PART ONE: General
1. Some Distinctive Features of Amida-Shu Pureland Buddhism
PART TWO: Other Power
2. The Meaning of Tathagata
3. Dependent Origination is Other Power
4. Radiant Face
PART THREE: Practice
5. Nembutsu as Trikaya Buddhism
6. Ju-nen Contemplation
7. On Verbal & Meditative Nembutsu
8. Easter Sunday Memorial Ceremony
9. Praying for All Lineages
1. SOME DISTINCTIVE FEATURES OF AMIDA-SHU PURELAND BUDDHISM
Q: How is Amida-Shu different from typical Western Buddhism?
A: In many ways. The emphasis on other power, on the bombu paradigm, and on the Pure Land all come immediately to mind. Our perception of Buddhism as religion and willingness to deal with questions of faith, grace, salvation and prayer also marks a difference of style.
Q: How do you regard Buddhism in relation to other faiths?
A: Different religions are all catering for the fundamentally spiritual nature of humankind. None are perfect. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. We like to find common ground but also to learn from one another. Religions, like people, are bombu. We all have room to go on learning. Conflict between people on religious grounds is a nonsense. What is one fighting over - that one form of love is better than another? Amida-Shu provides a generic form of spirituality that is quite inclusive.
Q: Does this mean that it is easier for Amida-Shu to make common cause with other faiths than with other Buddhists?
A: I would not go that far, but there is a grain of truth in it. I think we probably find it easier to operate in inter-faith settings than many Western Buddhists. People who come to Amida-Shu and like it are more likely to be people who have a broadly spiritual outlook than people who have been immersed in Western Buddhism. However, people who have been immersed in Western Buddhism for many years and are now wondering why they are not yet enlightened might well find coming to Amida-Shu a great relief and liberation.
Q: Is Amida-Shu more like Chinese or Japanese Pureland?
A: Somewhere between the two. As a broad generalisation, one could say that Japanese Pureland opposes itself to Zen. We do not oppose ourselves to Zen. Chinese Pureland, on the other hand, has, to an extent, become subsummed into Zen. We are not Pureland within Zen, though in some respects, we have some Zen subsummed within our Pureland.
Q: So is Amida-Shu more or less “other-power” than Japanese Pureland?
A: We are more fundamentally so. We regard the original message of Shakyamuni and of all Buddhas as being other power. That is the meaning of refuge. Zen, when properly understood, is other power.
Q: Amida-Shu has precepts. Some Japanese Schools do not have precepts. Why is this?
A: If people find it helpful to take precepts, then as Buddhist priests we should be willing to give them. Some schools say that they do not have the authority to give precepts, but giving precepts has nothing to do with authority, it is an act of compassion.
Q: What about ordination vows?
A: Our vows define a way of life which provides coherence and purpose to our community. They are agreed by the community for the community. All communities need norms. In addition, the vows help individuals to get insight into their own faith and to see when it is strong or weak. Through trying to keep precepts one learns how bombu one is. Ultimately vows and precepts are descriptions of Buddha and so are objects of worship. It is a mistake to see them as a strait jacket. By working with them one becomes aware of the gap between the nature of oneself and the nature of Buddha.
Q: What is Amida-Shu’s attitude to teacher-disciple relations? I have heard that Shinran had no disciples.
A: We regard the teacher-disciple relationship as immensely valuable. In this respect we are in agreement with nearly every other school of Buddhism. The idea that Shinran had no disciples is incorrect. It is based upon a single remark of his recorded in a book called Tannisho, but this book was written by one of his disciples, Yuien. It was a rhetorical remark meaning that his disciples are really disciples of Amida. In the same book, Shinran says “I believe only what my venerable teacher taught.”
Q: Why are there two ordination “tracks” in Amida-Shu?
A: It evolved that way. Really there are three tracks at least - mitras, ministers and amitaryas. The multi-track system does cater for people with different needs. Shakyamuni seems to have established a system with groups of followers in particular locations, both the faithful and those who ministered to them, and also renunciants who went between. It was a good arrangement for a community that was scattered over a large area. Our system mimics this arrangement, but adapted to modern circumstance.
Q: What is the Amida-Shu attitude to the current fashion for mindfulness?
A: Contemporary utilitarin mindfulness is not the same thing as Buddhist mindfulness. The latter is about keeping the Dharma in mind as a basis both for faith and for investigation of one's life. It is good that through this fashion a large number of people have been touched by something distantly related to Buddhism, but there is a lot more to the original.
Q: Why is investigation of one's life important?
A: It is the basis of compassion. If we know our own weakness and folly we are much more appreciative of and understanding toward others. Amida-Shu is a bodhisattva sangha. By the grace of Amida we shall all be Buddhas one day and in the meantime we have faith that our lives reflect the Dharma Light for the benefit of all beings. We do not expect to arrive at perfection - we expect to arrive at greater familiarity with the human condition.
2. THE MEANING OF TATHAGATA
The word Tathagata is one of the common epithets of Buddha. In Japanese, Nyorai.
Tatha is sometimes rendered into English as the neologism "Thusness" which renders the word into a sort of English without making the meaning particularly clear and leaving a nice ambiguity.
If you want a rather secular, materialistic interpretation of Buddhism, then you can take thusness as meaning "things as they are" and say that the tathagata is one who sees things as they actually are - however you think that that is.
However, in the context of Indian religion this probably does not work unless by "things as they actually are" you mean how they are in the eyes of God. The word Tatha derives from "tat" which in common speech means "that". At first sight this look innocuous enough. However, the key slogan of traditional Indian religion is "Tat tvam asi" which means "Thou art That" where That means God, Brahma.
The basic meaning of this slogan is that the fundamental part of a person is a fragment of God and the purpose of religion is that all those fragments be ultimately reunited with Brahma. There can be little doubt that the Buddhist use of Tat and Tatha were framed within this kind of perspective but with a shift of meaning.
In Pali, we also say "Namo Tassa". Here Tassa is also a derivative of the same root. This phrase means "I take refuge in That One", That One being the Buddha. All of these phrases attribute a divine dimension to Buddha. Modern people do not like this and try to argue their way around it. They prefer to emphasise that Siddhartha Gotama was a human being. This is due to the intense humanism of our age. However, it is a misreading of Buddhism. Buddhism does not think of divinity in the same way as we are used to in monotheistic religions, but nonetheless, it is the spiritual presence of Buddha that is considered important - more important than God, in fact.
What impressed his followers in Asian history was not how human he was but precisely the other aspect - how divine, or more-than-divine, he seemed. Clearly he had something about him that was not common, not ordinary, not just like everybody else, and that "something" is what is called Tat or Tatha - "That" or "Thatness". It is That in which Buddhists take refuge.
Now let us look at the other half of the word Tathagata. "Gata" means gone. If we read the whole word this way then it means that the Buddha has gone to the transcendent domain, the spiritual world, the sphere that Buddhists are forbidden to speculate about but which clearly is intended to be taken as being wonderful, marvellous and consummate, the goal of the spiritual life.
So if Buddha is the "One Gone to That Domain" then our task is to exert ourselves to do what he did and follow. This is the self-power approach to Buddhism. the rousing slogan of this philosophy is "The Buddhas do but point the way; thou must walk the path alone; strive on with diligence."
However, Tathagata can also be scanned as Tatha-agata. Agata means come. Now Buddha is the one who has come from the transcendent realm. In this view, Buddha has come to help and save us. This is the other-power perspective on Buddhism. When Buddha comes to us in this way, our part is to receive Him, be grateful, open ourselves, be humble and receptive. The Japanese term Nyorai definitely means Tatha-agata, since "rai" in Japanese means "come". So Japanese Buddhism, not just in the Pureland Schools, is shot through with an other-power perspective. The slogan here is, perhaps, the haiku of Honen Shonin that reads: "The moon shines into every hamlet in the land, but only those who gaze upon it carry it in their hearts."
Of course, although particular schools of Buddhism may have different emphases, some mix of self-power and other-power is always apparent in practice. They are like the yang and yin of Buddhism. Tathagata comes to us, Tathagata walks ahead, sometimes glancing back. Tathagata urges us forward along the narrow path. there are many images, each picking up a different aspect of how we are helped. Different people need different things and the same person has different needs at different stages. The Buddhas are not limited by our concepts. their compassion extends limitlessly.
3. DEPENDENT ORIGINATION IS OTHER POWER
When Siddhartha Gotama became enlightened and so became Shakyamuni Buddha what he realised was dependent origination, pratitya samutpada. Consequently, the precise meaning of dependent origination has been a subject of debate throughout Buddhist history.
Dependent Origination Became Other Power
At some point in the transmission of Buddhism in China, the term other power was coined as a more graphic way of explaining dependent origination. It was probably Tan Luan who made this shift of terminology. Some people say that by doing so he was creating a new revisionist form of doctrine and that, therefore, the Pureland Schools that derive therefrom are later philosophies, related to but distinct from the teaching of Shakyamuni. Others say that Tan Luan had rightly discerned the true meaning of Buddha’s enlightenment and restored the original Buddhism. For those who take the latter view, Pureland is by no means a later development, but is the most original form of Buddhism deriving directly from the primary realisation of Shakyamuni at the source of his ministry. I am in the latter camp and here I would like to say a few things in support and explication of this perspective.
Shakyamuni Was a Spoilt Kid
Let us first look at the life of Siddhartha Gotama. The story begins with his pampered youth followed by his first going forth and his extreme asceticism. When that period of ascetic exertion ended in failure he experienced enlightenment. What does this mean?
He was pampered, at least in part, because his mother had died giving birth to him and his father and step-mother compensated for the loss. This circumstance must generate a psychological problem. To know that one’s birth has occasioned the death of one’s mother is not easy. To then be treated to every kind of luxury to boot only exacerbates the existential guilt. It is no wonder that he felt an urge to punish and torture himself. However, he will not have rationalised this to himself in this way. He saw it as a quest to end his own suffering and find a solution to the problem of disease, decay and death. This rationalisation is, of course, only a small remove from the psychological diagnosis I have just offered, but it does couch the whole thing in a religious frame.
He Tried Self-power and It Failed
The religion of the time included the notion that one could purify oneself of past karma by voluntarily undergoing penance. In the process one also gained mastery over the body and it was apparent that it was the fact of having a body that caused one to go through disease, decay and death. Therefore, the body was, in a sense, the guilty party, so it was not inappropriate that it be punished. This logic became particularly powerful in the Jain religion, in some forms of yoga, later in medieval Christianity and in some other historical religions.
We can see this ascetic approach as an attempt at mastery, of the body, of mind over matter, of oneself over one’s fate. It is svabhava - self-generation, self-power.
It did not work. Shakyamuni did not become enlightened by his self-power practice. He did not become enlightened by torturing his body, by sitting still for almost unendurable periods, by starving himself, nor by any comparable discipline. By these disciplines he did gain a certain worldly reputation as a great ascetic and this brought him respect among other ascetics, but he did not become enlightened. Nor did he become enlightened by ethical restraint. He did not become enlightened by following the Eightfold Path, for instance. None of these things served to enlighten him. Each had some intrinsic results, some of which were beneficial in a relative sense. It is like learning to run a four minute mile. Doing so may make you fit which might be a good thing and might damage your joints which might be a bad things, but it will not make you enlightened, unless it happens to make you realise what a fool you are
Shakyamuni became enlightened when he gave up, when he realised that what he had been doing did not work. The self-power project failed. Of course, one can say that, in a certain sense, he did realise the futility of self-power so profoundly because of the dedication with which he had pursued it, but that is a bit like saying that you will appreciate good food more if you have nearly died of self-poisoning several times. It is no recommendation for poisoning oneself.
So He Woke Up to Other Power and Called it Dependent Origination
In any case, when we see Shakyamuni’s enlightenment in this way it makes perfect sense to say that what he discovered was the opposite of self-power.
So, if we take this to be the case and say that Tan Luan was right, then when the Buddha said “Until I understood dependent arising I was not enlightened. It was only when I did fully understand dependent arising that I considered myself enlightened” he is saying “Until I understood Other Power I was not enlightened, it was only when I did fully understand Other Power that I was enlightened.” Now, if we assert this, then there are some points we still have to clarify.
Let us have a closer look at the term Shakyamuni used. Pratitya means "having depended". Samutpada means that something steps up. Samutpada is very close in meaning to the second Truth for Noble Ones - samudaya. There are a number of translations currently used in English versions of Buddhist texts - dependent arising, co-dependent arising, inter-dependent co-arising and so on. Each of these implies a slightly different bias on the part of the particular translator. It is, however, possible to see Siddhartha's choice of words as descriptive of what had happened to him. He had depended (upon a notion of self-efficacy) until something new stepped up. His awakening was spontaneous, but it happened in a circumstance. The circumstance was his own error coupled with a trigger that nudged him into a different perspective. It took something outside of his self, something outside of his old perspective, to do the trick. So two things are necessary, error and trigger - foolishness and other power.
Other Power has Many Appearances
When we talk about other power in Pureland we generally mean the power of Amitabha Buddha, however, the term other power as it stands is not so limited. It simply implies any power that is not self. Amitabha Buddha can take on any form necessary. What Shakyamuni abandoned was self-power, svabhava. The opposite of svabhava in the philosophy of Nagarjuna is shunyata, emptiness. Shunyata means emptiness of self, ego, svabhava, conceit. It also means that things are not limited to one inherent identity. The relevance of this last point is that anything can serve as the trigger. Amitabha is not attached to being Amitabha.
One of the difficulties of interpreting Buddhism is that many of the key teachings are expressed in the negative. Dependent origination is generally expounded as a means of showing how one bad state arises from another. Shakyamuni’s life, however, became a matter of one good state arising from another. Where the term dependent origination is commonly expounded to show bad arising from bad, other power is expounded as good arising from good. Other power, then, is the positive form of dependent origination and dependent origination, as we commonly encounter it in Buddhist texts, is the negative of other power. Similarly, other power is a positive way of saying shunyata.
When one is empty of self one is full of grace. It does not make much difference which Buddha the grace emanates from or what disguise they are wearing at the time. As Dogen says, in the end it is just Buddhas together with Buddhas and the universe is one bright pearl - forgetting the self one is enlightened by everything and, as in the Pratyutpanna Samadhi wherever one looks one sees Buddhas.
The positive form of dependent origination, therefore is that everything becomes a suitable circumstance for awakening when one is no longer self-obsessed. This is the core message of Shakyamuni and of all Buddhas. This is the meaning of “sarva dharma anatma” - all that is fundamentally true is empty of self.
Everybody Errs but Nobody Does So Intentionally
The subtlety of Buddhist philosophy lies in its distinguishing the relation between self and other as not being deterministic yet not being wholly a matter of independence either. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, one is "made of non-self elements," yet one is not simply a product of deterministic cause-effect processes. One is not enlightened wholly “from within”, yet one is not enlightened in a deterministic way either. There is, in fact, no technique, method or circumstance that can guarantee or determine spiritual awakening, yet, equally, none that could not be a sufficient trigger if the situation were ripe enough. It has something in common with an accident, yet nor is it purely random. It often occurs, as it did for Shakyamuni and for Nagarjuna when, for some reason or other, one realises that one had got matters entirely wrong and when one looks back on it one can see that the error was some form of svabhava, conceit, but one was incapable of seeing it when one was in the midst of it. Nobody errs intentionally.
Faith is Encounter
The circumstance that triggers such a realisation is commonly an inter-personal encounter of some kind, which is to say meeting an other. All the time we are in the midst of others, but do we really meet them? Much of the time our supposed encounter with others is mostly a matter of us massaging our own projections and conceits and trying to use the other as a prop (lakshana) for our self-justification project.. However, occasionally, real encounters occur and something new really steps up. This takes faith and magnifies it. In really encountering what is other one has to let go, to fall without parachute, as it were.
In the case of Nagarjuna it was his encounter with Kapimala. Many people will say that Shakyamuni became enlightened without such an encounter, but in The Feeling Buddha I suggest that the critical encounter for Siddhartha Gotama was that with Sujata who showed him unselfconscious kindness. What these two personages have in common is that neither Sujata nor Kapimala were caught up in the conceit of self. This conceit of self - svabhava - was to become the main target of Shakyamuni’s critique.
All the Teachings Express One Truth
So, I think Tan Luan was right. Dependent origination and other power are equivalent terms and the shift from the former to the latter assists us in seeing the Dharma in positive rather than negative terms. This approach unifies all the major teachings and roots Other Power Buddhism in the original enlightenment of all the Buddhas. That one choose to turn toward one particular Buddha makes practical sense, but to worship one is to worship them all - there is no quarrel between Buddhas.
Beginning with Self-Power is Inevitable
It is natural enough that people take it when reading that Buddhism is all about eliminating the conceit of self that this means that they are to achieve some such elimination by some effort and method and looking for such methods they seize upon particular practices or formulas such as articular meditations, disciples or the Eightfold Path or whatever. It is natural enough but it misses the core. It gets hold of the wrong end of the snake. It introduces personal ambition into spirituality and generates spiritual materialism. Perhaps it is inevitable, however, it only bears fruit when it fails and fails in a sufficiently strong way and such a reversal is always, in some fashion, an encounter with other power.
Short of this, what can one do but have faith, have gratitude for the presence of the Dharma, the example of the great sages who have gone before us and shone a light. That light is our other power. One day, just as it did to Siddhartha Gotama and to Nagarjuna, it will knock us off our pedestal.
4. RADIANT FACE
In the morning service at Amida Shu temples and gatherings there is a passage that begins “Your radiant face, like a mountain peak catching the first burst of morning light, has awesome and unequalled majesty.” It is the first verse of a short text called Tan Butsu Ge, which is a section of the Larger Pureland Sutra.
Tan Butsu Ge literally means Song in Praise of the Buddha. In this case it is the Buddha Lokeshvararaja who lived an immense time ago in an altogether different world, perhaps a different universe. The song is sung in the sutra by Dharmakara Bodhisattva who subsequently, much much later, becomes Amitabha Buddha. It expresses his delight and astonishment on meeting the Buddha and tells how he is inspired by this meeting to enter the Buddha Way.
This story of Dharmakara meeting Lokeshvararaja is told by the Buddha Shakyamuni to Ananda. The incident reflects the opening of the encounter between Ananda and Shakyamuni themselves. Ananda similarly has been struck by the radiant appearance of Shakyamuni. He says, “Oh Blessed One, I do not ever recall seeing the Tathagata so serene, purified, cleansed and radiant as I do today. This thought occurs to me ’Today the Tathagata dwells in the sphere of the most rare Dharma! the sphere of the Buddhas! … The Buddhas of the three times contemplate one another. Could it be that you are now bringing to mind all the other Buddhas? Are you gazing upon the tathagatas, arhats, Samyak Sambuddhas of the past, the future, and the present? Is that why your august presence shines with such radiance today?” and the Buddha replies, “You are right, Ananda, you are right.”
You can tell a lot from a face. My companions here tell me that they can tell when my illness of worse and when it is less bad because they can see it in my face. When i am bad, my energy withdraws inside and the face darkens. When I am well the opposite happens. Sometimes we see somebody that we are familiar with and we think, “Either he is in love, or he just won the lottery.” A radiance is evident to everybody.
Such radiance tells us the inner state of a person. It is also infectious. In the famous Fred Astair song, They Can’t Take That Away From Me, one of the things he treasures is “The way your face just beams.” When somebody has that radiance we all benefit, feel lifted and liberated. This is the effect that a Buddha has.
Receiving & Giving
How is it that a Buddha is so often radiant? The sutra tells us. The Buddha is radiant because he is receiving radiance himself. He has a mind full of the Buddhas of past, future and present. This is the real meaning of mindfulness. What energy comes out of us depends upon what energy goes into us and this is substantially a question of what we have in mind. Sometimes the mind is necessarily preoccupied with pressing difficulties. Sometimes it is full of the joy of love. The more troubles we carry around, the less opportunity we have to soak up the love.
The Buddha, therefore, recommended a simple life so as to give more space to contemplate the myriad Buddhas. In the Pratyutpanna Samadhi Sutra it says that the person who practises the samadhi sees Buddhas everywhere. This is religious consciousness - it is what all good religions instil. The terminology may vary but the basic inculcation of an openness to divine light is universally the same. Allowing in the radiant face that smiles upon us from every direction results in our own fact lightening up. In this way we can all be mirrors for the moonlight of the Dharma. In this way we bring happiness to one another - "their hearts will lighten and be joyful, happy and at ease."
We say that in the scriptues, light is a symbol for wisdom, but it is more than just a symbol and not just a metaphor - there really is light in the face of a person who receives the Dharma, just as there is spring in her step and song in her voice. Similarly, Tan Butsu Ge talks about “The melody of your enlightenment.” This radiance is a kind of visual music and when we are affected by it we want to sing, just as Dharmakara sings in the sutra. The other day when we were all in the Aphrodite Field together and the sun was shining his smiling face upon us, we started chanting, and the song of Buddha’s enlightenment filled the world. Tan Butsu Ge.
KO GEN GI GI
I JIN MU GOKU
NYO ZE EN MYO
MU YO TO SHA
NICHI GATSU MA-NI
SHU KO EN NYO
KAI SHITSU ON-PEI
YU NYAKU JU MOKU
NYO-RAI YO GEN
CHO SE MU RIN
SHO GAKU DAI ON
KO RU JIP-PO
KAI MON SHO-JIN
TOKU MU RO
SHU SHO KE U
JIN TAI ZEN NEN
SHO BUTSU HO KAI
GU JIN JIN HO
KU GO GAI TEI
MU-MYO YOKU NU
SE SON YO MU
NIN O SHI-SHI
JIN TOKU MU RYO
KU KUN KO DAI
CHI-YE JIN MYO
KO MYO I SO
GAN GA SA BUTSU
SAI SHO HO O
KA-DO SHO JI
MI FU GE DATSU
FU-SE CHO I
KAI NIN SHO-JIN
NYO ZE SAN-MAI
CHI-YE I JO
GO SE TOKU BUTSU
FU GYO SEI GAN
IS-SAI KU KU
I SA DAI AN
KE SHI U BUTSU
MU-RYO DAI SHO
SHU NYO GO JA
KU YO IS-SAI
SHI-TO SHO BUTSU
FU NYO GU DO
KEN SHO FU KYAKU
HI NYO GO JA
SHO BUTSU SE-KAI
BU FU KA KE
MU SHU SETSU DO
KO MYO SHI SHO
HEN SHI SHO KOKU
NYO ZE SHO-JIN
I JIN NAN RYO
RYO GA SA BUTSU
GO SHU KI MYO
DO JO CHO ZETSU
KOKU NYO NAI-ON
NI MU TO SO
GA TO AI MIN
DO DATSU IS-SAI
JIP-PO RAI SHO
SHIN YETSU SHO JO
I TO GA KOKU
KE RAKU AN NON
KO BUTSU SHIN MYO
ZE GA SHIN SHO
HOTSU GAN O HI
RIKI SHO SHO YOKU
JIP-PO SE SON
CHI-YE MU GE
JO RYO SHI SON
CHI GA SHIN GYO
KE RYO SHIN SHI
SHO KU DOKU CHU
GA GYO SHO-JIN
NIN JU FU KE
Your radiant face,
Like a mountain peak
Catching the first burst
Of morning light
Has awesome and
Like black ink by comparison
Are the sun, the moon, or the "mani" treasure.
Such is your incomparable face.
The melody of your enlightenment
Fills the world
Rare and precious
Are your precepts,
Learning, energy, meditation,
Wisdom and amazing virtue.
The oceanic Dharma
Of all Buddhas
Which you fathom
To its deepest depths
Dispels the 3 poisons
From the heart -
You are like a lion:
Valiant and divinely pure.
A prayer I make, a Buddha to become
Equal to you, my Dharma king,
To lead all beings to the other shore
Leaving none behind.
The six paramitas
With prajna at their head.
Should I become Buddha:
I will fulfil
This prayer completely:
I'll bring great peace.
To Buddhas countless
As sand grains
My offerings I make,
And do not flinch
From the trials
Of the incomparable Way,
Straight and true.
Though Buddha lands
And worldly realms
By sheer power
I'll fill them all
Let me become a Buddha
And the multitude
Will all enjoy
By indiscriminate compassion
I will enlighten all.
Reborn here from no matter where
In my country their hearts
Will lighten and be joyful,
Happy and at ease.
Oh you Buddha, witness my vow,
My true aspiration,
Establishing my vow on you
Gives me the strength to fulfil it.
Buddhas throughout space and time
Of unimpeded wisdom
My heart's practice.
No matter the obstacles, the hardships,
My practice will endure
5. NEMBUTSU AS TRIKAYA BUDDHISM
In Mahayana Buddhism there is a teaching common to all schools called the Trikaya. Tri means three. Kaya means body. So the Three Treasures, in which Buddhist’s take refuge, have these three bodies or manifestations.
Master Keizan wrote: “In the Three Treasures, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, there are three merits. The first is the true source of the three treasures. The second is the presence in the past of Shakyamuni Buddha and the third is the presence at the present time.”
The first is the true source, which is the Dharmakaya, the Tao, the Unborn, that which is not impermanent, endlessly functioning, ceaselessly giving rise to pure inspiration. This is Dharma in its absolute mode, without beginning and without end. It is the fundamental truth of the universe and all possible universes. It is true, was true and will be true whether anybody knows it or not. Still it needs expression. It invites us but is not coercive. It is an open field within which all wonders appear. Those with few desires sense it and feel its wonder. Those with many desires see the surface of things, but even for them the Dharmakaya is mysteriously working.
The second is the appearance of Buddha in the world, the nirmanakaya, concrete physical manifestation in the material world of the sage who teaches the Dharma to all who have but little dust in their eyes and who is compassionate indiscriminately to all beings. A Buddha appearing in the world is born at a certain time, enlightened at a certain time, teaches in particular places and times, and dies when the time comes. This kaya is a historical event. Such a happening, however, is shot through with Dharmakaya. The Buddha does not live for self. He is a mortal body but inflated by the spirit of all the Buddhas of all times. In the Larger Pureland Sutra, Ananda asks Shakyamuni how it is that he looks so radiant and asks if it is a sign that Shakyamuni has been communing with all the other Buddhas of past, present and future, and Shakyamuni affirms that this is so. Buddha is a mortal, but an extraordinary one. What had he got that others lack? The inspiration of the true source and communion with all those who manifest that source no matter where or when.
The third is the appearance at the present time. This is the sambhogakaya, the spiritual manifestation of the Three Jewels in manifold forms, visions, dreams, and signs. This is what has been put into the world by the appearance of a Buddha in the past. Buddha does not die when Buddha’s body dies. Thus, where Dharmakaya is without beginning or end and nirmanakaya has a beginning and end, sambhogakaya has a beginning but no end. Once the Dharma is in the world it is forever, appearing in innumerable ways. Sambhogakaya is the bridge between the Dharmakaya and the foolish being. It is Shakyamuni still with us. It is Amida Buddha’s all acceptance. It is the solace of Quan Shi Yin and Samantabhadra, the wisdom of Manjushri and the saving power of Kshitigharba. Sambhoga means enjoyment. This is how we ordinary beings of the present enjoy the spiritual life. The nirmanakaya died long ago and the Dharmakaya is only directly perceptible to the enlightened. It is through the sambhogakaya that Buddhist religious consciousness is made manifest. The central figure on the main altar of most Buddhist temples in the orient is some representation of the sambhogkaya.
The Religious Consciousness of Buddhists
This, therefore, is the religious vision of Mahayana Buddhism. This vision, in one way or another, is what the devotee keeps in mind and is open to. This is mindfulness or religious consciousness. It keeps the practitioner open in such a way that the Tao can function and form her or him. Sometimes the devotee is conscious of what is happening and sometimes not, but once they have entered the path much happens, both wittingly and unwittingly.
Practice is Encounter
Delusion and enlightenment are qualities of encounter. The ten thousand things enlighten us. When we encounter one another, delusion and enlightenment are both present and absent. When we encounter the Buddhas similarly. Faith (shraddha - literally “heartedness”) is what enables a person to stay in this flow of encounters, in which delusion and light alternate and through which Dharma enters the world. Thus how we encounter others is our practice. Yet in every encounter we are stirred up. Samudaya overwhelms us. How can we turn such passion into the path? When religious consciousness is already established, we are meeting the sambhogakaya every moment.
The Key to Practice
How then is it to be established? One needs a key. Each school of spirituality provides keys of various kinds. For Pureland Buddhists the key is nembutsu. The nembutsu is to call on Amida Buddha, who is the embodiment of the sambhogakaya. Namo Amida Bu!
Good things happen - Namo Amida Bu! Bad things happen - Namo Amida Bu. Meeting a friend - Namo Amida Bu. Encountering an enemy - Namo Amida Bu. Seeing a stranger - Namo Amida Bu.
In the nembutsu are the three bodies of Buddha, the three bodies of Dharma, the three bodies of Sangha. Therefore, in the nembutsu is all merit. Thus, in all encounters is all merit.
Although we talk of the effectiveness of this or that method, the great masters were enlightened in moments of encounter. When any aspect of the Trikaya is present in our encounter with another, then the Dharma Light is present. Keep turning the key and the sambhogakaya will take up residence in your heart. Then all will happen naturally. Namo Amida Bu.
6. JU-NEN CONTEMPLATION
This morning, leading the service at Oasis, I explained our practice of chanting 41 nembutsu, which we sometimes call “Four Tone Nembutsu” though it is rather different from the original Chinese Four Tone Nembutsu, due to our difference of language and culture.
The core of our practice is the invocation of Amitabha Buddha. There is nothing exclusive about this - to invoke one is to invoke all, since there is no quarrel between Buddhas. We do it in many ways, but one is the chanting of the nembutsu - Namo Amida Bu. Amida is Amitabha. “Bu” here is short for Buddha.
Ten nembutsu is called JU-NEN. The way to do Ju-nen is as follows:
These can be recited slowly or fast, as plain speech or with a tune or intonation. When I was in Japan I heard people interrupt their work every so often, do Ju-nen rapidly all together, then carry on with whatever they had been doing.
Often, here, we do four lots of Ju-nen at the beginning of a period of contemplation, in which case we may use a particular intonation and accompanying visualisation. The intonation is a rising and falling note with “Na-mo-a” rising and “mi-da-bu” falling. Usually there is a single nembutsu at the end, making 41 altogether.
In the visualisation, with the first Ju-nen one imagines anticipating Amitabha coming as a vast cloud of power in the sky before you. In the second Ju-nen, the initial “Namo” is omitted from each line, which gives the sound of the chant a greater power. With this second Ju-nen one imagines Amitabha fully arrived, vast, towering above, regarding the world with compassion.
The third Ju-nen follows on. This time the full line is said, including “Namo” but the whole is done faster, maintaining the urgency and power of the second Ju-nen. Now one imagines myriads of rays of light from Amitabha cascading down upon the world, reaching into every place and home.
Then, in the last Ju-nen, the “Namo” is again dropped, but the recitation remains rapid. One imagines Amitabha’s blessing has fallen into every place and one feels gratitude.
Finally, there is one single slow soft “Na-mo-a mi-da-bu” as peace settles upon the world. In this great peace one settles into one’s period of contemplation, all the while feeling oneself to be in receipt of the grace, merit and saving-power of Amitabha.
7. ON VERBAL & MEDITATIVE NEMBUTSU
The primary practice of Pureland Buddhism is called nembutsu which literally means "mindfulness of Buddha". Sometimes such mindfulness is interpreted as meaning "keeping in mind" and sometimes as "saying the Name of Buddha".
Many people who write about the development of Pureland Buddhism in Japan and its history focus upon how verbal numbest developed out of meditative nembutsu. By the latter we mean a purely mental activity of saying the words inwardly or visualising the image of Amitabha or any of the other images listed in the Contemplation Sutra. The general drift of such writings is that the verbal nembutsu came to be considered more practical for ordinary people in the “Dharma-ending Age”.
It is generally said that it was Shan Tao in particular who interpreted references to “mindfulness of Amitabha” in the sutras as referring to verbal utterance of the Name. Earlier practitioners, such as Lu Shan Hui Yuan, who founded the first White Lotus Society in China for Pureland practice in 400 CE, are said to have done a meditative nembutsu only, based on the Pratyutpanna Samadhi Sutra.
My own view is that this makes too sharp a division. I am sure that from the very earliest times Buddhists have praised and invoked the Buddhas in a wide variety of ways and that the practice of circumambulating stupas while reciting the Buddha’s Name must date at least from immediately after the demise of Shakyamuni. There are indications that the worship of Buddha relics was established even during the lifetime of the sage. A person does not have to be dead for relics to exist, as we know from the practice of lovers keeping a lock of hair of their beloved in a locket. So I think that calling and contemplating have always existed side by side and rather than thinking of one replacing the other we should regard them as complementary.
In China, it was common - normal even - to practise Ch’an (Zen) and Jing Tu (Pureland) concurrently. This is called “dual practice” and to this day is a fairly standard way of doing Buddhism in China. Buddhism is taken to consist of a number of schools that are not mutually exclusive, but rather are complementary. There are several philosophical schools that expound the Dharma from the viewpoint of particular sutras - Lotus, Avatamsaka, etc - a Vinaya school that sets out monastic discipline and Buddhist ethics, and the two practice schools, Ch’an and Jing Tu. These are all seen as, as it were, segments of the same cake. When Buddhism went to Japan, the founders were often people who had only received one of these segments and the particular circumstances of Japanese culture at the time resulted in Buddhism developing differently there, such that, in Japan, Buddhism is divided into separate denominations and while it possible for the individual practitioner to practise more than one variety concurrently, this is not general.
A result of these circumstances is that Zen and Pureland are more distinct in Japan than in China. In China there was a tendency for nembutsu (the main practice of Pureland) to be considered as a form of meditation (the main practice of Zen) and for meditation to be seen as a contemplation of Buddha Nature identified with Amitabha and, therefore, as not unrelated to nembutsu.
Consequently, there was a tendency in China to look at nembutsu practice in terms of its technique, whereas in Japan there is more of an assertion that nembutsu has nothing to do with technique. We do not need to get hung up on these differences nor take sides, but it is interesting to reflect upon what Buddhists in different circumstances have done to try to make their practice more profound or effective.
Thus, for instance, some Chinese masters recommend that when saying the nembutsu out loud it is good to do one or more of the following:
- visualise Amitabha &/or the Pureland.
- make the effort to hear the sound of your own voice so that you say and hear the nembutsu simultaneously.
- say the nembutsu continuously so that there is no time gap between the end of one and the start of the next into which stray distracting thoughts may enter.
- coordinate the words with the breathing or with the steps in walking or with the bodily movements of making prostrations.
These and other similar technical refinements can make the practice more concentrated and can fulfil the principle of practising nien fo with body, speech and mind.”
The Chinese were interested in techniques of this kind because they saw the objective of the exercise as being to arrive at “the nembutsu samadhi” - a state of rapturous absorption in the grace of Amitabha. In this there is clearly a “self-power” element.
The Japanese, on the other hand, took the logic of “other-power” further. The idea of a nembutsu samadhi was not eschewed, but it was seen as something granted rather than something achieved. Furthermore, while the arrival of such a samadhi was seen as a confirmation of Amida’s grace, it was not regarded as necessary. A person can enter the Pure Land without ever having experienced the samadhi. However, when Honen was asked why he chose Tao Cho, Tan Luan and Shan Tao as exemplars rather than choosing other Pureland masters of old, he said that it was because they had experienced the samadhi whereas others had not. He himself experienced the samadhi in a particularly major way near to the end of his life.
In our Summary of Faith and Practice we say that our nembutsu is not done as a form of meditation. In our approach, rather, meditation is done as a form of nembutsu. When the selection of nembutsu as primary practice has been made, other forms of practice naturally become forms of nembutsu. Nembutsu thus becomes a form of “unremitting mindfulness” as taught by Shakyamuni Buddha, not because one remains consciously attentive to nembutsu every wakeful hour but because it is so integrated into one that it has become second nature. This means that Amitabh is in our life whether we are thinking about him or not. This is what is called “anshin” - peaceful mind or settled faith. It is a state of complete assurance.
This is a state of “joy and ease” rather than one of intense effort. It colours all the sentiments of one’s life and, in particular, takes away the fear of death. By doing so it affects our emotional life in a variety of beneficial ways. We then naturally express what arises and such expression is practice. In this condition, practice is not a means of arriving at any particular state, it is a natural and easy expression of faith and gratitude already established. Whether that expression takes a verbal, kinetic or contemplative form makes no difference. There are a myriad ways to express devotion.
8. EASTER SUNDAY MEMORIAL CEREMONY
The Amida Order has adopted the practice of celebrating the memory of three founding ancestors at this time of year. The persons so honoured are
Sensei Gisho Saiko, Reverend Gyomay Kubose, and Reverend Amrita Dhammika. See more information at the foot of this page.
The ceremony follows on from our normal morning ritual and is as follows.
Celebrant: Is the community assembled?
Responder: Yes, the community is assembled.
Celebrant: Is there harmony in the community?
Responder: Yes, there is harmony in the community.
Celebrant: For what reason is the community assembled today?
Responder: The community is assembled to perform the sangha-karman of honouring great ancestors who have done all they can for our sake.
Celebrant: Let us proceed.
Celebrant goes to altar and offers incense.
Celebrant: We have come to honour you, Great Priest Gisho Saiko, Great Priest Gyomay Kubose, and Great Priest Amrita Dhammika. We pray that you will continue to guide and protect us and lead us in the Dharma way, by your example in the past, by your presence with us now, and by your light into the future. You reflect the light of all the Buddhas upon us and upon all sentient beings throughout the ten directions.
Adoration to the Triple | Treasure!
Adoration to Quan Shi Yin - who is the great Com | passionate one!
Hail to the one who leaps beyond all | fear
Having adored her, may I receive the grace of the noble | adored Quan Shi Yin
Her life is the completion of | meaning
It is pure – it is that which makes all beings victorious – and restores the | life of all existence
Hail – O great seer – death tran | scending one
O hail to the | great bodhisattva!
All – all is in darkness, in darkness, earth | earth
Do, do your | work within our hearts
O great victor I hold on, hold | on
To all the gods and god | esses I cry!
Move, move, my defilement- | free one!
Come, come, hear, hear, a | joy springs up in me!
Speak, speak, give me di | rection!
Awaken, awaken, | we shall awaken!
O merciful one, com | passionate one
Of daring ones the | most joyous, hail!
Thou art all suc | cessful hail!
Thou art the great suc | cessful one hail!
Thou hast returned from the | darkness, hail!
Thou hast a light with | in thine hand hail
Thou hast the wheel within thine | hand hail
Thou who | hast the lotus, hail!
Hail to thee who art the root of e | ternity!
Hail to thee who | art all compassion, hail!
Adoration to the Triple | Treasure, hail!
Give ear unto | this our prayer, hail! *
Celebrant: Since oldest antiquity, this is the time of death and renewal. You who appeared in the world, passed through great travail, benefitted innumerable beings, and bestowed your grace upon us, please now receive our heart-felt gratitude and bless our devotion. Just as a tree puts down bold roots and drinks from the deepest source and so puts forth flowers and fruit into the heaven, so you have shone forth to nourish us, your decendents in the family of the Dharma. Just as the great earth gives forth new life and the power of the underworld now fertilises fields, nests and homes with promise of joy and growth, so your spirit returns to us today that our karma may transform from barren dark to radiant light. Just as Amida Buddha progressing ever onward in the creation of Pure Lands of Harmony, glances back upon we who follow, so you too bestow upon us the gaze of eternal tenderness.
Bellmaster: In honour of our ancestors
Celebrant: Though all the world be cruel
All: ...we shall practise tenderness
Celebrant: Though all the world be slaughtering
All: ...we shall rescue all that live
Celebrant: Though all the world be stealing
All: ...we shall practise generous deeds
Celebrant: Though all the world licencious be
All: ...we shall practise kindly love
Celebrant: Though all the world be telling lies
All: ...we shall practise all that's true
Celebrant: Though all the world be full of greed
All: ...we shall live with open heart
Celebrant: Though all the world be mad with pride
All: ...we shall value humble ways
Celebrant: Though all the world be full of doubt
All: ...we shall manifest our faith.
Celebrant: Now let us circumambulate the relics.
Celebrant turns and leads the congregation, who fall into line behind, in circumambulating the shrine while chanting: Amitabha.
All return to their places.
Celebrant: We have gathered and remembered those whose lives shine forth the Dharma. We shall take the memory of them forth in our hearts. Their grace shall inspire and protect us and our faltering attempts to walk in their steps shall plant the seeds of joy in many hearts.
Let us now bow to the founders and ancestors.
All bow x5 with nembutsu → all standing
The Celebrant then gives a short Dharma talk or homily. The ceremony then closes in the normal way.
On the altar there is placed for each ancestor a stele (see below) an egg, a cake or bun, together with incense, flowers and other offerings, together with any relics or memorial tokens, photos etc.
A stele is a wooden or stone small pillar, like a miniature gravestone. Usually they are made with a base of some sort so that they stand on end, but there are many possibilities. The essential is that the name of the person is written or engraved. In the east, families will keep the stele for each deceased relative on or in the family shrine and bring them out on memorial days or when they want to talk to the ancestor.
Anniversaries of Gisho Saiko, Amrita Dhammika, and Gyomay Kubose
19th March is the anniversary of the death of Sensei Gisho Saiko who died age 79 in 2004. Gisho Saiko was a prominent Jodoshinshu priest who endorsed my work and imparted to me his wish that I bring the Pureland message to the West.
26th March is the tenth anniversary of the death of Reverend Amrita Dhammika age 50. Amrita was a minister of this Order who did invaluable work in Africa and died while on duty in Zambia.
29th March is the anniversary of the death of Reverend Gyomay Kubose age 94 in Chicago. Rev Kubose was the first patron of Amida trust and a great support in our early days. In his own right he was a leader of Japanese-Americans during the difficult period that they experienced during the period during and following the Second World War. He established the Jodoshinshu Temple of Chicago.
9. PRAYING FOR ALL LINEAGES
This morning in our service we chanted our “Prayer of All Lineages”. Buddhism started from Buddha Shakyamuni and then spread throughout Asia and now is coming to Western countries as well. Buddha was a wonderfu lteacher who seems to have been able to bring out the best in people as well as help them overcome their blindnesses and become more wise and compassionate. However, each person is different and his leading disciples likewise. Each had a special talent. Shariputra was wise. Mogalana was good at meditation and yoga. Asaji was good at keeping the disciple. Ananda was kind, and so on. When new younger students came to be disciples, Buddha would allocate them to one or other of his chief disciples according to their need or talent. Thus, from the very beginning there were different schools of Buddhism, even while the sage was still alive.
As the Dharma spread far and wide this diversity continued. Although there are a variety of lineages, after Shakyamuni himself there was never really a Buddhist supreme prelate, like the pope. The nearest thing is the Dalai Lama but he is only officially the head of Tibetan Buddhism. Different schools all developed in their different ways.
In many schools of Buddhism there exist “lineage prayers” that celebrate the lineage of main teachers in that particular tradition. When I was a Zen monk, we used to recite every morning the list of eighty-five teachers from Shakyamuni down to our own present day teacher. These lineage traditions have been used to help establish the legitimacy of particular groups at various times in history, although modern scholarship has revealed various lacunae in them.
As Buddhism comes to the West it comes into a different culture with a different religious history. Here we are also used to having different denominations, but they did not mostly originate in an attempt to cater for natural human diversity so much as from conflict and disagreement. In Buddhism it is not unnatural for a person to study more than one school. In the West, however, there is a greater possessiveness about congregations and rivalry between sects. It would be a shame is this sectarian disease got too established in the new-to-the-west Buddhist religion. In our own sangha, therefore, we do not have a separate prayer, we have a “prayer of all lineages“ to celebrate the great diversity of ways in which the Dharma has been transmitted to the present day.
Reciting the prayer also gives one an appetite to study the lives and teachings of all - or at least some - of this vast collection of great Dharma ancestors.