The prosperity of this school does not lie in showing off with large gatherings. If even a single person gains shinjin, this is a true sign of prosperity. For this reason, it is said, ‘The teaching of exclusive performance of the right practice thrives owing to the power of the devotion of Shinran’s followers. ‘ (Rennyo Shonin, from Thus I Have Heard from Rennyo Shonin, tr. Hisao Inagaki, Dharma Lion Publications, 2008)
In a country like Australia, where Jodo Shinshu is almost completely unknown, and religion broadly despised, those words form the basis and inspiration for us to tell others about the wonderful nembutsu teaching of Shinran Shonin.
In about 1974, I myself was introduced to the nembutsu way by a courageous and honest dinner guest. It was an introduction that completely changed my life.
Once, a friend of mine was planning a visit to Japan. Her trip included Kyoto, so I asked her to call in and ‘say hello’ to the Hongwanji for me. While she was there a lady came up to her and holding my friend’s hands together with hers, said Namo Amida Butsu a few times.
My friend never forgot the kind and gentle gesture of the unknown lady at the Hongwanji. And who knows what kind of karmic legacy such an encounter might leave?
After a time, when people eventually accept the call of the Vow (Namo Amida Butsu) life is indeed very different:
Thus, when one has boarded the ship of the Vow of great compassion and sailed out on the vast ocean of light, the winds of perfect virtue blow softly and the waves of evil are transformed. The darkness of ignorance is immediately broken though, and quickly reaching the land of immeasurable light, one realises great nirvana and acts in accord with the virtue of Samantabhadra. (CWS, p. 56)
To board the ship of the Vow is to abandon self practice and to settle for Namo Amida Butsu. Samatabhadra is the model bodhisattva. It is to be firmly settled on the way to becoming a Buddha. The ‘winds of perfect virtue’ is the heart – the compassionate light – the Primal Vow – of Amida Buddha. The ‘darkness of ignorance’ is you and me.
The Dharma of Amida Buddha is unique and unsurpassed. But most of us whose native language is English live in places where very few people have even heard about it. We should not be dismayed about this. Hearing and accepting the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha is rare. Shakyamuni Buddha told us that many times. For example,
The most difficult of all difficulties is to hear this sutra and accept it with the entrusting heart: nothing surpasses this difficulty. (Larger Sutra, Hongwanji, p. 102)
It is such a perfect and liberating Dharma that it is difficult to keep it to ourselves. In fact, I do not think we should. We can always write about it. We can always share it with the people we love and trust, those who are close and dear to us.
The nembutsu way is not a mass movement. It is a person-to-person way. Its success is never in adulating crowds but in just one accepting, open heart. The heart that hears the call of the Vow and answers it in pure trust:
Namo Amida Butsu