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Always Coming Back for More Buddha-Dharma

Have you ever had this happen? You listen to a Dharma message and think, “Oh hey, that was a really good talk,” but then as soon as you walk out of the Hondo and someone asks you what today’s talk was about, you can’t remember what the talk was about!

One time, a student explains to Rennyo Shonin that his mind is like pouring water in a basket, which slowly pours out. When he hears the talks, they are deeply moving, and he is grateful. However, as soon as he leaves the Hondo, he reverts to his old mind. What should he do about this? How does one make the mind a bucket where the water will remain?

Rennyo Shonin replies to him, “Throw the basket into the water. Keep your body soaked in the water of the Dharma.” He explains that forgetting the Dharma message and everything one has learned through the talks is quite natural. He says to keep one’s mind soaked in the water of the Dharma, or in other words, to keep listening. Keep coming to the temple; keep one’s ears open to the nembutsu calling. There is nothing else for one to do.

Similarly, Shinran Shonin uses the phrase ”zenkōnin” 染香人. The first character “zen” 染’means to soak through, like spilling shoyu on your dress shirt; it soaks through and bleeds through the fabric. The second character, “kō” 香’ refers to fragrance. The last character, “nin” 人 refers to a person. Shinran explains that “zenkōnin” is a person whom the fragrance of the Buddha’s wisdom has completely soaked through the individual.

My grandfather had many books in his collection. I remember cracking open a book of his that was not opened probably since he was alive. As soon as I opened the book, his scent came off the pages, and I instantly remembered ojichan. I remember his face, smell, voice, and the old days when I was a young boy. His scent was absorbed within the pages of the book. In much the same way, when we continue to come to the temple and listen to the teachings of Amida Buddha, the Buddha’s wisdom slowly permeates in our hearts, and the beautiful fragrance of the Buddha-Dharma starts to seep into our very being.

In this way, we are being nurtured by the Buddha-Dharma, but we have to continue to listen to the teaching of Amida Buddha’s Great Compassion. This won’t work just by coming to one temple service or sporadically taking an interest. We have to come and listen to the Buddha-Dharma continually. This teaching is not something that can provide any kind of instant gratification.

In addition to this, we cannot smell ourselves. A weird statement to make, admittedly, but allow me to explain. We can smell the fragrance of other people, but not of ourselves, oddly. We cannot smell ourselves; only others can smell us. In other words, we don’t notice when we become true Nembutsu practicers, but others will take notice. We will never really know if we are truly authentic, but others will see this authenticity.

As such, when others see the Nembutsu alive and well within an individual, they can smell the sweet fragrance of the Nembutsu coming off that person, and they will aspire to be like that individual. But the Nembutsu person is not aware of that. This is true humility. I remember our esteemed former Bishop Rev. Umezu once saying, “No truly humble person says to others, ‘Hey, I am a humble person!’” True humility is never recognized by the individual.

As we continue to listen to the Buddha-Dharma, the Nembutsu teaching and its benefits will slowly emanate from us. If we are honest in our approach, we will naturally — and unpretentiously — express great joy, humility, hope, and peace of the heart and mind. So let us continue to throw our basket minds in the water of the Buddha-Dharma, absorb the sweet fragrance of Amida Buddha’s infinite wisdom and compassion and become“zenkōnin” 染香人 , and continually seek by listening to the Nembutsu teaching.


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