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Namo Amida Butsu
Could the path to enlightenment simply be the step by step dismantling of our fears of tomorrow, of the unknown? We don’t have to travel far to understand how something as simple as the eclipse of the sun put fear in the hearts of people, and how others, who understood the science, used that fear to their advantage to gain control and power.
This thought occurred to me when I started watching the BBC Dr. Who television series. Dr. Who is a human looking alien super hero, of sorts, complete with flaws. He travels in the TARDIS, usually with a human companion. The TARDIS, a blue British Police Call Box cum space ship travels in moments, anywhere, in time into the unimaginable future or back to the early days of the cosmos in the space-time continuum.
The concept, at least how I get it, is this blue box travels in an interconnected and interdependent cosmos. It connects all the cosmic events of time and space with one another since it can travel and return to the same starting point. The series pretty much makes use of our teaching of causes and conditions, in time and space, and how they impact the here and now, or, you and me.
Things simply do not happen randomly, they appear to sometimes, but they don’t. The TARDIS connects all the cosmic events of time and space because it can travel to any or all of them. What came before impacts the “now” of each time period.
Shin Buddhist traditions says “Understanding fully the principle of causality, we shall not practice petitionary prayer or magic, nor shall we rely upon astrology* or other superstitions.”
For those of us raised and accustomed to petitionary prayer, for a power to “make things better,” the Buddhist tradition may seem a heavy burden. But what if it is not a burden but the first steps toward enlightenment and liberation?
We understand how greed, anger and folly create problems. We can try to tease back the causes and conditions that brought about that particular “problem.” These are the first steps, acknowledging and accepting that all events have knowable causes and conditions.
In a way, the TARDIS travels pulls back the curtain ignorance. The fiction of the TARDIS is the reality of how we are connected in time and space and how we are a part of the causes and conditions that bring about “now.” We see how we do now is the seed of what, well everything, will be next.
I’m not suggesting it is easy to be “enlightened,” but it begins to open a door where the fear that brings about the greed or anger or foolish behavior is lessened. Will I ever not be afraid of the total eclipse of the sun? Probably not, but the more I stop to think and consider the teachings, the less fear I have.
Your fear may be different than mine, but collectively, human fears are known and studied. And those who understand the science continue to use that fear to their advantage to gain control and power. It may be as simple as selling face cream to stop wrinkles (old age) or the opportunity to invest in a company promising riches (greed). In the end, we know we will have wrinkles and in the end we know, investing in Bitcoin at $1 for the startup is a rare occurrence.
For me, the path to enlightenment began with the step by step dismantling of my fears of tomorrow and the unknown. For me, the path of the Nembutsu and entrusting the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha as understood by Shinran Shōnin, for the ordinary bonbu that I am, are my first steps.
Eshinni and Kakushinni - Founders - Jōdo Shinshū Hongwanji –ha
Eshinni was the wife of Shinran Shōnin. KAKUSHINNI was their youngest daughter. Their foresight and appreciation of the Nembutsu teaching saved Shinran’s writings and established the foundation of Jōdo Shinshū and the Hongwanji-ha. This is their story.
Until recently, very little was known about Eshinni, the woman Shinran Shonin married. However, ten letters that she wrote, dated from around 1254 to 1268, were discovered in the Hongwanji archives in 1921. Eshinni’s letters described important historical events in the life of Shinran Shonin, as well as the conditions in Japan during the Kamakura Era.
Eshinni (1182-1268) was the daughter of a high-ranking samurai in Echigo. She was described as refined and well educated. Eshinni was also a landowner. This allowed her and Shinran to survive and raise a family while Shinran Shonin pursued his life’s mission of spreading the Nembutsu teaching imparted by Honen Shonin. This teaching was to recite Namo Amida Butsu with deep faith, or shinjin, and thus to be embraced by the great Wisdom and Compassion of Amida Buddha.
Shinran Shonin and Eshinni were married around 1210 and lived in Echigo, where he had been exiled in the year 1207. They moved to the Kanto area sometime between 1212 and 1219, returning to Kyoto with some of their children around 1233. Eshinni lived in Kyoto with Shinran until around 1254; then it became necessary for her to return to Echigo to take care of her property. At that time Eshinni was 73 years old. She left her 82-year-old husband in the care of their youngest daughter, Kakushinni.
A Hard Life in Echigo
When Eshinni returned to Echigo, the people there were suffering extreme hardships. Famine followed poor harvests, and epidemics claimed the lives of young and old alike. Eshinni was responsible for her farmlands, her two orphaned grandchildren, and her servants and their families. She struggled to keep herself and her dependence from starving. The circumstances prevented her from ever returning to Kyoto.
However, despite the hardships, Eshinni’s belief in the Nembutsu was unwavering. Later in her life she wrote to her daughter, “I may be going to the land of bliss at any moment. In the land of bliss we will be able to see everything clearly, so I hope that you shall live the life of the Nembutsu and come to join me there.” Eshinni passed away in the year 1268.
Kakushinni (1224-1283) was born near Mito in the present day Ibaraki Prefecture. Her original name was Ogozen. Some scholars believe that Kakushinni’s birth year was when Shinran Shonin began compiling his major work, the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho (The True Teaching, and Realization of the Pure Land Way).
Kakushinni was nine or ten years old when she moved to Kyoto with her parents. As an adolescent, Kakushinni left home to serve as a lady in waiting to the household of Kuga Michiteru, whose brother was Dōgen, the founder of Zen Buddhism. Kakushinni married Hino Hirotsuna, a relative and follower of Shinran Shonin, and in 1239 she gave birth to a son, Koju (known by his Buddhist name, Kakue). Hino Hirotsuna died when Kakue was seven. Kakushinni took her son and went back to live with her parents. Until Kakue was about nine, he spent time with Shinran Shonin, learning the essence of Nembutsu. Later, Kakue entered Shoren–in, a Tendai temple in Kyoto.
Shinran Shonin Passing
Kakushinni took care Shinran Shonin during his last years. Shinran Shonin entered Nirvana on January 16, 1263, at the age of ninety. In those times, people believed that strange and miraculous events will occur when an important religious person died. Kakushinni wrote a letter to her mother, stating concern that her father’s death was uneventful. Eshinni wrote back, “there is no doubt that your father was born in the Pure Land, and there is no need for me to regenerate this.” Eshinni firmly believed that Shinran Shōnin’s birth in the Pure Land was assured because of this complete reliance on Amida’s Vow.
Kakushinni, Protector of Shinran Shōnin’s Legacy
Three years after Shinran Shonin died, Kakushinni married Onomiya Zennen, who own valuable property in Kyoto. They had at least two sons, one of whom was named Yuizen.
In 1272, Shinran’s ashes were removed from their original site of internment at Ohtani in Higashiyama to Zennen’s estate. Some dedicated and influential disciples of Shinran gave monetary donations to construct the Ancestral Hall. This is the nucleus of today’s Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha.
Although the Ancestral Hall belonged to Shinran Shonin disciples from Kanto, Zennen gave the property on which it stood to Kakushinni in 1274. He also stipulated that it was for her to decide whether his son, Yuizen, or his stepson, Kakue, would be the heir to inherit her land. However, Kakushinni went beyond tradition and decided instead that the land would be jointly own by the disciples of Shinran Shonin.
The Nembutsu teaching was a revolutionary doctrine at the time. The Primal Vow of Amida Buddha embraced all. No one was excluded on the basis of class, gender, education or other biases. Kakushinni may have made her decision based on this understanding of equality that Shinran Shonin taught.
Kakushinni also specified that the upkeep of the Ancestral Hall and the position and authority of the Rusushiki (Protector of the Ohtani Ancestral Hall) should be inherited by Shinran Shonin descendants. Kakushinni assumed the duties of the first Rusushiki (Protector of the Ohtani Ancestral Hall) should be inherited by Shinran Shōnin’s descendants. Kakushinni assumed the duties of the first Rusushiki and served at that position until she passed away in 1283, at the age of 60. Her first son, Kakue, succeeded her as the second Rusushiki. Kakue’s successor was her grandson, Kakunyo (1270-1351). He changed the role of the Rusushiki from a caretaker to an administrator. Today, the head of the Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha is known as the Monshu or Abbot.
The contributions of both Eshinni and Kakushinni have had a lasting impact on Jodo Shinshu Buddhism. Eshinni gave Shinran Shonin her complete dedication and support, while Kakushinni established the foundation and center from which to transmit his teachings. Eshinni and Kakushinni represented women of the Kamakura Era more confident and self-aware, and who actively participated in the history of Japan.
Eshinni and Kakushinni - Rev. C. Myokai Himaka,- Southern Alameda County Buddhist Church. Publisher: BCA Southern District Ministers’ Association.
Wednesday, March 24, 2021 - Save the Date
2021 Cleveland Humanities Festival: IDENTITY
How the Buddhist Teaching on Non-Self Offers a Path in These Uncertain Times
What is identity? Does the Buddhist view allow for discussion of Identity when they assert the teaching of “non-self” (anātman)? It would be a contradiction if non-self means that “self does not exist,” but that is not what it means. It is not about whether the self exists or not objectively or ontologically. We will explore what "non-self" means and what it really means. Does "I" exist or not? If yes, then what is that "self"? If not, then what or who is the "I" in “I am”?
From a Buddhist perspective, we are called to continuously remind ourselves of the dangers of fixed identities, both in the sense of a superior belief of “exceptionalism,” and as a cause of dukkha (suffering/dissatisfaction) in this life. We live in a world that is interconnected and interdependent. The concept of Buddhist identity explores a path that offers understanding and compassion, a path for working together in this time of global pandemic and social/economic uncertainty. How we perceive our own identity determines our response to these times.
A print copy of Ken Tanaka’s latest book Jewels: An Introduction to Buddhism is available for a $6 donation at “Just Ask” on www.clevelandbuddhisttemple.org.
This event is co-sponsored by the Cleveland Buddhist Temple