Alone I Go

People are born alone and die alone, come alone and go alone. (The Sutra on the Buddha of Immeasurable Life)

Therefore, in this world you should be islands unto yourselves, your own refuge, depending on no one else, with the Dharma as an island and the Dharma as a refuge, depending on nothing else. (Mahaparinibbana Suttanta)

In late December the Red Flowering gum trees begin to bloom

I love the way there is a firm principle in the Buddha Dharma of courage and self-responsibility. These two quotes testify to that. And the pictures of the Allegory of the Two Rivers and the White Path, which was promulgated by the Chinese Dharma Master Shan-tao (613-681), also have the image of a single individual nembutsu person, his or her face steadfastly fixed upon the goal – Amida Buddha and the Pure Land – traversing the perilous journey that is human life.

That is how we live, with no feeling that we need to explain ourselves to other people, or to apologise for who we are or the path that we follow. It is a life of peace, and dedication to the Dharma of Amida Buddha.

Some of us are fortunate to live in a household where everyone is a nembutsu follower, and that is a wonderful privilege. But, even so, in our personal journey no one can take our place.

I have often written about my great admiration for Professor Kosho Yamamoto, the twentieth-century teacher who dedicated his life single-mindedly to the Dharma. I am fortunate to have most of his works in English. In theĀ  main they are translations of Jodo Shinshu texts. But there are some where his own voice can be heard.

In one of these he tells a story titled Alone I Go. It begins:

The day was extremely cold. It is almost always cold in the days of Ho-on-ko. It was even drizzling.

A distant temple bell is sounding. A seventy-nine year old lady is preparing to take a long walk to the temple. As she is looking for her bamboo walking-stick, her middle-aged son offers to carry her on his back to the temple.

I can’t let you go in the awful weather.’

But this old lady had gone to the temple to celebrate the life of Shinran Shonin and hear the Dharma talks every year since–as Yamamoto Sensei says–‘she was first conscious of herself.’ Nothing would stop her now.

Her son insisted on helping her. The fact that he did not intend to go to the temple was of no concern to the old lady, and despite his pleas, she was determined to go, no matter what.

“No no mother! At your age, I cannot let you go alone.”

Her face melted softly into a smile, into a loving smile.

“But my boy! One must go alone when one leaves this world!”

Her son stood at the porch and saw her totter off, supporting her body on her bamboo stick. It was drizzling: already it had begun to turn to snow.