a dharma talk given at the Salt Lake Buddhist Fellowship July 15th, 2018
For the past few Sundays, we have been talking about gratitude and about some of the things that get in the way of us experiencing the transformative kind of gratitude that can change our lives and lead us to our awakening. I want to continue with the theme of gratitude today by talking about gratitude and oneness.
In our fellowship and lineage, we talk a lot about the way of oneness. One meaning of oneness is the transcending of the idea that we are alone when in reality we are one – We tend to see the world dualistically. We see ourselves separated from the dynamic flow of existence – but when we slow down and become aware of our integration into the wholeness of life we can see things from a non-dualistic point of view, we can come to experience the oneness of all life and how we are an integral part of that oneness. This happens when we begin to experience things as they really are, instead of just the story we have fabricated to explain reality.
To step into this kind of awareness, we learn from the Buddha-dharma, that we first need to negate the primacy of self while affirming the universal self, the self that is interdependent on all things. We come to understand as Ryuichi Fuji has written, that,
“the individual self has no independent existence. Self exists in mutual relationship to all things, to the totality of all things and the oneness of all life.”
So how do we affirm the universal self and the oneness of all life? First, we listen to and contemplate the words of our teachers. I have been sharing the teachings of my teachers especially Gyomay Kubose Sensei, and You are may be familiar with these words,
“There is no “I” as such apart from others.”
This insight is so simple and so profound at the same time.
He goes on to say
“We do not understand that we are literally able to live and enjoy life only because of other people and things. If one really understands this truth, he cannot help but become humble and appreciate others.”
So understanding the truth of our interdependence our mutual resonance as Soga Ryojin writes, our very being is relational; this is oneness – and our natural response to oneness is an appreciative humility. We become aware of a daily grace – something that is beyond self-power, self-conceit – an inherent gift, something beyond us that is also us. The whole, the one. These simple insights offer us an invitation to take notice of the grace we receive every day. Or as Greg Krech writes in his book on Naikan,
“To live a life of gratitude is to open our eyes to the countless ways in which we are supported by the world around us.”
The majority of this support is not “earned” by us, and in fact, it is simply a gift of grace.
So what do I mean by grace – there are two parts of grace that I want to talk about – the first is gratitude. In Latin grace means being thankful, in old English, it means grateful – as in saying grace at the dinner table. The other connotation of the word grace is an unmerited gift – something unearned – and this goes back to our talk last Sunday.
Previously, we talked about the problem with deserving and not deserve and the suffering and difficulties we cause ourselves when we try to control our world by trying to earn love, earn acceptance, earn compassion. Also when we do these things we unknowingly are affirming the small egoic self, we are affirming the self as separate, life as controllable through the metaphor of economic exchange – life becomes transactional instead of relational. We find ourselves unconsciously affirming the dualistic self and ignoring the truth of the universal, of the myriad of things that give us life. We walk around blind and in “ignorance” of the truth of our existence.
Overcoming this ignorance is important – It is on the Path of Gratitude that we can accomplish this, by reflecting and meditating on the relationship among all things, especially between ourselves and nature other people, our teachers, and the dharma. We tend not even think about such things but instead, we focus on all that we lack – and we wonder at times why our lives at times seem so disappointing. Again from Gregg Krech,
“Open your eyes and see how many gifts there are to unwrap. Notice the presence of your presents. It’s not your life that is disappointing: it’s your mind.”
I came across an old article I had read a few years ago about Won Buddhism. The Title of the article was Grace in this World – It is interesting how at different times in your life, the teachings affect you in different ways. This time coming across it, it resonated with me. The article had an interview with the then retiring dharma master of the order – One of the things that impressed me about Won Buddhism is its emphasis on what they call the Four Graces – the dharma master explained that the Four Graces are as follows –
“The first is the grace of heaven and earth, or of the universe and nature. The second is the grace of our parents, who gave birth to us and nurtured us but not only our biological parents but “parents” in the sense of all the people in our lives who educated us and helped us survive, natured us. The third is the grace of fellow beings, because without them, how would we do anything at all? And the fourth is the grace of law, which means the laws of the dharma as well as secular laws.”
– Daesan, The Third Head Dharma Master of Won Buddhism said this,
“ There is a reason why we have two eyes. One is for looking inward and observing our mind, and the other is for looking outward and finding Grace.”
Here we hear the echo of Gyomay Kubose sensei’s teachings, also the teachings of – Shodo Harada Roshi – Abbot of Sogenji, which we recite part of every Sunday before we chant our Amitabha chant.
The sun’s light, the moons radiance, the flowers blooming, the song of the bird, the work of all people in society. I receive everything. The heavens and earth are supporting me and all of humankind for me to be alive. This whole world revolves for this. I am so thankful, we have to see it as it is, or else we mistakenly think that we are alive according to our own power.
Each of these graces open us up to the reality of our interdependence or as the Buddha taught Pratītyasamutpāda translated as dependent origination dependent co-arising – and as we reflect on each of these realities, each of these intersections, we begin to cultivate a deep awareness of each of these graces, and by doing so we affirm the universal self and the habitual primacy of the small-self begins to dissolve in to the very ground of gratitude.
So what are some of the ways that we can cultivate gratitude for each of the graces? Today I want to talk about the first grace and next Sunday we will talk more about the other graces.
Let us first look at Heaven and Earth –I love this quote and it stays in my head all the time, especially when my ego gets the best of me.
“Despite all our achievements, we owe our existence to a six-inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains,”
I have to admit before I read that I never said thank you to the dirt – “hey dirt thanks so much-“ We all can do a deep gassho to the dirt – I have been a little better at being grateful for rain, but mostly during a draught when I see the reservoirs so empty – why does it take something going away for us to appreciate the gift it was?
The first things we can do to cultivate awareness is to reflect on the grace of nature, this is more than a simple, intellectual assent to the obvious – of course we understand that we would all be dead without the Sun or would die without water, we realize how vital our soil is, but while we are living in the habitual primacy of the small self – we take these things for granted, our gratitude is shallow – we want to ask ourselves, how real is the grace of heaven and earth to us? Has it seeped into us, into our bones? I can say that in my practice both yes and no are true. Sadly, mostly no, but the few moments when this knowledge becomes visceral in the body, heart, and mind, that is when I experience profound appreciative humility, awe, oneness, and boundless love-
Here is a simple and practical application- a simple practice of cultivating an awareness of the gifts of the universe and nature. So how many of you in your families now or growing up ever said a blessing before you ate? Said grace? How many of you do it now? How simple to say thank you for the food you need to stay alive? I forget to do all of the time. I may be great and at sitting for 10 to 20 minutes a day but what if I can’t say thank you for the simple things every day – I am missing something in my practice – As Thich Nhat Hahn teaches a blessing on the food is part of spiritual practice.
“Every act, every breath, and every step can be practiced and can help us to become more ourselves.”
Saying grace is looking, thinking, touching, eating the grace of processes that make life possible – This can be in the form of a food gatha (prayer/poem) – you can find a significant number on the internet from different traditions. Just eating your meal in mindfulness is an act of gratitude – Thay goes on to say that we can eat an orange mindfully – this wordless grace can be more powerful than the repetitious grace I grew up with, “thank you for thy bounty o lord or bless these hands” – I always wondered why we never blessed the beasts we ate?
Thay give us a simple everyday way that we can cultivate awareness of the grace of heaven and earth – the grace of the universe and nature and the grace of fellow beings. All you need is an orange and mindfulness. He goes on to teach,
“Take the time to eat an orange in mindfulness. If you eat an orange in forgetfulness, caught in your anxiety and sorrow, the orange is not really there. But if you bring your mind and body together to produce true presence, you can see that the orange is a miracle. Peel the orange. Smell the fruit. See the orange blossoms in the orange, and the rain and the sun that have gone through the orange blossoms. The orange tree that has taken several months to bring this wonder to you. Put a section in your mouth, close your mouth mindfully, and with mindfulness feel the juice coming out of the orange. Taste the sweetness. Do you have the time to do so? If you think you don’t have time to eat an orange like this, what are you using that time for? Are you using your time to worry or using your time to live?”
We can also see in the orange the farmer who took care of the tree, kept it warm when the frosts threatened the fruit, the laborer who picked the oranges, the truck driver that delivered them to the market, and even broader, the husband of the farmer how supports her in her work physically and emotionally, or we can see the constructions workers that built the roads that the truck driver drove down to deliver the oranges.
Here is another practice to cultivate awareness of the grace of heaven and earth – it is what I call “Earth Naikan” – Naikan is a Japanese word which means “inside looking” or “introspection.” A more poetic translation is “seeing oneself with the mind’s eye”. It is a structured method of self-reflection from Japanese Psychology that helps us to understand ourselves, our relationships and the fundamental nature of human existence. We use our Two eyes as Daesan taught, to look inward and observe our mind and at the same time look outward and finding Grace. –
Traditional Naikan reflection is primarily focused on the second grace of family – starting with our first relationship of our mothers –Naikan reflection is based on three questions: What have I received from _________ _? What have I given to __________ ? What troubles and difficulties have I caused __________ ?
Doing this practice and examining our relationship with the earth we become aware of all that we have received. We also begin to see how one-sided the relationship is – and the last two questions open us up to see the “grace” that we receive despite how little we have actually contributed and all the troubles we cause. Grace starts to become real for us – and the primacy of the small-self dissolves into the ground of gratitude.
In Won Buddhism it is said that much of our negative Karma lies in our ingratitude to the four graces – And I think this is right because we sleepwalk through reality operating from the primacy of the small self from this perspective our actions are rarely skillful – How silly it is when this small-self stands back and is so proud of what he built – I built this! But we create nothing alone, even our existence is not possible without the help of others. It is the sense of entitlement and a sense of poverty in the midst of abundance, this need to control the world that leads us into so much unskillful action.
I would like to close with a way of looking at these things Ryuchi Fuji again,
The universe is a harmonious activity of all things. Nothing can be without all others. All is in one and one in all.
Everything, no matter how small it may be, is as real as everything else. The ultimate goal of each being is to realize the meaning of the oneness of all things, thus identifying self with all others.
In our fellowship, we sing Namu Amitabhaya a Sanskrit version of Namu Amida Butsu. It is our chant of gratitude –
Mark Unno in his essay the Path of Gratitude says,
“The nembutsu is a phrase, Namu Amida Butsu, that expresses our happiness and thankfulness. It isn’t a mantra or a prayer—it doesn’t accomplish anything other than letting out that bottled-up gratitude in a joyful utterance. When we say Namu Amida Butsu, we aren’t begging to get into the Pure Land or trying to win favors with the Buddha. We are saying, “How wonderful to receive so bountifully! Thank you very much!”
Along the same line and for those more poetically inclined I like this from Sot’aesan the founder of Won Buddhism
“every place we find ourselves there is a Buddha (Everywhere a Buddha Image), and all our acts are the dharma of Buddha offerings (Every Act a Buddha Offering).”
When we cultivate and experience gratitude and come to realize viscerally that there is no I apart from others, we begin to experience a boundlessness and appreciation for life unknown before – because even when we have nothing, we realize we have everything. And in the space, we can begin experience oneness and start seeing Buddhas everywhere and the most mundane everyday act become offerings to the Buddha to the awakened nature within ourselves.
I challenge you to follow one of these practices outlined – You can do orange mediation I have a few extra oranges. Begin saying “grace” before you eat. Also, I would encourage you to look more into Naikan reflection –
Before we go I want to acknowledge the second grace which included not only our parents but out teachers – I am grateful for all my teachers, especially Gyomay Kubose Sensei and Koyo Kubose Sensei and also all of you-you all our teachers to me; you are with me every day teaching me.
Namu Amida Butsu