Once upon a time, long ago, in Japan (and I think it’s a true story) there was a man called Jiroemon. He was a simple man, a peasant, a workman. He was a member of the Jōdo Shinshū. This is a branch of Pureland Buddhism following the teachings of Shinran, a disciple of Honen.
In the Jōdo Shinshū branch of Pureland Buddhism it is quite common to say the nembutsu in the form Na-Man-Da:
♪♪♪ Na-Man-Da, Na-Man-Da, Na-Man-Da. Like that.
Jiroemon would say the nembutsu on all occasions, and often just as he was working or as he was walking along… "♪♪♪ Na-Man-Da, Na-Man-Da, Na-Man-Da" [klick to listen]
At that time, Japan was a feudal society and the ruling class were the samurai. So, the samurai were the bosses, and Jiroemon worked for a particular samurai. Samurai could command what they liked at that time, and they had an absolute power over the common people.
Every samurai had his sword, and the swords were very much revered as almost sacred objects. A very sharp, terrible thing, the samurai sword. It could cut you in half quite easily.
So, Jiroemon was doing his work… "♪♪♪ Na-Man-Da, Na-Man-Da, Na-Man-Da" … and his saying of the nembutsu all the time was very irritating to the samurai who was his boss.
“Just stop that!” the samurai would say.
But Jiroemon would carry on… "♪♪♪ Na-Man-Da, Na-Man-Da, Na-Man-Da"
The samurai got very annoyed and after a bit he said: “Just go out in the yard and wait for me, and I will come and cut off your head.”
The samurai didn’t really want to cut off Jiroemon’s head. He thought, that, if he gave this instruction, the man would run away to save his life, and then the samurai would be free of having to hear this terrible drone of ♪♪♪ Na-Man-Da, Na-Man-Da, Na-Man-Da
A bit later on, the samurai went into the yard: “Oh! What are you doing here?”
“You told me to stand here and wait for you to cut off my head… " ♪♪♪ Na-Man-Da, Na-Man-Da, Na-Man-Da“
The samurai was a bit surprised. Well, a lot surprised. So, he took out his sword and, of course, this would usually inspire terror in anybody; and I’m sure, if I saw a samurai taking out his sword and he was about to chop off my head, I can imagine, the sweat would come out. But whether there was sweat or not, Jiroemon just stood there… "♪♪♪ Na-Man-Da, Na-Man-Da"
The samurai approached him with the sword, and then he had a great crisis, threw down the sword and was in an emotional state.
They talked. It became apparent, that the samurai had once been himself a practitioner of nembutsu, but because of his bad ways – drinking, womanizing, killing people, stealing things – he had given up; and the sound of Jiroemon saying the nembutsu, of course, took him back to this more innocent period of his life. This was very troublesome to him. The samurai was close to tears. (As a samurai, you’re not supposed to cry.)
Jiroemon and the samurai embraced. From then on they became good friends despite their great difference of social standing. In this way, the nembutsu had brought the samurai back to his heart, back to the intact, important part of his life.
Jiroemon continued to be a labourer, a worker, and did his duty, all the time saying
"♪♪♪ Na-Man-Da, Na-Man-Da"
Namo Amida Bu
Thank you very much