Not an Easy Path

The Nembutsu or the reciting Namo Amida Bu, in the Pureland Buddhist tradition, is usually called the easy path. However, Nembutsu is not so much the easy path as the simple path.  It is the uncomplicated path.  One does not need any special implements or special place to practice the Nembutsu.  It is not even necessary to memorize texts and master complex practices.  Rather the whole of the practice of Nembutsu involves reciting “Namo Amida Bu”, with faith in the saving power of Amida’s vows.

Unlike many other practices and traditions, the recitation of Nembutsu does not come with any promises of mystic visions, instant enlightenment, or the realization of this or that elevated spiritual state.  Rather the practice of Nembutsu only ensures that one’s next birth, one’s last birth, will be in Amida’s Pureland of Sukhavati where one will ultimately become a Buddha and be able to help innumerable beings.

Meanwhile, in this very life, lived in the saha world, one just tries to do the best that one can as an ordinary human being.  This is the ruthlessness of Nembutsu. As a practitioner of Nembutsu we give up all of the fantasies and promises associated with the romance of enlightenment: no more pain, ignorance, aging, sickness, fear, death, suffering and stress.

Instead, as practitioners of the Nembutsu, we continue to live in, and see, and suffer through, all the various forms of Dukkha outlined by the Buddha Sakyamuni: the sufferings of birth, illness, old age, and death, the suffering of the 5 skandhas, as well as the sufferings of ignorance and wrong action.  Our friends and loved one’s still get sick and die, and it tears at our hearts.  We turn on the news and our minds are tormented by images of disaster, war, famine and the many senseless sufferings brought about by human greed, hatred and ignorance.  We must also live with the awareness of the suffering we create for others by our very own existence, even acting with the best of intentions.

In the face of these many sufferings we are essentially powerless. We can do small things, occasionally, and we should do them; practicing the little acts of compassion and kindness that are in our power. We should try to minimize suffering by living lives in line with the Eightfold path. But by and large there is nothing we, as little, separate, and independent beings can do. It is the Buddha’s compassion and wisdom that can heal suffering and bring peace. Reciting the Nembutsu means recognizing our limitations, our shortsightedness, and our ignorance. It is the calling upon Amida Tathagata, as our only hope and refuge. Nembutsu is the prayer for the ending of suffering for all beings everywhere. It must ride our every breath and be the pulse of our heart.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

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