Saturday, October 22, 2016


Hi Sangha and Friends, 

I will be presenting a poster entitled Two Feet, Deep: Theory and Forms of Contemplative Walking at this year's International Symposium for Consciousness Studies.


This is a wonderful opportunity and major honour for me and us, who will be one of the few Canadians presenting.

There are many leading speakers presenting. For more details, check the link. He will share his experience, source paper and reflections on his return. I expect video and text will be available over the next few months.

in the Dharma, 
Innen, doshu

Saturday, July 09, 2016


Hi Sangha and Friends,
  • On Saturday July 16 we will switch our schedule to allow sangha members to join Judy as she does the ALS fun run at the Mateway Activity Centre in Renfrew to raise funds for ALS!
  • There are 3km and 5km runs for $15. Registration: 8:30AM Start Time: 9:00AM
  • Judy will be running ; Innen and the RMS “fast-puppy”, Josh, will pole-walk the 3 k circuit
  • FYI – a 3 km walk takes about 45 minutes at a brisk pace.

Check the Shedule page for other changes.

 .... in the Dharma, 
Innen, doshu

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Hi Sangha and Friends,

Thank you to everyone for your understanding and patience as I recover from my health challenges. The latest tests show that I am clear of the pneumonia and am welcoming us all back to resume practice on June 18.
in the Dharma, 
Innen, doshu

Saturday, March 26, 2016


My current readings have been a mix of deepening my knowledge of the history of South Eastern Europe, especially Portugal, and a biography of Honen, the Tendai priest who launched the Pure Land School (Jodo-shu) in Japan. Coincidentally, they overlap in time. Honen lived between 1133 and 1212 CE, and the period I am at in my study is the transition from Moorish dominance to the early formation of the state called 'Portu-Cale' which occurred in the late 1100's as well.

What I found curiously coincidental was that both the mainstream Buddhists in Japan (primarily Tendai) and the King, as head of Catholicism in the new Portuguese state sought the same validation. In Japan, the hierarchy on Mt. Hiei, had enjoyed primacy in the emperor's court for centuries. They had established a kind of agreement whereby they were left alone to preach salvation as long as they did not interfere in state matters. In Europe, the new Portuguese king sought similar approval for his realm through the Pope in Rome. 
In Japan, the monks of Mt. Hiei stuck by this agreement and, when Honen started to win over more and more converts to his practice style, a style which effectively undercut monastic monopoly of faith, they arranged for Honen to be exiled. The Portuguese king needed to link his feudal tax system to a regular donation scheme to Rome, thus securing approval and support for his kingdom, which existed in a region of a dozen or more other small-scale kingdoms.
Its interesting how religious movements have to negotiate this church-state boundary. Contrastingly, many Islamic states and Tibet solved the issue by assigning state power to the clergy. As we well know this can be a mixed solution too. It gives us the Dalai Lama but also the ayatollahs of Iran and figures like those scheming priests in 16th century Europe.

Yours in the Dharma,
Innen, doshu
om namo amida butsu

Saturday, March 19, 2016


NEW BOOK: Toward A Contemporary Understanding of Pure Land Buddhism

Sometimes a new book can be an introduction to the landscape, a summary of familiar material, a personal scan on a topic or some other “good reads”. And then there are books like this. Toward A Contemporary Understanding of Pure Land Buddhism is subtitled Creating a Shin Buddhist Theology in a Religiously Plural World, and is edited by Dennis Hirota, a Professor of Asian Studies at Chikushi Jogakuen University in Japan. He is a brilliant writer on Pure Land in his own right, a world authority on Shinran.
This book is a very engaging format in that it presents a set of three “contemporary interpretations” of Pure Land, by Hirota and two other equally erudite Pure Land academics. Then follows a set of commentaries by two giants of contemporary western religious thought, George Kaufman, (God-Mystery-Diversity: Christian Theology in a Pluralistic World ) and John B Cobb Jr. ( Beyond Dialogue: Toward a Mutual Transformation of Christianity and Buddhism) The book concludes with a response to those two by the three opening writers.
The initial three chapters offer three separate approaches to the Pure Land path, which the authors call the hermeneutical, the process and the buddhological. The first is a familiar approach which centres on a coherent understanding of oneself and one's place in the world. The second, Process Theology, is relatively new and comes from recent Christian thought, notably the writings of people like John Cobb Jr. The final piece introduces what it calls a “buddhological” approach, that is using the language and concepts of esoteric Buddhist writing to explain Pure Land practice, especially mandala visualization. What follows are the back and forth commentary of the five writers.
There is insufficient space here for any kind of expanded remarks on this book. After my first read-through, I have to confess there is so much to consider and examine that I probably have little to say at this point. I found this title most provocative with its underlying theme of how we are to express Pure Land practice in addressing contemporary concerns. All note that Pure Land has succeeded in providing a potent and profound theory and practice which explains the universe and our means to salvation. It has not similarly provided guidance for everyday life. It would seem that this was not a concern for teachers like Shinran.
This book is far from an introduction to Pure Land. Those new to it are better of with Suzuki's Buddha of Infinite Lightor Unno's River of Fire, River of Water. This book will take us far beyond those opening doors.

Yours in the Dharma,
Innen, doshu
om namo amida butsu

Thursday, March 10, 2016


Hi Sangha and Friends,

I pulled my copy of the collected poetry and writing of Matsuo Basho off the bookshelf recently and started to re-read it. This time I approached it a new way.

Basho is probably the greatest poet of the Japanese haiku style, which is characterized by a delightful and ironic styles compacted into just over a dozen syllables in a three stanza structure. Some call him the Japanese Thoreau because, in addition to being the acknowledged master of this poetic form, he exemplified a peripatetic lifestyle that forms the backdrop of his life and work. His poetry emerges from the travels he takes back and forth across the Japanese landscape in the middle of the 1600's. Alone, accompanied by younger poets, on foot or on horseback, he visits shrines, old friends and sites of rare natural beauty.

I had read through his poems and travelogues several times before, but this time I decided to follow them with maps and pictures. I kept my tablet open as I read and whenever he mentions where he is, I tracked it on the map and photo software. Of course the landscape is radically different from his experience. Now there are skyscrapers, power lines and paved multi-lane freeways all across the landscape. Nevertheless, many of the natural sites and temples have changed little, so I can view something of what inspired his poems.

Basho may have been a Buddhist priest or at least presented himself as one, and his style has deeply influenced the aesthetic and subject matter of later Zen poetry.

I am currently using The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches


You can read most of Basho's greatest works here: http://www.poemhunter.com/matsuo-basho/

Yours in the Dharma,
Innen, doshu
om namo amida butsu


Thursday, March 03, 2016


Hi Sangha and Friends, 
Here is a follow-up conversation 


From the Dharma perspective the quality of feelings are indicators of state of mind and images of right/wrong and burden/relief point to what is happening in your mind. Such mental activity points us to the fundamental orientation we have to our lives.
In his first-ever talk, the Buddha said “I come to teach the truth of suffering and its relief”, so, if you feel some relief, then the presentation of Dharma has resonated with something in you. In essence, what the Buddha taught was we are not (spoiler alert!) the centre of the universe. OMG! What he proposed is that we are located in an incomprehensible network of cause-and-effect relationships (for future reading, this is called pratitya samutpada, or conditioned arising). Our Awakening is to understand that location, to understand its momentum or purpose and to direct our lives to it. The amount of control you can experience is determined by how you understand who this “I” to be.

Q. .. I've been in a canoe on rapid waters and I appreciate the challenge of it.
A.   It seems to me that the only place we have much choice or control is how we lean towards or away from wholesome thoughts, intentions and actions. The lure and appeal of self-desires is potent, so, yes, it takes effort and determination.

Q.   However, it also makes me sort of disheartened to think that I can't have an effective role in changing things I wish to see differently, particularly the suffering of others. But is that not a major intention - relief of suffering?
A.   Quite the contrary, you have a decisive part to play in the relief of dukkha. You are not a passive receptor, nor are you just a cog in a wheel. The understanding of our true nature as children of the Buddha is also our awareness that we can express every breath and action for the relief of suffering beings. Once we start to see that responsibility and accept that, then we easily trim off all the wasted effort we make to protect the ego, to hide from truth, pain and maturity and to delude ourselves that we can live forever in lives of self-indulgence. Instead of clinging and grasping, life activities become rich with purpose and focus. What changes is the knowledge that the context of our every breath is the boundary-less expanse of the Buddha's loving kindness and compassion. We come to find the canoe is capsized and we swim in an ocean of compassion.

Q.   And if we are unwholesome, do we not experience dukkha? So in that way do we not have some form of control?
A.   Yes, unwholesome action (and thought and intention) are causes of dukkha. Always remember dukkha is not something limited to personal experience. The Buddha's first teaching was “sarvam dukkham” - meaning all this is incapable of providing satisfaction. He points to our identification of who we are as being located in the endless cycle of birth and death (that cycle of conditioned arising mentioned above) as the the reason we feel empty or lacking. Dukkha is not ours, it is the flavour of human experience.
This question of choice and control is not entirely clear to me. I know it is different from the current Western obsession with choice/control/autonomy/self. What I understand so far, and from my limited perspective of what is known as Pure Land teaching, is that choice is a perception of the presence of the liberative impulse of the Buddhas. There is no 'me' and even to the extent that there seems to be, that 'me' relies on the power of the Buddhas to direct 'me' to awareness.

Q.   At the same time, though, there seems to be a certain level of "letting go" that must need to happen in order to focus our intentions on our movement with the momentum as opposed to working towards change.
A.   The momentum is always about change anyway. The second teaching of the Buddha is anicca, impermanence. The critical detail is that it is not someone making change happen. Change is the form of reality. It is directed at openness, compassion and thorough self-awareness. What we can do is align ourselves with that momentum of change (i.e. wholesome activity) or struggle to maintain our deluded sense of individual autonomy (i.e. un-wholesome activity, that which generates more dukkha). The letting go is not abandoning a commitment to change, but of realizing that we are not isolated, individually-willed selves but are part of the compassionate activity of the Buddhas.

Yours in the Dharma,
Innen, doshu
om namo amida butsu

Sunday, February 28, 2016


Hi Sangha and Friends,
Here is an exchange I had with a friend recently.

Q: When you say we are never the agents of change - do you mean ever?

A: What I propose is spoken from my understanding of Buddha-dharma (the teachings of the Buddhas) and it is not so present in the secular-psych approaches which remain married to the 20th century existentialist philosophy that emphasizes individual identity and personal choice. It is inconsistent with mainstream Christian thought too, which likewise emphasizes individual identity and will. The biggest differences are the doctrine of "karma" (cause and effect) and the initial "3 Stains" Buddhist teaching, which asserts :
1. "Anatta"- there is no separate eternal self or soul (yes, there are transient spirit-selves but none that survive death)
2. "Anicca" - there is nothing in the realm of time/space which possesses permanence, - everything is transient and changing, and
3. "Dukkha" - this realm of our normal experience can not provide us full satisfaction or fulfillment
The second point is the crucial one here for this discussion. It asserts that all there is is a causally interconnected net of continuously shifting and changing phenomena within which we we seem to experience ourselves as unique. In short, everything is already changing all the time. That is its nature. We do not cause the change, nor can we.

What we experience as our "self" is a temporary presentation that is causally linked with the momentum that precedes us. The causes that lead to "me" are not limited to what I have done, but are the results of previous karmic force which may include individuals like my parents and grandparents, but may also include higher level karma, such as social and cultural forces. 

I use that image of canoeing on a fast flowing river, but the more accurate Buddhist metaphor, which would scare off most people, is that we are not in a canoe but we are actually the peaks of those moving waves. We cannot change the ocean or the waves. We can only attend to the momentum and align ourselves with it. Our purpose is to recognize our true "wave-ness" and fulfill that as completely as we can. We experience "Dukkha" (existential lack) when we try to set ourselves against or separate ourselves out from the momentum of the wave and the ocean. 

The concept of "will" which so dominates Western thought is not much of an issue for Buddhist teaching. Instead we use the term "vedana" which roughly equates to intention. It is the directionality of our thoughts, desires and, ultimately our actions. When our thoughts, intentions and actions are "wholesome (Kusala, that is, directed at realizing our true nature) then we flow with the flow. When they are unwholesome (a-kusala, self-obsessed) then we experience that dissatisfaction that characterizes human life - ie. Dukkha. 

The challenge for us is not to cause change but to discover the flow of change and how to best align ourselves with it.We are more collaborators than agents. This remains a moral and positive purpose.If that's the case, why do we reflect, pay attention to our values, set our own intentions and facilitate our own attentive action? When we took your pups for the walk earlier this winter I really heard you when you talked about being aware of the already existing momentum. But do we not act as agents of change on some level? 
Only in a relative sense, that is, to the extent that we hold to the idea of a separate self. The value of meditation, value clarification and intention setting is that it permits us to see through the delusion of individual selfhood, at least momentarily, so we can release the self-obsession that drives our lives and suffering. They permit us to step outside of the narrowness of "my" experience, and allows enough perception of our location in the flow that we broaden or value system to encompass all beings. It promotes a larger, non-self-obsessed desire for the Awakening of all beings from their suffering. Meditative practices are one of the eight tools (Buddhist cal the the Eight-fold Path) recommended to us so we can grow beyond the compressed and sorrowful states of individual being.
This has lead to an accusation of determinism, fatalism and nihilism being targeted at Buddha-dharma by those whose understanding is immature. The teachings, practices and ethics of Buddhist teaching are not life-denying or passive. On the contrary, we are called in each moment to discover how we are ever the expression of universal wisdom and compassion. The question raised for us is how will we act to demonstrate or "realize" that.

in the Dharma, 
Innen, doshu

Saturday, February 20, 2016


We have been emphasizing the jodo or devotional tradition through our study of the Visualization Sutra.  (For more on this see this month's Dharma talk) This stresses a personal relationship that can exist between ordinary humans and a trans-human presence, such as Amitabha, Jizo Kwan Yin or many others.
Within the phenomenon of Western Buddhist culture there is a form of Buddhism called secular Buddhism or Buddhist atheism or a number of other things. Prominent proponents of this position are Stephen Batchelor and Rick Harris. The American Stephen Batchelor, author of  After Buddhism: Rethinking Dharma for A Secular Age ; Buddhism Without Beliefs and Confessions of A Buddhist Atheist is a controversial figure who explores the ideas that bridge conventional Buddhist teaching and the views of modern atheism. Harris another American mindfulness teacher is author of Secular Meditation: 32 Practices for Cultivating Inner Peace, Compassion, and Joy.
There is an excellent blog which acts as a base-camp for Secular Buddhism. It offers a distinction between traditional and secular Buddhism :

Much of secular Buddhist practice is the same as traditional, but there are some differences, which are noted where appropriate.The bottom line in Buddhism is to eliminate suffering for yourself and others. All the teachings strive to that end. The difference with secular Buddhism is that the focus is on this lifetime, in this world, whereas some traditions believe the practice takes many life times, and their goal is to end the cycle of rebirth. 
The Secular Buddhism site features some instruction in this approach. More valuably, it is full of book reviews and great podcasts with significant teachers in modern Dharma. One I especially enjoyed is the podcast interview with David McMahan. His book The Making of Buddhist Modernism is an excellent examination of the causes and conditions which have contributed to the overall landscape of contemporary Buddhism.  McMahan is Professor of Religious Studies at Franklin and Marshall College, having earned his Ph.D. at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His research focuses on Buddhism and modernity, South Asian Buddhism, and the effects of globalization. He has published a number of journal articles about these topics, and has presented lectures all over the world, most recently by invitation at Minzu University in Beijing, China. This hour-long interview explores his ideas from the Buddhist Modernism book.

in the Dharma, 
Innen, doshu

Saturday, February 06, 2016


This morning we recited the Eight Lay Precepts, as we do from time to time. This lead to a vigourous discussion about the repetitive use of the phrase “I vow..” What are vows? How responsible are we for them? What happens when we fail?
Precepts or vows refers to the shila components of Buddhist teaching. Shila is the third component of the three which also includes wisdom (prajna) and practice (samadhi). This term can mean morality, ethics or values. These represent behavioural standards, rather than some independent moral code, like the Ten Commandments. Traditionally, monks, priests and nuns take a more elaborated set of precepts, while laypeople or upasakas have a smaller and simpler set, such as the Eight referred to above.
There are forms of Buddhism which treat moral choices as “commandments” and, similar to Christian teaching ,depicts shila-violation as a punishable act, with the consequence being any number of terrible hell-realms. This view treats karma as a code-and-judgment phenomenon.
I prefer to view vows as personal statements of intention, motivated by the desire for Awakening (bodaishin). They are like flight plans we make, for ourselves and as proclamations before our peers. As with a pilot, we do not control the whole flight route and we may indeed fail or be required to alter our plans as circumstances arise. We are responsible for how we act on these intentions, but are never accountable for outcomes (because we do not control the wider context of our actions).
We make intentions to guide our efforts to serve the Dharma. We understand , as we make them, that we may fail. We further understand that vow-taking or intention-setting is a step taken on a path which leads beyond this immediate lifetime. Our actions have karmic value which will certainly impact beyond this present life, as well as impact on lives adjacent to ours in this context.
Finally, we also understand that the completion of any precept or vow is not the assignment of any act to ourselves alone. We make vows in awareness of the karmic momentum from other lives, other people and events. We recognize this life is interdependent on other lives, so we accept that we can only effect a small part of the momentum of any moment. We take a vow knowing our role is partial. Further, we incorporate in our vows and practice the resonance of our efforts with those of countless Buddhas and bodhisattvas who have made concurrent vows to contribute to our lives. The success of any vow is never ours alone, just as the failure cannot ever be ours alone.

Yours in the Dharma,
Innen, doshu
om namo amida butsu

Saturday, January 09, 2016


As we study sutras, like the Visualization Sutra, we run across references to colours and jewels from which they derive. Below is a quick reference guide to assist your study.
If you look at your copy of the Mandala, you will see the predominance of the orange-gold colours, but the presence of the whole range too.
imagine that the beryl ground shines brilliantly, inside and out, and that this ground 
is supported from below by columns that are made of diamond and the seven kinds
of jewels and hung with golden banners. These columns have eight sides and eight 
corners, each side  being adorned with a hundred kinds of jewels. Each jewel emits 
a thousand rays of light, each ray in turn having eighty-four thousand colors. 
As they are reflected on the beryl ground, they look like a thousand kotis of suns, 
so dazzling that it is impossible to see them in detail. 
Lastly, we include beryl, which has a wide variety of natural colour versions. 
The green one is what we call emerald