Nembutsu in the West

Nembutsu, which is considered the simple in the path in the East, is not at all a simple path for Westerners who were raised in a secular culture informed by Judeo-Christian religion. There is no cultural foundation of Buddhism upon which to teach the simple practice of Nembutsu.  In teaching the Nembutsu we must also teach the fundamentals of Buddhism.  It is here, in teaching Buddhism to non-Buddhist Westerners, that the ground can get treacherous.  Buddhism is not Christianity.  In fact Buddhism offers a pretty radically different understanding of the universe than the Judeo-Christian world view. The danger is that in trying to explain the Dharma we might wrap up our Judeo-Christian cultural paradigm in the robes of the Buddha and call it Buddhism.

Emptiness (Sunyata) is not a synonym for the Judeo-Christian God. Faith is only a loose translation of wide range of terms used in Buddhist texts of various languages. Meditation is an english word that is a applied to a  vast number of different Buddhist contemplative practices and yogas. As Buddhist practitioners and teachers we need to be aware that we are practicing a religion that is in translation. 

Nembutsu is a non-self (anatta) or a beyond (parasamgate) self practice. In this sense it is similar to the many other Buddhist practices we encounter in the West. However,  without some grounding in Buddhism the Nembutsu, like other Buddhist practices, can become  just another self building practice.  A practice used to better our selves but divorced from the teaching of non-self. 

Bettering ourselves is important. We should try to be more compassionate and ethical people.  However, this, at least for the Nembutsu practitioner, is secondary, a benefit arising out of the Nembutsu. Nembutsu, as a truly Buddhist practice, can awakens us to the reality of Measureless Awakening: a reality in which we live and breath but are unable to perceive because we are caught up in avidya (ignorance) and cling to self as real.

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

 

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