Blue Jean Buddha
Hello, how are you? It’s Edward here again, today I would like to share about a book that I have recently read, entitled “Blue Jean Buddha”.
The main reason why I love this book is because it consists of short stories written by various people, talking about how they came to know about Buddhism and the one event that struck them so deeply that they began to develop a strong faith in Buddhism. I believe the words they use and the way they express themselves through writing attracted me to read more and more. The one thing that differentiates this book from the previous ones that I have read is that it allows us to look at Buddhism in different ways, from different perspectives. For example in the book, some of the personas were born in families that practice Buddhism strongly, some were exposed to Buddhism during their college years, some were heading down the wrong path and were introduced to Buddhism by family members or by friends and that changed their lives. Buddha Shakyamuni has taught 84,000 different methods to enlightenment to various people based on their individual needs so that they can absorb the teachings better.
Just as I have mentioned earlier, there is a lot of short stories written in this book and I would like to share some of them with you.
1. Climbing with Tara by Ben Galland
It was a classic High Sierra day in late August: warm sunshine, long days and cool nights. I was up in the Tuolumne Meadows area backpacking with my mom. We camped at a lake at the base of the Matthes Crest rock formation. This rock formation rises straight out of the ground about 1,500 ft and is sheer on both sides. It looks like a monolithic shark’s fin- a really big piece of rock. My mom and I were doing a little climbing in the area, and today was a rest day for my mom. When I woke, I saw her doing her morning meditation, and I was inspired to do some sort of meditation for myself, too.
I decided to go climb the fin. I grabbed a little daypack and threw in some snacks and a water bottle. I didn’t know how long it was going to take me, but I figured I would be gone for just a few hours. I headed up the hill from the lake to the base of the cliff. There I stood with no ropes, at the base of this 1,500 ft monolith thinking to myself, good morning. I had climbed without ropes before so I knew what I was getting myself into. I had to really be in the present moment and not think about anything else but the handhold I was grabbing and the foothold I was stepping on. I practiced some rounds of controlled, deep breathing to get in my body, I had some experience with meditation from growing up close to a Zen center and having a mother who meditated every day. As a little boy, my mom occasionally encouraged me to meditate in the mornings before I went to school.
I began to climb up the cliff, grabbing onto a handhold and squeezing it gently enough to hold on but not too hard as to clutch it. With every step I took and hold I grabbed, I would take a deep breath and try to relax. I slowly made my way up the cliff using the movement of each hold as a stretch for my body. I would put one foot way out to the left and then would sit on it for a second and stretch out in that position for a breath cycle. This technique made me slow down and helped me relax.
I slowly made my way up this apron of rock with the sun shining warmly on my back. The wind blew gently, and the air was fresh and crisp. I continued to follow the cracks, little paths to the top of the cliff. After an hour of climbing, I really began to feel the exposure of this piece of rock. I was about a thousand feet off the ground when I got to some looser rock on the route. I had to slow down even more because I didn’t want to grab anything that could come off in my hands and send me whipping over backward to the ground. O-o-o-k-a-a-a-y, deep breath out. I was beginning to get a little scared. Everything I was grabbing or stepping on was loose, and I realized that my holds could slide out from under me at any second. The higher I got, the worse the rock got. With 1,400 ft of air below me, I should have just turned back, but I was so close to the top that I really wanted to just get there.
I reached for another hold, but it broke off in my hand. Fortunately, I had tested the hold before putting all my weight on it. I took the hold and threw it down the cliff below me. I watched it fall for about 800 ft and then blow up into a million pieces as it smashed into the side of the cliff below. I was definitely scared at this point, and I began to freeze up. Everywhere I looked for a hold the rock was crappy. The granite was grainy and old, what climbers call “chaossy.” But I was only fifty feet away from the summit, and I really didn’t want to turn around. I was thinking that if I got to the top, I could climb down a safer way.
I grabbed a few more awful holds and threw them off the cliff, trying to clean out the rock from where I had just removed the hold, but it all just turned to sand. I would have to make do with what I had and pick my holds with great attention. Some of the holds I grabbed were loose, but I just eased onto them and didn’t put a lot of weight on them. I grabbed for the last hold and pulled myself up onto the summit block of the shark’s fin.
The view and the exposure were both spectacular and terrifying. I usually love to feel like I am sitting on top of the world, but not when the world could crumble down from underneath me. I looked down over to the lake below, and I could see my mother still doing her meditation. I then realized that I was in trouble. There was no way down. I looked off the other side of the cliff, and there was nothing but very steep, overhanging cliff. The only way down was to go back the way I came. I was not happy but I was in no hurry. I began to pray like my mom had shown me as a kid, for when times get tough or just to say thanks for what we had.
I got into a lotus position on the summit of this 1,500 ft pillar granite, at 10,000 ft in the High Sierra back country. I took a deep breath. I looked to the west and let the sun shine into my eyes and warm my face. I felt a breeze blow against my face and stir my hair. Then I remembered a teaching that a Buddhist teacher once gave me when I was practicing meditation a few years back. “Let your thoughts be like clouds, and let them pass across the sky with the wind.” I breathed deeply to let go of horrible fear that was churning in my stomach. Thoughts were running through my head, even though I was totally safe at the present moment where I was sitting. I would have a moment of clarity, then I would stress again about my situation, and then I would catch myself and try to breathe deeply. I tried to let the wind blow my frantic thoughts across the sky and out of my mind. I knew that I needed to be totally present, calm, and grounded if I was going to make it to the bottom, so I sat in meditation until I got there- and sat, and sat some more.
The sitting helped but it wasn’t complete. Suddenly, I flashed back to my mom’s altar, and I saw her statues and images of deities. I asked Tara, the goddess of compassionate action, to come into my life and help me out. “Help me down off this mountain and help me to focus and help me let go of my fears right now so that I can be totally present for the descent,” I prayed.
I closed my eyes and took more breaths, and then I saw an image of the goddess Tara hovering over my body and the mountain, and she was smiling at me. As the wind blew and I took more deep breaths, her smile began to fill my belly with a warm, fuzzy feeling. I took another breath from this place in my stomach and as I exhaled, I began to smile myself. With every breath I took I began to smile more and more until my smile stretched across my face and I began laughing myself.
It was at that point that I felt ready for the descent; my mind was settled and calm. It felt like I was dreaming as I moved over to the edge of this 1,500 ft cliff and turned around backward to climb down. My feet went right to the solid parts of the rock and so did my hands, I didn’t even have to think; I felt like I was a river, flowing down the side of the mountain, around and over the rocks in the way. One foot behind the other and one hand behind the other. I kept breathing and moving down, and before I knew it, I was through the roughest section of loose rock. I got back to the ground and was still smiling. My face hurt from the intensity of the smiling, which I had been doing the whole way down and hadn’t noticed. On the solid earth, I was so happy to still be alive and in the present moment.
I’m not sure what would have happened if I hadn’t taken time to calm my mind. But the one thing I do know is that Tara and meditation gave me serenity in the midst of a very scary situation that could have been fatal. Without a calm mind, maybe Tara wouldn’t have been able to appear, to help me become that river flowing down the side of the cliff. Nevertheless, as a result of that experience, my mindfulness practice and belief in Tara is stronger than before. Whether she really exists is not important; Tara saved my life.
( This story is one of the best I have read so far. He spoke about his early lifestyle with Buddhism, how he felt about it and most importantly, he now believes in Dharma and has strong faith in it. )
2. In My Father’s Footsteps by Hojo Tone
I was born and raised in one of the Shin Buddhist temples of Wakayama, Japan. Although my older brother has inherited responsibility for the leadership of the Tone clan as a Shin Buddhist minister, I also decided to become a Shin Buddhist minister.
I was born and raised a minister’s child. From the day I could talk, I learned to follow Shin Buddhist practice, reciting Nembutsu- “Namu Amida Butsu”- and studying, learning, following and practicing the Buddhist way of life, without having any doubts or questions about it. As a child, I merely recited the Nembutsu without any depth of understanding. In chanting, I always asked for something, such as, “May I pass the test!” “May I have good luck!” I thought that Amida Buddha, Buddha of Immeasurable Light and Life, would grant my wish. The Nembutsu was always emphasized throughout my upbringing, but with the passing of years, many questions arose within me. Why do I recite the Nembutsu? Is it just because that’s what I’ve been taught? Do I really need to recite Nembutsu sincerely and wholeheartedly? I discovered I needed to answer these questions for myself.
Then, in high school, something happened that changed my life and began the journey to answer these questions. My father suddenly had a heart attack. He was forty-nine years old. As soon as I heard the news, I hurried to the hospital. The doctor told me that it was doubtful that my father’s life could be saved. Shocked by what I had heard, I went home to my temple, not knowing what to do. So, I put my hands together and bowed. I said, “Please help my father,” and recited, with all my heart, “Namu Amida Butsu, Namu Amida Butsu, Namu Amida Butsu…” I had regarded Amida Buddha as a superman, and at that time my thought was only to rely on Amida Buddha as the ultimate power. Several days after the heart attack, somehow my father regained his health.
Around that time, I was fortunate to be selected as a member of the YBICSE (Young Buddhist International Cultural Study Exchange) delegation from Japan. That was the last time I saw my father. My father died on the day I left for the United States, but I didn’t know that then. When I came back to my family temple in Japan about three weeks later, I was informed of his death for the first time. Suffering and in pain, my heart was heavy with grief. For me that experience truly seemed like Hell.
For some time I found it difficult to get over the loss of my father. For the first time I began to consider seriously the question of what it means to be a human being. I also began to think deeply about the meaning of Amida Buddha and the Nembutsu in my life. Half a year after my father died, my mother showed me my father’s last words written moments before he died. I carefully read the page by page. On the last page my father had written, “Namu Amida Butsu.” And in his last breath he has said to my mother, “Amida Buddha came for me; I will go back to the Pure Land of Amida Buddha. See you again.” Regarding me, away in the U.S as an exchange student, my father instructed my mother, “Do not call him back, because he has his own future.” Hearing these words, his deep faith, I was inspired to become a minister.
So although I was born and raised a minister’s child, and had “practiced” the Nembutsu from my earliest childhood. I began actually living the life of Nembutsu only thirteen years ago. I learned from Shinran Shonin, the founder of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, what the Nembutsu truly is, and I became determined to become a minister. While I was a student in Ryukoku Daigaku, the Shin Buddhist University, I received a scholarship for two months of overseas research on temple activities on the U.S. mainland and Hawaii. During my visit, I spent about two weeks at Honolulu Honganji under the guidance of the head minister, Rinban Reverend Hoashi. At that time, I met a woman, a member of the Women’s Organization of Honolulu Honganji, who kindly offered me to return to Hawaii when I became a minister. As strange as it may seem in retrospect, it was the conversation I had with her that made me decide to do just that.
On February 20, 1996, I arrived in Honolulu to become a Honganji Buddhist minister, and I came to Hilo Honganji on May 21, 1996 upon receiving my assignment from Bishop Chikai Yosemori. When I came to Hilo Honganji, I had an interview with Dharma School children. They asked me why I became a minister.
I told them that I think that the Buddha’s teaching is crucial to developing and forming our character and our way of living. A true encounter with the Buddha’s teaching means we are growing up and living in the path of Nembutsu, Namu Amida Butsu. Namu is my isolated, solitary self, and Amida Butsu mean I am embraced by boundless compassion. My life, thus, is a gift that is granted me, and I want to share the gift of well-being for all people through ministry.
Ever since I lost my father I have been seeking the deep meaning of the Buddha’s teaching. But for many years my studying to seek spiritual knowledge was only at my desk, through my intellect. It was only through meeting my teachers and through the influence of many others like my father that I could realize my inner truth. As a minister, I want to embody the Buddha’s teachings and affect the lives of others as I have been affected by such dear friends. Ever since I received Namu Amida Butsu from my father, I have found my true self, or awakened to myself, through that teaching. Namu Amida Butsu is my life.
What I Have Learnt From These Stories:
- We may have experienced great loss in life, but no matter how we feel or what position we are put into, there’s no reason for anyone of us to be involved in negative activities such as drugs, gambling and so on. Yes we may be depressed, but it’s potent to not let our emotions take charge. Everyone has to go through this particular process and that’s why we are in samsara. What would make a huge difference is how we decide to deal with the problems.
- It matters if we start practicing Dharma now to benefit sentient beings. We may have a lot of people who disagree, but it’s our choice. Ultimately, we know that we are doing something beneficial. People who practice Dharma since young tend to be more caring and loving to others and therefore I believe that Dharma is a strong and positive foundation for ourselves and our kids. Love is what is lacking in society nowadays.
- Meditation is one of the best methods to calm our mind so that we are able to absorb more knowledge and have better concentration on all the things that we do, in other words, it creates self-awareness.
- Whenever we find ourselves anxious, angry, depressed or even overly excited, we should sit down in a comfortable position, with our back straightened and focus only on our breathing. This is called breathing meditation. I have tried this myself, after doing this, I find myself calmer and able to think logically.
- Drugs are highly addictive and yes we have fun, but is it really worth it for that short span of ‘happiness’? We gain nothing but only pain and in some cases, even a lifetime of remorse. I’m just taking doing drugs for an example, other negative indulgences such as gambling, drinking, smoking and so forth are of no benefit to us. Imagine all the money we have spent on all these? They could have been used to feed the homeless and stray animals. These are the actions that bring us and others true happiness.
- The most important thing we can ever give a child is Dharma. There’s a saying that goes like this: “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” (Not that I encourage fishing.) I would say that this is applicable in Dharma as well.
- I have learnt that a good writer does not only need to have the knowledge to write, he/she also has to be sensitive and mindful with the words they use in the writings. This is very important because it also helps the readers to understand the content better. Understanding this, it enables me to improve my writing skills as well.
- We often ignore the fact that environment plays a huge role in building up a person’s personality. There are people who have a beautiful family, Dharma is being instilled in them since young but because of a few friends they meet outside, their mind switches. It is not anyone’s fault and no one is to be blamed. It is very important that we practice Dharma single-pointedly, just knowing the Dharma is not good enough.
- Taking on a vegetarian diet does not only help to keep our body healthy but it’s also a good exercise to practice compassion for other sentient beings. Quite a number of celebrities have taken on a vegetarian diet and most of them are of course due to health concerns. But nonetheless, they are saving a lot of animals from being slaughtered, this is the truth. Studies have proven that vegetarians tend to have a healthier body and they have a longer life span.
- We must always be grateful to our teachers, parents, siblings, friends and even our enemies who make us who we are today, a better and wiser person. Our enemies may have said or done something that hurts us but it is because they are humans too, we all make mistakes. The reason why we like or love someone is because they are nice to us and they say nice things to us. You see how strong our sense of like and dislike is? How our perception changes with our emotions? We know the Dharma so we should instead be kinder, wiser and tolerant to forgive others.
About the Book
Author: Sumi Loundon (Editor) and Jack Kornfield (Foreword)
Publisher: Wisdom Publications
Paperback: 233 pages
ISBN: 978 086 1711 77 2
Product dimensions: 22.9cm (H) x 15.2cm (W) x 2cm (D)
You can purchase the book here.
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