The radiant light, unhindered and inconceivable, eradicates suffering and brings realization of joy; the excellent Name, perfectly embodying all practices, eliminates obstacles and dispels doubt. This is the teaching and practice for our latter age; devote yourself solely to it. It is eye and limb in this defiled world; do not fail to endeavor in it. Accepting and living the supreme, universal Vow, then, abandon the defiled and aspire for the pure. Reverently embracing the Tathagata's teaching, respond in gratitude to his benevolence and be thankful for his compassion.
~ Shinran Shonin, Passages on the Pure Land Way
Saturday, April 9, 2016
Those who think they will never fall into hell Are certain to go there; Those who believe they will be born in the Pure Land Rarely attain their goal. What way is left for me, then, Apart from the Original Vow?
A signed copy of Rev. Dr. Zuio H. Inagaki's English translation of Shan-tao's Kannenbōmon (The Method of Contemplation on Amida). It is a joy to receive such a beautiful gift, and an even greater joy to read it! Gassho
NOTE: The following essay was first published on my personal Facebook page at 12:23PM on March 23, 2016.
This Higan’e, I was fortunate to attend services at three Jodo Shinshu temples here in Japan. The first was Nishi Honganji (http://www.hongwanji.or.jp/) in Kyoto, my denomination’s head temple (Honzan), where I met with Rev. Eiken Kobai and received my Dharma-name after an unforgettable tour of the temple’s architectural treasures led by Rev. Clifton Dodatsu Ong. Immediately following the kikyoshiki ceremony, I had the opportunity to attend the service held in Amida-do (the H...all of Amida Buddha). Here, for the first time, I heard the sound of the Kansho bell and listened as the hall reverberated with voices chanting the Sanbutsuge and Wasan.
On Sunday, I journeyed to Nara to attend Higan’e service at Jokyouji (http://www.joukyouji.com/) at Reverend Clifton's invitation. This beautiful and historic temple was founded in the 13th century by Gyoen, a disciple of Shinran Shonin who was formerly a samurai. Here, I was honored to meet the granddaughter of Rev. Riken Katsura, Rev. Zuiken Inagaki’s teacher. Serious listening to the Buddha-Dharma is a matter of course at Jokyouji, where Zuiken Sensei’s legacy is alive and well. His writings were referenced multiple times during my visit, and I even had lunch in a room where his calligraphy adorned the walls. One of the temple’s members, at the age of 100, travels four kilometers by bicycle to attend services! To hear the Dharma in the company of such dedicated fellow-travelers was a rare privilege indeed. I was also presented with two books, Zuiken Sensei’s biography of Shakyamuni Buddha, and an introduction to Shinshu teaching by his son Rev. Zuio Inagaki—beautiful gifts that I will certainly cherish in memory of the wonderful people I met at Jokyouji.
The next day, I went at the invitation of Rev. Eiken Kobai to Osaka, where I attended another Higan’e service at Jofukuji. All the temple members listened with rapt attention to Kobai Sensei’s Dharma-talk on the meaning and significance of Ohigan (literally, "the Other Shore”), frequently nodding or saying the Nembutsu as his explanations and numerous illustrations resonated with them. After the service, I was invited to the room housing the family obutsudan, where I learned that I was the first American to visit the temple since it was rebuilt following World War II. At Jofukuji I also met my friend Mr. Yoshida Tokushin in person for the first time. To commemorate our meeting, Mr. Yoshida gave me a golden Dharma-wheel pin and Japan Buddhist Federation clip for my montoshikisho, which I will wear in gratitude for this encounter.
Each of these experiences reminded me of the familiar words of Ondokusan, sung so often during Higan’e:
Such is the benevolence of Amida’s great compassion, That we must strive to return it, even to the breaking of our bodies; Such is the benevolence of the masters and true teachers, That we must endeavor to repay it, even to our bones becoming dust.
Birth in the Pure Land—the world of True Enlightenment—is altogether the achievement of Amida Tathagata. You cannot attain birth in the Pure Land merely by thinking that you will be born there, as your foolish and unenlightened thoughts do not constitute the cause of birth. Only through the working of the living Buddha Amida, and by the power of his Primal Vow, can you be born in the Land of Peace and Bliss. Through "hearing the Name," the great compassionate Vow-Mind of Amida fills our hearts and becomes great shinjin, the True Faith. And it is this "shinjitsu shinjin" (true and real entrusting mind) alone that is the cause of birth. The realization involved in this "taking refuge" is twofold: "There is nowhere for me to go but hell, yet Amida Buddha exists to save just such a miserable being as that. Ah, so grateful! Nanmandabutsu, nanmandabutsu!" The Nembutsu that consequently emerges is the ho-on nembutsu spoken in absolute gratitude to Tathagata's benevolence. It is the true Other-Power Nembutsu that is devoid of calculation and self-power. Gassho
True faith (shinjin) is not what we "get" in return for services rendered, whether saying the nembutsu, believing in the Buddha, or studying Buddhist doctrine. All such activities have their limits in self-power, and are in the final analysis calculative actions (hakarai) if they do not come naturally from the influence of Other-Power. Rather, true faith is itself the heart that trusts to the utmost; it is Amida's own pure Bodhi-mind, and is consequently free from any shadow of doubt. As for where this faith is to be found, it is nowhere but the Name, which embodies the virtue directed to us for our going forth (to the Pure Land). When confronted with the issue of how we can avail ourselves of this virtue-power, the answer is simply, "By hearing the Name." What do we hear? We hear the commanding call of the Tathagata's Vow: "Come to me just as you are!" Since the compassionate Parent grasps me by the hand, I am born in the Pure Land just as I am. Because the "true and real Light" is presently shining throughout the ten quarters, my life-and-death problem is totally resolved. To realize this is to discover the unity of Savior and saved in Namo Amida Butsu. Following such a realization, the feeling of "indebtedness to the Nembutsu" (ho-on nembutsu) will naturally arise. Gassho