Everything slows down in August. Looking back, I see that the Daily is getting to be less than 'daily'. Today, after service, our party all wanted to go to the beach. The weather is exceedingly hot and has been so for some time now. I took a book on Chinese philosophy and found a shaded corner.
In the service, earlier, when I gave my talk, I had spoken about Honen Shonin. I said how, of the ancestral teachers, Honen and Dogen both had a special place for me, but that Dogen is more for the head and Honen more for the heart. Both were, in fact, extremely erudite men and also both compassionate, but probably Honen was more extrovert and Dogen more introvert. In that particular, i can more readily identify with Dogen. Honen certainly had the common touch. Even when he talked about well known Buddhist doctrines, he made them personal and, in fact, took them personally.
I read out a passage from his writings about 'precious human rebirth'. In Mahayana Buddhism generally this is a foundational teaching. There is the idea that to be born human is extremely rare and to be born human at a time when the Dharma is readily available even rarer. It is said to be like a blind turtle surfacing in the ocean every hundred years managing to put its neck through a small ring floating randomly on the waves. Thus, it is crucially important that one make full use of this rare opportunity or it may be a long time before it comes again.
When Honen spoke on this issue he did not announce that he was going to propound a Buddhist doctrine. He simply said, "Oh, where was I when Shakyamuni was giving his teachings? I was not there when he declared the amazing 'flower garland' sermon. I was not there when he gave his teachings on great wisdom. I did not attend the meetings at Vulture Peak. This is terrible. Was I, perhaps, one of the citizens of India at that time who, nonetheless, had never heard of the great sage? What was I doing to prevent myself from benefitting from this amazing opportunity? This is really lamentable."
He goes on to say that at least he has been fortunate enough to be reborn thousands of years later while some trace of the Dharma is still around. That at least is a great benefit.
I am sure that those who came to see and listen to Honen were moved to take the Dharma personally because he himself did. Such direct involvement is infectious.
In my own case, I am busy working with a text of Dogen, burrowing deeper and deeper into his many layered meaning. The Dharma was very personal for him too, but he did not wear his heart on his sleeve in quite the way that Honen did. Nor do I. We must each be true to our own ways. With these two great exemplars for guides I am picking my way through the great darkness, appreciating the sparks that appear miraculously along my path.
Yes we may all be sorry that we could not be present when Shakyamuni was teaching at the Vulture Peak (even if we have been fortunate enough to climb up to the Vulture Peak) But then many opportunities are still there for us to learn (even the coming of a storm!) but are we always present with an open heart and a sharp mind?