Thirteenth European Shin Buddhist Conference -
Nembutsu: Overcoming Secularism and Fundamentalism -
bijdrage van Marcus Cumberlege

Fundamentalism, in my rather limited experience, is mostly about people who are determined to impose their own beliefs or non-beliefs upon their fellow men and women.

One of Fundamentalism’s main allies is a disease or sickness sometimes known as “perfectionism”, which tends to infect those who are dissatisfied – either with their environment or with their personal achievements. I will return later to the theme of dissatisfaction, for it affects most of us in one way or another.

Some of us, unfortunately, often forget that enjoyment (even of very small things like a cup of tea and a pleasant conversation) is an essential ingredient of a life well lived. Those who are fond of giving out in the market place, as well as their adherents, usually fail to see the wood for the trees. There are many illuminating references in our tradition to the miraculous pleasures of carrying wood and drawing water...Personally I enjoy a breakfast of fruit muesli which has taken half an hour in meditation to prepare!

It could of course be asked: “What is more important – the journey or the destination?” The Way of Nembutsu Faith, or ultimate Nirvana in the Pure Land? I think this question misses the point. Is life really such a complicated koan that we have to keep battering our heads against the wall? With a bit of good will and help from above, do not the extremes meet in a kind of centre which we can conveniently call the Way? A way consisting of the observation of a spring flower, a baby’s smile, the love-play of two clouds in the sky, a friend deeply immersed in zazen, a train caught with seconds to spare, a telephone that rings when you are feeling lonely.

“The nembutsu moon
hangs high up in the night sky.
I stretch and take it.”

This haiku relates to an actual experience, it is not just a poetic image.

My Namu Amida Butsu is powerful, my fist is clenched, my spirit determined. It’s the middle of the night, and nothing is visible but the moon. She, at least, will be a witness to my nembutsu. Have I said something wrong? Has my Karma run over my Dogma? Dear me!

It is my strongly felt conviction that each human or other sentient being is the centre and focal point of his or her individual universe with its own set of laws.

This does not in the least imply that contact and spiritual interchange with other neighbouring or distant universes is excluded. “Tolerance, and love of others are our watchword,” wrote a great 20th century American.

What power is to stop us Shin Buddhists with our sole practice of Namu Amida Butsu from having fulfilling relationships and even physical marriages with reborn Christians and Muslims? Other Power? Vow Power? Self Power? Horse Power? Are these people infected with a virus and do they need to be kept at a distance?

Are we forbidden, as Buddhists, to glance from time to time at their bibles and prayer books which advocate “faith, hope and love”? Can we look into our heart of hearts and say that we have got something better than these three to offer our families and friends? Must we wear spiritual blinkers because our Masters (who may not become schoolmasters!) want us to settle our minds with the nembutsu?

No! Let us be quick to rejoice in the fact that others have got something worthwhile going for them too. As the Flemish proverb puts it, we do not have a sole stake in this matter of wisdom. “Vive la Différence!” Let us enrich our culture and personal backgrounds instead of closing up and shrinking into intolerance.

Life is a learning process, and the older we get the more we learn. Some things, like the utterance of Namu Amida Butsu, seem only to reveal their essence through continual practice. Learning to trust in Amida, to begin with, and to have faith in his ability to “fix” things, has been a matter of trial and error for many of us whose Shinjin was not truly established. We were forgiven.

I am convinced that Amida and Sakyamuni have endeavoured by all possible means to prepare this ignorant bombu for a birth. I know that Amida wants me to lean on him and that the help he has to offer is my birthright – not something I have to beg for. This very, very helpful idea which filtered through to my brain recently, was engendered by correspondence with “soulmates” from a completely different religious tradition.

I had been told that “wanting” things was spiritually bad news – that I should sublimate the Self in service and in giving. My needs, they told me, were more important than my wants and God (that’s the word they used) was the one who knew what they were. But now that I realize Amida wants me to let him help me, I don’t need my wants any more, for they are being fulfilled without my knowing it.

Ji-Shin - Summer 2004.

Ekō 102

European Shin Buddhist Conferences

jikōji - 慈光寺

© 2004