The Praises of Amida/Chapter 7

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VII.

The World and How to pass through It.

By following the Buddha with calm resolution we attain to Naturalness. This is none other than Amida's land.

Hōjisan.

I.

We are travellers. This world is a way-side Inn. In this Inn of Human Life, we have, through the Name of the Tathāgata, received His gracious invitation. These are the three main points in our Life on Earth.


II.

1. In this Inn there are many guests staying, men, and women, old and young, high and low, learned and ignorant. A strange point in connection with these guests is that the majority of them neither know nor care where they are going, and that some of them even boast that there is no need to trouble themselves about it. These men complain a great deal that the attendance and food in the Inn are not as good as they might be. Nay: they will some times make a strange amount of fuss over some petty detail in the management, and let some trifling matter be the seed from which they raise quite an abundant crop of quarrelling and strife, of party spirit and anger, of rancour and malice. You will not be astonished to hear that, side by side with these discontented spirits, there are some guests who are always laughing about nothing at all. Are we to be moved to tears, or to smiles, by this strange spectacle? It is hard to say.

2. Now among these guests there are some others who exhibit neither wisdom nor virtue in their conduct. They have hitherto been just rude country people, with uncouth rustic manners, living purposeless lives in some out-of-the-way hamlet; but they have now received the Tathāgata's invitation through His Name, and have set out on their journey with their faces turned towards the City of Light. These men are resting in the Inn, and they rejoice, as for one and another the time approaches to enter the City. These men are all our brethren: is not this a matter for congratulation to see them drawing near to their happy consummation?

3. "There is a road which takes us to the joys of the world to come, and the Sun is shining pleasantly to-day." With such thoughts we set ourselves cheerfully to work to fulfil our daily duties. This is the life of the Tathagata's children.


III.

1. Yet we must be on our guard not to despise those men who go noisily blustering along the roads of life. Even the chance brushing of our sleeves together in the crowded thoroughfare, is, as the proverb tells us, the result of a far-reaching causation in other worlds; and if that be so, our lodging together, as guests in the same Inn, may lead to a series of effects stretching out over countless centuries. We must therefore be constantly on our guard and behave with well-meant civility towards those who are with us in the Inn.

2. To later arrivals we show ourselves kindly sympathetic, and tell them of the ways of the house and the customs to be observed: for such is the politeness that is required of us by the rules of the hostelry. And when we remember that but a short while, ago, we ourselves were like these persons, rustic and boorish, thoughtless and rude, we feel constrained to behave towards them without pride or disdain.

3. So if they come and make a noise close to where we are and annoy us with their up roar, we shall do our best to bear it patiently. Poor men! It is only during their short stay in the Inn that they have the opportunity of making a noise. "The world passeth away, it endureth but for a moment:" and surely, if our thoughts are directed to the happiness of the City of Light to which we shall so soon be going, we can endure for a moment the disturbance that goes on around us.

4. We shall see this more clearly if we consider that the Father of Mercies forgives us freely for those sins, the contemplation of which makes us shake and tremble, and that He takes us just as we are and saves us. If we have been thus forgiven, should not we forgive others? It is the will of the Hotoke, who forgiveth all men, that we too should forgive as lie has forgiven.

5. Is it not further true that the opposition of these men, their slanders, oppressions, and want of sympathy, have been the things that have drawn us out and made us what we are to-day? The clouds of trouble have shown themselves to be lined with silver, and therefore, when we think of those men, we can but give thanks for what they have done for us, and pray that the Same Divine Hand which has been over us may be over them also.

6. It must happen that at times we shall have thunder-claps of anger bursting out against some one or other. At other times, it will be our duty to admonish and reprove others with severity. But let our anger be based on Mercy, which is as wide as Heaven, and on Love which is as comprehensive as the wide ocean, and then neither reproof nor angry words will long preserve their bitterness.

7. "There are many roads to lead you astray," says the poem, "but you can never go wrong so long as you are in dutiful attendance on your parents" Consider all old men as your fathers, all old women as mothers, grown up persons as elder brothers and sisters, and the young as younger brothers and sisters. Go a step further, and think of them all as so many manifestations of Buddha, prepared for your benefit. This is Sakyamuni's teaching. You may find his words in the Sutras.


IV.

1, If it should ever happen that these people should cease from their noise, and be quiet for a while, we should, I think, seize the opportunity to speak to them of the beauty of the City to which we are going, and to invite them to come along with us. If once they should be willing to listen, and, turning their hearts to the heavenly City, should advance along this road, they will at once obtain the same true peace, hope, courage, and happiness that we have. More than all, the Great Parent who dwells in that City will become their Father as He is ours, and will await their coming to Him, as He awaits ours.

2. Bind all men into Union by means of the One Name. Turn all men towards the One and Only Buddha. Make all seek for rest in the One and Only Paradise. This is our Central Idea.

3. "To make others believe as one believes oneself is the hardest of hard tasks: to propagate Mercy and make it flourish and abound is a means of acquiring the choicest graces of the Buddha." It was Zendō Daishi who taught us these words, and we shall not forget them.


V.

1. Whilst we are thus staying in the hostelry of Life, our fellow-guests will sometimes come and question us about ourselves. It will be our desire at such times to speak the truth. We might perhaps fear that if the people at the Inn saw us claiming a wisdom beyond our grasp, or asserting a dignity to which we had no right, they might think more highly of us and pay us more reverence; whereas if we told them nothing but just the truth about ourselves, they might despise us and even take away from us the room which had been assigned to us, and generally treat us with contumely and insult. But let us not be troubled about such things. Let us boldly and openly speak the truth about ourselves. For the Way of the Hotoke is the Way of His Name, and our Heavenly Father has not concealed His Name, He has told us that His Name is "Amida the Buddha to whom belongs all Glory:" and we have taken Him as our Father and are being saved by Him. How then can it be right for us to defile His Name with a lie? "An honest heart is Paradise." Let us speak the unvarnished truth, and say to those who question us, "My life is sinful." "My name is a very ordinary one," "My rank is not high," "There are no misleading statements in my curriculum vitae." And then, when the Hotel people come and ask us for further entries for the visitor's book, and say "Where is your home?", we can answer with true pride that we are even now "burghers of the City of Light." That, brethren, is the only thing that we have to be proud about.

2. It is written in the Scriptures, and it is something about which we may rejoice, that by virtue of our Tathāgata's Vow we, ordinary folk who are neither great Saints nor yet great Scholars, may even in this life, and without putting off our bodies of flesh, have our pleasure in Paradise. This is the peculiar privilege of those who are citizens of the Pure Land, and the sons of the Tathāgata.


VI.

1. But the people of the Inn will not understand us when we say that we are citizens of the City of Light, and, will probably slight us, and treat us coldly in consequence of our words. But let us beware that we be not like others and take to grumbling. Let us simply say to ourselves, that, if there had not been this Hostelry to come to, we might at the present moment be the short by all manner of storms and tempests, and that the Inn has saved us from many a trouble and hardship. Look at things in this way and we shall see that the half-filled soup-bowl, which the other guests are complaining about, is in reality a sumptuous feast. That thin cotton quilt, which makes the others grumble and grind their teeth, becomes for us a luxurious bed of finest silk. And when we think further that it was in this poor Inn that we first heard our Father's Name, and received His Invitation, and that we are at last reaping here the first-fruits of a harvest sown in many lives and many worlds, we shall see that we have absolutely no cause for discontent, even though our room be not quite so good as we should have liked it to be.

2. Let us listen to the words of Rennyo Shōnin,[1] as taken from his Reminiscences:

Walking along the corridor of the monastery, Rennyo noticed a piece of paper lying on the floor. "Why should we despise anything in the realm of Buddha?" said he, and, picking up the paper, held it to his forehead with reverence. Even a piece of paper he looked upon as forming a part of the Hotoke's possessions, and therefore to be treated with reverence.

It is a thing to be avoided to tread upon one's own things, such as, e.g. clothes. Our last Abbot but one used to consider that even his clothes belonged to him only in virtue of his sacred office, and would reverently pick up any garments he found lying about. In the same way when a meal was brought to him he would cross his fingers before him and say, "I have received food and clothing from him whom I serve as Shōnin."

Let us, in however small a measure, try to follow in these footsteps.


VII.

1. We can now see that this hostelry of the Human Life is not a house of Suffering so far as we are concerned, but the Gate of Mercy. When thus the Night of Life is over and the Glorious Morning begins to dawn, most of the travellers begin to bustle about and with much stamping, shouting, and parade, go out into the outside air. But that is not what we want to do. We prefer to go out quietly after having made our proper adieux to the people of the Inn. "Even the flying bird," says the proverb, "takes care not to pollute the stream as it passes." And shall we fall short of the birds in politeness and good manners? The sin and evil which we leave behind us when we quit our rooms, we will ask the Tathāgata kindly to sweep away after us when we are gone, and so we shall be able to go away with no words but of Kindness to those who remain behind us.

2. Gratitude, thanks,—this is the only payment which we must make in person. We can not send it by the hands of a third party. The kindness which we have received during our stay precludes the possibility of anything but a personal expression of gratitude.

3. "The water in the well, from which we are wont to draw, may be very deep," says the poet, "but it cannot be so deep as the wells of Mercy in Paradise." We think some times of the brightness of the Moon and Stars, but we forget all about the brightness of the Sun. The One is perennial, constant, unvarying, the other is inconstant and fitful. The Mercy of the Hotoke is forgotten, because it is like the Sun, perennial, constant, unvarying. Still let us not forget the giving of thanks whenever we invoke the Holy Name.


VIII.

1. And thus we go away. But there is one thing to be borne in mind at the moment of our departure. It is this, that we must preserve the distinction between meum and tuum and not try to take away with us by mistake what belongs to the Inn, or to any of the guests. We must take with us nothing but what is really our own. When we first reached the Inn we had nothing of our own: and the Inn-people gave us clothing for our backs and food for our bodies. The clothes, therefore, and the food belong to it also. The life also of the body belongs to the Inn, and so does everything which can be separated from ourselves. All these we must leave behind us: we must not think of trying to take them with us. Many of the things which we abandon are extremely beautiful, but we are going to get the Divine Food of the Holy Name which is beyond all comparison sweeter than what we are leaving, and the Garments of His Holy Name, which are beyond all comparison fairer than the robes which we are bidden to put off. It is true that, even whilst staying in the Inn, we received the Heavenly Food and the Garments of His Righteousness, but these did not belong to the Inn. They were given to us for our very own, and we cannot be separated from them. We go forth, therefore, wearing the garments of His Holy Name and rejoicing in the Divine Food which comes to us from the same source, and everything else we return to the inn, so that we may go forth without encumbrances. If it is a praise for a man "to return in rich garments to the home which he left in a poor working suit," how much more of a praise is it for us to return to our first home in garments more beautiful than the rainbow, with treasures more precious than gold or silver, to our first home, the Land of the Divine Light. That is the great happiness that is now awaiting us.

2. The three worlds are the Abode of Sin and Evil: the Pure Land is the Home of the Heart and Spirit. We shall go forth from the one to enter into the joy of our spiritual home.

"The fire-girt world, wherein my footsteps stray
I used to deem my home. But now, I see,
The lonely mountain hamlet, which I found
Wandering by chance, is my true native place.

(Dōgen Zenji.)

There in the inmost heart of those still hills,
The mind's true citadel, where never reach
The icy wind-storms, let me make my home.

(Go Mizu no Tennō.)

3. "Come then, and let us be on the way. We must follow the Buddha and go to our home; when we get there we shall find that all our desires meet with a spontaneous fulfilment," The fulfilment of all our desires is waiting for us in the City where the flowers bloom of their own accord.


IX.

1. With this load of happiness on our backs we go forth from the Inn, and turn our faces towards the City of Light. As we draw near to it, the road along which we travel becomes wider, and the travellers along it are more numerous. We find that all these men are, like ourselves, clad in the garment of the Holy Name, and sustained by the Food of that Name. They come from all sides singing their Pilgrim Songs, and sweep like a bright cloud into the City Gates. And beyond those gates, what is it like?

"With their eyes they behold the Nyorai and look up at the Saints. The more they look, the more pleasant the organs of their sight grow. The more they hear the excellent law, the more pleasant the organ of their hearing grows. With their noses they smell the incense of Divine grace, and the more they smell, the more pleasant their organ of smelling grows. With their tongue they taste Divine joy and Contemplative Ecstasy, and the more they taste it, the more pleasant their organ of taste grows. With their minds they engage in the state of pleasure, and the more they engage in it, the more pleasant their spirits grow. Every state of the World of Paradise is a device for forsaking pain and acquiring pleasure. The wind that blows upon the jewel trees brings pleasure: the branches, leaves, and fruits, all resound with permanent pleasure. The waves that wash the golden shore bring pleasure. The ripples and whirling streams spread the four virtues. The singing of the cranes over the shore brings pleasure. As it is the gate of Divine Law for the enlightenment of one's organs and the very strength of life, even a mere passing wild goose will contribute pleasure (to the inhabitants of the Land of Bliss). As it is the Excellent Law for meditation upon Buddha, the Law and the Church, the mere walking upon the ground will bring pleasure. The Heavenly Garment is bestowed upon them and the right of entering into the Jewel Palace is another pleasure. Heavenly music is played in their ears."

2. Such is the country which lies before us and awaits our arrival. At the present moment we are in the Inn, looking forward to the country. But the Inn is not the whole of our existence: it is only a part. And our principal work is not to make ourselves comfortable in our lodgings here: our work is only to make one step further on our road to the Pure Land.


X.

1. Some of the lodgers in the Inn are weak-hearted persons who weep and lament as they come out of it. It is not quite unreasonable to do so, for our departure means a separation from the friends who have lodged with us under the same roof, and not only from our mere friends and acquaintances, but from those more specially dear ones who have shared our rooms, and to whom we have given the appellations of parents and children, husband and wife, brother and sister. Moreover, when once we have separated, we know not when or how we shall meet again; for our paths lie possibly in different directions, and it may be that some of us will have to return for long wanderings among the mountains and fields of sin and vice.

2. But think again. Granted, that there are some of them that do not yet know the Name of the Hotoke Who is their father as well as ours; Granted, that there are some who do not know the Divine Name as yet; can we believe that He will ever forsake them, and not wait for His opportunity to give them His Saving Invitation? Nay more, do we not hope that, after we have reached that City, Our Father will give us His permission to go ourselves to seek our friends and bring them home, so that ere long we may all be gathered around His Knees. Therefore we wipe away our tears and leave the world quietly and peacefully; for what we see before us is the light of Universal Salvation.

But let us turn to the other side of the subject. There is a Buddha who is both our father and theirs, too. Some of them even do not know His Name, yet it is not possible for him to forsake them. He must call them in due time. After we have reached the Royal City, we will come back to guide them to it, if our Father allows us to do so. Thus, you see, this parting is not an eternal parting; for it is arranged that we should all be gathered in the bosom of our Father. Therefore we calmly start from this temporary residence of the world, shaking our tears off. At the bottom of these our tears of sorrow there shines the light of a noble onward hope. The children of the kindergarten sing as follows:—

"Sparrow! Sparrow! Once more to-day,
All alone along the dark way
To the bamboo wood in your distant hill,
Are you going back, to your lonely cot?

"No! No! Lonely it is not,
Father and Mother are waiting me, there,
'Tis Home, Sweet Home, to which I repair.

3. We, children of the Tathāgata, are like the sparrows in this poem. On the road of death, where other men see nothing but darkness and fear, we see light and pleasure before us, and march boldly on. How can we render thanks for these so great mercies? We can only do it by the continual repetition with thankful hearts of the Holy Name to which we ascribe all glory.

4. "When living creatures betake themselves to religious practices, and continually invoke Buddha with their lips, the Buddha will deign to hear; when they worship Him continually with their bodies, the Buddha will deign to behold; when they think of Him constantly with their hearts, He will deign to know; when they meditate on Him constantly in their inmost souls He will deign to meditate on them." By means of the Sacred Name we can ever dwell with Tathāgata, who ever dwells with us. Hence comes strength, hence joy bubbles up. The Sacred Name is, in truth, the warsong of the Tathāgata's Soldiers. Sakyamuni once raised this song, and since that time, for ages and generations, thousands upon thousands of fellow-pilgrims have joined their voices to His. And shall we not join ourselves to them? In that case, we shall utter The Holy and Reverend Name in the midst of this world of evil-speaking, slander, hatred, and all unkindness, and spread Amida's glory from one end of the world to another.

5. Glory be to the Buddha of Boundless Life and Light!

With these words I humbly bring my discourse to a close, and pray that His Divine Light may always shine over and upon all those who hold the same faith, and worship the same Being.




  1. The Gubunsho or Ofumi of Rennyo Shonin will be found in Vol. XVII. i of the Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan.