Amida Buddha’s Pure Land and Heavenly Maidens, Hideya Chiji, 1971, section of a mural in the Los Angeles Buddhist Temple. PHOTOGRAPH BY TOYO MIYATAKE, COURTESY OF THE LOS ANGELES BUDDHIST TEMPLE AND YASUHIRO CHIJI
Amida Buddha’s Pure Land and Heavenly Maidens, Hideya Chiji, 1971, section of a mural in the Los Angeles Buddhist Temple. PHOTOGRAPH BY TOYO MIYATAKE, COURTESY OF THE LOS ANGELES BUDDHIST TEMPLE AND YASUHIRO CHIJI

 

ONE MORNING NOT LONG AGO, I was born again. Though unexpected, this was never outside the realm of possibility. According to the teachings of Pure Land Buddhism, all who call Namu Amida Butsu, Amida Buddha’s name, may be reborn in the “Land of Utmost Bliss,” provided they truly believe that he will save them. That, of course, had been the problem. Try as I might to finesse my way into the Pure Land, it didn’t matter as long as I didn’t believe.

Then, one Saturday in March, as I sat in my rocking chair gazing out the window at the back yard, a great and irrevocable change was triggered within me: I accepted, simply and without reservation, the teaching I had received from Pure Land founders Honen and Shinran—and I believed. Rennyo Shonin, the eighth head priest in the Jodo Shinshu lineage of Pure Land Buddhism, taught that we should not recite the nembutsu (Namu Amida Butsu) in order to be saved, but rather because we were saved—in other words, not out of fear, but as the expression of gratitude and joy. I’d tried to do this countless times in the mistaken belief that if I could make myself grateful enough I might have the experience of shinjin, or “true entrusting,” that Shinran and Rennyo had spoken about. But I was coming at it backwards.Shinjin was the cause of gratitude, not the other way around. But now all that has changed.

I believe in the Pure Land, established countless aeons ago by Amida Buddha so that deluded beings like myself can be reborn there when they die. Further, I believe that I am born now—that at the moment I step beyond my own understanding, and entrust to a power beyond myself, I am “embraced, never to be forsaken” by Amida’s Infinite Light and Life. And that, at last, does cause joy to well up from within me. In fact, there is no way I can suppress it.

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