Enlightenment is not the goal of Buddhism. To become Buddha is not the goal of Buddhism. Enlightenment and being Buddha are the characteristics of things as they are. To think of enlightenment as the goal would be like taking a prescription without knowing what its for. Shakyamuni was not trying to make things more difficult, Shakyamuni shared how to resolve the difficulties we cause and experience. Those difficulties result from my inability to see things just as they are, without prejudice, without preference.
At the core of the Buddhadharma is an approach to address and resolve the difficulties we cause and experience. We do not have to continue to experience difficulties. Difficulties that result from the value I place on my preferences and prejudices. I value how I see the world often to the exclusion of other views and practices. To begin to acknowledge this behavior and to cultivate the mind that engages the world free of prejudice is the purpose of the Buddhadharma.
When we think about the future of our temple, I think most of us would hope for a vibrant, active and growing sangha. We might imagine a hondo filled with our family, friends and newcomers. Everyone gathered to be a part of something that is interesting, fun and meaningful. We might think of activities that provide services and benefit to our community. Helping our community to become a more fair and compassionate place where everyone can feel they belong.
If we can imagine such a sangha we need to ask ourselves how we might get there.
As we consider the attributes of that future sangha we can characterize these attributes as positive. These attributes are characteristics that we value; friendship, kindness, community. These characteristics, however, can be found in other places as well. The Bird Nest Monk said, “Do no evil deed and engage in deeds of kindness.” Even Rodney King said. “People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along? Can we stop making it, making it horrible for the older people and the kids?” While we think about the attributes of our sangha we should think about what makes us a Jodo Shinshu community. It seems obvious but without Jodo Shinshu there is no Jodo Shinshu sangha.
Jodo Shinshu like enlightenment or Buddha, can be just words that describe attributes that we value. These descriptions are not the source of what we value. Rather what we value is the source of the description. When you look at a picture of a banana, the picture will not make you full. Eating a banana will fill your stomach. If we want a flourishing Jodo Shinshu sangha we need to begin with where the buddhadharma begins.
Jodo Shinshu is Buddhism. It too is concerned with the resolution of difficulties. However, where other forms of Buddhism prescribe practices that cultivate the mind that sees things as they are, Jodo Shinshu does not. Regardless of which Buddhism we prescribe to, we begin at the same point as a being experiencing difficulties. No difficulties, no need for the buddhadharma.
Shakyamuni Buddha taught the way out of difficulties to many people in many different ways. We’re familiar with the stories of Mokuren, Queen Vaidehi, Mahakasyapa, Kisagotami, Malunkyaputta (Had to google this. He is the main character in the Parable of the Poisoned Arrow). There have been many teachers who have elaborated and worked to clarify for others what Shakyamuni taught. Shinran identified seven teachers who were of special importance in his appreciation of the buddhadharma.
Shinran realized, and this is what defines Jodo Shinshu, his inability to cultivate the mind that sees things as they are. He left Mt.Hiei, a center of Buddhist studies and practice, after twenty years of diligent practice. Some cast this decision in a positive light saying it was not failure and characterize this as a positive step in a new direction. I think Shinran’s realization that he lacked, absolutely, any ability to cultivate the mind that sees things as they are, was essential to his appreciation of the Vow of Amida. His lack of ability to do what was necessary to cultivate this mind led him away from traditional practices. Acknowledging his lack of ability did not deny that others may have the skills it was simply clear to him that he lacked what was necessary resolve the difficulties of his experience.
In the Second Chapter of the Tannisho, Yuien recalls the words of Shinran, “..But If you imagine in me some special knowledge of a path to birth other that the nembutsu or of scriptural writings that teach it, you are greatly mistaken. If that is the case, since there are may eminent scholars in the southern capital of Nara or on Mount Hiei to the north, you would do better to meet with them and inquire fully about the essentials for birth.” CWS p 662 This conversation took place late in Shinran’s life. After exile in Echigo, after decades in the Kanto region, after his return to Kyoto in 1234 when he was 61 years old.
At the core of Jodo Shinshu is the acknowledgement of my absolute inability to resolve the difficulties I cause and experience and the absolute assurance of Amida to resolve those difficulties. That assurance allows me to look more openly at myself. This is the beginning of seeing things as they are. This relationship of acknowledging my inabilities and Amida’s assurance is the heart of Shinshu’s life of gratitude. This is the beginning and life of a Shinshu Sangha.
As we live our life in gratitude, sometimes as we look more openly, we catch glimpses of kindness, hope, compassion. In Shoshinge, Shinran writes, “When foolish beings of delusion and defilement awaken shinjin, They realize that birth-and-death is itself nirvana.” CWS p. 72