What is a Buddhist Temple? In essence, it is a place for listening to the Buddha's teaching, and its services are a ceremony to transmit those teachings. At our temple, the Chanting, Gatha and Minister's Message are our connection to the Buddha's teaching and therefore should be easy to understand. However, if we ourselves don't know why we come to temple, if we don't understand the purpose of listening to the Buddha's teachings, then there is no reason to come to temple.
Please ask your self "Why am I here?," "Why do I need the Buddha's teachings?" Some people say, "I come to temple for the religious education of my children." Others say, "I need a place to belong to," or, "I enjoy seeing and talking to my friends at the temple." Also, some people say that Buddhism is a part of Japanese culture, and that they want to learn more about it. But are these the only reasons for coming to temple?
Shinran Shonin already made this question clear in the Tannisho. When Shinran returned to Kyoto after 20 years in Kanto, there existed a heretical teaching of Nembutsu (Namu Amida Butsu) among the Nembutsu followers in Kanto, which was different from Shinran Shonin's. A few of Shinran's followers went to Kyoto asking for his interpretation of the Nembutsu teaching. One of them was Yuien, a student of Shinran, and the one who wrote the Tannisho. In the Tannisho, Shinran Shonin said " Your intention of coming here (to Kyoto) after a long journey though more than ten different provinces even at the risk of your lives, was simply to hear from me concerning the way of rebirth in the land of bliss." He pointed out that their intention for coming to Kyoto was to hear the way to be reborn into the Pure Land. It was for this purpose that they visited Shinran Shonin in Kyoto.
Our intention for coming to temple every Sunday is the same intention as Shinran's followers from Kanto, which is listening to the way to be reborn into the Pure Land. Therefore, we have to ask ourselves, do we really want to be reborn into the Pure Land? If we don't have this intention, then there is no meaning in coming to temple. There is no reason to listen to Buddha's teaching.
We come to the temple and listen to the teaching of the Buddha and Shinran Shonin. They encourage us to take the way of rebirth into the Pure Land, to acquire peace of mind. But do we really want to have this state of mind? This kind of wish for rebirth into the pure land is called Gansho Shin or Yokusho Shin, the mind that is wishing to be reborn into the Land of Amida, the pure desire for rebirth into the Land of bliss. Also, this wish is called Bodaishin or Bodhicitta, which is the aspiration to be an awakened person in general Buddhism. We have many services, activities, fundraisers and so forth on our temple schedule. But we should not forget that our main intention to come to temple is listening to the Dharma.
However, we still might wonder why we need to be reborn into the Pure Land. In order to answer this, we must first ask what is the "Pure Land," and where is it? Are we reborn into the Pure Land after death? In general, many people think that the Pure Land is similar to "Heaven" in Christianity, and that if you're a good person, after death you will be able to go to such a place and have a happy life there. However, the Pure Land in Buddhism is not like the Christian Heaven. It's not a physical place. The Pure Land symbolizes Buddha's state of mind, which is a peaceful, spiritual world called Nirvana. We can have this kind of mind when we have the true view, or Shinjin, in our lives.
When we have difficulties or suffering in our life, we think that our life is supposed to be happy and smooth and that it should not have any suffering. We think our life should always go the way we want it to. But in the real world, life does not always go the way we'd like. When we truly realize this truth that life is suffering, we gain a new view of our life. At that time, our ego and self-centered mind will be crushed. We will be spiritually dead. However, only in this way can we be reborn into the New World spiritually called the Pure Land. We will receive the true view, which allows us to see this world and our own existence without ego. This view is the view of the awakened person. The world of oneness will open in front of us. Having this true view for our lives is called Shinjin, the heart that entrusts in the teaching of Amida Buddha.
Shantao, one of the Seven Patriarchs of Shin Buddhism, said, "People who have an entrusting heart (Shinjin) in the teaching of Amida Buddha, already have their minds in the Pure Land." Shinran Shonin echoed Shantao by saying, " My life is filled with all kinds of desires and delusions, but my mind is playing in the Pure Land." In Jodo Shinshu, we traditionally say we are able to be reborn into the Pure Land by reciting Nembutsu (Namu Amida Butsu).
Our world and our daily lives are very busy and our minds are constantly changing. Because of this, we have a tendency to lose the true direction for our lives. But if we have the Buddhist teachings, we will not lose our true direction. This teaching makes us focus on where we should go. Keeping Nembutsu in our daily lives is the easiest way to keep the Buddha's teaching in our lives. We don't have to carry the sutras or the Buddha's image. We can have the teachings of the Buddha anywhere when we recite Nembutsu. Saying Nembutsu pulls us back to the Pure Land, to the spiritual world of Nirvana, and makes us face the Teachings of Buddha. It reminds us of the true direction for our daily life. Therefore, the Pure Land is not a world after death. We can have it in our present life. We can see it. And if we seriously think about our own lives, we can have the Pure Land in our mind.
At a recent Joint Retreat, Rev. Wada said "When we listen to and share the teaching of the Buddha with others, the working of the Pure Land comes to us. Then that place becomes the Pure Land." So here at our own temple, this Sangha is a Pure Land. Also, when we have Nembutsu in our home, our homes turn into the Pure Land.
Shinran Shonin said that the Nembutsu practice is easiest way to become an awakened person. Please ask yourself, "What is the meaning of Nembutsu in my life"? Do I practice Nembutsu in my everyday life? Gaining a deep understanding and appreciation of the Nembutsu practice is our true intention for coming to temple, and the true wish for our lives.
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