By Rev. Dr. Kenji Akahoshi, Resident Minister
|The Nembutsu Journey: Entering the Stream of Light & Life
The metaphor of a journey is quite appro-priate for a Buddhist life. For us Buddhists, it is the
present moment that is most important. This means that each step in our journey is significant, not
the final destination. Many religions base their validity on the supernatu-ral, on miracles, or on the
eternal afterlife. Many Americans have reduced the role that religion plays in their life because
these systems of belief no longer feel relevant. The advances of scientific discovery, psychological
insight, and the sophistication and history of our philosophical thought, have rendered many
religions as unreliable. Fortunately, Shin Buddhism does not rely on literal translations to validate
deep spiritual truths. The Buddha’s Teachings are based on observations of the natural world, deep
insight of the human condition, and an intuitive connection with all that is beyond thought.
Before his death, the Buddha’s words to his followers were “to be a light onto yourselves.” He
advised that his followers test out teachings, even his own, in order to perceive it to be real for
them. The Buddha’s intention was not to establish a new religion of beliefs. He was providing a
guide to the concerns of the human conditions of sickness, old age, and death. He said that he
taught the truth of suffering and the resolution of suffering.
The magnitude of the Buddha’s insight and teachings is over-whelming. Many masters have
studied, contemplated, and elaborat-ed on segments of his teachings. Scholars can attest to the
com-plexity and depth of the insights of the Buddha. We are fortunate that Shinran was able to
condense the teachings of Honen and the other 6 patriarchs in a manner that is accessible to us,
the ordinary, common person. Although it is important to understand some of the basic principles
of the Buddha’s view of life, we are not attempting to replicate the Buddha’s Enlightenment. We
are simply following a guide that is in harmony with the natural flow of the world and the human
condition within it.
The difficulty for American Shin Buddhists is that we have been raised in a culture that is based
on the Abrahamic religious traditions of an exterior God, whose judgment decides our eternal after-
life. With this prevailing religious background, it is easy to be confused with our own basic
understanding of Shin. Consider the difficulty of explaining American football to a European who
knows “football” as soccer. Although they may share the same name, the differences of
equipment, rules, and strategies would determine that they have different goals and are two
Jodo Shinshu is even a little different from other schools of Bud-dhism, at least in the eyes of
many Western Buddhists. Many con-verts seem to be attracted to Buddhist practice as a means
of achieving some status of enlightenment. The Buddhist’s practices of meditation and mindfulness
have become incorporated as basic parts of medical therapy. This is a wonderful expansion of our
con-tribution to the betterment of health. But we are reminded of T’an-luan’s success as a Taoist
master, in achieving optimum health. In his meeting with the Indian monk, Bodhiruci, T’an-luan is
challenged with the question of death. Since even those with the best of health will succumb to
the effects of old age and death, T’an-luan accepts the Buddhist sutras and turns to the Pure Land
path. Shinran notes Nagarjuna’s description of the Nembutsu path as an easy journey on the flow
of water, compared to a difficult overland path. I have been describing the difference of the path
of monks of “achieving,” from the Nembutsu path of “receiving.” The point of this distinction is that
the Nembutsu practice is not to gain any merit nor achieve any status. It is to become aware of
the Compassion of Amida Bud-dha, which is received.
It would take many sessions and even a demonstration to ex-plain the intricacies of American
football to a European soccer fan. Similarly, it takes some explanations, with discussions, questions,
and demonstrations to clarify Shin Buddhism to those who are unfa-miliar with it. And here at BTSD
we have several opportunities to do this. On Buddhism 1-2-3, our first two Wednesdays of each
month will be devoted to explaining the basics of Shin Buddhism. On the 3rd Thursday of the
month, the traditional meaning of Shoshinge is explored with a discussion on its relevance in our
current life. When Shinran’s 13th century teachings are updated to a 21st century inter-pretation,
we can experience the power of its spiritual depth. Unlike the limits of T’an-luan’s Taoist practices,
the Nembutsu path or jour-ney, has practical benefits that extend to the spiritual realm. These
evening sessions will encourage discussions and questions to help personalize the teachings to your
own understanding and testing.
For our 90th Anniversary celebration in October, Bishop Kodo Umezu will be our honored guest.
He will be conducting a Kieshiki ceremony. This is a personal declaration of taking refuge in the
Three Treasures of the Dharma. It is formalized by receiving a Bud-dhist name. More information on
this process will be coming short-ly. Metaphorically, it is entering the stream of Light and Life and
actively being on the Nembutsu Journey. This is the easy path of many awakenings. Each “thank
you” is an awakening to Namo Amida Butsu. This path leads to many practical joys, which ele-
vates our life journey to the spiritual level of the Nembutsu.
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|BUDDHIST TEMPLE OF SAN DIEGO
2929 Market Street
San Diego, California 92102