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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Buddha's Wish for the World. A Book Review.

In this short but interesting book, Robert Thurman sets the tone in the forward with a welcoming punch to the forehead, "I am right" is the root of all problems. This book is part biography but is mostly a concise but rich discourse on the teachings of Shin Buddhism from the 24th Monshu of the Jodo Shinshu Hongwaji-ha--Monshu Koshin Ohtani. I was impressed with this book from the start with the Venerable Monshu touching on the importance of ridding oneself of a very unskillful emotion that I struggle with--self-pity.

Monshu says, "The heart of the matter is we humans turn our backs whenever duty calls and protest that it is not our responsibility. "How come I am the only one who has to do this?" "It is not like I chose to be born in this place." " I didn't do anything wrong." As long as we respond to a situation in this way, we can never get rid of the nagging feeling that the world is unfair or that we are dissatisfied with our lives."

James: Even if we do not believe in an external savior; It seems that many of us still long for one. Whenever I think that life is "being unfair to me" It's hard to remember that this is my ego-mind feeling that it is somehow special and different than everyone else. That somehow suffering shouldn't apply to me. Thank-you Monshu for reminding me of this tendancy of mine and why it's dangerous to my practice. Much of this book is timely to our era of hyper-inflated egos and selfishness becoming a near sainted emotion. It is exactly what we need to hear.

Monshu reminds us that everyone breaks the precepts; according to his tradition of Shin Buddhism we're all in need of the Amida Buddha's compassion. This is again timely as a heated discussion of precepts is often cultivated in the buddhoblogosphere. People set up camps, which often end up being arguments over who is more pious. Well, newsflash. None of us keep the precepts so rather than argue over who is the keeping the rules as Buddha intended; It is better for both sides to look inward and clean up our own mess before throwing around accusations and statements of authority. In fact, none of us are authorities on much of anything. We're all stuck in the mud of samsara together.

When you're stuck in the mud and you throw a handful at another fellow stuck being you also get yourself dirtier. No one wins when we turn on each other. We each have our own path to follow within the greater map of the overall Dharma. What might be hard for one person will be easy for another but it doesn't mean that person is better than the other because they have their weaknesses too. To deny such is pure folly and enforcing dangerous delusions. This all said, Monshu explains the traditional five precepts are not found in Jodo Shinshu because they believe Amida Buddha will save them. However, he warns this is not a license to do whatever those practitioners want. The focus he teaches in Shin Buddhism is not always about extinguishing desire but also about enjoying life but not attaching to desire.

He mentions the idea the "The Seven Gifts" in Buddhism, which I hadn't come across but I find it very wonderful. Here are the gifts: 1). The gift of gentle eyes, looking at others kindly. 2) The gift of a smile and kind expressions. 3). The gift of words, speaking kindly to others. 4). The gift of the physical body. Acting properly yourself, and treating others with respect. 5). The gift of heart, touching others with a heart full of love. 6). The gift of a resting place, offering others a place to sit and rest. 7). The gift of shelter and lodging, providing others with a room or warm place to stay. These all allow us to be Bodhisattvas right here, right now. The Bodhisattva vow doesn't have to be some metaphysical god concept.

I don't want to spoil the whole book for you though!! So I'll leave you with this post and some teasers of other concepts that Monshu touches upon in greater detail in his wonderful book: On feeling useless and a burden, (this section really helped me with my depression that involves those feelings of uselessness). On feeling that life is boring (again, very helpful). On comparing ourselves to others and how to see that in a more constructive way, which is again timely for our modern age where social status and being seen as beautiful, rich and powerful is hyper inflated. On growing old and how to feel better about your age and how to enjoy the time you have. And finally, on dying where he offers an interesting and fresh insight upon the long feared subject.

While this book is written by a Shin Buddhist; Buddhists of all traditions will find much to like in it. It is a short book and can be read in one sitting but don't let that fool you into thinking that it's not full of great wisdom. It is frankly wonderful how much wisdom and unique insights Monshu offers in this thin but enriching monogram. I highly recommend it and give it an 8 out of 10 on a scale where 10 is the highest ranking.

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5 comments:

avagdro said...

Thanks for the precious seven book gifts.Wish you n all a Happy Diwali celebrations ahead.

Cheers!!
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Emma C said...

Love the idea of those 'seven gifts'...becuase they are just so simple and beautiful. It sounds like a very interesting book.

You mentioned the idea of longing for a personal saviour. A few days ago I had the not-so-nice experience of having a close relative go in for a test for cancer. While I was in the waiting room, anxiously waiting for the test to be done, I was obvserving my thoughts and feelings (lots of nausea and anxiety!) But, I was really interested to note that at no point did I think, "God, please make it OK, make it not be cancer." I was raised a Catholic, so this would have been a perfectly understandable thought to have, but I realised I just didn't believe anymore in a personal God that would intervene on my behalf. What I did 'pray' for was the strength to cope with whatever the result was, and the strength to stay present with my feelings. It was a very interesting to realise that the idea of a 'personal saviour' had gone. (Still waiting for test results...)

They call him James Ure said...

Avagro:

Thank-you!!

Emma:

It is a interesting book. It's very quick to read but full of insights and views on every day issues that I hadn't thought about before. Very refreshing.

I have found myself in positions where I would have prayed in the past too. And like you I was able to find the same strength I did before but without having to pray to feel it. I hope the best for your loved one. I think you're right on in cultivating the ability to deal with whatever comes.

Plus, (for me) It is so very empowering, refreshing and reasoned to do it without believing in some "man in the sky" who might help but probably won't. I never understood how "God" would save one person's life in the hospital but not another.

People always say that it was "God's will" that they died. Well, (as George Carlin says) if "God" is going to do "his will" anyway; why bother praying in the first place?!!

ronald said...

The Buddha's Wish for the World is not just for followers of the Shin tradition; practitioners of all schools (including Zen) are certain to discover many affinities with the Shin teachings--and some profound insight into their own traditions. While it is true that students and practitioners of all Buddhist traditions will find many similarities, it may be the unique qualities of the Pure Land teachings, when compared to other traditions, that offer some of the more profound insights.

Marco said...

Cheers! Would love to read this book. Your reviews are very interesting!

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