A view that I encounter repeatedly in Buddhist circles is the notion that in order to be enlightened one needs to have a correct idea of… emptiness, interbeing, oneness, the real nature of Amida, nonduality… you name it.

One is told that when one fully understands codependent origination, or some such, all of one’s problems will drop away and one will be enlightened. I recently encountered the same notion in a Pureland context with somebody telling me with great conviction that what is necessary is to “kill” one’s wrong idea of Amida Buddha and acquire the right one, which they then attempted to explain to me.

As I understand it, this approach is wide of the mark. Whether one has the right idea or the wrong idea of Amida, that is the idea that one has and that is in fact the way that Amida is communicating with you now. It may change in the future - probably will - but so what?

Similarly with all the other currently popular ideas, such as nonduality and so on. A person can have a better idea and be a worse person and vice versa. Ideas are interesting and can be helpful but they are not it, and the attempt to reduce Amida or the Dharma to a principle - even a principle like oneness - misses the point.

When you have the wrong idea, what do you need? Refuge - say the nembutsu. When you have the right idea, what do you need? Refuge - say the nembutsu. When all the teachings are clear as daylight and when they are thick as mud, it is still the same.

We need intelligence as a secondary faculty in order to make our best shot at implementing the implications of our great good fortune, but such cleverness is not the essence of what this affair is all about. One needs faith.

One needs faith that whatever idea - no matter how clever - one has about the Dharma, the Buddhas will smile indulgently. Be the completely foolish being in the performance of the practice and all will be completely assured.

This does not mean that one stops thinking or using intelligence, it means putting things in their appropriate places. The heart/soul is king, the intelligence ministers and advises, but is not the decider or arbiter and as soon as we make it so we lose the way.

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Lovely and helpful reflection - thank you.

Whether this is a right idea or a wrong idea (and I'll take this as an encouragement to continue to like it, either way) I have long particularly liked the simple refuge prayer 'Namandabu'.

As I understand it - possible from your own writing? - this phrase arose from Japanese peasants mis-pronouncing NamoAmidaBuddha. So in its very form, I think it celebrates precisely what you'd talking about here?

BTW, a current BBC Radio 4 series I thought you and others here might like: 'Living with the Gods', by Neil McGregor: about the role of shared stories in shaping and sustaining human communities, since time immemorial. NM posits Homo Religiosa in lieu of Homo Sapiens.

Namandabu

I think that homo religiosa is about right. Namandabu - or just Namandaaa - rolls off the tongue very nicely.

Thank you.



Beautifully said, David, and so true. All our ideas are concepts, and though they can be so useful in providing precision to our thinking, they can never in themselves embody ultimate truth. And even that language “ultimate truth” is a concept.  The way of thinking that asserts “my truth” is better than “your truth” is the root of sectarian division, and all the misery and violence that it incites. How much more interesting to listen to the richness of various concepts, see how now one and then another brings clarity to the mind, yet realising how all these human endeavours fall short before the mystery which lies beyond. Though I do love the rigour of philosophical concepts, to me, the language of great poetry goes deeper, perhaps because it speaks to the heart. 

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