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Buddhadharma : Spri 2007
spring 2007| 60 |buddhadharma Embracing Our Foolish Being What we usually regard as failure, loss, and pain may seem negative because we have a limited view of ourselves, based on our preconceptions and attachments to ideas of who we think we are or should be. As the ancient Daoist master Zhuangzi states, If a man sleeps in a damp place, his back aches and he ends up half paralyzed, but is this true of a loach? If he lives in a tree, he is terrified and shakes with fright, but is this true of a monkey? Of these three creatures, then, which one knows the proper place to live? ... Men claim that Maoqiang and Lady Li were beautiful, but if fish saw them they would dive to the bottom of the ocean, if birds saw them they would fly away, and if deer saw them they would break into a run. Of these four, which knows how to fix the standard of beauty for the world?1 We label things good and bad, desirable and unde- sirable, based on our limited understanding, but when we become free of our fixed labels, then all things become potentially meaningful and are embraced in the great flow of life. Consider the case of Dr. Temple Grandin, associate professor of animal sciences at Colo- rado State University. She has a condition, usu- ally given the label of autism, that makes social interaction very challenging, but she has grown through her struggles – struggles that have led her to her current work.2 She cannot sense and decode complex human emotions like most people can, but she has an acute awareness of animal emo- tions, which are generally simpler and purer. She has developed deep empathy with animals such as cows and pigs and has worked to have them treated as humanely as possible. Sensing the fear that animals experience as they enter the slaugh- terhouse, she has invented a curved entry into the slaughterhouse that keeps each animal from seeing the fate of the one in front it. Now, fully one- third of slaughterhouses in the United States have adopted this curved shoot. Some might argue that if she really felt empathy for these animals, she would be a vegetarian and work to convince others to be vegetarians. Perhaps this is so. Yet her approach is in some ways close to that of Shinran (1173 – 1262), the first and foremost teacher of the Shin Buddhist path. In Shinran’s time, there were farmers, fishermen, butchers, and grave diggers, many of whom relied on taking the lives of other beings or of benefiting from their deaths for their own livelihood. Recognizing how he was implicated in the suffering of the world, Shinran chose to become one with all beings rather than set himself apart from them. In this way, he could share with them the path of Amida Buddha’s com- passion, through which each being is also gradually transformed into a vessel of compassion. Amida Buddha (from the Sanskrit, Amitabha Buddha) means the Awakened One of Infinite Light, but to express its dynamic character, it can be understood as the awakening of infinite light. Shin Buddhism focuses on the practice of inton- ing the name of Amida Buddha.3 Namu Amida Butsu means roughly, “I entrust myself to Amida Buddha.” Turning bad into good, tenmaku jozen, is at the heart of the Pure Land path, in which the limited self of foolish being is transformed into the bound- less compassion of Amida. Like Temple Grandin, it may be that ordinary human beings can sometimes be insensitive to the feelings of others, but unlike her, we may not yet be aware of our shortcom- ings. To the degree that we become aware that we are foolish beings, we are illuminated by bound- less compassion. Namu is “foolish being”; Amida Butsu is “boundless compassion.” Amida walks with us step-by-step, as it were, as we discover our foolishness. Namu Amida Butsu is the expression of foolish being coming to be embraced, resolved, and dissolved in the limitless flow of Amida’s pri- mal vow, which is the vow to realize the oneness of ego-self and Amida-self, the oneness of all beings in the ocean of compassion. Cultivating Beginnner’s Mind, Returning to Foolish Being It is one thing to understand the working of shin- jin, of true entrusting in the primal vow, at an intellectual level and even to have some feeling for the way it unfolds. However, it is difficult to live in the continual awareness of Amida’s compas- sion. We may gain some understanding by further study, but the continual sense of openness to the limitless possibilities of life is virtually impossible to maintain. As Shunryu Suzuki states, In Japan we have the phrase shoshin, which means “beginner’s mind.” The goal of practice is always to keep our beginner’s mind. Suppose you recite the Prajnaparamita Sutra only once. It might be a very good recitation. But what would happen to you if you recite it twice, three times, four times, or more? You might easily lose your original attitude toward it. The same thing will happen in your other Zen practices. For a while you will keep your beginner’s mind, but if you continue to practice one, two, three years or more, although you may improve some, you are liable to lose the limitless meaning of original mind. ... If your mind is empty, it is always ready for any- thing; it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s there are few. 4 This does not mean that we should forget every- thing and become raw beginners. Rather, the true expert is the one who makes use of her knowledge without becoming attached to it. Approaching 1 Burton Watson, trans., Zhuangzi: Basic Writings (Columbia University Press, 2003), p. 41 . 2 Temple Grandin, Thinking in Pictures (Vintage, 1995). 3 Usually, we think of a name as something like a label that we give to something. In Mahayana Buddhism, this view of names and of language is regarded as representing the conventional level of understanding: objectified, abstract, and static. To truly grasp the reality of a nameorideaistoseeitat the ultimate level, wherein each name expresses the deepest reality of that which is named, as the unfolding of emptiness/ oneness. At that level, a name is not simply a label but evokes the profound web of interrelations that make that name possible in each moment, in the here and now. So truly realizing the name brings forth the whole person, or in Shin Buddhist terms, the dharmakaya, the buddha- person, who is ultimately inseparable from, and in fact is, the entire cosmos. That is why one must give oneself over to the name, or entrust oneself to the name, in order to truly realize its depths. 4 Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind (Weatherhill, 1970), p. 21.