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Sleepwalking Through Life

“The reason for the Tathagata’s appearance in the world is solely to preach the ocean-like Original Vow of Amida. The ocean of multitudinous beings in the evil age with the five defilements should believe in the Tathagata’s true words.”

— Shinran Shonin’s “Shoshinge” sutra


I am in my 72nd year of life and a good part of that life has been spent stumbling through life and attempting to find myself in the world.  


Since 1981, I have been a Jodo Shinshu minister. As I move closer to the end of my career as a minister, I have been contemplating the role of a Jodo Shinshu priest. More often than not, I have found myself falling into the role expected of me and the perception of what a minister should be.


It is a truth of life that no one is exempt from the perceived problems that unfold before us. We are so full of ourselves that we cannot see that we are the source of our own problems. All the anxiety, worries, and anger are internal. The source is within ourselves. In this way, we who are ministers are no different than anyone else. 

On the outside, I appear calm and in control, confident, and secure in my position as a minister. The truth is — like anyone else — there is insecurity, anxiety, sadness, and doubt in my life. More often than I care to admit, I have had sleepless nights as I wrestle with my own mind. I worry about our children, I worry about my health, I worry about many different things. All of this worry causes anxiety, sometimes sadness, and at times, frustration.


It is a truth of life that no one is exempt from the perceived problems that unfold before us. We are so full of ourselves that we cannot see that we are the source of our own problems. All the anxiety, worries, and anger are internal. The source is within ourselves. In this way, we who are ministers are no different than anyone else.  


Shinran Shonin was stripped of his status as a monk and took the name Gutoku, the stubble-haired one, and declared himself neither monk nor lay person. At that moment, Shinran was telling the world that he was just like everyone else and that we are all embraced in the Amida’s great compassion. Shinran goes on to say that the Name, Namoamidabutsu, is the essence of the sutra and the very reason that Shakyamuni appeared in this world. 


The Primal Vow is Namoamidabutsu, Amida Buddha is Infinite, Boundless Life, and when Infinite Boundless Life embraces me, just as I am, or takes effect upon my life, it is Namoamidabutsu. It is important for us to understand that Namoamidabutsu is not a prayer nor does it ease anxiety or pain, but Namoamidabutsu is in response to what has already occurred.  


The Buddha sought to save all human beings by blessing us with the benefit of the vow that is true and real. We are already the benefactors of his vow, it has already occurred, so there is nothing more for us to do but say the Name.


In our moments of sleepless nights, we come to the realization that we have limitations, that we cannot solve all our problems and anxieties. How can we awaken and become true and real? Shinran says it is Namoamidabutsu. When we come to realize all that is done for us, that our parents’ lives continue to take effect on our lives, we awaken to infinite and boundless life.  


Namoamidabutsu,


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