TEXT: Amida will receive you and you may fear for nothing since all is completely assured

Continuing the commentary upon Summary of Faith and Practice

To be received and accepted as one is is the greatest wonder. To live in fear of rejection, although it inevitably includes a large element of fantasy, can be crippling psychologically. To be in a relationship in which one builds up hopes that “this time all will be well,” only to experience more rejection in the event, can be extremely wounding. Yet, all of these wounds are actually make-believe - just the shadow side of our own investments of hope and longing, our taking refuge in what is incapable of fulfilling such hope. We convince ourselves that we cannot live without the love of this or that person, this or that possession, this or that status in the eyes of the world, but this is not really true. One’s physical lifespan may be ended by a bomb or by starvation or a disease, but one’s love is not ended thereby. There is a “love that transcends understanding” that is a true refuge and is embodied in the Buddhas. That higher love - true love - knows no rejection.

Strangely, it is only the simple mind that knows this. The clever mind has a million complex doubts and calculations, but the simple reality of life is not encompassed by them. This is why the modern attitude often fails to yield real compassion, love, sympathy or peace, for all its sophistication. My teacher produced a book of Zen teachings. Her own teacher wanted the book to be called “Zen is Eternal Life”. My teacher realised that with that title nobody in the West would be interested. When the book first came out the publisher entitled it “Selling Water by the River” - a much more catchy title for the modern audience. For later editions, however, the other title was used - but only the aficionados buy Zen is Eternal Life even though the contents of the book remain the same. The modern person does not want eternal life. Only mundane things are permitted now. Hearts are no longer to be allowed to soar in religious ecstasy.

In the ordinary, mundane world, which is the only world that the modernly educated person is allowed to dwell in, one never actually encounters such complete acceptance. Yet the intuition of it lives in our hearts. Therefore, we look for it. We look for it in our loved ones and this is dangerous because when they turn out to be human we then criticise them for not being so perfect as to satisfy the intuition of unconditional love and acceptance that lives within us, like a memory of another world that we are not allowed to remember.

Pureland, however, is an ecstatic religion. It centres upon the anamnesis of that other world, the world before birth, whence children come “trailing clouds of glory”. And when we meet evidence that hints at that glory, the effect upon us is profound, and this is what the practitioner finds in his or her encounter with Amitabha. Here and there, in life, ordinary circumstance comes close to it - the gratuitous act of generosity, such as the one that triggered the enlightenment of Shakyamuni Buddha. When we encounter something like that it can be as if we fall through an invisible wall that has bounded our life. At such a moment we discover that that wall is illusory, that from the prison we have built for ourselves it is actually possible to walk out through the walls, for they are only stuff of our own imaginary making.

Psychotherapy depends upon this effect. Although the therapist is not a Buddha, she can occupy some approximation to that part for the limited time of a session, accepting the client to a degree that they rarely if ever encounter elsewhere. This has an opening effect upon the soul and energies pour out that otherwise remain trapped in the treacle of fear and doubt. Spiritual guidance is the same. The kalyana mitra transmits the knowledge of this love and is able to do so not through his or her own power, but because the grace of Amitabha flows through them. The disciple may then sense the boundlessness intuitively. Although the kalyana mitra may appear to be an ordinary person, she or he reflects the light of Amitabha simply by not posing. When we have simple faith, it is like taking off our fancy disguise; then, this unconditional love comes to meet us and enshrouds us, hiding our nakedness. Then we know that all is completely assured. That even if we fall into the fire at the end of the kalpa, that transcending love cannot be destroyed.

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Replies to This Discussion

This is a wonderful teaching, Dharmavidya - thank you, endless gratitude _/l\_

Namo Amida Bu

Thanks Dharmavidya. I'm interested in the "clever mind", as you put it. It is the fly in the ointment eh! But also indispensable to the journey. It is the clever mind that poses, but is that not an instinctive mechanism which, to a certain extent, allows us to integrate and conform with the social norm. Everybody is showing off in one way or another, it seems to be one of the ways that we relate to one another. A social dynamic! It's only when I try not to pose or act that I realise how deeply ingrained the behaviour is...in everyone. Real authenticity only ever seems to come out of the pits of despair, from those whose egos have been shattered. It's nice to know that faith can dissolve the facades which seperate us and allow genuine love and compassion to work in our lives.

Namo Amida Bu( ;

Wonderful. Thank you.

As someone familiar with the treacling (I like that) life habits of of fear-and-doubt, I've been noticing a curious thing about this notion of complete assurance - that even when I place obstacles in its way, or foil simplicity with endless picking and choosing - as if carefully weighing and measuring cups of water beside the river - I do feel an easy, untroubled confidence in this gesture of assurance itself. 

On my shrine a portrait of Julian of Norwich (and a 'blessed hazelnut' that my dear Kagyu friend Fraser brought me from her shrine at Norwich) sits besides Honen's Ichimai Kishimon. If sometimes given to making a meal of the names and the words by which to approach the eternal, that gesture of simple trust & surrender that Julian and Honen both hold out feels to me wholly uncomplicated. Just so, the hand extended to our worried hearts by Our Lady of Guadalupe, Quan Shi Yin, Amida.

I don't think of this as a case for complete syncretism, oddly. In 'A Living Buddhism for the West' Lama Anagarika Govinda uses the lovely image, as a counter to the well-known 'different paths up the same mountain' syncretist metaphor, of spiritual traditions being like different trees that are (of course) rooted in the same human soil.

The living mystery within which 'all manner of things shall we well', the eternal life which nourishes the various trees, may well be considered a common soil, but to say a pear is therefore the same as an apple is the same as an orange would be a conflation and a muddle, not a mystery.

The same could be said, perhaps, for our common human sufferings and joys? When a rock falls on the foot of a wandering Pureland sage, a Catholic Christian grandmother, or the sternest of secular rationalists, they seem to make a similar sort of noise.

Namo Amida bu, thankyou again.

I like the trees metaphor.


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