Commentary on Summary of Faith & Practice Part Sixteen
Text: this practice automatically…
In this initial phrase is introduced the idea of things happening without deliberate intent. When we think of ‘practice’ there is generally an intent. We do something hoping for a certain outcome. However, here we learn that many things happen outside of our knowledge or control.
Buddhism enters us through the skin as much as or even more than through the brain. These days a good deal of Buddhist teaching emphasises consciousness and awareness. The contemporary idea of ‘mindfulness’ is that it is a kind of deliberate attention. However, traditionally, mindfulness referred to what the mind was full of and much of the fullness or content was only semi-conscious. Mindfulness went with good upbringing and conscientiousness and although such things did involve some inculcation of rules and protocols, much was acquired simply by exposure to good example. When Buddha is asked what one should do he often says “Keep good company.” Good ways will rub off on one, just as bad ones will if one keeps bad company.
The nembutsu is good company. In it is encapsulated all the merit of the Buddhas. This is a mystical power. It is holy and good. We entrust ourselves to it not really knowing what will happen. If we have too much sense of what we want to happen we shall only get in the way.
There is a story that Ippen once visited a house where a party was going on. The host left off drinking and eating to go and deal with the visitor. Ippen offered him a fuda, which is a paper with the characters of the nembutsu written on it, and invited the man to say the Name of the Buddha, which he did. The host then went back to the party and Ippen overheard an ensuing conversation. One of the other guests asked who the visitor was and the host said, “Oh it was the charlatan monk, Ippen. He’s a pretentious idiot.” The other guest then said, “But why then did you take the nembutsu from him?” and the host said, “Well, you can’t fault the nembutsu whoever it is dispensed by.” Some time later Ippen was back with his own disciples and he praised the host of the party highly, saying that he had understood the main thing.
We see from this story that Ippen was not concerned for his own reputation and that it did not matter that the host was engaged in partying at the time. The two men shared a reverence for the nembutsu and that was the only thing that mattered.
So we entrust ourselves to the practice - to saying the nembutsu - and this creates the conditions for good things to happen. Yet even to say this is perhaps to say too much. Complete faith implies that one will accept whatever happens. There is no element of trade here. It is not that I will do my bit (say the nembutsu) and the gods will reward me. It is actually complete free fall.
In reality we are rarely in this state. Only when we feel helpless and hopeless, perhaps. I remember being in Japan, in a nembutsu group, and a man saying, “Amida must weep when he sees my life.”
So what we are looking at here is a process that is more emotional than cognitive. The nembutsu is an object of worship, love and adoration. One becomes saturated in that sentiment. One loses sense of whether this does any good or not. What happens, happens. It is an automatic process.
People who enter the spiritual life change, but they do so more as a by-product than as a result of a comprehensible cause-effect process. The practice distracts one from worldliness and a deep healing starts to take place.
Consciousness and unconsciousness alternate. Trying to cultivate all-the-time awareness is futile. It cannot be done. The unconscious has an honourable place. From it come all creativity, healing, and transformation. Consciousness merely primes the pump. It is when one has forgotten why one is saying nembutsu that it is doing most good.