Crossroads on the Way to the Pureland

Pureland Buddhism (Jodo-shinshu) believes in the pureland and that Amitabha Buddha will guide one upon death into the light of the pureland. The only condition to be saved is to chant the Nembutsu `Namu Amida Butsu`. Which is a very similar concept that is shared by Tantric Buddhism where one will attempt to fall into `suspended animation` on their deathbed and hold eternity in a moment of unperceived time. This faith in the `other world` or `other power` is quite a different concept than the normal concept of Buddhist faith which is not blind but stronger than destiny, a faith in action is a willingness to try and witnessing this faith, is faith in oneself. Shin Buddhism actually seems to be a lot more similar to Christianity than Buddhism.

Unlike other Buddhist practices which focused on personal salvation, Shinran the founder of Jodo-shinshu, recognized the limitations of man and instead of cultivating self-power (jiriki), he advocates trusting to rely on other-power (tariki). This is the path of `Shinjin` which manifests the other power of Amida. This is a `faith` which differs from self effort required in other forms of Buddhism and is therefore often referred to as the easy way. There is a similar concept in Zen which is very similar to tariki that goes along the lines of: When one is strong they turn the dharma wheel and when allows themselves to be weak, the dharma turns them. Being carried by the Dharma is very Tao in the sense of letting go of conscious effort and allowing the world to carry one but very Christian in the sense of having faith in this other power of Amida.

Christianity believes that God created everything. God gave birth to Christ and made man in his image. Christ is one of the most powerful symbols of man, of god. Yet I find it so strange that Christians (and Jodo-shinshu) will pray to a god external of themselves wherein a Buddhist of the Mahayana (greater vehicle) believes to find any truth, one must look inside rather than into the delusion of samsara. The Buddhist believes one cannot confirm god externally but must confirm truth within.

Within ones heart there is a throne and one must take their self off this throne and put God on the chair to acknowledge a power greater than one’s self. One must recognize the other power, Tariki. I leave my throne empty. This emptiness is not to say there is a void of god but th
at the void provides something to empty in to. Emptying is a verb, the empty space is what makes the throne useful, and God is the container.

Buddhists have the term `bonpu` which is what humans are made out of. No matter how close to the divine a human can get, no matter how selfless he can be, he will always be made of bonpu. This is like making a shiny statue of the Buddha out of mud. Although this is not to say that mud or bonpu isn`t Buddha, Amida, god or divine but that this medium is of this world as is everything else, composed of the same elements and the more Zen one practices they realize through the fantastical disillusionment that they are made of the same stuff just as everything else is. Buddhists do not believe in Atman, of an eternal self, but they do believe we must all inherently possess enlightenment, and that everything holds the potentiality for Buddha nature. A Buddhist may hold the potentiality for Buddhahood but is not supposed to strive to be the Buddha and they believe that one becomes a Buddha on their death. This is more similar to the purelands and even Christianities ideal of attaining salvation in the next life. Those who control death control life.

A Buddhist would remind you that you are not the Buddha, but a child of Buddha. In this life a traditional Buddhist is to strive to be a bodhisattva, one who has put off final Nirvana and vowed to save all innumerable beings from suffering. Although a Buddhist does recognize the suffering they carry into meditation is the world`s suffering, one should not mistake that they need to take the world`s suffering upon one’s self as by letting go of this suffering, they help lighten the load of the worlds suffering. This is engaged Buddhism, the Buddhist Christ.

One should again take note that many forms of Buddhism do not put faith in God, which can be blinding and even at times to powerful of a force, but rather concepts of all pervading forces in the sense that these `symbols` are and are not what they signify. Though they signify emptiness they are in fact empty. Emptiness from the sense of a nihilistic view where nothing can be described except within the context it is in, within the context that is in , until one proves that they do not exist (as a separate entity) by disproving the ground they stand on. The signified and signifier are both dual and non-dual. The emphasis is form, not minor or universal but all forms inner-reflecting the interdependent nature of reality which is not to be seeing as an illusion but real as is. The body of the Buddha is all things and the body of all beings is Buddha.

Feel free to take your seat back on the throne but know that God supports you. Trust in the other power and let go, let god. Know that you are only bonpu, a container of substance, a child of the earth, a child of the pureland.


Everything Burns

Origami is a much celebrated art form in Japan. Origami is the art of paper folding that traditionally only uses one sheet of paper which is not cut or glued. A traditional image associated with Origami is that of the folded paper crane. An ancient cultural legend is that folding a thousand paper cranes will grant a wish come true. Sets of a thousand cranes are commonly given to Buddhist and Shinto shrines, as well as given at weddings and coming of age ceremonies. Cranes would also be given to those whom are sick to wish long life and health as cranes are symbols of longevity.

A rather moving story involving the cranes is that of the Kanin of Eiheiji. Ever since the Atom bomb of Hiroshima, there had been a flame kept inside of a little red lantern. This flame was fueled by suffering, by pain and rage, and as the Buddha had said holding on to anger is like holding on to a hot coal with the intent to throw it at someone, you are the only one whom gets burned. The Buddhist monks believed that everything moves in a circle and recognized that the only way to extinguish this fire was to return the flame to the source. Organizing a group of monks together, the band flew to America and walked a great distance to the gates of Trinity where the flame was born. The security resisted at first, but seeing the peaceful parade and the children with tens of thousands of cranes, with each containing a prayer for peace, they decided to open the gates. The band of peaceful people entered and opening the lantern they burned a specially prepared prayer on a long cloth along with thousands of cranes and a scrupulous amount of karma until the flames had extinguished themselves. The children`s prayers reached the heavens and were truly the key to getting into the gates of trinity and extinguishing the flame.

I was given the book, The lantern and the crane, by the Kanin which contained this story and inside were postcards to the global nuclear disarmament fund. I decided to draw a phoenix rising out of the ashes. I also came up with the idea to fold a paper phoenix and send it through the mail, thus allowing the bird to fly to the Disarmament fund in hopes that future fires will be prevented from the ashes of old.


Behind the reflection; Zen in Retrospective

I originally became interested in Zen meditation through the power of art. This is not an uncommon phenomenon to be influenced dramatically by the visual experience of artas art has been functioning as a teaching device since its birth on the walls of caves. Zenga art, a form of sumi-e ink painting, has uniquely inspired me through the image of an Enso. An Enso is a simple circle that usually begins thick with paint and empties as the stroke reaches full circle. This was an art form that I didn`t understand and caused a sense or curiosity in me. A child could very easily paint a circle, or even a square (which is another form of an enso). I asked myself if this was really art. Which raised a much more complex questionwhat is art? This is a problem often pursued in contemporary art today through movements such as Dada or Japans Neo-Dadaism which produced `anti-art` rejecting the previous notions of what art was and broke down the barriers of what could be constituted as art. I decided to pursue the Enso and Zenga in search of what the essence of art really was.

The Enso was born from the hand of a Chinese master Na-Yueh-Haui-jing from the Tang dynasty who claimed that his circular figure was `perfection` symbolizing the nature of the enlightened consciousness or the original countenance before birth. I found that to understand the Enso, the human heart must also, become an Enso, but what made an Enso an Enso? I discovered the enso most commonly resembles emptiness as the blank page isn`t empty enough, that true void is depicted by the movement of the Brush. The Enso is a symbol of emptiness, of nothing, of everything, of unity, the moon, the ultimate goal yet a shape without beginning or end. The Enso was so much more than a symbol. An Enso was not the moon, nor was the moon an Enso but an Enso was the finger pointing at the moon the active reflection internalized in the viewer.

On looking at the mirror I discovered I needed to look behind it to find my original face. For an artist, art is not about product but process. I realized that to really understand the art of Zenga painting I needed to understand the practice. The meditative states required to really contain the `mystical identification` found in Zenga painting went far beyond the conventional handling of paint requiring a great deal of intense concentration and meditation. I found that painting in the style of Zenga was incredibly difficult despite how deceivingly easy it appeared. The secret to painting Zenga lay in the rather difficult mindset of not allowing the practice to be difficult, to slip easily in between subject and object, accepting nature directly as experienced as in Zen-mind or no-mind

(mushin), no mirror.

I had often practiced towards reaching this concentrative state of Zen-mind through the practice of yoga. Yogic concentration is very similar to Zen-mind with a slightly different approach which I believe is easier for beginners that are interested in meditation to reach similar states of mind. However, I do believe Yoga to be a much more difficult practice in cultivation of concentration than Zazen sitting is for more advanced practitioners. I say this because Yoga feels like a much more active practice where the yogi is constantly moving their body in between asana postures, sessions and even in stillness, always finding length in the spine and searching for the correct posture. This is no-less very similar to cultivating consciousness in sitting Zazen through correct (and correcting) posture and through monitoring of the breath. This idea of moving in stillness could be compared to the immovable mind of Fudo Myo-O, the mind that is moved by nothing and stops at no-thought. The physical movement of Yoga helps concentrate physical awareness where-as sitting Zazen cultivates mental awareness. Zazen is a work-out for the mind and works towards one of the most essential aspects of the yogic path; seeing the conditioning of perceptions. Zazen conditions the mind without trying to subdue thoughts or change perceptions but merely observe the mind without getting involved. This `non-action` of the mind cultivates greater states of awareness that can simply, if allowed, drop the monkey-mind out of the tree.

I found Rinzai Zen to be a more expressive practice, more suitable to myself than the Soto Zen School. I came to this conclusion in viewing the sects` art, whereas painting done by the Soto sect seemed contained, reserved, careful and pristine, the Rinzai sect traditionally loaded their brushes full of ink and hit the paper allowing a looser uncontained flow. I find this energy transfer is also reflected in the sects` meditative styles. Soto is very strict on sitting for the sake of sitting whereas Rinzai has various methods for cultivating Satori and even encourage that meditation within activity is more beneficial than silent, seated meditation. The Rinzai rush through their chanting slurring words together, being less mindful of their speech than Soto, but in doing this, recognize that the words are not what are important. The Rinzai may have been less elegant as shown in their art and even their dress made of hemp compared to the silk of Soto, but I feel are really just more down to earth people.

The Enso is the essence of art that I had been searching for. The Enso is the moon pointing at the moon. The Enso is meditation. The Enso is an interrelated mutually conditional open container of potentiality. The Enso is inherently empty, empty of an essence. The Enso is just an Enso.