Anna writes: The Shin Ugly blog is blossoming into a wonderful source of easy to understand information and it is really appealing to me. So simple yet so clear.
Thank you for the time and energy which you spend to share these teachings….I appreciate it and I appreciate you. Along with you, my dharma friend, I take refuge in Amida Buddha - in his Primal Vow to bring me at last to the Pure Land.
I’m highlighting my friend Anna’s comment because she is a good example of what is SO RIGHT with SHIN UGLY - Shinran’s plain talk for plain people about suffering and the end of suffering - and what is SO WRONG with so much of what is being written by clerics and scholars about Shin Buddhism today.
Anna is an educated westerner with a background in spirituality and metaphysics. However, she had NO background in Buddhism when we first met and began talking about Buddha’s teaching - and my own journey to entrusting Amida Buddha ENTIRELY for my spiritual progress to Buddhahood.
In other words, when I met Anna, she was not unlike the simple peasants of Shinran’s day, who were also illiterate when it came to the teachings of the Buddha (the dharma). Like those medieval Japanese peasants, she had an open HEART - and a deep desire for enlightenment (however we name it) - but no maps and models of the dharma (teaching) of the Buddha.
And - this is important to note - she is very much like MANY in the West who are seekers - and who would be finders - if only there were more Shin Buddhists ready, willing and able to speak up as GOOD TEACHERS of Shinran’s teaching.
When we began speaking about spiritual things, and she offered her opinions, my reply was simple: when it came to such issues, I felt there was one person really worth listening to - and that person was (and is) the one we call the Buddha - the Buddha Shakyamuni - who walked the earth 2500 years ago.
From my perspective, he was the ONLY reliable source for good, solid information on the fundamental questions we were talking about - issues of progress and regress on the path - of suffering and freedom, of enlightenment and endarkenment.
We both agreed on the idea of rebirth from one life to another, based on our karmic burden. But an immediate area of profound disagreement was our divergent understandings about how optimistic or pessimistic we should be about coming to the end of our journey over our cycle of multiple re-births.
Here Anna expressed the commonly held idea that we are on a powerful upward progress, from one life to another. I on the other hand felt that this idea of constant progress was nothing more than a pleasant delusion - that in fact we were hindered by our blind passion, by our cravings and aversion, from ever coming to the end of our suffering because we lived in an age of Dharma Decline.
I pointed both to Buddha’s unambiguous teaching about our karmic predicament, and to Shinran’s emphasis about our existential dilemma. We are bound entirely by our blind passions in this age of Dharma Decline. We don’t even know what we don’t even know.
To give her some “empirical proof” I pointed to the daily newspaper and news on TV. Our technological progress has been massive - but our moral progress (as a race) scant. All this has left us in a situation where we have the capacity to destroy EVERYTHING - and lack the common vision and common selflessness needed to pull us back from the brink of destruction.
To show more proof of that difficult truth, I pointed Anna to the Doomsday Clock. Created by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, it is a symbol of nuclear danger since 1947. It illustrates, in an entirely non-partisan way - regardless of your politics or citizenship - just how close to mutually assured self-and-other destruction we all remain.
As the back and forth dialogue between Anna and me continued, she was truly listening deeply. She was being H.O.W. - honest, open and willing - to connect the dots between the blind passion of us as a race - and her own personal predicament.
Recognizing that she was STUCK in her own darkness, just like Shinran, just like Honen, and just like me - Amida’s light and life pierced her ego defenses in a most wonderful and precise way.
THAT’S what will happen to ANYONE who is honest, open and willing to listen deeply.
Because Anna was listening deeply, she began to re-evaluate her whole life.
- She saw how our common egotism has been in control of her life as much as anyone else’s.
- She saw how she couldn’t avoid our common selfishness no matter what she did.
- She saw how the Four Noble Truths of Shakyamuni Buddha as they TRULY apply to all our lives in this age of Dharma Decline: that we are, each and every one of us - caught in an inescapable web of cravings and aversions that cause us each and all to suffer - and to create suffering for others.
- She could see - finally - that she always had a secret self-serving agenda no matter what she did.
- And she could see that it wasn’t all about her - but about us all.
In short, she was grappling with Part 2 of the Easy Path to Buddhahood - and FINALLY, after how many years, and how many lifetimes - TRULY acknowledging her limitations, and her inability - and understanding the TRUTH about WHY it was so.
Anna can tell you better than me how difficult this process was for her.
When we began our dialogue, she had no idea that everything she depended on, and everything she thought she knew, would be stripped away entirely.
She had no idea that the rug would be pulled out from under her - and she would be left with NOTHING to rely on whatsoever.
And - just so it is clear - at the outself of the dialogue I asked her permission to be a blunt man - to speak plainly to her about anything and everything.
And Anna said YES - not to me, but to Amida Buddha, to Shakyamuni Buddha (our Buddha) and to Shinran. My thoughts, words, and deeds are worth NOTHING - theirs are worth EVERYTHING. That’s not mealy-mouthed false humility - that’s just the Shin Ugly truth about being a non-Buddha.
Because Anna said YES - I was able to guide her through Part 1 of the Easy Path to Buddhahood - where she truly TOUCHED her deepest aspiration to be done with suffering at last - to emerge finally from endless lives of endarkenment into FULL and FINAL enlightenment. She wasn’t coy about it. It’s what she WANTS - in the deepest part of her being.
And then I was able to guide her through Part 2 of the Easy Path to Buddhahood - where she truly came to grips - as a grown woman - with just what she can and cannot do on her own power - in this life - or in any other.
And now, with the good ground prepared in her mind, Anna was ready to listen deeply at last to Part 3 of the Easy Path to Buddhahood - to the voices of Shakyamuni and Shinran as I explained about Amida’s work in creating a Pure Land and his Primal Vow to deliver plain people like us from the consequences of our own karma into rebirth there at the end of this life - and transformation at last into True Buddhahood.
I shared with her, not just the FACTS of the teaching - but also the experience we have had in my own family with its POWER - in the completion of my beloved Jessie’s journey to Buddhahood, at last.
So - thank you Anna - for hanging in with the dialogue - even when the experience of feeling Amida’s light shining into your darkness was difficult. By saying YES - by letting go of your own resistance to Dr. Buddha’s diagnosis of our human dis-ease, you were able to receive HIS true cure for our common problem - our ontological endarkenment - a condition we simply cannot remedy ourselves, no matter how we try.
In our age of self-help, of entrepreneurship, of education, of motivational speakers, of psychological cures, of gurus, of all kinds of teachers and teachings of thousands of self-power paths, the hardest thing to do is simply give up - and listen deeply.
But it’s the ONLY thing that will enable you to TRULY hear Amida’s call - and accept his guarantee that this will be the last life of suffering - of ignorance, greed and anger (the three poisons, as Buddha named them) you will ever endure.
And that is why, knowing NOTHING about Buddha nor Buddhism, Anna is now able to say, with me and with countless others:
Along with you, my dharma friend, I take refuge in Amida Buddha - in his Primal Vow to bring me at last to the Pure Land.
And simply because she was OPEN to that one thought-moment of simple faith - she became a person of SHINJIN (true entrusting). Now, as a person of SHINJIN, she is grasped, never to be abandoned. She has salvation in the present - and will experience her transformation into TRUE Buddhahood at the end of this life.
Namu-Amida-Butsu. Thank you Amida Buddha.