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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?
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.
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