Posts Tagged ‘Unknowing’

Mindful of the Measureless

March 3, 2016

Amida Buddhism is often identified as the spiritual path of “other-power.” Instead of beginning with the dynamic and strenuous yoga of self perfection, Amida Buddhism begins with acknowledging our shortcomings and taking refuge in the Buddhas – that which is other than self.

Chorten_at_Milarepas_CaveWhereas we – self clinging beings – exist in the world of measurement, comparison, and judgement; Buddhas are beyond measure. The qualities of a Buddha are likewise unconditioned. They are Dharma –  spontaneous expression of the measureless reality of awakening. As beings who measure, we cannot truly understand Buddhas or Dharma. As the Lotus Sutra reminds us, “Only a Buddha together with a Buddha can fathom the ultimate reality of things.”

Nembutsu, Mindfulness of Buddha, is the practice of remembering the measureless – the infinite openness of awakening. It is very much akin to Roshi Bernie Glassman’s “unknowing.” Except that in Roshi Glassman’s case, unknowing is something we take on, a sort of practice or training.

For Amida Buddhist “unknowing” is simply recognizing the already existent reality of measurelessness. In the presence of the Buddhas, we see that we are foolish and limited beings caught up in self clinging.

Nembutsu reminds us that we can never see the all the effects of “our” actions, nor understand the multitude of causes and conditions motivating the actions of others. Living in the world, we strive to bring as much love and compassion as possible into each moment. After that, we must let go and take refuge in the Buddhas. In the context of the measureless lifespan of a Buddha, short-term failures or successes are often not what they appear. Gandhi, for example, may have never taken up the struggle for Indian independence if he had not suffered the defeat of being thrown off a train in Maritzburg, South Africa, because he was “colored.”

Nembutsu allows us to trust in the Buddhas. It aligns our life with the compassionate activities of the Buddhas, who can work on and through us, despite of our self-clinging. Indeed, the light of the Dharma often leaks out of those who trust in the Buddhas. Our internal process, which we in the West are obsessed with, is often not relevant to the expression of measureless compassion. Did the mendicant, who inspired Prince Siddhartha to take up the holy life, know that his visit to the village would play a crucial role in the life of the Buddha to be? Was the mendicant in a good mood or a bad mood that day? Was he at peace – joyful? Was he angry or jealous or lustful? We don’t know, and it is not relevant. His presence in the village that day, no matter his mind state, was enough to set the future Buddha on the path to awakening.

Nembutsu means resting in the presence of the Buddhas. It is basking in the spontaneous joy and unconditional love that surround all Buddhas. Having felt unconditionally loved and been touched by the measureless, we can (as the Zen saying goes) “return to the market bearing gifts.”

Namo Amida Bu!

Peace, Paul

Photo: By Greg Willis from Denver, CO, usa (Chorten at Milarepa’s Cave) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons