In recent podcasts I've talked about the vows made by Dharmakara bodhisattva, and also about chanting, song and the spirit of rapture in Buddhism. These two themes come together in the 44th Vow made by Dharmakara, where he says:
Oh Blessed One, may I not come to the complete awakening if, when I have done so, bodhisattvas of Buddha lands throughout the ten directions who listen to my Name should not dance with joy and enthusiasm, practise wholeheartedly and correspondingly gain immense merit.
So, here joy and enthusiasm, wholehearted practice and great merit all go together; and joy and enthusiasm come first.
Joy and enthusiasm are the practice. When we take refuge in a deep way, our energy is released. The reason that we are not joyful much of the time is that energy is repressed. Sometimes it's held down by real world occurrences: losses disappointments, failures; sometimes it's held down by our own anxious imaginings, our fear of the future; sometimes by resentments and unfinished business hanging over from the past.
The Buddha doesn't say that one should be artificially happy, or pretend to be joyful when one is not - it's important to be natural - but it is also valuable to learn to not hang on to things that are now past and gone, nor to be unreasonably fearful of things that haven't happened.
We are living in difficult times: some of us are ill, some of us have relatives who are in dire conditions, all of us are living with various degrees of restriction upon our former freedoms. These kind of things, they're all real and one will naturally have feelings about them. That's natural, that's normal.
At the same time one should not forget that we have the amazingly wonderful gift of the Dharma. When we really hear the name of Amida, when we really take refuge, we may well burst out of our conditioned state and dance with joy and enthusiasm, knowing that, whatever our circumstances may be, the best we can do in any case - in every case - is to practise wholeheartedly and to dedicate the merits to the welfare of all beings.
This is the Dharma: to do whatever is necessary, to do it well, to do it for the benefit of all beings. Then, even in those times when we are full of grief for real reasons, there will still be a deeper current of assurance, a reservoir of assurance deep in our heart, a true mindfulness that will carry us through all the pain and difficulty and send us on toward Dharma which is beyond all of these transitory states.
The pandemic is impermanent. Life-times are impermanent. All worldly conditions are impermanent. But beyond all this, there is a “peace and a replenishment that surpasses the pleasures of the heavens” (Vow 33).
Namo Amida Bu
Thank you very much