Sunday, May 25, 2008

Thoughts on what is trully important and joy of being a priest

To shave the head(1)
and wear the kesa(2) of Nembutsu faith
this cannot be compared with anything else.

One Sunday, after everybody left the dojo, I found myself in the middle of the room: "Now, what else should I do?"
This question hit me with great power. I felt that all the day was over when the last person left the dojo. Like everything truly important in that day, was done. I stayed for some time in the middle of the room, dressed in my robes, and overcome by this strong impression.

Its very hard to describe the feeling….

The time I spend with my sangha is so intense and concentrated.
I wake up early to prepare myself, I dress in my robes and wait. They always come at the right time, bow in the direction of the Hondo and then they greet me with another bow and I greet them in the same way. The sound of sutra chanting and Nembutsu is so refreshing, making me forget about my personal ups and downs, worries and difficulties. I stay in the front and lead the chanting while from behind I hear their voices, making me feel like being carried by a strong wave of continuous Dharma sounds.
After the chanting, I give a Dharma talk and we discuss various aspects of the teaching. We speak in simple and easy terms and we never finish until I am sure that everybody has a good understanding in accordance with what Shinran and Rennyo themselves taught.

I am most happy when I hear my people talking about their faith and when I see that they have a good understanding. This happiness of seeing my fellow practitioners understanding the teaching and relying on Amida cannot be compared with other types of happiness I might experience in my daily life. In those moments I feel that my life has not been spent in vain and that I haven’t shaved my head and wear the kesa for nothing.

What more happiness can a priest have, than to see his students really understand and follow the path? It is like seeing your children grow. Once they were little, but now they are becoming capable of walking on their own legs. What joy is greater than to “receive shinjin for myself and help others receive shinjin”?

And there is that wonderful feeling I have when presenting the Dharma at my dojo. I speak, but it is also like I am not speaking, like the Dharma transmits itself from Amida to the listeners, through my voice or the voices of my fellow practitioners. And I myself am a listener.

I always say that a priest is only a messenger, a leper carrying a torch.
The torch is the Dharma, the wonderful teaching about the Primal Vow of Amida, and it does not depend on the priest, who is only a humble carrier of the so important message.
I myself am a leper carrying the wonderful torch which lights and warms by itself the hearts of the others and my heart also. If I speak something false about the teaching, then the mistake is mine, but if I speak something true about it, then it comes from Amida's influence on me.
It is very important for a priest to become an empty vessel, a flute on which Amida sings. Here “empty” stands for empty of jiriki(3) and empty of personal views. If the priest is full of himself and his own opinions, then he can transmit nothing. Those days when I am able to explain the teaching well and people understand it, are wonderful days when I feel that my life is not spent in vain.

(1) Whenever I shave the head I remember my duty to act as a faithful transmitter of Amida Dharma, and be empty of personal views.
(2) kesa (gesa in jap.): piece of cloth which is put on the priest robes and represents the transmission of Buddhist teaching from the Buddha and Shinran Shonin. There is also a smaller kesa for lay people, which also show that the teaching has been transmited to them, too. 
(3) jiriki: personal power. The idea that one can achieve Buddhahood through his own power, his personal merits and virtues. This is opposed to Tariki - "Other Power" or the power of Amida's Compassion manifested in His Primal Vow. In Jodo Shinshu we rely absolutely on Tariki to attain Buddhahood in the Pure Land, not on jiriki.

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