Sunday, November 3, 2013

Devotion in Buddhism: Faith Mind Verses

Dhr. Seven, Roshi Jeff Albrizze, CC Liu, Wisdom Quarterly; Sengcan (Sosan Zenji), Third Zen Patriarch in China; Ven. Nyanaponika Thera, Devotion in Buddhism; Tulsi from Sweden
Devotion (saddha) is rampant in Theravada Thailand (Katherine Neumann/
Zen zero in part symbolizing emptiness or shunyata, impersonality (
Mahayana novices (
The Great Way is not difficult for those who do not pick and choose. When love and hate are both absent, everything becomes clear and undisguised. Make the smallest distinction, however, and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart. If one wishes to see the truth then hold no opinions for or against anything. To set up what we like against what we dislike is the disease of the mind. When the deep meaning of things is not understood, the mind's essential peace is disturbed to no avail.
The Way is perfect like vast space where nothing is lacking and nothing is in excess. Indeed, it is due to our choosing to accept or reject that we do not see the true nature of things. Live neither in the entanglements of outer things nor in the inner feeling of emptiness. Be serene in the oneness of things, and such erroneous views will disappear by themselves. When we try to stop activity to achieve passivity, our very effort fills us with activity. As long as we remain in one extreme or the other, we will never know Oneness.

O Zen empty spot, there is nothing you are...
Those who do not live in the single Way fail in both activity and passivity, assertion and denial. To deny the reality of things is to miss their reality; to assert the emptiness of things is [also] to miss their reality. The more we talk and think about it, the further astray we wander from the truth. Stop talking and thinking, and there is nothing we will not be able to know. To return to the root is to find the meaning, but to pursue appearances is to miss the source. At the moment of inner enlightenment, there is a going beyond appearance and emptiness. The changes that appear to occur in the empty world we call real only because of our ignorance. Do not search for the truth; only cease to cherish opinions.

Devotion in Chinatown, the Buddha's Tooth Relic Temple (Goderic Tia/flickr)
Devotion in [Theravada] Buddhism
Ven. Nyanaponika Thera (edited by Wisdom Quarterly)
Theravada candles, Burma (Nadia Isakova/flickr)
The Buddha repeatedly discouraged any excessive veneration paid to him personally.

He knew that an excess of purely emotional devotion can obstruct or disturb the development of a balanced character and may thus become a serious obstacle to progress on the path to liberation.
The history of religion has since proved him right, as illustrated by the extravagances of emotional mysticism East and West.
The sutras or conventional discourses relate the story of one monk, Ven. Vakkali, who full of devotion and love for the Buddha, was ever desiring to behold the Teacher physically. The Buddha told him: "What shall it profit you to see this impure body? One who sees the Dharma sees me."
The Buddha reclining into final nirvana, Vietnamese monument (Wisdom Quarterly)
Shortly before the Buddha passed into final nirvana, he said: "If a monastic or devout layperson lives in accordance with the Dharma, is well conducted in life, walks in line with the Dharma -- it is that person who rightly [and most highly] honors, reveres, venerates, and holds sacred the Enlightened One (Tathagata) with the worthiest kind of honor."
A true and deep understanding of the Dharma, together with conduct that conforms to that understanding -- these are vastly superior to any external act of homage or mere emotional devotion. That is the instruction conveyed by these two teachings of the Buddha.
Vajrayana puja (
It would be a mistake to conclude that the Buddha disparaged a reverential and devotional attitude of mind when it is the natural outflow of a correct understanding and a deep admiration of what is great and noble.

It would also be a grievous error to believe that the "seeing of the Dharma" (spoken of in the first saying) is identical with a mere intellectual appreciation and purely conceptual grasp of the doctrine.

Such a one-sided and abstract approach to the very concrete message of the Buddha all too often leads to intellectual smugness. In its barrenness it will certainly not be a substitute for the strong and enlivening impulse imparted by a deep-felt devotion to what is known to be great, noble, and exemplary.

Devotion, being a facet and natural accompaniment of confidence (saddha, conviction, trust), is a necessary factor in the "balance of faculties" (indriya-samata) required for final liberation.

Devotion (GeordieDiary2012/flickr)
Confidence, in all its aspects, including the devotional, is needed to resolve any stagnation and other shortcomings resulting from a one-sided development of intellectual faculties. Such development often tends to turn around in circles endlessly, without being able to effect a breakthrough.
Here, devotion, confidence, and faith -- all aspects of the Pali term saddha -- may be able to give quick and effective help. More
Vajrayana: 100,000 Prostrations
Himalayan Buddhism or Vajrayana ("Diamond or Thunderbolt Vehicle") in Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, Northern India, and Mongolia has a particularly devotional and magic-oriented approach to developing the Mahayana path or "Great Way."

This is in evidence on treks to Mt. Kailash (see below) in Tibet as well as at the Buddha's "Great Enlightenment" (Maha Bodhi) shrine in Bodh Gaya, Bihar state, India.
Tibet (Wonderlane/flickr)
Tibetan devotees armed with a board and protective hand paddles stand and bow, prostrating 100,000 times. The arduous effort clears the mind, purifies (at least temporarily) the heart, and strengthens resolve to follow the adamantine way.

A great deal of reverence may go to special gurus, Himalayan shamans, Bon wizards/sorcerers, and famous writers like Jetsun Milarepa (The Hundred Thousands Songs of Realization) and the various Dalai Lamas and the incarnations of a variety of rinpoches.
What are prostrations and why bow?
Tulsi from Sweden (edited by Wisdom Quarterly)
Tulsi from Sweden explains Buddhist bowing
A prostration is a gesture that overtly proclaims: "A state of being vastly greater than my present self exists. I truly admire and seek that condition. Here is a symbol of it before me. Thus do I signify utmost honor and respect, both for the goal itself and all those who precede me to it."
Why bow? Buddhism is a practice not a faith. It is almost like a second career. Buddhists learn very specialized skills, including the use of many tools. The largest classification of these tools are lumped together under the term "meditation." For the most part these tools are rather subtle, delicate, and specific in their purpose, like an array of precise surgical instruments.
Introspective methods scope out certain problem areas of the mind/heart. Skillfully employed these can map out every tiny grain and sliver of delusion yet remaining. They must be dealt with, each according to its kind. Some may have to be rooted out by use of one tool or another. Others we might choose to dissolve in place. The more skillful operator even has a few rare and wonderful tools to transform them into something beneficial. Of all these tools available, each just right for a certain task.
Another use for shiny smooth wood monastery floors -- sleigh riding!

What if the problem is really big? What if instead of a minor negative karmic propensity, the problem needing to be addressed is an iron-hard knot of ego? It might be carved away with a magnifying glass and a scalpel. But that might take rather long, and all the while it might be growing... In such a case, why not go at it with tongs and hammer: hold it fast, take deliberate aim, and pound away with measured strength until it softens into a state of useful malleability? Is there a tool for that? Of course.
Tools have a secondary function also. Ego is clever and hides. Prostration helps flush it out. All I ever have to do is a few, and up it pops, virtually shouting: "Hey, hey, hey! What's all this? It's humiliating. Don't do this! People are watching. Stop it right now!" At that instant one may come to know right where ego is. How many hours might one have to sit for this kind of report? Having lured ego from its lair, we are a shade or two less vulnerable to its assaults and deceptions.
Ego would rather that we not know it exists. It much prefers to masquerade as "self" instead. When we make it show itself, the veil is lifted. We can stare it right in the face. We are by no means one and the same, which is very good to know. Prostration is bait that ego simply cannot resist. It is one of its weaknesses, which makes it an easy way to attack it, over and over and over again.

Tibetan Buddhist devotees traveling, doing prostrations every few steps all along the way, to the 2002 Kalachakra initiation -- from Werner Herzog's film "Wheel of Time" (Rad der Zeit).

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