The blessing of affliction

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    This morning I opened a newsletter from Dosho Port, an American Zen teacher who trained with Katagiri Roshi.

    He began the newsletter by writing:

    ‘There are two directions for spiritual practice. One is a movement toward escaping the suffering of the world. The other, of which our Zen way is an example, aims at realizing that the 84,000 afflictions as they are, are the body of Buddha. Yes, that means those things that afflict you.

    And not just the mildly afflictive things. Hakuin said, “The lowest and most despicable passions are manifestations of the highest, most sublime Buddha-body.”’

    What a striking teaching. The 84,000 afflictions are the body of the Buddha.

    That’s a Zen teaching. What’s my Pureland take on it?

    In the introduction to No Abode, Denis Hirota talks about one of the differences between Ippen and Shinran. Ippen views the clouds that block the sunshine as something the get rid of, Shinran sees that they are transformed by the sunlight behind them into something beautiful.

    I’m with Shinran.

    Can we receive even the most painful afflictions as a blessing?

    Shakyamuni Buddha did not escape suffering. Towards the end of his life, the Buddha described his body as ‘strapped up like an old ox cart held together by rope’. He was the target of several assassination attempts. His friends and disciples died. And yet — a Buddha receives each of these with love — this is the definition of a Buddha.

    Love transforms something painful into an opportunity for liberation, into an opportunity for fellow-feeling and compassion, into an opportunity for letting go of selfishness.

    Life presents affliction. What are you going to do with it? This is the teaching of the four noble truths.

    It is easier when we see that everything is already illuminated by the great light of the Buddhas. And what is the light? The light is love.

    Namo Amida Bu

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