Namu Amida Butsu

This work is especially dedicated to Zuiken Saizo Inagaki, who sheds light on the pristine and original teachings of Jodo Shinshu (Shin Buddhism) for many people, including myself. I regard him as my soul teacher and I am very much influenced by his words and thoughts, which are deeply imbued with the Wisdom of Compassion of Amida Buddha. I read most of his writings available in Chinese language and I wish to share some of his golden words in this blog in English. Rev. George Gatenby and Mr. Gabriel Schlaefer have been kindly and untiringly assisting me to edit the translated essays so that they are readable and true to the intent of Sensei. May all partake of the wisdom of Shinshu teaching and be overpowered by the light of Amida Buddha.

Namu Amida Butsu!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Unit 17 The dull and inflexible man

17 The dull and inflexible man 担板汉
        - In Zen's context, 担板汉 refers to a man who carries a shoulder pole

The ultimate truth is that 'what exists essentially is not and 'what is not existed essentially is'. Although 'emptiness' is the quintessence of reality, bombu attach to forms and existence; we either cling to existence or nonexistence. When you are awakened to the fact that 'I am undoubtedly doomed to the hell', Jodo Shinshu will be open to you. 'No matter what you do you will intractably be drawn to the hell.'

No one discerns the truth. Everyone speaks and thinks falsely. When you discover that 'all thoughts and words are fallacy' the idea of  'I certainly cannot escape from the hell' will be unwavering.

Nevertheless, bombu is just unspeakably silly. No one would want to take on the truth. 'What  exists essentially is not', 'what is not existed essentially is'. Truth as such is hard to be spoken of unambiguously.

A zen master taught that 'existence is but non-existence' and his little disciple interpreted its meaning as 'yeah, nothing exists! The person who commands me seems to exist yet is not.' He only kept this idea in his head. So, when someone asked if 'anybody is around?' he just answered 'there isn't anybody, though existed yet is not'. The zen master saw him behave affectively, he intended to try him out to see if he really had got it right. Suddenly, the zen master pinched the disciple's nose. 'Ouch, that's so painful!' the little disciple shed tears in pain.

The Zen master asked: 'is it existed or not?' 'Weren't you saying a minute ago that what is existed actually is not? How can you find something that does not exist to be painful?'  Upon hearing of this the little disciple saw the light.

There was a monk called Xuen Sha. While he was going downhill he contemplated one idea: 'Existence is but non-existence, all is but emptiness' 'Ah, dreamlike life, existence is but non-existence!’ While he was so absorbed in thought, he kicked a rock out of the blue and peeled off his nails. 'Ouch! Ouch! It is painful!'  he cried in ache. While calling out he kept pondering this idea 'non-existence, all is simply emptiness, what an unbearably painful experience and how could I take emptiness for granted? (Where does painfulness come from?) ' He was enlightened after the incident.

Do not make light of the saying of 'non-existence' or 'existence'. Pound your head on the pole until you see stars and I bet you dare not say it again. Therefore, efforts must be spent on the heart of the problem. At a normal occasion of a Dharma sharing, the teaching is given to explain the theories. When you stumble upon the actual problem but are unable to overcome it, whatever you have explained becomes fallacious.

Speaking from Jodo Shinshu perspective, there are beliefs that 'by accepting and relying on (顶戴) Shinjin birth in the Pure Land is made possible', 'because of the command of Amida's Primal Vow we are made to be born in the Pure Land, therefore death is not frightening',   'upon our eyes closing at the point of death the Pure Land will be immediately manifested, so there is nothing to be afraid of.' Those who have listened to the Dharma will unpretentiously believe thus.

Although they think so, however, in reality when death approaches, one will suffer unbearably, the pitch-darkness will appear, and the eyes turn blind. As a result of the pitch-darkness, you have nothing but absolute suffering. The Buddha-Dharma that you have been listening to for over 30 or 50 years will have evaporated. What remains are the pitch-darkness and terror. It is just hard to reason why but you can't help panicking over dying just like that, what is more is the torment from unrelenting illnesses. Nothing come into one's mind but 'suffering', 'terror' and 'pitch-darkness'.

In ordinary days you will say: 'Amida Buddha is awaiting me in the Pure Land, my death will be taken care of'. The question is: 'Will you have obtained the peace of mind by then?' Please imagine 'you are on deathbed', and by visualizing that you are going to die, will you really feel peace of mind? Or will you not? This is the question. 

Therefore it is good to be 'dying early'. 'Dying early' means to pretend that you are dying now. Since you cannot really die you have to imagine that you are dying now. Try visualize that now you are on your deathbed and how it would be if you were to die instantly. In this way, one will behave honestly and it so happens naturally. So, evidently it is 'Namu Amida Butsu that we rely on for birth in the Pure Land'.

Namu Amida Butsu is called the 'law (dharma) of ultimate reality' which bombu cannot contrive. What we have been talking about so far in regard to the doctrine of dharma obviously has put bombu at a complete loss, let alone when it comes to the law of ultimate reality. This is the dharma (way) of Buddhahood. The dharma is called the dharma of Namu Amida Butsu, and because of the 'lights' of Amida, 'now we are also embraced within [His] lights'. If we die now, immediately we are born in the Pure Land. In so saying, the earlier we die, the faster we are born in the Pure Land.

In a dharma sermon, by presuming that before you die in fact you have attained birth is considered as false shinjin or mi-anjin. Nevertheless, if you feel 'now I am within the embrace of Amida’s light', and this is how you really feel, than it can make no difference from the reality that you have been dead and attained birth in the Pure Land.  Though it is not Nirvana but the resemblance of Nirvana and that is why it is written as 'birth-and-death is Nirvana'. You must be able to conceive of this.

However, if you are unable to attain peace of mind (anjin) on your deathbed you won’t be enjoying it (anjin) in everyday life either. Therefore I need you to imagine the time when you about to die and you must try to die once to figure it out. The best result is to make everybody experience the moment of death, such as being affirmed by doctor that 'you are untreatable'. But, a doctor will not make such a statement irrationally. 'You have final-stage stomach cancer and won’t survive a month', that is something worth declaring on one occasion. But, even though you ask the doctor's favour, he will not say out something like that at will. But when you really get stomach cancer, the doctor will say 'it is stomach cancer', while it is not true the doctor won't say so.

Humans if merely yearning for 'surviving on, surviving on', and are just concern about living and take no heed of having to die in the slightest sense, we call it as '担板汉' - a man who carries a shoulder pole. Humans are '担板汉' regardless of who they are.  They just think of making a living, keeping money and never think of becoming a beggar. Humans just think of the matters concerning their living but not any of the matters concerning their death, so they are '担板汉' and that's difficult.

When we are talking about 'existence', there you'll be sticking to 'existence'; when we are talking about 'nonexistence', there you'll be attached to 'nothing at all'. Humans seemingly are real '担板汉'. Why do we talk about 'emptiness'? The 'existence' is ephemeral and arises from causes and conditions. The state of existence of all dharma万法is nonexistence, and nonexistence has no difference from existence. This is the truth, namely the ultimate reality '诸法'. 诸法refers to the universe of all things and phenomena.

'Dharma' has two facets; spiritually it is called 'law of mind心法', physically it is called 'law of forms色法'. The law of mind and that of forms are both expressed as 'dharma'. Therefore, speaking of 'all dharma' and 'ultimate reality', they are always referred to as 'things' - or 'all things' to be precise. When we break up 'things', there you have 'mind' and 'forms'. 'All things' is meant to be 'all phenomena' and this is 'the form of emptiness' or 'emptiness'. We call it 'emptiness' and not 'it is empty'. It is spoken of as the 'form of emptiness', when we say 'form' it denotes 'existing'. 'Emptiness' is 'nonexistence'. Regardless of 'existence' or 'nonexistence', it is simply the form of emptiness. 'The form of nonexistence' is called 'existence'; 'the form of existence' is called 'nonexistence'. You can name it one way or the other.

In general, bombu are bound by 'forms', this being the nature (original characteristics) of bombu. Though we deny the fact and argue that 'no, I am not [attached to forms]'. However, when someone dresses up properly and pay a call on you with presents, won’t you be greeting him courteously, 'May I know who you are?' While on another occasion, when this person dresses as a beggar and go to see you again, you will react differently, 'I have nothing for you today, go away!' and you will see that your manner of speaking changes naturally.

Due to the fact that bombu are bound by forms, women who wish to con people like that will put on make-up. You will be looked down upon without having make-up on. In the same way, if you don't dress yourself well and often dress up like a beggar, you barely could expect men to show an interest in you during marital age.

The world that we live in is bound by forms. So it is not abnormal when you are bound by forms and become attached to all things.  However, in front of Buddha and King of the hellish realm, attachment becomes impractical. The King of the hellish realm will not be influenced regardless of you in the form of a beggar or well-dressed. The King of hellish realm is truthful.
 'The theory of ultimate reality' means that 'the state of existence' is yet 'non-existence' and 'the state of non-existence' is absolutely non-existence. Bombu is like a 担板汉who are one-sided, swaying between 'existence' or 'non-existence'.

'Rub your eyes hard and flowers bloom in them', it means to intentionally press your thumb on the eye, despite feeling pain you will be seeing ball-like circles in your sight.

(Shiga Prefecture, Hikone City MingXing Temple, Discources on Hakuin Zenji's Dokugo Shingyo - 'Acid Comments on the Heart Sutra')

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