When I consider deeply the Vow of Amida, which arose from five kalpas of profound thought, I realize that it was entirely for the sake of myself alone! Then how I am filled with gratitude for the Primal Vow, in which Amida resolved to save me, though I am burdened with such heavy karma.Shinran Shōnin (1173-1263)
Quoted in A Record in Lament of Divergences
Collected Works of Shinran, Vol. 1, page 679
When I was preparing to become a Buddhist minister, I was given the opportunity to visit a woman in a nursing home who was most comfortable speaking in Japanese.
“Hello, Mrs. N, how do you do? My name is Kerry.”
“Thank you, thank you for coming! Namo Amida Butsu!”
“It’s my pleasure. How are you feeling today?”
“There’s too much time, thank you! Namo Amida Butsu!”
I was very puzzled by this response but kept my mouth shut and just listened, as I was taught by my mentor, Rev. Dr. Bert Sumikawa.
Mrs. N was very happy to talk story about life in a nursing home, how everyone was so nice to her, how wonderful the facility was, and how grateful she was for being there.
When the nurse came to take her to physical therapy, Mrs. N smiled at me and said,
“Thank you for coming, thank you! Namo Amida Butsu!”
“Sure, Mrs. N, I’ll see you tomorrow!”
“Thank you! Namo Amida Butsu! Ah, there’s too much time.”
The next morning, I went back to visit her, hoping to find out what she meant by “There’s too much time.”
I signed in at the front desk and went to her room.
There was only an empty bed.
The duty nurse informed me that Mrs. N was taken to the hospital in the middle of the night, and passed in the early morning light.
Returning home, I pondered what this encounter meant, what Mrs. N was telling me when she said, “There’s too much time!”
Was she literally telling me that, having reached the end of her life, she was bored because she had nothing to do, no places to go, no one to see?
Then, in single thought-moment, I realized she was telling me to wake up to the preciousness of this moment of this day of this unrepeatable life, to not waste time, to receive “shinjin”—the entrusting heart-mind given to us by inconceivable power of Amida’s Great Compassionate Vow. Namo Amida Butsu!
During this lockdown, how often have I longed to return to my “normal” life: always “busy” and bothered, constantly wishing I had “more time.” Things to do, places to go, people to see!
Being forced to stay at home by causes and conditions, I now realize, “There’s too much time!”
“Social distancing” means it is all too easy to become bored, to feel isolated, to feel disconnected from life itself, to become angry, to grumble, to rage, to hate.
And yet, life goes on, just as it is.
In the Infinite Light of Wisdom, I see that beneath the black robes of a Buddhist minister, I remain self-centered, arrogant, and irritable!
I remain karma’s fool, just as I am.
When I go to the temple to check the answering machine, I always say hello to Amida.
Amida smiles at me and speaks to me in the voice of a California surfer.
“Oh, so now you’re bored? Dude, you were always wishing for more time!”
Now that I have been given “too much time,” I want to go back to being “busy”!
Shakyamuni Buddha taught my stubborn attachment to ME (My Ego) is the cause of unhappiness when life doesn’t go the way I want. Thus, many Buddhist paths seek to break free of the Ego-Self through renunciation of the world, discipline, meditation, chanting, and study.
Shinran taught that for bonbu—ordinary human beings filled with blindly self-centered desires and hopelessly attached to the fascinations of this evanescent world—the only path to Enlightenment is Namo Amida Butsu, the Nembutsu, single-heartedly entrusting in Amida’s Compassionate Vow, receiving the gift of shinjin.
In Shinran’s words, Amida created the path of Nembutsu specifically for ME (My Ego) because I lack the dedication, discipline, and endurance to single-heartedly pursue Buddhist practice, even when given “too much time.”
The Infinite Light of Wisdom reveals that given everything I ever wanted, I still bitch and moan about causes and conditions beyond my control.
I am wasting time!
There are so many people I can re-connect with today!
My mom, my brother and sister, my aunties and uncles, my cousins, my old friends from high school, my teachers here and in Japan, and especially all the Sangha members and friends of the temple that I took for granted when I was “busy.”
Mahalo, Mrs. N, for taking the final moments of your life to teach me that, especially during this COVID-19 lockdown, we have been given the gift of “too much time.”
Namo Amida Butsu!