Recitation

Buddhist chant boxes are hardware loop players that are sold in temples throughout Asia. They are small battery-powered devices resembling a cheap AM radio that play looped recordings of Buddhist chants. They are intended for use when it’s not possible to get to a temple, or if one wanted to chant and meditate on the go. Each box usually contains either two or more chants.

In Buddhism, chanting is the traditional means of preparing the mind for meditation, especially as part of formal practice. Recitation of the name Amituofo is a way to purify the mind, thoughts and environment. When the mind is serene and compassionate, the living environment will become tranquil. The benefits from this kind of thought can neutralize turbulance from greed, anger, ignorance and arrogance. Everyone can benefit from this recitation regardless of religion.

Almost every Buddhist school has a tradition of chanting associated with it. While the basis for most Theravada chants is the Pali Canon, Mahayana and Vajrayana chants draw from a wider range of sources. In the Vajrayana tradition, chanting is also used as an invocative ritual in order to set one’s mind on a deity, Tantric ceremony, mandala, or particular concept one wishes to further in themselves.

While not strictly a variation of Buddhist chanting in itself, Japanese Shigin is a form of chanted poetry that reflects several principles of Zen Buddhism. It is sung in the seiza position, and participants are encouraged to sing from the gut, the Zen locus of power. Shigin and related practices are often sung at Buddhist ceremonies and quasi-religious gatherings in Japan.

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Scope

Seicho-no-Ie, is a syncretic, nondenominational, monotheistic religion, one of the new religious movements in Japan that have spread since the end of World War II. It emphasizes gratitude for nature, the family and the ancestors and, above all, faith in one universal God. It inherits its basic characteristics from Buddhism, Christianity and Shinto. Seicho-no-Ie is the world’s largest New Thought group.

In 1930, Dr. Masaharu Taniguchi, working as an English translator, published the first issue of what he called his non-denominational truth movement magazine, which he named Seicho-no Ie to help teach others of his revelations. This was followed by forty volumes of his Truth of Life philosophy by 1932. Over the next forty years he published an additional four hundred-odd books and toured many countries in Europe, South America, and North America with his wife Teruko, to lecture on his revelations personally.

Founder of Religious Science, Ernest Holmes, and his brother Fenwicke L. Holmes, were of great assistance to Dr.Taniguchi. Fenwicke L. Holmes traveled to Japan and co-authored several books, one cornerstone book being the Science of Faith.

Seicho-No-Ie is a way of life worshiping all creations such as plants, animals and minerals, as manifestations of Buddha based on the idea of being grateful to everything in the universe. Today, in the face of global environmental issues, it is believed that practicing Seicho-No-Ie teachings has significant meaning for our times. Based on this conviction, Seicho-No-Ie actively promotes measures for global environmental conservation through widely disseminating the teachings of “All is One.”

Association

Prosperity is a state of flourishing, thriving, success, or good fortune. Prosperity often encompasses wealth, but also includes others factors which are independent of wealth to varying degrees, such as happiness and health.

Many distinct notions of prosperity, such as economic prosperity, health, and happiness, are correlated or even have causal effects on each other. Economic prosperity and health are well established to have a positive correlation, and there is evidence that happiness is a cause of good health, both directly through influencing behavior and the immune system, and indirectly through social relationships, work, and other factors.

In Buddhism, prosperity is viewed with an emphasis on collectivism and spirituality. This perspective can be at odds with capitalistic notions of prosperity, due to their association with greed. Data from social surveys show that an increase in income does not result in a lasting increase in happiness. One proposed explanation to this is due to hedonic adaptation and social comparison, resulting in people not allocating enough energy to non-financial goals such as family life and health.

Economic notions of prosperity often compete or interact negatively with health, happiness, or spiritual notions of prosperity. For example, longer hours of work might result in an increase in certain measures of economic prosperity, but at the expense of driving people away from their preferences for shorter work hours. In ecology, prosperity can refer to the extent to which a species flourishes under certain circumstances.

Attainment

Contentment is the experience of satisfaction and being at ease in one’s situation. The source of all mentally created dissatisfaction appears to stem from the ability to compare and contrast experience and find reality as one is living it to be less than ideal. The solution is to seek out ways to either make experienced reality conform to the ideal or to lower expectations to the level of the experience. When one can live in the moment with expectations in harmony with experience, one has achieved the greatest mental contentment possible.

In a Buddhist sense, contentment is the freedom from anxiety, want or need. Buddha’s task was to find the solution to this never ending descent into dissatisfaction or Dukkha. The Buddhist faith is based on the belief that he succeeded. In yoga practice, movement or positions, breathing practices, and concentration can contribute to a physical state of contentment.

Contentment is the goal behind all goals, because once achieved there is nothing to seek until it is lost. A living system cannot maintain contentment for very long as complete balance and harmony of forces means death. Living systems are a complex dance of forces which find a stability far from balance. Any attainment of balance is quickly met by rising pain which ends the momentary experience of satisfaction or contentment achieved.

The American philosopher, Robert Bruce Raup wrote a book Complacency: The Foundation of Human Behavior in which he claimed that the human need for inner tranquility was the hidden spring of human behavior. Dr. Raup made this the basis of his pedagogical theory, which he later used in his severe criticisms of the American Education system of the 1930s.

Inseparability

The endless knot is an ancient symbol representing the interweaving of the spiritual path, the flowing of time, and movement within that which is eternal. All existence, it says, is bound by time and change, yet ultimately rests serenely within the divine and the eternal.

It is a symbolic knot and an important cultural marker in places significantly influenced by Tibetan Buddhism such as Tibet, Mongolia, Tuva, Kalmykia, and Buryatia. It is also sometimes found in Chinese art and used in Chinese knots. The endless knot is known as one of the Eight Auspicious Symbols.

Various interpretations of the symbol include the endless cycle of suffering or birth, death and rebirth within Tibetan Buddhism, the inter-twining of wisdom and compassion, and the interplay and interaction of the opposing forces in the dualistic world of manifestation, leading to their union, and ultimately to harmony in the universe.

It represents the union of wisdom and method, the inseparability of emptiness and the underlying reality of existence, and is also symbolic of the linking of ancestors and omnipresence in the magical ritual and meta-process of binding.

Since the knot has no beginning or end it also symbolizes the infinite wisdom of the Buddha. Endless knots appearing as mystic and mythological symbols have developed independently in various cultures. A well-known example is the various Celtic knots.

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Guidance

The Ganzfeld effect is a phenomenon of visual perception caused by staring at an undifferentiated and uniform field of color. The effect is described as the loss of vision as the brain cuts off the unchanging signal from the eyes. The result is “seeing black” or apparent blindness. The word is from German for “complete field”.

The effect is the result of the brain amplifying neural noise in order to look for the missing visual signals. The noise is interpreted in the higher visual cortex, and gives rise to hallucinations. This is similar to dream production because of the brain’s state of sensory deprivation during sleep.

The Ganzfeld effect has been reported since ancient times. The adepts of Pythagoras retreated to pitch black caves to receive wisdom through their visions. Miners trapped by accidents in mines frequently reported hallucinations, visions and seeing ghosts when they were in the pitch dark for days. Arctic explorers seeing nothing but featureless landscape of white snow for a long time also reported hallucinations and an altered state of mind.

In Tibetan Buddhism a dark retreat refers to advanced practices of isolation in darkness. The time period dedicated to dark retreat varies from a few hours to decades. Dark retreat in the Himalayan tradition is a restricted practice only to be engaged by the senior spiritual practitioner under appropriate spiritual guidance. This practice is considered conducive for navigating the bardo at the time of death and for realising the rainbow body. The traditional dark retreat requires stability in the natural state and is only suitable for advanced practitioners.

Ancient Egyptians and Mayans practiced a form of the dark retreat as well, traditionally lasting 10 days. Holy men would enter into the center of their respective pyramids, completely removed from light and sound, and have visions of the workings of the universe. Today, scientists have hypothesized that when the human body is deprived of visual stimulation, the brain produces a substance called Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a tryptamine, which results in intense visions.

Heroism

Dāna is a Sanskrit term meaning generosity or giving. In Buddhism, it also refers to the practice of cultivating generosity. As a formal religious act it is directed specifically to a monastic or spiritually-developed person. In Buddhist thought, it has the effect of purifying and transforming the mind of the giver.

Buddhists believe that giving, without seeking something in return, leads to greater spiritual wealth and reduces acquisitive impulses that ultimately lead to further suffering. Generosity developed through giving leads to being reborn in happy states and material wealth. Alternatively, lack of giving leads to unhappy states and poverty.

The quality of giving is believed to be one of the virtues perfected over numerous lifetimes by Shakyamuni Buddha in his bodhisattva phase, before the final culmination into Nirvana, after he had purified obscurations and released attachment. This is symbolized by the sacrifice of his own body when he has nothing else to offer an unexpected guest in the Jataka folktale entitled Shasha Jataka, where Shakyamuni Buddha is born as a rabbit, and unable to present any other food to a Brahmin come home, roasted himself in a fire.

A similar message is given by the story of King Shibi in the Jataka Mala, who having given away all his wealth, was still moved enough by small insects hovering around him, and inflicted several wounds on his body to feed the mosquitoes. In another narrative from the same text, the bodhisattva throws himself in front of a hungry tigress, who otherwise was on the verge of consuming her own cubs. This is however not the only instance of the Buddha-To-Be sacrificing his physical body partly or fully and numerous tales abound in Buddhist Canonical literature illustrating this theme.

In the ancient Samadhiraja-Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha’s principal disciple Ananda asks how a bodhisattva can cheerfully suffer the loss of his limbs and not feel any pain when he mutilates himself for the good of others. Shakyamuni Buddha explained that intense compassion for humankind and the love of Bodhi (spiritual awakening), sustain and inspire a bodhisattva towards heroism, just as worldly people are inclined to enjoy sensual pleasures even when their bodies are burning with fever.

Ultimately, the practice culminates in one of the Perfections, the Perfection of Giving. This can be characterized by unattached and unconditional generosity, giving and letting go.

Distinction

Kensho is a Japanese term for enlightenment experiences, most commonly used within the confines of Zen Buddhism. It generally refers to the realization of nonduality of subject and object. Frequently used in juxtaposition with satori, there is sometimes a distinction made between the two in that some consider satori to be qualitatively deeper.

Kensho itself has been said to be a blissful realization where a person’s inner nature, the original pure mind, is directly known as an illuminating emptiness which is dynamic and immanent in the world. Kenshō experiences are tiered, in that they escalate from initial glimpses into the nature of mind to an experience of emptiness.

Working towards this realisation is usually a lengthy process of meditation and introspection under guidance of a Zen or other Buddhist teacher, usually in intensive retreats. The methods used differ depending upon the tradition and practice. Soto tends towards a gradual approach preferring to let the experiences happen on their own while Rinzai tends toward the use of Koans or a set Koan question as a technique to bring the experience sooner.

Which methods are more appropriate for any given student are made by which lineage of Zen the student practices as well as what seems most appropriate by the student’s teacher. It should be noted that the Kensho experience is not limited to Japanese Zen Buddhism traditions and occurs in many traditions as well as outside of Buddhist practice.

Kensho may also be spontaneous, upon hearing or reading some significant phrase, or as result of a profound dream. For example, Zen lore describes the Sixth Patriarch Hui Neng’s spontaneous experience of kensho upon hearing a phrase of the Diamond sutra.

Koans are a technique that can be used as meditation aids, particularly in the Rinzai tradition. For example, one koan is known as ‘Who am I’, since it is this question that guides the enquiry into one’s true nature. The realization that there is no ‘I’ that is doing the thinking, but rather that the thinking process brings forth the illusion of an ‘I’, is a step on the way to Kensho.

It is not unusual for various hallucinations and psychological disturbances to arise prior to true kensho. These are referred to as makyo. Distinguishing these delusions from actual kensho is the primary function of the teacher, as the student may be erroneously convinced they have realized kensho.

Understanding

The Four Noble Truths are one of the most fundamental Buddhist teachings. In broad terms, these truths relate to suffering’s nature, origin, cessation and the path leading to the cessation. They are among the truths Gautama Buddha is said to have realized during his experience of enlightenment.

The Four Noble Truths appear many times throughout the most ancient Buddhist texts, the Pali Canon. The early teaching and the traditional understanding in the Theravada is that the four noble truths are an advanced teaching for those who are ready for them. Mahayana Buddhism regards them as a preliminary teaching for people not ready for its own teachings. They are little known in the Far East.

Some may see truths as a mistranslation. One author cites realities as a possibly better choice, since they are things, not statements, in the original grammar. However, the original Tibetan Lotsawas who studied Sanskrit grammar thoroughly, did translate the term from Sanskrit into Tibetan as “bden pa” which has the full meaning of truth.

1. The Nature of Suffering (Dukkha):

This is the noble truth of suffering: birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair are suffering; union with what is displeasing is suffering; separation from what is pleasing is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering.

2. Suffering’s Origin (Samudaya):

This is the noble truth of the origin of suffering: it is this craving which leads to renewed existence, accompanied by delight and lust, seeking delight here and there, that is, craving for sensual pleasures, craving for existence, craving for extermination.

3. Suffering’s Cessation (Nirodha):

This is the noble truth of the cessation of suffering: it is the remainderless fading away and cessation of that same craving, the giving up and relinquishing of it, freedom from it, nonreliance on it.

4. The Way (Marga) Leading to the Cessation of Suffering:

This is the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of suffering: it is the Noble Eightfold Path; that is, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.

Why the Buddha is said to have taught in this way is illuminated by the social context of the time in which he lived. The Buddha was a Sramaṇa, a wandering ascetic whose aim was to discover the truth and attain happiness. He is said to have achieved this aim while under a bodhi tree near the River Neranjana. The Four Noble Truths are a formulation of his understanding of the nature of suffering, the fundamental cause of all suffering, the escape from suffering, and what effort a person can go to so that they themselves can attain happiness.

Etiquette

Zendo is a Japanese term translating roughly as meditation hall. In Zen Buddhism, the zendo is a spiritual dojo where zazen, or sitting meditation, is practiced. A full sized Buddhist temple will typically be divided into at least one zendo as well as a hondo, literally base hall, sometimes translated as Buddha hall, which is used for ceremonial purposes, and a variety of other buildings with different functions. However, any place where people go to practice zen can be referred to as a zendo.

The first meal of the day in the Zendo will often be taken in the early morning, before dawn. It normally consists of rice gruel and pickled vegetables. The monks are summoned to meals by a gong that is struck. The five meditations are recited, after which monks will be served with the gruel and vegetables. Often monks will offer some of their meal to the pretas or hungry ghosts. Two meals are taken later, in the late morning and late afternoon. These meals usually consist of rice, vegetable soup and pickled vegetables. The monks remain silent during mealtimes and communicate via hand and arm gestures.

The following are recommendations on zendo etiquette, along with explanations of some Japanese terms. Etiquette varies in different temples, so the following rules may or may not apply in part or in full at any given zendo:

  • Enter the zendo on the left side of the entry, left foot first.
  • Gassho (place the hands palms together) and bow to the altar.
  • Walk forward across the room past the altar and go to a seat turning corners squarely. Cross in front of the altar only during kinhin (walking meditation).
  • Gassho and bow toward the seat, greeting the people to both sides.
  • The people on both sides respond to greeting.
  • Turn clockwise and face front.
  • Gassho and bow to those directly across room, greeting them.
  • They respond with a gassho-bow in greeting.
  • Sit down on the zafu (round cushion).
  • Turn clockwise toward the wall. (If in a Soto-style zendo, Rinzai style is to sit facing in from the wall.)
  • Always turn or move clockwise as viewed from above the zendo.

In some Buddhist sects there are as many as 348 precepts, or Patimoksha Rules, some of which serve as guidelines for the many details of monastic living, such as taking off your shoes before entering the zendo, and being sure your feet and clothes are clean. Fully ordained women are given about fifty more precepts than men. The precepts were created individually as situations arose that put monks and nuns in danger, or that were counterproductive to practice.