Ho-on nembutsu

In order to return in gratitude the Buddha’s benevolence, we desire to serve him always.  We are like great vassals who, receiving the king’s kindness, are always mindful of him. (CWS, p. 119)

Plum blossom appears in Adelaide in late August, as the days lenthen and winter begins to wane.
Plum blossom appears in Adelaide in late August, as the days lengthen and winter begins to wane.

Filled with joyful trust, secure in the Amida Buddha’s embrace and at the stage of the truly settled, our destiny assured, how does one live? We live the life of the nembutsu of thanksgiving (ho-on nembutsu), the work of great compassion.

Is there any more to it than  this? I do not think so.

We can expand the nembutsu of thanksgiving into ‘having gained faith ourselves, we teach faith to others’ (jishin kyo ninshin), but only if we feel inclined to do so. Proselytizing is not called for. Indeed, I would say that it is not really the way of the Buddha Dharma.

Don’t we just want to read about, and hear about, and listen to the teachings of Amida Buddha? And not just Amida Buddha, but Shakyamuni Buddha, too. And not just Shakyamuni Buddha but all the Buddhas.  Because, of course, all share the same bodhi; the same enlightenment.

I think the life of the nembutsu of thanksgiving is something like  Kyoshin’s description in a letter to Shinran Shonin. It was a letter that Shinran said was ‘altogether free from error.’

Now, however, guided by the compassionate means of the two honoured ones, we have no intention of performing sundry practices and disciplines or any thought of self-power and doubt. All due to the compassion of the Tathagata of unhindered light, grasping, never to abandon us, we rejoice completely free of doubt and our attainment of birth is settled.

Now that I have realised this to be the inconceivable working of the Vow, I see that everything is for myself alone – the sacred Pure Land scriptures, which I never tire of reading and listening to, the constant desire to meet true teachers, grasping never to abandon, shinjin, nembutsu. (CWS, p. 542)

I love Kyoshin’s statement, ‘the sacred Pure Land scriptures, which I never tire of reading and listening to.’ That seems to me to be the essence of how it is to feel the joy and appreciation of the Buddha’s Primal Vow.  It is to live with Amida Buddha and to constantly wish to think of him.

We can, of course, be negligent at times. Perhaps, often – busy with the everyday demands and worries of life.

I know truly how grievous it is that I, Gotoku Shinran, am sinking in an immense ocean of desires and attachments and am lost in vast mountains of fame and advantage, so that I rejoice not at all at entering the stage of the truly settled, and feel no happiness at coming nearer the realization of true enlightenment.  How ugly it is! How wretched! (CWS, p. 125)

But in quiet moments our thoughts turn to Amida Buddha and the nembutsu becomes a spontaneous and pure liturgy of great gratitude.

Namo Amida Butsu.

Author: George Gatenby

George Gatenby, a retired Australian businessman, has been a follower of the nembutsu teaching of Shinran Shonin (1173-1263) since 1977. He became a member of the Hongwanji Buddhist Mission of Australia when it was founded in 1993 and was ordained as a Shin Buddhist priest at the Nishi Hongwanji, Kyoto, the following year. He is the author of the blog sites, Notes on the Nembutsu and The Udumbara Flower, and convenes a Shin Buddhist sangha in Adelaide.