On Nov. 1, 2003, Rev. Peter Lait gave the keynote address at a special retreat held for the North American District (NAD) religious committee members. In his presentation, Rev. Lait emphasized that, while it is absolutely true that we are all suffering, it is also true that our suffering is due to our ignorance, to our lack of understanding about ourselves. As Shakyamuni said, we are suffering because we dont understand ourselves...we must examine our self and realize that we cause our own suffering, he said. And, when we look deeply inside, we find what Buddhism calls the "three poisons"; ignorance, greed and anger. And he added that, rather than focusing on the here-and-now, We are always looking for a better tomorrow. But dont look to tomorrow; now is the only time we have. Furthermore, unlike certain other Buddhist traditions that have distinct "practices," Rev. Lait clarified that Jodo Shinshu has no practice. "This," he said, "is because in Jodo Shinshu, everyday living is our practice...this moment is our practice."
However, it is interesting that he did not, as some Jodo Shinshu teachers emphasize, advocate "leaving it up to" or trying to "call upon" the elusive "tariki" or other power to aid our attainment of the Pure Land or enlightenment. Rather, he said we should explore our self-power because it leads to other-power. Self-power is important; your own spiritual path is important. As an example, Rev. Laits own spiritual path included 7 years of seeking various Buddhist paths in India. Ultimately, he said, it is only when you get to the point of exhaustion that you can discover the Pure Land. He clarified that this point of exhaustion is none other than shinjin, or as he put it, the crisis point. This crisis point happens only once in our lives, but as we live out our lives, our understanding of it is deepened. But this doesnt mean we are suddenly free of the problems of the ego-self. We still have our ego, but after shinjin, we can see ourselves more clearly and take a step back from it, he said. Ultimately, shinjin is an existential transformation in us, like a deep, gut-wrenching reappraisal of our true nature. This is a negative, unpleasant self-realization, but it also leads to a positive spiritual rebirth, to a person who, as Rev. Lait put it, can sincerely entrust themselves to the Buddha-Dharma.
Interestingly, some religious committee members questioned Rev. Lait on his well-known (to NAD religious committee members, at least), and controversial stance of not saying the Nembutsu. He clarified that this is simply due to its being a foreign-sounding phrase that he, as an Englishman, is uncomfortable with. And actually, more than a few American Shinshu Buddhists have also expressed their confusion about its meaning, if not their outright discomfort with saying it. Not surprisingly, this Nembutsu issue shed some light on the question of the future of Jodo Shinshu here in America, which is facing an uncertain future due to its terms, ceremonies and rituals often appearing quite foreign to most Americans. But even in Japan, where these terms and rituals were created and are certainly not foreign, "saying the Nembutsu" has become little more than a mere formality for most Buddhists. In Japan, Jodo Shinshu is a huge shell with nothing inside, Rev. Lait declared, thus making a clear distinction between the containeri.e., the religious words, rituals, etc. and the wateri.e., the dynamic essence of the Dharma itself. However, he clarified, here, as pragmatic Americans, you need to taste the shinjin experience. And consequently, it follows that if we Americans can, in fact, taste this key experience, Shinshu perhaps does have a future here. If we can cut off all this Japanese stuff (e.g., saying Nembutsu), Jodo Shinshu has a great potential to be successful in helping people here in America that have no hope. It is universal.
Regarding the sharing or promoting of the shinjin experience, Rev. Lait pointed out that this outward focus is the other side of the coin of the inward focus of self-examination. In other words, if going to the Pure Land is reaching the crisis point and truely seeing the futility of ones ego-self, one must also return to this daily world from the Pure Land and share their understanding with others. As far as the specifics of how to do this, Rev. Lait pointed out that after shinjin, one can naturally be an example of living Nembutsu...it is done through your smile, your heart...it is a living spirituality.
Finally, though Rev. Lait himself never claimed to be a person of shinjin, to many of those present, Rev. Lait, in the warmth of his person, clearly seemed to be a true Nembutsu follower, whether he actually says it or not. And, in his own words, Living the Nembutsu is much better than saying the Nembutsu.
Library Menu | Home