Pick the fruit – discard the root: you’ll have no tree next year.
Feed the soil – firm the root: you’ll have fruit forever.
This idea has much application to our approach to the Dharma. The soil represents the conditions that we build for our life. Of course, not all conditions are under our control, but we do make choices and they do put us into situations; and some of these situations support our Dharma practice and some do not.
When the Buddha was asked “What should one do?” he often said: “First, keep good company.” Company can be other people; it can also be the circumstances of one’s life. One makes choices: What career? What accommodation? What location? Amongst what people? And so on. One makes many choices, especially in modern life, where we have some freedom to make these choices. In the past, often people had little or no choice. Nowadays we have a bit more.
It is important to establish the kind of conditions that will support our spiritual life. Otherwise, we make the material life, the worldly life, the dominant force; and then we do not have a Dharma life for very long. We have an interest in it, perhaps we gain some benefit from some technique like mindfulness, or some idea that has an ultimate derivation from somewhere in the Dharma, but this is like picking the fruit while neglecting the tree. If we care about the tree, then we establish the right conditions. We feed the soil.
What is it to firm the root? To firm the root means to establish a strong faith and with this goes a strong practice. Practice may be a formal practice with a set time and a set procedure, we decide to do so many malas of nembutsu at a certain time of the day in a certain place, perhaps sitting in front of our shrine; or it may be informal, it may be what we call extensive practice, that the nembutsu is so much part and parcel of our life, that it is with us whether we’re doing the washing up or mowing the lawn or doing our regular job or whatever it may be, and the thought of nembutsu comes to us at any moment. Either way, we are firming the root.
So, if we think in this way, we can establish a Dharma orchard. We can plant our tree and one tree will give rise to many trees and there will be fruit forever.
The modern attitude is often more that of the first sentence: we take the fruit, we take this or that technique or this or that idea, or this or that piece of knowledge, and perhaps we accumulate these, but fruit accumulated in that way just gets rotten and the trees die. If we wish to establish a real Dharma practice, if Dharma becomes our religion, by which we mean that it becomes central to our life rather than being a hobby, rather than being an extra, rather than being a temporary enthusiasm, if we want to make it central to our life, then we have to create the right conditions and we have to firm the root, we have to put the root in deep, and we do this by the sincerity and regularity of our nembutsu practice.
Namo Amida Bu
Thank you very much