Buddhism Isn’t a Contest

The goal of Buddhism isn’t to see who can get to enlightenment the fastest, but you wouldn’t know that if you spent too much time online, as I do. I confess, I have been seduced (yes, I think that’s a good word for it) by the dazzle and glitter of Tantric practices, which are mostly out of my reach.

My current practice is pretty bare bones. I recite the Refuge prayer every morning, along with making offerings of water and incense, and flowers from the garden if they’re available. I don’t meditate as often as I should, but I’m doing it more than I used to. That’s pretty much it. No fancy rituals. No secret commitments. I’m fine with that. Buddhism isn’t a contest.

Medicine Buddha

The Medicine Buddha  is a popular figure in Mahayana Buddhism, especially in Tibet and Japan, as well as China. In Sanskrit, his name Bhaișajyaguru, and he features in a sutra entitled Bhaișajya Guru Vaidūrya Prabhā Rāja Sutra, which can be translated as “Medicine King Master and Lapis Lazuli Light.” The title alludes both to his function as a Buddha of healing, and to his trademark association (at least in Tibetan Buddhism) with the color deep blue.

Bhaișajyaguru is said to be a guardian of the Eastern direction, and may actually supplant The Buddha Akshobhya, who is far more commonly said to fill this role. Just like the far more famous Amitabha, he also rules over his own Pure Land, known as Vaidūryanirbhāsa or “Pure Lapis Lazuli.”

In Japan, he was known as Yakushi, and his popularity no doubt was bolstered by the fact that he plays an important role in The Lotus Sutra, which is arguably the most influential Sutra in Japanese Buddhist traditions. (Anyone wanna argue with me on that?) His cult in Japan is very old, dating back to the seventh century. In the late eleventh century, the author of the Sarashina Nikki (a famous literary diary/memoir) wrote of her attachment to a statue of Yakushi that had been made in her size, and her grief at being forced to leave it behind in a move.

Medicine Buddha

 

Losar Tashi Delek!

It is a Fire Monkey year, which is special in the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition, as Padmasambhava (aka Guru Rinpoche) was born on a Fire Monkey year. Padmasambhava is an eighth century Tibetan hero. He is known to have founded the first Buddhist monastery in Tibetan, though other other historically verifiable details of his life are scarce. He is especially honored in the Nyingma tradition, as one of their founders.

Guru Rinpoche
Guru Rinpoche, from Wikimedia Commons

Buddhism and Atheism

I’m Buddhist. Specifically, I’m an upashika in the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. My religion is often described as “atheistic,” due to its disbelief in a creator deity or any overarching and eternal “Divine.”

I will flatly say that I hate this definition, because it only acknowledges a narrow definition of god: omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent, and interventionist. Sounds familiar, right? That’s because it’s a very Western, Christianized definition of what a deity should be.

If one applies this same narrow definition of god to the deities of Buddhism (and they do exist…there are actually quite a lot of them!) they would all fail. In fact, so would the gods of Hinduism, and the Shinto kami. So would the Aesir and the Vanir, and countless others.

Most deities in polytheistic pantheons did not and still do not conform to the “template” of the monotheist G-D worshipped by Christians. Yet this view has somehow become the standard, even (perhaps especially?) amongst strident atheists such as Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins.