Sunday, August 10, 2014

Rev. Saito's "Bum"

Thanks to my Dharma friends, the last posting got over 30 views, so I am putting up the article by Rev. Gyoko Saito.
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“Bum” by Rev. Gyoko T. Saito
(from Meditations on Death and Birth, privately published by Joan Sweany, 1983)

[At the title of the article, Rev. Saito wrote in Chinese characters this quote from Shinran’s Gutoku-sho:  “The heart of Gutoku is such that I am inwardly foolish, outwardly wise.” Translation from CWS p. 587]

            Who is the clever fellow?
            I am.
            Because I suffer.

And I think you readers are clever fellows, too.

Once Mr. S was waiting for a bus under the hot summer sun. He noticed a man of about thirty, barefooted, wearing a dirty T-shirt and jeans, coming toward him carrying a newspaper. By the way the fellow was walking, he seemed exhausted. It looked as though he might fall down any minute. Suddenly he stopped in front of Mr. S, pointed to the want-ad section of the paper, and said, “I’m looking for a job. How many blocks do I have to walk to get to this place?” Mr. S looked at the paper. The place was really far.

“It’s about fifty blocks.” When the man heard that, he looked at him without any life, with hopeless eyes. And starting to take a couple steps, he looked as though he was going to collapse.

Human nature is originally good, according to an ancient saying. Mr. S felt such pity that he stopped the man and gave him bus fare, saying, “It’s too far to walk. Take the bus.” As soon as the fellow received the money, he suddenly came to life again and started to walk away happily. Then Mr. S saw him droop into his previous manner and approach someone else, pointing to the same newspaper in the same way.

It was quite a sophisticated game for getting money out of people. This bum was the clever fellow. Yet, though our approach may be even more sophisticated than his, don’t we do exactly the same kind of thing?

Higan means to “go across to the other shore.” How do we go across from this shore of the clever fellow to the other shore, the world of foolishness and ordinariness? According to the Buddhist parable, there is only a pale narrow bridge, a few inches wide, stretching across that river, and the bridge is drenched in flames and lashed by huge waves. How do we cross this bridge which is covered with the fires of anger and washed by the waters of greed? To this, the parable says something quite interesting – that only when a person honestly starts to seek the truth and takes a step forward does he suddenly come to this bridge covered with angry flames and greedy waves.

When Mr. S gave money to the bum, he became the truth seeker. He took one step toward enlightenment. He was the person who did good, who sought the truth. But where this mind of dana [Sanskrit for “generosity”] appeared in his mind, he suddenly saw the huge river of greedy water and angry flames.

In other words, when he saw the bum trying to trick other people, he saw the anger and greed which were in his own mind. When he felt he was tricked by the bum, he felt he was up against the huge river of fire and water. Thus, even though he had done good, he was digging his own grave.

More positively, I say: So long as we seek, we will definitely be confused.

How did Shinran transcend this contradiction? He said that it was by meeting his teacher Honen, who appeared to be utterly foolish but whose inner life was deeply wise. That is, Honen had no illusions about his being, its capacity and his own stupidity. His insight was deeper than anyone else’s. By meeting such a person as Honen, Shinran came to realize how foolish the clever fellow’s way of life really is.

After I met that bum, after I felt I was tricked, I then realized that the essence of my being was no different from his essence. So this bum is the Bodhisattva who reflects the bottomless ignorance of my own being.

== end ==

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Shining Examples: Amida Concrete and Plural

Countless Amida Buddhas reside
In the light of the Buddha of Unhindered Light;
Each one of these transformed Buddhas protects
The person of true and real shinjin.
-- Shinran Shonin, Jodo Wasan
(translation from Collected Works of Shinran, p. 355)

At the 2014 Maida Center retreat in Berkeley, I was glad to see the above wasan (verse written in vernacular Japanese) included in our 20-plus pages of reading material. It comes from the “Benefits in the Present Life” section of Shinran’s Jodo Wasan. That verse and others in the section remind me to appreciate the working of Great Wisdom (aka Unhindered Light) through the lives, human and otherwise, around us.

(at Jodo Shinshu Center, photo by Paul Vielle)
As they tell the journalism students, to help your audience understand an issue, you have to tell the story of specific people, e.g. in a news item about drug crime, you feature a family affected by the problem. Ministers and anyone in Buddhist education should be doing the same thing. Yet how easy it is to find Buddhist speakers and writers floating farther and farther away into the atmosphere with abstract concept upon concept, metaphors morphing into more metaphors. From time to time, Dr. Haneda has come up with brilliant examples of real people to illustrate his points (see “Put Your Lips to the Dust” in his book Dharma Breeze), but in settings such as the annual retreat, he has too many points to cover to take the time to talk of anyone besides Shinran.

The person who spoke and wrote about continually encountering the Unhindered Light in the bodies of beings in his everyday world, in the community and in the world known through history and the news, was Rev. Gyoko Saito. For my presentation at the Maida Center retreat, I had the group read Rev. Saito’s piece “Bum.” [I think if I get at least 30 hits on this post, I’ll put the piece on my blog.] I told the retreat attendees that it’s not much different now in our temple’s Uptown neighborhood. We have plenty of bodhisattvas teaching us true dana (generosity) by asking for train fare to get to some far-off home/work/relatives destination.

I wish I could be like Rev. Saito who recounted stories of the hundreds of Amida Buddhas he found in the temple membership and on the streets of Chicago. Maybe I just need time to get to know people longer or somehow break down my inattentiveness to the essence of their being

At the retreat I pointed out Ruby T., our temple member attending the retreat for the first time and said I tell her story in my article “Women’s Liberation in Buddhism” (see In fact, I use Ruby’s story quite frequently and at many venues. It makes real the metaphor in Manshi Kiyozawa’s “Peace Beyond Ethics.” The boy carrying the heavy tea-service tray is like Ruby when her husband fell ill and she felt the burden of becoming responsible for her whole family. The mother in Kiyozawa’s metaphor who walks behind the boy and helps hold up the tray is the chorus of “We’ll help you, Mommy” that Ruby heard from her small children. For Ruby in this situation “Namu Amida Butsu” is not some abstract summation, but a flash of deep awareness of the Power Beyond Self.

I know our temple membership is full of stories like Ruby’s and hopefully I can get to know them and learn for myself the concreteness of the many, many “transformed bodies” of Amida.