Rivers of blind passions, on entering the ocean –
The great, compassionate Vow
Of unhindered light filling the ten quarters –
Become one in taste with that sea of wisdom.
From Hymns of the Pure Land Masters (CWS p.371
Summer is coming to an end and a new season is starting, but are you ready for the fall or winter season? It’s important to prepare for everything in advance. The first year I came to Canada, I was not prepared for winter in Toronto. I remember that I needed a heavy coat, leather boots, warm gloves, and a woollen hat, but I didn’t know where I could buy all of them. Some temple members drove me to a store and told me which coat, gloves and hat are good to survive during the winter in Toronto. I really appreciated them.
Anyway, the Wasan that I have just read which was written by Shinran Shonin explains the great compassion and wisdom of Amida Buddha. This Wasan tells us the Primal Vows of Amida Buddha, which fills all the worlds, is like a great ocean. If we who have unceasing desires, entrust ourselves to the flow of the ocean, we will become one taste or part of the tide of Buddha’s wisdom. Whenever I read this Wasan,I feel that it is very dynamic and dramatic.
“Rivers of blind passions, on entering the ocean – The great, compassionate Vow” means the Primal Vow is born from the compassionate mind of the Buddha, and that Vow is as wide and deep as the ocean. The Buddha’s compassion is not simply sympathizing with others. Many times, we say we want to help others, but we don’t offer help beyond our limit, because we don’t want to hurt ourselves.
For the Buddha, the pain of others becomes his pain, and unless the suffering of others is eliminated, his suffering will not be eliminated either. This is the Buddha’s compassionate mind. Amida’s Primal Vow was established to become a Buddha so that he could cure and accept all sentient beings in his Pure Land. The compassionate mind of the Buddha can only be realized through the Buddha’s eyes of wisdom, which can see the truth clearly. Buddha’s great wisdom and compassion are inseparable. Therefore, in order for us to be born in the Pure Land of Amida Buddha, we need to rely on the other-centred power of Amida Buddha. We call it Tariki in Jodo Shinshu Buddhism. (The other-centred Power means the power is not self-centred but rather other-centred.) This other-centred power is called the Power of the Primal Vow (hongan-riki) because it is the power based on Amida Buddha’s fundamental promise to save all sentient living things who suffer in this world of delusion. And the most important thing is to leave everything to Amida Buddha.
Please let me return to the topic at hand, not only do we prepare for the seasons, but we also make preparations in our daily lives. We need to prepare materials for a meeting, gasoline for a long drive, food for dinner, and in my case, I need time to prepare for Buddhist services.
Ichiro who was a major league baseball player said in an interview that he had never neglected to prepare for a game, and he came to the stadium hours before to stretch and practice carefully to get ready for the game even though other players were not at the stadium. Nowadays, many people are making preparations for their own funeral services and after-death activities. Some of them are doing this because they don’t want to worry or bother their family, while others have no relatives and have to take care of themselves after death.
I believe that the preparations are very important for them,because they start understanding the truth of life. Or I could say they understand the meaning of death, and they shall come to fully appreciate the meaning of their life, which is unrepeatable. But I also understand that it is difficult to accept our death from the bottom of our heart even though we prepare for that.
Sometimes people have told me that even though they have prepared for the funeral service and distribution of property, it is hard to remove the anxiety and worry of “what will happen to me after I die?” In addition, the property or money that we have relied on for our lives will not help us when we think about our afterlife.
If it’s a simple idea that rich people are in the Pure Land and poor people are in hell, I’m sure I’ll not be able to go to the Pure Land. Or if good people are in the Pure Land and bad people are in hell, then I definitely cannot go to the Pure Land either. How can we prepare our minds and emotions for the afterlife? There is no end to the number of such questions we start thinking about. Furthermore, no matter how many preparations we have made, we will never be able to calm down when we suddenly have to say goodbye to this life due to illness or accident.
However, when we see people who spend their daily lives placing their hands together to Amida Buddha, it changes our views and behaviour little by little. For example, there was a very dedicated Buddhist member in our temple. When I went to visit him to hold the makura-gyo (bedside) service at the hospital, his family was gathered in his room, and we all chanted sutras together. Even though he was in critical condition, he tried to place his hands together and slowly moved his mouth to say Nembutsu. It was exactly the way he was taking refuge in the other-centred power of Amida Buddha, who accepted him to become a Buddha as he was. In other words, he was leaving everything to Amida Buddha.
It was a sad occasion to hold the last Buddhist service for him, but it was also a grateful, wonderful and peaceful occasion to see him when we did Gassho together. When I did his funeral service, I heard that his family also recited Nembutsu many times with me. The compassion and the other-centred power of Amida Buddha reached me and his family through the Nembutsu. Even though we cannot see the Nembutsu physically when the words “Namo Amida Butsu” spill out of our mouths, it tells us that Amida’s Primal Vow is left behind by the deceased. Amida’s Primal Vow says “If, when I attain Buddhahood, sentient beings in the lands of the ten quarters who sincerely and joyfully entrust themselves to me, desire to be born in my land, and call my Name, even ten times, should not be born there, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.”
Rev. Chiko Naito says; In the history of the tradition of the Pure Land teaching, the Primal Vow is widely noted as the vow revealing the cause of birth in the Pure Land. The significance of the vow is understood to be that Amida will lead us who recite the Nembutsu to be born into his Pure Land. That is why Amida’s primal vow has reached not only the deceased but also us through the Nembutsu. When I encountered this guidance and learned of the other-centred power of Amida Buddha, I couldn’t help but recite, “Namo Amida Butsu.”
Rev. Yoshimichi Ouch