The Fourth Truth is called Marga, the Eightfold Path, but in Chinese, it comes out as the Eightfold Tao. I like it. Tao has a different feel from "path". Path feels narrow. Tao feels all-encompassing. The Tao is our benefactor - the mysterious promise of life, always functioning in a beneficent way. Tao is always everywhere.
The best way to live is in accord with the Tao, but given that the Tao is completely mysterious, how is one to do that? The answer to that question would give you the nature of the Eightfold Tao… or the Onefold Tao, or the Millionfold Tao, or the Tao to the root of minus one, or the Tao of motorcycle maintenance, or whatever, and they would all be the same Tao.
Maybe you read about Buddhism, and you read the Four Truths in the conventional way and you learn that the Eightfold Path is the method to get enlightened and you think it is unproblematic to understand, just difficult to do, yes? But actually, the Eightfold Tao is THE great mystery. Shakyamuni Buddha did not even discover it until he was completely enlightened. What is "right" view? "Right" thought? "Right" samadhi? Thinking that because one has a string of terms one has got "something" is delusion. All you have got is another distraction.
Nembutsu is the Third not the Fourth Truth
Sometimes people ask why it was that Honen substituted nembutsu and other power for the self power way of the Eightfold Tao. I have a little book called Jodo Shu: A Daily Reference in which this very question is discussed. I have a lot of sympathy with and affinity to Jodo Shu, but in my understanding, this is the wrong question. Honen did not substitute nembutsu for the fourth truth, he offered it as the deep meaning of the third truth. This is quite different.
Dukkha leads to samudaya. In the person with no nembutsu (of whatever form), samudaya just leads to more dukkha and that is samsara. If you are not familiar with the Buddhist terminology: affliction brings stuff up and if you have no deeper way of dealing with that stuff, then the things you are liable to do with it just create more affliction and trouble.
To get off the hamster wheel requires a sideways jump, which is an act of faith - shinjin - because it is free fall after that. That is nirodha. Nirodha is taking your life in your hands and giving it away to the best thing you can imagine. Nirodha generates marga quite naturally, without you even needing to know what all the words mean or even know that it is happening.
Not Until You Are Buddha
Thinking that the fourth truth is easy to understand is a mistake and thinking that it is the means is also a mistake. The fourth truth is the Tao, is enlightenment, is IT. You won’t understand it, let alone be able to do it, until you are a Buddha. And the third truth is how that happens. Which is faith. Faith, here, is to have Buddha in mind and trust. Entrust to the mystery. So long as you have a hazy notion of Buddha Tao, that is enough. Your soul knows what you mind never dreampt of.
Nembutsu means to have Buddha in mind. That means to be a Buddhist. A Buddhist is somebody who has Buddha in mind. This is not a sectarian matter. All Buddhists have Buddha in mind while they are still deluded beings. The more they really have Buddha in mind the less deluded they get because Buddha works secret magic inside the heart. It is not really that Pureland is the school that does nembutsu instead of what other schools do, it is that Pureland understands what all Buddhists do as being nembutsu..., or it is not Buddhist practice. If it is done in relation to Buddha it is Buddhism.
The Root & the Flower
If you take the Eightfold Tao as a syllabus, then you can go on learning an endless amount about it. There are acres of teachings on right behaviour and even more on right speech, understandably. Right livelihood is a challenge for many and right effort is obviously a key to much else. Lots to study. However, this is not a lego set. You cannot put awakening together from construction pieces. In fact, you cannot put it together at all. We treat the Eightfold Whatever-it-is as the root when actually it is the flower and the flower grows and opens naturally when the root is in good shape.
The root is underground. It is hidden. It is not in the realm of consciousness. When we have faith it is going on, growing in the dark. Faith is just the willingness to take in the Light, which, in this analogy, means having the Buddha in mind.
This is why sudden awakening and gradual cultivation come together. There are tipping points. We tend to think that the cultivation comes first and get us to the tipping point, like adding sand grains to a scale until it tips. Actually its the opposite. When we face life just as it is, something tips. Gradual cultivation is then the resulting downhill slide.
It is not just a matter of degree. Either you have faith or you don’t. Either Buddha is your best friend or something else is. Either one is facing life honestly or one isn't. Either you rely upon the birthless truth or you rely upon ephemera. And when you do the Tao is all over the place, everywhere you look, and when you don’t it is working secretly behind your back, because, Buddha always was your best friend, even when you didn't realise it.
Thank you. yes I can feel how the third truth is nembutsu. Namo Amida bu has helped me stop many times whether it is getting caught up in old bad habits, surviving the feelings that have been coming up or before going into work to face a bullying boss.
I remember a long time ago you speaqking about the the translation that has led to each step being called "right". You said then that maybe it is more appropriate to thing og wholehearted view, speech, action etc. This has helped me again and again as I hve trodden my path.
I love the link with the Tao...
Namo amida bu Modgala.
Yes, thank you. Yes, wholeheartedness is the outcome of it all.