One of the great heroes in our Jodo Shinshu Buddhist tradition is a
humble farmer and handyman named Shoma who lived in Sanuki province
on the Japanese island of Shikoku from 1799 to 1871.
On one occasion, Shoma visited the head temple and received the Sarana
Affirmation Ceremony, a ritual in which the abbot of the temple places a
razor on the head of the Nembutsu follower three times, representing the
shaving of the head, which since the time of the Buddha, has expressed
the resolution to take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.
After administering the ceremony to Shoma, the abbot started to
move on to the next person when Shoma grabbed hold of the sleeve of his
robe and said, “Brother, are you prepared?”
When the ceremony was finished, the abbot told his assistant
“Summon the fellow who pulled on my robe.” The assistant went into the
crowd of fellow practicers and said, “Is the fellow who just pulled on the
Great Abbot’s robe here? You will go before him now.”
Hearing these words, Shoma sat there with a serene face, but the
fellow practicers who had accompanied him to the temple were shocked
and alarmed. They immediately began pleading with the abbot’s assistant
saying, “We are truly sorry for this grave disrespect! We can only humbly
beseech you to forgive him. He’s just a simple-minded fool. We implore
you to take compassion on him and forgive his rudeness.”
“I see.” said the assistant and returned to the abbot to recount what
they had said. However, the abbot replied, “No matter, bring him here.”
There was no choice but for Shoma to be brought before the abbot. Being
ignorant of formality and refined manners, Shoma just plopped himself
down and sat cross-legged right in front of the abbot.
At that time, the abbot asked him, “Was it you who pulled on my
robe?” Shoma replied, “Yeah, it was me.” “What were you thinking when you pulled on my robe?” the abbot asked. “You are wearing a fancy red robe, but that red robe won’t help you
escape rebirth in hell, so I was wondering if you are prepared for your next
rebirth,” Shoma said. “Yes, I summoned you here because I wanted to hear this
understanding of yours. Many people treat me with reverence and respect.
However, you are the only one who has shown concern for my rebirth. I’m
glad you asked, but have you received the heart of entrusting (shinjin)?” the
abbot inquired. “Yeah, I have,” Shoma answered. “In one sentence, tell me what you’ve received,” the abbot said. “It’s nothing at all,” Shoma replied. "With that, are you prepared for your next rebirth?” the abbot asked. “You’d better ask Amida about that,” Shoma replied. “It’s not my job, so why would I have the answer?” The abbot was most satisfied with Shoma’s reply and said, “As you say, there is nothing beyond entrusting in Amida. One must not rely on the working of one’s own mind. You are an honest man. Today, let us share a
drink as brothers!” After that initial encounter, Shoma would regularly visit the abbot.
Shoma was quick to forget matters of this world, so before he returned to
his village, the abbot tucked a letter in his waistband, indicating that Shoma
was to be given an audience whenever he visited the head temple. From
then on, every time Shoma arrived in Kyoto, he would call out, “Where am I
going? Where am I going?” As soon as someone noticed the letter, he
would be taken to visit the abbot immediately.
The end of the year is an ideal time for us to pause and reflect upon
the direction of our lives and ask ourselves whether we are living with the
teachings of the Buddha as our guide. If we are able to meet a Dharma
friend like Shoma who is able to look past the superficial concerns of this
world and remind us what is truly important, let us take this time to treasure
that relationship and show our appreciation for their companionship in the
Namo Amida Butsu