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Buddhadharma : Spri 2007
buddhadharma| 63 |spring 2007 As Jason Rabbitt-Tomita explains, Ryokan did not say “How lucky for me, I can keep my bowl!” Rather, his own gain is a cause for sadness for what most consider an “inanimate object.” This is an attitude showing thankfulness for all life. In a strict sense, the compassion he feels for his bowl is not “Ryokan’s” compassion; instead, compassion encom- passes him and all beings until Ryokan becomes all beings and all beings become Ryokan. He bows before his bowl; he plays with the children; he suns the lice from his shirt on the windowsill, and then places them back in his shirt. Bowing towards each thing in life, the Name arises of itself. Namu Amida Butsu. 13 Realizing the Pure Land Shinran makes a distinction between two key moments in the realization of the Shin path: the moment of shinjin, or true entrusting, in which the foolish being entrusts herself to Amida Buddha as her deepest reality, and the moment of death, when one enters the Pure Land, nirvana, empti- ness. The reason that the moment of true entrust- ing and the entrance into the Pure Land are not completely the same is due to our karmic limita- tions. The distinction between the two is roughly equivalent to the difference between the historical Buddha Shakyamuni’s attainment of nirvana at the age of thirty-five and his entrance into pari- nirvana at eighty. The initial nirvana is known as “nirvana with a remainder” because, while he was still in his limited mind and body, negative karmic residue remained. Although he was a great and enlightened teacher, he also fell physically ill, he had disagreements with disciples, and the sangha was beset by political turmoil and split into two. When he left this world and the limitations of his body and mind, he entered complete nirvana, or parinirvana. Similarly, one attains true entrusting in this life and enters the complete Pure Land in the next. The Pure Land has always been there underfoot, yet we cannot fully see it until we become free of the blind passions that are an inevitable part of life. Though seemingly illogical, this is the reality of life for the Shin Buddhist: the vow to bring all beings into the Pure Land has already been accom- plished by Amida Buddha, but we must continue our journey on the path to the Pure Land. In fact, precisely because the path has already been laid out for us, we see that we are not there yet. Deep down, we sense the oneness of the flow of reality, and thereby we are moved to realize it in each moment of life. We say Namu Amida Butsu begin- ning with ourselves (Namu), but it is Amida Butsu, Amida Buddha, that brings one to the realization of Namu, one’s foolishness. Beyond Limited Notions of Life and Death It is said that what set the Buddha Shakyamuni on his path to seek enlightenment was the sight of old age, sickness, and death. To grow old, become ill, and die is as much a part of our human nature as anything else. In fact, to truly live, we must be able to acknowledge and embrace all of this. If death is truly part of us, then it dwells deep within us, even among those who are in seemingly robust health. Amida’s compassion, boundless life, is beyond preconceived ideas of life and death. At each step in life, this boundless oneness is always there, and great compassion awaits one at death just as it does at every turn in life. In the depths of the human heart, life and death are as one in the great flow of existence. Aoki Shinmon, a Buddhist mortician, was washing his hands after preparing the corpse of a young mother for burial. As he dumped the water from a bucket into a bamboo grove, he saw a dragonfly whose belly shone with the translucent light of a belly filled with eggs: As I was doing the coffining surrounded by people crying, no tears came, but when I saw the eggs shin- ing in this dragonfly, tears filled my eyes. This tiny dragonfly dying after just a few weeks has been bear- ing eggs in unbroken succession to perpetuate its life form from hundreds of millions of years past. As I thought of this, tears started to flow and would not stop.14 The name of Amida Buddha leads beyond the usual separation of life and death into oneness of reality. In the Japanese tea ceremony, there is the expression ichigo ichie, “one time, one meeting.” Although we may see family and friends on a daily basis, if we really think about it, each meet- ing is the first and last. As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus states, one cannot step in the same river twice. Each time we meet a person, how- ever familiar, they have changed, and we have also changed, so that the encounter is unique, for that time only. When the inexorable force of the vow, of the power of life itself, breaks through our foolish complacency to make us realize the preciousness of each moment, then we are moved to utter the six-syllable Name, Namu Amida Butsu. This life, wholly unexpected I receive this moment now. Unlimited suffering Boundless compassion Namu Amida Butsu Namu Amida Butsu 13 Jason Rabbitt-Tomita, unpublished essay, Brown University, 1995. 14 Translation adapted from Coffinman: The Journal of a Buddhist Mortician, by Shinmon Aoki (Orange County Buddhist Church, 2002), pp. 76 –77. The Pure Land has always been there underfoot, yet we cannot fully see it until we become free of the blind passions that are an inevitable part of life.