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Expedient Means

For a long time now, we have used acronyms. For example, BCA, JDSS, IBS, YBA, BWA, JSIO, IMOP, just to name a few.


For someone new to our JDSS (Jodo Shinshu) tradition, these can leave a person wondering what everything means. I understand that it is easier to use these acronyms than it is to write out the whole word or title.


The trend of using acronyms is not just within the Buddhist Churches of America (BCA). Social media has made the use of acronyms explode.


Someone my age has a hard time keeping up with all the abbreviations and what they mean. Some of the popular ones are LOL, ASAP, FYI. Some that I didn’t know are G2G (Got to go), TTYL (Talk to you later), IMO (In my opinion). And there are many more that are being used. You can imagine MRW when I looked up a list and found so many that are being used today. BTW (By the way), MRW means “My reaction when.”


This trend might be attributed to cutting corners. Over the years, everything seems to be about doing things quicker, simpler and easier. Since becoming a minister in 1981, we have cut corners on rituals as well.


This is especially evident when it comes to funeral and memorial services. It seems that many want short, quick and simple services. The problem is that the intent of the rituals can be lost when we shorten and simplify. The intent of the funeral and memorial ritual is to allow families to confront the reality of death and loss. This is not just in our temples, but in all aspects of our life, we are missing out by cutting corners.


On the other hand, not all expedient means are bad. In a world where we are constantly being reminded of the fragile nature of our existence, getting things done quickly can have benefits.


We are being told constantly that, “In the morning, we have radiant health, and by evening, we may turn to white ashes.” We can ill afford to waste our time, and cutting corners can allow us time for more important endeavors, such as the Buddha-Dharma.


The Buddha used the term “hoben” 方便 or “upaya,” translated as expedient or skillful means. It was used as a way or means of leading sentient beings to the Truth. “Hoben” is also used in the term “Hoben-hosshin” 方便法身 or Dharma Kaya, one of the three bodies describing the Buddha. This is another term for Bodhisattva who manifested themselves to the suffering sentient beings. The term to describe the Bodhisattva is used because it is produced by the vows and working of the Bodhisattva.


Shinran points out that “hoben” is the expression of the Buddha’s infinite compassion for all beings. When the Buddha sees all the suffering, he uses all means to carry out his wish to save all beings. Shinran sees all the characters in the Contemplation Sutra (Kanmuryojukyo) and the tragedy at Rajagriha as incarnations of Buddha’s compassion and should be regarded as the Buddha’s expedient means.


By no means did the Buddha “cut corners” to provide for you and I a means to escape the world of suffering and anxiety. It took eons of practice to fulfill the vow that embraces and accepts us just as we are. The Buddha’s vow of Nembutsu is the one thing that we can rely on in an unreliable world.


Expedient means is not a quick answer to our salvation, but is a means by which the Buddha’s infinite compassion is extended to you and I. In our world today, we want quick, easy and expedient. Thankfully, the hard work has been done by the Buddha, so that we can simply rely on or lean on that which is reliable, infinite and lasting.


Namoamidabutsu.


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