Happy Thought

不思量底   / fu shi ryo tei / Think not-thinking.
如何思量   / nyo ka shi ryo / How do you think not-thinking?
これ非思量なり  / ko re hi shi ryo nari / Beyond thinking.

These three famous sentences in Dogen Zenji’s Fukanzazengi are quoted from a dialogue between the Chinese Zen master Yaoshan Weiyan (751-834) and one of his students:

When Yaoshan was sitting, a monk asked him,
“What do you think when you sit?”
The master said, “I think of not-thinking.”
The monk asked, “How do you think of not-thinking?”
The master said, “Beyond thinking.”

非思量   / hi shi ryo, in particular, has been the subject of much discussion and speculation, and English translations vary: “Non-thinking” / “Different from thinking” / “Letting thoughts go” / “Be Before Thinking”. But the most common rendering is “Beyond thinking”. In general, this seems to refer to a non-preferential approach to thought processes as practiced in zazen; we are encouraged neither to suppress our thoughts nor to pursue them, and to just let them come and go. Yet the word beyond can easily lead to the idea that some magical, mystical state of consciousness is intended – and I don’t think that this is the case.

不思量底   / fu shi ryo is relatively easy: fu is a negation, although here it does not necessarily mean to imply the absence of thoughts. It is the function of our mind to produce thoughts, and just like the surface of water will never be completely still, there is always going to be some thought activity – even if we are not conscious of it. According to one translation, fu shi ryo can also be read as “think the unthinkable”. In other words, direct your attention to what cannot be captured by thoughts – the one who produces those thoughts. But, of course, the next question is: how to do that?

これ非思量なり  / ko re hi shi ryo nari is the conclusive answer from the master. Hi is also a negation, but more with the connotation of: “anti-”, “against”, “in opposition to”, etc. And, in my view, this refers directly to another important line in the Fukanzazengi: 回光返照  / turn your own light inward, which is also a quote from older scriptures. If we really turn our own light inward, we do not go with the flow of thoughts but we go against it; rather than busying ourselves with following or suppressing thoughts, we take them as a starting point and return to their source. So, Yaoshan’s answer becomes a question: who am I before any thought arises?

When we really turn our own light inward, all notions about inward or outward vanish and the mind connects seamlessly with the whole universe. However, we had to go so-called ‘inward’ to experience this. And, according to the Surangama Sutra, by doing this, we are miraculously freed from the conditioned patterns that usually keep our senses – including our cognitive faculty – firmly in their grip. Rather than being the victim of our thoughts, we suddenly become the master!

Consequently, our thinking becomes more and more creative. Thoughts don’t gang up against us anymore but line up and co-operate. Just like Kanzeon, after having cleared her acoustic faculty, can hear the cries of the world and respond to them directly, so too can our thinking process become an important tool for Bodhisattva activity.

What a happy thought!

Transparent Life

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Last month I was suddenly hit by a strong sense of nostalgia. In general, my thoughts seem to be more directed towards the future than the past; we are such pioneers in Buddhism and I often feel as if our main job is to develop a practice model for the next generation. But, of course, the month of December lends itself quite naturally to reflecting on the days gone by. And, in my case, getting older may have something to do with it too: there is just more and more to look back on.

Looking back is something that seems to happen to most of us quite often during zazen. Memories can come up any time, both happy and unhappy ones. In fact, one of the functions of zazen is to digest those memories – if necessary, over and over again – so that we at some point can swing our arms more freely, without being burdened by the past. So many people, particularly of my age, look as if they are carrying a very heavy load: memories collected during a long life, or perhaps over the course of many lives.

Many of the things that happen to us are not being processed properly. Torn between likes and dislikes it is hard to really swallow whatever we experience and digest it thoroughly. And we get stuck with hard bits that can come up any time. We encounter a difficult situation or get into an argument with someone, and suddenly an old memory flares up, completely dictating our response. In zazen, we allow space for whatever is – and this gives us a clearer perspective on how to deal with things more creatively.

According to the 12th Century Chinese Master Hongzhi: in this state of silent sitting, the mind clearly perceives the details of sensory objects; yet as though transparent, no constructed image is produced.* This means that the load with which we feel burdened is constructed, something cooked up in our mind, and it is very conceptual. In truth, there is nothing that has any everlasting substance; by nature, everything is transparent. But, because of attachment and aversion we make things heavy and opaque.

Of course, whatever we like is hard to let go of. Yet when we resist certain things, we would like them to disappear. And then it is tempting to think that they will just dissolve during zazen and be gone forever. But that’s not true. Things that happened have happened. But it is possible to see through them and, as Master Hongzhi says, they can become transparent. Life’s events are clearly perceived but they just don’t bother us so much anymore – they have been lit up and we have been made lighter in the process.

In my December nostalgia, a lot of images came up of paintings I love. They happen to be part of my personal history and appeared like a slide-show of memories. And I realised once again that all good paintings have a transparent quality. However thickly the paint is applied, the end result is a combination of fields that we can not only look at but also look through. And at the same time, all parts of the artwork seem to emit light that shines towards us. This is something I have learnt to see as a hallmark of quality.

In zazen, our life itself is the artwork we are creating. Can I really let the light come through? The two characters on a ninth-century fresco from the Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves near Turfan, Xinjiang, China (a Caucasian Central Asian monk together with one from East Asia) seem to point us the way.

* Hoofprints of the Ox, by Sheng Yen (Oxford University Press, 2001), page 142

A Tiny Bit of Emptiness

tiny_stone_in_wall

In the realm of emptiness size doesn’t matter. The whole universe fits easily into a grain of rice. That also means that even a tiny glimpse of emptiness can have huge effects. I came to think of this again when contemplating a small meteorite stone sitting amidst the massive blocks of granite that make up ancient Inca walls in Cusco, Peru. Those big rocks fit together so perfectly that they do not leave any gap. Yet it is said that such a little stone is indispensable – without it, the whole wall would fall apart.

The world is so full nowadays and often feels disjointed. It is hard to give each other enough breathing space. And yet, there is plenty of emptiness. If more people were able to realize that, we could all feel connected and supported by each other. The Inca walls in Peru have been standing there for thousands of years and they are still vividly alive. I have never seen stones breathing in and out so beautifully. So, are we ready to be the little one? The effect may be far beyond what anyone can ever comprehend.

The Ancient Way

wadden-island-retreat

The Ancient Way is the Way of the Ancients, the path of all Buddhas and Ancestors. They paved the Way, so that we can follow. This means that, essentially, we are followers of the Way. The Ancient Way gives us direction on how to navigate our life and not lose sight of what deserves our highest priority. And we are not the first ones to tread this path – even Shakyamuni Buddha himself is said to have been preceded by other Buddhas, stretching back in time beyond anyone’s memory.

This can give us the faith to continue even when the going gets tough, as there are great examples of practitioners who went before us and who faced similar challenges. In a way, you and I are just the next ones in line. It is apparently up to each one of us to make sure that the Buddha Dharma stays alive. At times, doubts may come up about whether I am really the right person to take on this responsibility. And yet, if not me, who then? Who will be there for the next generation to follow?

When we look at the Jukai lineage chart, however, we can also read our situation the other way round. After receiving Jukai, I am indeed the next one in line, but not necessarily behind all the Ancestors – I can also see myself as listed before them, as if they are pushing me forward from behind! Looking at it in that way, there really is nobody to follow – I am the first one to make the next move! No wonder I feel uncertain at times, as if I am taking risky steps into an unknown future. Somewhere high up on the chart is a mysterious circle and below that circle resides Shakyamuni. It makes me into the one who brings life to the Buddha, and he depends on that circle, which symbolises enlightenment. So in the Ancient Way I am an absolute pioneer. Its continuity depends on my courage and daring, my commitment to realising the Way so that others know where to go. In other words, the order is completely turned around. We are not only followers of the Way, we are also – unexpectedly – trail-blazers!

Realising the Way can be compared to suddenly remembering what we had forgotten. But what is it that we have forgotten? Usually, when we forget, it has to do with something we used to know and, at some point, can remember again. In this case, however odd it may sound, we remember something that we never knew! And yet it is some kind of remembrance. It opens our mind far beyond whatever we can comprehend and reunites us with all the Ancestors. Time and space suddenly turn out to be very relative and we can go forward and backward in just an instant. In one koan we study, it says: “The sound of something struck! And I have forgotten all I knew. Training was not even temporarily necessary. In movement and deportment I manifest the Ancient Way.”

How strange and interesting it is that, in order to really find my way, I first have to lose it. Then suddenly, rather than making only faithful copies of famous paintings, I become the painter of my own highly original work of life.

 

Where’s God?

When I first turned to Buddhist practice, family members and friends had a hard time understanding. My dad even assured me that he had checked our genealogical line as far back as he could – which was about five hundred years – and had found out that our family had been devout Catholics all along. According to him, I was the first one to change religion. Perhaps that was not completely true: somewhere deep in my heart still lives the boy who attended mass and went to communion, and when returning to St. John’s cathedral in my home town of Den Bosch every few years, I can’t help but light a candle for the beautiful mediaeval image of Holy Mary. Also, fortunately, my dad later really came to appreciate Buddhism and was very happy to witness the abbot’s installation ceremony at Zen River not long before he passed away.

Last Sunday, I attended a wonderful public talk by the Dalai Lama in Brussels, and he emphasised the unity between all religions. He actually seemed not to even encourage Westerners to become Buddhists but rather to deepen their experience of the traditions they were raised in; as if he wanted to stay away as far as possible from any type of religious ideology – even a Buddhist one. And this really struck a chord in me. By adopting another religion, it is almost impossible to stay impartial to one’s former persuasion. On some level, I believed that Buddhism and its well-tested and age-old principles could make for a highly necessary shift in our modern society. But, if I understand the Dalai Lama well, it is not so that Buddhism can transform the world. Rather, Buddhism can, like any spiritual practice, transform people – you and me – and then it is up to us to transform the world.

Still, I find it miraculous how one can sometimes feel at home in a completely different environment, appreciate music or food one did not grow up with, and have an unexplainable penchant for speaking another language. During our sutra-reading class on Saturday afternoon we are now onto the famous last chapter of the Avatamsaka Sutra and, as each one of us present recites a paragraph out loud, I can hardly keep my eyes dry. The vastness of perspectives this sutra offers, with the abundance of bodhisattvas from so many different realms, opens my heart. It presents a universe that has never been created and will never vanish, yet transforms continuously, enabling us to generate compassion for all beings throughout space and time. The sutra also indicates very clearly the responsibility we have in our particular situation here and now, and enumerates the various stages aspiring practitioners need to go through in order to make a real contribution to the world. God works in mysterious ways; he seems to have made me into a Buddhist.

Family Matters

DSC_0055For most of us, family is a matter of great concern. Obviously, without our father and mother having come together, we wouldn’t be here in the first place. And then, of course, you may have brothers and sisters, uncles and aunties, cousins, nephews and nieces in ever-widening circles. We are all members of a certain bloodline that goes back to the very origins of humankind. And even if, for whatever reason, you yourself have no children, there is no need to worry too much about human procreation. UNICEF estimates that an average of 353,000 babies are born each day around the world (while 151,600 people die every day). It seems that, on a very basic level, we know the value of human life and – if it were up to us – we’d live on forever.

Family ties are often strong and being of the same blood has a mysterious and often indelible power. Families provide coherence and also gives us a certain identity. Some time ago, one of my friends told me that his mother had passed away – not long after his father had died – and he added that he now felt as if he no longer had a roof over his head. His remark really touched me. Besides the obvious feeling of grief, it seemed to communicate something very simple yet profound. He is a successful middle-aged man with plenty of responsibilities, but his parents had still given him a certain kind of shelter that he really appreciated. I recognized the feeling from my own experience – it is as if one is suddenly bereft of a sense of belonging and one is therefore more exposed.

No wonder we often try to understand ourselves and our place in the world by reflecting on our genealogy and upbringing. So it is only natural that most cultures stress the importance of family lineage and, over time, developed ceremonial observances to honour family ancestors. Yet, although certain talents, preferences, behavioural patterns and personality quirks may be shared within a single family, there is also often plenty of room for interesting differences – both positive and negative ones. And family members can turn against one another; it just seems to be part of the human condition. Last year’s Family Week concluded with a grand performance of the six realms of existence and the youngsters had no trouble recognizing the intricate relationships between the various inhabitants of those realms as the usual family affairs.

Fortunately, besides family lineages there are also Dharma lineages and these too have been maintained throughout the ages, transmitting ancient wisdom that can help us to do real justice to this human existence and learn how to live up to our inherent bodhisattva qualities. According to Buddhism this wisdom is our birth-right – but it can only be revealed by ongoing practice. So it would be best to appreciate and honour both family and Dharma lineages. In that sense, we humans seem to have a double responsibility. Yet taking care of each one of these lineages takes time and energy, and not everyone manages. It is difficult to be a hard-working mother with three kids and, simultaneously, aspire to become a fully-fledged Buddhist master. In Bhutan, I heard that for laypeople their social responsibilities come first and spiritual responsibility comes second, while for monks it is just the other way round.

In the West, we don’t yet have such a clear model; there are many variations on the theme. I often feel that we actually have to reinvent monkhood here because the traditional roles don’t seem to work so well anymore. For example, at Zen River one of the primary jobs of the monks is to create a bed of practice for laypeople. I often even call our temple a lay monastery because the number of non-resident laypeople that regularly participate in our programme far exceeds the number of resident monks. Yet without the monks Zen River would not be able to flow either: to make a monastery work it apparently takes a good number of residents, people who see it as their vocation to serve the Dharma with their whole lives. We are all members of a Dharma family and, all together, the image of traveling through the six realms still applies. But we may just learn to enjoy the ride. And over time we may start to appreciate that our family extends to all people on this planet and – who knows? – far beyond. That means that our roof is really endless!

The Third Factor

 

DIGITAL IMAGE

Last week somebody asked me, out of the blue, “What happens when you die?” And I surprised her as well as myself by saying, “Oh, just more of the same!” And now I wonder, could that be true? It seems to be the last thing one would expect. Shouldn’t there at least be some kind of change? Some of us believe that after death we’re finished and gone, while others hope to live forever after. Buddhism teaches rebirth but in Zen the focus is usually more on the transmigrations within this lifetime. And the classic answer to what happens after death is that we just don’t know.

In Salt Lake City, we had good connections with the University of Utah. We gave meditation classes there during summer and were also sometimes invited to participate in ecumenical meetings. The one I remember best was a panel forum with a dozen representatives of different religions who were all asked to put forth their particular views on the afterlife in front of an audience of some two hundred students. I was the only Buddhist in the group and sat at the end of the row, right next to a member of a native American Indian tribe.

Some of the speakers took their time, and when it was finally my turn there were only three minutes left. So I quickly told the now well-known story of the Zen master who, answering the question of what happens after death, said,  “Why should I know?” When the response to this was “Well, because you are a Zen master,” he declared, “Yes, but not a dead one!” It worked, everybody was in stitches. The native American Indian joined in the laughter and exclaimed that he totally agreed, and that was the end of the meeting.

According a famous koan, “not knowing is most intimate” but – like any expression – if we say this too often it can easily become a conversation stopper, and may perhaps even show a lack of compassion. Genpo Roshi once said that what happens after we die depends on our karma. And Maezumi Roshi concludes his video On Life and Death by saying that it will be his vows that continue on. These days, instead of “I don’t know” I prefer to say “Who knows?” Posed in this way as a question, it expresses more engagement and shows more excitement regarding what might happen.

Yet I still find these responses not always satisfactory in conversations with myself and others. And I was happy to find a text on rebirth by Bhikkhu Bodhi that mentions “the third factor.”* He quotes the Buddha by saying that there are three necessary conditions for conception: first, the union of the father and the mother; second, that this union takes place in a period of fertility; and third, the stream of consciousness of the deceased person that is ready to take rebirth. This third factor is called the gandhabba. Unless all these conditions are met conception does not take place.

This really hit home for me. If we really want to get to know ourselves, we can, of course, look back at the life we’ve lived so far and see what it is that made us what we are today. And it can help to include some of our genealogical background and the influence of our parents. Yet when we do this we often come to the conclusion that this is still not enough to explain some of our hang-ups, preferences and inclinations. For example, many of us are the first ones in our families to engage in Buddhist practice. Where does that come from? Seen from this angle too, there really seems to be a third factor!

Bhikkhu Bodhi makes very clear that, according to Buddhism, rebirth is not the transmigration of a conscious entity but rather the repeated occurrence of the process of existence, governed by the law of causation. Yet this process is endless: an everlasting cycle that is so well illustrated in the samsaric wheel of birth and death. In other words, just more of the same, over and over again. It implies that even death is no solution for our troubles. They may not just disappear after we pass away and we may not necessarily rest in peace for ever and ever either.

All the more reason to find peace of mind right now right here and enter eternal life of nirvana in this very moment!

* http://www.budsas.org/ebud/ebdha058.htm

Standing Alone

Tenkei and Genpo in Salt Lake City

It is a paradox, but most of us need a teacher to help us not to rely on anyone else. Of course, ultimately I can rely only on myself – I am the one who is responsible for my life. But who is that one? Do I really know myself? We usually respond to situations by relying (often unconsciously) on highly conditioned habitual patterns that have developed over time, either to please ourselves and others or to rebel against them in order to defend our comfort zone. And this is what so often gets us into trouble. If I really knew who I am, my responses might be very different and would most likely be more beneficial both to myself and to others.

Zen teachers can play different roles, depending on each individual student. But one of their roles is to encourage us to really go by our own experience – which turns out to be difficult because we so easily take on from others what we need in order to confirm our self-image and dismiss what goes against it. For me this was a very strong issue in my training with Genpo Roshi. He was the first person I had ever met whom I couldn’t fool with any of my ideas about myself. He just wouldn’t buy into them. And although this was really uncomfortable, it was also highly attractive because I intuitively sensed that this could open up my perspective to completely new vistas.

One way to loosen up our self-image is to just copy the teacher. But as this approach is not without danger, it would be wise first to determine whether the teacher you work with is really the right person for you. I remember it was only after some years of apprehension that I completely gave in. Yet at some point I did everything he did as much as the situation allowed me to – I even started to wear his old shirts, went to the gym with him, and shared his ups and downs. My old friends laughed at me, and probably with good reason. But by copying someone else we do have a chance to go beyond our own deeply engrained patterns.

Yet that is not the end of the story. Good teachers will see through the dependency we build up over time – which can become another type of comfort zone – and encourage or even push their students to go beyond it. Master Torei (1721-1792) calls this “the path of progressive transcendence” and he says that it is something that the ancestral masters did not transmit. The uniqueness of our life ultimately requires an individual expression, for which there is no example to be followed. When, after many years, I left Genpo Roshi, it did indeed feel like a kind of liberation, as if he had set me free. He even gave me a rakusu on which he had written a new name and “@freedom.com.”

But it didn’t take me long to realise that being on my own also meant that life itself had become my teacher. Having no specific teacher anymore apparently implied that everyone was my teacher! So standing alone has some interesting implications. The more we realise our inherent independence, the more we dare to admit that we are all interconnected and totally interdependent. In fact, it is only when we really learn to stand alone that we learn how to stand together! I was lucky enough to end up in Japan, together with Myoho Sensei, and study with Junyu Kuroda Roshi (Hojo-san), and he referred us to many other masters – Japanese, Chinese and Bhutanese. Needless to say, this contact enriched our pioneering Zen River project immensely.

Of course, it is not only working with the teacher that can have a liberating effect. Besides the Buddha, there is also the Dharma and the Sangha. The Buddhist teaching itself, as reflected in the scriptures, can be highly inspiring and also confrontational because it challenges views we take for granted and shows us again and again how to rely only on our own experience. The Sangha too has a role in this scenario, especially when it is diverse and open-minded. Yet the relationship with a teacher is of special relevance. It can expose our most hidden personal agendas and prompt us to let them go. Without this I would never have been able to learn to be able to stand alone. Thank you, Genpo Roshi.

Great Faith

kanzeon--PrtScr (003)

“If you want to master this path, first you need the faculty of great faith.”* It is so obvious and yet it can’t be mentioned often enough. We need a lot of faith if we want to master this path, simply because at this point we don’t really know what this path entails and where it will eventually bring us. We are asked to go beyond what we know and to dare to question our own views, particularly about ourselves. And this is perhaps the hardest bit. We often see ourselves as the number-one experts on our lives, even if this expertise doesn’t bring us very much happiness!

In his famous analogy, Plato describes the lot of people living in a cave without any access to the outside world. The only things they can see are shadows of objects cast on the back wall of the cave. Over the years, they became used to seeing these shadows as real forms. What would it take to cut through a conditioning that is shared by so many others? According to Plato, only great philosophers can manage this – and their task is then to try sharing their insights. In Buddhism, each one of us is invited to take on this challenge and to enter the realm of reality.

But most of us need help. In fact, we need all the help we can get, otherwise we may just not be able to let go of our misconceptions. Fortunately, the Buddhas and ancestors left traces we can follow, at least for some time. The sutras and other scriptures give us very convincing reports of how the realm of reality looks when seen through enlightened eyes, and these accounts may resonate with us on a deep intuitive level. Moreover, they present overviews of practice that many people before us have engaged in – so we’re not the first ones, and we’re not alone!

Forms that have been transmitted throughout the ages can have a similar effect. Buddhist images are often highly inspiring – like the one of Kanzeon with many hands and eyes – while sitting cross-legged or making bows may wake up a mysterious kinetic memory. In fact, Buddhist temples themselves are expressions of faith. They have been built with great inspiration, and they now radiate that inspiration back to us. One simple visit to Eiheiji can transport us to a very deep place in our hearts: the place where we share the faith of the ancestors.

The medieval European cathedrals were built in a relatively short time, and they must have looked even more impressive in their original urban setting where they dominated the landscape for miles around, than they do now. Apparently, the construction workers were very skilled and spiritually inclined craftsmen. They united their artisanal work on the outer building to their highly esoteric work on the inner temple – the one was a reflection of the other. No wonder these cathedrals have inspired millions of Christians to find faith in their religion for such a long period of time.

Of course, it should be possible to do without any of the scriptures and inspirational forms that have been transmitted throughout the ages. According to the Avatamsaka Sutra, we may need the help of a spiritual benefactor but in principle we can find all the wisdom and compassion of the Buddha within ourselves. Yet, as far as I have seen, most of us just won’t find the courage to let go of our conditioned thoughts, feelings and deeply engrained modes of behaviour so easily, and so may run the risk of missing out on the experience that we are all entitled to.  

Our Zendo in the back garden may be a humble structure – not to be compared with a cathedral or a temple like Eiheiji – but it has been built according to an age-old design and with the help of donations from many of our members. Maybe surprisingly, the Zendo impresses even visiting monks from Japan and China. Every morning as I step through the door, its inspiration resounds very deep inside me and eases me into the realm of reality. Then, when I bow to Manjushri, my own lineage master and all Buddhas and ancestors bow with me, and great faith follows naturally: what a joy!

 *From: The Undying Lamp of Zen, The Testament of Zen Master Torei.

Samantabhadra’s Vows

Fusatsu is an atonement ceremony we celebrate at Zen River every month on the occasion of the full moon. And it always has a strong effect on me. The ceremony is an open invitation to enter the world that the Avatamsaka sutra describes in such great detail, connecting us intimately with deeper layers of reality than we are usually aware of. And the strong physical setting, developed over the ages by great masters, especially helps us to give up fixed ideas about space and time.

Usually we divide time into past, present and future, yet these aspects of time are connected in ways we can’t always see. For example, our past and present lives shape our future life –but it works the other way round too. Our vision for the future, as expressed in our vows, can shed a very different light on our past. It can make us remember things that change our view even about our very own personal history – suddenly our usual narrative is found lacking and needs to be adjusted.

Dogen Zenji often use the phrase, “I remember…,” and then he talks about masters who lived some 300 years before him, as if they were still vividly alive. Apparently we often see only a thin slice of reality and don’t have access to the greater picture. Fusatsu is very old –it probably goes back to the time of the Buddha–and it sits somewhere hidden in our system. When we make the bows, our mind may not remember, but perhaps our body does. Something clicks, and we reconnect with disowned parts of life.

The chapter of the Avatamsaka Sutra we are reading together now every Saturday afternoon is called, “Entry into the Realm of Reality.” It describes how the pilgrim Sudhana, after visiting fifty-three sages, finally enters the tower of Vairocana and comes face to face with the reality of all Buddhas and ancestors throughout space and time. But that is not the end of the sutra. In fact, it marks a new beginning, which is expressed in the next chapter –Samantabhadra’s vows.

Samantabhadra is the bodhisattva who stands as the symbol for enlightening activity. He vows to pay homage and respect to all Buddhas, to praise all the Buddhas, to make abundant offerings, to repent misdeeds and evil karmas, to rejoice in others’ merits and virtues, to request the Buddhas to continue teaching, to request the Buddhas to remain in the world, to follow the teachings of the Buddhas at all times, to accommodate and benefit all living beings, and to transfer all merits and virtues to benefit all beings.

The vow that resonates most for me right now is to request the Buddhas to remain in the world. I see that as our calling, as our job in a way. How can we really make sure that they remain here? Where are they anyway? As I see it, if you and I don’t keep them alive, they are well and truly dead. So we do a ceremony like Fusatsu to remember, to recall who we really are. By making these vows we envision a different future, and by so doing we remember a different past. Then, starting off from there we can begin to live a different future. And this we can do over and over again, which brings us closer and closer to reality.