The course of the boat is left to the sail

The course of the boat is left to the sail,
        the movement of the sail is left to the wind;
As for me, I leave everything to Amida.

The direct path to the Land of Bliss
        is Namo Amida Butsu

– Zuiken’s Shinshu Dharma-pada

Autumn is nearing its end this year. The leaves have mostly fallen from the deciduous trees and the rain has begun.

I love these two contiguous verses by Zuiken Sensei. They say everything. They are included in a small booklet of two-hundred short verses. It’s title is Zuiken’s Shinshu Dharma-pada (1) published by Nagata Bunshodo, Kyoto in 2006. The verses are printed in kana, followed by an English translation by Zuiken’s son Zuio Hisao Inagaki Sensei.

It’s a pocket-book that you can keep in your back-pack, computer bag or hand-bag, without even noticing that it is there. You can take it out to read and think about while you wait for the bus, tram or train. Where I live there are many such opportunities because the time-tables bear little relation to the actual arrival time of the transport. You can download a transport-department app, of course, and keep consulting that. But I am quite happy to read a book.

Why do I love these verses and the way that they have merged? One reason is because the first verse speaks of entrusting and the second the resulting act of saying the Name, which is the ‘work of right assurance’. We can be anxious, in a hurry, worried about something, feeling hurt angry or disappointed. But–whatever our mood–, Amida Buddha is taking care of our ultimate destiny. Don’t worry about that!  We can get on with the business of the world.

We can do the secular worrying, Amida will do the spiritual work – Namo Amida Butsu.

The other reason that I like these verses is that they remind me of Kobayashi Issa. They do not remind me of Issa’s poetry, his haiku. They are not discursive like Zuiken’s poems. They remind me of what I sense to be Issa’s personality. His attitude.

You sense from Issa’s verses that he has a strong feel for living, which just leaves the work of the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha to do its job while he gets on with the little things of life; the chores of life; the joy and deep disappointments of life. We all know that Issa’s life was harsh and stricken by sad losses. But he kept right on making sublime verses about his animal friends–frog, cats, birds, spiders–and the small ironies of day-to-day living.

His friends–the natural world–and he just kept on with their lives, while Amida Buddha was busily engaged in the task of saving them.

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.