Author Topic: Is the Nembutsu a Prayer?  (Read 789 times)

Offline Dharma Flower

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Is the Nembutsu a Prayer?
« on: April 07, 2019, 11:41:58 am »
While Nianfo or Nembutsu might appear to be a form of petitionary prayer to a theistic god, this is not the case:

Quote
Buddhism declares that happiness and unhappiness are alike results of actions; that prosperity and adversity are also results of individual actions, words and deeds. Wrong can only be undone by doing Good, which will overcome the effects of wrong deed.

Sin in Buddhism does not mean that one has transgressed against God’s Commandments but all sins are man-made and the well being of human life is dependent upon the consequences of self-effort, directed by each person working within the Law. No miracles, magic or prayers can change the course of events.

In the Shin doctrine prayers are not rejected since they come from the hearts of men and women who are weak and ignorant of the Law. But Saint Shinran finds that prayers of supplication and petition, asking forgiveness for the sins, are not necessary in the life of a Shin follower.

This is because Amida Buddha, the Highest Truth, is not a God, a creator of the universe, a being who stands outside of man and the world, or the power that judges the action of man. Rather, Amida Buddha is the living compassion, free from all limitations, and living in the Highest Truth, Oneness.

Amida’s compassionate actions are directed to all beings in order to free them all from the world of illusion and ignorance and lead them to Pure Land. His actions and desires are in accordance with the Highest Truth.

His power is so great and his aims are so clear that there is no limitation attached to his compassion. It is the absolute-non-discriminatory compassion, directed to all, just as the sun’s rays pour light upon this world without discrimination.

No supplications or prayers are needed on our part since the heart of compassion is the prayer of Amida that all will be safely directed to the Pure Land. Man is being uplifted, embraced, even when he is falling deeper into the cycle of birth and death.

What is wrong with man’s prayer? Man’s prayers, being limited in time and space, are finite and weak. Such prayers are always centered on things we like to have like material goods or physical well being. In other words, we pray for things very close to our hearts.

Now if these things we pray for were everlasting and satisfying in nature then we will have no cause for regret. But it seems that our hearts are never satisfied, for once we have gained one thing, we wish to have something better. Our desires and wishes are always changing and there is no satisfaction in things that change.

Therefore in Buddhism we do not pray, for man’s actions expressed in prayer, even in a good prayer, are tainted with the poison of selfishness and egocentricity, which goes against the fundamental teaching of Buddha.

Therefore, for such a man, Amida has made the 48 vows and especially the compassionate 18th Vow. This 18th Vow, which is the King of all Vows, reaches the heart of all sentient beings and his entire labor of love for all beings is compressed in the Name.

Through this relative form of Name the absolute Amida is able to communicate with the relative man. Thus the highest values and qualities of Amida–purity, truth, goodness, beauty, wisdom and peace–are implanted in the hearts of all sentient beings. This is the prayer and wish of Amida and all beings, upon hearing his Name, Namu Amida Butsu, will accept this without doubt.

This is faith, when Amida’s heart of prayer that all shall be saved from the ocean of birth and death, become one with us. The imperfect “I” can never communicate with Buddha; Amida communicates with us through his Name.
https://seattlebetsuin.com/prayer_and_nembutsu.htm

Offline stevie

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Re: Is the Nembutsu a Prayer?
« Reply #1 on: April 23, 2019, 06:31:11 pm »
While Nianfo or Nembutsu might appear to be a form of petitionary prayer to a theistic god, this is not the case:
Even if it would be, what would be wrong about it?


What is wrong with man’s prayer? Man’s prayers, being limited in time and space, are finite and weak. Such prayers are always centered on things we like to have like material goods or physical well being. In other words, we pray for things very close to our hearts.
There is nothing wrong  with man’s prayer. Beings pray for happiness because all beings want to be happy. They just don't know the means of happiness.

you have to differentiate between the doctrine of the tradition you would like to follow and the sphere of Amida where your and the tradition's differences don't apply.
« Last Edit: April 23, 2019, 06:45:55 pm by stevie »
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Offline Chaz

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Re: Is the Nembutsu a Prayer?
« Reply #2 on: April 24, 2019, 02:48:49 pm »
There is nothing wrong  with man’s prayer. Beings pray for happiness because all beings want to be happy. They just don't know the means of happiness.

Very true.

Beings desire happiness and prayer is an expression of that desire.  Even Buddhists have that desire.  We can be purists and eschew desire for the sake of an appearance of being on the path.  I think the real truth is we continue to desire happiness or the the things we hope will bring happiness.  Even enlightenment, the greatest bliss, is desired, and our practice is a prayer to achieve that desire. 

Offline stillpointdancer

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Re: Is the Nembutsu a Prayer?
« Reply #3 on: April 25, 2019, 01:57:45 am »
There are a couple of problems for me, depending on definitions. For me the Nembutsu is a prayer to myself because there is nothing 'out there' to pray to. As a wish to change myself and understand what is going on in the world it is perfectly fine. The second problem is the word 'happiness' which is a concept imposed on us by society, but never defined. I don't know if Buddhism has made me happier by such rules, but I do know that I have a much better quality of existence than before, one that is richer in experience if not in worldly goods.
“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Franz Kafka

Offline stevie

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Re: Is the Nembutsu a Prayer?
« Reply #4 on: April 25, 2019, 04:31:11 am »
In the Uttara tantra shastra attributed to Maitreya it reads:
Quote
Were there no Buddha-nature there would be no discontent with suffering nor desire,
effort and aspiration for nirvana.
So the desire to overcome suffering and unease may be seen as an expression of Buddha-nature that pervades all beings equally. Prayers may be seen in that context, too.
།བྷྲཱུཾ་བི་ཤྭ་བི་ཤུད་དྷེ།

Offline Chaz

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Re: Is the Nembutsu a Prayer?
« Reply #5 on: April 25, 2019, 09:26:09 am »
The second problem is the word 'happiness' which is a concept imposed on us by society, but never defined.

I don't think happiness is something we need society to define for us.  We know when we're happy and when we aren't.

Quote
I don't know if Buddhism has made me happier by such rules, but I do know that I have a much better quality of existence than before, one that is richer in experience if not in worldly goods.

And you're not happy about that?  I would be.  I am.

Happiness, though, is a fleeting thing.  Sometimes we're happy.  Sometimes not.  We can have the knowledge that there is no happiness and no unhappiness and and try to act accoringly, but the truth is for most of us, we still desire happiness and are adverse to it's opposite. 

It takes a lifetime's practice to achieve the equanimity that is neither happinesss or sadness.  Lifetimes, perhaps, but worth it for the sake of beings

Offline stevie

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Re: Is the Nembutsu a Prayer?
« Reply #6 on: April 25, 2019, 08:18:41 pm »
I think that happiness is an important factor on the path. That is why Buddha taught the immeasurables: Wishing others to be free from suffering and to have happiness is the best way to attain a happy mind oneself. And with a happy mind it is easier to sucessfully follow the path. The near enemy of happiness is selfishness and clinging to transient happiness instead of rejoicing in the happiness of others. That is why compassionate Bodhisattvas taught mind trainings like exchanging self and others and Tonglen.  <3
།བྷྲཱུཾ་བི་ཤྭ་བི་ཤུད་དྷེ།

Offline stillpointdancer

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Re: Is the Nembutsu a Prayer?
« Reply #7 on: April 26, 2019, 03:12:20 am »
Hi Chaz. It's an interesting thing to ponder, happiness. I think I was talking about the majority of people who let society define happiness for them- a new car, or a better home, or a certain standard of living. Such definitions can bring unhappiness, as when they are reached many people are still not 'happy'. We certainly shouldn't let society define happiness for us in terms of accepting, 'You will be happier if you....' (insert buy, or do, or be, or think, or whatever).

Your second point about being 'happy' with a better quality of existence is valid too. For me happiness is such a loaded word that I wouldn't say that's what Buddhism and meditation brought me, although perhaps others may say differently. Certainly it took a lot of what I thought was happiness away when I started to see things in a different way. I couldn't swap back if I wanted to, but I certainly hope I wouldn't, even if I could.

I think I am with you in your definition of being 'happy' with a better quality of existence. Likewise the equanimity you mention. Perhaps it is seeing happiness and sadness for what they are, fleeting emotions which are there because we are human, but which can be seen as somewhat ephemeral, like leaves on tree. Whether they are moving or not is an indication of the wind, but tells us nothing about the leaves themselves.

The only measurement of quality is that I feel that my life is poorer in quality when I try to ignore the path than when I am aware of it and follow as best as I can. 
“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Franz Kafka

Offline stevie

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Re: Is the Nembutsu a Prayer?
« Reply #8 on: April 26, 2019, 09:44:53 pm »
Hi Chaz. It's an interesting thing to ponder, happiness. I think I was talking about the majority of people who let society define happiness for them- a new car, or a better home, or a certain standard of living. Such definitions can bring unhappiness, as when they are reached many people are still not 'happy'. We certainly shouldn't let society define happiness for us in terms of accepting, 'You will be happier if you....' (insert buy, or do, or be, or think, or whatever).
From my perspective the advice of Budhisattvas to not differentiate between self and others here is important. To wish others happiness should be kind of unconditional. If they want to have a new car because they think it will make them happy, then may they have the new car and be really happy and satisfied with it. I wish them to attain happiness. A car doesn't make me happy but - if the sphere of Buddha's ethics isn't violated - who am I to tell others what they have to do or to strive for to be or to deserve to be happy? I can't read the minds of others. Maybe it is just my incapacity to be happy with a car and they have that capacity? All beings want to be happy. May they be happy and never be separated from happiness and may they be free from suffering.
If the sphere of Buddha's ethics is violated through some individuals's striving for happiness, I wish or pray that they can let go of that ignorance so that they do not have to reap the corresponding sufferings of their wrong intentions. <3

As the Dalai Lama once said: to wish others happiness is the best kind of selfishness. Why? Because it makes oneself happy. It is this open impartial attitude, the non-clinging to 'that is right happiness' or 'that is wrong happiness' or 'I know better then them'.

If I were a Buddha I could tell at all times and locations what is right and what is wrong in terms of happiness and use skillful means to show that to others but I am an ignorant fool who depends on the advice given by Buddhas and realized Bodhisattvas himself. And they advice me to cultivate an attitude of wishing others happiness because this attitude is conducive on the path I am following to attain the capacity to help others to be free from suffering. Doesn't this kind of Buddha Dharma make sense? I think so. :anjali:
« Last Edit: April 26, 2019, 10:03:09 pm by stevie »
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Offline stillpointdancer

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Re: Is the Nembutsu a Prayer?
« Reply #9 on: April 27, 2019, 03:34:28 am »
Hi stevie. Another interesting take on happiness. I've been wishing people well in meditation for about 30 years now by saying 'May you be happy, may you be well' in the different stages of metta bhavana meditation. I think that's different to the ephemeral, temporary feelings of happiness as opposed to unhappiness. If you were happy all the time, how would you know if you didn't have the bad times to judge them by? But I can't say 'May you be happy most of the time' because it wouldn't be the same.

Maybe that's why I used the term 'quality of existence', to tease out what it would mean to be happy. Perhaps 'satisfactoriness' as opposed to the 'unsatisfactoriness', talked about by the Buddha when he was explaining Buddhist suffering, is another definition. Whatever the definition, I don't think I'll be dropping the 'may you be happy, may you be well' any time soon, you may be glad to hear.
“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Franz Kafka

Offline stevie

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Re: Is the Nembutsu a Prayer?
« Reply #10 on: April 27, 2019, 05:46:24 am »
Dear stillpointdancer,
I use 'happiness' because it's common parlance. But I acknowledge that every individual may associate a different state of mind with this term depending on its current experiences of unease or stress and depending on its individual temperament.
Happiness for me means to feel at ease, being content and having a relaxed state of mind.
in the context of emptiness meditations I got a bit obsessed about post-meditation stabilization and in this context I have re-discovered the basic teachings on love and compassion, i.e. mind-trainings, recently and found out that for me the effect of these mind trainings actually are similar to the early post-emptiness meditation phase in terms of the intended openness of awareness which I would label 'happiness'. So my intended post-meditation stabilization may be supported through integrating spontaneous mind trainings events into this phase. That is why I am currently engaging with these kinds of mind trainings again.  :anjali:
།བྷྲཱུཾ་བི་ཤྭ་བི་ཤུད་དྷེ།

Offline stillpointdancer

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Re: Is the Nembutsu a Prayer?
« Reply #11 on: April 28, 2019, 03:03:23 am »
Dear stillpointdancer,
I use 'happiness' because it's common parlance. But I acknowledge that every individual may associate a different state of mind with this term depending on its current experiences of unease or stress and depending on its individual temperament.
Happiness for me means to feel at ease, being content and having a relaxed state of mind.
in the context of emptiness meditations I got a bit obsessed about post-meditation stabilization and in this context I have re-discovered the basic teachings on love and compassion, i.e. mind-trainings, recently and found out that for me the effect of these mind trainings actually are similar to the early post-emptiness meditation phase in terms of the intended openness of awareness which I would label 'happiness'. So my intended post-meditation stabilization may be supported through integrating spontaneous mind trainings events into this phase. That is why I am currently engaging with these kinds of mind trainings again.  :anjali:

Thanks for continuing the discussion. I did a similar thing as part of my meditation practice some years ago. City life was getting to me at one point, especially traffic and shopkeepers for some reason. I made a point of silently wishing everyone to be happy while I was out and about rather than just on the mat. It made walking alongside lines of cars stuck in traffic less stressful, at least for me, and, having decided to smile at shopping assistants as I went up to them, made both our lives a bit happier, especially when they didn't know whether the shop had what I needed. It wasn't their fault they were poorly trained or that the shop wasn't well stocked.
“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Franz Kafka

Offline paracelsus

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Re: Is the Nembutsu a Prayer?
« Reply #12 on: April 28, 2019, 04:23:25 pm »
Thank you Stevie and Stillpointdancer for a thoroughly pleasant and soundly Buddhist discussion on Happiness.

Years ago, my father, realising that I was becoming Buddhist at a fairly young age, and was starting to argue rather simplistically that happiness was “the goal”, reminded me that there are many things worth striving for that one may not be “happy” doing. (Probably things like mowing the lawns in my case, which funnily enough I used to mow purely in order that he should not be unhappy).

Actually happiness may be a bit of a narrow term for the wide range of satisfactions we can experience; from a simple lack of unhappiness through to the bliss achieved in meditation. I think he was concerned that I might just become a passive navel gazer when he knew the great satisfaction he obtained through his work in the world as a marine engineer and his leisure activities as a climber, accomplished glider pilot and jet boat driver, a lot of which required considerable stamina and discipline to push through physical and mental discomfort.

I on the other hand grew up with little worldly ambition, my main interest seemed to be in understanding what this thing “being alive and conscious” was. Buddhism seems the most likely to provide an answer, or rather, to provide the method to find the answer.

Dodging unhappiness has not really been the issue. I find that during times of unhappiness my Buddhist practice has a the benefit of putting it into context, that being the context of what it is that has given rise to the unhappiness. Seeing the wider picture in an impersonal way usually gives rise to a feeling of disassociation and distance which helps evaporate the suffering. Mindfulness being the key.

As to the happiness of others, I also try to practice a friendly manner, forgive the “faults” of others (can be difficult), and the exercise of mentally switching places with other people, especially anyone who looks troubled, ill, or disadvantaged (entering their body and circumstances in imagination, trying to guess and experience the mental state they seem to be in. Being them.)

And prayer and mantra? On the simplest level, the time spent running the mental processes through positive exercises (compassionate, elevating, inspiring, disciplining) is time not spent sliding into the mire by indulging negativities. It has to be a benefit.

Offline stevie

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Re: Is the Nembutsu a Prayer?
« Reply #13 on: April 28, 2019, 11:43:57 pm »
Dear Paracelsus,

thank you, your contribution to this conversation pleases me. Considering the topic I might also say: it makes me happy.  :) I like the inspiration arising from such conversations.

As you say, the field of happiness is vast. And considering all that the Buddha labelled as 'suffering', often equating cause and effect, the field of suffering is vast, too. In a sutta he said something like 'I only teach [what is] suffering and [the way leading to] the end of suffering.' Thus, considering the vast field of suffering the Buddha taught, it seems to be impossible to imagine the absence of suffering and equating suffering and unhappiness, since where there is suffering there is necessarily unhappiness and where there is unhappiness there is necessarily suffering, what you call 'a simple lack of unhappiness' may be conceived of as unimaginable, too.
And you are right, following the path may even cause experiences of bliss, unimaginable when being completely separated from the path.

So having contacted the Buddha's teachings and path may actually be seen as an opportunity to experience happiness!  <3

Nevertheless I agree that after having contacted Buddha Dharma even experiencing unhappiness and thus experiencing suffering can be a great inspiration due to re-framing and re-affirming one's practice and due to becoming again aware of the obvious benefits of Buddha Dharma.
And in this context,  as you say 'switching places with other people', especially those who suffer, may be an excellent method not only to cause compassion but also to foster humility in times when things appear to be running too well for us and the danger arises that one may lift off from the ground and indulge in the deceptive happiness of 'I, my, mine'.

Mantra is also known as 'mind protection' because - as you say - it protects the mind from straying into negativity not only through the concentration on the syllables as such but also through evoking a positive association/framing connected with the 'inner sound' of the mantra. The latter may be the reason why mantras are said to have also a 'healing' effect. I guess the Nembutsu is quite similar to mantra.

For me mantra and prayer are the same as to function. They are merely different as to the 'inner sound' which evokes conventional concepts in case of prayers but does not necessarily do so in case of mantras.

 :anjali:
།བྷྲཱུཾ་བི་ཤྭ་བི་ཤུད་དྷེ།

Offline Dharma Flower

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Re: Is the Nembutsu a Prayer?
« Reply #14 on: May 07, 2019, 11:35:38 pm »
Though celestial buddhas and bodhisattvas like Amitabha and Avalokitesvara might appear to be worshiped as gods, they are symbolic of enlightenment’s activity in the world:

Quote
Buddhism calls itself a “non-theistic” religion. The historical Buddha taught that believing in and worshipping gods was not useful for those seeking to realize enlightenment. Due to this, many Buddhists consider themselves to be atheists.

Yet Buddhist art and literature are richly stocked with god-like beings, many of which are known as bodhisattvas. This is especially true of Mahayana Buddhism. Mahayana temples are populated by statues and paintings of many characters and creatures, some beautiful, some demonic…

The bodhisattvas found in art and literature are sometimes called transcendent bodhisattvas. They are beings who have realized enlightenment but who remain active in the world, appearing in many forms to help others and lead them to enlightenment. They are venerated and called upon for help in time of need.

Doesn’t that make them something like gods? Maybe. Maybe not. It all depends.

The bodhisattvas of literature and art can be thought of as allegorical representations of the activity of enlightenment in the world…
So, you might be thinking, you’re saying they aren’t real? No, that’s not what I’m saying.

From a Buddhist perspective, most people confuse “identity” with “reality.” But in Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism in particular, nothing has an intrinsic identity. We “exist” as distinct beings only in relation to other beings. This is not to say that we don’t exist, but that our existence as individuals is conditional and relative.

If our identities as individual beings are, in a sense, illusory, does that mean we’re not “real”? What’s “real”?…

It’s true that transcendent bodhisattvas are sometimes spoken of and thought of as distinctive supernatural beings. There are Buddhists who worship and pray to buddhas and bodhisattvas as one would to gods.

In Buddhism, all beliefs and conceptualizations are provisional. That is, they are understood to be flawed and imperfect. People understand the dharma as best they can, and as understanding grows, conceptualizations are discarded.

We’re all works in progress. Some Buddhists go through a process of believing in buddhas and bodhisattvas as something like gods, and some do not.
https://www.learnreligions.com/whats-a-bodhisattva-450136

 


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