Text: but none of this is either necessary or even helpful to success in the practice. Rather such study cultivates secondary faculties to be held separate from the mind of practice itself.

The One Essential
The point here is that the practice of nembutsu - or taking refuge - contains the whole essence of Buddhism and it is simply a matter of having a sincere intention. No particular intellectual knowledge is required. Of course, one can study Buddhism endlessly and such study can be intrinsically valuable, but it only adds explanation of the basic point which remains the same whether one has such explanation or not.

Honen Shonin (1133-1212) who spread the Pureland teaching in Japan was himself an extremely erudite scholar. he knew the doctrines of all the schools of Buddhism of his time, but the teaching that he spread was simply "Say the nembutsu." By saying, "Namo Amida Bu" or an equivalent phrase with the intention of invoking the aid and grace of Amitabla Buddha one is doing all that is necessary. This is the primary practice. Whatever else one does is either some form of this same practice or it is secondary or auxilliary to it. 

Basic Buddhist Attitude
Thus, we can consider a teaching like the Four immeasurables. These define a basic Buddhist attitude. They are maitri, karuna, mudita and upeksha.

  • Maitri means loving kindness. It is to wish good for another.
  • Karuna means compassion. It is to wish that another be relieved of ill.
  • Mudita means sympathetic joy. It is to rejoice when either of the above things happen. To feel joy in the success of others.
  • Upeksha is equanimity. It is what one needs when they do not happen. When good does not come to a person or when ill befalls them, one needs equanimity, to be a rock for them, not panicking but remaining calm and steadfast.

So this is an ideal. Although we talk about four qualities, you can probably see that they are simply four aspects of one quality really. But how does such a quality arise? One might think that this is a prescription and that one must, by will power, bring about these qualities in oneself. Well, to a degree that might be possible, but there is something about doing it that way that tends to end up hollow or unreliable because it is contrived. Such feelings cannot be turned on like a tap and still be genuine.

Again, trying to do so, one might encounter various karmic or psychological patterns in oneself and conclude that one will only be able to express the right Dharmic attitude when all these problems have been solved. Of course, there is nothing wrong with trying to solve some of one's problems. However, the well of karma is virtually bottomless. If one puts personal healing ahead of refuge one is, in a certain way, indulging in self-idolatry.

How then can one give rise to such feelings spontaneously?

Great Treasure Store
The Buddhist answer lies in the religious consciousness that is the heart of Buddhist faith, which is taking refuge. A Buddhist devotee feels the light and grace of Buddha everywhere, endlessly blessing and benefitting. Consequently, he or she feels great gratitude and also wonder. Gratitude because oneself is the recipient of this grace and wonder because one sees that everything else is too. A person who has such a religious consciouness lives in a great treasure store. Everywhere everything reflects the Dharma light of Buddha. When one lives in the midst of such wonder, the attitude expressed in the Four Immeasurables comes quite naturally. it does not require any effort at all.

Invaded By Wonder
So, the nembutsu is a window through which the whole universe of Buddha's teaching can be seen in all its depth, but all that is actually needed is one very simple point and this point centres upon sincere faith. Simply saying the nembutsu while inwardly turning toward the Buddhas, just as one might look up to see the moon shining in the night, is enough faith to unlock the vast treasure store of Amitabha's merit, just as when one does look at the moon one may feel invaded by wonder.

Keeping the Horse Ahead of the Cart
At the same time, there is no harm in studying all manner of things that cultivate "secondary faculties" so long as one does not let them become the primary motivation of one's life. As secondaries, they support the nembutsu. They enable one to put one's love, compassion, joy and equanimity into effect more consequentially. In this sense they are derivative. The important thing is not to put the cart before the horse. In Pureland - and all Buddhism - one first makes a choice to take refuge. That is primary. In Pureland it is expressed as nembutsu. Having made such a choice - having made it central - then many other things can fall into place as expressions or supports. However, if one takes those other things as primary, then one will close a door upon the light and grace and will cling to one's own power and ability which is nowhere near enough. In this latter case, although one leads some kind of spiritual life, the central necessity will be missing and it will be hard work to sustain the joy and devotion. One might give up or one might become puritanical, but the spring of original joy will be closed bacuse one is no longer being fed.

Buddhism means to be in love with Buddha - all the Buddhas - with the Dharma and all the radiant wonder that is the light of Buddha in the world. This is bhakti - devotion. It is the essential ecstacy. ecstacy means to be taken out of oneself. the self can never get out of itself, but the grace of Buddha can lift you out of yourself in the best possible way. When one is carried away by anything less there will be lesser or even deleterious effects, but the Buddhas are a reliable refuge because they are pure love and that can be trusted completely.

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