Buddhism Chan Pure Land

Emptying The Hells

Ksitigarbha, the Earth Store Bodhisattva pictured above, vowed many eons ago that as long as any beings remain in any of the hells, he will go there to save them and will not attain supreme enlightenment until he has emptied the hells. war.jpgThese days, as fire rains from the heavens over a tiny strip of land in the middle east, hell is a reality for many. There are those of us, who experience hell continuously, without pauses, and when the pressure cooker finally can take the pressure no more (and this happens every few years) – we all get to catch a glimpse into this hell realm.

Granted, most of us have the privilege of watching these events from a comfortable distance. And from this distance it’s very easy to make judgments to either side depending on your inclinations. Yes, I too become a political pundit and security expert each time the wars of those greedy, hungry ghosts that run things from up high suddenly penetrate into my daily life, through the TV screen, or through the window.

Master Hsuan Hua, when he came to the US to teach, before there was much Buddhism there, created a teaching specially for his American students, called The Six Great Guiding Principles and the first among them was “No Fighting”.

6principles.jpg

So what now, pacifism? Should we all just wrap ourselves in white and crawl to the nearest cemetery? Well, not quite.

“No Fighting” is one translation, but Rev. Heng Sure pointed out that the first principle can also be translated as “No Contention”. Our lack mentality, encouraged by the economy of greed and pain-numbing in our society, tells us: “I have to win. It’s me or them- there ain’t enough for both of us. Besides, they can’t be trusted – they’ll say anything to make us believe them. If I let my guard down, they’ll finish me. Homo homini lupus.” These, dear friends, are not the product of rational thinking as we would like to believe. These are thoughts brought on by one thing: fear.

Believe it or not, even a terrorist is just a person who wants to be happy, same as you and I. But this person’s karma, life’s circumstances – social, environmental, historical, genetic – have brought this poor person to such desperation that the only way this miserable being can come up with to put an end to the suffering is by “crushing the enemy”.

anger-fear-Antoine-Stevens
Anger-Fear, Antoine Stevens

All their fears, all the suffering and misery, all become embodied in this “enemy” and the aggression and frustration get taken out on this “perfect foe”. All in a miserable attempt to reduce the misery, to try and suffer less.

It is so easy to judge from afar, from our comfortable distance, but who will be the brave one who goes to the hells and rescue all the doomed souls therefrom, whose suffering seems to them to last for all eternity? “No Contention”. So yes, putting down the guns right now will result in each of our demises. An eye for an eye, they say, but even if we don’t take their eye, we’ll still have been left blind. But at the same time, can we perhaps, change the way we approach matters altogether? Today circumstances are what they are, that ship has sailed. But while we look for who’s to blame and who started it, we’ll be left with 11 people and a bunch of stray cats in a pile of dust and rubble.

winningSo before we doom this little piece of land in the middle east for the sake of “being right”, maybe we can stop trying to come out on top, stop trying to “win”. And then, maybe we can look around and see that all around us we’re surrounding by a bunch of suffering beings, just like ourselves, who are just trying to be happy and free from suffering, and whose circumstances push them, just like they do us, to search for this happiness in the most idiotic, ridiculous ways. So before trying to lay down the guns in vain once again, this time let’s start by fixing our own mind, our own thinking. And then continue from there, and take another step. And then another.

If you’re brave enough, make this aspiration with me:

May all beings be free from suffering, and until they do, may I not attain supreme enlightenment, and come back again and again, until all the hells have been completely emptied!

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My first major influence was my grandmother Chaviva Dimenstein, who taught me violin. Even when I switched to guitar, because the violin was annoying to me, and finally to double bass, she still spent many hours every day helping me get better at music. In addition to her, I was blessed to study with many more great teachers, a rare thing to find. Most of them were not bass players at all, but supreme musicians who showed me the most important thing- we don’t learn music in order to play an instrument; we learn an instrument in order to play music. When I started to study Buddhism, I soon found out the same principle applies. Meditation cannot stand apart from daily life. I have been practicing Buddhadharma since about 2008. I started out in a Theravada context, again learning from outstandingly inspiring teachers, then I practiced some Zen, and now I study and practice Vajrayana (Kagyu) and Chan Buddhism (Linji Lineage of HsuYun). My highest aspiration and greatest inspiration is the actual pursuit of happiness- that means my own happiness as well as that of all others.

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