Things are quiet at the moment. Most of my Dharma friends are either extremely busy at work or off on their summer holidays. At these times I miss the interactions of sangha life. Still Amida’s Call is always there and the space away from community is an opportunity to hear it in a different tenor.
In gongyo last night I noticed how casually I bowed before the O-myogo and bowed again a second time. It’s amazing how quickly and deceptively the fog of carelessness falls over my mind. Thinking about it I called to mind the teaching of one of my friends and mentors to place what is within one’s heart before the Buddha, and bring one’s outer bearing within for reflection.
Also during this summer, dialogue with my Christian family and my friendship with Ray have been leading me to gently explore some expressions of my birth tradition that are radically different to those I grew up with. In this slow and cautious journey I came across the following that I found interesting as a comparison with the Shin notion of ‘deep hearing’:
God affects us, we affect God. God’s invitations are based upon our present condition. If we are open, responsive and desiring, God can offer possibilities which could not be offered if we are closed and unresponsive. Prayers surrounding, undergirding and intersecting the needful person allow God to present new potential. These prayers are joining with God, aligning with God, participating with God toward healing. A new interconnected matrix is formed around the person … I pray “Who would You have me become in this emerging moment?” …
Prayer is based on events; Events are composed of four persuasive influences: my past, experiences from my body, happenings in the world and God’s invitation. God is, therefore, a persuasive presence to me in every tiny moment. In each event, I create who I will be for that moment. God graciously accepts me however I create myself in a moment. How I create myself in this moment influences how God persuades me in the next. Prayer is seeking to be aware of God’s possibilities, which are always the most beautiful and loving for both me and the entire universe. My praying in simple form asks God, “Who would You have me be in this moment?”
(Robert Brizee, Living in Process: VI-16 Prayer: Who Would You Have Me Become?)
This process view resonates quite strongly with my appreciation of the Dharma as a wholesome path or point of balance at the heart of existence which calls out to us to be actualised. At the same time though I think Brizee over-emphasises the reliability of human apprehension and decision, and under-emphasises the role of the Other in shaping us beyond our own calculation.
Anyway now to return to our study of Kakehashi’s Bearer of the Light …
Kyōshin’s Notes – Day 6 (p.155-158)
One of the things that always strikes me when reading the Ofumi is Rennyo Shonin’s emphasis on the ‘after-life’. For example; “we should all quickly take to heart the matter of the greatest importance of the afterlife, entrust ourselves deeply to Amida Buddha, and recite the nembutsu (Hakkotsu no Ofumi).” Kakehashi doesn’t talk about this much in Bearer of the Light except between pages 155-158 where he discusses the phrase “life-to-come”. I think that this is an alternative translation of ‘after-life’.
We’ll come back to Kakehashi in a moment but first we should take note of the significance of Rennyo’s focus on the after-life/life-to-come as (1) superficially an apparent difference in emphasis from Shinran, and (2) as influenced by his own life experiences:
Rennyo emphasized the otherworldly aspect of Pure Land thought and challenged people to take seriously their future destinies. In his time, the prospect of the Pure Land was a compassionate alternative to the sufferings and uncertainties of life in this world … Rennyo’s experiences of the deaths of his wives and several children, as well as the violence of the age, made him keenly aware of the impermanence, unpredictability, and violence in life. In view of the brevity of life and depth of our evil, the afterlife is of the greatest importance (goshø no ichidaiji), in contrast to Shinran’s stress on the reception of faith and assurance of rebirth in this life. Rennyo draws a clear distinction between this world and the next, and it is the next that should be the object of our aspiration and the decisive settling of mind. (Bloom .pdf)
Kakehashi’s analysis seems quite different from the above perspective. He doesn’t see such a sharp dualism in Rennyo’s thought but instead argues that Rennyo’s emphasis of death and the ‘after-life’ / ‘life-to-come’ isn’t a denial of this world but is intended to re-orient our whole conception of what life-and-death is:
“[Entrusting to the Primal Vow is ] a way of life in which we come to realize that the world of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life is the birthplace of our own life. We sense the gift from the Tathagata of unseen protection and benefits that continue to protect us … By relying upon the Tathagata and “entrusting in Amida to save us in the life-to-come,” a path of unlimited life is opened up before us. Even as we repent our own acts of karmic evil, we will find ourselves able to live to the fullest … By speaking of our receiving salvation in the life-to-come, Rennyo gave meaning and direction to our lives here and now … the Tathagata and Pure Land … encompass this world from a place that transcends human life.”
For the person of shinjin, to die is simply to encounter in the rawest, unencumbered way the very source of the life that has gone before:
When we look at death it is very dark, but when we look at it-we are carrying so much baggage. We don’t know when, but we must cross over and in our daily life, things such as health, money, inheritances, can all seem to be aids. We can fool others as well as ourselves by our blind attachment to these things. Yet crossing over becomes clear only when we are stripped to the very being we were when we came into this world. If I bring the problem of my own death into focus right now-whether I am sustained, focused, whether I am saved or not should become clear to me. (Takamaro Shigaraki)
In Buddhism, what our deceased loved ones are doing or where they have gone is of less importance. What is most important is the question of your own enlightenment (gosho no ichidaiji – “the most important matter which encompasses yet transcends this life”). Without some answers to the questions of your own life and death, no assurances by the priest will satisfy you. There is a lot of truth to the often repeated statement that when you understand yourself, you’ll find true answers about your grandmother. (Kenneth Tanaka)