Monthly Archives: May 2020

River of Fire, River of Water

Shan Dao, the Chinese Buddhist Master that inspired Honen Shonin described the parable of two rivers and a white path, or the river of fire and the river of water.

We have a hanging in the temple that illustrates that parable, and Kaspa used it as his inspiration for the talk in our Wednesday evening service tonight.

He promised that he’d share an image of the parable. This isn’t our wall hanging, but it is a painting of the two rivers.

Here’s the video recording of the online Zoom service if you want to join:

Two boats and two teachings

Hi everyone,

Hope you’re all doing okay in week ~something~ of lockdown. During the first few weeks I was intensely aware of time passing and how the virus was changing the world, more recently, as I have begun to get used to these new conditions, I find that I keep track of time passing in a different way. I notice more and more wildflowers coming into blossom, for example, the ever lengthening daylight, and I am slowly losing track of what the calendar says.

Below I share some thoughts about liberation, receiving compassion and making effort, and I also want to share the video of our talk from last Saturday: The Joy of Ordinary Things

During the last few weeks I’ve really been noticing the line between what’s within my power and what is out of my control.

One of the great teachings of Pureland Buddhism is of the liberation of failure. How enlightening it is to discover the limits of our power! There can be a real easing of anxiety as we come to terms with the many things we can’t change in the world. In our inner life, noticing the limits of our power brings us more into relationship with the Buddha, as we realise more and more deeply that we can’t liberate ourselves by lifting ourselves by our own bootstraps*.

The Buddha once spoke about the right way of holding a snake: take it by the head and you can use the venom for medicine, take it by the tail and it can bite you.  He said the same is true of spiritual teachings: we can use them wisely, or we can use them to support and feed delusion.

When we hear about the limits of our power we might think that we don’t need to do anything, and fall into sloth, torpor and down that is the road of delusion (and of depression).

It is a great teaching, and a great correction to the idea that it is our own power that takes us from the shore of delusion to the shore of enlightenment, and it is not the whole story.

In Rev. Koshin Schomberg’s commentary on Roshi Jiyu Kennett’s How to Grow a Lotus Blossom he suggests that there are two boats that carry us across from one shore to the other.

Image by Matt Hardy

One is the boat of compassion. This is the compassion that is offered to us from the Buddha, the light of loving kindness that inspires us, that accepts us and loves us just as we are.

The second boat he calls the boat of training. This is the boat of attending to the precepts, of engaging in spiritual practice and so on. Dogen might say it is the boat of playing our part.

If we only notice the boat of training we can fall into grandiosity.

Mature spiritual training appreciates both boats. Each boat supports our liberation from selfishness and supports us to become more loving.

The Buddha supports us and lifts us up, and invites us to join in with the great dance of enlightenment. How do we join in? By responding appropriately to whatever life is presenting us.

If you want to join us for online practice – the details are here

Sending love


*Try it the next time you are putting on your boots, and you’ll fall over. What a great teaching!