Vol. XLVIII, No. 2

Empty and calm and devoid of ego is the true nature of all things
There is no individual being that in reality exists
Nor do they have an end or beginning, or a middle course
All is sham, here is no reality whatever
It is like a vision or a dream
It is like clouds or lightning
It is like a fiery revolving wheel
It is like water splashing
Because of causes and conditions things are here,

and in them there is no self-nature (soul)
All things that move and work, know them as such
Ignorance and thirsty desire are the source of birth and decay
Right contemplation and discipline of heart obliterate desire and ignorance
All beings in the world are beyond words and expressions
Their ultimate true nature is pure and true, like unto the vacuity of space

- Mahayana Abhisamaya Sutra

For the Buddhist traditions that sat quietly in the forest, hour after hour, day after day, year after year, the noise and grind of city life must have become increasingly grating and distracting. Monasticism was the norm for Buddhism until the coming of Shinran Shonin. Empty calm was the ideal – a calm unavailable to the non-monastic community, hence the term Sangha meaning the order of monks and nuns.

How is it then that people of the Nembutsu, a non-monastic lay society of fellow travelers, came to appreciate the above and other abstract statements and translate them into more mundane and concrete forms of expression? What is it in the lay system of the Nembutsu that brings about this Buddhist awakening? Many explanations have been put forth, some thought-provoking, others wacky as Daffy Duck. The fact remains however that in almost every temple, you will find moments of deep understanding in every person. Deep insights of short duration, like a 10 second 5. earthquake in the night. And as soon as we try to reason, categorize, explain to ourself what that was, it quickly fades away. There is in us an ineradicable need to be and individual being, real and unchanging, a solid essential core. And Buddhism tells us that that is as empty and unsubstantial as a ring of fire created by a twirling rope lit at the end. Yet is those earthquake moments the connection is clear and seemingly effortless.

And we cannot will this to happen. The very calculation of it seems to block it out, even more so, the non-calculation so as to get it. You cannot want it or not want it to get it. What is left to us then is to study our conniving, calculating, ego-centric, self-loving nature and wonder at the earthquake moments that come in spite of it. As long as we breathe Namu is Namu, and yet at the same time, it is Amidabutsu.

Rev. Mas

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