Dharma Glimpse by Philip
I was on a walk in the hills recently with Dayamay. It was good to spend some time with him. And with nature. All of us together. I particularly recall a moment being stopped in my tracks over half way through our walk went the sun appeared and shone brightly from behind one of the hills. I suddenly felt much more fully in touch with nature and dharma. The birds were singing. The trees towering. My heart warmed up. It was beautiful.
But for all that beauty and momentary serenity, it was something more challenging I’m going to try to write about in this dharma exploration. On our walk Dayamay told me how a recent passage he’d read in the book ‘River of Fire, River of Water’ by Taitetsu Unno had beautifully encapsulated something very profound and important for him. He eloquently described it and later kindly sent me the exact quote. It read:
“In Japan, traditional Buddhist Monasticism – whether Tendai, Shingon or Zen – aims at the transcendence of earthly passions. Its basic precepts consist of renouncing all family ties, maintaining celibacy, mastering rigorous disciplines, avoiding contact with the opposite sex and engaging in elaborate rituals. In contrast, Pureland is the trans-descendence into the opposite world, the self-awakening to the immersion in the swamp of anger, jealousy, insecurity, fear, addiction, arrogance, hypocrisy…Shin Buddhism comes alive for those who live in the valley and the shadows. It challenges people to discover the ultimate meaning of life in the abyss of the darkness of ignorance…The wonder of this teaching is that liberation is made available to us, not because we are wise but because we are ignorant, limited, imperfect and finite. In the language of Pureland Buddhism, we who are foolish beings are transformed into the very opposite by the power of great compassion.”
“In the path of stages one perfects wisdom and achieves enlightenment: in the path of Pureland one returns to the foolish self to be saved by Amida.” (Taitetsu Unno – ‘River of Fire, River of Water’)
It felt both comforting and challenging. Comforted that it resonated with both what could be called my developing human and spiritual beliefs. Which seem roughly equally important at present in my personal and professional worlds. And perhaps helping me to combine the two more fully and genuinely, something I have struggled to do for a while now.
I wonder if Dayamay’s sharing was so opportune and powerful for me because I am perhaps unwittingly facing a bit of a choice at present. Whether to stay where I am or challenge myself to go deeper. And perhaps even more importantly which direction ‘deeper’ is; transcending the valley of the shadows to seek liberation and enlightenment or opening myself up to a deeper self-awareness and acceptance of my own ignorance, delusion and limits, and thereby finding the compassion and wisdom just as I am. Until now, for whatever reason, I just hadn’t clearly seen this distinction between these two strands and schools of Buddhism. And just what a profound difference it is, or at least seems to be, to me. I start to believe everyone needs to find their own spiritual path. And that many roads and paths will take you there. I hope mine has become a little clearer, if not also a little more challenging, by knowing it might be time to go deeper within Pureland Buddhism by going deeper into self-ignorance, delusion and limitation, and the wider worlds and truths of suffering, humanity, refuge and compassion.
Namo Amida Bu.
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