Seiya and the Sands Along the River Ganges

Posted by:

K. Ken Fujimoto

 

How beautiful the starry sky!

Who could know the mystery of the heavens?

When these countless eyes shine brilliantly,

my heart is filled with joy!

More numerous than the sands of the Ganges are the Buddhas.

When I hear that they watch over us night and day,

my heart is filled with peace.

 

The above is a translation of the poem Seiya (Peaceful, holy or sacred night) by Lady Takeko Kujo, considered to be the co-founder of the Hongwanji Buddhist Women’s Association. This poem was put to music and used to be sung frequently because of the beauty of the thought and melody. It expresses the view that the stars shining brightly are like the eyes of the countless Buddhas looking constantly and compassionately over us.

Though there is much that can be said about Lady Kujo and her life, poetry and humanitarian efforts, this article will be focusing on the passage regarding the “(Buddhas) more numerous than the sands of the Ganges.” This is a phrase that is often used and seems to be based in the Amida Sutra where it expounds the Buddhas of the six directions (east, south, west, north, down and up) praising the teaching of Amida. For each direction, the names of the major Buddhas in that sector are given as examples and it is stated that all of the Buddhas there, as “numerous as the sands of the Ganges,” all praise the teaching of Amida.

Furthermore, Shinran wrote a Wasan in reference to this:

The Buddhas of the ten quarters, countless as the sands of the Ganges,

Teach this dharma that is most difficult to accept;

For the sake of the evil world of the five defilements,

They bear witness to the teaching and protect beings who take refuge in it.

(CWS, p. 174)

It seems that this particular Wasan was the inspiration for Lady Kujo’s poem. Looking up at the starlit sky, there may be a feeling of loneliness, maybe even alienation, but when taken in this way; to see the stars as the eyes of all of the Buddhas looking protectively over us, a sense of calm and peace arises within us. It is this feeling that she seems to be conveying in her poem. It conveys to us her appreciation of the Nembutsu teaching and her sense of comfort in that life regardless of the problems and hardships that may arise in the course of it.

Hopefully, we too can come to realize the comfort of being protected and guided by the countless Buddhas as our appreciation of the Nembutsu teaching and the workings of the great compassion deepens.

As an aside, there is irony in this phrase, “as numerous as the sands of the Ganges.” Apparently, most of the shoreline of the Ganges River in India is comprised of rocks rather than sand. The imagery does not seem to actually match the reality. However, the point is to see the truth of what is being expressed and not to lose sight of that truth and not become sidetracked due to the details. The idea is to see the moon and not to fixate on the finger pointing to it.

© February 16, 2018