There is no escape from suffering for Japanese Buddhist lay practitioners. Daily life and stark reality are the anchor of life here: no time for dreams and personal ambitions. Endless conversations about how foreigners practise the teachings of Nirvana often lead to the subject of retreats. Only monastic practitioners here have that opportunity.
The wide temple halls are filled with neat kneelings, the corridors polished with slippers, and escalators well trodden by hordes of attendees who travel long distances. Mass purification is advocated by the founder, the cutting of negative karma achieved in countless ways of purification. Vigorous practice takes on many forms. There is so much to do here to let the clouds of Dharma float freely, the traces of so much massacre and ritual suicide vanish.
Today is the embarkation day for the Masters so it is marked every year at this time. They followed their hearts and their mission to act on their compassion for all beings, giving up their comfortable way of life and of fulfilling the expectations of society. They had no idea what each day would bring for themselves or their children, but they shared the journey totally, supporting each other no matter what. This is what Buddha Shakyamuni did also, in the firm belief that he could overcome anything by walking away from creature comforts, from his family. Cutting off his long hair and giving his princely robes to his servant, he set off into the unknown. There was no belief system to support him, and there were no fellow-travellers. He had only his compassion and his knowledge that suffering was a tool to reach true liberation from the stranglehold of the mind.
We can renounce every day. In your mind, you can die a little death, the death or extinguishing of human craving, human fear. Fear can die and wither away just like the body does, and with that, true nature reveals itself. Fear narrows the spirit, roping it in, forcing the poison of greed and ignorance and hatred through the veins. By letting go of everything we have ever known, standing naked, blind, deaf, decommissioned, in the great stillness and silence, our original goodness can fragrance everything. We become able to wear physical death like a veil, and human life a tunic.
Living with no system or framework to slip unconsciously into: Living full-time in our individual temples of goodness and beauty: Here and Now, truly settled in the dead centre of each second of man’s time with no thought of being anywhere or anyone else, the mists and dust clouds clear so that we embody the divine light. It shines eternally thanks to the enveloping darkness.
Especially here in Japan, the land of the collective conscience, individual and diverse lights are badly needed, and the inner beauty of each soul is bursting to emerge. The fear of not-conforming and being undutiful is a paralysis. The fear of not wearing the masks of ‘following’ or ‘accepting’ are prohibitive to the true flourishing of Buddha Nature, to catching the lightning glimpses of enlightenment which persistently suffuse in the air. The joy of actually overcoming the extreme difficulties of human birth and all hardships to follow is our contentment.
The master gently invites us to put aside duty and compulsion to conform so that our true nature can shine out.
The lotus blooms only when its roots anchor in mud.