The 2001 Maida Center Summer Retreat
by Joanie Martinez, West Covina Buddhist Temple
Recently, Johnny and I went to the Maida Center Summer Retreat in Berkely. Peter Hata has been a regular participant but could not attend this year (Lotus Band commitment), and was very much missed by the others. Joanne Ishibashi-Jung went last year and was also very enthusiastic about it. Those of you who attended West Covinas own retreat with speaker Dr. Nobuo Haneda (founder of the Maida Center) can probably understand why Peter has continued to go back each summer. The Buddhist concepts are so clear in Dr. Hanedas mind that he is able to simplify them for us, making it meaningful and more understandable. Personally, I find that the Buddhist terms, concepts, and paradoxes can be very difficult to understand. Dr. Hanedas use of analogies, comparing and contrasting, and providing relevant social, historical, religious context, etc. has all helped to clarify my understanding a little more each time. Not all scholars can effectively communicate to others what they themselves have come to understand; so I do feel fortunate that I am living in the same lifetime as Dr. Haneda, and that I have the opportunity to listen to him from time to time. We were doubly fortunate because Rev. Patti Nakai , another wonderful and interesting speaker, was also there and gave a fascinating presentation on Shinrans Dreams and Demons. By the way, the theme of this years retreat was The Life and Thought of Shinran Shonin. Among my many pages of notes, this is the story that I would like to share.
Once there was a boy who went hiking in the mountains with his dad. In his excitement, he runs ahead to explore on his own. Before long, he is not just separated from his dad, but he is lost, only he doesnt know he is really lost. He is still comfortably playing and exploring in the woods. After a while, however, he realizes that he hasnt seen or heard his dad. He calls out, but there is no response and he becomes scared. Now realizing that he is indeed lost, he desperately tries to find a way out and find his dad.
The more desperate he gets, it seems the more lost he is, as he goes deeper and deeper into the mountains, going this way and that. He is totally exhausted and in total despair, believing that he will never find his dad. He thinks that he will just die there. Up to this point, the boy had been frantically listening to his own voice on which way to go. Now he is physically exhausted, emotionally spent, and with nothing left, collapses on the ground. It is now, though, that he becomes attentive to the outside, and for the first time he truly listens. He thinks he hears a voice...his dads voice calling him, reaching him. Because of that possibility and hope, he suddenly finds himself with the strength and motivation to stand. He then rushes towards the voice of his dad.
This story is symbolic of three stages in Shinrans life: Stage 1Wrongly Determined Stage;
Stage 2Indeterminate Stage;
Stage 3Rightly Determined Stage.
Stage 1 - Wrongly Determined Stage
Boy lost and doesnt know it (Deluded and unaware); this is also analogous to Youre ignorant but you dont know youre ignorant. Shinran spent 20 years on Mt. Hiei intensively practicing zen meditation, circumambulation, and various other Tendai practices believing it would lead him to Buddhahood. This is self-initiated or self-based practice vs. hongan- based practice. (Tendai was the major religious practice at that time. Nichiren, Dogen, and Honen all had Tendai roots, as well.)
Stage 2 - Indeterminate Stage
Boy lost and knows hes lost (Deluded and aware); this is also analogous to being ignorant and knowing youre ignorant. Shinran realized that he was at a dead end, and that for all his intensive efforts, his practices were futile and did not help to liberate him. It made him even more miserable. He felt, though, that it was better to be aware of your lostness or ignorance because you at least have a chance. In other words, though he was still lost, not knowing which way to go or what to do, he at least knew what didnt work for him.
Boy exhausted and in total despair (Deluded and in despair): Frustrated and depressed because he couldnt realize Buddhahood, Shinran gives up his own self-attached efforts at practice and leaves Mt. Hiei after 20 years. He is considered a drop-out of this Tendai university, but is ready to truly listen for the first time.
Stage 3 - Rightly Determined Stage
Boy truly listens for the first time and goes in the direction of his dads voice; the boy, upon hearing his dad, gains insight into his lostness. This is shinjin (Deluded but listening). Shinran listens to the calling voice of Honen, his teacher. He realizes that he had been looking at Buddhahood objectively, that is, thinking that he could actualize Buddha-like qualities of wisdom, virtue, goodness, and compassion. He thought that a real Buddha was a respected teacher. He comes to recognize that self-attachment or self-love had been the basis of his practices that could not lead him to liberation. After meeting Honen, he realizes that he hadnt been looking at Buddhahood subjectively, that is, how a Buddha would see himself. Shinran was struck by Honens humility...to him, Honen was humility and manifested Buddhahood. Honen never claimed to have wisdom, and he never claimed to be a teacher...he claimed he was a student. A real Buddha is a student and respecting. It was because of his experience with Honen that Shinran, through deep self-examination and self-understanding became aware of his shallow, ignorant, conceited, or over-estimating of self nature. He awakened to the fact that he, himself, was the cause of his problems (development of Right View). He also comes to understand the reality and nature of the flow of life (impermanence) and he is humbled. At the same time, he is awakened to the fact that he is a part of that ever-changing, ever-fresh creative flow and he is energized by it. With this liberating realization, joy and power gushes out of his being. Shinran is drawn, like the boy in the story, to the calling voice of Honen, or in the direction of the power of aspiration or Hongan that is realized within himself.
Dr. Haneda pointed out that in Jodo Shinshu, the above example in Stage 3 is also known as initial birth in the Pure Land because we are just starting to listen. We continue on this path (remember the 2 rivers and the white path....its that same path) ever deepening our listening throughout our lives. Of course, this does not mean that our lives should then be filled with sunny days because of our newfound awareness. In Jodo Shinshu the reality is that the dark clouds and storms (our deluded views, ignorance, problems, etc.) will always be there. Some things can be broken, but not everything can be eliminated (no magic or mysticism in Buddhism). However, Dr. Haneda explained that through continuous deep listening, these clouds can be transformed, like night becoming day or darkness destroyed by light, one of Shinrans examples of shinjin. The important thing is to continue in the direction, like the boy who keeps on going towards his dads voice, or Shinran listening to the calling voice of Honen, or like any of us listening to our teachers voices or to the Dharma that reaches out to guide us. He stated that it is through deep listening that I can understand and gain deep insight into myself. Dr. Haneda feels that this practice of self-examination and deep understanding of ourselves is Jodo Shinshus contribution to the world. It is the core of the Tannisho, which is a record of Shinrans words to clarify his teachings, and the most important aspect of liberation. In doing so, it enables us to appreciate the light of shinjin until our final birth in the Pure Land, which is at the moment we pass away.
After some serious Dharma listening, we enjoyed good food and good new friends at a barbeque held at the Maida Center on the last day. Dr. Haneda makes his own fig jam (we had this for breakfast on bagels and cream cheese), as well as his own plum wine. Both were delicious! Gary Nakai (Rev. Pattis husband) invented a tofu machine, so for the first time I tried extra-fresh just-made tofu, which even without shoyu tasted good (http://www.ri-tofu.com). We were entertained on another day by a couple of participants who also happen to be talented musicians who played the harmonica and piano. About 30 participants came from Chicago, Utah, Hawaii, Southern California, and the Bay area. Because of the diversity of this group, as well as it not being predominantly Japanese-American, I left with a feeling of the universality of Jodo Shinshu, and with a hope for its continued growth here in America.
The 2001 Maida Center Summer Retreat
by Jon and Linda Turner
Facing a deep spiritual crisis, Shinran Shonin was desperate. He knew of only two paths. One was self-purification and the other was death. Both held out no hope of awakening for him. The harder he tried to purify himself the more impurities he found within himself. He was heading in the wrong direction but he did not know why. Shinran Shonin had to find another option. It was then that he met Honen Shonin.
Honen Shonin was a follower of the "Pure Land Way" (Jodo Shu). He taught that awakening is based on a path of understanding and not on a path of practice. It was so simple. The traditional religious paradigm had merely been reversed. Buddhism was not a religion of good works but a religion of grace. At that moment, Shinran Shonin realized that during his 20 years at Mt. Hiei he had been trying to acquire merit motivated by his own self-love. This was his moment of clarity. This was not only "the true essence of the Pure Land Way" (Jodo Shinshu) but also of Buddhism itself. Shinran Shonin realized that a practice based on self-love could never lead to selflessness.
His goal now was not to be extraordinary but to be extra ordinary. This flash of inspiration came to Shinran Shonin from somewhere beyond his calculating mind. He realized that the source of his problems was due to his self over estimation. The whole notion that his flawed self could purify itself was fundamentally flawed. He gave up trying to pull himself up by his own bootstraps. His awakening had to depend on something beyond the self.
Shinran Shonin now had peace of mind. He knew that his path was now rightly determined based on a power beyond the self. The Dharma was pulling him towards awakening rather than it being acquired by his own efforts. Now the Right View was possible. Shinran Shonin could now look deeply within himself without being afraid of what he might find. When you can see yourself more clearly, then you can see the world around you more clearly. The only statements one can make in Buddhism are those in the first person singular form. A deep understanding of self is most important.
Shinran Shonin was now completely free. However, the fundamental truth that he experienced was beyond the limitations of words and concepts. The only way to express his experience was through the use of paradoxes. Paradoxes can lead to a deeper understanding as you roll them around and around in your mind over a long period of time. They are very much like koans. The most famous of these paradoxes is the 18th vow of the Larger Sutra.
However, paradoxes can be very confusing if you do not know that they are paradoxes. Contributing to this confusion is the difference in terms and metaphors used by Shinran Shonin compared with those used by Shakyamuni. Though these differences can be easily explained by the separation of these two teachers by time, geography and language, it can be daunting to a newcomer.
Shinran Shonin also never intended to start a new school called Jodo Shinshu. In fact, he never saw himself as a teacher. He was merely a student trying to learn what made Buddha the Buddha. In a sense, Shinran Shonin rewrote Buddhist history. No longer did the Buddha create Buddhism; it was Buddhism that created the Buddha. Impermanence and the deep yearning in Man to relate the finite to the infinite have existed since the beginningless beginning. This yearning is called Hongan, the desire to find meaning. This is the birthright of Man. It comes for free. There is nothing to do.
This idea of "nothing to do" is sometimes referred to as "No Practice" but this does not mean that you do not have to do anything. This is because there are two kinds of practices. There is right practice and there is wrong practice. Right practice is the practice that is generated beyond the calculating mind due to understanding. This understanding comes from merely learning the Dharma. When you walk in the rain you get wet. You do not need to worry about getting wet once you make the decision and effort to go out into the rain.
The realization occurs in the here and now. Once on the path, your destination is assured. This is the path of the Bodhisattva. This is Mahayana Buddhism. We are incapable of ridding ourselves of our ego but deep understanding of the Dharma helps loosen its hold. It is as if a very dark and cloudy night has been illuminated by the sunlight of the Dharma. The ominous dark clouds never go away but over time they do break up a bit. With this sunlight, we are no longer frightened of the clouds. They are just clouds. They are neither good nor bad. They just are.
This is what we do at the Maida Center during the yearly summer retreat. We sit and listen to Dr. Nobuo Haneda and Rev. Patti Naki talk about Buddhism. The retreat is held every year during the last weekend in July. It starts Friday night and ends Sunday at noon. The retreat runs smoothly due to the efforts of Dr. Hanedas wife, Tomoko. It is a wonderful way to spend a summer weekend.
However, this year was a bit different. This year we also heard the voiceless voice of Rev. Saito. He was the third teacher at past retreats but he died earlier this year. About 40 people attended this retreat and they came from all over America. But those from Chicago who had studied with Rev. Saito were visibly shaken. Some even had trouble saying his name without crying.
This is the most poignant eulogy, a eulogy beyond words and concepts.