Kanji for Muryoko

'Infinite Light'

Journal of Shin Buddhism

J. Hardiman

On Practice
It could be said that there are three identifying aspects to the life of following the way of Buddha; those aspects are, in fact, absolutely and equally integrated, supportive and essential foundations to the Way. They are Hearing, Faith, and Practice. (A fourth might be added-viz., Realization or Attainment. However, why it is has not been presently included will hopefully become clear as this article unfolds. As this particular piece focuses primarily on Buddhist practice, it will additionally attempt to indicate an understanding of Attainment or Realization, particularly in the context of Jodo Shinshu.) For now, as a kind of preface let me briefly touch upon what is meant by Hearing and Faith.

Hearing takes various forms. For example, it may be a condition or experience that brings about a natural awakening to certain facts of life, giving rise to some level of deeper and meaningful understanding. In turn, such a condition may lead one to seek further for answers to some of the most basic and universal questions concerning existence.

Hearing also includes becoming acquainted with the principles of the Buddha's Dharma Truth through reading, just as well as physically hearing it. In any of these situations, such experiences need augmenting by thinking and reflecting upon what one has heard. Herein lies the importance of one form of Buddhist practice, which is then dependent upon some form or level of faith.

Faith, in all the '84,000 streams' of the Buddhist Way is essential. It, too, will manifest variously, and when the proper conditions arise and/or are present, it will accordingly continue to unfold and develop. The spectrum of 'Faith' may run from the simplest form of (blind) belief to an absolute assurance by which one personally experiences doubtless verification of the Way's virtues. Moreover, as one continues to follow the way, more and more assurances of the True Way will appear-just like road signs along a highway-serving to nurture and further deepen one's heart and mind of faith.

And now we come to the significance of practice. One of the most common questions or problematic themes I continue to hear concerns 'Jodo Shinshu and the Practice Path of the Buddha Way.' More specifically, the matter revolves around a too commonly held opinion that there is no evidence of, or need for any real practice or practice path for those who follow the way of Jodo Shinshu. There are those who have some acquaintance with the teaching of Shinshu doctrine, whether through casual hearing or long standing association within the temples and churches who, for example, will say that the only practice we have is listening to the sermons. This article is essentially my simplest and direct response to the question(s) concerning practice in Jodo Shinshu.

It seems that it should be obvious that any spiritual path or spiritual undertaking requires something of the devotee. No? Those who rightly call themselves Buddhists or, more exactly, followers of the Way of Buddha must likewise be considered. What, then, is their form of practice? Answer: It is where the formless takes form. As to Jodo Shinshu, what is our observable practice? Of course it includes saying Namo Amida Butsu (transl., 'I praise and take refuge in Buddha of Infinite Life and Light') or any of its variants, attending Dharma services, chanting sutras, listening to Dharma Talks and sermons/expositions of the teachings found in scriptures, commentaries and writings of various masters. It also includes studying individually and with others, discussing the teachings, practicing the Eightfold Path and the Six Paramitas (or six perfections of selfless giving, morality, patience, endeavor, meditation, and wisdom) throughout one's moment-to-moment life, the mindful practice of bowing, placing one's palms respectfully together in gassho and burning incense.

It includes how one walks, stands, sits in meditation, thoughtful/mindful contemplation in gratitude before, during, and following meals. It includes singing gathas, etc., etc., etc.-all, ideally, with a sincere heart and mindful attitude. In that sense we may say that, as individuals, we are doing practice. That is to say, it is one's own voice which can be heard saying Namo Amida Butsu, one's own body seen sitting in a meditative posture, etc. However, in the most profound sense or a deeper understanding, the true and real practice of the Way of the Buddha is not our practice. It is the Practice of the Buddha, Enlightenment-Itself.

Moreover, when and if we awaken to understand this, it is then to be seen as truly unlimited practice. Indeed, because of the very nature of True and Real Unlimited Practice, which is the very working of Enlightenment-Itself, we may also begin to deeply understand that which originally made it possible to meet and hear of the Way. The Awakening of faith within us to seek and follow the Way, and that which has led us to do practice is the working of Enlightenment-itself; it is the practice of the Buddha. This, if anything for us, is the very Attainment/the Realization of Enlightenment-Itself.

I think it is very important for us to understand, with a mind and heart beyond ordinary intellectual grasping, that "our practice" is not that which leads us to enlightenment. Rather, it is the working of Enlightenment-itself/Buddha which reveals itself in leading us to practice. [Consider these latter points in light of what Sakyamuni Buddha put forth in his essential Dharma principles regarding non-selfhood.]

From our side there is our inherent condition of potentiality which we call 'Buddha-nature.' It is that which enables us to receive and respond to the powerful condition of the Pure Clear Light of Buddha's Wisdom-Compassion. For sake of understanding, we may compare this 'Buddha-nature' to a seed lying dormant in the earth, having no power to grow of itself. Yet, once it meets with the conditions of the rain's and the sun's life-giving virtues, the seed can begin to change, take root, send forth stem, branches, and leaves. It can flower and reach fruition.

It is not that the seed is the sun and the rain, but due to its own inherent potentiality, when it grows to maturity, in a holistic sense we must say that its life is not apart from the sun, the rain nor the earth from which it sprung. This hearing of the Way, awakening in faith to follow it, being guided by it, practicing it, is ultimately the Realization or Attainment of what is rightfully called Great Practice, the unlimited, unbounded, all embracing practice of the Buddha.

If one has experienced even the most fundamental, aspirational thought or initial awakening of faith in the teaching and its practice path by the virtue of Great Practice, they will inevitably be led to see with their whole heart, mind, and being the True and Real-one's practice path within Great Practice. It is within that condition that the ordinary being can realize oneness with Buddha's Heart and Mind. It is here that one can come to have some understanding of what is meant by 'Buddha and ordinary beings are not separate.'

At such a stage the ego-shell which formerly hindered and bound one becomes essentially neutralized. This naturally occurs within practice, through practice, by practice, because it is and always was the Great Practice of the incomprehensible, ineffable working of Enlightenment-Itself. A proper footnote to all this must be added in regard to the personal transition which occurs through the 'process' of this practice.

Some schools of Buddhism teach and indicate that the practice path entails, aims for, and leads to purification of the Three Powers (of the practicer's mind/thoughts, mouth/speech, body/actions), Therefore, the actualization or attainment of Buddhahood is reached by oneself, in one's personal form and life. My understanding and what I have tried to express here is somewhat different than that. Though, as previously stated, the ego-shell of self-identified attachment to one's personal power obtaining realization is neutralized via the virtue of Great Practice, it would seem to be the ordinary case that the residue of past karma-creation, with all its self-centered desires, ignorance and foolish activities would remain while in this life. Nevertheless, the greater working which is at one with our personal awakening to, by, and through Enlightenment-Itself cannot be/will not be hindered in the least. The attainment of Nirvana is doubtlessly assured.

In the language of Jodo Shinshu, this is the heart and meaning of Amida Buddha's Wish-fulfilled Vow. In other words, if and when one has the awakening of the Faith Mind in the Way, understood through the practice path, their moment-to-moment life becomes moment-to-moment practice. As that practice is clearly and deeply recognized to be not one's own limited practice, it is then said to be infinite Practice, having no end.

Therefore abandon hope to obtain or attain Enlightenment through your own delusory ideation of self and its calculating power. At the same time, I urge you not to neglect cultivation (i.e., diligent resolve and continuing, mindful practice) of the Buddha Way. Follow the way of Practice in the Nembutsu, meditation, listening, studying, reflection-wherever the path takes you.

Continue to reflect on your life within the Pure Clear Light of the Buddha's Dharma Truth with diligence and with confidence. Know that this is none other than the Real-ized Great Practice of Enlightenment-Itself just as it is.

- copyright 1998 by Hozan J. Hardiman

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