A message from Rev. Joshin Kamuro 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.
Jodo Shinshu is for Everybody, Anytime, and Anywhere
Rev. Joshin Kamuro
The Rhine River flows through Southwest Germany from Switzerland to the Netherlands. One of the cities in the Rhine basin is Düsseldorf, where the EKŌ-House Japanese Culture Center of Germany is located. I worked there from the summer of 2001 until the end of 2006. I lived in a rented apartment that was located near the Rhine. When it was pleasant, I went to the Rhine to enjoy a stroll along the promenade in the shade of trees or to sprawl on the grass and read books. I also looked at the cargo boats going back and forth on the Rhine. I would daydream about the cities on the upper and the lower Rhine to forget about my troubles. It also made me think about many things I missed, especially my hometown. The Rhine-Main-Danube Canal connects the Rhine River and the Danube River. Thus boats can travel from the Atlantic all the way to the Black Sea. The mild climate caused by the Rhine is good for wine making, and the boats bring prosperity and culture to the river basin.
One day in Düsseldorf, I got a telephone call from a terminally ill cancer patient. He asked, “Please come to my home and talk to me about Buddhism.” He was an elderly Japanese man married to a German woman. After he graduated from a Catholic University in Japan, he lived about 40 years in Germany. When his death was imminent, doubts arose in his mind. That is why he wanted to talk with me. From the moment I answered the telephone, I was embarrassed. I had never talked to such a person before. If I said something irresponsible, I would confuse him. I had no idea what to say to him. Soon afterward, I went to the library to look for books on “Terminal Care,” and I sought advice from my parents. I worked out to respond to him as a Jodo Shinshu minister.
On last the day came. He had called and said he wanted to read a sutra. I had prepared the string of beads for mindfulness nenju, the Jodo Shinshu scriptures, the Shōshinge (The Gatha of True Shinjin and the Nembutsu) which I recorded on tape and the strip of paper with the Amida’s Name Namo Amida Butsu written on it. When the director of the EKŌ-House and I visited his house, he came out to the entrance in person and welcomed us. He was alone at home; he didn’t want anybody to hear his private interview, even his wife. His legs were swollen, and he was out of breath even with a little walking from the entrance to the living room. As soon as he sat down on the sofa, he asked us one question after another. “What is Buddhism?” “Is there the River of Three courses of affliction?” “Can I say I am a Buddhist?” “In my mind, I can see the temple gardens where I used to play as a child.” He had already lived in Germany for 40 years, so his longing for home was very strong. I felt his yearning to go back to where he grew up and to return to the temple he so fondly remembered from childhood. After this, we turned to the scriptures, and we began explaining the contents of the Shōshinge. The principal image of reverence in Jodo Shinshu is Amida Buddha. Six characters “Na-Mo-A-Mi-Da-Butsu” are called the Name, myōgō. The Name of Amida, myōgō, embodies the supreme virtues. If we truly accept saying the Name with Shinjin, then our birth in the Pure Land is absolutely assured. It can be performed by anyone. This teaching is Shin Buddhism. He was surprised at how compassionate the teaching was. Then we explained the idea of kue issho, a term from the Amida Sutra which means the one place where we will meet together. This place is called the Pure Land, Jōdo. I told him that we could meet again at the one place called the Pure Land, Jōdo. These were my words to him as a Jodo Shinshu minister. We left with these words and went back to the EKŌ-House.
A week later he passed on. His wife told me how peaceful his face looked at the moment of the death. She said he would sleep well when he put on the tape of the Shōshinge in his bedroom. Also he stared at the strip of paper with the Amida’s Name Namo Amida Butsu written on it. Through encountering him, I realized that Jodo Shinshu fits all people. I realized how wonderful the teaching is! Jodo Shinshu is for everybody, anytime and anywhere.
The ocean of birth-and-death, of painful existence, has no bound;
Only by the ship of Amida’s universal Vow
Can we, who have long been drowning,
Unfailingly be brought across it.
This is one of the hymns composed by Shinran Shonin to praise Bodhisattva Nāgārjuna in the Kōsō Wasan (Hymns of the Pure Land Masters). There are three reasons to use the metaphor of ship. First, a ship doesn’t require its passengers to make efforts, unlike a stone which never is able to float on water itself. Second, the ship is able to admit many people. Third, the ship brings us to the other shore, where we are free from anxiety. In short, this ship metaphor tells us that only the power of Amida’s Vow can bring us from this bank of the river between life and death to the realm of enlightenment without exception. Therefore, we just need to entrust without doubt in the power of Amida’s Vow and gratefully accept saying Amida’s Name, Namo Amida Butsu.