Higan (Spring and Fall Equinox)

The following text by Rev. Akira Ono is from a 1983 pamphlet published by the Northwest Ministerial Association, Buddhist Churches of America.

Higan is the time we should seriously think about our enlightenment. I wish to quote the following story of Goso Hoyen of the Sung Dynasty, Learning the Art of Burglary.

“One night the father took the son to a big house, and opening one of the large chests, told the son to go in and pick out the clothing. As soon as the son got into it, the father dropped the lid and securely applied the lock. The father now came out to the courtyard and loudly knocked at the door, waking up the whole family; then he quietly slipped away by a hole in the fence. The residents got excited and lighted candles, but they found that the burglar had already gone.”

The son, who had remained all the time securely confined in the chest, thought of his cruel father. He was greatly mortified, then a fine idea flashed upon him. He made a noise like a gnawing of a rat. The family told the maid to take a candle and examine the chest. When the lid was unlocked, out came the prisoner, who blew out the light, pushing away the maid, and fled. The people ran after him. Noticing a well by the road he picked up a large stone and threw it into the water. The pursuers all gathered around the well trying to find the burglar drowning himself in the dark hole.”

In the meantime he went safely back to his father’s house. He blamed his father deeply for his narrow escape. Said the father, “Be not offended, my son. Just tell me how you got out of it.” When the son told him all about his adventures, the father remarked, “There you are, you have learned the art.”

The story demonstrates the futility of verbal instruction and conceptual presentation as a means to attain enlightenment. Enlightenment is the outgrowth of one’s inner life and not a verbal implantation brought from outside.

As a follower of Jodo Shinshu we must realize that we too must experience a religious consciousness of Shinjin. In the Mahaprajnaparamita-padesa (Daichidoiron), it says, “We enter the great ocean of Buddhism through Shinjin.”

What we are suppose to realize is the question we are always confronted with when we discuss “Shinjin.”

Shuichi Maida wrote in The Crucial Essence of Shinshu, “In this sense, the very thought of Sakyamuni at the moment of his enlightenment is the self awakening: ‘My self is a devil’.”

Through my experience during the war and my 66 years of life, I now realize the importance of the phrase, “My self is a devil.” It is only from our personal experiences of loneliness, despair and fear that we will be awakened to the Primal Vow.

This awakening will carry us to the Higan.

Namu Amida Butsu
Rev. Akira Ono
Oregon Buddhist Church