Friday, November 23, 2018

My Path to True Shin Buddhism by Gansen John Welch

Gansen John Welch is a member of Amidaji temple and a close Dharma friend. He is also the narrator of my books. He already finished recording the audio version of The Four Profound Thoughts Which Turn the Mind Towards Amida Dharma (click here to listen) and The True Teaching on Amida Buddha and His Pure Land (click here to listen)
He is now working on the audio version of my newest book, The Meaning of Faith and Nembutsu in Jodo Shinshu Buddhism - click here to see the playlist. 
His poems can be listened in audio format here.

My Path to True Shin Buddhism
By Gansen John Welch

I am writing this in the hope that others may be encouraged, inspired and motivated to listen to and read Amida Dharma, find a good teacher of True Shin Buddhism and “entrust your karmic destiny entirely, utterly and completely to Amida Buddha.” This too was my motivation for narrating Josho’s excellent books and writing verses inspired by Amida Dharma. 
Gansen John Welch

I was born in 1958 and thus, if I live an average lifespan, I have only about 20 years left in this body. But, of course, no one (except a fully enlightened Buddha) knows exactly when or how they will die and more importantly what negative karmic seeds will ripen at the time of death causing us to be reborn in realms lower than the human realm resulting in perhaps many millions of years before again having the opportunity to benefit from Buddha Dharma. According to Shakyamuni, it is only human beings who have the best opportunity to learn and benefit from Buddha Dharma.

My mother encouraged me to read as a young boy and I was always reading to attempt to understand myself, the world and the seemingly endless disappointment, frustration, pain and suffering that I (and many others) experienced all my life. At 18 I read a book (The Perennial Philosophy by Aldous Huxley) in which the author quoted from Buddhist texts and provided some interpretation and analysis of Buddha Dharma. From that moment I became a part-time student of Buddhism, mainly Tibetan Buddhism. My favourite book was an English translation (by Robert Thurman) of Padmasambhava’s “Tibetan Book of the Dead.” In the Tibetan tradition Padmasambhava is considered to be a manifestation of Amitabha Buddha. As there were no teachers near where I lived (and no internet as this was during the 1970s and 1980s) I was self-taught and totally dependent on books and a few audio teachings. I worked (for 28 years in University and Public Library Services - mostly as a manager, and for 4 years in other occupations) full-time from age 18 until 50 when I became sick from multiple inherited health conditions. During 20 of these 32 years I was studying part-time and earned 4 University Degrees in order to progress in my career and survive in a very competitive work environment where promotion was difficult to get and salaries were relatively low. I was working a lot of unpaid overtime and thus did not have as much time as I would have liked for Buddha Dharma. As my health deteriorated from age 50 onwards I became even more frustrated at my slow “progress” on my self-power spiritual journey.

During April 2017 I came across Paul Roberts’ 16 YouTube videos and became his student until Paul went to Amida’s Pure Land in December 2017. I am forever grateful to Paul (who was a gifted teacher) for helping me through his videos, writings and one-to-one discussions (using Skype) to help me understand Amida Dharma and rely completely on Amida Buddha’s infinite wisdom and compassion. Paul also recommended Josho to me and I became Josho’s student in January 2018. Josho is a very good teacher whose books are full of insights to help his students understand Amida Dharma. Josho also speaks to his students one-to-one to answer questions and clarify any doubts, difficulties, etc. In his wonderful The Path of Acceptance:Commentary on Tannisho Josho explains the attributes of a good teacher and in my experience Josho does his very best to meet or exceed these very high standards. Any progress that I have made in understanding Amida Dharma is due to Josho and Paul (and of course Amida, Shakyamuni, Shinran and the Dharma Lineage Masters).

So it can be seen from the above, I could very easily have died before encountering Paul and Josho and because I am an unenlightened being living in this age of Dharma decline I would have died without entrusting myself to Amida and would have inevitably be reborn in the lower realms. So this brief summary of my spiritual journey will be of value to you only if you find a good teacher like Josho, listen deeply to Amida Dharma and depend entirely on Amida Buddha to save you from the endless suffering of samsara. The passages below will hopefully further encourage, motivate and inspire you (and your friends and family) to become committed and serious students of Josho and Amida Dharma.

“As for me, [Shinran], I simply accept and entrust myself to what my revered teacher told me, "Just say the nembutsu and be saved by Amida"; nothing else is involved.”
(Page 2 of Tannisho)

“It is impossible for us, who are possessed of blind passions, to free ourselves from birth-and-death through any practice whatever. Sorrowing at this, Amida
made the Vow, the essential intent of which is the evil person's attainment of Buddhahood. Hence, evil persons who entrust themselves to Other Power are precisely the ones who possess the true cause of Birth.” (Page 3 of Tannisho)

“As for me, Shinran, I have never said the nembutsu even once for the repose of my departed father and mother. For all sentient beings, without exception, have been our parents and brothers and sisters in the course of countless lives in the many states of existence. On attaining Buddhahood after this present life, we can save every one of them.” (Page 4 of Tannisho)

“The nembutsu is the single path free of hindrances. Why is this? To practicers who have realized shinjin, the gods of the heavens and earth bow in homage, and maras and nonbuddhists present no obstruction. No evil act can bring about karmic results, nor can any good act equal the nembutsu.” (page 6 of Tannisho)

“Thus the nembutsu that we say throughout a
lifetime with the thought, "If it were not for this compassionate Vow, how could such wretched evildoers as ourselves gain emancipation from birth-and-death?"
should be recognized as entirely the expression of our gratitude for the benevolence and our thankfulness for the virtuous working of the Tathagata's great compassion.” (page 16 of Tannisho)

“If we entrust ourselves to Amida's Vow that grasps and never abandons us, then even through unforeseen circumstances, we commit an evil act and die without
saying the nembutsu at the very end, we will immediately realize birth in the Pure Land. Moreover, even if we do say the Name at the point of death, it will be nothing other than our expression of gratitude for Amida's benevolence, entrusting ourselves to the Buddha more and more as the very time of enlightenment draws near.” (page 16 of Tannisho)

“Since it is extremely difficult to free oneself from blind passions and the hindrances of karmic evil in this life; even the virtuous monks who practice the Shingon and Tendai teachings pray for enlightenment in the next life. In our case, what more need be said?” (Page 17 of Tannisho)

“While the dew of life barely clings to this withered leaf of grass that I am, I can lend an ear to the uncertainties of the people who accompany me along the way and relate to them what Master Shinran said. But I lament that after my eyes close, there will almost certainly be confusion concerning the teaching. When you are confused by people who discuss such views as those noted above, carefully read the sacred writings that accord with the late Master's thought and that he himself used to read. In the scriptures in general, the true and real and theaccommodated and provisional are mixed. That we abandon the accommodated and take up the real, set aside the provisional and adopt the true is the Master'sfundamental intent. You must under no circumstances misread the sacred writings. I have selected several important authoritative passages and appendedthem to this volume as a standard. The Master would often say: When I consider deeply the Vow of Amida, which arose from five kalpas of profound thought, I realize that it was entirely for the sake of myself alone! Thenhow I am filled with gratitude for the Primal Vow, in which Amida resolved to save me, though I am burdened with such heavy karma. Reflecting once more on this expression of Shinran's inmost thoughts, I find thatis does not differ in the least from those precious words of Shan-tao: ‘Know yourself to be a foolish being of karmic evil caught in birth-and-death, ever sinking and ever wandering intransmigration from innumerable kalpas in the past, with never a condition that would lead to emancipation.’ Thus how grateful I feel for Shinran's words, in which he gives himself as an example in order to make us realize we are in delusion, knowing nothing at all of the depths of our karmic evil or the vastness of Amida's benevolence. In truth, myself and others discuss only good and evil, leaving Amida's benevolence out of consideration. Among Master Shinran's words were: I know nothing at all of good or evil. For if I could know thoroughly, as AmidaTathagata knows, that an act was good, then I would know good. If I could know thoroughly, as the Tathagata knows, that an act was evil, then I would know evil. But with a foolish being full of blind passions, in this fleeting world - this burning house - all matters without exception are empty and false, totally without truth and sincerity. The nembutsu alone is true and real. Indeed, I myself and others speak only falsehoods to each other. In this, there is a truly regrettable thing. When, regarding our saying of the nembutsu, we discuss the nature of shinjin or explain it to people, we ascribe to Shinran even words he never spoke in order to silence others and to settle controversies with our own opinions. This is indeed saddening and deplorable. This matter should be carefully pondered and understood. These are by no means my own words, but since I do not know the lines of discourse in the sutras and commentaries and cannot understand or discern the profundity of the scriptural writings, undoubtedly they seem foolish. Nevertheless, recalling a hundredth part - only a fragment - of what the late Shinran said, I write it down. How sad it would be to abide in the borderland instead of being born directly into the fulfilled land, even though one has the fortune of saying the nembutsu. That there be no differing of shinjin among the fellow practicers, I take my brush with tear in my eyes and record this.” (Pages 22 to 24 of Tannisho)

The link below will give you more information from Josho’s website regarding the recommended order of reading of Josho’s text:

Thank you Amida Buddha
Homage to Amida Buddha
I take refuge in Amida Buddha

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