Nembutsu ga deru ka ne?

All Buddhists seek Enlightenment—awakening to the Truth, seeing Life as-it-is, not as-we-want-it-to-be.

Unnecessary suffering in life is caused by the gap between reality—Life as-it-is—and perception—the self-centered delusion that Life should be as-we-want-it-to-be.

When Life doesn’t unfold the way we want it to, we get angry, blame others for our disappointment, or whine about it on Facebook.

In Mahayana Buddhism, the goal of Enlightenment is to alleviate suffering of other people and all forms of life.

The goal of Jodo Shinshu is to “settle one’s birth in the Pure Land” in this life so that when we die, we are born in the Pure Land and, in Oneness with the Buddha Amida,  return to this world as Great Compassion and Wisdom working to save all beings by guiding them to the Truth.

To settle one’s birth in the Pure Land, Jodo Shinshu teaches the Path of Nembutsu—saying Namo Amida Butsu in gratitude for, and in response to, Life as it unfolds, accepting reality as-it-is, which empowers us to make the most of each moment in this unrepeatable life.

The Path of Nembutsu provides the way for unexceptional, totally average, self-deluded people—like me—to liberate themselves from the bondage of selfishness.

Jodo Shinshu helps people cope with the undeniable stresses and inevitable disappointments of modern life by igniting change—a ‘change of heart’ and a ‘change of attitude’ so we may see Life as-it-is.

If we believe fame, fortune, intellect, youth, or beauty make us superior to others, we despair when confronted with the truth that we are merely human.

If we believe we are the exception, that we will never grow old, decay, and die, then we are terrified by death, afraid of being a compassionate presence for people at the end of life.

If we believe we deserve only the sweetness of life, then we are devastated by the inevitable moments of bitterness of life.

In a single thought-moment, when we realize that we are not exceptional; that we are, in fact, deluded, ego-centric, and all-too-human average people incapable of any spiritual practice leading to awakening to Truth in this Life, that is when Jodo Shinshu reveals the working of Great Compassion and Wisdom in our lives.

We realize that no matter how good our intentions may be, we are simply incapable of helping others as much as we would like to believe.

We realize our inherent Selfishness blinds us so that we insist upon seeing Life as-we-want-it-to-be, not Life as-it-is, setting us up for disappointment, despair, and depression.

We realize that, despite our pretensions, we despise those who are different from us, we turn away from the hungry and homeless, we do nothing to prevent injustice.

We realize that we are not able to live up to our own ideals, our aspirations, our self-image.

This realization crushes the delusions of our ego-self, which is why we avoid true self-reflection; in our heart of hearts we know are we nothing like we would like to think we are.

We are not worthy.

And yet, our lives are filled with kind and gentle people.

Our lives are “pretty good” compared to so many people who are truly suffering, fellow human beings who don’t have enough to eat, a safe place to sleep, who face discrimination and hardship every day.

In a single thought-moment, we realize that Great Compassion and Wisdom has always embraced us, never to abandon us. And that Awakening liberates us from our attachment to the ego-driven “self”.

When we become free from the bondage of selfishness, we begin to live a life that is true and real.

When we reflect upon our lives, when we see Life-as-it-is, we stop believing we deserve all the “good” things that happen to us, and, we stop believing we don’t deserve the “bad” things that happen to us.

In that moment, we see kind and gentle people have always been in our lives — our ‘ohana has always been there for us.

We begin to truly appreciate, and not take for granted, the friends who have stayed with us through thick and thin, the communities that accept us, the ‘Aina and the living beings that sustain our lives.

We begin to truly rejoice in the companionship of precious animal friends, our beloved pets, whose only desire is to love us without judging us.

We begin to truly cherish the Great ‘Ohana of Life, the people who patiently teach us life lessons, the strangers who show us kindness, the unseen people laboring so that we can enjoy the comfort and convenience of modern life.

Jodo Shinshu awakens us to the True Meaning of Life, that we are One with all people and all forms of Life, and thus we are never alone; that we are accepted just as we are; that this unrepeatable Life is meant to be lived to benefit others.

We begin to see even the painful, embarrassing, and humiliating episodes in our lives as meaningful, positive, learning experiences.

In Jodo Shinshu, we revere this Great Compassion and Wisdom as the Buddha Amida, the Buddha of Immeasurable Life and Light, Amida Nyorai, the Tathagata, the One who comes from Suchness.

Awakening to the Truth, we realize that we only delude ourselves into thinking we are fundamentally “good” people, that we will help others when we are not so “busy” or have accumulated enough money.

But we always seem to be “too busy,” always desperately seeking to acquire “more” because we are self-centered, totally average human beings.

In our heart of hearts, we know we are limited, weak, and unable to accept Life as it unfolds, that we are afraid to embrace Life as-it-is.

In fact, we are constantly running away from admitting our utter average-ness to anyone, much less ourselves.

We deny the Truth of what we really are.

This delusion, this denial of reality, is the root cause of all unnecessary suffering in our modern lives: fear, stress, anxiety, depression, addiction, discontent, unhappiness, anger, discrimination, and hatred.

How do we become free of these delusions?

The only practice in Jodo Shinshu is the Path of Nembutsu, mindfully saying the name of the Buddha Amida—Namo Amida Butsu—in gratitude for Amida’s great compassionate vow to save all beings, beginning with silly, deluded, self-centered, unexceptional, and all-too-human people…just like me.

The Path of Nembutsu is the simplest practice in Buddhism.

Nembutsu can be practiced by anyone, anywhere, anytime, and doesn’t require any “thing” beyond the heart-and-mind that responds in gratitude to Life as it unfolds—good, bad, or ugly—Just Say Namo Amida Butsu.

My grandmother, Toku Nakawatase, was famous for confronting lay people, ministers, and even bishops, by saying, Nembutsu ga deru ka ne? which can be translated as “Namo Amida Butsu still doesn’t just pop out of your mouth?”

In other words, you haven’t realized that you are a deluded, silly, all-too-human self-centered being?

Haven’t you awakened to the truth, Life as-it-is, the reality that Great Compassion and Wisdom has always embraced you, never to abandon you?

That the Great Compassion of the Buddha Amida has created this opportunity to encounter the Nembutsu, allowing you to walk the path of liberation from the bondage of selfishness?

Aren’t you humbled and truly grateful that you have been saved from your Ego-Self?

“Nembutsu ga deru ka ne?!”

You still haven’t learned to just say Namo Amida Butsu in gratitude for life as it unfolds, for reality as-it-is?

Haven’t you acknowledged your debt of gratitude to the kind and gentle people who nurtured you in the past, and the countless people and living beings who sustain your life today?

You aren’t trying to repay this debt of gratitude by thinking pure and beautiful thoughts, saying pure and beautiful words, and doing pure and beautiful deeds?

You aren’t trying to be kind and gentle to every living thing and protect all those who are weaker than yourself?

“Nembutsu ga deru ka ne?!”

In Jodo Shinshu, you don’t have to believe anything, give up anything, or change your life in any way.

You are all right just as you are.

In Jodo Shinshu, you listen to the Dharma, pause and reflect, and look inward to find the Truth that is inside of you.

You are all right just as you are.

In Jodo Shinshu, you simply awaken to the Truth that Great Compassion and Wisdom has always embraced you, never to abandon you.

You are all right just as you are.

In Jodo Shinshu, you learn to entrust everything, just as you are, to All-Embracing Compassion and All-Inclusive Wisdom, the Buddha Amida.

In Jodo Shinshu, you accept that your birth in the Pure Land, just as you are, is already assured. You accept that your return to this world to help others in the way you truly aspire, is already assured.

In the single thought-moment when you awaken to the Truth, you transcend the Ego-Self and shinjinthe Heart-and-Mind of Compassion and Wisdom of Amida—comes to you, and you become what you truly are.

The hardest thing to grasp in Jodo Shinshu is that you can’t do anything to “achieve” shinjin—the heart-and-mind of the Buddha Amida comes to you naturally, as Life unfolds.

Shinjin comes to you, just as you are.

In fact, the harder you try to “achieve” shinjin, the faster it slips from your grasp!

To paraphrase the myōkōnin Saichi,

“You do not become Amida—Amida becomes you,” just as you are.

In Jodo Shinshu, we say Namo Amida Butsu in gratitude for the Great Compassion and Wisdom that saves us from ourselves not in spite of our limitations, but precisely because of our fundamental selfishness, our silly humanness, our Ego-centric belief that we are the exception.

Shinjin—the heart-and-mind of Amida’s Compassion and Wisdom—saves you, just as you are.

That’s why every morning when I look in the mirror, I ask myself:

Nembutsu ga deru ka ne?!

And that’s why Jodo Shinshu is for me.

Please join me in putting our hands together, bowing our heads, and saying Namo Amida Butsu,

Mahalo Amida for the blessings of the ‘Aina,

Mahalo Amida for the Aloha in our hearts,

Mahalo Amida for the great ‘Ohana of Life that always supports and nurtures us, never to abandon us,

Mahalo Amida for saving us, just as we are.

Namo Amida Butsu!

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