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The Path to Enlightenment Is a Personal Experience

The idea of becoming a Buddha is a personal experience. The historical Shakamuni Buddha showed us that Enlightenment is possible, but it is an experience. No one can do it for you, no one can give it to you … and you cannot buy it on Amazon.

The idea of Enlightenment is a way of looking at the world in a simple and grounded way. It is actually very simple. We are born and we will die. And it is that time in between that we call life that is important.

The simple understanding is that because I was born, I will die. This is the cycle of life and death; this is just an example of change. The acceptance of death is what makes living and this life meaningful.

Shakamuni taught in the Four Noble Truths that life is Dukha. In our usual state of living, we are filled with Dukha, or suffering. We suffer because of selfish desires. The basic human instincts of food, water, shelter, clothing are simple. The Dukha in human life is caused by our ego or our selfish image of ourselves. Dukha is wanting more of something, or wanting what someone else has and I don’t. Dukha causes suffering because of desires, whether it be riches or fame, or a bigger house, or a newer car, or whatever. Our selfishness causes our Dukha, our suffering.

Shakamuni Buddha saw things as they really are. And he was able to experience the end of Dukha and discovered Enlightenment. Again, it is important to remember that Enlightenment is a discovery, that is to find something that was always there. The Buddha did not create Enlightenment. It was always already there just waiting to be discovered.

In the historical development of Buddhism, one of the unique things of the Dharma, the teachings, is that it predicted its own downfall. There are four stages of Buddhism. The first stage is when there is the both the teacher and the teaching; the second stage is when the teacher is gone, but remembered, and the teaching remains; the third stage is called Mappo, when the teacher is gone and not remembered, and the teachings become confused and misunderstood. The fourth stage is when the next Buddha, called Maiteya, will appear after 10,000 years.

We are in the third stage, the age of Mappo, often called the age of decadent Dharma. In this age of decadent Dharma, we need help … all through Mahayana Buddhism, we see that we need Other Power or external help.

Fortunately, Shakamuni shared the Dharma of Amida. The Larger Sukhāvatīvyūha Sutra tells us of Dharmakaya Bodhisattva making the 48 Vows to become Amida Buddha. We call this Vow Power or Other Power.

Fortunately, for Shin Buddhists, the path is open to us because of the gift of Wisdom and Compassion given to us by Amida Buddha. In particular, as Shin Buddhists, we focus on the Primal Vow or the Original Vow, which is the 18th Vow, which assures all sentient beings and all living things will awaken to Shinjin. All sentient beings, not just good people or bad people, but all people and all living things, without exception, will become a Buddha.

Amida assures all sentient beings will be born in the Pure Land of Amida, thus assuring our Enlightenment. I guess we can say Amida is the agent or vehicle that causes our awakening and we respond by saying the name of Amida Buddha. We say Namu Amida Butsu as our expression of thankfulness and gratitude.

Shinran saw that humans are bonbu or limited and selfish beings who are incapable of attaining Enlightenment. This is our Dukha, or as Shinran called it — Bonno.

Bonno is all of our selfish passions that limit our ability to discover Enlightenment.

Shinran went a step further and realized that limited selfish beings are incapable unless they — we — get help. The external help is the Other Power and Shinran had the insight for the true intent of the Vow. It is a gift to us because we are so incapable and so limited. Our efforts are useless and totally futile.

This is why we call ourselves the true Pure Land path of Buddhism, or the sect that approaches life with a sense of gratitude. When we say the name of Amida Buddha, we are expressing our spiritual gratitude.

Shin Buddhism is unique because it is a religion of “Thank You.” Most other religions are religions of “Please” in that we are asking or praying for something.

Fortunately, as Shin Buddhists, we just have to live our lives, just as we are and accept both the hardships and the joys of living. We can focus on our community, like our temple. We come, “Just as we are” with no requirements and no limitations.

Because we are assured of being born in Amida’s Pure Land to become a Bodhisattva and then a Buddha, we express our gratitude each time we say the name, and we say, Namu Amida Butsu. Amida Buddha exists because I am imperfect. I am a bombu and need Amida. We are codependent and interconnected and need each other.


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