I am writing this at Amida France. A gathering of members of our School is taking place here and it is a supreme joy to be among such friends. There is much rejoicing that we have this very special fraternity to uphold us. “I hesitate to think what I would have been doing with my life if I had not found this,” one of our number comments and we all realise our great good fortune in having been given this wonderful sangha refuge.
“I am turning over in my mind the juxtaposition of the spiritual and the practical,” says another. We most of us realise that on the one hand our little communion has burgeoned in size and intensity of activity over the past two years well beyond our expectation and, at the same time, this wonderful expansion has been threatened by a tightening of our financial circumstances. We have to keep the ship afloat as it heads out into bigger seas.
For myself I am confident that we will come through this period stronger. I offer three watchwords to help us do so. These are:
By unity, I mean that we must each try always to remember that whatever part of the sangha’s activity we are engaged with - whether it is a local centre, a pastoral project, a volunteer scheme, attending a pan-Buddhist gathering, an interfaith activity, running a course, conducting a service, entertaining guests, or whatever it may be, we are actually part of the whole. We are at that very time a representative of the whole Amida Work. Amida is at work in this world and we are Amida’s “bodhisattvas of the Earth”. Even though one may individually be a person of little talent, uncertain virtue, or modest accomplishment, as Amida-shu we are all part of one single whole and we are always representing the whole of that whole. Also, as our organisation diversifies, it will not diversify into parallel strands, but into woven ones. It is important to organise and it is important that such organisation proceed according to the principle of complexity. Complexity sustains unity. Every strand of Amida activity should be woven into several other strands. We do not expand by addition, but by intermeshing. This makes our organisation organic. There is an idea that organic organisation means that the whole precedes the parts whereas in a mechanistic style of organisation the parts precede the whole. In other words, an organic organisation is a whole that differentiates itself as it grows whereas a mechanistic organisation grows by creating add on units. Another way of differentiating these types is that the mechanistic approach is the fulfilment of a plan whereas the organic approach is the bringing out of a potential. Amida is an organic approach in both these senses. It is already a complete whole and it grows by further differentiating itself within its already established wholeness, thus revealing ever-surprising potentialities. If we can be true to this approach, then we shall always work together and we shall all be representatives of one another - partners. There will be unity.
By frugality, I mean that everything that we take in is precious. An organic approach brings the dead to life. It uses that which does not yet live as nourishment for a whole which yet lives. This is like the body taking in food or a plant taking minerals from the soil to create a living structure. We must regard whatever we use as a treasure. The Pure Land is made of the seven precious substances. Everything there is made of them. We are part of the process whereby dross is converted into the seven. Where everything is regarded in this way one will be loathe to see any waste, but will endeavour always to use everything to the full. As a community that lives through the generosity of others, we know that each gift symbolises love - it is love in solid form. If we do not treat the tokens of love with the respect and care that they deserve then there will be a diminution of love in the world, but if we treat them with reverence there will be a great multiplication. It is in this way that the dead world becomes a living world, transformed before our sight.
By faith, I mean that we do not need to worry about such things as whether enough people come to our events or whether we are succeeding as an organisation. We can trust that all is unfolding as it should. There will be periods of feast and periods of famine, but overall a bigger picture is all the time slowly coming into view, like a landscape emerging from mist. Amida is bigger than any of us and we cannot individually see very far, but Amida can see much further than any of us. We should therefore each just play our part to the very best of our ability and know that something wonderful is already happening. We are all allowing ourselves to be led and when we do so there is no limit to what can come to pass. Even when we undertake some project and it seems to fail, we should remember that there is a bigger picture. All the time we are being taught. Amida is preparing us. Recently, for instance, the London Amida group made great efforts to prepare an introductory course which they then staged. Less people came than they were hoping for. However, the project has been excellent in enhancing the cohesion, creativity and mutual understanding of the group and the positive spirit there is now very noticeable. Nor does one know how far the ripples of a single good action will travel. The Light of Amida is an Unimpedable Light. This is because it is pure.
We can be confident. We do not need to boast. For instance, most in the Buddhist world in Britain now already knows that Amida is an effective sangha that accomplishes a surprising amount. We should, therefore, be modest in our dialogue with members of other sanghas. We do not have to reiterate our successes for word of them is already abroad. It is more important to be careful not to offend or threaten other groups. In modern competitive society it is very easy for success to seem threatening to others, so do not harp upon it. Emphasise rather the importance of co-operation and harmony between schools and praise other groups for their accomplishments. Sometimes we meet with critical voices. There are those who may say, “But what is your lineage?” To them say, “We are of the lineage of Shan Tao and Honen Shonin, the Pureland lineage of Japan, which we follow faithfully. We are organisationally independent in the West, but we revere Honen and all his great disciples, not just some of them.” Others may say, “But you do not meditate!” To them say, “We have our own form of meditation which is Nei Quan - true insight reflection - but for us, as for the Buddha, this is an auxiliary practice. Our primary practice is nembutsu. Nei Quan gives us insight into the working of dependent origination in one’s own case. Through that means we learn who and what we are. At the end of the day, however, what matters in Buddhist practice is to let go of who you are and simply accept the universal grace of the Tathagatas as Shakyamuni does in all the great Mahayana Scriptures, and that is what nembutsu means to us and that is why nembutsu is the supreme practice in our school.” And others may say, “But who are your teachers?” To these you can say, “We now have within our own ranks a growing group of good teachers well experienced in Dharma and we also have the great benefit of accomplished and inspiring teachers who come to us from Japan to show us the traditional ways.” If you answer gently in this way then nobody who has any depth of understanding of Buddhism will be able to find any substantial fault with you. It is important to avoid conflict without backing away from the excellence of the practice that was vouchsafed by Shakyamuni Buddha to Ananda and has been transmitted through so many generations to those who are fortunate in this present age.
By avoiding any threatening stance toward others, by holding to unity, frugality and faith, by rejoicing in our supreme good fortune to have fallen in with this “rightly resolute group”, by offering our lives to the great purpose and allowing ourselves to bathe in the limitless ocean of grace that perennially laps around us, whether we are young or old, whether we have been granted good health for the moment or not, whether the resources at our disposal are lavish or meagre, whether the virtues that karma has bestowed upon us are rough or fine, whatever the local conditions of our circumstance, we may have lives of utmost satisfaction and nobody can ask for more.
Namo Amida Bu.