Reconciling Nembutsu Practice with Skepticism

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negspec13
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Reconciling Nembutsu Practice with Skepticism

Post by negspec13 » Thu Oct 19, 2017 11:58 am

Hi

I came across Pure Land via a group discussion on Facebook and have been intrigued by the seeming simplicity of it since.

I guess though that my only problem commiting to it fully is on an intellectual level. I struggle with matters of faith after many years of being a Pentecostal Christian. I was so disheartened by that experience and left depressed that now if I feel I have to "believe" in something it causes real cognitive dissonance.

My question then is how do I reconcile nembutsu practise with my skeptical brain?

Thanks in advance.

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Re: Reconciling Nembutsu Practice with Skepticism

Post by Admin_PC » Thu Oct 19, 2017 3:34 pm

Thought this deserved its own thread.

The short way:
Try it out for a while. Try to recite for 15 minutes to an hour a day for maybe a month and see what happens. If you're worried about what to do with your mind during that time and faith is not established, try thinking of Amida, thinking of the vow, thinking of the ornaments of the Pure Land, or trying one of the visualization practices. If it helps, keep doing it, and research further.

The long way:
Study up on fundamental Buddhist teachings. Study up on the various philosophical underpinnings of Mahayana. Learn about emptiness. Learn about how mind shapes our experiences. Read the Pure Land sutras ad nauseum to see what they're really getting at. And when you finally feel comfortable with it, approach practice.

In the end it'll probably require a mix of the two approaches, regardless of which one you prioritize. Prioritizing the second one without the practice has the risk of spinning your wheels for a while without much progress.

FWIW - "Faith" in this context means "reliance", "having confidence in", or "letting go to", not mere "belief". Either of the 2 approaches makes it an "informed" faith, either through experience or through logical conclusion.
月影の いたらぬ里は なけれども 眺むる人の 心にぞすむ
法然上人

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negspec13
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Re: Reconciling Nembutsu Practice with Skepticism

Post by negspec13 » Thu Oct 19, 2017 5:11 pm

Thanks so much for the advice. I think I'll try a combination of practise and research.

I'm a student of Philosophy by nature so research comes easily to me. :twothumbsup:

Is there a pronunciation of Nembutsu that is "more accurate"? Sorry if that seems like a dumb question but I've seen Namo Amitabha, Namo Amida Butsu etc and I'm probably getting stuck in specifics here.

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Re: Reconciling Nembutsu Practice with Skepticism

Post by Admin_PC » Thu Oct 19, 2017 5:33 pm

"Correct" is probably a personal thing if one is an individual practitioner. If one belongs to a certain lineage/school, then there will be a standard pronunciation. This isn't really like certain mantras, where the sound itself has an effect. So the idea of perfect pronunciation doesn't apply. This is a mindfulness of the Buddha practice, so the mindset is a bit more important than the sound.
月影の いたらぬ里は なけれども 眺むる人の 心にぞすむ
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Monlam Tharchin
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Re: Reconciling Nembutsu Practice with Skepticism

Post by Monlam Tharchin » Thu Oct 19, 2017 6:35 pm

Some additional reading:
* Dharma Wheel thread: Pure Land for the not very faith inclined?
* Is Pure Land Practice only for the Faith Inclined?
* How do Pure Land and God-centric teachings differ?
* The Three Provisions of Faith, Aspiration, Practice

There are also some excellent books out there depending on how deeply you want to explore this school, for example Buddhism of Wisdom & Faith.

Also worth noting, Mainland Pure Land has some distinctive qualities compared to the Shin and Jodo-shu schools of Japanese Pure Land. Pure Land Buddhism encompasses many schools with a long and rich history.

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Re: Reconciling Nembutsu Practice with Skepticism

Post by Sentient Light » Thu Oct 19, 2017 8:13 pm

I was raised Pure Land and it really bothered me. I was very curious about religion even very young, and every time I asked my parents a question, they couldn't answer me. Even basic questions, like who Quan Am is and why we have a statue of her in our house. All my mother could say was, "No, she's not the Buddha's wife. She's like... his... helper... person. I don't know, son, these are things only monks think about it." (She did go and ask a monk at our temple later and came back to me with a better response.) By the time I was in high school, I was fed up with the idea of this religion... it seemed purely faith-based and my parents practiced it without seeming to know anything about it. Like... at all.

So I get you. I'm a natural skeptic too. When I first started practicing Buddhism for real, in college, I stayed away from Pure Land. I was instructed by a Karma Kagyu teacher first, later studied with Theravadins, and lastly with a Gelugpa group before I started reading Asanga and the Mind-Only theory... and started to really understand Mahayana thought.

At that point, two things happened: first, I started to see a possibility for the Pure Land to "exist", because my perspective on what reality even is was changing dramatically through my studies and analysis... and, second, I became aware of Vasubandhu, Asanga's brother. I first studied Vasubandhu's Abhidharma work, decided he was a genius, and saw how Abhidharma and yogacara worked together... And then I found out that Vasubandhu was a Pure Land practitioner as well, and I wondered how such a brilliant logician could possibly and so reverently practice on Amitabha. Eventually, my scrutiny led to a lot of insight into reality, and I decided that it was possible. I also understood the mechanism of the practice at this point, why it works the way it does, how it transforms us and cultivates the path.. so I started practicing. And the more I practiced, the more I saw results. And then I had my own personal experience, and that was that.

If I hadn't had such a bad experience with my parents' lack of knowledge in the dharma, I don't think I'd be a Pure Lander now. I actually sorta came in trying to disprove them. I figured Buddhist abhidharma would actually rule it out somewhere, but... it doesn't. And it's extremely logical. Any time I thought I'd found a flaw in logic, further contemplation showed what bias was causing that view.. and in the absence of that bias, proper logical understanding snapped into place.

I think that if you're skeptical, it can be a really good thing. Skepticism and scrutiny can be the instrument of faith. Read the material, don't just settle for superficial understandings.. plunge deep into it and see for yourself: can you tear anything apart? Does anything not make sense? And is it not making sense because the premise is flawed or because you're clinging to a bias or preconceived notion of how and what things are? If it's the latter, do the teachings already address this bias somewhere else, perhaps not even related directly to the Pure Land teachings?

I think that last bit is the key. When something doesn't make sense in Pure Land, see if something else in the Buddhist canon already addresses that issue... because Pure Land doesn't exist in a vacuum, it's part of the whole of the dharma, and it doesn't make complete sense unless you account for what Buddhism teaches overall.
:buddha1: Nam mô A di đà Phật :buddha1:
:bow: Nam mô Quan Thế Âm Bồ tát :bow:
:bow: Nam mô Đại Thế Chi Bồ Tát :bow:

:buddha1: Nam mô Bổn sư Thích ca mâu ni Phật :buddha1:
:bow: Nam mô Di lặc Bồ tát :bow:
:bow: Nam mô Địa tạng vương Bồ tát :bow:

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negspec13
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Re: Reconciling Nembutsu Practice with Skepticism

Post by negspec13 » Fri Oct 20, 2017 10:21 am

Thank you all for the input, you've given me a lot to look at and think about which is fantastic!

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Re: Reconciling Nembutsu Practice with Skepticism

Post by PadmaVonSamba » Sun Nov 05, 2017 4:45 am

Nembutsu practice is, I think, the perfect practice for the skeptical intellectual,
because it's really kind of stupid, which makes it very profound.
Clinging to the rational, skeptical mind is like, one of the last great ego trips.
We like to think everything out, and when it's all logical and we've separated the things we can prove from the things we can't,
we feel all nice and secure with that, because everything adds up evenly.

But, I think, and in my own experience anyway, reciting the name is very much like the zen koan, or DADA,
insofar as it doesn't rely at all on conceptual thinking. That's why it is a very swift and effective method.
You just throw everything into it, and say NaMoAmida, or AmidaButsu, or OmitoFo, or Amitabha, or whatever language you use,
you just do that without the "calculating mind" at work.

The reason I think it works is because Amitabha means infinite (light).
It is an expression of the mind's original, infinite nature, free from the finite limits of conceptualization.
When we recite Buddha's name, we are taking refuge in the infinite mind, rather than in the self-powered finite mind.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with analytical thinking, or critical thinking, and skepticism,
because these are things that help us to be honest with ourselves concerning what we really do believe and what we can never really believe.
But chanting Amitabha's name goes beyond all that.
Belief and non belief in gods or whatever, both are simply activities of the mind.
Buddhism says, "ah yes, but what is the true nature of that mind?"

So, it's a wonderfully stupid practice, which is perfect.
It's stupid the way that a fresh glass of pure water is stupid. Its just water, no sugar or flavors or colors, totally pure.
Maybe that's why it's called "Pure Land" buddhism.
and because of that, because it is so basic, it completely undermines mental clinging.
Your questioning mind takes the day off, and you just recite the name, and everything becomes Sukavati
.
.
.
Profile Picture: "The Foaming Monk"
The Chinese characters are Fo (buddha) and Ming (bright). The image is of a student of Buddhism, who, imagining himself to be a monk, and not understanding the true meaning of the words takes the sound of the words literally. Likewise, People on web forums sometime seem to be foaming at the mouth.
Original painting by P.Volker /used by permission.

shaunc
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Re: Reconciling Nembutsu Practice with Skepticism

Post by shaunc » Sun Nov 05, 2017 10:06 am

Admin_PC wrote:
Thu Oct 19, 2017 3:34 pm
Thought this deserved its own thread.

The short way:
Try it out for a while. Try to recite for 15 minutes to an hour a day for maybe a month and see what happens. If you're worried about what to do with your mind during that time and faith is not established, try thinking of Amida, thinking of the vow, thinking of the ornaments of the Pure Land, or trying one of the visualization practices. If it helps, keep doing it, and research further.

The long way:
Study up on fundamental Buddhist teachings. Study up on the various philosophical underpinnings of Mahayana. Learn about emptiness. Learn about how mind shapes our experiences. Read the Pure Land sutras ad nauseum to see what they're really getting at. And when you finally feel comfortable with it, approach practice.

In the end it'll probably require a mix of the two approaches, regardless of which one you prioritize. Prioritizing the second one without the practice has the risk of spinning your wheels for a while without much progress.

FWIW - "Faith" in this context means "reliance", "having confidence in", or "letting go to", not mere "belief". Either of the 2 approaches makes it an "informed" faith, either through experience or through logical conclusion.
Personally I'd recommend the short way.

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