Image under permission of: MarenYumi /,
Creative Commons License

Questions and Answers about Karida Buddhist Sangha

What does “Karida” mean?

Karida is a Japanese word that means “essence” or “heart.” It is equivalent to the Sanskrit “Hridaya” or English “Heart.” In its Sanskrit form it begins with the root syllable “Hrih” − the seed mantra for the Bodhisattva Kuan Shih Yin who occupies a central place in Karida practices. Also, of central importance in Karida practice is the “Hridaya Sutra.” The term is especially fitting since Karida Sangha attempts to focus on the heart of teachings and practices of the Buddha Dharma. The Japanese term was chosen in order to honor the Reverends Haya Akegarasu and Gyoto Saito whose teachings were of seminal importance to the Sangha.

How did Karida Sangha start?

At the beginning of the 100-day Gulf War in 1991, a number of Buddhists, Sufis, and non-Buddhists gathered in public meetings, on a regular basis, in Tucson, Arizona, in order to chant sutras associated with Bodhisattva of Compassion, Kuan Shih Yin. It was the hope of this group that this focus on the Bodhisattva would help nurture our desires that the war be short, and the suffering of all those involved and the Earth itself be minimized. After the war ended, many of the members of the group chose to continue meeting as a Buddhist Sangha.

What does it mean that Karida is “independent and nonsectarian?”

Some Pure Land and Zen sanghas consider Karida a “sister” organization rather than an integral part of any particular tradition. In practicality, this independence means that the power to ordain ministers, set policies, produce teaching materials, and conduct various religious services, resides within the local sangha rather than flowing from an outside hierarchy or organization. The term “independence” means nothing more than this. Nonsectarian means that all mutually accepting religious tradition are accepted. We believe this practice of mutual acceptance moves us toward the goal of ending, or at least reducing, religiously motivated aggression in the world.

Karida places a high value on the “short lineage.” What does this mean?

Most Buddhist congregations (Sanghas) are associated with a specific lineage, which is like one’s genealogy in that it shows the connection of a succession of teachers and students down through great expanses of time to the present-day. Most lineages claim to reach, unbroken, back to the Buddha Himself. For many sanghas, lineage is important because, especially in these dark times, it is easy to deceive oneself and be deceived, so a long tradition back to the Founder is, in a sense, preferred by many Buddhists because it's seen as being vouchsafed. However, nothing in the nature of Wisdom, as such, requires an historical lineage/heritage/parentage. For many seekers of the Inner Way (the Buddha's own term for his body of teachings), detailed instructions are preferred: some of us like to follow a recipe with intense precision. Besides, having faith in a tradition handed down over the ages instills confidence that others who have tried this before have succeeded by doing so.

On the other hand, Karida is one of many congregations that, while respecting these lineages, is not connected to any particular lineage in the traditional sense. In Karida Sangha we feel that the most important lineage for us is called the “short lineage.” This “short lineage” comes about through the limitless compassion of the Buddhas directly touching the heart/mind of the individual thereby giving rise to Bodhichitta. In Theravadin Buddhism, for example, only the “Long” lineage is recognized. In Tibetan Buddhism, both long and short lineages are recognized as valid. Short lineage has its basis in Padmasambava, or Guru Rinpoche, and is more closely associated with the Nyingma school or lineage. As His Holiness Penor Rinpoche (head of the Nyingma lineage) put it in a teaching in Tucson, experiential awareness of the Truth, or Transcendental Wisdom, arises spontaneously anywhere and everywhere, and anytime, as needed.

Finally, the Buddha Himself seems to have left it up to each of us to decide which Path to take, and whether to associate with “short” or “long” lineage teachings. His very last words on this Earth were, “I have held back nothing from you. Now work out your own liberation.” Buddhism is all about taking responsibility for oneself. So, as with everything else on the Path, the value of lineage, long, short or something in between, is up to you.

What is the meaning of “ordination” for Karida ministers?

To “ordain” means to appoint, or officially invest, an individual with a specific role in the spiritual community. For Karida, the power to ordain comes from the polity of the Sangha rather than from an outside hierarchy. The official title of a Karida minister is “Dharma Teacher.” Ordination as a “Dharma Teacher” is recognition of the power of the limitless compassion of the Buddhas at work in an individual’s own study, practice, and motivation to serve the Sangha in a particular way. In general, Karida ministers serve many of the needs of the Sangha such as; weddings, funerals, house blessings, to name a few.

What is the concept of “Transfer of Merit?”

We believe that the merit obtained by the Buddhas of the past, present, and future, benefits each one of us and that, in turn, the merit we attain is shared with countless others. This benefit is freely available to all beings today to assist them in the development of their own unique understanding of the impermanent world of cause and effect. All acts of compassion benefit all beings. This benefit is what we call the “Transfer of Merit.” It is made possible because of the underlying interconnectedness of all that exists.

What is the concept of “Interconnectedness?”

The weather in Central America affects the price of my cup of coffee. Likewise, a random act of kindness may plant a seed that bears fruit years later. This is all possible because of the interconnectedness of everything. Buddhism teaches that nothing exists independent and unchanging. This interconnectedness is the foundation, or mechanism, that makes the Transfer of Merit possible. The Avatamsaka (or Flower Garland) Sutra tells us that everything in the universe is woven together by countless causes and effects.

“As a net is made up of a series of ties,
so everything in this world is connected by a series of ties
If anyone thinks that the mesh of a net
Is an independent, isolated thing, that one is mistaken.”

How does one become a member of Karida?

Joining Karida is as simple as establishing one’s name on the membership list. Conversely, removing one’s name ends the membership. Membership lists are not shared with others.

Does one need to be a Buddhist to be a member of Karida?

No. Although Karida is a Buddhist organization, our membership has always fully included non-Buddhists who wish to share our practice. We encourage people to apply whatever insights they may find in the Buddha Dharma to whatever spiritual path they may be on. Karida does not proselytize. However, we recognize that some may wish to publicly make the Buddhist Path their own. We provide an opportunity for them to do so by recitation of the Vandana Ti-Sarana with the intent to follow the Dharma.

What role does art play in Karida practice?

We see all of the arts as potential expressions of the Buddha Dharma. In particular, we encourage the “meditation arts” of calligraphy, flower arranging, and poetry.

What role does ecology play in Karida practice?

Living in harmony with the Earth is a principle goal of Karida Sangha. It is our belief that this becomes possible only through the establishment of a Pure Heart. The involvement of members in caring and loving activities designed to help establish our harmony with the Earth are seen as exemplary examples of “Living Buddhism.”

What is “Living Buddhism?”

We believe that the aspiration, or vow, of the Bodhisattva for the welfare of all beings is so powerful that the Vow itself gives rise to whatever interest an individual may have in learning about the Buddha Dharma. How this interest may grow and develop is unique to the individual. We celebrate this uniqueness. This is what we call “Living Buddhism.”

What role does meditation play in Karida practice?

We believe that Samatha, or “calm abiding” meditation, is central to the Buddhist tradition. It is also an example presented to us by the Founder Himself. This being the case, we feel that meditation is of central importance to any modern Buddhist practice.

Why is the Bodhisattva Kuan Shih Yin so important to Karida practice?

Central to the practices of Karida Sangha is the evocation of the Kuan Shih Yin. In the history of Buddhism She came to be seen as the ultimate embodiment of Compassion. The literal translation of her name is, “She who hears the Cries of the World.” For us she is an external representation of our own compassion. Through our own Kuan Shih Yin practices, such as chanting sutras and meditation, we seek to nurture that compassion within ourselves.

What is “basic Buddhism?”

The teachings of “Basic Buddhism” are contained in the Ti-sarana, or Threefold Refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha; The Four Noble Truths, Dukkha, Samudaya, Nirodha, and Magga; The Eightfold Path, Right View, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Meditation; and the Five Precepts. In practice, it emerges uniquely, within each individual, with the rise of Bodhichitta, or the “Awakened Heart/Mind.”

What is the purpose of Karida’s presence on the World Wide Web?

The interconnected “Jewel Net” manifests in many ways. In the twentieth century one of the most significant manifestations of this “Jewel Net” was the development of the World Wide Web. In embracing the Web, Karida seeks to encourage Buddhists who are isolated from other practicing Buddhists by providing them with the resources of a Sangha affiliation. The World Wide Web is a tool for our realization of interconnection.