Dharma Friends -
Recently, we had a brief discussion about Buddhist cosmology - the Buddha's vision of the cosmos.
Here's something I just read about what scientists are discovering right now:
Data from the Kepler telescope leads them to believe that there are some two BILLION earth-like planets in our own Milky Way galaxy. That is, planets with the kinds of basic conditions that would support the presence of liquid water, and thus have the potential of supporting sentient life as we know it.
And our galaxy is one of FIFTY BILLION, that we know of.
Here's the link:
So what is the significance of all this to me, as a Buddhist, and particularly as a Shin Buddhist?
It goes back to the very REASON that I became a Buddhist in the first place.
Some years back, as I read some of the words of Shakyamuni Buddha, I became convinced - TOTALLY convinced - that He is the smartest guy in the room.
I became convinced that of all the teachers out there, in the various traditions that I knew anything about, He was the one who had truly gone beyond, and reached the very pinnacle of enlightenment.
I became convinced - way before I had even heard of Shin Buddhism - that His teaching was the RIGHT teaching, that His understanding was the RIGHT understanding, and that His vision was the RIGHT vision, about life, the universe and everything.
Now don't get me wrong. I don't make any claim to understand all that He taught, or all that I have read. In fact, I'd say that most of it is just way above my pay grade - and goes right over my head.
Sure, I can read it and study it and even memorize it and regurgitate it. But that's a far cry from REALLY understanding something as profound as (say) the cycle of dependent co-arising.
But nevertheless, I have understood enough to know that He is the teacher worth listening to. So when I found Him - I was able to let go of all other teachers and their teachings, and I became one of his many followers.
And now, some nine years after having found Master Shinran's teaching, and the Sutras of Shakyamuni that undergird it, I get just one more glimpse of just how expansive and overarching Shakyamuni's Dharma wisdom actually was. Science is beginning to catch up to what He talked about in the Larger Sutra, when He spoke about the existence of countless Buddhas and countless Buddha-lands.
One of the Seven Pure Land Masters cited by Master Shinran is a man named Tan Lu'an. He had been a Taoist master, venerated by the Emperor of China in his day.
One day Tan Lu'an met a Dharma teacher named Bodhiruci. He listened to Bodhiruci's exposition of the Dharma, and then burned his Taoist texts, and became a disciple of Shakyamuni, instead.
He recognized that Shakyamuni is the smartest guy in the room.
And then, at some point after that, he was led to the core Sutras of our school, and became one of the Pure Land Masters who unfolded the Dharma of the Pure Land Way over the course of centuries.
So why am I saying all this?
The fact is, there are countless spiritual teachers and teachings out there. There are eastern teachers, and western teachers. Ancient teachers and modern teachers. Buddhist teachers and non-Buddhist teachers. Traditional teachers and new age teachers.
You can borrow bits and pieces from all of them, and cobble together your own personal path. You're allowed to do that, because we live in a free society (more or less).
But Shin Buddhism - TRUE Shin Buddhism - is never going to make sense to you as long as you do that.
Sure, you can say that Shinran says this, and Rumi says that, and Ken Wilber says so and so, and Mohammed says thus and such...and on and on and on.
But SHINJIN will continue to elude you if you do.
At some point, you have to decide FOR YOURSELF who the smartest guy (or gal) in the room really is. Who is the teacher whose teaching is 100% true and reliable? Who is the teacher whose teaching is so good, that it's worth your while to spend your life sitting at his feet and listening deeply to what he says?
If you REALLY want to become enlightened - if you REALLY want to come to the end of this endless journey of countless lifetimes - that is what you must do.
Of course, I cannot convince anyone else that my decision to become a follower of the Buddha is right and correct. That's an INSIDE job. That can only happen as you listen deeply inside, with that great and heartfelt yearning to become an enlightened being yourself.
So that's where I would tell anyone to begin, as they start to listen to our Dharma message. Listen to Shakyamuni Buddha until you too are convinced that He's the singular figure - the one who has "gone beyond".
And then, once you KNOW that, take refuge in Him, leaving all other teachers and teachings behind, once and for all.
Only after you have done that, will you be able to respond to His own instruction that His own disciples should actually take refuge in a Buddha greater than Him - a Buddha who is worshipped and praised by Him and ALL the other Buddhas in countless Buddha-lands.
After you have truly taken refuge in Shakyamuni Buddha, THEN you can be like the man in the parable of TWO RIVERS AND THE WHITE PATH.
THEN you can stand in this world, trembling (perhaps) at the difficulties of navigating this life, and listen to Shakyamuni as He whispers in your ear that you should simply go forward into the waiting arms of Amida.
If you have other teachers, other ideas, other thoughts - you're not going to listen to Shakyamuni very well, or very much. But if you have fully invested yourself in being His disciple (as poor a disciple as you might be), then you will be responsive to His gentle encouragement to entrust yourself and your karmic destiny entirely to Amida Buddha.
Of course you will listen to Him. Who else would you listen to? After all, He's the smartest guy in the room.