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Sitting with Amida

In my previous two articles, I discussed the concept of Amida Buddha, and how difficult it was for me to internalize the meaning as a newcomer to Buddhism.

Once I was confident that Amida Buddha wasn’t a god, but rather a symbol of our human aspirations, I thought about the role of feelings in our spiritual pursuits.

In the EVERYDAY BUDDHIST 13-A course, Rev. Jon Turner used songs as an example to help us wrap our minds around Amida Buddha. He explained that in a song, it isn’t so much what the lyrics say, but the way the music makes us feel.

I immediately thought of “Silver Springs” by Fleetwood Mac. I listened to this song a zillion times after my husband unexpectedly passed away. The song is about a breakup, but I’ll never forget how the song made me feel during that time when I’d listen to it on repeat, running, driving, doing dishes. It gave me a reassurance that I could be strong enough to get through the pain, even if the lyrics didn’t say any of that.

When I think about how I decided to start practicing Buddhism, it was ultimately based on a feeling, not complete understanding.

After my husband died, I remember going to temple to make funeral arrangements. We were lucky enough to have Bishop Rev. Marvin Harada officiate the service. He is so incredibly kind, easy-going, and gentle. So is the Sangha from my personal observations. I remember thinking in the depth of my despair — as a young widow and a new single mother to three small children — that I wanted to learn how to be calm and kind and peaceful like the Sangha. I needed inner peace in the worst way.

Whatever was in the Dharma, I wanted to pay closer attention and learn. Just like the song "Silver Springs," it gave me a feeling of strength and hope.

Some things I am still learning and reconciling with my Western worldview — concepts like Amida Buddha — but I don’t need to explain the way it makes me feel. That I know with certainty.

As I gained knowledge from various Buddhist teachers through books, courses, lectures, and even generous email exchanges, I felt impressed with the idea of modern teachers making Buddhism relevant for the here and now.

A great book I recently read is “Shin Buddhism: Bits of Rubble Turn into Gold” by Rev. Taitetsu Unno. He echoed the idea that Amida is not to be taken literally, but rather figuratively. He explained that Shin Buddhism is not prescriptive. It is descriptive, and it requires creativity in constantly evolving as a person. Rev. Unno wrote, “Absorbing as much as possible the instructions received from various teachers, I have to develop my own style — forged by my temperament, physical capabilities, and limited athleticism. I must not be a second-hand copy of any of my teachers. Only in this way can I respond creatively to any situation.” While he was referencing his experience learning aikido, he said “a similar kind of creativity is found in the path of Nembutsu.”

And so, I continue to forge my own path. Learning. Re-learning. Trying and experiencing and reflecting. How lucky we are to have so many resources at our fingertips to navigate this journey. What a gift that we get to create our own masterpiece, and that there are so many teachers to learn from, including Amida Buddha.



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