Pastoral Letter 15th May 2006
Today is the second anniversary of the death of Irene Brazier, my mother, from whom I received immeasurable love and inspiration. I like to think that she is one of the root founders of our Amida-shu having been with us from the beginning as “senior bomori” at The Buddhist House. Under the shelter of her unstinting attentiveness a special sensitivity arose and grew in me. She did not put it there, but she protected it and nourished it just as she did the many seedlings and plants in each of her beloved gardens, of which she made so many over the years. I hope you will all hold her dear.
Irene left this life two years ago. During that two years, somehow, from her new life, she has continued to help and inspire us. During that period our School has opened into the world. All the work done prior to that time has taken on a more concrete and overt form and this form has enabled individuals to come forth and commit themselves to Amida. We have come out into the world, a fledgling, debutant movement for spiritual renewal, a new religious order. This is something quite miraculous and rare.
During that two years, however, we have also been afflicted with illness. Many friends of and among us have been struck down by cancer, just as Irene was. It has seemed almost an epidemic. Saille Abbott is in the midst of treatment and spoke to me by telephone yesterday. And finally, most recently, we have lost our dear Amrita Dhammika to malaria. Life is short. None of us knows when we will face severe crises of health or even death. We are as if standing in a queue, not knowing when it will be our turn.
We are each here for but a little time. Life can sometimes seem meaningless. Whole ages go by when humans live like blades of grass. Then, sometimes, there come times when something special is possible. The appearance of Honen Shonin in twelfth century Japan was such a time. That of Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar in India in the middle of the twentieth century was one. It is given to us to make this present new century such a time, if we have the faith to follow our Light. Faith liberates the latent energy of our condition. It enables Amida to gather us in.
The Highest Light always shines into bombu lives. Nobody has to be specially accomplished to join this turning, only specially inspired, touched by That Light. I hope that we have the courage for it. All my life I have felt this calling, but, being bombu I have already wasted a vast amount of time. I say to Amida, “Why me?” There are plenty of people in the Buddhist world better fitted - more gentle, more polite, more learned, more talented. Why have I become the little bit of grit around which this particular pearl has begun to form? These things are mysteries. I assure you that if I am suitable to be chosen, you are! Is it not precisely out of such a fellowship of the unlikely that Amida would seek to fashion His new garden of peace?
Be my delight
Shine on me
Our Amidism is a universal spiritual message. It can be expressed in the language of any religion. In this sense, we are Buddhists of all religions, but this does not mean that our Amidism is whatever any member of any religion might want it to be. Amidism has three very special features that are liberating and much needed, especially by those who seek but then realise that they cannot accomplish unaided. These features can be recognised widely. The people to whom this message is addressed are ordinary people - the people in the bus queue. One does not have to be intellectual to know that Amida - whatever name you know Him by - chooses the ordinary ones. They are his special concern. Those of us who have lived our lives believing ourselves to be or even trying to become extraordinary are all now called to return to our common condition and build our foundation there; while those of us who have never aspired and always thought that things spiritual were just too elevated for the likes of ourselves, may here find an unexpected treasure. We are ordinaries. It is ordinaries who will make a Pure Land here and it is ordinaries who will go to the Pure Land in the life to come and it is ordinaries who will be seen to have been bodhisattvas - not through any virtue of accomplishment of their own, but through the simple fact that they kept faith, just as Amrita kept faith. To keep faith, in our case, means to be always sitting at the feet of the Buddha, wherever you may be and whatever you may be doing. The Buddha is the guiding power in our lives. Trust That. Do not think that this life is random or trivial. No need to be more sophisticated. You will be led if you are willing to be. Amida will bear your burdens for you if you will let him. Entrust your worries to him for he is a great power.
The first two special characteristics of Amidism are acknowledgement of our bombu nature and recognition of Other Power at work in our lives. The third characteristic is modgala - to call out in joy! Bombu, Amida, Nembutsu - these three point out our way. Ours is a religion of calling. We call and we are called. Let us follow our calling and have the faith to call out and to be heard. Faith is infectious. One need not be shy or reserved about it. As bombu together we support one another - through sickness, through adversity, through personal failings even. As devotees we receive support, guidance, solace and our burdens are lightened. As nembutsu-sha we carry our drum in the market place and call out in joy to a world in need of hope. This is the time to reach out and carry the message to others.
In the past month we have had a wonderful conference to which so many people made prized contributions as presenters, as organizers, as workers in the kitchen or on the stalls. More people came than to any previous conference in this series and we were all well pleased with it. The “fringe” began a week before and went on a week after with specialist meetings on a variety of subjects, not least our work overseas. Plans have emerged for the year ahead, a year of reaching out together. The conference demonstrated how there are now many people who feel a sense of investment in our collective venture. This is a sign of immense importance and promise. Now is the time to wave flags and fill the firmament with Dharma banners.
On the Sunday morning of the conference two more good people John Zulu and Cordelia Grimwood became members of the Amida-shu. We bid them a deep and warm welcome. We have also become engaged in a consultation about the responsibilities and limits of Amida-shu membership and this is leading us into deeper reflection upon our mission. That mission is essentially to bring the message of Honen Shonin to the contemporary world. It is good that we are thinking deeply what this means in practical detail. It is perhaps one of those bitter-sweet ironies of the spiritual life that we who are by some accounts the most other-worldly of all Buddhist schools are yet noted for being the one most concerned about the fate of this world. We and what we are doing is of real use to this world precisely because it is firmly grounded faith in a way that few dare entertain. Simply by being so we make it possible for others.
My mother was ordinary. I am ordinary. You are ordinary. We all love one another. We are creating a community of love together. There is nothing more precious in all the world. I hope we find the courage and faith to see it through. Each of you can find local ways to advance this vision and I hope to be able to stand by you, just as my mother always stood by me.
Namo Amida Bu