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Life of Gratitude – Nembutsu

“Life of Gratitude” is the motto on our new BCA logo. How might we experience it?

Watching my young grandson revealed a fundamental process of life. Every action and thought has been the result of practice: a repetition of thoughts, speech, and conduct until it becomes a natural part of our lives.

Taking that first step leads to walking, then running, then jumping, skipping, and dancing. Each letter leads to words, sentences, stories, discussions. The initial clumsy steps lead to enjoying the benefits of a deeper experience. We use this process in learning music, sports, cooking, and all tasks in life. Yet, what is our process in knowing, accepting, and incorporating the primary practice of Shin?

Just say the Nembutsu, “Namo Amida Butsu.” What happens? If nothing occurs, we assume it is ineffective and drop the practice. Could this be one of the factors that former students and members leave our sangha in preference for other activities?

Many Americans are concerned with a comfortable quality of life without the anxiety it fosters to achieve and maintain it. A Shin Buddhist solution would be to follow a middle path. In “Shoshinge,” Shinran notes that under the darkness of the clouds of greed, hatred, and ignorance, there is brightness, not dark. He says that we close off the five evil courses by a crosswise leap. Moving sideways shifts our position and gives us a different perspective, which allows us to see the ever present light.

How might the voicing of the Nembutsu move us toward this balance? We often say “please” when we desire things we don’t have. To balance this desire, let us note the brightness of our lives by recognizing the many benefits we enjoy now. The Nembutsu is our expression of gratitude voiced as we awaken to the benefits of life, gifted to us by others. So, to incorporate a practice that follows the learning process described above, our beginning step would be to voice “thank you.”

“Thank you” does not have to be explained. It is the experience of receiving something from another. Isn’t this similar to our awakening to the Compassion of Amida Buddha? This is not a practice of achieving. This practice reinforces Shinran’s message that “Solely saying the Tathagata’s Name constantly, One should respond with gratitude to the universal Vow of great compassion.” (CWS p. 71)

Like any first step, “thank you” is a rudimentary beginning to experiences far beyond any present thought. But it is a necessary step. For those who are new to Buddhism, many explanations of traditional terminology and concepts are difficult to accept in the complexities of modern life. Yet, “thank you” is easily accessible.

Finding one thing to appreciate daily evolves to realizing that the many benefits we enjoy are the result of the efforts of others. Each day, we make a conscious effort to voice “thank you” for things that we have taken for granted. “Thank you” as we switch on the light, turn on the water, receive a note from a friend. Even a negative sign of a red light deserves a “thank you” as we realize this safe process of allowing others to have the green light. “Thank you” wakes us up to the realization that all life is interdependent and most of it is due to the efforts of others.

Some may envision Enlightenment, satori, or shinjin as experiences akin to a hole-in-one, winning an Oscar, or being MVP. However, for the Shin Buddhist, being able to play in the game is reward enough. We realize that our happiness is determined by our perception of this world. Our parents and grandparents were supported in their difficult, immigrant lives by their attitude of a life of gratitude.

The practice of daily gratitude develops an appreciation for all of life. As we voice “thank you,” we include “Na Man Da Bu.” This shift in perspective from “please,” a plea for things that I lack, to “thank you,” acknowledging what I have received, can brighten any day. This process has proven successful in having newcomers appreciate this unique practice of Shin. The initial steps of “thank you” become the natural breath of “Na Man Da Bu.” “Solely saying the Tathagata’s Name constantly, One should respond with gratitude to the universal Vow of great compassion.” Namo Amida Butsu.


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