The Praises of Amida/Chapter 6
Fight the good Fight with all Thy Might.
"Though there should be Buddhas by the millions, and saints as many in number as the waves on the Ocean, it would be better to seek the Way and to stand firm in it without flinching, than to offer prayers and worship to all these Beings."
1. It was a bright moonlight night in Moscow. A young man opened a window shaded by leafy plane-trees, looked at the solemn beauty of the scene, and half-unconsciously muttered to himself, "How beautiful it all is!" The young man's name was Nehrodoff: he was the hero of Tolstoi's novel, the "Resurrection," the first half of whose life was so eventful and impressive that I could not help feeling touched, as I read it, with a feeling of deep sympathy.
2. This young man was by nature a man of strong sentiments. He is described by a reviewer as being nothing out of the common, in fact quite an ordinary man. He had a good many weak points in his spiritual constitution, and was consequently the victim of many temptations. He was a man of good family, had lost his father very early and had been consequently almost entirely brought up by his mother. Indeed, he was at first a decidedly healthy-minded, loveable, lad. As he grew older he entered the University, where he came under the influence of writers like Herbert Spencer, through whose teachings he became so visionary in his ideas that he ended by concluding that to hold private landed properly was an injustice; and even resolved to hand over to his peasants the whole of his patrimonial estates. But, in spite of all his sacrifices, the cruel waves of misfortune, so inseparably connected with this vale of tears, made no exception in his favour, and in due time he became, pure and guileless though he was, the slave of adverse Fate. He discovered that the pure Idealism, which had hitherto been his guide, was but a poor leader through the intricate mazes of actual life: almost simultaneously he arrived at the conclusion that the idealistic conceptions, principles, and beliefs, which he had formed in his mind, were absolutely useless for all practical purposes, and so, renouncing all his former principles of life, he determined henceforth to be guided only by the convenience of the immediate Present which lay before his eyes. As a consequence, all his ideas and conceptions under went a radical change. He had hitherto looked upon the World as something solemn and marvellous; but now he deemed it to be absolutely worthless and trivial. He had hitherto deemed a moral life to be an essential, and that one should follow implicitly the teachings of the learned and the wise; he now came to feel that there was nothing in the world that had a claim upon his implicit obedience and faith. He had formerly been scrupulously exact in all money matters, he now squandered his wealth about him with a careless hand: his feelings towards women changed from a reverential deference to considering them merely as the instruments of a man's pleasures; and when, after leaving the University, he entered the Army, and came into contact with the rough, proud, ways of military officers, he surrendered at discretion to the world, and from that moment knew no law but his own lusts, and became a dissolute, profligate, man. He did not feel happy at first in his new life, and slid uneasily enough down the decline of sin; but the uneasy feeling lasted only for a while, and, when that was lost, he went down-hill with a reckless, headlong, speed.
3. It was at this period of his life that he was ordered into the country on regimental business, and visited an aunt of his who lived in the country, on his line of journey. In his aunt's house Nehrodoff met an amiable girl, Cassia by name, the daughter of a low woman, who had been deserted by her mother, and adopted and reared by his aunt. Nehrodoff saw her, became enamoured and, urged on by his lawless passions, seduced the girl. The next morning he left her, and afterwards for many years never thought of the girl again; for he led a wandering, roving, life, here to day and there to-morrow. At last, his mother being dead and himself the head of the family, he settled down in Moscow as an assessor in the law-courts, where he did not, however, abandon his profligate ways all at once, but continued for a while to live as carelessly as before. Not long afterwards it was arranged that he should marry the daughter of a wealthy man, Missha by name.
4. I was extraordinary affected by this narration. Who would have thought that this young student, so obedient to the Faith, and so desirous of good, would ever have proved a rebel and an impostor? I was surprised myself at the elevated purity of the imaginations of his youth, I could but admire the strength and fervour of his resolutions. And yet, a white cord quickly becomes defiled, and a stiff piece of steel is more easily snapped than a piece of more pliant metal. When the Transient World comes over a man, with its waves of Defilement, the white thread of Purity is soon defiled, and the unbending steel of Resolution is snapped in a moment. Alas! when the touch of Defilement comes we make excuses for it. "It is the way of the world," we say, "and we must conform to it." Whether we really must conform or not we do not stop to enquire. We just cower before the waves of worldliness, and hold up suppliant hands to its advancing might: all,—I as well as you,—prostrate ourselves before it. This was exactly Nehrodoff's attitude: it is equally the attitude which most of us take up. And the very fact that we have thus bowed the knee to the Powers of Evil makes it doubtful whether we can quietly pass through this world, as we had hoped. For even suppose we do get through life to our present satisfaction, what good will that do us in the end? Or, let the pleasures of luxury and debauchery be never so great, is not such a life nothing but a dream? And is there not an awakening to every dream? When the Awakening from our Dream comes, we must sink down once more into Suffering which there is no describing; and when the Dream is all there is of us, then certainly the awakening will not be Paradise, and we shall remain fast bound to a life of endless revolutions and unrest. There is no true happiness to be found in such dreams of the Transient World: it can only be found in following the Great Will of the Divine Heart which broods in Light over our minds and consciences. It is not wise for therefore, to follow in the footsteps of Nehrodoff such as he has hitherto shown himself to be. We must follow the teachings of the Sage of Concord,—"the Great Man is one that spends his life alone in the midst of a crowd." We must put no trust in others: we must resolve to take a firm stand on the Rock of Self-Exertion. "Be a light unto thyself," says the Scripture, "be a house unto thyself, and trust not thyself to other houses. Make the Way thy Lamp, and the Way thy House, and put thy confidence in these alone."
It is, of course, most important to use this Transient World as a place of diligent training and exercise, and to treat the vicissitudes of life as the tools of the potter to form and mould our characters. But tools are tools, they are never the Master: and we must not follow the tools: we must follow one thing only, the Great Will of our Tathāgata who is the One Lord of all. That one phrase of the objective Opportunist, "It is the Way of the World, and we must conform ourselves to it," contains in it the whole principle of disobedience to the Law of the Universe: it is, in truth, a great and terrible curse.
5. But Nehrodoff had now reached a crisis in his life when he would be obliged to badly years before. The sight was a terrible shock to him: he could only sit helplessly staring at her during the whole time that the cross-examination was going on, and it was thus that he learned what had been the poor girl's history since his base desertion of her.and abandon all the principles of life which had guided him hitherto. One day, apparently by chance, he happened to be in Court as usual, engaged in the examination of a woman accused of murder, and was sitting on the Bench along with the other lawyers concerned in the trial. The accused was standing in the dock in front of him, surrounded by a large crowd of spectators, when Nehrodoff, catching a glimpse of the woman's face, suddenly realized that it was Cassia, the woman whom he had treated so
Poor Cassia, who had been left enceinte, had lost the esteem of Nehrodoff's aunt, had been driven from the house, and had taken refuge in the family of a police-officer as maid of all work. From this house she had run away, because she was unable to stand her new Master's cruel treatment. Then had come the hour of her confinement, which was miserable and wretched enough: a babe was born, but soon died,—and after that the poor girl went from bad to worse, without home or resting-place, the sport and contempt of men, until, having drunk the cup of affliction, to its dregs, she ended up with a seven years bondage as a common prostitute. At the end of that time it happened that a certain merchant committed suicide in the house of ill-fame in which Cassia lived, and as she was known to have had intercourse with him, she was at once suspected of the crime of murder, and, though innocent, had been arrested, and brought up for trial on the very day of which I am now speaking.
When Nehrodoff heard all this, he was almost stupefied with fear and astonishment, and the trial proceeded without his taking any active part in it, the prisoner being eventually found guilty, in spite of the efforts her lawyer made to save her, and condemned to penal servitude in Siberia. Nehrodoff trembled all over as he listened to the sentence. Poor Cassia! She had just received sentence for a crime of which she was not guilty, and was banished to a distant country thousands of miles away! And who was the cause of all tins misery? Nehrodoff knew that it was himself, his guilty conscience told him that the poor woman was being sacrificed for his sins, and how could he dare to look on in silence? He felt that he must make an effort to save Cassia from her Fate, and with that thought he suddenly awoke from his long slumber, and came to himself again from his long wandering in sin. His conscience, which had lain hidden for so long, began once more to raise its head in self-assertion; he saw how profligate, how lawless, how despicably mean, his whole conduct had been, and the realization made him tremble all over with uncontrollable terror.
6. Then a sudden thought flashed across his mind. If he exerted himself to save the wretched Cassia from her fate, the fact of his former connexion with her must come to the light, and his own good name would be irretrievably lost. Then of course his projected marriage with Missha could never take place. Was it incumbent on him, he asked himself, to save Cassia at the cost of such a sacrifice? Was it not rather his duty to carry out his project of marriage with Missha, and honourably to meet his engagements to Society? He was in a state of great perplexity and doubt, as you may for yourself see by consulting the pages of Tolstoi's novel.
7. Come what might, he determined, as the result of his troubled meditations, he would follow the dictates of his conscience and turn a deaf ear to the whisperings of the Devil of Objective Compromise. My brethren, these were brave words, were they not? But brave, not in the sense of that bravery which comes with the rolling of gun-carriages, the prancing of horses, and the flash and clatter of steel and iron. They were brave, because the strong power of a determined will was stirring the depths of a human heart, and our good friend Nehrodoff was under the influence of that will. It is true that the fawning spirit of Compromise came once more with its Objective Opportunism to keep him back from his resolution. "You will lose your good name," it whispered. "The marriage which you have so much at heart will be broken off." "Your conduct has been no worse than that of many another man." But the simple-hearted Nehrodoff did not succumb a second time to the blandishments of this evil spirit. It is true that he feared and trembled, as he contemplated the sin which he had committed: he was still infected with the poison he had imbibed from the Spirit of Objectivism which had hitherto been his guide. But the man who has once been delivered from a quagmire will do his best not to fall into it a second time, and Nehrodoff, his eyes straight before him, and looking neither to right nor to left, learned to look at things from a subjective stand point, assumed the attitude of a master, and stepped boldly forward on the right path. He would no longer follow the world, he would follow the light of conscience within him. He would consult none but his conscience, he would do what his conscience told him was right, and leave undone what his conscience condemned as wrong. "It is possible," he said to himself, "that the world will not approve." He clearly saw that there would be many obstacles to overcome in the path which he had chosen for himself, but the world's approval or disapproval was none of his business. It did not concern him to know the difficulties that he was to encounter. The only thing that was really important for him was that he should do what he ought to do. And this, his duty, he resolved to attempt, at all hazards and at any cost.
Ah! there was much of pleasure in the world which he was about to renounce! But he knew that there was something higher than the world. He sometimes wondered whether he would ever, of himself, have the strength to carry out his resolution, and reflection assured him that he would not. He had not the strength, he knew; but yet he would attempt his duty. Then he bethought himself of the Father of Mercies, and straightway the Father of Mercies thought of him. No sooner had he turned his thoughts in this direction than the thing that he asked for was immediately given him.
8. Ah! the strength with which we ask is the same strength with which we receive. To have the strength to turn in prayer is the same thing as having the grace descend upon us. The very moment that Nehrodoff turned with an honest and true heart, he received the strength that he needed for his task.
"He that giveth is faithful, and he that asketh is faithful, likewise." When once we have cut the cable of self-confidence and cast it from us, and have put all our trust in the Work of the Great Mercy, what further thing is there for us to do? This giving up of our whole trust is, in fact, the work that is required of us. This thought of faith is, in fact, the Very Heart and Essence of Buddha, and if we possess it what is there that we cannot do and accomplish?
Nehrodoff perceived this. He had been born again, he was no longer the slave of the world. He had received the work of the Great Spirit into his heart, and felt that he was now an uncrowned King. "The Czar is a Czar to himself, and I am a Czar to myself."
9. At this point, suddenly, the clouds of gloomy restlessness, which had been brooding over his heart, were cleared away, and a glorious sunset sky with gentle breezes took their place. He rose from his seat, opened his window and looked out at the moonlit sky. "How beautiful it all is!" were the words which came involuntarily to his lips, as he beheld the peaceful scene. It was not the beauty of the outer world only which brought this exclamation to his lips. There was, as we have seen, an inward reason prompting him to acknowledge the beauty which he beheld and understood, and there is for us, too, a great lesson to be learned from his words.
10. Nehrodoff was now fully set in his own mind, and he set out manfully to walk on the path of duty. His anticipations were fully realized. The world jeered at him. His friends and relatives said that the man who would exert himself on behalf of an out-cast prostitute must be a doubtful character himself: and when, in the prosecution of the task he had set before him, he left Moscow and travelled to St. Petersburg, his aristocratic friends in the metropolis made desperate efforts to tempt him back to his old ways of life.
But it was no longer the old Nehrodoff, but Nehrodoff risen from the dead. He turned a deaf ear to all their blandishments and refused to be tempted. It was a hard task that he had set before himself, and Cassia, for whom he was doing so much, did not make it easier. She still bore him a grudge for his cruelty in deserting her years before, and from time to time she would turn upon him with a flush of anger on her cheek, and words of contumely on her tongue. Poor Nehrodoff was but an ordinary man, and he winced under her treatment. He was impatient at times, cross, angry,—sometimes even the tears would rise to his eyes; but he always managed to recollect himself. He reminded himself that she had not always been a bad woman, and that her having fallen so low was due to himself. He would not therefore allow himself to lose his temper, he would do what he ought to do, and all would be well. So he went on quietly doing his best, and trying one plan after another; but, do what he would, he could not procure a pardon for Cassia.
At last, in despair and as a last resource, he sent a petition to the Czar. But the Czar's reply was slow in coming, and in the meantime the day was approaching on which Cassia was to be despatched with a gang of fellow-convicts to Siberia. Nehrodoff thought the matter well over, and determined to accompany her into exile.
11. Before doing so, it was necessary for him to settle his property. He had long since forgotten the opinion he had held for a short time, in the days of his extravagant idealism, about the sinfulness of private ownership of land, but he now came back to his old conclusions, which seemed best to agree with the revived activity of his conscience. He was the more moved to this by an acquaintance which he had since made with the teachings of Henry George, which he accepted with enthusiasm. He gave up, therefore, the title-deeds of the lands he owned and made them all over to the peasants who were farming them as his tenants. He had some trouble and difficulty in getting the transfers properly executed; but he was firmly convinced that he ought to do the thing that is right, and to have no thought for himself, and so the task was not an impossible one. But when the transfer was accomplished, the peasants, sordid materialists that they were, and destitute of all generous thoughts, evinced no gratitude, and even grumbled because he had not done more. More than once he was tempted to lose his patience, but each time he reflected that their gratitude or ingratitude were nothing to him, that the only thing that really concerned him was to do the thing that his conscience told him was right, and with this thought he returned contentedly to Moscow.
12. At last the day came when the gang of convicts was to be despatched to Siberia. Nehrodoff had of late been very frequently in and out of the Prison Gates on Cassia's business, and had learned a great deal about the life of the convicts, for whose miserable lot he had the deepest feelings of compassion. But now that he walked with them, and ate with them, he knew their circumstances better, and was filled with still greater compassion for their misery. He understood, as he had never done before, the harshness and severity of the warders and officials, and yet he could see that it was often unavoidable. He came by degrees to the conclusion which has forced itself upon other minds as well, that the whole system needed a radical reform.
He was not unmindful of Cassia's needs. Whenever opportunity offered he would walk by her side and comfort her, and so great was his kindness and consideration that at last even her icy heart began to thaw towards him, and she began to look upon him with sentiments of gratitude. But she was always circumspect, and would not betray her friend into a false position. Whenever he began to speak to her on the subject of marriage, she always stopped him abruptly, and before the gang had arrived at its destination she had already secretly given her promise to a young political offender who was in their company. Nehrodoff was deeply disappointed at her coldness in rejecting his advances, but continued to labour on her behalf, in spite of all discouragements. Soon after his arrival at the end of the journey, the Czar's pardon for Cassia reached him. He lost no time in acquainting her with the happy result of his labours, and shortly afterwards took a warm farewell, and went his way, rejoicing that his efforts on her behalf had not been in vain.
13. When I had read this section of the book, I felt myself deeply moved by the story; for my reading of it coincided with a crisis in my own life, which made me more than usually sympathetic with sorrow and noble feelings. When I had finished the volume, I suddenly remembered having seen something very similar in a very different type of book, the Discourses of Epictetus. The story of Nehrodoff has a very unmistakeable moral. We must at all hazards get rid of that despicable thing, Objective Opportunism, and come out under the clear open sky of Subjective Freedom: we must assume the attitude of freemen and masters, lords of ourselves and of our own wills and desires, which is the true spiritual principle of life and conduct.
You see, Nehrodoff was just a plain, ordinary, man. His passions and lusts often brought him to the verge of despair, and his resolution often seemed to fail him. But when once his conscience had risen from the dead, he was no more under their dominion. He cared no more for the adverse opinions of others, he was oblivious of all considerations of profit and loss to himself. He no longer troubled himself as to whether people noticed what he did or not, whether they were grateful or not for what he did for them. His one and only thought was to advance boldly along the right road, and do the thing that in his heart he believed to be the just thing to do. He was like some fierce bird of prey, entirely taken up and possessed by the spirit which had come down upon him, and blindly following its behests without a look to right or left. What he did, you might say that Nehrodoff did it, but that would be only half the truth. It was no longer Nehrodoff that did it, but the Great Spirit that dwelt in him. We too must let our actions be a part of the workings of this Great Spirit.
14. "Even though a Buddha, in the Flesh, or glorified, should preach another Gospel than this, and should use all the powers of eloquence to persuade me that Shaka had lied when he bade me meditate upon the virtues of Amida that I might be saved, I should not swerve from this my firm conviction and faith." Such was the brave confession of Zendō Daishi. "Not even the fear of beheading would cause me to change my mind," was the splendid testimony of Honen Shonin, when he reproved his apostate disciple Saia. "The Buddhists of those temples," said Shinran, "are ignorant of their own doctrines and cannot distinguish the true Gate of Salvation from the false one. The Confucianists of the city (Kyoto) have wandered from the path, and know not where they are going." And then he went on, with out-spoken denunciations. "All alike,—Sovereign, Ministers, People,—are transgressors of the Law and violators of Righteousness: they are influenced by anger, and their deeds are productive of hatred." They were bold words, but the mind which gave utterance to them was strong, "for it rested on the Rock of Mida's Holy Vow, and merged its emotions in the great Ocean of the Inconceivable Transcendent Law."
Thus you see that in the minds of these great men there was neither State, nor Society, neither Scholar nor Saint,—there were even no Buddhas,—but Amida the Lord was alone, and all in all,—above all, through all, in them all. It was this Faith in, and this following of Amida, that gave these men their power and influence in the world.
15. It is impossible for us to move the tatami on which we are actually sitting. How can those who put their trust in the Nation or in Society, ever be able to move either the one or the other? We cannot wash off the mud from our bodies so long as we stay sitting in the mud: we can not raise humanity from the mire, so long as we ourselves are in the mire of worldly conformity. Where all the birds congregate in troops, the trees lose their foliage and wither: how then can those who are tied and bound by the conflicting judgments of this world obtain the strength to acquire eternal life? We must reach out to something higher than the Nation, higher than Society, higher than Humanity,—we must reach out to the Great Commandment of the One Tathāgata, from Whom we shall get the strength we need, and, having obtained that strength, we must break off once for all with lust and sin, and do as the Great Commanment bids as to do.
16. When men have many masters to teach them their duty, the result is but confusion, and consequently pain. When we follow the One Rule, the One Law of the One Buddha, we find ourselves at the Spring and Fountain-head of happiness and courage, and are in a position to accomplish all our duties.
17. The Hotoke is within us. Why should we be troubled or afraid? Or why should therefore. The Tathāgata lives. We who are poor in strength can have strength given to us: we who are deficient in life can have life given to us. All things that we need we can get to our full satisfaction through the mercy of the Tathāgata, Who makes us more than conquerors in the battle.think that there is anything that we cannot do? Without the Hotoke, we are absolutely helpless: but with the Hotoke, and through faith in Him, we get an all-sufficient strength. Consider. "If I attain to Supreme Enlightenment and become the Lord of all, unless by so doing I can save all that are in Misery and Suffering I will not accept the Buddha-hood." Such was the Vow which our Father the Tathāgata took for us. And now we see that He has accepted his Buddhahood, and that He has set before us His Name, the Name above all others, as a token and pledge that He has ascended to his well-earned Kingdom and Rest. The fact that the Nyorai's Perfecting has been revealed to us is a proof that he has accomplished his Vow. And if the Vow has been accomplished, how is it possible that Suffering and Misery should remain unsaved? Advance
18. The life of true Victory is a blessing which they only obtain who put their trust in the Tathāgata.
- Dai-nehan-gyo.=Sūtra of the Great Decease.
- One of the seven patriarchs of Amidaism. A.D. 614-681.
- Honen Shonin, founder of the Jōdo Sect in Japan. A.D. 1133-1207.
- Shinran Shōnin, founder of the Shinshu Sect. A.D. 1173-1212.