Pastoral Letter of 30th March 2007
There is a tradition in Japan that when you turn sixty you should start some new project or direction in life. This week we have been remembering Rev. Gyomay Kubose who was the first patron of Amida Trust - a wonderful man loved by all. When he was sixty, having established the Buddhist Temple of Chicago, he went back to Japan for three years and got a masters degree in Buddhist Studies from Otani University. Gyomay sensei had not had the educational opportunities when he was young that are available now. His family had subsisted by picking fruit and vegetables as immigrant labourers in the USA and he had been interned during World War II. He went on teaching Dharma until a short illness took him away from this life at the age of 94 in the year 2000. He was a man of the twentieth century. What must we do in the 21st?
Personally I do not feel any need to go and get a further academic qualification - I've done plenty of that - so my visit to Japan in April will be much shorter than Sensei's was. I am very much looking forward to a brief visit to our friends there from whom I always learn so much. What they teach me is not so much a doctrine or academic discipline but rather they impress me with the depth of their religious feeling. It puts a stamp upon one.
No, I think my new sixties venture is going to be more to do with getting out and spreading that feeling around. Over the past eleven years since Reverend Master Jiyu died we have seen a new vehicle for the transmission of the Dharma come into being. There is clearly more design in our accidents than at first appears. The Amida-shu is now established and the Amida Order is growing and developing. Everything is now in place for a new phase of outreach.
Already this year, since I entered my seventh decade at the beginning of January, we have conducted outreach visits to Hawaii Big Island and to Wales. These short tours have both been very heartening and successful. We have made many new friends. I feel that they presage a new phase in our mode of operation. The early founders often did their Dharma work in that way. In the old days one travelled on foot, going from village to village. Nowadays we have different modes of transport, but the spirit is essentially the same.
What carries us forth? Why have people been going forth in the Dharma for so many centuries now? Is there not a great work of peace to be accomplished? Do we not have a wonderful treasure? The way to make that treasure grow is to give it away. The treasure that we have is the love of Amida Nyorai, the wisdom light of the Buddhas, the awakening of faith. Some will say, How can you possibly convince people of such a message in this secular, cynical age? To which I say, I shall not convince anybody - Amida will do that. My job is to show up. Amida finds each person in a different way. There is not anybody for whom faith is not a central concern, really. When they realise it, they also realise that it is important what they put their faith in.
Amida-shu Pureland Buddhism is a generic spirituality. It reflects the instinct of almost all those who have a general sense of spirituality in their lives, irrspective of how they label themselves. My intuition suggests that our society is coming toward the end of its secularising trend. Secularism can never give people the satisfaction they need in the face of death or the problems of this world. The Buddhadharma has got into the West by adapting to the secularising trend. There is a real danger, however, that secularism may take the life out of Buddhism itself and reduce it to a set of personal satisfaction enhancement tools. Secularisation is an outgrowth of that Western theism that over-values people at the expense of what then comes to be called "the environment", as if the only raison d'etre there could be for animals, trees, wind, fire, planets and stars would be to support us. What arrogance! Is secularism not the final logical outgrowth of the idea that God made humans as the pinnacle of His creation and so everything must be arranged for our benefit?
On the other hand, when people try to look beyond secularism, they find themselves faced by a desert. The old religions still have some pockets of vitality and there is a need for those of goodwill and faith to make common cause, but there are also so many whose only concept of a religion is of an exclusive, warring faction of bigotry. A post-secular age will not be accomplished by going back to such crusading medievalism. Nowadays we have reached such a pass that we do not even have usable language to make the necessary distinctions. Some say we must abandon much of the old language, we must say that Buddhism is not a religion, for instance, in order to distance ourselves from the bigots. All very well up to a point, but Buddhists are very happy to be classified as religions when there are government grants on offer. This sort of thing is hypocrisy. Religion is sacred relationship - the binding together of the community and of the community with what it holds sacred. We need communities that recognise what is really sacred, which is universal love. Let us not jettison our language. Let us find more skilful ways to redeem its dignity and vitality.
Faced with such a choice - arid secularism or even more arid bigotry - many people are dying of thirst. I, however, by some miracle, have been watered with the most exquisite nectar. I do not feel that I deserve it - I am a rather irrascible stubborn sort of person in my basic make-up and not the sort of cloth that saints are generally cut out of. What a strange business. Sometimes I have felt very alone with what has been given me and sometimes I feel annoyed when I see people wasting their lives. I do not have the patience of the great bodhisattvas. Sometimes it is like that verse in the Taoist classic "I seem to be alone in being fed by the Mother". Yet, deep down, I do not really believe that I am alone. Others are also secretly feeding. Sometimes we recognise one another. Sometimes the joy of shared spiritual feeling bubbles to the surface. I shall, therefore, keep showing up in all sorts of places and see who comes to the table, and soon Amida, the great Mother, will have cooked a feast and we shall all be celebrating together.
Namo Amida Bu