top of page

Orientation for the Journey

An old Zen monk was sitting under a tree. A kid asked the monk, "Why are you ‘still’ learning Buddhism? Another monk taught me that Buddhism is to know satisfaction. Are you still not satisfied with what you have learned?” 

The monk replied, "I am learning Buddhism because I ‘still’ don't understand the things revealed to me.” 

We are often troubled, confused, and distressed by the things that look complicated. In most cases, however, things are actually less complicated than they seem. 

The reason for this is that we have a strong desire to want things to happen exactly as we plan. Things are constantly changing, but our minds seem not to be flexible enough to catch up with these changing circumstances.  

Shakyamuni Buddha revealed that nothing is permanent. This principle applies not only to physical stuff, but also our minds. However, our prejudices are hard like unbreakable crystal. This is quite strange in that, despite everything around us changing, our prejudices and desires resist. 

You cannot criticize when you claim someone doesn’t listen to your talk because everybody has this element of stubbornness. Nothing is permanent, but our stubbornness is exceptionally resistant. That’s why the Zen monk approached his problem by continuously learning Buddhism. He knew it was a lifelong work to be completed. 

Jodo Shinshu provides a similar solution in terms of relying on Amida Buddha’s power. The Buddha’s power doesn’t require us to change. We turn this orientation into reliance by handing off our stubborn desire to take control. The state of being settled in that reliance is as it ought to be is what we call “Shinjin.”

One hundred years ago, there was a Jodo Shinshu priest named Gojun Shichiri in Hakata City, Fukuoka. He was a minister of the Manpuku-ji temple. 

"In our belief, there is no evidence, even a single sentence, endorsing attaining the Pure Land as the goal,” Rev. Shichiri said. “There are sayings such as ‘Relying on Amida' and 'Having been cleared of doubts by the mysterious working of the Vow.' Above all, the core guidance in Jodo Shinshu directs solely relying on the Buddha’s Great Compassion." 

Rev. Shichiri shared a parable about the vessel of Hongan. The vessel, Hongwan, shuttled between this shore and the other, carrying passengers. Amida Buddha, two bodhisattvas, Avalokiteshvara and Mahasthamaprapta, are the captains of the cruise. 

For the passengers, three tiers of tickets are available to this sturdy ship, which are first class, middle class, and lower class. The first-class ticket is decorated with a pine, bamboo, and plum pattern. (In Japan, this pattern is used as a symbol of good fortune.) 

The lucky winners of the first-class tickets are the ordinary beings who are tired of the world. They show the tickets and board the boat. They will enjoy their journey to the other shore, listening to the sound of the Nembutsu being delivered in a breeze. Moreover, this boat has been insured with the promises of various Buddhas that no matter what happens, it will be safe. 

When the passengers looked at the beach from where the vessel set off, they saw the people there waving their tickets in their hands. 

Wrongly, they had gone to the beach and were about to swim to catch up. Don’t make yourself to be a fool like that. You should go to the port with your ticket in your hand, get aboard the ship, and when you feel at ease, that is the moment to get settled. This vessel surely takes you to the shore of Nirvana.

The vessel of Hongan is anchored in the human harbor for the sake of ordinary beings who

have tickets marked with “greed,” “anger,” and “stupidity” in their hands. 

Rev. Shichiri referred to those who are wise and yet wicked as having "wisdom in death” because no matter how smart they are, if they do not understand the reason for things, they will not gain merit. 

For example, they may be good at swimming and may be able to swim from the beach across the ocean to the other shore. But if the rest of their family can’t make it across, it is meaningless.

When we regard the Pure Land as our goal, we might think that we are simply moving to another place, but the true meaning of "passing" is something else. 

If the Pure Land was all around us, then it would not matter whether we went west or east, as long as we could "only" reach the Pure Land in the end. It is not, however. The reason the Pure Land is designated as being in the west is so that we do not get lost. If we say, "I like this way," or "This way is more interesting," we will be in trouble later on. It is best to go as you are instructed from the beginning.


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page