Recite or Listen?

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K. Ken Fujimoto

By the power of the former vows of this Buddha, they hear his name(emphasis, mine) and desire to go to be reborn in his land. They will reach his land and themselves reach that state from where there is no falling back. (The Land of Bliss – The Paradise of the Buddha of Measureless Light, Luis O. Gomez, University of Hawaii Press, p.191)

I have come to the realization that in communicating our teachings, I, personally, and most ministers, collectively, have been short sighted in what we have been saying in regard to the Nembutsu. The recitation of the Nembutsu is a simple act that has a number of complex facets to it. It is something we do, but is actually being done for us. It is a call to awaken and it is our expression of our gratitude once we have realized that awakening.

We have been stressing the recitation of the Nembutsu, which is important, but neglecting the aspect of listening and hearing the Nembutsu, which is just as, if not more important. The two aspects go pretty much hand in hand, but we have been talking about the recitation so much that we have not been giving the listening/hearing aspect the attention that it warrants.

When we explain the phrase, tada nembutsu, simply Nembutsu, we generally explain it as being simply to recite the Nembutsu. In actuality, it is probably closer to, “…only the Nembutsu is true and real.” This implies that we only need to hear the call of Amida that is constantly being directed to us and receive the guarantee of ultimate life in the Pure Land.

When we recite the Nembutsu during services and at other times, it can be seen as the infinite wisdom and compassion borrowing our voices to get us and others to hear the call of Amida to realize the oneness that exists. We are not saying the Nembutsu in order to get anything. Reciting the Nembutsu will not help us make free throws or get hits. The Namoamidabutsu will not let us hit the jackpot or roll a string of sevens. It is a constant reminder to listen for and to hear the call of the Nembutsu.

The goal of the recitation is to hear that call to take refuge in Amida. Shinran Shonin often referred to this as the “Imperial decree.” It is a command that is so strong that it must be followed. Therefore, when we hear that call, it is something that should move us in a manner that doing so is imperative and urgent. It is not something that we are to do if and when we feel like it. It is the call to awaken to the interdependent nature of all life and to all the causes and conditions that enable us to be and have the lives that we do have. It does not matter if we are happy or discontent at any given point in time. The very fact that we can be happy or disgruntled is only possible because we have our lives and can experience the ups and downs in the course of it.

To recite the Nembutsu is to try to hear the call. It is not a petitionary act of our calculated efforts for benefit. Once the call is heard, the recitation then becomes an expression of our appreciation and gratitude for being embraced in the great compassion that enables us to be.

Have you heard that call? Are you listening for it?

© March 22, 2014