Who is That Buddha Guy?

I am neither a minister nor a scholar. I am simply “bonbu”, a foolish, ignorant being.

My name is Bill Bohlman. I live in Kenosha, WI, but was born in NYC. I am currently the VP Religious Affairs at the Buddhist Temple of Chicago www.budtempchi.org. The following two articles will give a pretty good idea of how this website came to be.

There is no blog on this website because I don’t want to get into wide ranging discussions that lead nowhere. If you want to contact me, my e-mail is BASEWI@aol.com.

With Gassho,

Bill Bohlman

Time Flies

Published March 2009

“Sure, I’ll write some articles about Buddhism.” Although it seems like a short time ago when I gave this answer, with this article I begin my ninth year of monthly presentations of Buddhadharma concepts. Looking back, the truth of the Dharma teaching of impermanence, the constant change that is life, becomes profoundly apparent.

Although only eight years ago, March 2001 seems to be of a different world, a far different time. After a presidential campaign that focused on what to do with the budget surplus and then a contested election result, George Bush had been president for less than two months. A sense of guarded optimism existed in America and throughout the world. We looked forward to the wonders that the new millennium might bring. Six months later, the events of September 11, 2001 thrust us into a new reality. “Truth is like lightening reflected on dew, or like the moon reflected on water: it cannot be caught or preserved.” This line from the Buddhist sutra Twelve Adorations never seemed truer.

Each month, I have tried to present a Buddhist perspective and a practical application of a Dharma teaching to our everyday life. Topics have ranged from the attacks of 9/11 and the Asian tsunami, to the more mundane like Paris Hilton, Don Imus and why I got angry with the manager of the Kenosha Mammoths. Although seemingly unrelated, the common thread has been that all people, all events are our teachers. Rather than set ourselves apart, Buddhism teaches that we are part of a universal Oneness.

Constantly aware that religion is a touchy area for many, I have attempted to present the Buddhadharma in a non-confrontational manner. Shakyamuni Buddha taught respect for all religions. Buddhism is a non-proselytizing religion; it does not seek converts. The goal of my articles has never been to convince others that I am right and they are wrong. I have simply presented the Buddhadharma from my perspective with the hope that others might find something that would help them overcome suffering.

I am always thrilled when Rick Aiello, the publisher of this magazine, tells me people have mentioned my articles to him. Some have criticized him for publishing them, but most seem to enjoy the articles. My favorite is the minister whom Rick tells me refers to me as, “That Buddhaguy.” Needless to say, I have been called many less favorable things in the course of my life.

The founding minister of my temple, Rev. Gyomay Kubose, felt the Buddhadharma needed a presentation stripped of the mysticism and worship that had become entrenched in many of the Asian lineages. Shakyamuni Buddha neither was a god nor was he a prophet. He was a human like you or me. The value lies not in studying the Buddhadharma, it lies is living it. To do so, we must be able to see how it relates to our everyday life. I hope my articles have helped.

Journey to Ti-Sarana

I go to the Buddha for guidance. I go to the Dharma for guidance. I go to the Sangha for guidance; three simple statements that have changed my life.

My early religious upbringing was Roman Catholic.  As a child, the world of miracles, saints, and Divine intervention captivated and enthralled me. Things were simple. The priests and the catechism told you all the rules. If you violated the rules and committed a sin, you went to confession, were repentant, did your penance and all was forgiven. Fail to do so, and upon death, depending on the severity of your sins, you went to either Purgatory for an indeterminate time before going to Heaven, or you were condemned to eternal suffering in Hell. No need to question, just believe. However, then something happened. I became a questioning teenager.

The mid-1960’s were a time of change. Kennedy had been assassinated. The civil rights movement was in full swing. Far away, in Vietnam, a war was escalating. I began to question many things, among them my religion. How did the teachings relate to the world around me? What was the explanation for the contradiction between my experience and the teachings of the church? Whenever I asked these questions, I was either ignored or told to “just believe.” I continued to go to church every Sunday to please my mother who was a devout Catholic. This changed when I went away to college.

Now, it was the late 1960’s. The social and spiritual landscape had expanded greatly and I participated fully. Thus began my over twenty years long exploration of belief systems. The Upanishads, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, The Gnostic teachings, Plato and the philosophers, I read them all. I encountered the new age teachers, Leary, Casteneda, Watts, and other,. often in person, yet still no answer. The Dhammapada, and books by what I now refer to as “old dead Englishmen," provided an exposure to Buddhism. The teachings spoke to me, yet they seemed to be suitable to another time, another world. This changed when I came to the Buddhist Temple of Chicago seventeen years ago.

At first, I was confused. Rev. Kubose’s books made the relationship between my life and Buddhism tangible, however, the ornate altar and talk of the Amida Buddha and birth in the Pure Land made me feel as if this was just Christianity with a different god. How was I to reconcile this seeming contradiction? Two events stand out as turning points. The first was a Hanamatsuri that fell on Easter Sunday. Sitting in service, I thought of how odd it was to be in a Buddhist temple on Easter Sunday. (No one ever said that leaving Catholicism behind was easy.) Rev. Ashikaga told the story of the Buddha’s birth, of Queen Maya’s vision, Gautama’s emergence from her side and the seven steps and birth cry. My mind screamed, “Oh no, more mystical mumbo-jumbo.”  Then Rev. Ashikaga said, “Of course, we know this didn’t really happen, but it is a nice story and here is what it means.”

The second event was one of Dr. Haneda’s Ho-On-Ko seminars. This was the first seminar I had attended.  He spoke of the Pure Land, and how we are in it now; our mind is just too clouded to see.  He said the Buddha never spoke of what happens after you die, but rather, he focused on this life. He explained that the Amida Buddha is symbolic of the interconnectedness of all things. Dr. Haneda made clear that Shinran, Kiyozawa and Akegarasu all, in their own way, expressed this approach to the teachings. At last, I felt I had found my spiritual home.

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to take Ti-Sarana, yet, I have never done so. The question arises, “Why now?”  The first reason is pragmatic. BTC is starting a lay leader program in which individuals will train to perform basic functions such as Sunday service if no minister is available. One prerequisite is having had Ti-Sarana. The second reason is more personal. This is my path. I have experienced the truth of the teachings in my life. Every joy, every sorrow, every moment reconfirms for me the truth of the Dharma.

My journey to Ti-Sarana may be complete, but my Dharma journey continues. Rev. Ashikaga has chosen “Gyo Jin”, “Going Deeper” to understand the Dharma, as my Dharma name. With renewed dedication, I go deeper seeking the light of liberation.

Namu Amida Butsu.