By Rev. Dr. Kenji Akahoshi, Resident Minister
We celebrate Shinran’s birth with our Gotan-e Service in May. The great contribution that
Shinran has provided us is an understanding and process of appreciating Shakymuni’s Teachings as
common, ordinary people, and not as practicing, dedicated monks. The Nembutsu as a practice
is often not clearly understood. We point our fingers toward its Truth in many ways. The following
National Geographic Channel newspaper magazine. It was my contribution as a Buddhist, in
conjunction with the National Geographic TV series “The Story Of God,” with Morgan Freeman. I
also contributed the Buddhist perspective on the episode on “Evil” to be aired on Sunday, May 1.
You will have to go online to < natgeotv/StoryOfGod > to access my perspective on the notion of
“evil,” from a Buddhist perspective. The series is an invitation for the followers of different faith
traditions to inquire about the similarities and difference of our religions. I hope that this article is
helpful in clarifying Shin Buddhism and the importance of Shinran’s emphasis on the Nembutsu as
“My Holiest Place”
When I’m enjoying the company of family or fellow Sangha (congregation) members, my
thoughts are not about being holy. I am being very human in the enjoyment of the food at the
potluck, the discussion in our Dharma session, or even in the business of committee meetings. The
essence of a Shin Buddhist life, is to appreciate the “now.” Of course the ambiance of the religious
service in our hondo (sanctuary) or the intimacy of nature during a hike, can also evoke a feeling
To a Shin Buddhist, spirituality is experienced in the flow of everyday life. It is an attitude
absorbed by the perspective that, being human is a spiritual experience. We are reminded of this
unique life experience by a voicing of Namo Amida Butsu. Although the deep, spiritual meaning
of this refrain is beyond words, an abbreviated explanation would be that it is an awareness and
appreciation for the gift of human life. When this reality permeates the barriers of self-centered
illusion, a balanced life of harmony and acceptance emerges.
A Pure Land is central to the mythology of our sect. This holy place is interpreted in modern
thought as a Pure Realm. It is a consciousness, rather than a geographical place. Therefore, a
holy place is a frame of mind. We know this realm when we experience gratitude. Buddha means
to be an awaken being. Being a Buddhist is a constant cycle of waking up to the unique
experience of human life. There is no practice that we can do to achieve the condition of human
life. Everything has been received. There is nowhere else to go, no practice to fulfill, no concern
for the future. Our inconceivable birth has occurred on this improbable planet in this impossible
universe, at this precise time in galactic history. Evolution has developed the human mind and
heart to awaken to this spiritual realm. In this realm, all life is spiritual. The voicing of Namo Amida
Butsu, is both a stimulus and response of our awaking to the reality of being included as an integral
part of this vast universe. This expression of gratitude brings me to my holiest place.
This realm of gratitude transcends the duality of good or bad, right or wrong. The burden of
guilt or righteousness is lifted. With this perspective, I can accept the harsh realities of the human
condition. Even when my intellect and emotions complain about an apparent disaster, my
spiritual center cushions the pain. My inconceivable human birth has entered the game of life.
The gratitude of Namo Amida Butsu, alerts me that the joys of love and compassion are also
available. My practice is to appreciate what I have been given, to balance the desire for things
that I don’t have. All my worldly activities and concerns are gifts of an unseen spiritual source.
Every aspect of my ordinary life is a reflection of the spiritual. A deep sense of gratitude emerges
as I awaken to my inclusion in the Oneness of all light and life. Therefore, my holiest place is in the
“now” of ordinary life.
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