Listening to the Buddha-Dharma

by Taitsu Imai - Tacoma Buddhist Temple

Shurihandoku was a disciple of the Buddha Gautama. His older brother was intelligent while, in contrast, Shurihandoku was dimwitted and slow.  One day his brother's patience with him came to an end.  Thoroughly irritated with Shurihandoku's inability to understand the Buddha's teachings, he ordered his brother to leave the monastic order.  Just as Shurihandoku was leaving, the Buddha called him.  He handed Shurihandoku a broom and asked him to sweep the monastery repeating "Sweep away the dust, get rid of the lust."  He took the broom and swept the monastery repeating the simple line the Buddha taught him.  So as he swept day after day, he suddenly understood what the Buddha was trying to teach him - that he must sweep away the defilements that cluttered his mind.

What the Buddha conveys to us in this story of Shurihandoku is very important and he reminds us of the attitude of listening that just because a person knows a great deal about the Dharma (teaching), it does not make him a great person or a Buddhist.  But if a person knows just one thing and practices it, he is indeed entitled to be called a great person or Buddhist.  It is the same when it comes to us fellow Nembutsu followers.  Our daily practice is to listen to the Buddha-Dharma simply repeating Namu Amida Butsu and put to use in our everyday life what we have learned by attending temple services.

Temples do not exist merely to make us outwardly appear as if we are religious nor to be used so that we are looked upon as being good if we come to the temple.  The meaning of the recitation of Nembutsu, Namu Amida Butsu is to remind ourselves of the way of life which was shown by the Buddha just as Shurihandoku became one of the greatest disciples of the Buddha by repeating "Sweep the dust, get rid of the lust."

The Nembutsu is not a magic phrase or miracle, by the Name, Namu Amida Butsu is a constant reminder directing us in the way of life taught by the Buddha.  This way of life must be cultivated by ourselves; no one else can do it for us.  This way of life is clearly stated by the Buddha in the Dhammapada:

By ourselves is evil done
By ourselves we pain endure
By ourselves we cease from wrong,
By ourselves become pure
No one can free us but ourselves
No one can, and no one may -
We ourselves must walk the Path
Buddha merely show the Way.

There lived once an elderly couple.  The wife was born and raised by a family which was devoted to listening to the Buddha-Dharma.  So it was natural that she also became a devoted follower who never missed opportunities as she grew up, to listen to the Buddha-Dharma whenever services were held at her temple.

One day, she came to know that one very well-known Buddhist minister was visiting the temple, and so she worked as usual in continuing her tasks at home, looking forward to attending the service coming soon.  Now the time came near and the night before the service when she would listen to a visiting minister, she said to her husband, "Tomorrow there will be a visiting minister at our temple and I will be attending the service to listen to his sermon along with my friends.  They have been also looking forward to this opportunity as I have."  However, her husband said in reply, "I see...that's good...By the way, Baa-san!  You have been going to the temple to listen to many sermons for such a long time, probably more than twenty years or maybe more than thirty years since you started going there with your parents.  However, I have always wondered and wanted to ask you what you have been listening to or whether you have been really hearing those sermons...Don't you think you have heard enough since you have been to the temple for such a long time and I wonder if you have already passed over beyond the Pure Land.  But if you have not reached the point that you have been looking for, don't you think it is a waste of time?  Why don't you stop attending services?"

Although she was asked thus, she kept silent and thought a little while.  But at last, she broke her silence quietly and said to her husband, "Ojii-san!  Just like you said to me, you too, have been drinking at dinner for such a long time.  Haven't you drunk almost nearly thirty or thirty-five years every single evening since we were married?  Don't you think that you have also had enough of drinking?  You wouldn't mind if you stopped drinking once in a while, at dinner time, would you?  Skipping one drink should not be missed by you or would it?..."

Angered by the wife's words he said, "Don't you dare meddle with my affairs!  Drinking at dinner is something that I have to do to satisfy my empty stomach after long hours of hard working during the day.  And of course that drink penetrated my body and heart deeply which is exhausted from work.  The feeling and taste would be understood by one who enjoys drinking, but one who does not drink..."

Now, the wife, who had wished for a long time that her husband would start going to the temple but never had done so, thought this was a good chance to ask him and said to him with a smile, "That's exactly the reason I have been going to the temple.  Just as you said to me, it is also much the same that I listen to the Buddha-Dharma.  The depth of it will not be understood not appreciated if we do not listen to it..."

Thus, she continued to explain to him of the depth of the Buddha-Dharma and its importance which she experienced in her striving to live the life of Nembustsu everyday and she said, "In the long course of my listening to the Buddha-Dharma through the teaching of Nembutsu, I have come to understand that Shinjin or Faith-Mind is one that is not to be accumulated nor to be saved by listening, but Shinjin is only to listen continuously through one's entire life.  And one should not lose oneself by hanging on or depending on what seems to be merely understood in one's head or grasped in one's hand.  What you understood today does not necessarily become apparent nor pertinent to what will be taken within yourself as well as within myself.  We human beings are so inconsistent that we change from moment to moment, from yesterday and today to tomorrow.  You go angry, but you are happy today.  Tomorrow you will be either of them.  No matter how many long years we listen, no matter how we think we understand, we need to listen to the Buddha-Dharma constantly so that we will be reminded of ourselves in the Light of the Buddha's guidance.  Listening is much the same as with eating meals.  We eat meals three times a day.  Also you drink at dinner time by which your needs are fulfilled so that your fatigue can be eased from today's work.  But you do not drink to ease your fatigue for tomorrow nor even for yesterday.  No matter how much you eat, you will get hungry again.  The meals you eat today are for today, tomorrow we have to eat again.  Today's drink is for today's rest, but not for tomorrow..."

The longer we live, the longer we are allowed to look at our life again.  And listening to the Buddha-Dharma is a place where we  are given an opportunity to re-examine this life of ours.  Any Buddhist service we conduct at the temples must be considered likewise to be the opportunity for the purpose that is given to us.

Please make every effort to participate in every service.  Namu Amida Butsu.

Dialogues of Rennyo Shonin

There are those who listen to sermons with the purpose of showing off their knowledge to others, but few are those who listen for the sake of attaining faith.  Those who hear that the Pure Land is a place of pleasure and thus desire rebirth there, shall not attain Supreme Enlightenment.  Only those who place their faith in Amida Buddha shall attain Buddhahood.

It is said that if one listens to the Teaching of the Buddha without getting weary, we can fathom the depths of our wonderful teachings.  For example, in our everyday life, in regard to things in which we have an interest, we desire to know more and more, and we ask others repeatedly and listen to them but do not become weary.  The more we learn the more we should desire to know.  We should inquire again and again about matters pertaining to faith.