The DharmaRealm is an occasional podcast conversation between Harry Gyokyo Bridge, resident minister of the Buddhist Church of Oakland, and Scott Mitchell, Dean of the Institute of Buddhist Studies, about Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, Buddhism in the modern world, pop-culture, music, sci-fi and how all those things are related.
In a weird way, this is sort of part-two of our post-truth conversation since we’re tackling a perennial problem in the contemporary study and practice of Buddhism — can we know what the historical Buddha really taught? Can we know what he really said? And should that even matter? As always, by tuning in to the DharmaRealm podcast, you’re not going to get an answer to that question, and will probably walk away more confused than you were before. But, hey, we will tell you something about canonical texts, fake Buddha quotes, buddhavacana.
Alles liegt im Auge des Betrachters, jodage
(c) jodage, some rights reserved
I didn’t want to talk about flat earth or post-truth or aliens! But Harry made me!
Anyway. If you listen to this episode, you’ll get an earful of Star Trek, X-Files, aliens, conspiracy theories, multiple interpretations of reality, and even some Buddhism, Shinran, and the Tannisho mixed in as well. Enjoy!
Here’s part two of our conversation with Mushim Ikeda of the East Bay Meditation Center. We jump right in from where we left off in the last episode, trying to answer the question of “Why Buddhism?” (Spoiler alert: it’s gotta do with the ego.) A lot of our conversation meanders around different experiences in the Zen Buddhism and Shin Buddhist traditions, but in a really cool twist, we find common ground in the Golden Chain, a reading all of us have had some experience with. Mushim has some fantastic insights into its resonance with broad Buddhist ideas of interconnectedness and compassion which grounds this conversation in the realm of ethics, the bodhisattva path, and the challenges inherent in trying to discern “right” from “wrong.”
Faith! We’re bouncing off a question about faith in our personal experience with Buddhism. Now, we know that having said faith, half of you said “There’s no faith in Buddhism!” And the other half said, “Well, what do you mean by faith?” We’re gonna tell you what we mean by faith and hopefully the other half are still listening as we take a deep dive into different aspects of faith, blind faith, believing in things in the absence of evidence, secularism, and eventually shinjin, a foundational concept for Jodo Shinshu which, apparently, we’re not supposed to talk about. But we do. Because that’s how we roll.
A little while back we did an episode on no self and identity — and what do you know? It was wildly popular. Go us. So we decided to come back to the issue. But we’re not gonna deal with identity; we’re just going to do a deep dive into no self. This deep dive goes through no self, emptiness, Sarvastivada, Pudgalavada, Madhyamaka, Yogacara, the store-house consciousness, killing the Buddha, Shinran, the Jodoron, the Pure Land, karma, and rebirth. (No Star Trek, though. Sorry.)
Somewhat in response to a listener question, we dive into the question of practice versus academic study. Is there a difference between academic study and the practice of Buddha? Is one more valuable than the other? Does academic study undermine religious/Buddhist practice? Or can academic study be, in itself, practice? Well, if that’s the case, then what do you mean by “practice”? And that’s really what this episode is about. We do a deep dive into scholar-practitioners (a la Charles Prebish), the multivalent senses of the word “practice” (a la Charles Bielefeld), the role of study-as-practice historically both in the West and in Buddhism, the age of the degenerate Dharma, and, yes, even Star Trek. Bottom line: don’t get stuck in your head.
This week’s image is of a photographic reprint of Shinran’s original handwritten manuscript of his Kyogyoshinsho on display at the library of Ohtani University in Kyoto. Who says Buddhists don’t study?
Hooray! It’s been ten years since we started this show, and this is our 100th episode! We hit the highlights in this one, themes and topics we’ve touched on several times over the years, including how to practice Shin Buddhism at a distance from a sangha or community. Years ago we tossed out the idea that someone should have a “starter kit” for Shin Buddhist practice – and, what do you know? The BCA Bookstore’s new online store sells one now! We also tackle a listener question about Buddhist tattoos and dance around some touchy issues before settling on the middle way between extreme views. (Today’s cover image is an old photo one of Scott’s tattoos, by the way.) Also, in celebration of the 100th episode and 10th anniversary, Harry made a mega-mix of all the different versions of the DharmaRealm theme song. It’s been uploaded to SoundCloud so be sure to check that out.
Thanks to everyone for your decade of listening. We’ll be back soon with new episodes!
In today’s episode, we respond to a listener question about the possibility, in Shin Buddhism, of reconciling the concept of no-self (anatman) and personal identity (especially in regards to race). To do that, we need to break down the concept of no-self and argue that it’s not necessarily a rejection or negation of any type of self but rather, first, part of a pedagogical strategy of the Buddha and, second, related to a whole mass of complex Buddhist concepts that have very little to do with modern understandings of personality, subjectivity, or identity. A key part of this is the idea that self-ness is defined by our interconnection with the world, and on the social level, this absolutely includes social and cultural ideas about race, ethnicity, gender, and so on; and merely saying, “Hey, there is no self!” doesn’t make all of that go away.
Scott’s still got a cold! And he’s a cranky old man who wants to argue with people! So today we’ll try to come up with the Buddhist answer to everything.
Not really. Long time listeners should know by now that quick and easy answers aren’t our stock in trade. We’re far more likely to come up with complicated answers that point to the messiness of life rather than the simple and comfortable. And that’s really what we’re on about today, coming up with responses to the oft-asked “Doesn’t Buddhism say…?” or “What’s the Buddhist position on X?” Our answer? There isn’t an answer. And, more than that, there’s the possibility that Buddhism is wrong. (Cue dramatic chipmunk.)
This week’s image, something Harry mentions in the episode, is the Shumisengi astronomical clock, created by Hisashige Tanaka in 1850. It’s an model of the traditional Buddhist world system with the sun and moon rotating around a flat disk with Mt. Sumeru in the middle.
For our first full episode of 2018 we tackle a listener question about Buddhism and social justice, jumping off from the tension between accepting things as they are and the urge to stand up to inequality and social suffering. Of course, it wouldn’t be us if we didn’t unpack those terms and dig deep into the question — isn’t the point of Buddhism not to accept the world as it is but to see the world as it is, from the point of view of compassionate wisdom? And does merely accepting things as they are, and not acting, necessarily follow from this seeing? And it wouldn’t really be us if we didn’t somehow manage to get sci-fi back into this by dragging Ursula K. Le Guin into the conversation.