I recently heard the news of the vandalization of the Higashi Honganji Betsuin in Downtown Los Angeles. As I heard this news, I became very sad, and was instantly reminded of the story that I have heard of Master Hōnen’s father.
Many of you may know that Master Hōnen was our founder Venerable Master Shinran’s teacher. When Master Hōnen was young, he was known by the name Seishimaru.
Seishimaru was born into a samurai family, and he was considered a skilled archer for his age. It is said that when Seishimaru was 9 years old, Seishimaru’s family’s home was attacked by a group of rival samurai warriors. Using his archery skills, Seishimaru helped to fight off the warriors until they retreated.
After the attack, Seishmaru found that his father had been fatally wounded. As his father lay dying, resigned to his own death, Seishimaru told his father that he would find out who was behind the attack and get revenge on his father’s enemies. His father instructed him not to do so.
“Why?” Seishimaru pleaded.
His father responded, “If you hold a grudge and take revenge, the children of your enemies will also hold a grudge and take revenge on you. The violence and fighting will never stop. Please find a way to save yourself from the travails of life and rid yourself of your own suffering and delusions. Find a way to stop the violence and bring peace to this world. Please become a monk, instead of following in my footsteps in being a samurai.”
It is because of his father’s dying wish that Seishimaru left home to become a monk, and was able to become the Buddhist master we now know as Master Hōnen.
Many of us might feel saddened and upset that a sibling Jōdo Shinshū temple was vandalized, and we might be inclined to think something like, “What is wrong with people? How could someone do something like that! I hope they catch that person so they can be punished!” However, I hope that we can all be inspired by this story and turn toward the Buddha-Dharma in a time such as this, instead of wishing punishment on the perpetrator.
The Buddha-Dharma that Master Hōnen took refuge in was Amida Buddha. Amida Buddha is both the Buddha and the Dharma. Master Hōnen shared Master Shan-tao’s understanding that “Namo” means to take refuge in, or entrust in, and “Amidabutsu” is the dynamic activity of Dharma Reality itself.
By hearing the calling voice directing and urging us to entrust in the Great Dharma-Reality itself (Amida Buddha), we turn our hearts and minds towards the Infinite Wisdom and Immeasurable Compassion of Dharma-Reality itself. The Light of Infinite Wisdom and Immeasurable Compassion can help each of us to understand who I am in this world of delusion, as well as who I am in the eyes of Dharma-Reality.
By understanding our self, we can understand others. By understanding others, we can begin to empathize with others. By beginning to empathize with others, we can slowly realize that they are not “others” at all. But, in order to empathize deeply with others, we must first deeply understand others, and to deeply understand others, we must first deeply understand our self. We can practice understanding our self by dedicating ourselves to listening to the Calling Voice of Namo Amidabutsu.
We are able to know about the Calling Voice of Dharma-Reality that is directing and urging us to entrust in it through Namo Amidabutsu because of the establishment and fulfillment of the Fundamental Vow of the Larger Sutra expounded by Shakyamuni Buddha.
The passage quoted above is poem No. 46 of Venerable Master Shinran’s “Poems on the Three Dharma Eras.” Venerable Master Shinran is posing the question — If one does not encounter the working of Amida Tathāgatā, how can one ever escape the cycle of suffering, the cycle of birth-and-death?
Because Namo Amidabutsu is the dynamic activity of Dharma-Reality itself, this dynamic activity has all the pure, good virtues within it, fulfilled for the sake of all beings. The virtues are being directed and transferred towards those who entrust in it's activity. This is what Venerable Shinran means by encountering the virtue for going and returning. It is through this virtue that we are allowed to be born into the Pure Realm and become part of the dynamic activity ourselves. Once we become part of the dynamic activity in our formless form, we continue the flow of virtuous activity as Tathāgata, returning to this world as part of Namo Amidabutsu, guiding others that come after us. Only by becoming part of the formless dynamic activity, that is, being born in the Pure Land — can we stop cycling through birth-and-death and truly cease our suffering.
In conclusion, I hope that all of us who exist in this human form in this world of delusion, can keep our hearts and minds open to hearing the beckoning of Namo Amidabutsu urging us entrust in the Great Dharma-Reality so that we can each deeply understand our self, and in turn, understand others, and eventually be liberated from our suffering in the Pure Realm of Dharma Reality.
Please stay safe!