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Meditation Note from Alaska

The Event Buddhist
편집장  2016-07-29 09:50:09, 조회 : 160,452, 추천 : 170

Summer has come to Alaska. Snow piled up during winter disappears and trees and grasses become green. Nighttime is getting shorter, the sun sets nearer to midnight and daylight lingers. Maybe because of global warming, winter seems less cold with summer gradually arriving earlier.

Every summer in Alaska, salmon leave the Pacific Ocean where they grew up and return to their birth place to spawn eggs in Alaskan rivers. In addition to being an important resource for the Alaskan economy and industry, salmon play an important role in supporting and maintaining the wildlife and ecosystem of Alaska.

Traditionally, Alaskan natives have smoked salmon to preserve them for winter food. Alaska's bears also eat a lot of salmon in summer before they hibernate in winter. Furthermore, after spawning, salmon die in the river and their bodies nourish bacteria and insects within the river system, thus becoming food for new born salmon. It is reported that salmon help keep the Alaskan forest thriving by contributing nitrogen and minerals to the nitrogen cycle. This is a good example of Buddha’s teaching of how everything in the universe is connected.

Sometimes, I wonder how salmon return to the river where they were born. It would be easier if they just went to the nearest river instead of the interior of Alaska which is far away from the Pacific Ocean. However, if they did, perhaps they would be alone without their kind and subsequently not reproduce, ending up extinct. So, returning home must be a crucial instinct.

Several weeks ago I was thinking about Buddha's birthday. China and Korea celebrate Buddha's birthday on April 8th of the lunar calendar while South East Asian countries celebrate it on the full moon day of May of the solar calendar. On Buddha's birthday, ten times more Buddhists visit temples compared to ordinary days. This once a year occasion reminds me of a salmon run. Just like salmon returning home, Buddhists also remember to look to Buddha annually.

This once-a-year temple goer is called an “event Buddhist”, going to temple only on special occasions. I used to be a Buddhist of this category when I was young. However, I always felt confident in claiming that I was a good Buddhist and knew about Buddhism very well. I now realize I was merely a nightstand Buddhist dabbling with the philosophy of Buddhism instead of being a spiritually devout believer.

One time when I was a college student I attended a Dharma meeting and came away ashamed of myself. It was time to re-examine myself. During the Buddhist ceremony, some students had been able to recite the Thousand Hands Sutra and the Heart Sutra from memory. I was very surprised because I had never memorized them. I thought I knew Buddhism well but I realized that I hadn’t even tried to memorize the Heart Sutra. At that moment, I was ashamed that I was a lazy Buddhist who hadn’t seriously practiced. After that, I read and memorized the Heart Sutra every day and finally by the next Dharma meeting, I was able to recite it without looking at the book.

Many people think that a religious life is having faith and attending a Dharma meeting on a special day. Some Buddhists go to temple only when they have trouble or need to pray for something important. This kind of religious practice is opportunistic or self-centered.

Without understanding the profound meaning of the Heart Sutra or the Thousand Eyes and the Hands Sutra, many Buddhists easily discuss the aspects of non-substantiality, primal emptiness, and inter-dependent arising. But does this mean that they are truly devoted Buddhists? As the Heart Sutra is the core of the Paramita Sutras, it is difficult to understand. It took me about 10 years to understand it properly. As soon as the Dharma Master Xuanzang (玄奬法師, 602~664) brought the Heart Sutra from India to China, he translated it first, knowing how profound and important it was. The Heart Sutra is an astonishing teaching of how to attain the wisdom of true emptiness that liberates one from suffering.

Shakamuni Buddha said, "Just as a tree when inclined to the east will fall to the east someday, Buddhists who pay attention to Buddha's teaching with high resolve will be born in Buddha's land no matter when or how they die." Because of the inertia aspect of the Law of Karma, not only studying but also religious practice requires constant effort, which will bring positive result and support. If you remain an occasional Buddhist, you will never have enough driving force to attain enlightenment.

In this busy modern life, it is not easy to go to temple and attend a Dharma meeting regularly. Of course, going to temple once or twice a year is not a disgrace but it is not something to boast about either. More important is the daily practice of mind cultivation and self-discipline. When you make a habit of this kind of effort and then go to temple, you will be able to ask questions and discuss Dharma, making your religious life more spiritual and devoted.

Rather than going to temple only on a special day, decide to practice religiously and to learn Buddha's teaching. Even if you can't go to temple regularly, you can put more effort to learning Dharma and cultivating your mind in daily life to become a better Buddhist. There is an old Confucian saying that noblemen who study are always impressed with the progress they make even in three days. Thus, devoted Buddhists should always behave in accordance to Buddha's teaching in their words and actions even if attending Dharma meetings once in a while.

The reason that salmon spend a few years in the ocean is to grow strong enough to swim upstream to spawn. As a salmon instinctively produces thousands of eggs for reproduction, I hope that all Buddhists practice hard to spread Buddha's messages to the world while celebrating Buddha's birthday.

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