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Buddhadharma : Win 2012
WINTER 2 0 1 2 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 49 power-beyond-self is always nurturing and sup- porting us. Part of the Pure Land tradition, Shin Buddhists believe this power that comes from beyond the ego-self is provided by Amida Bud- dha, the limitless compassion and wisdom that benefits us all. Naturally, thankfulness wells up inside of us as we awaken to this ever-present gift. With this awareness, Shin Buddhists say the nembutsu in gratitude. The nembutsu is a phrase, Namu Amida Butsu, that expresses our happiness and thankfulness. It isn’t a mantra or a prayer—it doesn’t accomplish anything other than letting out that bottled-up gratitude in a joyful utterance. When we say Namu Amida Butsu, we aren’t begging to get into the Pure Land or trying to win favors with the Buddha. We are saying, “How wonderful to receive so bountifully! Thank you very much!” I find that Buddhists in lineages other than the Pure Land schools often misunderstand this point. Saying the nembutsu is just the most visible edge of a grateful life. On a deeper level, our practice is to respond thankfully in all areas of our lives. Every day brings innumerable gifts— life, love, nourishment, shelter, challenges, friend- ship, and more—and is an opportunity to recall our indebtedness as we reflect within ourselves. On a basic level, we try to remember the pres- ence of power-beyond-self in our lives, say the nembutsu, and do our best to give back by being patient, helpful, and caring. This practice of gratitude traces back about eight hundred years to premodern Japan and a Japanese monk named Shinran, who founded a new Buddhist school with his wife, Eshinni. After spending twenty years at Mt. Hiei, the center of Buddhist studies of that era in Japan, Shinran The goal of Shin Buddhism’s central practice, nembutsu, is not to attain buddhahood for ourselves, says Jeff Wilson, but to express gratitude for all we have received. I visit a lot of Buddhist temples and groups in North America, and it’s pretty common for people to ask, “So, what’s your prac- tice?” It’s a sort of icebreaker in the Bud- dhist world. I think my answer tends to surprise some folks, though. As a Shin Buddhist, my primary practice isn’t meditation, sutra study, ritual, or precepts. All of these can be valuable, of course, but in Shin Buddhism our main focus is the practice of gratitude. This sets us apart from many other Buddhists. We don’t practice to achieve anything—not enlightenment, good karma, a favorable rebirth, or material rewards. We practice simply to give thanks for what we have received. It’s a small shift in one’s perspec- tive, but when pursued, it can be transformative. From the point of view of the dharma, we can see that each being exists within an inconceivable network of support from all things. Whether it’s the attainment of buddhahood or the simple act of drawing a breath, our every action is assisted by forces beyond the ego-self. As we become aware of our interconnectedness, we gain some perspective of our karmic limitations. Accom- plishments we counted as our own successes turn out to be due to the myriad benefits received from others. Pulling on our bootstraps, we discover that someone else made the boots and the straps, and fed and nurtured us until we were ready to pull. Our own efforts are imperfect and cannot succeed unless countless others are involved. This awareness gives rise to a sense of humility about our limitations and patience in the face of others’ imperfections. It also cultivates a sense of humor about our shortcomings and those of others. For Shin Buddhists, being aware of our inter- connectedness involves being aware of how The Path of Gratitude JEFF WILSON is an ordained minister in the Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha tradition of Shin Buddhism and an asso- ciate professor of religion and East Asian studies at the University of Waterloo in Ontario. He is the author of Buddhism of the Heart: Reflections on Shin Buddhism and Inner Togetherness and, most recently, Dixie Dharma (see review on page 73). (Opposite) Buddha Offering, Lantau Island, Hong Kong, 2006 (PAGE48)©MICHAELKENNA|WWW.MICHAELKENNA.COM|COURTESYG.GIBSONGALLERY,SEATTLE