A message from Rev. Toshiyuki Umitani which appears in the book, “The Taste of the Nembutsu,” published in 2016 by the HHMH State Ministers’ Association. The book is a collection of dharma messages by each of the active ministers.
To extend the reach of the dharma within these messages, we will publish one per week on our website.
Guided by Amida Buddha
Rev. Toshiyuki Umitani
Eikan (1033-1111) was a Buddhist minister who had trained in a number of temples of different disciplines and was a passionate devotee of the Pure Land Buddhism. The temple he presided at is named after him and called “Eikan-do” which locates in Kyoto prefecture, Japan. The temple is famous for its beautiful garden and the very famous statue of Amida Buddha which is called “Mikaeri Amida (the Looking-Back Amida).”
This is the legend concerning this principal image of the Mikaeri Amida. One day Eikan was practicing the Nembutsu around the shrine of Amida Buddha. It was the practice to recite the Buddha’s name constantly while walking around the statue in the altar. As Eikan performed this practice for a while, he then saw the statue of Amida Buddha had stepped down from the shrine and began walking right in front of him. He was very surprised at that sight so he halted the ritual on the spot. Eikan could do nothing but stare. Then Amida Buddha who was walking in front of him turned and looked back over his left shoulder and called to him in a soft voice, “Eikan Ososhi (Eikan! Follow me!)”. It is said that this particular statue of Amida Buddha, that looks over its shoulder rather than straight ahead, was created later in the Kamakura Period based on this legend.
Eikan’s joy and excitement when he saw Amida Buddha walking with him must have been profound and immeasurable. How much encouragement and comfort did Eikan receive from Amida Buddha’s warm face saying “Eikan, follow me.”!
Shinran Shonin wrote in his Wasan as follows:
When sentient beings think on Amida
Just as a child thinks of its mother,
They indeed see the Tathagata – who is never distant –
Both in the present and in the future
(Jodo Wasan #115)
A child starts calling his mother as “mother” because his mother has been constantly reaching out to her son by saying, “I am your mother. I will be with you.” In the same way, when we (sentient beings) think of Amida, it means that Amida Buddha has been always reaching out to us with his compassionate heart. Amida Buddha does not preside somewhere far away, but is right here, right now. Amida Buddha is guiding and embracing us with his Great Compassion, and also walking the path with each of us. Amida Buddha is not the Buddha saying, “You must come here through your own effort.” Then, only a limited number of people who is strong, wise, and skilled can follow this path. But Amida Buddha is the Buddha who is reaching out his hand to those who struggles against their limitation and saying, “Let’s walk the path together with me”. The Nembutsu transforms a person who is filled with blind passions into a new person walking the path to enlightenment.
The following is my mother’s Dharma Message before she passed away.
A picture I visualize whenever I encounter a difficult time is a picture of the Pure Land parable of the two rivers and white path. There is a white narrow path between the two rivers of fire and water. The traveler on the white path is about to take another step forward. He is pursued by fearful bandits and animals right behind him. There is no other way for him but to proceed on this narrow path. On the other side of the river, Amida Buddha opens his arms and beckons the traveler, saying, “Come as you are with singleness of heart. Do not fear the flames and waves; I shall protect you!”
I compare my own life to the traveler of this picture. Even if my path is filled with predicaments, Amida Buddha welcomes me with open arms. Each of my unsteady steps to walk this narrow path is already illuminated by the compassion of Amida Buddha. This appreciation to the Dharma considerably softens my physical and mental agony that I endure occasionally and gives me a great comfort in my difficult daily lives. “There is a place to return to; there is the Buddha who welcomes me always,” – What a great relief and comfort it is!
The Vow of Amida Buddha who resolved to save all the sentient beings has been providing many people with a great sense of joy and comfort. A life whose direction is not certain is filled with fear, but a life whose destination is determined to be the Pure Land of Amida is filled with profound joy and comfort. Namo Amida Butsu.