Whether one lives a life of pain or a life of ease, one must experience it by oneself, and nobody else can take one’s place. (Larger Sutra on Infinite Life, Buddha Dharma p. 462)
O Ananda, let yourself be your light and your refuge; seek no other refuge. Let the Dharma be your light and your refuge; seek no other refuge. (Shakyamuni Buddha, Buddha Dharma p. 634)
When I consider deeply the Vow of Amida, which arose from five kalpas of profound thought, I realise that it was entirely for the sake of myself alone! Then how I am filled with gratitude for the Primal Vow, in which Amida resolved to save me, though I am burdened with such heavy karma. (Shinran, Tannisho, CWS p, 679)
Why do you obstruct and confuse me with what is not the essential practice corresponding to my conditions? What I desire is the practice corresponding to my conditions; that is not what you seek. What you desire is the practice corresponding to your conditions; that is not what I seek. Each person’s performance of practices in accord with his aspirations unfailingly leads to rapid emancipation. (Shan-tao, CWS p. 89)
There are countless Dharma gates; and the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha is one of them. The Name, Namo Amida Butsu is one of them.
There are countless billions of human beings living in the world now; and countless billions have lived before us. Every single one of these people is entirely unique, with a particular path in life, particular joys and particular sorrows.
It is incumbent upon us to find the true way for each of us by ourselves. There are many guideposts; and many teachers along the way. Of especial importance are those teachers who have left us guide-posts and a living tradition, which we are at liberty to explore for ourselves, so that we can find ‘the practice corresponding to our conditions’.
There were several fine books that I encountered in my time of seeking some forty years ago. One of them was Shinran in the Contemporary World published by the Hongwanji in 1973. This marvellous book explores the history of religion and thought in western culture, and then it begins to unfold the teaching of Shinran Shonin, who soon became my true Dharma Friend.
The striking thing about Shinran in the Contemporary World is its persistent reminder of those moments of apparent isolation that we encounter in our busy, preoccupied, daily lives.
Of course, we spend all of our time trying to avoid seeing things as they are. We constantly run away from the true face that lurks beneath – in the depths of our very being: the face of greed, anger, fear, delusion, bitterness, selfishness, resentment, disappointment, hypocrisy, lying, deception duplicity, self-righteousness.
Until, of course, we find ourselves alone; a lonesomeness we can no longer avoid. Maybe it is a time of loss; or a time of stark choices that we must make; or a time of grief; or a time of disappointment following exultation. Or, it could be the dark chill of a sleepless winter’s night.
We can run away from such moments, but do they not present us with a chance to review our lives and think again? Could they not be the call of the Primal Vow beckoning to us? Calling to us in the silence: Namo Amida Butsu – ‘entrust yourself; deliverance is assured’?