His Amida mind

Photo: Mark Healsmith

When he hears about or sees one suffering, his Amida mind burns.’ (from I Hide Away Awhile by Kosho Yamamoto, 1959)

I have already written in this blog about the teaching of the late Kosho Yamamoto. He was a professor at Hawaii University for a time and translated many Shin Buddhist scriptures into English. He was among the pioneering Shin Buddhists who travelled east across the Pacific to the Americas to teach Jodo Shinshu. While his English is idiosyncratic, it is also very beautiful and somehow manages to impart to readers the burning compassion that is alive in the entrusting heart of Amida Buddha, which he has accepted. This makes his writing very attractive, intriguing – and, not least, truly inspiring.

In an earlier post, I have already related the story that Kosho Yamamoto Sensei tells about a Shin Buddhist priest, whom he calls ‘Rev S.’ This man lived in distant Kyushu but travelled to the city occasionally to visit the lonely and dispossessed – criminals, the sick in hospital and delinquent young people. Very often Rev S. could be found at Yurakucho Station in Tokyo, where many people would come to share their fears and concerns with him.

One striking feature of Rev S. was that he was regarded with contempt by many people. In a discussion with him, Yamamoto Sensei asked if the world approved of what he did. ‘Sometimes,’ Rev. S. responded, ‘but generally all jeer at me, become jealous of me, talk ill of me.’ People even physically attacked him.

Yet Rev S. was imbued with Amida Buddha’s heart of true, unstinting compassion. This is compassion beyond comprehension to many people because it is completely unconditional. Such undiscriminating compassion may even be seen as a threat in ordinary human society. It is disconcerting to realise that, while we willingly accept Amida Buddha’s embrace for ourselves, we are not so ready to manifest it in our dealings with others.

The same compassion can be found in the haiku of Issa Kobayashi, who died in 1828 at the age of sixty-five. As we become more familiar with Issa’s writings, we gradually become aware that he, too, was a person who had somehow come to see other beings – human, animals and gods – with Amida Buddha’s eyes. Through Issa’s verses we come to the realisation that all beings are warmly embraced in the perfect and universal compassion of Amida Buddha.

Yet, in commentaries by some smart folk, many of whom are very learned, there is a marked distaste for Issa’s simple and yet profound works, which nevertheless remain popular and enduring even now, in our own time.

To spread the teaching of Amida Buddha’s uncompromising compassion is not necessarily going to make one popular. But if beings see themselves as they truly are – as ‘foolish beings full of blind passions, with scant roots of good’ – and know that even they themselves are embraced in the Buddha’s light, how can they not live the life of the nembutsu of thanksgiving, and warmly accept others just as they are?