July 2018 Message
"Lost wallet, lost phone"
If you travel westward from here, passing a hundred thousand kotis (millions) of Buddha-lands, you come to the land called “Utmost Bliss” where there is a Buddha named Amida. He is living there now, teaching the Dharma.
The Buddha replied to Ananda, “The Bodhisattva, Dharmakara has already attained Buddhahood and is now dwelling in a western Buddha-land called “Peace and Bliss” a hundred thousand kotis of lands away from here...The land itself is so vast, spreading boundlessly to the farthest extent, that it is impossible to know its limit.
The Larger Sutra
Then the World Honored One said to Vaidehi, “Do you know that Amida is not far away?”
The Contemplation Sutra"
According to the sutras, Amida Buddha is the Buddha of unobstructable Light and Infinite Life. The Pure Land in which Amida Buddha dwells is the most perfect environment where one can practice and fulfill Wisdom and Compassion. As the sutras describe, the Pure Land is located some hundred, thousand million miles away in the Western direction. It is Infinitely broad, vast and expansive. Although in one sutra it states that Amida and the Pure Land is infinitely far off in the distance, another sutra says that we should know that Amida Buddha in the Pure Land is not far away. How are we to understand this contradiction?.
I look at the sutras as being like the finger pointing to the moon. If we focus only on the finger we miss the heavenly radiance of the moon. But it is because of the finger that we are enabled to see the moon. In other words we must look at the sutras as guides. So instead of looking at what the sutras are saying as being true, we must look at the sutras and ask, “what do they mean?” “What are they trying to make us understand?”
Several years ago our son was going back to school just before the 4th of July. The day before he was scheduled to leave, he decided to have his last hurrah by spending it with friends at the beach in Santa Cruz. We were to meet later in the evening at a restaurant for dinner. When he got to the restaurant, he told us that he lost his wallet somewhere in Santa Cruz.
Of course in his wallet was his student ID, Driver’s license, credit cards, ATM cards, everything. He was scheduled for a flight out at 8:30 the next morning, Friday, July 3rd, which was also a holiday so many business and government offices were closed. However, even if they were opened, there was no way we could get him to the DMV to get a replacement ID or drivers license to use so that he could board his flight. Luckily he had his passport. We had to give him cash so that he could get around once he landed in Boston. Again, we thought this was the worst time for him to lose his wallet.
The following day, July 4th, the day after he arrived in Boston without his wallet, we got a strange call at home from a lady saying that she found a cell phone and was calling to try to return it. It turned out that Tommy had lost his cell phone in Boston!
Luckily he had a “find your phone app” on his phone and was able to connect with this lady who called us earlier and was able to retrieve his phone. We felt so grateful that he was able to get his phone back. But more importantly we felt extremely appreciative that there were still good people in this world who want to do the right thing. It restored our faith in humanity.
A few days later on Monday evening July 6th, we received a package in the mail and in the package was Tommy’s wallet. Apparently, according to the note, Tommy must have dropped his wallet in a parking lot in Santa Cruz and someone found it. They took the wallet home and immediately dropped it in the mailbox for Priority delivery.
Now even more so, were we deeply appreciative. We were the recipients of 2 random stranger’s acts of kindness and compassion. We had given up on ever retrieving the phone and wallet and yet we received them. Isn’t that just amazing? How inconceivable is that? To lose a wallet and phone in a matter of days and then to be able to get them back…what are the odds for that to happen?
According to the sutras, the Pure Land of Amida Buddha is extremely far off in the distance and infinitely board and vast. Yet at the same time it is so close. In the midst of our troubles, we may feel so distant and alone. Yet in an instant, something could happen that transforms that negativity into something positive. If you think about the circle of influence of these two un-related good Samaritans and our lives, they are completely different with no intersections. They were complete strangers to us. We don’t know anything about them. Most likely we have different life styles, occupation, different circle of friends, interest, different reasons for being where we are. So in a sense we could say that the lives and ours were infinitely separated from each other. We were living in completely different cities from each other. And yet there came a point where our lives intersected and what brought us to that point of intersection was compassion. Through the compassion of another, our lives for an instant become infinitely close.
The Pure Land of Amida Buddha is said to be a hundred thousand of millions of Buddha lands away in the western direction. The sutras also describe the Pure Land as the most ideal environment where Wisdom and Compassion is perfected. And because this land is said to be infinitely vast and extensive, there is nowhere that this Wisdom and Compassion does not reach. In the same way, although physically we may live tens, hundreds and even thousands of miles from each other, somehow we received the benefit of these virtual strangers, people who we never had any contact with before, and yet we were touched by their heart of wisdom and compassion in a short period of time. To me this is truly inconceivable, unfathomable, and indescribable. This is how I understand that although Amida Buddha and his Pure Land are infinitely far and yet they are also so very close.
The separate paths of our individual lives have crossed in the here and now. And I think that these intersections of life continue to occur even with those who have already passed away.
This I think is the basis for Shinran’s realization of the workings of Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow. Despite the limitations of one’s self, we are embraced with the wisdom and compassion of the Buddha. We cannot come to fully recognize the depth with which we are embraced as long as we continue to complain, as long as we maintain our ego-centeredness, and our selfish attachments. When we are in such a condition, the Pure Land must seem very far and distant from us. However, every once in awhile, we can see glimpses into the light and life of wisdom and compassion. This is the realization that Shinran describes as Shinjin. Shinjin is the realization of the limitations that we have because we are simple ordinary beings. At the same time it is the realization that as simple ordinary beings we are embraced with the heart of great love and great compassion and assured of attaining the enlightenment that one shall attain.
This is the condition when Amida and the Pure Land are not far away.
Obon is a time for us to take the opportunity to remember our loved ones who have passed away. For many of you, I am sure you continue to bear the deep grief that comes with any loss. Yes, we have lost a loved one. Yes, our lives are forever changed. We no longer can physically touch our loved ones or be able to speak to them and hear their reply. However, this does not mean that their lives have come to an end. We continue to be karmically bound to them each time we think of them; each time we remember them. Like a boiling pot of water on the stove, the water continues to boil even after it is removed from the flame. So too, our loved ones continue to embrace and guide us in our lives, through their thoughts action and words.
I hope that you will remember that Obon is also a reminder that their lives continue to influence ours whether they have passed away recently or many years ago. It is an affirmation of their lives as well as the recognition of the Oneness of our lives. For this reason, I think that we can thing of the Pure Land as seeming to be so far away and yet so close. And that is why Obon can be called a Gathering of Joy.