Gan-ni-shi ku-doku, byo-do se is-sai
During my presentation time, Dr. Haneda pointed out to everyone that in the last verse of “The Song of Encouragement,” Shan-tao is speaking from the view of self-power practice, proclaiming, “I vow to distribute the virtues I’ve accumulated to other people.” Dr. Haneda then added, “Shinran would never say such a thing – to talk of eko (“merit-transference”) as one’s own ability to accumulate virtues and pass them on to others.” It sounded like we’re all wrong to be chanting this passage at our Jodo Shinshu temples. Rev. Paul Vielle of the Spokane Buddhist Church came up with a more palatable translation, “May these virtues be shared will all beings,” by taking out any whiff of anyone taking self-power credit for the merits and for being the one to distribute them.
As they do every year, after the retreat, Dr. Haneda and his wife Tomoko invited everyone to their home for a barbecue lunch. When most people had eaten and already left to drive home or catch flights, I was asked by someone to elaborate on the “not yet” portion of “The Song of Encouragement.” Dr. Haneda then pointed out the verses were not Shan-tao’s confession that he didn’t yet appreciate all the seemingly unenlightened folks, but that it was Shan-tao voicing his respect for only the elite bodhisattvas who were well on their way to enlightenment even though some were not quite there yet.
When Tomoko was dropping me off at the San Francisco airport, I told her how bad I felt about giving a presentation that was so wrong. She said she was so busy at the retreat setting up the meals that she missed my talk and most of the lectures by her husband. She asked me if I thought the retreat topic of eko (“merit-transference”) was “too heavy.” I said it was hard to understand, but I wouldn’t call it “too heavy,” that is, too much over everyone’s heads as to be a waste of time. That’s when she said, “The important thing is what it means to you.”
So maybe Shan-tao was an elitist puffed-up blankety-blank. But I’m the one who hears his words in “The Song of Encouragement” as the call of Oneness, the reminder to me of the complete equality of all beings. The heart/mind of seeking (bodhi-citta) is aroused in all of us together. No one, not even Shakyamuni or Shinran can claim they’ve managed to be a jump or two ahead of the rest of us. Together – we start our new life in Sukhavati (“realm of flowing”).
Do hotsu bo-dai shin, o-jo an-raku koku