22 April 2010

Name my God.

I've begun incorporating elements of Shin Buddhism into my religious practice. Unfortunately, I really know very little about Shin Buddhism or Buddhism in general, and everything I do know I learned in my Religions of East Asia class. However, from what I know, I think Shin will suit me exceptionally well.

Shin is a type of Pure Land Buddhism. One of the major concepts of Pure Land is faith, and the belief that other-help is better than self-help.  Whenever I pray, I often focus on the (Christian) concept of surrender and giving everything up to God.  Thus, I rely not on self-help and the things I can do, but on other-help, and trusting God to guide me wherever it is that I should go.  A major element of Shin and Pure Land practice is nembutsu (Chinese: nianfo), or the repetition of Buddha Amitabha's name. The concept of nembutsu is slightly different in Shin Buddhism than in other Pure Land schools. Instead of calling upon Amitabha for help, nembutsu is a form of gratitude, a way of saying "thank you" to the Buddha.  I absolutely adore this concept, because asking God for help has always seemed anti-faith and anti-surrender to me.  By asking for help, I am assuming that God otherwise wouldn't help me and taking it upon myself to find assistance. Often in prayer, I find myself saying thank you to God as I come to realize how much I have ignored when lost in my own mind of worry. I especially adore the concept of nembutsu because it's a tangible action that I can put my finger on, something I can actually hear. Rules have always helped me with my practice (which is why, when I initially decided to be Taoist, I incorporated what I understood to be Christian practices), so speaking God's name seems like a fantastic idea.

The only problem is: what is God's name? I can't even figure out what pronoun to use with God, much less God's name. (For a while, by default, I used He. That made me angry, though, so I began using gender neutral Pronouns. However, those don't seem to suit God either, so I started switching them up. More recently, I've given up using Pronouns all together, as God is a short enough word that it can be God's own pronoun. Perhaps the royal We would be a more appropriate way to express my relationship with God, as I do very much experience religion in an Existential Christian way.) I tried saying "Amitabha" and "Namu Amida Butsu", but neither of those felt quiet right to me. They refer to a specific Buddha, a concept that I don't quiet embrace, as I am a strong believer in the single God. Saying "God" doesn't work either, because, although I incorporate a lot of Christianity in my practice and in my beliefs, I do not obey solely or even primarily by Western religious beliefs, so I use God more as a title or a description of what I am talking about rather than Our actual name. I tried saying "thank you", but it sounded and felt more like a desperate plea than actual gratitude.

So, I need your advise, or at least your thoughts. Can/Should God have a name? How should I refer to God? And, if not, what should I say to God to tangibly, verbally express my gratitude?

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