrong, I think that is helpful to feel a tradition, a path or belief is the best way to lead one’s life, at the same time it is important to understand that this “path” is not the only way to express the oneness of compassion.
There was a Shin minister who had the kanji for “fool” engraved on one of his prayer beads to always remember his true state. I think this is a great example of a humble attitude, to be aware of our “spiritual ego”. It is hard to see that even our attachment to our “foolishness” and trusting in Other-power instead of Self-power can also become a “spiritualized ego”. The idea that Shinran is better and more humble, because Shinran called himself a fool, and depended only on Other-power instead of hours and hours of meditation can be just as much of an attachment to a “spiritual ego”. I know that this is something I need to work on.
I want to remember that I too am a foolish and deluded being, and because of my passive and active ignorance, I will get it wrong a bunch of times, and As Jeff Wilson has written
“ There is one advantage to realizing that you’re never going to get it right: you do begin to stop expecting everyone else to get it right too, which makes for less frustration when other people turn out to be just as human as you are.”
This can be applied to those outside of our Sangha and to each of us within our sangha.
Here is something I found written by Sebo Ebbens. It expresses what I think is an ideal for a spiritual community and something for us to practice. The could be said is our “Mission” Statement as a Sangha.
“To me what’s important is that I want the sangha to be a spiritual community where we support each other in following our own path, in our practice as well as in our daily lives, while maintaining respect for each other’s personal paths. Our path is a difficult one. It is a solitary path. But if we are members of the sangha, this is the path we have chosen. In that sense the sangha is a spiritual community and not just a social club. The sangha does not function as a spiritual community if we can no longer say what we think because that isn’t done. Or where we can hide behind what is done or not done or behind what someone else says. We develop for ourselves what is done and what is not, within our own tradition. That makes us a living spiritual sangha… The principal characteristic of the community is that it helps you to realize your human potential and to express yourself in the real world, whether within or without the community.
May we honor each and every journey with respect, honor and compassion and may we be compassionate and humble traveling companions.
Namu Amida Butsu.
Christopher Leibow –
Salt Lake Buddhist Fellowship Practice Leader
When I saw a meme that said, “Suffering is not holding you, you are holding suffering” --Buddha, it hit me that this has been what I’ve been trying to work through, not just for this difficult divorce of a 30 year marriage but, really for a lifetime. Suffering like blessings and happiness are internal, aren’t they?
A dear friend recently offered a beautiful compliment. Maybe not quite as beautiful a compliment as the one that came from a contractor who saw my tools lying around on a job. He said, “You’ve got the best tools!” That made my day. But, my friend who I was referring to at the beginning of this article complimented, “You seem to have it all. You have your shit together in all areas.” It was difficult for me to hear and accept that compliment and realized what he was seeing was not necessarily that I have my shit together, no one really does, especially I. What he saw that compelled the compliment was merely that I acknowledge I have shit. That’s a tool worth a compliment. And, rather than run away from or deflect it and pretend it isn’t there or, pretend it will get worked out in some mystical time and place in “the next life,” I try and face it and work through to resolve it. I think I would call that seeking truth. And frankly, I think the god that supposedly rules that “next life” would appreciate this more than avoidance. It is not always easy and sometimes certain uglies take longer to process than others. It’s painful, sometimes most excruciating painful, to release suffering ...until its released. Seems after its released I find myself realizing it was tough but not as tough as I thought it would be. The lamenting and belaboring that precedes the letting go, is a decillion times worse than actually letting go! I then ask, ‘Why hadn’t I done that years ago?’ The benefits far exceed the suffering! The payoff of a pool of joy, liberation, radiance, positive energy are now jubilantly available to give out to my deepest, dearest and ultimate joys, who are living, breathing, interactive, and sweetly connective.
...Those, I’ll forever keep close and never release.
Ellen’s place 3/31/17
... from here at my dear friend Ellen’s home on Cove Road, I can look down 300 feet below in the valley to the 500-acre ranch at 7000 Dead Indian Road where I lived for the last 15 of my 25 years in and outside of Ashland, Oregon. Living there with me along with a couple of cows, several horses, 3-5 dogs, 2-7 cats, miscellaneous squirrels, raccoons, porcupines, various reptiles, birds of every kind, deer, a rare mountain lion, 2-4 children (depending on the season), and 1 wife was Rabau, a no chrome red chestnut pure Arab gelding I partnered up with for the challenges in the sport of Endurance Riding. These are 25-100 mile or sometimes more cross country trail racing events requiring similar or somewhat more effort than a human marathon through the wilderness. We were an amazing team, Rabau and I, and became exceptional at this sport, so training was key to our success. Nine miles and 3000 ft. to the WSW of our ranch was Grizzly Peak towering to the North of Ashland. At 5:00 AM every other day or so, I would rise and go out to gather gear and saddle up Rabau by the tack room and under the stars and huge oaks with Nellie, Sidney, and Lacy, tails wagging, anxious to escort us on the trail. With only a gate or two to slow us down, our pack would climb the 9-mile route of dirt and light gravel roads and beautiful single-track multi-use trails up through deep forests on the back (NE side) of Grizzly Peak. Rabau’s 12 mph mountain climbing trot would bring us up to the boulder-edged pasture that comprised the 6000-foot summit of Grizzly in about 45 minutes. Pulling up to a walking pace I would dismount and walk along with everyone, feeding Rabau the carrots and the pups some treats I brought in my jacket pocket, as we found our way to a small boulder surrounded flat on the south edge of the summit. I would sit on a rock and with Rabau’s head at my shoulder, the hairs on his muzzle softly against my ear, we would look out over the Siskiyou Pass with Pilot Rock to the left and Mt Ashland to the right, to Mount Shasta 50 miles further to our south. After a while the sunrise would begin lighting the east slopes of the 14,000-foot volcano and the surrounding peaks of the Siskiyou’s, and with Rabau’s warm carrot scented breath on my cheek and in my nostrils, our breathing would gradually slow, two as one, like a silent mindfulness breath practice, to an easy resting pace together. With the sun now cresting the horizon, our rest stop complete, and a dog or two curled up or watching alertly at our feet while another explored a wider perimeter, we would gather ourselves for the bit over an hour long easy jog back down to our ranch and a much-deserved breakfast for all. With everyone; horses, dogs, wife, cows, and cats fed, brushed out, turned out, and off to work in town, I would make my way to my pottery studio in the back half of the 100-year-old farmhouse for a day with my hands deep in spinning clay.
In my practice, right speech, especially as it is articulated in the fourth precept, has presented me with some of my greatest struggles, my greatest personal insights and has had some of the greatest impact on my sense of peace and well-being. “I undertake the rule of training which consists in abstention from false speech.”
As we practice avoiding false speech, I think that dropping those big and obvious lies come pretty easily. The lessons learned from our childhood stories are simple and clear, “The Little Boy Who Cried Wolf” teaches us that lying comes with a loss of trust from those we lie to (with potentially deadly consequences) and “Pinocchio”, that if we ignore our conscience and tell that one little lie, it can grow and grow until it brings ruination (and/or being swallowed by a whale). It is easy, with our Judeo-Christian culture, to oversimplify, to turn it into a commandment, “Thou shalt not lie”… so we don’t do it.
At the next level, a more subtle level, things become more interesting (difficult? eye opening?). We begin to see that it is not just the big, easy to let go of lies, which trip us up, it’s the little lies, which have become a part of our stories. The stories that we may have started telling to protect ourselves, to keep others at arm’s length. We may let hyperbole creep into our stories to make ourselves appear more noble, more experienced, more as a victim, etc. We become so used to the stories that we start to believe our own bull shit, or we become addicted to our own bull shit. Addicted to the masks, scared to take them off. All the while, being robbed of our ability to overcome delusion, because we are so attached to the delusion that we have created.
The rooting out of false speech is essential to our growth and inner peace. It becomes more than simply being sure that people trust us, more than avoiding being swallowed by a whale, it can become a mission of self-discovery. As we strive to eliminate false speech and understand the motives behind it in our lives, we are able to more easily let go of the insecurities and fears because we have found them out. We see them for what they are, masks that burden us, masks that keep us from arriving at the honesty and intimacy that allows for us to grow from these relationships.
There are many more reasons for eliminating false speech than can be covered in a one page essay, but as we communicate with others, day in and day out, we have many opportunities to observe and learn. Daily we communicate in verbal conversations, through our body language, through email, through text, on social media and all of these areas of communications are improved by eliminating false speech. All of this communication is, in the end, connecting with our fellow man. I have found in my life that cultivating more honest speech allows not only for less long term stress in my relationships, but also offers a deeper level of intimacy which allows for more connection and growth for myself and the hapless person I am communicating with.
Many that come to our fellowship are have not chanted before and wonder what we are chanting. We chant a version of the nembutsu which means to keep remember the Buddha Amida. Here is the chant that we do every Sunday as a part of our practice and a brief explanation of what it represent? Here it is.
Namu Namu Amitbhaya
Namu Namu Amitbhaya
Here is what is sounds like. I want to thank Noah San for allowing us to use the video above of his daughter chanting the the nembutsu.
The chant traditionally uses Namo which means Homage to, we use the less traditional “namu” which means “to bow” and can also be loosely translated as “to become.” as to become Amitabhaya Buddha who is a Trans-Historical Buddha of Boundless Compassion accepting everyone just as they are, a Buddha of absolute grace. The chant is an aspiration to become like Amitabha Buddha and to demonstrate boundless compassion for all beings. It is also a practice of gratitude. We chant our gratitude for the Trans-historical Buddha, the historical Buddha, the Dharma and our sangha.
Namu Amitabhaya, Namu amida butsu.
We all have our “guilty pleasures”; things we love but are not quite sure the rest of the world will understand. One of mine is graphic novels – long-form comics for adults. It’s my oldest son’s fault. Many years ago after driving his teen-age self to the comic shop, I realized there was a lot more going on here than when I was a kid. He gifted me with a first-edition Watchmen and I was hooked - The Sandman! The Dark Knight! Even erotica!
Many years later, I’m still reading graphic novels, memoirs and histories. Last year in the SLBF basic Buddhism class we were introduced to the Pure Land imagery of the River of Fire/River of Water. My first exposure to this was in the Lone Wolf and Cub manga series. Buddhist spiritual references are frequently found in these books, the New Lone Wolf and Cub series and other Japanese and Japanese-influenced historical graphic fiction.
It is thought that the arrival of Buddhism in China inspired a new emphasis on narrative images painted onto scrolls. Eventually there was direct historic precedent for modern Buddhist cartoon art. In the mid-12th century, the Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga, literally “Animal-person Caricatures” were created as a famous set of four picture scrolls. The first scroll illustrates anthropomorphic rabbits and monkeys bathing and getting ready for a ceremony, a monkey thief runs from animals with sticks. Further on, the rabbits and monkeys are playing and wrestling while another group of animals participate in a funeral and a monkey priest prays to Buddha (see example). The scrolls are credited as being the oldest work of manga in Japan, and there are Japanese animators who believe they are also the original inspiration for Japanese animated movies.
A later aspect of Japanese visual culture was caricature, seen in ukiyo-e or “images of the floating world.” Along with famous geishas, sumo wrestlers and kabuki actors, humorous pictures were printed. Portraits of Zen patriarchs might show them as goofy and childish. This was not done as an insult, but to reinforce humility – or so the artists said. Hokusai – known for caricature as well as famous landscapes – popularized the word manga, now used to broadly indicate all comic art in Japan. His eccentric subjects included gods, demons and ghosts.
A recent example is Usagi Yojimbo by Stan Sakai, running more than 30 years! Sakai uses anthropomorphic art (funny animal comics) to tell tales of Samurai and old Japan. Check out the stories Two Hundred Jizo (Book 29) and Jizo (Usagi Yojimbo Saga Book 1). Sakai also includes story notes on the Bodhisattva.
Without being at all exhaustive, here are some of the graphic-form Buddhist stories I’ve encountered. I’ll share my opinions on the one’s I’ve read and reference others for you to explore.
Buddha Vol. 1 - 8 by Osamu Tezuka. A manga history with fictional elements and characters. The highly-respected author is the godfather of Japanese manga comics (Astro-Boy). I have seen pages from this work, but have not read the books myself. It is said Tezuka “mixes his own characters with history as deftly as he transfers the most profound, complex emotions onto extremely cartoony characters.” I look forward to it.
Buddha: A Story of Enlightenment by Deepak Chopra, adapted as a graphic novel by writer Joshua Dysart. A beautiful full-color book which is as much a novel of the Buddha, as a history. Chopra has added logical (but perhaps not historical) characters and incidents to the familiar story. The book covers the time period of Siddhartha’s birth to the beginnings of his teaching.
Buddha for Beginners by Stephen T. Asma. This book “introduces readers to the historical Buddha, the ideas that changed his life, and the fascinating philosophical debates that engaged him and formed the core of Buddhism.” The black and white illustrations are done in quite a humorous vein, assisting the reader to grasp the deep philosophy. Pure Land Buddhism gets it’s mention on pp.135-136 in the Evolution of Buddhism chapter.
Nichiren by Masahiko Murakami and Ken Tanaka. This manga-style book explores pivotal events in the life of 13th century Buddhist priest Nichiren. Known for his focused devotion to the Lotus Sutra, Nichiren asserted it was the Buddha’s ultimate teaching and was the exclusive method to attain enlightenment. There are multiple schools of Japanese and international Nichiren Buddhism. Due to extensive missionary work in the 1960’s and ‘70’s, there are reported to be 12 million Nichiren Buddhist practitioners in 192 countries. As a Buddhist, it is not unlikely you will - or have already - met a practitioner of this tradition. I felt the book helped me understand the historic roots and concerns.
The Vanished Path, on a journey through the ruins that mark the Buddha’s life by Bharath Murthy. A travelogue in graphic form, the book recounts a pilgrimage to historic Buddhist sites in India by the author and his wife (native Indians). Together they visit Kushinagar where Buddha died, his birthplace Lumbini, Vulture’s Peak, Bodhgaya and other temples and archeological sites. Traveling as tourists but not Westerners, the author notes the frequent strangeness of being a Buddhist in a Hindu country. Heat, power outages, the stories of those they meet and Hindu holy sites congruent with Buddhist ones are all a part of the journey. I found it interesting to experience (at least in drawings) what these famous places are like right now.
JOURNEY TO THE WEST
The classic Chinese novel is an account of the legendary pilgrimage of Tang-era monk Xuanzang and his companions. They traveled to Central Asia and India to obtain Buddhist sacred texts and returned many years later. The tale is at once a comic adventure story, a humorous satire of bureaucracy and an allegory in which the pilgrims journey towards enlightenment by the power of cooperation. The Buddha and Kuan Yin Bodhisattva also figure as characters. It remains a hugely popular story in movies and other modern versions. Some English graphic books are:
Journey to the West: Vision, Perseverance and Teamwork by Chang Boon Kiat, Asiapac Books Pte Ltd, 2009.
The Monkey King by Katsuya Terada, Dark Horse Books 2005
Monkey King: Journey to the West by Wei Dong Chen, Chao Peng, J R Comics 2012.
The 14th Dalai Lama: A Manga Biography by Tetsu Saiwai. A black and white, manga size and style biography. Starting with the death of the prior Dalai Lama, this book mainly covers the life of His Holiness from his recognition at age two up to his escape to India as a young man. His later years are dealt with briefly. The author was able to work directly with representatives of the Tibetan Government in Exile for resources and photographs. Excellent for young readers as well as adults. A good bibliography is included referencing DVD’s, books and web sites.
Magic Life of Milarepa, Tibet’s Great Yogi by Eva Van Dam. Much of the story and a small sample of the illustrations can be seen here. The complete book is available through multiple on-line sources.
Man of Peace - The Illustrated Life Story of the Dalai Lama of Tibet by Meyers, Thurman and Burbank. Art by Buccellato, Hudson, Loh, Meeks and Pervukhin. This is the largest and most beautifully illustrated Buddhist graphic work I have yet encountered. Not cheap, but I’m so glad I discovered it. The book covers details of the life of His Holiness that I would only have expected to find in a regular biography. There is much about his early years, and the upheavals in Tibet and horrors with Chinese politics are well documented. Probably too well for younger children so family readers should be advised. The spiritual side of the Dalai Lama’s life and the development of his opinions, influence and practice are also shown. Overall it’s a very satisfying read for adults.
The Tibetan Comic-Book of the Dead by Thomas Scoville (on-line only). It’s full color, very trippy, and full of contemporary references (it features Donald Trump as Yama Raja, the Lord of Death). See Here’s a Comic Book Guide to the Bardo, the Tibetan Buddhist Afterlife.
A Guided Tour of Hell, A Graphic Memoir by Samuel Bercholz. Oh, what to say? Not to be put into the hands of children, please. Bercholz is the founder of Shambhala Publications and a long-term practitioner and instructor in the Vajrayana tradition. In 2007 he had coronary bypass surgery. During recovery he experienced a near-death, hallucinatory vision of the Hell Realms. For years he hesitated to share his experience, fearing people would simply compartmentalize his visions as the delusional by-product of severe illness. Eventually he discovered an extensive Tibetan literature of accounts by delogs; “returners from death.” Beings of Wisdom and Compassion were his guides on the journey. The ultimate lesson is the always-present potential for liberation. The full-page color paintings remind me of my evangelical fire and brimstone childhood, as well as Dante. Oddly, this large-size graphic work is also available as an audio book.
IN COMIC BOOKS
During my researches I discovered fun articles in the archives of Lion’s Roar magazine. Think of this as alternative-universe Buddhism:
Going Full Superman “In that moment, he is Avalokiteshvara, the embodiment of compassion, who hears all the cries of the world and responds with a thousand outstretched, skillful hands.”
Uncovering the Buddhist Lessons in Alan Moore’s “Swamp Thing” Comics Wow, a terrific essay. There is much here about impermanence, human self-identity, the progression of the soul and interdependence.
Meet Iron Fist, Marvel’s controversial “billionaire New York Buddhist monk martial arts superhero”.
When Deadpool was “Zenpool” (I think I’m as confused here as the villains who were left alive! - GF).
What if Wolverine attained enlightenment?
If you’re a main-stream comic-book reader, you may want to know about Buddhist (and near-Buddhist) super-heroes, villains, and other characters. Check out the Comic Book Religion Database; Religion of Comic Book Characters listed by religious group.
It was informative as well as great fun to do this reading. I’m sure there’s more English-language graphic-form Buddhism out there that I haven’t yet encountered. If you come across something amazing, please share with me! In the meantime, enjoy your comics!
Note: I’m happy to loan the books that I own of those mentioned here. All anyone needs to do is ask.
White and warm are the walls of this house
Where you are not invited.
I sweep my floors and dry each dish
With a caress you’ll never know.
I sleep spread out on a queenly bed,
Composing dreams you can’t disturb.
And when you knock— how will you knock?
With three or four or five?
But when you do, we’ll sit outside—
With you on your side, and me on mine—
And when you’re done you’ll leave.
I’ll go inside and wash your mug
And put it in its place.
This house is mine and white and warm,
A priceless real estate.
Thank you to everyone who submitted.
Please send your submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org
And a deep bow and thank you for your generosity of heart and donations to make this all possible.
Namu Amida Butsu