Text: For those having a karmic affinity with Amitabha Buddha
This text and the religious path it describes are "for those who have an affinity". This implies that they are not for everybody. For sure, everybody has a path and it is for each to find it. It is not for anyone to impose a path upon others. True religion is not a project to enslave the minds of other people; it is a humble undertaking. If the Buddha comes for me alone, that is sufficient. In fact, it might well turn out that people who think that they are following different paths are actually all following the same light seen through different windows - that might be true, humans are quite foolish enough to fight each other over imagined differences - but there is no need to worry too much about that. There are teachings sufficient available for everyone. That is something to rejoice about. If this text speaks to you, then attend to it.
The Sentiment of Affinity
This line can be taken at a simple level of sentiment or it can be understood in terms of the teaching. Both types of understanding are useful. At the level of sentiment, we know that sometimes things just feel right. We may not be able to wrap much logic around them, but we feel in our guts that something is for us and makes sense. We can imagine that this is because we have sown seeds in the past that are now ripening. A whole series of developments and occurrences have led us to this, to this discovery of the infinite grace of the Tathagata and it feels wonderful, like plunging into deep cool water on a hot day.
Pureland Buddhism is like that. We might have studied other schools or other religions, perhaps for many years, but then we find this and it clicks and it feels like a huge relief. Suddenly, we are accepted and do not need to struggle in a desperate futile way any more. So often religion makes one feel guilty. One starts from the position of not-good-enough and buys into a vague promise that salvation can be attained by dint of Hurculean work upon oneself. Yet, if Buddha is Buddha, then he already loves and cares for us just as we are. What a relief! If it strikes one this way, then one is probably one of those who have a karmic affinity to that Buddha. Stay with it. Rejoice. You have come home. Call his name as one would the name of a new found lover. This is the place for you.
Amitabha means measureless light. The meaning is that the light of Buddha is infinite, unbounded and knows no obstacle. It does not matter where you are, who you are, what conditions you are in, what you have or have not done in the past, whether you are popular or alone, whether you are good or bad, woman or man, old or young, this light is already embracing you. It is like the light of the moon. When walking about in the night one is relying upon the moonlight. One may go about one's business without ever thinking about the moon, yet one is using it. Then, one day, instead of always looking at one's own level or looking down, one may look up and see a great glory that one had not looked at before. To turn toward the Buddha is like that. It is not a clever idea, not a formula, not even being good and virtuous; it is a sudden awakening to an unsuspected glory that hasx been eternally there, helping one to move about in the dark.
In Japan, the name was shortened to Amida, which just means measureless. Measurement is such a big part of our lives. These days money has become a kind of universal measure. We can see how referring to everything in money terms is useful for practical purposes, but tends to have a deadening effect. How much is a life worth? How much for the beauty of a flower? Is time really money? Surely there is another way than this. Here in this world we have to take part, at least to some extent, in this ife of measurement, but if that is all there is then we shall have become robots, mechanisms, devoid of real life.
Gazing at the Moon
To have an affinity for Amitabha Buddha, therefore, is to have that spiritual turn of mind, that longing in the heart for something that transcends all this. It is the beginning of the contemplative life. There is, therefore, something plaintive about religious contemplation. We are like the person who looks up at the moon, but can never go to the moon. Nonetheless, the light of the moon comes to us and that is the great blessing.
So, our religious life is necessarily performed within a framework of karma, yet, on the one hand, always reaching beyond it and, on the other, always receiving the grace that permeates from beyond. We can say that our contemplation is always both a “please” and a “thankyou”.
It is important to recognise that our religious activity is performed within the karmic realm. If we do not recognise this then there is a serious danger of arrogance, of starting to think that because one is religious one is superior or because one follows this particular religion rather than that one that one has the one right way and the others are damned. That is not how it is. The moon shines on every hamlet in the land, no matter how different they may be.
The great sage Vasubandu said that it is a matter of distinguishing the middle from the extremes. One extreme would be to never see the moon. The other extreme would be to take possession of the moon to the exclusion of others. To live in the light of Amitabha Buddha is a marvelous thing. That others may call that light by different names or revere it in different ways is simply part of the great richness of life.
Even within Buddhism, there are many ways of expressing this same truth. This is how Shakyamuni says it on one occasion:
“There is, monks, an unborn, unbecome, unmade, unconditioned. If, monks there were not that unborn, unbecome, unmade, unconditioned, you could not know an escape here from the born, become, made, and conditioned. But because there is an unborn, unbecome, unmade, unconditioned, therefore you do know an escape from the born, become, made, and conditioned.” Udana 8.3
Such is nirvana. Yet we ordinary beings live in a world where everything is born or made or become and is conditioned; we live in the sphere of karma and dependent origination, yet some have an affinity with something beyond.
Honen Shonin understood this. He felt the afflictions of this world, the deaths of his parents, the cruelty of the civil war, the deprivations of a hard life, yet at the same time, he felt the inspiration that came to him via the great sage Shan Tao who had seen the Pure Land.
Sometimes one reads something and it jumps out at you. It may be only one line or one thought, but it clicks. When that happens one knows that one has an affinity with the source of that writing. There is something in the inspiration of the writer that is an inspiration for you too. This is how I felt when I read the Ichimai Kishomon and that is what inspired me to write this Summary in order to share it with all who have a similar feeling.
Thank you Dharmavidya. I felt that affinity when reading this and most of your writings. It feels, now, as though I have been close to Amida for a lot longer than I could possibly remember and that my calling in this life has been a homecoming. Thank you for helping to facilitate this reunion. Namo Amida Bu( ,