What Makes a Monk in Buddhism?

Since today is Bodhi Day, celebrating the Enlightenment of the Buddha, I wanted to share something I found from the Dhammapada:

264. Not by shaven head does a man who is indisciplined and untruthful become a monk. How can he who is full of desire and greed be a monk?

265. He who wholly subdues evil both small and great is called a monk, because he has overcome all evil.

This is important advice, even today, because there are Buddhist ‘teachers” who are popular but corrupt, drink in excess, sleep with students, and abuse money and authority. It’s ok to recognize that people are human, but the Buddha had a very high-standard for his students, and when you have authority, you should make sure you live by that standard.

Posted in Buddhism, Religion, Theravada, Tibetan, Zen | Leave a comment

Rocking the Shoshinge

Hi Everyone,

This is a very nerdy blog title, but I just wanted to give an update. As I posted last month, I am trying to learn the Jodo-Shinshu Buddhist hymn, the Shoshinge 正信偈, as part of the process for basic ordination.1 Since I had a hard time learning in the past, I decide to focus less on memorization and more on practice.

About 3-4 weeks have passed and so far the progress has been good. Normally, after my wife and kids go to bed, I stay up and do the dishes and catch up on things like the blog. But now,!I also practice the Shoshinge about 3-4 times a week by chanting along with this video which I posted previously:

At first, it felt kind of awkward and I struggled to read all the text in Japanese, but after a week, I started making some improvements. Also, I started to remember small bits of the Shoshinge because I recited over and over again.

Now, I am getting more comfortable with the Shoshinge. I make fewer mistakes,2 and also I am starting to remember bigger and bigger pieces. This is helpful because my hope is that the parts I remember will get bigger and bigger, while the parts I forget will be smaller and smaller. But there are still big gaps I can’t remember. It’s better than it was 3 weeks ago, but I still have a long way to go.

But after 1 month, it gives me hope that I can master the Shoshinge and therefore have a good chance of getting tokudo ordination.

Ordination requires a lot more than just memorizing a hymn, but the Shoshinge is the biggest, scariest hurdle for most Westerners at least, so I am glad to take care of this earlier than later.

Also, since I started to recite the Shoshinge, it has given me a new appreciation for it. Shinran’s writings in general are kind of obtuse and difficult in my opinion,3 but the hymn provides a good overview of his thinking and how it relates to past Pure Land Buddhist masters. It’s a good thing to study for those interested in Jodo Shinshu Buddhism.

Anyhow, I’ll post more updates about ordination or chanting in general. But the point is is that this practice has given me more confidence and hope about ordiation, and also about tackling a challenging project like this in general even with two kids and a full-time job. :)

1 Jodo Shinshu has 3 levels of ordination:

  • Tokudo, 得度 – entry-level ordination, with limited responsibilities.
  • Kyōshi, 教師 – full-ordination, capable of performing necessary rites, but usually not the head-priest.
  • Kaikyōshi, 開教師 – same as kyōshi, but can be the head-priest (rinban 輪番) of a temple. Essentially a professional, full-time priest.

Some of these ranks exist in other Japanese-Buddhist groups (e.g. tokudo), but other Buddhist sects often use different, but analogous ranks.

2 I’m pretty tone-deaf (音痴 onchi) so singing the last part is hard because it is very melodic. Getting better but still need a lot more practice.

3 I once read the Kyogyoshinsho, Shinran’s main work, almost cover to cover. It gave me a big headache. I feel the same way when I read Dogen. I always found Honen’s writings, though fewer, easier to follow in general. Shinran’s descendant, Rennyo, is good at explaining teachings too, so I find his letters helpful.

Posted in Buddhism, Jodo Shinshu, Religion | 3 Comments

Vipassana Meditation Q&A

Hello,

Recently, I’ve been reading a certain book that a certain reader, “AS”, sent me a while back,1 titled Comprehensive Instructions on Mindfulness Meditation by the late Burmese monk Sayādaw U Sīlānanda. This is a detailed book on Theravada Buddhist meditation or Vipassanā. The first part of the book is a long Q&A (question and answer) section that has a lot of useful tips. I wanted to share some useful tips:

3. What can vipassanā meditation do for me?

The ultimate purpose of vipassanā is to eradicate mental impurities from your mind altogether. Before that stage, there are benefits of tranquility, peace of mind and the ability to accept things as they come. Vipassanā helps you to see things as they truly are, not as they appear to be. Things appear to be permanent, desirable and substantial, but actually they are not. When you practice vipassanā meditation, you will see for yourself the arising and disappearing of mental and physical phenomena. And you will have a clearer comprehension of what is going on in your mind and body. You will be able to accept things as they come to you with less agitation and deal with situations in a more positive way.

5. When is vipassanā needed?

Since mental impurities are almost always with us, we need vipassanā meditation almost all of the time. There is no fixed time for practice of vipassanā. Morning, during the day, before bed … anytime is the time for vipassanā. And vipassanā may be practiced at any age.

9. What gadgets do I need for vipassanā meditation?

Actually, you do not need anything at all. All you need is a place where you can sit down, close your eyes and focus on the object. But I am not against using cushions, benches or even chairs and other thing because in order to practice meditation, you need some degree of comfort. But while you do not need to inflict pain on yourself unnecessarily, you should take care not to be too much attached to comfort, or sloth and torpor will come to you and you will go to sleep.

11. Is cross-legged posture essential in sitting meditation?

Although it is customary and traditional to sit on the floor to practice meditation, it is not essential in vipassanā. If you cannot sit cross-legged, you may sit any way you like as long as it is comfortable for you. What matters in vipassanā is just the awareness, not the posture.

12. Must my eyes be closed when meditating?

It is better to keep your eyes closed, but you may leave them open if you like, whichever is least distracting for you. But if you happen to look at anything, then you will have to be aware of the “looking” and not it. The important thing is to have good concentration.

13. What should I do with my hands when meditating?

There are not strict rules as to how you put your hands in vipassanā. You may put them any way you like. The most usual position is on the lap one over the other. Or you may put them on your knees.

15. Should I practice every day?

We eat every day, care for our bodies every day. Since we almost always have mental defilements with us we need to cleanse our minds every day. I recommend the morning hours because then your body and mind are rested and you are away from the worries of the previous day. It would also do you good to meditate in the evening before you go to bed. But you may practice any time. And if you make it a habit to practice every day, it will be good and beneficial to you.

16. Do I need a teacher to practice vipassanā?

This is important. Whenever you learn a new skill, you need a teacher. With the advice of a teacher, you learn quicker and you cannot go wrong. You need a teacher who is competent to give instructions, correct your mistakes, and give guidance when you have trouble in the course of meditation. There are some meditators who think they are making progress when in reality, they are not making progress at all. And sometimes they are making progress but think they are not doing well. Only the teacher can tell, and so at such a time he or she is indispensable. If you cannot find a teacher, you may rely on books, although, no book can entirely take the place of a teacher. You may be able to do fairly well by reading the instructions and following them carefully. But even then, you may have need for discussion with a teacher occasionally.

Hope this proves useful. Good luck and happy meditating!

P.S. Accidentally posted a draft of a different post yesterday. Sorry guys for the misfire. This happens a lot when I use the mobile-phone application, not my desktop. Don’t blog and ride a bus at the same time. ;-)

1 I have a long backlog of books…. :p

Posted in Buddhism, Religion, Theravada | 1 Comment

What is Bodhi Day?

"Victory of the Buddha" from a 1922 book published in India.

“Victory of the Buddha” from a 1922 book published in India.

Hi Everyone,

December 8th marks a Buddhist holiday called Bodhi Day on the Western-Solar Calendar. According to Buddhist tradition, the Buddha attained Enlightenment on the “8th day of the 12th month”. Many Buddhist cultures still observe this holiday according to their local lunar calendar, but in Japan and the West, it is observed on December 8th.

Buddhism doesn’t really have a lot of holidays. So why make a holiday for the Enlightenment of the Buddha? It helps to explain the background a little.

Background

The teachings of Buddhism are known as the Dharma. The Dharma is not something you take faith in or “believe” in. It is viewed the same way you view the Law of Gravity: whether you believe in it or not, it still works the same. Instead, your “goal” is to understand and appreciate it, and put it into practice.

The Buddha didn’t invent the Dharma. He discovered the Dharma. He attained it through many, many lifetimes of preparation, trial and error. In his own words:

“This Dhamma that I have attained is deep, hard to see, hard to realize, peaceful, refined, beyond the scope of conjecture, subtle, to-be-experienced by the wise….”

So the Buddha attained awakening to the Dharma, and thus he set the wheel in motion, teaching others and establishing a community which persists today in many parts of the world. But it will not last forever.

Ayutthaya buddha 2

You see, Buddhism thinks big. Big time, big universe, etc. Universes grow and collapse, worlds are born and die. But the Dharma always exists. At times it is hidden, other times a Buddha will somehow discover it without anyone to help them. They will again set the wheel in motion, revive the community and liberate people. And again, the community will eventually fade and the process repeats.

So, the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, is one of many that have existed since eons past. Maybe these Buddhas resided on different worlds, maybe different universes, who knows? But, in any case, the historical Buddha is the Buddha of our time and era. So, we celebrate his extremely rare accomplishment, and the gift of his teachings to the world. It’s a reminder that anyone, given dedication and vision, can ultimately attain the same reward.

The Buddha is living proof of this.

Bodhi Day Today

So, how do people celebrate Bodhi Day today?

It varies a lot by traditions and personal preference. For many, it’s a special day reserved for renewed practice. A person can vow to follow the Eight Precepts from sunrise until the next sunrise, or even just vow to uphold the basic Five Precepts. In the Zen tradition, they call Bodhi Day Rohatsu, and devote themselves to more intense Zen meditation practice.

Others can choose to celebrate with family by setting up a little “Bodhi Tree” like the one the Buddha sat under during his enlightenment. These can be simple Christmas trees with a Buddha statue underneath. You can decorate with ornaments, popcorn-strings, etc. Or, you can find a nice potted tree and use that instead. We like to give presents to our kids on Bodhi Day, similar to Christmas. We try to give wholesome gifts like books and such, and also spend more time with the kids.

Many people will also attend temple services, even if they don’t normally go. If they can’t make it, then they might just study the Dharma a little and maybe recite a sutra, or even part of a sutra. Others will provide fresh offerings to their Buddha shrine such as flowers, incense, water, fruit, etc.

Bodhi Day is really all about saying “thank you” to the Buddha, and following his advice to put the teachings into practice. How you do it is up to you. The expression of gratitude and dedication to practicing the Dharma are what counts.

Happy Bodhi Day everyone!

Posted in Buddhism, Japan, Religion | Tagged | 2 Comments

Perfume and OK Go

Hi guys,

This is just something fun I wanted to share. This is a video by the American alternative group OK Go. This video was filmed in Japan (you can see the ladies of Perfume at the beginning). If you can’t see the video below, you can click on it here.

The song is pretty catchy. You can also watch the interview explaining how they made the video:

Enjoy!

Posted in JPop, Music | Tagged | Leave a comment

Getting In The Holiday Mood

The Holidays are fast-approaching, and to help get in the mood, I always enjoy this video:

Actually, I lied. This has nothing to do with the holidays. I just wanted to share it. This is a hack of the old Super Nintendo1 game Super Mario World, that follows some Japanese pop song. It’s a bit long, but fun to watch. How did someone make this?! o_O

Anyhow, enjoy!

1 Super Famicon (スーパーファミコン, Sūpā Famikon) for Japanese readers. ;)

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Thank You Everyone

IMG_8846.PNG

Hello,

It’s Thanksgivings Day here in the US. My family and I are preparing for a busy day of food and family.

In the US we have a tradition of telling others what we are thankful for this year.

For me, I am thankful for my blog readers. This blog is almost 7 years old and over time I’ve seen a lot of Japan/Buddhist blogs disappear. People get too busy, their lives change, etc. But somehow I have been able to keep going for 7 years thanks to encouragement and comments from readers.

So, thank you everyone. Even if you don’t leave comments and feedback, your readership and positive energy are appreciated.

Best wishes to everyone from me and my family this Thanksgiving!

Posted in Family, General | Tagged | 3 Comments