The Praises of Amida/Chapter 5
"Our daily conduct should show forth day by day our gratitude! Truth never makes light of daily conduct. To waste no thought on oneself is the right principle of daily conduct."
1. When Tenryu no Gazan was just five years old he entered the Roku-In Temple, and became a pupil of the priest Gidō. "Where is your home?" asked Gidō of the lad on first meeting him. "I have forgotten, Sir," was the reply, and the old priest laughed for sheer joy at the sage answer be received. The rest of the company failed to understand why Gidō should laugh, and yet, in truth, all, had they known it, had reason to laugh with joy at the sageness of the lad's reply.
2. I think we may say that one of the principal reasons why we cannot be contented with our lot, and spend our days free from anxiety, is that we cannot forget our home. For instance, a man leaves home on a journey, but his mind always keeps reverting to home and its interests. "I wonder," he says, to himself, "if every thing is going on well at home. Are the people at home doing as I bade them?" Or, "Dear me! I forgot to leave a message for So and So. What a nuisance!" Or, "I ought not to have left such and such directions. It was very foolish of me. I wish I had not done so." And so the man's anxieties and troubles accompany him wherever he goes: he cannot banish them from his mind, and the consequence is that he gets no benefit from his trip, whether it be to the beautiful shores of Suma or Akashi, or to the Temples of Nara or Kyoto. And he loses not only his enjoyment. His mind is worried and wearied by his anxieties, his sleep is broken, and the next day he cannot continue his journey. His whole trip becomes but labour lost, and he comes back from his holiday more fagged than when he set out. And all because he could not forget his home. Home-sickness is a miserable thing: those who suffer from it had better never leave home at all, or else they will have but a very poor time on their travels. When we go a-travelling we should leave our home-cares at home, we should forget the things that are behind. Let home take care of itself: it is our wisdom to take every day's enjoyment and trouble as they come, and to go on our journeys with tranquil hearts. In Tolstoi's story of the Two Pilgrims, the one who went everywhere with a worrying anxious heart, and got no enjoyment out of his adventures, was not nearly so wise a man as his companion who was pleased with whatever befel him, and went on his way singing happy songs of cheerfulness.
3. These remarks apply to the ordinary travellers on mundane journeys: but they may be equally well applied to the spiritual pilgrimage that we are called upon to make. Years and years ago there lived a man of some fifty years of age, who, for forty-nine years, had known nothing but sin. At fifty, this man made the discovery that whenever he looked back upon his past it was filled with wickedness, and the thought so terrified him that even in a remote cave he would be seized with a desire to rush out into the air, and when he fancied himself alone his face would stream with cold sweat, in thinking of his buried past. His whole life seemed to be filled with nothing but innumerable acts of injustice and wrong done against his teachers, his friends, his parents, and his near kinsmen.
The path along which we have come to our present position, whatever it may be, is possibly exactly the same road which this bad man had trodden: and the starting-point of his journey was the place which we call our home, our true native place. That home was a poor place, and we did not like it. So we left it, and now we are well advanced on our journey to a better place. We have, of course, many fellow-travellers. Some of them are already on the point of entering into the City of Flowers which lies on the other side: others have only just started from their home, while others are so much taken up with the beauties of their birthplace that they have only just begun to make tardy preparations to leave it. There are all grades and kinds of travellers, but they have all left their hateful home, or are about to do so. And there are some, strange to say, who look back with longing eyes, and contemplate a return.
4. Of course, if you are by disposition anxious, there always is a seed from which anxiety may spring: and if you are prone to remorse, there always is something that you may feel sorry about. The faults and errors you have committed,—you must make amends for them: the wrongful actions you have done,—you must somehow atone for them. If you are going to trouble yourself about such things, you will find enough to worry about for ever. Or you wish you had done something differently, or not been so rude to So and So, or, you wonder how you can look him in the face again after such inexcusable behaviour. If you are going to be troubled by remorse for such things, again you have enough matter for remorse to last you all your life. But what is the good of all this worry and remorse? If my worry or remorse are going to give me the strength to correct some error, or make amends for some wrong, there would be some use in it; but my flesh is too weak to make atonement for the past,—and besides, the saving labours of the Tathāgata have rendered it unnecessary, And therefore, seeing that we of ourselves are too weak to help ourselves, what folly it is to give way to remorse or worry!
5. Moreover, this 'heavenward' journey which we are now taking is not one of our own devising. In our distant birth-place, we found ourselves encompassed on all sides by the sins inherent to our condition, so that we were utterly unable to move a foot to advance or retreat. When our helplessness was most patent, the Tathāgata, designing to save us, stood and called us by means of His Sacred Name, and encouraged and enabled us to start on our heaven-ward journey. Surely, then, it is not the will of the Hotoke that we should forever be troubling ourselves with these anxieties about home, and this remorse for past mistakes. What He desires is quite the contrary: that we should let go our griefs and lay aside our remorse, and rise peacefully above our lead of Sorrow. Is it not therefore a direct disobedience to His Will for us to be for ever unmindful of His Mercy, to be troubled with vain cares and regrets about this or that? The object of going on a journey is not that we may be worried with home cares, but that we may enjoy our travelling. The heavenward journey is not undertaken in order that we may be distressed by the things that are behind, but that every step may give us more and more of the pleasures of our road. Behind us there is sin and darkness: in front there is goodness and light. The Hotoke does not tell us to look behind, but calls us to come straight to Him. And Sakyamuni tells us, does he not? to keep our eyes straight in one direction, i.e. earnestly turned towards the Hotoke, and to see Him only.
6. We have a proverb which says that "we leave the shame of our journey behind us." The proverb is perhaps not altogether applicable to our earthly journeys, for in them the shame which we have incurred sticks by us, and gives us at least a certain amount of trouble. But the shame which we may have incurred on our heavenward journey has all been left behind. The Tathāgata, Who has called us, and Who has sent us forth in this life on our heavenward journey, has so contrived that all our shame shall be left behind: and there is no mistake in what He does. It is not with us a question of merely shedding our old skins as the snakes do: we are entirely born again and made new creatures, once and for all. One by one, we throw off our old habits, and, as we do so, we find the new glory of the garment which the Tathāgata gives. My dear brethren, it will not do for us to cling to our old robes and weep because they are taken from us: we must not want to resume once more the old rags which we have cast off from us. My past is my dead self: the Tathāgata takes that dead self and disposes of it as he likes. Why then should I look back on that dead self, which is now in the hands of the Tathāgata, and think of it with regret and sorrow? If you wish, brethren, to go on fretting and worrying for ever, all you have to do is to resolve in your minds to set no store by the happiness which the Hotoke gives you in the present.
7. Ah! let the Past be past, and bury it! let the Future be the Future, and think of it! Let us only rest in that great, present, Confidence which is being offered for our acceptance as a free gift, and rejoicing in the exquisite beauties of Nature which show that thought of Faith, let us go on bravely. If we see the mist hanging over the shore of Akashi, let us be intoxicated by its beauties: if we hear the plover piping near the village of Suma, let us dwell with fond contemplation on its distant home among the ancient rocks. At Nara, at Kyoto, or whereover we go, let us take the pleasure which each place gives us. Let us waste no tears over the past nor break our hearts with anxiety about the future: let us trust all things to the Tathāgata's hand, enjoying the present as it comes, and drinking from that honey-well of divine teaching, which bubbles up at his Sacred Feet.
8. If we can do this, we shall find that Heaven and Earth will become full of radiant light, and that we ourselves stand in the centre, with all the rays of light focussed upon us. If we look at our past we shall see that, sinful though it may have been, yet our sin only served to bring out more clearly the workings of the Divine Mercy. If we look at the Future, we shall see its darkness illuminated by the bright beams of that self-same mercy. The Past has become precious, and the Future is precious too; and we, in the Present, must not fail to appreciate the deep import of them both.
- i.e. the place to which Wordsworth more happily alludes when he says that "trailing clouds of glory do we come from God, Who is our home."