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In the Name of God بسم الله


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  1. CONTINUED FROM ABOVE; This weeks replies to thread posters. The above essay on Karma was much longer than I expected; you are all welcome to ignore it if it is too tiresome. Chronic: Thank you for your warm welcome. Meditation seems to be a part of all true world religions, some more than others. People often equate Islamic Sufism with Buddhist/Hindu -style meditation, and the comparison is apt in some ways. But I would go beyond this. In Shia, there is a rich heritage of esoteric "irfan" thought, and systems like Mulla Sadra's that are half-way between philosophy and a kind of mystical practice. These can be meditation, if approached properly. And I think that even purely traditional, simple Islamic prayer at any time has the potential to bring the same focus as Buddhist meditation, and serve the same ends. So can devotion in acts such as the Shia remembrance of Karbala. So, too can any focused activity, done with one-pointed mindfulness and dedicated to the One God of Islam or sanctified as a way of manifesting the sacred in any of a number of other forms. Kosh: Thank you for your warm welcome. It is a pleasure to make the acquaintance of a fellow Buddhist here. Although I know very little about the Tibetan traditions, I have great respect for them, particularly the strong focus on compassion. I have had some contact with a Tibet-in-Exile figure in Tokyo here and have learned a bit from him. Japan is almost entirely Mayhayana, but in fact there is a well-established Vajrayana school here; the Shingon school founded over 1000 years ago by the great Kobo Daishi (Kukai). Shingon people are very secretive about their inner teachings but I assume it resembles Tibetan thought because they are both Vajrayana. But Shingon is one school whereas Tibet has many Vajrayana traditions, and you also have access to more Tantric and Vajrayana sutras, so there are bound to be major differences, too. I'm glad to hear you are interested in Pure Land. I have been practing with the Ji-shu school for 6 years now while maintaining my Zen practice. As a young man, like many young Zen students, I had a rather looking-down-on view of Pure Land, which I associated with ignorant superstitions of lay people. It took me many years to see the rich, deep truths of the Pure Lands thinkings. Moreover, there is a long dialogue between Zen and Pure Land. Many great Zen thinkers in history have also studied and practiced Pure Land, and beautiful syntheses of the two schools flourished in medieval Japan. In some ways, Zen and Pure Land seem almost the opposite; Pure Land is very "ornamental" and "other-power" with pure devotion while Zen is simple, rejects conventional devotion, and is probably the most deeply "self-powered" major Mahayana school. Yet they can meet on many levels...all valid extremes collapse into the unified truth that they approach from opposite sides; such a beautiful thing to see! The basis for Zen/Pure-land unity are several. Both are all-encompassing teachings, so they naturally encompass each other. The one-pointedness and going-beyond-thought of Zen interlocks perfectly with the simplicity of the Pure Land nembutsu Buddha-name Recitation. Some approach the Nembutsu or the Pure Land visualizations as a akoan (Rinzai-Zen style). But the most beautiful is that more advanced Zen practitioners can all-at-one-blow annihilate their subtle attachments to emptiness and self-power by plunging into Pure Land. A mix of Zen and Pure Land can be so extremely sublime and powerful, this way. Because to truly annihilate the ego, you must go beyond self-power. This is possible in Zen, but how few ever achieve it! But adding pure-land will take "self-power" extremists (my natural tendency) out of their self-prisons. The Zen/pure-land mix allows both schools to overcome their limitations and soar to the ultimate peak, beyond self-power and other-power to the most important essence where all such distinctions collapse in magnificent silence...Yes, is it not a true vehicle of prajnaparamita? "beyond, beyond, wholly gone beyond," says the Heart Sutra... Vajrayana has lots of devotion, too, but my impression is that it is self-power in many senses. And its intellectualism tends to attract self-power people, I have a hunch. Perhaps you are seeking pure land for a similar reason that I was? So you see I am a great fan of pure land fusions, not only with Zen but with many other Mahayana schools...it seems Pure Land is our universal key to overcome our separations...how odd, I never expected this from such an earthy, "folksy" school...I was convinced that the odorless, colorless no-mind of Zen was the ultimate unifier...but no. Now I feel sure it is Pure Land. Pure land by itself has some extreme aspects, too, but in combination the power seems awe-bringing. And I think Pure Land is a possible future bridge between the Buddhisms and the Monotheisms...I don't mean to suggest that they use Pure Land themselves. They do not need to practice Pure Land, which fits sublimely within the Buddhist universe but doesn't make so much sense over there, I think. This is because Islam and Christianity already have their own faith in the One God that can be so powerful. They have everything they need already. BUT, pure land can show them a new way of looking at DEVOTION and WORSHIP...because its perspective is different. ANd the One God people need new ideas! Because, I deeply respect both Islam and Christianity, but most current forms seem trapped in such a limited way of seeing DEVOTION and WORSHIP...these faiths should be the masters of DEVOTION and WORSHIP; this is their birthrights, And their histories are filled with so many deep visions of these practices, too, but all so forgotten now. The One God people seem trapped to me. This is where Pure Land can serve them...it expands DEVOTION and WORSHIP in all dimensions and directions. It can bring a breath of fresh air and new ideas to help Muslims and Christians use their own faiths to find what deep down they already know. What a great gift it could be! Not to convert or to change, but to inspire, to lead them back to their original faces and then withdraw unrecognized in silence. Pure land can do it. BUT...it is not assured because it will only happen IF they wish to see in this way, and Buddhists too have a poor understanding of Pure Land. The tools are all at hand, but the will to build is missing. Pure land is robust, but its finest flower is crusted with layers of dust. Even as a Buddhist it took me years and years to see it, and it was right in front of my face. It'S so clear, so easy to use in one way, and yet...impossible to fathom; it seems truly measureless and wholly gone beyond; I stand in awe. Anyway...Some Pure-land links for you, then: 1) Excellent English links on general traditional, "orthodox-style" Pure land topics, including some book-length translations of several great Chinese classics: http://www.sinc.stonybrook.edu/Clubs/buddhism/pureland/ 2) This may be of interest to you; an 11th-century Japanese Vajrayana esoteric master looks at the "inner meaning" of the Pure Land with a vajrayana prism...this is completely beyond me. But you are vajrayana so maybe it will make better sense to you. And from me any of your insights would be welcomed: http://www12.canvas.ne.jp/horai/eso-amida.htm 3) Very good link; a short, clear essay showing how Pure Land practices have been used in various other Japanese schools: http://www.jsri.jp/English/Pureland/DOCTRINE/nembutsu.htm 4) Poems of a double Zen/Pure Land master, 12th century Japan: http://www12.canvas.ne.jp/horai/riku100.htm 5) A pure-land classic with chapter-by-chapter running commentary from a medieval Zen master (PDF FILE): http://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/monkeym.pdf 6) Lineage of the patriarchs of Japan's Shin pure land school: http://web.mit.edu/stclair/www/patriarchs.html I'd like to give you stuff on my Pure Land school, Ji-Shu, but all the English on the internet is very not much quantity and all WORTHLESS! Shoddy misunderstandings. Ji-shu is very, very delicate and subtle, cannot survive the rigors of translation. Oh well. So until a good English comes, don't bother. Hope they are of interest. Namas-te. Islamic Salvation: Thank you for the helpful and fascinating link. I shall take a close look. Zulfigur Ali: I'm glad that was of interest...look forward to speaking with you further. That's it for now; I'll check back in next week or soon thereafter, if it is to be. May all sentient beings be freed from their chains of ignorance and the endless rounds of suffering and delusion.
  2. Greetings everyone. Although it has in fact been a bit longer than a week since my last visit, I shall continue to try to check in to this thread every week or so, when possible. Please bear with me; I studied and lived in the West as a young child and young man, so I am basically familiar with English language, but it still causes troubles for me. As noted, I shall try to reply to all reasonable comments to the best of my abilities, taking up from the comments following my last post. Islamic Salvation: Thank you for your warm welcome. And thank you for the explanation of the vocabulary. I think both Islam and Buddhism have strong ethical traditions in different ways, but we should both be proud of our heritages. Each religion brings something unique to the human community. In Islam, I much admire the emphasis on "Justice," which I believe is often a weak point in Buddhist history. For example, one can see how even in the midst of difficult conditions, terrible warfare, and primitive times, Islam gave strength to the leader Salah al-Din (Salahuddin Al-Ayyubi) to reach far beyond the norms of the time and to treat the others from different cultures with shining hospitality, fairness, and respect---even when these qualities were not returned by his adversaries. Of course, he is a man, a solder and a product of his brutal era, and not a perfect being, so there are many bloody tragedies in his life. but if one takes the "dirty reality" into full account, he impresses me greatly as an example of how Islamic morality can go beyond cultural limits. Also, although humans are deeply imperfect, the zeal and devotion of Islamic legal scholars to always seeking a better sense on truth and justice is most impressive. ketza04: Thank you for your warm welcome. You asked about karma. This is an enormous topic and many people have argued over it, debated it, and evolved various theories and sub-theories...much too much to go into here. Also, I am a very bad person to ask about this because my school of Soto Zen de-emphasizes karma. By "de-emphasize" I don't mean that we deny it or say it is not true, but rather it is not the focus of our studies, and we do not spend time exploring the deep issues of this topic. So my intellectual grasp of the nuances of Karma is quite fuzzy, sadly. As noted earlier, Buddhism has three main branches (similar to the two main Sunni and Shia branches of Islam). I am from the Mahayana; the other two branches have different understandings of Karma than my tradition, and I don't have much understanding of their theories. Within the Mahayana, broadly speaking, there seem to be two major viewpoints on karma (and a number of minor ones, too). Mahayana philosophy has two major "root" perspectives from India: Yogacara and Madhyamaka ways of understanding, and understanding of karma comes from these. I should note that these are philosophical views, not schools of practice...to give an analogy from Islam, hekmat-al-eshraq (Illuminationism) is a philosophy, while Ithna Asharai ("Twelver Shia") is a doctrine of faith. Yogacara and Madhyamaka are best understood for our purposes here as types of philosophy, not schools of practice like Zen. (I am simplifying, but that will do for now). YOGACARA: To simplify grossly, Yogacara philosophy sees consciousness as the only real substance in the universe, with everything being an illusion arising from consciousness. This includes time and space. Consciousness is unified at the most fundamental layer, where all is one. In individuals, karma arises from "seeds" that are planted in a deep level of the "store consciousness" by our various actions (good and bad), attitudes, and ways of seeing. This is a deep level that goes beyond a single lifetime. Within a single lifetime, a shallower layer of "habit energy" conditions us...similar to the way additions control the behavior of the addict, the habit energy we build up (good or bad) influences what happens to us in this particular life. MADHYAMIKA: This philosophical perspective arises from the great Indian thinker Nargajuna and his various successors. This is a very difficult perspective to understand, so I can't explain it here in detail, but it is rooted in the idea that no thing exists apart from all other things. That is, no thing has a true "essence" or inner nature in a real sense, and all things exist in universal interdependence on each other. A simple analogy I use to understand this is to consider a dictionary. If you look up the definition for one word, it leads you to other words, and if you look them up, they lead to other words, etc...there is no "root word" that defines all the words in the dictionary. Words can only be defined using other words. And yet, although there is no "core," words and dictionaries are quite useful and real. Extending this principle, all things exist through other things. This Madhyamaka way is the philosophy of *emptiness* (shunyata), in the sense that all things are empty of separate core selves, or "empty of impossible ways of being." Even consciousness (which Yogacara sees as a core) is ultimately an illusion for Madhyamaka; there is not core reality anywhere. and this has many, many different implications for philosophy, ethics, world-view, etc. In this view, pain and suffering arise when we treat one of these interdependent "things" as having a separate essence or reality when in fact it does not. In terms of Karma, there seem to be different Madhyamaka ways of treating it, but one idea I find useful is to consider waves of the ocean. One wave rises and falls, and the energy gives rise to another. It is not the "same" wave...the molecules of water and the new location are different, and yet they are both connected and the same energy travels through the ocean in a wave pattern. Perhaps in this sense, "your" karma is not really "yours", but goes on to effect a different life...yet a life that is connected to you by the fact that you conditioned it. Anyway, these are very difficult topics. But perhaps you can see how these two ideas (Yogacara and Madhyamaka) have had many philosophical arguments in Buddhist history, and arguments have arisen within each theory, too. There have been attempts to bridge them, and there are other philosophical perspectives like tathagartagarba, but I could go on forever so I have to stop somewhere. As to the question "where did it all come from?" There is no definite answer...another question Guatama Buddha refused to answer. For the Yogacara people, if time is an illusion of consciousness, any origin is also an illusion and the question has no meaning, like asking "what is one mile north of the north pole?" For the Madhyamaka people, there is no beginning and no end because at the most important level, there is nothing happening and nobody for it to happen to. Our painful tangled misunderstanding is empty of ultimate meaning, and our philosophical questions are like asking: "what does the color red taste like?" This question is grammatically possible, but has no real meaning. So, too, perhaps many of our questions about time, space, beginnings, and ends. These are complex questions, but they don't have to be. Above, I noted that my school of Soto Zen avoids complex philosophical debates like this and discourages (while not forbidding) deep involvement with these types of ideas. I don't spend much time worrying about yogacara versus madhyamika...my master taught me that this takes energy away from simply practicing meditation. which should be my true goal. So for me, the basic original simple explanation given by Guatama Buddha is enough. This is the same way it is explained for 2500 years to laymen and children, the first teaching accepted by all branches of Buddhism. Guatama Buddha's early teaching is that karma plays out in a series of lifes within an illusory realm of fundamental suffering*, driven by greed, fear, and ignorance...of which ignorance is the most fundamental. We escape the endless rounds of craving and pain by overcoming our ignorance and going beyond greed and fear. For almost 20 years of practice, that's I really have ever needed to know about the issue. * "suffering" : the word Buddha used was "duhkha", a Pali word from India that is closer to "unsatisfactory" than the strong English word "suffering." Many Buddhists don't like to use the words "life is suffering." But the Japanese translation word from thousands of years ago is "kuu," which means suffering and deep pain, like the English translation. Because I am Japanese, this darker sense of Buddhism is my cultural perspective, as understood for many many centures on these islands. TO BE CONTINUED BELOW with replies to other posters
  3. Thank you, everyone, for your posts and warm welcomes. I'm sorry not to have replied sooner. I plan to stop by here at least once or twice a week, , and I will try to reply to all specific questions and issues when possible. Pheer: Thank you for your warm welcome. --About meditation: This is a very central part of all types of Buddhism. This is the way Buddhism's founder, Guatama Buddha, found his spiritual enlightenment, He made it a core part of his basic teachings, and it is a central path for all Buddhists. So it is very important to us. However, there are so many different styles and types of meditation...too many to describe here. Personally, my school of Soto Zen emphasizes meditation more than even most other Buddhist schools. We practice what is called "shikantaza meditation," meaning "just sitting" with no thoughts. We seek to gradually awaken to the true nature of reality and reach a state of pure existence by going beyond all thoughts and feelings. Other meditation styles of different types of Buddhism make more use of chanting, repeated mantras, prayer, visualization exercises, physical actions, and even martial arts or tea rituals. Many, many choices. My Soto School is very "pure" and simple in its strict focus on simply sitting with no thoughts, and we avoid more complex practices. Ji-shu, the other Buddhist school I have studied in depth, focuses on repeating the Nembutsu (a certain set of holy words). --About the Dalai Lama: He is the head of a Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhist tradition. In the same way Islam has two major branches (Shia and Sunni), Buddhism has three (Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana). My tradition is Mahayana, so I've never studied the Dalai Lama's type of Buddhism. But I respect him as a sincere religious man trying to bring peace to the world. Zulfiqar Ali: Thank you for your warm welcome. --About the topic of God: The topic of God is very subtle and "slippery" in Buddhism. However, this issue is very central and clearly defined in Islam, so I will discuss it in some detail here. Originally, the existence and nature of God were among the "Fourteen Unanswerable Questions" that Buddhism's founder, Gautama Buddha, refused to answer. He saw his mission as to heal suffering and to teach people inner liberation. He believed that questions about God simply were not part of this mission, and thus should not even be discussed in Buddhism. Therefore, Buddhism originally takes an open-ended position on this topic. To my mind, I would say that this means from a Buddhist perspective that it is possible to believe in and worship the One God of Islam and, at the same time, also follow the path of Gautama Buddha. (This is probably forbidden by most Islamic perspectives, however), As history moved forward, different Buddhist schools and teachers developed different ideas about with God. For example, old Shinto Japanese Gods were incorporated in some Japanese Buddhist schools when Buddhism came to Japan, and they are accepted as a kind of spiritual being. The "Adi Buddha" is seen by some branches of Buddhism as a primordial creative force that underlies all things. This has often been said as a possible equivalent to the One God of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Another issue: Buddhism has many "manifestations" of different types of "figures" that appear in different ways on different levels of reality. To simplify, they serve as objects of meditation, representing in abstract, perfect form various qualities that humans should aspire to. These are not "Gods" in the Islamic/Christian/Jewish sense, but these One-God religions had no understanding of this subtle concept originally, the English word "Gods" was used to translate this idea. This was a big mistake...we do not view them as "Gods." But language is difficult, and ideas become fixed and hard to change. My school of Soto Zen has no position on the topic of God, and leaves the issue open. We say, "many roads, one mountain," We believe that all sincere seekers of every major religion are pursuing the same ultimate experience ("the mountain's peak") by different ways ("many roads"). Thus, I believe the worship of Islam's One God can lead to the same spiritual purity as our Zen goal of "satori" (ultimate spiritual experience). faisal: Thank you for your warm welcome. I look forward to sharing ideas and learning from everyone here. I agree with you, Islam and Buddhism have many, many things in common, although I don't know the word "akhlak." But at the center, both serious Buddhists and serious Muslims set out on a powerful journey towards a better way of being. We both make the serious decision to submit completly (I like the meaning of Islam as "submit" very much). We both bow before a more sacred reality beyond our individual small, imperfect minds. And we all seek to become better, more moral humans. This makes a shared foundation that unites us deeply as religious humans. Dr. Strangelove: Thank your for your warm welcome. It makes me happy that you can find love for our teachings, which are my deepest love in life. And also (I assume) you love and respect the teachings of Islam. I think both are possible, and I hope we can learn from each other together.
  4. Greetings. I am a Buddhist in Tokyo, Japan. I am starting this thread as a place for interfaith dialogue, centred mostly on Buddhism and Islam. I approach this community with an attitude of respect and shared humanity, with a desire to learn more from you and with you with an open mind, not to change you. Although not a Muslim, I am not concerned with preaching, converting, or changing your minds. I will be checking this thread from time to time, so if I don't reply immdiately, please be patient. A bit about myself... For the last 17 years I have studied and practiced Buddhism in Japan under the auspices of both the Soto-shu ("Zen") and Ji-shu ("Time School") traditions. Ji-Shu is a Pure Land school that is relatively unknown outside of Japan, founded here in the 13th century AD by the teacher Ippen. Soto Zen in Japan was founded by the teacher Dogen, and is perhaps more familiar to peoples throughout the world. For the last few years, while retaining my Buddhist roots and practices, I have been conducting an exhaustive, rigorous study of various other world faiths and disciplines, focusing on what unites us all as religious people, rather than what divides us. Although not a Muslim, I have come to have an enormous amount of respect for and interest in the noble Shia tradition. In particular, I have been interested recently in the "Peak of Eloquence," the inner spiritual significance of Karbala and Ashura, Shia views of the Mahdi, the disciplines of "Irfan," and the thought of Mullah Sadra, among other areas. I will be happy to discuss Buddhism, Islam, or any other faith in this thread. Whatever your faith (or lack thereof), may you find peace and happiness in this world and afterwards, as well. I wish you good health and deep satisfaction in all that you do. May peace and justice prevail here on this small, fragile planet Earth.
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