Welcome to our Spring Newsletter.
Since our last newsletter, a lot has been happening. Our Wednesday gatherings have been attracting more people with wonderful classes and meetings facilitated by Vaughn Lovejoy, Gretchen Faulk, and Terry Huff, and Cardin Martin and all of you that are helping with our 12 Step group and more of you looking for opportunities to help out with our upcoming Intro to Buddhism Course and leading Sunday gatherings. We were also featured in our local media for our efforts in helping the rededication of the Buddha on 9th, It is an exciting time.
Some other things are also happening. We have our space reserved for our Summer Retreat starting Aug 24 through the 26th and a new Ti Sarana class for those interested in formally becoming Buddhists. We also looking at starting our “Leaving a Tradition” Support group again soon. We also have started a youtube channel and working on growing our chapters in Utah Valley and Sanpete Valley.
This newsletter is another gift to the community from all of you. We have essays, art, poetry, photography, music all demonstrating different ways that the practice informs our lives. I want to thank all of you for your contributions.
The Grace of Oneness - Christopher Leibow
Meditation on Namu Amida Butsu - Lindsay Freed
My Trip to Thailand - Photo Essay - Evy Ibarra
Green Tara - Jenn Munson
Portraits - Kouver Bingham
Everyone Hurts - Dan Patterson
American Buddhism - Photo Essay Gretchen Faulk
Heart of Humanity - Vaughn Lovejoy
Just Look Up - Colby Hill
Dance of the Hollyhocks - Score and Music - Linda Cole
Namu Amida Butsu,
Christopher Kakuyo Sensei
Salt Lake City May 14th, 2018
“ This realization of oneness involves the highest type of communication and respect. IF your life is realized in this sense…you would see that the whole world supports you. You exist because others; everything supports your life. This totality, this oneness evokes a gratitude and a great joy beyond explanation.”
We live alive a life immersed in grace; the grace of being supported by all things at all times. We are supported by the solar system, by the sun that continually lights our world and drives the processes that help the earth to give us air to breathe, water to drink and food to eat, that helps us to see, We are supported by the smallest things, to the largest. We are supported by microbes and bees that help create the food we eat, and by all the trees that help us breathe. The bees give us grace every day, the trees give us grace, and there is also the grace given by our ancestors down through long passages of time; so much grace given that is still within in us now. We are all interdependent and existent at this very moment. In the midst of our diversity and interdependence we can come to direct realization of Oneness, and by doing so, we can communicate our respect and gratitude for them, for all of life, for all the gifts which in oneness we have received and which are unmerited.
For me, namu Amida butsu is an expression of this oneness and grace, an expression of Buddha-nature. The oneness that Gyomay Sensei is writing about in the above quote is for me personified as Amida Buddha. Because of Oneness, I exist, and therefore I exist because of namu Amida butsu. This is how I understand the idea among some teachers that the nembutsu is simply an expression of gratitude for all that Amida Buddha has done for us. My practice of chanting the nembutsu is a form of the highest form of communication and respect. Through this practice, I cultivate a recognition/realization of Oneness, and all that Oneness does for me every day, and this brings forth the fruit and joy of gratitude.
This reading has tied into something that I have been thinking about; gratitude, gratitude as a form of awakening. A few years ago I had an experience in the midst of great suffering, where something shifted, and I was overwhelmed with intense gratitude for everything I had experienced and everyone I have ever known, even for just a moment. I spent hours going through my email list sending out heartfelt thank yous to everyone on my list. I think even companies whose email list I was part of even got a thank you. I am sure a few who received the emails shook their heads, I called friends, I reached out to as many as I could to share my gratitude for their very existence. In this space of gratitude, I wept, and I laughed. It was confusing at first because of the number of tears that fell. I remember thinking that I am crying so hard, but I am not sad so why am I weeping? I realized that for me that is how deep and profound gratitude expresses itself. I also realized that for many years I had seen “love” as the highest emotion, the goal of religious practice, that love encompassed all. I have had moments have I loved everything, even the street sign that I was standing under, and yet that night I experienced something even more expansive and sublime than “love”; I experience an unbounded gratitude. Writing this and remembering what it was like, a few lines from Gyomay Kubose Sensei’s writing are even more profound “ We should always be ready to die, able to say, “thank you for everything” In some ways, that is what I experienced that night, the “thank you for everything” and remembering it helps me to understand what Gyomay Sensei was teaching.
Before finding the way of the nembutsu, I had no idea that something as simple as gratitude could be a path for practice and awakening. It reminds me of something Jeff Wilson, a Jodo Shin minister has written, “in Shin Buddhism our main focus is the practice of gratitude. We practice simply to give thanks for what we have received. It’s a small shift in one’s perspective, but when pursued, it can be transformative.” This came home to me the other night when I was holding my little boy in my arms. He was cuddled against my chest, and I was just feeling him breathe and thinking how much I loved him, and I just repeated thank you, thank you, thank you, and the love expanded exponentially with the ever-expanding gratitude. I think the cultivation of gratitude is important because it acts as a catalyst that can expand positive states of consciousness. Cultivating gratitude by recognizing and by expressing it, manifests more gratitude, and deepens our awareness of Oneness.
I really appreciate this from Shodo Harada Roshi – Abbot of Sogen-ji, Okayama, Japan
The sun’s light, the moons radiance, the flowers blooming, the song of the bird, the work of all people in society. I receive everything. The heavens and earth are supporting me and all of humankind for me to be alive. This whole world revolves for this. I am so thankful. We have to see it as it is, or else we mistakenly think that we are alive according to our own power while it is all beings who support us and to whom we should be thankful. We will then not be pulled around by our noisy thoughts but see clearly how all beings all of nature are supporting us and then our life becomes truly
Namu Amida Butsu
Namu Amida Butsu
Namu Amida Butsu
May it be so.
I don’t consider myself much of a writer but I can document some things that stood out on my “maiden voyage” to Thailand. Maiden voyage in that this was my first trip out of the country and first time using a passport. I had of course expectations of what my travels would look like the first time out. What was a revelation for me and what has truly become what I hope will be the standard for me in future travels was the people I met and interacted with. This was far and away the best thing about my trip. By trying my best to remain in the moment with all the fascinating distractions around me I made connections that will stay with me for a long time to come. By deeply listening to them tell their stories my world was broadened and my appreciation for diversity enhanced. Here is a slideshow of some of the images I was able to capture and below that some of my impressions.
A beautifully eccentric gal in her 20s with rainbow-colored hair and a HUGE backpack waiting in the taxi queue with me at the airport in Bangkok. She related to me her travels thus far and that she this was her last stop before realizing her life-long dream of studying martial arts in the mountains of China a few days later.
Bridget, a woman from the Congo, who I met and had dinner with in Qatar (layover). She had moved to Salt Lake City 17 years early to escape war in her country and was on her way to bury her father properly 10 years after he had died as it was safe to return now.
Karim, an outrageously funny man who was from Egypt. He had been an active participant in the Arab Spring and very passionate about activism, photography (we shot some pictures together) and food (we ate some very suspect seafood together as well).
Top, a celebrity in Thailand for her cooking shows and her marriage to a beautiful Thai model. She had been to retreats with Thich Nhat Hanh and we spoke of traveling, Buddhism and she was never without a broad smile on her face which made her magnetic. She treated my travel companion and I to dinner my last night there and gifted me a present of a book on Buddhism (and my first time eating Neptune’s pearls).
Tor, a wonderful artist from Ireland who was there to grieve over a longtime friend who committed suicide and shared that she was just going to let the days in Thailand take her where they wanted to and not fight the experiences as they presented themselves. My last day in Thailand she ran out of a coffee shop and presented me with a lovely bracelet which I have worn every day since.
My Thai masseuse, who to put it simply, made me hurt so good.
The Tuk Tuk drivers who literally made new and terrifying lanes of their own when the one we were in was at a standstill.
The Indian cricket team who thought I was “somebody” and asked if the team could have their picture taken with me. Somewhere in India is a photo with what I would imagine to be a very disappointed group of young fellows as they have probably figured out by now that I am not Judi Dench.
Two women from Australia who were there for a food tour of Bangkok. They surprised me with a note slid under my door to let me know the private cooking lesson in the home of a local woman was one of the best experiences of the trip and forwarded me the information if I was ever interested.
These are only a few of the fascinating people I met. Of course, there was also the smell of food, sometimes familiar and sometimes foreign. that comingled and punched you in the face. The spirit houses, flowers, and temples. The brutal heat and humidity. But for me, this trip was all about the people. I learned that I did not need much to travel. I only took two pairs of jeans and three tee shirts… and it was enough. That if I was kind and treated people with respect, for the most part, I was granted it in return. That my point of view was not the only point of view. That travel elicits compassion.
“What“What I want is to open up. I want to know what’s inside me. I want everybody to open up. I’m like an imbecile with a can opener in his hand, wondering where to begin—to open up the earth. I know that underneath the mess everything is marvelous. I’m sure of it.”
– Henry Miller
“Modern man has too many masks to wear. We must unmask and be ourselves, sincerely, earnestly and live truly as we are,”
― Gyomay M. Kubose, Everyday Suchness: Buddhist Essays on Everyday Living
“What happens when we realize that my story is just a story?” - David Loy
“We have to return whatever we steal or borrow ---- whatever we have received - and also peel off whatever we have painted on, and make an effort to really touch the true self.” - Haya Akegaras
“Just as the flower is made only of non-flower elements, the self is made only of non-self elements.” - Thich Nhat Hahn
The First Noble Truth teaches us that life always involves suffering, or unsatisfactoriness (whatever word you want to use to define dukkha). Often we think of the big things when we think of suffering: the death of a loved one, loss of something important, cancer, war, famine, disease, etc. For some reason, my mind has been on the day-to-day suffering, anxieties, and pain this week. Here are a few random examples that come to mind:
- John’s phone died mid-call, and he’s frustrated because it’s been happening a lot lately. Technology should work better than this right?- Betty has a bad body image. Every time she looks in the mirror she focuses in on her flaws and imperfections.- Frank is depressed today. It’s something he’s been battling with for a while now.- Little Bobby had a toy taken from him by another kid at school and it made him sad.- Janet is stressed because she has a deadline coming up, and she’s really worried that she won’t have her work done in time.- Alan got rear-ended on his way to his son’s baseball game. He’s fine, but now his car is damaged and he might have to miss the game.- Ken’s allergies are flaring up today and he’s sneezing a lot, and has a headache.- Susan’s order was wrong at the fast-food place, but she didn’t notice it until she got home and doesn’t want to drive all the way back to get it fixed.- Karen just found out that she wasn’t invited to a big party over the weekend that a lot of her friends were at. Now she’s wondering if they’re really her friends after all.
Compared to a lot of the major problems going on in the world, these all seem like small things. Some of them could even be considered “First-world problems” as some people like to point out. But they are still things that are causing these people to hurt, to be frustrated, to be anxious, or in some way to suffer. I’ve noticed that it’s very easy to let these little bits of suffering become major sources of suffering. All the little things add up, and a general feeling of frustration and “nothing goes right” can permeate a person’s life.
Sometimes people like to compare and contrast their suffering with the suffering of others. It’s like a badge of honor to some people. Someone complains that they’ve had the sniffles, and another person points out “Well, at least you don’t have cancer like me.” Yes, all things considered, that is a bigger problem. And I don’t think it’s bad to keep things in perspective for yourself, but it’s not good to invalidate someone else’s pain. Yes, there are major problems out there. People are dying. People are really hurting. But we can still honor and show compassion to the little pains that everyone has to deal with day to day.
In the end, I do believe it’s good to recognize the little frustrations and understand their place in the big picture. Don’t turn molehills into mountains as the saying goes. But it’s also important to validate someone else when they are feeling any level of dukkha. Everybody hurts. Everybody cries. Everybody has something that is causing them anxiety. Everyone is fighting a battle inside, and most of the time you don’t even know about it. The more I can recognize the suffering of other people, no matter how big or small it is, the more I can develop compassion for all people.
If we can have compassion for the little things, I’d like to think it helps us develop even more compassion for the big things. The little things that happen day to day are the best chance to practice compassion and insight.
What if all the wounds which we experience as our personal wounds are not personal at all? But rather, all of our wounds belong to the collective heart of humanity and even deeper they are carried and embraced within the very heart of the cosmos. What if our life with all of its deep wounds is an invitation, or better yet, a calling to bring healing to all of these wounds? What if our wounds contain our deepest and most profound gifts which were given to us from the living heart of the cosmos when we entered into this mysterious earthly pilgrimage. What if our deepest calling is to surrender into the inner journey through these wounds to find the precious healing treasure, the Alchemical Wish-fulfilling Jewel, the Holy Grail, the Sacred Tree of Life which heals and restores our world? This calling into the mythical inner journey has been exquisitely narrated in Joseph Campbell’s lifetime of scholarship and storytelling and in the ensuing years' other scholars.
There is deep truth within the spiritual traditions which have evolved over the millennia within the heart of humanity. A universal truth recognized in the mystical dimensions of all of humanity’s spiritual traditions that there is an inner journey to the mystical heart of humanity which restores and renews the entire cosmos. Reflecting back over the years of my inner journey, I can see that it has been in my darkest times, in my most despairing struggles, when all hope simply disappears, when the bottom just drops away; it is at those moments when I have been granted a glimpse into the oceanic realms of immeasurable compassion. In these moments the flow of time intersects with the timelessness of eternity to reveal for an instant a liturgical, sacramental cosmos. An inner cosmos which contains all of humanity, the entire cosmos and the pure luminosity of the divine in dynamic harmony always opening into deeper realms of healing and wholeness. This dynamic harmony is the pure creative movement of cosmic prayer.
Our times cry out for all of our deepest prayers for the healing of our wounded world. Our times cry out for the awakening of the mystical heart of humanity into the living liturgical prayer of the cosmos.
Humanity, in essence, is the apex predatory of the world. We, unlike other animals, who fear being assaulted by birds of prey and consumed, have no need to look up in the trees for potential threats. Yet, as the technological renaissance continues, more and more reasons for not looking up join with our natural instincts. Phones keep our eyes focused down for fear that we may miss something important, making our hunter/gatherer reflexes change into wants for tweets and likes. On our quest to be accepted in out new unnatural shoes, we tend to look down to avoid eye contact out of fear that the gaze of a stranger may see into our soul, judging and corrupting what we are. With all these reasons to look down, we ignore what is going on around us, especially the blue sky above that has been hanging between us and space for eons.
I am at fault along with everyone else in this instance. For a long time, I was uncomfortable looking into the eyes of my fellow man, afraid that they would see the imperfections that once consumed me, or that I see the same imperfections in them. Then, one day, as I began to break free from the gloom and isolation that had plagued me in my youth, I saw the sky. The blue magnificent never-ending trick of the light that floats above like a warm blanket. For once, I felt like my problems were small in the grand scope of things. I began to dig deeper. Below me, the bugs, gravel, and even the microorganisms that inhabit each living thing are small compared to myself, like how I am small compared to the sky. Then that made me realize that I am only a grain a sand, or even a cluster of microbes to the sky above. It brought me back to the idea of impermanence; how the organisms below my feet and the sky above may be different in size, but both will eventually fade into nothing, as will I one day. The idea of no-self engulfed me, and I saw the ever-changing reality under the blue sky. All because I looked up and saw what I had been missing for so long.
I am everchanging, as is the bug below my feet, and as is the sky above. Every second I am new, and the microbes are new, and the sky is, you guessed it, new. We are all forever changing and impermanent and when we all leave this world, we will enter a new state of no-self, along with those little bugs below our feet, and the clouds that encircle the big blue above.
So, look up more often, see the ever-changing world around you. You may be surprised at how eye-opening just a quick glimpse at the beyond is. As the ancient poet Li Bai says, “The entire Buddha Realm may be in our grasp.” So, look up and take it. Then, when you are renewed, look into the eyes of that person passing your way, because, to them, someone even acknowledging their existence in this impermanent world, may be exactly what they needed to get through the day.
The Hollyhock flower represents fertility and fruitfulness, ambition, and overall strength. This song is dedicated to: “Lord Manjushri, with a body black in colour, one face, two arms; the right holds aloft a sword blazing with fire and the left, the stem of a hollyhock flower to the heart; standing with the right leg bent and the left extended; with a lower garment of tiger skin, with snakes and unpleasant ornaments; three staring eyes, gans, adorned with a mustache and orange hair; standing in the middle of a blazing fire of primordial wisdom.” (Pandita Dragpa Gyaltsen)
Also, it is dedicated to one of Los Angeles’ architectural gems is Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House. It is a gorgeous Mayan Revival style house. He drew inspiration from the architecture and iconography of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures. The house is almost 100 years old. During the construction of Hollyhock House, Wright was also working on the Japanese Imperial Hotel. The Japanese project became a source of inspiration for the Los Angeles home. The inclusion of Kwon Yen Buddhist sculpture, screen paintings, and an open floor plan, which allows visitors to flow from room to room, are all nods to Japanese art and architectural traditions. Another Japanese-inspired idea in the house is the metaphorical inclusion of the four elements—earth, water, fire, and air—in the house. The concrete bas-relief of the fireplace represents earth, the fireplace itself and the torchiere lamps allude to fire, the skylight references to air, and the entire home is surrounded by a moat representing water.
Here is a link to the local media coverage of our Vesak day celebration and the re-dedication of the Buddha on 9th.