Happy Bodhi Day!


On this Bodhi Day, I would like to take the opportunity to remind myself that bodhi, the development of bodhicitta (the mind that aspires to enlightenment for the sake of all beings), is not just a thing for Buddhists. Indeed, in the world at this moment, the need for the development of bodhicitta is perhaps greater than it has ever been.

We, as Buddhists, have the bodhisattva vow to guide us … we understand that we simply cannot enjoy Nirvana while any one yet remains in Samsara.

As a reflection of that, those of us in America in this time when we are about to elect leaders and determine the direction this country will follow for the next four years, must take the bodhisattva vow with us into the voting booth.

If the American dream is prosperity, it cannot be simply prosperity for Americans, but prosperity for all. We simply cannot in good faith turn our backs on the true basis of that American dream proclaimed on the Statue of Liberty:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Let us recall what one of our Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin said:

They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Let us not let anger, xenophobia, and/or the desire for revenge determine how we vote.

Sealing our borders against those in need out of fear will not bring us security. Xenophobia and reactionary nationalism will only warp more minds, engender more resentment, and thus breed more terrorists. For, in the end, those who succumb to the ideology of terror are those who have lost all hope, who have been marginalized, disenfranchised and disrespected and in a state of despair have turned to those who abuse that state of despair to give them a new hope—false though it be—that what they desire can be taken through violence, when in fact it can only be given and received freely.

So on this Bodhi Day—and throughout the season of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Arba’een—let us be forgiving, charitable, welcoming and respectful of all. Let us mourn the dead and cease to commit further atrocities against the living. Violence begets violence.

What is more let us do this not out of mere sentimentalism, but out of the deep hearing of the Name that calls and the resultant realization that this is the minimum basis of harmonious society and balanced living.

Let Americans show the world that America is not just a name nor an empty dream of selfish prosperity for a few but a dream of peace on earth, goodwill toward men (and women) – all of them.

6 responses »

  1. The danger for me is I become so furious about the the purposeful stirring up of hate (and a good example would be this election), that I get so angry that I become every bit as filled with hate as those whom I’m against. How does Amida’s” work” to deal with this type of problem. I have not found that trying to use reason to stop anger, even “righteous” anger, is very effective.

    • That is a danger for everyone.

      Being that we have posted a bunch of Frank Herbert quotes of late, perhaps we will let him respond.

      What do you despise? By this are you truly known.

      Generally speaking, we usually despise or hate that which is held to be different than ourselves and/or assumed to be inimical to our self-image or well being. The unspoken correlative of the quote is that by the very fact of despising or hating we are truly known. We seem quite ready, willing, and able to despise an enemy or even a stranger, but this is not quite so true of family and friends—those with whom we admit having a deep and abiding relationship. But, as the Dharma clearly indicates, we are in deep and abiding relationship with everything. The very fact that we can feel despite and hate, just as they do, indicates how very alike we are to those we might despise. Let us then let our very ability to feel hate guide us to an appreciation of and for our relationship to those we hate … thus turning poison into medicine.

      The mind can go either direction under stress—toward positive or toward negative: on or off. Think of it as a spectrum whose extremes are unconsciousness at the negative end and hyperconsciousness at the positive end. The way the mind will lean under stress is strongly influenced by training.

      Our mentor used to say that everything responded to stress as best as it knows how, but that often the mechanisms employed are maladaptive. A person who has suffered trauma often develops mechanisms that may be temporarily useful, but are incredibly maladaptive when removed from the context in and for which they developed. He had me look very deeply into the matter of ingenuology – the study of motivations and mechanisms of adaptation.

      I have never been fond of profanity, but I could never despise or hate a person just because they had Turrets syndrome. So too we can realize that people do things for reasons, even if those reasons are not obvious to us or even them. Those who employ despite and hate and fear as mechanisms to cope with stress are entitled to our most sincere pity for the fact that they have learned such poor mechanism of adaptation. We can despise the actions taken and lament the results, but the actors deserve our compassion. And to take a line from our Christian brothers and sisters: “There but for the grace of God go I.” It could just as easily have been we that lived in such contexts that drove us to learn such poor coping mechanisms. Actors must be held responsible for their actions, but must never be defined solely by them.

      Be well.


  2. When I read your post, it became clear to me, yet again, what kind of behavior I truly hate and why. In that sense, I am ” truly known.” The problem is although I can be aware( to a certain degree…and only to a certain degree because it would seem to me that the reasons and motivations which cause us to act cannot be easily known. In some cases, the roots are too deep and too subtle to be accessed…by me at any rate!) of why I hate, and I can even “talk a good game” when the “winds have died down”. That being said, in the heat of the tempest, I can forget everything that I think I know and be just as angry and filled as hate as I was before. Take , for example, your use of the Christian teaching, “there for the Grace of God goes I”. Well, I THINK I know that all too well until I finally get blindsided, and in the heat of the moment all my “understanding” is torn to shreds. I have a great deal of love for Christian teachings, but I also know, as with any teaching, “familiarity breeds contempt.” Whether the teaching is Christian, Islamic , Buddhist etc., people will parrot certain phrases, but the learning never becomes a part of them ,(and I include myself in that category.) This is why I find a site such as this valuable because although superficially pure land Buddhism appears to be different than Christianity, there is the same emphasis on the incapacity of the seeker to “do it alone”i.e. use their self will. This same emphasis can be found in islam. At the same time, when I “hear” the same teaching in a different form, the “unfamiliarity” of the form means that the teaching will make a greater impact..because I have not yet “immunized” myself against the teaching through over repetition. Given that the Pure Land Upaya puts such a strong emphasis on tariki(Other Power) I still don’t find, as often as I would like, the faith that I need. I am very grateful for what I have already received, but I know I have a long way to go. Thank you for setting up this site.

    • The Pure Land upaya takes a long-term approach to matters of purification of the kleśas, and it takes a wholistic rather than a specific approach. As one listens to the dharma, one gradually is enabled to hear the Call. As one responds to the Call with gratitude one is gradually released from attachment to the self and its compulsions.

      One is not to be overly concerned about one’s perceptual, conceptual and actual ignorance but to simply be aware of one’s state and to repent of one’s past, present and future errors of perception, conception and action.

      Namu Amida Butsu Gomen.


      P.S. One might derive benefit from reading Chapter 6 (‘Repentance’), in Thomas Cleary’s translation of The Sutra of Hui Neng – but read it in the light of Shinran Shonin’s teachings – that is, in the light of Tariki. One need not engage in the formal practice indicated but rather substitute ‘Namu Amida Butsu gomen’. But all of this is already in the nembutsu as such – no more is needed.

  3. Dear James,
    When I hear the word “gomen” I also hear a certain “tone” which I have heard many, many times. When you say “gomen” (as opposed to “gomen nasai” ) there is a certain slight bow of the head, a certain degree of embarrassment( for having caused pain to the other person but also for having to frankly acknowledge what you have done wrong) and “gomen” is a phrase that you use with someone who is intimate with you. In addition, in Japan, it is not merely the “words” that are as important as the tone and the feeling which is behind the tone and the words. Just that short phrase you use indicates to me that the Buddha is very, very intimate with the one who recites the phrase. It also indicates to me that it is not the words so much as the awareness and the feeling which is important. Thank you very much what you have written is very helpful

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