In the last podcast I talked about the monks and the bodhisattvas. As soon as we think them, we are inspired by heroic ideals. We see the possibility of a life of purity or, alternatively, of complete altruism.
Honen Shonen, the founder of the Pureland School in Japan, was himself an eminent monk. The emperor himself had invited him to be his preceptor. He was a pure monk and, clearly, he was also a great bodhisattva. He was impelled, driven, by the need to find a path, a practice, that could be accessible to everybody, not just an elite. His altruistic spirit shines forth. It’s a great inspiration.
However, to really understand Pureland Buddhism, it’s not enough to be an idealist. It’s not just perfectionism. There is something much more challenging also required. Let me read you a short passage of Honen. Well, Honen observed that, he said: “A master once said that one will not enter the stage of samadhi unless one becomes pure in body and mind through the observation of the precepts.” Honen knows that Buddhism consists of the three disciplines of moral conduct, samadhi and wisdom. Yet - and here is the point! - Honen writes: “Upon introspection I realize that I have not observed a single Buddhist precept nor succeeded in the practice.”
Now, Honen was perhaps the greatest saint of his time and he was equipped with every advantage for the pursuit of the Buddhist Path. And what did he come up with? I have not observed a single Buddhist precept nor succeeded in the practice.
The difficult task is not to allow oneself to be inspired by the highest ideals. The difficult task is to face the truth about oneself. Faith springs forth out of real encounter with one’s shadow. It’s precisely when one realizes that one is incapable, that one really calls out for the Buddha’s help. It’s when one profoundly knows that one’s reptilian nature is ineradicable, that one dives into the sea of great compassion.
It’s when one realizes for sure that one cannot climb the ladder to heaven by one’s own effort, that one finally allows the Buddha, who has always been reaching down, to take hold and lift one up, rung by rung. And every rung on that ladder is a nembutsu. Every rung is a place of surrender. Every rung defeats the ego all over again.
The ego cannot defeat itself. Only confrontation with the evidence of life itself can do that. Only the evidence of one’s incorrigible bombu nature, one’s fathomless foolishness, can do the magic. Life is just this!
Lost in delusion we refuse to see the evidence. This refusal is what the Buddha calls avidya. And on the back of this refusal we build phantasies of our own worth and entitlement, all manner of mental confections, and these then condition how we view the world – and even how we view and do our practice! There is no spiritual practice that cannot be corrupted in this way. The conceit of self springs up and grasps every opportunity.
And upon introspection, I realize that I have not observed a single Buddhist precept nor succeeded in the practice. This is the foundation of the nembutsu way. Only failures can enter.
Namo Amida Bu
Thank you very much