Saturday, September 24, 2011

Harry (Buddhist name: Hanrei Banzan)

Hello and Happy Saturday!

First up I wish to thank Joel Holopainen for his wonderful interview last week. I learned much from you and I thank you for that. Thanks Joel!

Today we have a new interview so please welcome Harry (Buddhist name: Hanrei Banzan).
Harry is a Buddhist and I know you'll enjoy his interview as well!

Here Is Harry's Introduction:

I'm a Zen Buddhist practitioner based in Ireland. I received the Bodhisattva Precepts from my teacher a few years ago here in Ireland and was given the Buddhist name 'Hanrei Banzan'. I practice zazen (seated meditation) specifically 'shikantaza' ('just thoroughly sitting'), sometimes referred to as the 'method-less method' of Zen. Part of the practice is integrating the wide open view of zazen into our daily life. I study the teachings of Zen Master Dogen, a gifted 13th Century monk and teacher, and also the wider Chinese and Japanese Zen literature including koans and sutras.

My main blog is:

1) What religion do you practice?
I practice Buddhism. More specifically I practice the 'Dharma', as the Buddha did not intend to start a 'cult of Buddha' but sought to teach the 'Dharma', which is a word that predates Buddhism. 'Dharma' is, in a sense, a complex word. In Buddhism it can refer to the Buddhist teachings themselves, but in the most direct sense it means the 'law-of-thusness', or 'things-as-they-are'. It's not a law confined to a principle or just one philosophical outlook or world view; it's the law of 'how every thing is' that we become familiar with intuitively through our own zazen practice.

2) Are you a convert/revert or were you raised within this religion? If you converted, what did you need to do to convert? And what did you practice prior to converting?
I wasn't raised a Buddhist, but I don't really feel that I 'converted' as such as Buddhism essentially doesn't require people to adopt or reject personal beliefs. I consider taking the Buddhist Precepts as an expression of intention to practice Buddhism, but it's often considered that one formally becomes a Buddhist when one takes the Precepts. Personally I think that one is a Buddhist, or, even more to the point, a buddha, when one practices as a buddha (and people everywhere of all faiths or none do this all the time).

3)Within your religion are there degrees of observance (ie. Orthodox,conservative, moderate, liberal)? What are the defining differences between the degrees of observance?
Yes, there are different degrees of observance within Buddhism. I think that is fair to say. There are a lot of different schools and sects in Buddhism; some cater for people who want to actually practice what the Buddha is said to have practiced, and some are for people who feel devotion to the Buddha and who like to more casually venerate the Buddha and/or various Buddhist figures, for example. This distinction becomes blurred in instances though, and so it's not a hard-and-fast division.

Within Zen there are those whom are drawn to the more institutionalised, formal, and/or traditional expressions of practice (with more detailed ceremony, insistence on robes, correct protocol, hierarchy etc), while there are those who prefer to practice more independently in less formal groups or on their own. It really caters for all, and all these perceived differences are only provisional as, for example, some people can realise a great freedom of expression in the seemingly fixed 'traditional' forms, or they can practice devotional practices very sincerely in the same manner as others may practice zazen/ meditation.

4)Within your religion what degree of observance are you ((ie. Orthodox,conservative, moderate, liberal) ? Why did you choose this degree of observance?
I tend to be quite independent in my practice and in my thinking about what Buddhism is. This is partly because I don't belong to a particular group as such. I practice with various Zen groups. There are no groups active in my locality, so I have to travel to practice with others. Also, I tend to feel that my own practice, particularly zazen, is the pivotal matter, and that can be done anywhere at any time. I don't see that it requires me to be part of a group, and I tend to be wary of some of the dynamics that I've seen come to the fore in groups, particularly in religious groups. I think 'group think' and competition can quickly be contrary to the original intention of Buddhism and other religions.

5)What is the Afterlife within your religion? For example: what happens when a person dies? Are there places for reward/punishment? (such as a Heaven/Hell concept)
Buddhism has traditionally had heaven realms and hell realms. Interestingly, being born in a heavenly realm is traditionally considered to be inferior to being born a human as it is easier to practice and realise the Dharma as a human. More recently 'heaven' and 'hell' in Buddhism has been rationalised to explain the various states of mind that we create for ourselves (a particularly bad 'hell realm' is associated with anger, for example). It's not something I think of much. It seems better to me to worry about this life here-and-now than to worry about the next one! Buddhism says that we're born and die in a sense many times every moment... it also says that, essentially, we are not born and we don't die as we are already that which is much, much bigger than what we tend to think we are .

6) In your opinion, does everyone make it into heaven/paradise? If they do not, why?
I don't know about heaven, but if people are not happy (people, that is, who have a reasonably stable life and who are not being abused by others or otherwise sorely persecuted etc) then it may be that they themselves are the reason for their own unhappiness. Buddhism generally puts a lot of responsibility for our situation squarely onto us ourselves.

7) What makes your religion a good fit for you?
It's practical and, at it's best (at it's core), it is not bullshitty. It also (again, when it's at its best) puts the responsibility of becoming 'saved' or 'redeemed' or whatever squarely on me and my own efforts. I think that is very sensible and realistic.

8) What are your holy days and what do you do to celebrate them?
There are days like the Buddha's birthday, and the celebration of his final passing etc. But they differ from country to country in the Buddhist world. I don't observe them much unless I'm at a sesshin (zazen retreat) which happens to coincide with a holiday in which case I'll be involved in the ceremonies like everyone else.

9) Do you consider people of other faiths to be your friends?
Yes... until they prove me wrong at least! :-)

10) Would you ever join people of another faith to celebrate one of their holy days? Please explain why?
Yes, I would consider it if it was appropriate. I wouldn't want to just 'go through the motions' of some ceremony if I thought it made a mockery of other traditions, but if it was an expression of mutual respect and understanding then I would have no trouble in participating. I think that all genuine religion, when it is practiced sincerely and when it leads us beyond our small notions of our selves and of each other, aspires to the same thing.

11) What are your thoughts on the burka, and Shariah Law?
I don't know much about it really, but I tend towards a secular model for our Western societies. I feel that a secular model, where no religion is promoted in public buildings/spaces, is better for societies that are increasingly diverse. A secular society can be respectful of people's religious observances, it needn't disrespect them, it can promote acceptance and respect in other ways. At the same time, people have to take responsibility for their own personal beliefs, and the consequences of them, in wider society. I acknowledge that other cultures and societies have different observances about this. When different cultures/societies meet, there will have to be some sort of discussion and resolution. That process will be different every time I think as the situation will be different every time. I hope that I keep an open mind on the subject.

Islam has gotten a lot of 'bad press' recently. I think that is a shame. Certain sections of the media, certain politicians, and certain 'religious' people have been very irresponsible in their portrayal of Islam. They have simplified the situation in some very emotive ways. We need more sincere dialogue with Islam in the West, and more accurate portrayals of the diversity within Islam, so as to dispel the myths and assumptions that have been created. There are different interpretations of Shariah Law within Islam, for example, but how often do we hear the voice of Islam moderates on our TVs?

12) Are women allowed to hold religious office (priest, minister, rabbi, iman etc) in your religion and how do you feel about it?
Yes, women can be Zen nuns, teachers, Roshis, etc etc. Traditionally it was male dominated. I'm glad it's changing, because I think women are generally more sensible than men in many regards (at least, they generally seem more sensible than me!) I think they may be hardwired to be more emotionally evolved.

13) Does your place of worship segregate? If yes, how does this make you feel?
When we are on sesshin (Zen retreat) generally the men and women sleep in different dorms. This makes me sad because I have to sleep in a room filled with men: Men snore more... and women smell better!!!

14) How much does your religion affect your daily life and how much thought do you give it when making a decision? Does it affect in any way your decision on abortion, gay marriage, etc?
Zen practice does affect the way I think in some indirect ways... more in my reactions to my thinking than my thinking itself maybe. I don't take my own views and opinions as seriously as I used to. Practicing zazen tends to give us a broader viewpoint on our own views/opinions. In relation to abortion I would say that it is a very complex situation where I hope we can work towards supporting women before making, and after making, their choice. I think women who are presented with this choice (regardless of what I think of the choice) are at all sorts of risks. That should be a big concern. A lot of the ''Pro-Life" campaigns seem so concerned for the life of the unborn foetus and not concerned at all with the life of the mother: The 'moral question' seems to dominate. As to gay marriage; I think it's fine and should be an option if it makes people more content and fulfilled... Marriage, of course, doesn't always do that!

15) How would you react/feel if your child wished to marry outside your religion?
No problem. Religion would likely be the last thing I'd worry about. If the potential spouse was a zealot of ANY religion I'd be very vocally worried though.

16) In your opinion, if someone is not of your faith, will they go to hell?

17) Who do you think is not a practicing ----- in your religion and why? ie who in the public domain claims to speak for your religion? Do you agree with them or not?
I prefer to think of it in terms of all the 'infidels' who are unwittingly practicing the Dharma! ...When we're totally disarmed by the wonder or terror of life; when we're caused to see outside the little bubble of our own thoughts and feelings; when some aspect of our life is so engaging that it swallows us up whole in its Big Embrace; when we unknowingly thrust out a hand of assistance to some stranger...

18) Have you ever been the target of a hate crime? Please explain.

19) Do you ever feel like your religion devalues you?
Yes, but it's generally just my own 'stuff'. Sometimes I feel like I'm owed something more, more, more... but, without fail, it's due to my own faulty thoughts and feelings.

20) Does your religion give you peace of mind?
Yes. The practice of Zen is peace of mind, even within the chaos of our selves and the world. My mind isn't always peaceful though, accepting that is a big part of the practice.

21) Do you believe in reincarnation? Why or why not?
This is a sticky one in Buddhism. A lot of Buddhist argue about this. If reincarnation is real then it doesn't matter if I believe in it or not! Buddhism posits that there is no 'self' to reincarnate; that is, there is nothing that I usually identify as 'me' that survives death. At the same time, in Buddhist practice, we identify with everything, with that which was never born, and that never dies... so, in a sense, belief in this or that is a sort of trivial sideshow.

Life is the truth, death is the truth and the truth never starts and never ceases. The head of the lineage I ordained in, Gudo Nishijima Sensei, a grand older Japanese Gentleman of 91 years, says that he is very happy because every day he is living in God.

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