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Being at Home With the Nembutsu

One way or another, each of us needs to figure out how to be at home in the world .… At peace in our daily lives. Nembutsu, Buddha-recollection, in our stream of tradition means saying, or holding silently in mind, the name of the Buddha of Limitless Wisdom-light and Endless Life. Our feeling ill at ease in various ways will evaporate in our eventual, Enlightened lives.

The Nembutsu can also help us move towards being more at home even now. The Nembutsu is the direct path (Jiki Do). Nembutsu in its many verbal forms is a direct path to contact with the sacred. “Namo Amida Butsu” gives us direct access to that which is worthy, nurturing and true.

The Nembutsu is the direct path to encountering Amida Buddha’s active fulfilling of their Vow. The Vow of Universal Liberation (Hon Gan), is the promise of a new home which is the fulfillment of our dreams. The Buddha’s Promise of help for all living beings can also help us to be more at peace even now. Even If our circumstances are dire, the Nembutsu can help us to endure them. Still, I ask, how can we move forward with some semblance of composure?

There are two things that anyone must do to be at home in the world. The one thing we must do to have peace in our lives is to change our attitudes toward the world. We must soften our tone, deflate pretentions, set more realistic goals for ourselves. Buddhists of most schools, styles and persuasions usually understand this obligation. The other thing that we must do, in order to be at home in the world, is to act to change the world. We must act to change the world so that it comes to accord more closely with the most positive values and aspirations we have developed as Buddhists.

At a minimum, we must speak out in defense of the bullied, oppressed and marginalized. We must oppose tyrants, tyrannical ideas, and garden variety bullies. We must decry blocs to freedom of all sorts. We must, at a minimum, make it clear that we insist:

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Speaking out in these ways against observed forms of prejudice and violence is a start. If you see unfairness, say something. After saying something, do something. Get into John Lewis style good trouble. Fight the fight that is good but that is also gentle. Despite being a struggle for what is genuine and fair, Buddhist skirmishes remain non-violent.

We must do the work of including those who are marginalized. When those who have been excluded are more at home, we can be more at home. Buddhists who have centered their lives upon the Nembutsu want to share our home with all those who need one.

The Nembutsu, being the active compassion of the Buddha, will lead us both to humility and to the heroic project of reshaping the world in the light of the Dharma. The two aspects of genuine entrusting to the Nembutsu are simply these: the urge to change oneself and the aspiration to remake the world.

At least, this is what I see in Shinran, in all the most impressive teachers in the Jodo Shinshu lineage, and in my own still-unfolding engagement with the Nembutsu. You may say that I’m a dreamer, but John Lennon, John Lewis and I are not the only ones. One day so many of us will live up to both of these responsibilities — change oneself in all humility, change the world with deep conviction — that “the world will be as one.”


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