Monday, February 6, 2012

Too Bogged Down to Blog: In Need of Anicca

After my last blog entry where I revealed a little too much of myself, I’ve been trying to come up with something informative but impersonal, but felt stuck. For the March issue of the temple bulletin I found an article of Rev. Gyoko Saito’s where this passage describes the state I’ve been in:

... But so often we stand still in this known world and think about what we should do next; or we feel we understand everything about life and say, “Life is thus and so;” or we affirm ourselves, “I am it!” and fall into the kind of difficulty described in the Buddhist parable of “the river of water and the river of fire.” The raging river of water is the endless desire that cannot be satisfied; the river of fire is uncontrollable anger. Faced with the sight of both rivers, we tend to stop walking.

When I fall into this state, and stop developing the new life of mine, then I always hear the teacher’s voice: “Walk, and the way shall open up.” When I stop walking, when I get self-satisfied about my achievements, or when I feel self-pity as a result of my mistakes, or when in the world of criticism I say of others, “He is no good, she is no good,” or when because of anger I stop taking steps, stop moving – then I am killing myself. But when I start to walk, listening to the voice of life - “Walk, and the way shall open up” – then my life continuously develops and a new world open ups, no matter what I did previously.

--from Meditations on Death and Birth (privately published by Joan Sweany, 1983

I see Rev. Saito as a Jodo Shinshu hero. He calmly tolerated those personal difficulties that he could not control, but he didn’t settle for a blah existence of “accept and be grateful,” the message that much of the Jodo Shinshu presentation seems to emphasize. Like the other heroes – Shinran, Kiyozawa, Akegarasu, Maida – Rev. Saito answered the “call to adventure” – to leave the world of “should do” and enter the unknown, going into “the belly of the beast,” not afraid to challenge the authorities who tried to prevent Buddhism’s message of liberation from reaching more people.

Not sure how I’ll get moving through my rivers of desire and anger, but I’m glad for the voice of Rev. Saito, the voice giving meaning to Namu Amida Butsu – the call to the life of moving forward, anicca, continual dynamic change.


  1. Hmm, often the passionate and personal grabs me in a way that the informative and impersonal does not. I think both can have a place.

    Funny, when I saw the title of your post (in @arunlikhati's tweet), I read it as "arnica" and thought you had maybe strained a muscle and needed liniment...

    1. Now I know what "arnica" is. I am grateful for your comments. I had a problem of starting blog entries which turned into angry rants (not published, of course). Now I'm looking into the life of Rev. Saito (1927-2001) for guidance in separating out my personal issues (family relations, temple politics) from the wider struggle to convey Buddhism's teaching of freedom and equality despite the forces (racism, classism etc.) that try to squash them.