The Hongaku Jodo Compassionate Lotus (HJCL) is an independent and progressive Buddhist community currently headquartered in the Chicago, Illinois, area. We are associated with the Hongaku Institute for Buddhist Studies, an accredited Institute for higher education. We offer an open, caring, and nurturing environment for all who seek the Buddhist experience. We see ourselves as spiritual explorers, expanding the boundaries of the Buddha Dhamma and helping to create a Buddhism focused on the core teaching of the Buddha. The mission, inspiration, journey, practices of our independent network of Buddhist congregations is explained below.
Our Mission: We are a Buddhist community for spiritual seekers of all ages. Our mission is to awaken to the heart of Great Compassion, to live by its calling, to gracefully experience the unfolding of life, to practice loving kindness, and to share the blessings of this spiritual experience and the teachings with all.
Our Inspiration: We are dedicated to the teachings of the historical Buddha and the greater reality of Buddha-nature. We deeply appreciate the meditative traditions of all Buddhist schools.
Our Journey: We are called to entrust ourselves to the heart of Great Compassion, emphasized by gotrabhū-ñāna: “Change of lineage knowledge”: The glimpse of nibbāna/nirvana that changes one from an ordinary person (puthujjana) to a Noble One (ariya-puggala). As a result, we are spiritually transformed, experiencing a new life of joy, purpose, and gratitude and dedicated to promoting the welfare of all sentient beings.
Buddhism has the honor of being the world’s first openly missionary religion. Spreading out from its homeland of Northern India, it famously sent missionaries to not just Asia but even to Greece during the reign of the great Buddhist King Ashoka in the 3rd century BC. It is perhaps to the Edicts of Ashoka that we should turn for inspiration and guidance as to the heart of the message Buddhism should have for the global world society today.
On the famous stone pillars he erected throughout his kingdom he inscribed the teachings and resulting virtues and actions which he felt arose from following the Dharma. For example:
“All men are my children. What I desire for my own children, and I desire their welfare and happiness both in this world and the next, that I desire for all men. You do not understand to what extent I desire this, and if some of you do understand, you do not understand the full extent of my desire.
You must attend to this matter. While being completely law- abiding, some people are imprisoned, treated harshly and even killed without cause so that many people suffer. Therefore your aim should be to act with impartiality. It is because of these things – envy, anger, cruelty, hate, indifference, laziness or tiredness — that such a thing does not happen. Therefore your aim should be: “May these things not be in me.” And the root of this is non-anger and patience. Those who are bored with the administration of justice will not be promoted; (those who are not) will move upwards and be promoted. Whoever among you understands this should say to his colleagues: “See that you do your duty properly. Such and such are Beloved-of-the-Gods’ instructions.” Great fruit will result from doing your duty, while failing in it will result in gaining neither heaven nor the king’s pleasure.”
He saw Buddhist compassion as being not just for humanity but for all life:
“Twenty- six years after my coronation various animals were declared to be protected — parrots, ruddy geese, wild ducks, bats, queen ants, terrapins, boneless fish, fish, tortoises, porcupines, squirrels, deer, bulls, wild asses, wild pigeons, domestic pigeons and all four-footed creatures that are neither useful nor edible. Those nanny goats, ewes and sows which are with young or giving milk to their young are protected, and so are young ones less than six months old. Cocks are not to be caponized, husks hiding living beings are not to be burnt and forests are not to be burnt either without reason or to kill creatures. One animal is not to be fed to another..[at special festivals]…, fish are protected and not to be sold. During these days animals are not to be killed in the elephant reserves or the fish reserves either…[on special times of the year]…bulls are not to be castrated, billy goats, rams, boars and other animals that are usually castrated are not to be, horses and bullocks are not be branded. In the twenty-six years since my coronation prisoners have been given amnesty on twenty-five occasions.”
Our Practices: While our inclusion of both Theravada and Soto Zen practices acknowledges the value we place on meditation, the heart of practice is on integrating spirituality with daily living by developing deeper compassion; practicing deep hearing (mindfulness); and voicing our trust in and gratitude for the ultimate perfection of life. We engage in community service, support one another’s spiritual growth, and strive to remember that we are all foolish humans doing the best that we can.
Hongaku’s Guiding Principles
Our Congregations, Sanghas, honor the Six Principles of Harmony, taught by the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni over 2, 500 years ago in Northern India. These Six Principles are our organization’s guiding values. The HJCL diligently seeks to maintain a harmonious, friendly, and open minded atmosphere.
The Six Principles of Harmony are:
Sharing viewpoints and aspirations of practice
Practicing the ethical precepts espoused by the Buddha
Harmoniously living and practicing together in peace and gratitude
Abstaining from quarreling, bickering and wrong speech
Experiencing the inner peace and joy that results from community practice
Sharing our benefits as to be a blessing to each other and to the world
What We Practice
Here are 9 basic practices that Hongaku Jodo encourages its members and friends to engage in, to intimately experience the inner transformation from blind passions to enlightenment. The central daily practices include compassion for all sentient beings, deep hearing, the voicing of the Buddha Remembrance, chanting, and Going for Refuge and serving others in need.
We practice compassion based on wisdom as a natural manifestation of our faith.
We practice deep listening as a fundamental spiritual practice because it is the best vehicle to engage the Dhamma characterized by continuous questioning, doubting, reflecting, applying, reapplying, forgetting and remembering the teaching.
We practice the Dhamma, the truth taught by the Buddha, is uncovered gradually through sustained practice. The Buddha made clear many times that Awakening does not occur instantly to the untrained and unprepared mind. It completes a long journey of many stages:
Just as the ocean has a gradual shelf, a gradual slope, a gradual inclination, with a sudden drop-off only after a long stretch, in the same way this Doctrine and Discipline (dhamma-vinaya) has a gradual training, a gradual performance, a gradual progression, with a penetration to gnosis only after a long haul.
— Udana 5.5
Monks, I do not say that the attainment of gnosis is all at once. Rather, the attainment of gnosis is after gradual training, gradual action, gradual practice. And how is there the attainment of gnosis after gradual training, gradual action, gradual practice? There is the case where, when conviction has arisen, one visits [a teacher]. Having visited, one grows close. Having grown close, one lends ear. Having lent ear, one hears the Dhamma. Having heard the Dhamma, one remembers it. Remembering, one penetrates the meaning of the teachings. Penetrating the meaning, one comes to an agreement through pondering the teachings. There being an agreement through pondering the teachings, desire arises. When desire has arisen, one is willing. When one is willing, one contemplates. Having contemplated, one makes an exertion. Having made an exertion, one realizes with the body the ultimate truth and, having penetrated it with discernment, sees it.
— Majjhima Nikaya 70
The Buddha’s teachings are infused with this notion of gradual development. His method of “gradual instruction”(anupubbi-katha), which appears in various forms in countless suttas, always follows the same arc: he guides newcomers from first principles through progressively more advanced teachings, all the way to the fulfillment of the Four Noble Truths and the full realization of nibbana:
Then the Blessed One, having encompassed the awareness of the entire assembly with his awareness, asked himself, “Now who here is capable of understanding the Dhamma?” He saw Suppabuddha the leper sitting in the assembly, and on seeing him the thought occurred to him, “This person here is capable of understanding the Dhamma.” So, aiming at Suppabuddha the leper,he gave a step-by-step talk, i.e., a talk on giving, a talk on virtue, a talk on heaven; he declared the drawbacks, degradation, & corruption of sensual passions, and the rewards of renunciation. Then when he saw that Suppabuddha the leper’s mind was ready, malleable, free from hindrances, elated, & bright, he then gave the Dhamma-talk peculiar to Awakened Ones, i.e., stress, origination, cessation, & path. And just as a clean cloth, free of stains, would properly absorb a dye, in the same way, as Suppabuddha the leper was sitting in that very seat, the dustless, stainless Dhamma eye arose within him,
“Whatever is subject to origination is all subject to cessation.”
— Udana 5.3
At each stage of this “gradual training” (anupubbi-sikkha), the practitioner discovers a new and important dimension of the law of cause-and-effect — kamma, the cornerstone of Right View. It is thus a very useful organizing framework with which to view the entirety of the Buddha’s teachings.
The gradual training begins with the practice of generosity. Generosity helps begin the long process of weakening the unawakened practitioner’s ingrained tendency to cling — to views, to sensuality, and to unskillful modes of thought and behavior. This is followed by the development of virtue. Virtue is the basic level of sense-restraint that helps the practitioner develop a healthy and trustworthy sense of self. The peace of mind born from this level of self-respect provides the foundation for all further progress along the path. The practitioner now understands that some kinds of happiness are deeper and more dependable than anything that sense-gratification can ever provide; the happiness born of generosity and virtue can even lead to rebirth in heaven — either literal or metaphorical. But eventually the practitioner begins to recognize the intrinsic drawbacks of even this kind of happiness: as good as rebirth in wholesome states may be, the happiness it brings is not a true and lasting one, for it relies on conditions over which he or she ultimately has no control. This marks a crucial turning point in the training, when the practitioner begins to grasp that true happiness will never be found in the realm of the physical and sensual world. The only possible route to an unconditioned happiness lies in renunciation, in turning away from the sensual realm, by trading the familiar, lower forms of happiness for something far more rewarding and noble. Now, at last, the practitioner is ripe to receive the teachings on the Four Noble Truths, which spell out the course of mental training required to realize the highest happiness: nibbana.
Many who first encounter the Buddha’s teachings do so while on meditation retreats. Retreats most often devote themselves to instructions on how to develop the skillful qualities of right mindfulness and right concentration. It is worth noting that, as important as these qualities are, the Buddha placed them towards the very end of his gradual course of training. The meaning is clear: to get the most benefit from meditation practice, to bring to full maturity all the qualities needed for Awakening, the fundamental groundwork must not be overlooked. There is no short-cut in this process.
Here is the Buddha’s six-stage gradual training in more detail:
- Generosity (dana)
- Virtue (sila)
- Heaven (sagga)
- Drawbacks (adinava)
- Renunciation (nekkhamma)
- The Four Noble Truths (cattari ariya saccani)
- The Noble Truth of Dukkha (dukkha ariya sacca)
- The round of rebirth (samsara)
- The Noble Truth of the Cause of Dukkha (dukkha samudayo ariya sacca)
- Craving (tanha)
- Ignorance (avijja)
- The Noble Truth of the Cessation of Dukkha (dukkha nirodho ariya sacca)
- The Noble Truth of the Path Leading to the Cessation of Dukkha (dukkha nirodha gamini patipada ariya sacca) — The Noble Eightfold Path. The Commentaries group the eight path factors into three divisions:
- Discernment (pañña):
- 1. Right View (samma-ditthi)
- Intentional action (kamma)
- Admirable friendship (kalyanamittata)
- 2. Right Resolve (samma-sankappo)
- 1. Right View (samma-ditthi)
- 3. Right Speech (samma-vaca)
- 4. Right Action (samma-kammanto)
- 5. Right Livelihood (samma-ajivo)
- 6. Right Effort (samma-vayamo)
- 7. Right Mindfulness (samma-sati)
- 8. Right Concentration (samma-samadhi) Jhana
We practice taking regular mindfulness community during fellowship as a way to remember the interconnected relationship of all things and life in time and space.
We practice sitting meditation as a natural vehicle to calm the mind so we may deeply hear the transformative inner light; our goal is not to attain anything but just to naturally be as we are.
We practice simplicity as a means to strip away the inevitable distractions of modern life and open ourselves to the life’s essentials and vibrant beauty through the reciting the Buddha name.
We practice Going for Refuge, in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, on a regular basis as a means to internalize the Buddhist teachings and remind us of our highest ideals.
We practice going to sangha meetings on a regular basis to hear and engage ourselves with the teachings and have communion with other practicers. Attending a sangha helps us remember to practice the dhamma during our daily lives, and displays our inner commitment to our total spiritual transformation.
We practice community service as a response to human and nonhuman suffering (dukkha). Service also includes learning the Buddha’s teaching for the sake of all beings, and sharing it with everyone as the universal way to alleviate affliction and distress.
©2014-17 Hongaku Jodo
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