Every Sunday, we chant a sutra and say "Namu Amida Butsu." The Nembutsu, Namu Amida Butsu is a core of our teaching. But what is its meaning? What is Namu Amida Butsu? There are many definitions for Namu Amida Butsu because each minister explains the Nembutsu according to his understanding and experience. The explanation itself or view may differ, but the essence of the Nembutsu is the same for everyone. I would like to talk about the Nembutsu, Namu Amida Butsu. First, what is the most important thing in your life?
Speaking for myself, the most important thing in my life changes according to my condition. Sometimes, my daughter Sakura is most important to me and sometimes I am the most important to myself. At other times, money may be important, depending on my situation. How about you? Is it your wife, house, car, children or money? If we think that money is the most important, we will suffer. This is because, even though we treasure our money, after we have spent it, it's gone. Likewise, if our house burns down, we'll have no place to sleep. Even though we love our children and live for them, we lose them physically when we die. Those things are impermanent and we will lose them certainly, someday. When we lose something important to ourselves, we have a tendency to lose the desire to go on living.
Many people turn to religion when they are seeking something that will never change. In a religious place like a church, where is the most important thing, object or symbol placed? It is usually front and center. One group may put a cross in the center. Another group may put a figure of Jesus Christ. I saw one group put a snake in the center. In their religion, a snake is the most important, and if one dies from a snake bite, it is said he or she will go to paradise after death. In this group, many such believers are veterans returning from Vietnam. They lost what was the most important to them and found the snake to take its place. Other groups put a sutra in the center, or a figure of Siddartha (the Buddha's birth name before enlightenment). What is centered in our altar? It is Amida Buddha. Is Amida a person? Siddhartha, of course, was a person who awakened to the truth, which is the Dharma. Amida Buddha symbolizes this Dharma itself. Thus the center of our altar is the Dharma itself, not Siddhartha, the person.
Let us think of the Nembutsu, Namu Amida Butsu. "Namu" is a word in India which means to believe in or to take refuge in. So when we say Namu Amida Butsu, we are saying "I take refuge in Amida Buddha" or "I go to Amida Buddha for guidance." In other words, Amida Buddha is the most important to me. My most important thing is not money, not delicious food, not my house, not beautiful lady, it is the Dharma, Amida Buddha. This declaration is Namu Amida Butsu. Thus, our altar symbolizes our inner mind. When we are able to put Amida Buddha in the center of our lives, we become true Shinshu followers. But in most cases, even as we say "Namu Amida Butsu," most everything is centered around our food, car, or wife. Right after I may say "Namu Amida Butsu," I go back to putting money in the center of my mind. So actually, I really can't just say Nembutsu by myself. Namu Amida Butsu doesn't come from my power. It is beyond my ego, selfishness or self-centeredness. My teacher once said, "Nembutsu is your fundamental wish."
We want to live according to the truth, Dharma, which is our fundamental wish. That wish is calling us to awaken to the Dharma. So Nembutsu is the "Dharma's calling"; the sound of Namu Amida Butsu spoken through our mouths is coming from our fundamental wish. This is the Nembutsu, Namu Amida Butsu. When we say Namu Amida Butsu, we are saying "I will put Amida Buddha, the Dharma, in the center of my life." Listen to the voice of the Nembutsu and ask yourself, "What is my center now?" Through this kind of "self-examination," we can realize the way to live as a Buddhist, as a true human being.
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