SUMMARY OF FAITH & PRACTICE COMMENTARY ~ Part Eleven
Text: realise that you are a totally foolish being who understands nothing
Delusion is Normal
Whereas most Western psychology sets up normality as a goal, Buddhism is founded upon the idea that the normal condition is one of delusion - a kind of sleep. A Buddha is somebody who has awakened from the condition of delusion. Again, whereas many approaches to Buddhism emphasise the similarities between the nature of the ordinary person and the nature of Buddha, Pureland Buddhism emphasises the difference and the distance. There is a huge difference between being awake and being asleep and we are asleep. Again, when this difference is acknowledged, other forms of Buddhism tend to go directly to the question of how to wake oneself up, whereas Pureland starts from the observation that people who are asleep do not wake themselves up. They might be woken by something from outside of themselves, but generally speaking a person does not wake up because of some decision made while sleeping. So, on this analogy, we are deluded beings who do not have the power to awaken ourselves. Therefore, Pureland Buddhism does not rush to look for spiritual methods, but rather starts from a thorough acknowledgement of the human condition.
This human condition is called 'bombu' which means that we are 'foolish beings of wayward passion'. We are vulnerable and prone to error. The body is not reliable and the mind is not reliable either. Our knowledge of our situation is necessarily limited. Far from achieving the 'theory of everything' humans are in a situation where what we know compared with what we do not know is as a bucket of water compared with the ocean.
Pureland puts fallible human nature right up front rather than arguing that it must be overcome before any other work can be done.This means that a much fuller appreciation of human psychology is possible. From out of the bottomless pit of karma all manner of things may surface in the course of a life. To think that one is close to being 'sorted out' and that because one has 'worked upon an issue' that it is now gone forever, is folly.
We all make judgements. however much one may tell oneself to be 'non-judgemental' one will continue to assess things. How we assess them depends upon our baseline. If the baseline if high, the things we assess against it will mostly fall short. If the baseline is low, the converse. Thus, we are likely to be much more condemnatory if we hold to a high baseline and much more appreciative if we hold to a low one. The baseline that we rely upon much of the time is our own (deluded) image of ourselves. When we try to hold ourselves to a high ideal, we are likely to blame and criticise everybody who does not live up to the ideal that we are trying to hold to in our own case. If, however, we have a lower self-assessment we are likely to be more tolerant, compassionate and appreciative.
To genuinely realise one's bombu nature is not the same as making an excuse for oneself. in fact, it is the opposite of doing so. To not try because one might fail is actually a form of pride. One does not want to be found lacking. To realise one's bombu nature is to abandon such pride. The person who truly realises his or her limitations does the best they can because they are not frightened of the judgement that others might make. Rather, they are pleasantly surprised when they do manage to do something and this tends to lead them on to do more. This is more like the mind of the child who is always trying to master new things while still achieving only a child's level of accomplishment.
It is All Grace
To realise one's foolish nature is a liberation that permits one to be natural. Many people who have tried for many years to accomplish the supreme virtues of body, speech and mind described in the Buddhist texts experience a profound sense of relief when they encounter Pureland. They experience something of Amida's total acceptance enfolding them. The essential sentiment of the Pureland Buddhist is: "How wonderful and amazing that Amida Buddha has compassion even for one such as me."
The root of all religion and spirituality can be found in the experience of awe. Awe is the feeling that one has when, aware of one's own insignificance, one come face to face with the sublime. It is a shame that the word 'awesome' has been trivialised by usage, since, when taken seriously, it is one of the holiest of all words and to talk of mundane things a 'awesome' is really a kind of blasphemy of the worst kind. To experience real awe one must needs diminish oneself and this is only genuinely done by a sincere recognition of one's bombu nature.
This also implies a sense of unworthiness. This is the complete opposite of much contemporary pop psychology that tries to indoctrinate people with the idea that 'you are worth it' and 'you deserve it'. In Pureland, the emphasis is upon gratitude. Not only is this a gratitude for the grace of Amida Buddha who will take us to his Pure Land, it is also a general gratitude for all the forms of support that we receive in this life.
Consider the air that one breathes: one did not make it, one does not own it, one did not earn it, it is not from oneself, yet life without it would be extremely brief and painful. Each breath is a precious gift. In the course of a day one makes use of or relies upon the work of millions of people past and present. Let alone a day, in every few minutes of life one benefits in innumerable ways from people, from other creatures, from the inanimate forces of the universe. This is a cause for limitless gratitude and from gratitude flows a multitude of other virtues.
Investigation is a factor of enlightenment highly recommended by the Buddha. In order to be motivated to investigate one has to have a sense of the inadequacy of one's present knowledge and understanding. If one does not have such a sense then one is simply complacent. The person who follows the Dharma always feels a sense of an open frontier in this way. Buddha Shakyamuni said that a day without striving was a wasted day. The kind of striving he had in mind was investigation going beyond one's existing limits. Realising that one is a limited being is not an invitation to huddle within one's smallness, but rather to be endlessly reaching out beyond it.
At the moment we have a young kitten in our community. It is fascinating to watch the little creature constantly finding out about everything. Everywhere there are new forms, new smells, new challenges. The activity of the kitten is a demonstration of fullness of life and vitality. Realisation of one's bombu nature makes one into a kind of kitten, like that.
The ideal of Theravada Buddhism is the arhat. The arhat is a person who has defeated greed, hate and delusion and become pure and saintly. The idea of Mahayana Buddhism is the bodhisattva. The bodhisattva is the epitome of altruism, living for the benefit of all sentient beings. These are both wonderful ideals. However, the ideal of Pureland is the myokonin. The word means a shiny person, one who glows with the light of faith. It has a bit of an implication of being a holy simpleton. Myokonin are not necessarily monks or important people or even highly intelligent. They are those whose faith carries them through daily existence in a modest, friendly way, full of appreciation for the miracle of life unfolding around them and the grace of the Buddhas supporting them.
The myokonin, Saichi, is famous for many short poems...
The ocean is full of water.
It has the seabed to support it.
Saichi is full of blind passion.
It has Amida to support it.
Buddhism places great emphasis upon 'realisation', but what is it that one should realise? The most useful thing to realise is one's own true condition. If we can arrive at a more realistic humility in relation to ourselves, we shall have a much more reliable foundation to everything else that we then attempt. We shall also be in a better position to feel companionship with others that we meet upon life's path. We shall appreciate their quirks as illustrative of the glory of life.
As a Buddhist teacher, I find the Pureland attitude an essential support. If I had to spend my time looking like a totally well-adjusted person all the time it would be intolerable. I do what I can to assist everybody who comes to see me, but I have no magical powers. All I can do is show them the nature of the situation and invite them to share with me in appreciating the fact that, although we are each of very small account in and of ourselves, still there shines upon us and is reflected in us a most extraordinary spiritual light.
Wonderful, thank you for this. I am always helped by coming back to hear you set out these first principles of Pureland.
The distinction here about striving is very useful - that an awareness of one's smallness and deluded nature does not negate a vigorous striving to move beyond one's inherited and present limits. NamoAmidaBu.