Kanji for Muryoko

'Infinite Light'

Journal of Shin Buddhism

Marcus Cumberlege

    New Work now in PDF format:-






  • HO ON KO


    This day has not yet dawned, but I already feel your
    powerful presence here beside me in the room.

    Sipping my early morning tea and gradually coming to
    life, I raise my soul towards the light, giving thanks
    for the night that is past.

    With you in my heart I will never know the meaning of
    loneliness. With my little hand safely clasped in your
    big one we will make the short journey together from
    now until another night.

    No task will be too boring or difficult to undertake, no
    challenge insurmountable, for your supportive love
    encourages me and buoys me up.

    I believe. I have a faith that works. I trust in your great
    wisdom. I am embraced by your compassion, never to
    be abandoned.

    Look upon your children, grant us your guidance,
    willingness and strength. And if things become too
    much, carry us in the palm of your hand.



    You who are all goodness and outgoing love beyond
    human comprehension, shine your light into my
    troubled mind and dispel the gloom with which my day
    has begun.

    Even as I utter this prayer I start to feel the warmth
    of your compassion coursing through my veins. Years,
    months, days, hours and moments of devotion to you
    and your buddha dharma now pay off their dividend.

    With firm composure I stand here, both feet on the
    ground, looking up at the early morning sky. This has all
    the makings of a day like no other, for out of the
    mudpool of suffering the lotus flowers of joy and
    gratitude now bloom.



    Thank you, Amida, for another day of happy sobriety.

    Thank you for all the people in my life and especially ...

    Thank you also for 101 little ways in which you have
    done for me what I could not have done for myself.

    I hope to “wake up and get up” with your Name on my
    lips, grateful for the gift of a new day.

    Let me quickly overcome any discomfort the morning
    may bring and always seek to do your will in a spirit of
    true humility.

    May all my yesterdays be dreams of happiness and all
    my tomorrows visions of hope.

    On awakening, I will take the bull by the horns,
    knowing that you have wonderful things in store for me.



    Do only that to which you feel impelled; for the rest, remain quiescent.

    Into the unenlightened mind of dawn Amida pours nembutsu.
    All other mornings than this are long-forgotten foreign history.
    Empty the mind completely. There can be no better way of acting.
    Action is permissible, but only in an empty-minded way.
    Time spent uselessly is time well spent. Do nothing at all and be blessed.
    Time spent doing nothing, "wasted time" in fact, is the best time of all.
    Everything's all right. There is no need for panic. My head is screwed on.
    I will not relapse into apathy or defeatism today.
    My spiritual life begins and ends with the calling of nembutsu.
    During the night two orchid petals fell into my nenju.
    Apart from breathing nearly all activity is a waste of time.
    Nothing is as pleasant as doing nothing – even when you're busy.
    I have done nothing in my whole life to deserve this mug of hot tea.
    A wee bit of washing-up never did anybody any harm.
    Amida won't do it for you, but he'll help you if you think of him.
    For this Shin Buddhist a softly murmured nembutsu says everything.
    Meditating or not, as the case may be, I sit and do nothing.
    This sham world of fear and disappointment is where I met Amida.
    I am tired of judging myself. Why should I begin to judge others?
    Empty the mind of hatred. Empty the mind of desire. Empty it.
    I believe with all my heart that I can make this change for the better.
    Just by reciting nembutsu I escape the six delusive worlds.
    I want to be a cheerful person upon whom others can rely.
    Waking and getting up - supreme moments of absolute uselessness.
    Waking up is being born again - a baby in a hostile world.
    Grey meaningless fuzz - what am I supposed to make of these beginnings?
    O joy! I relish my inability to pull my finger out.
    Life on earth has no particular purpose - do as little as you need.
    First word in the morning, last word at night - Namo Amida Butsu.



    (thoughts running through my head like mice in an attic)

    Give without any thought of purpose or reward. Give because you must.

    It's not a question of "If there is somebody up above" - there is.
    Do not fear or be alarmed. The man of God has everything he needs.
    Unless my nenju is in my hand, I feel I'm waiting for something.
    I now trust completely, and no longer need to count my nembutsus.
    Someone has put a sea of energy into my gratitude stone.
    My friend the barman finally realized the importance of himself.
    I too must carefully nurture the love that has been entrusted me.

    The hours of early morning should not be spent in wild speculation.
    Brew yourself another pot of My Tea and creep back into your shell.

    The 'people, places and things' in my life are part of Amida's plan.
    The path to hell is paved with good intentions. Poems I want to send.
    I have a list as long as my arm of things to do before breakfast
    … but will limit myself, if necessary, to a few nembutsus.
    Grant me the wisdom to survive until morning without going nuts.

    If I flop out long enough, Amida will show me what to do next.
    After reading Confucius on family life, there's not much more to say.
    Only when we purify our thoughts will the world be wisely governed.
    Some Chinaman said that about five hundred years before Jesus Christ.
    My store of knowledge is minimal. I am barely able to write.
    Stretched at your feet on the floor, I beg for the gift of humility.
    Namo Amida Butsu: in happy expectation of a birth.

    In one kalpa (immeasureable quantity of time): daylight!
    Front door open. It's pissing. Plenty of water for coffee and tea.
    Aiding each other, let us endeavour to work for the good of all.

    I draw the curtains, thinking: how lucky not to have slept on the streets.




    One centimetre forwards on the path of bliss. Early morning streets
    I no longer care to see take me to the doctor for my check-up.
    This has to happen in winter, when the waiting-room is full of germs.
    (How beautiful you were an hour ago, coming out of your shower).

    Nembutsu people are always protected, according to Honen.
    Unexpected death on the blind corners of this mad morning city
    pretending to be none other than the lazy Venice of the North
    is deleted by my practice from the scenario of fact.
    Namo Amida Butsu, Namo Amida Butsu, on and on
    I mumble, while an electric saw chews up a tough piece of cement
    and, from behind me, a Herculean motorbike goes roaring past.
    (I write on damp window-sills, like a thief, half way to the surgery).

    Reverend Sasaki e-mails me that Kyoto is filling up
    with Shin Buddhists from all over Japan to celebrate Ho-on-ko -
    the Shonin's birth, enlightenment or death, a thousand kalpas ago.
    I'm far away from that, in the bright window of a photograph shop,
    wondering if my PSA is low enough to save me from cancer
    and how to negotiate this Thursday on a minimum of pills.

    Two hundred more peaceful and relaxed nembutsus on the final stretch,
    to the rhythm of an ambulance rushing someone to hospital.
    This is the world I live in and love. Sakyamuni was a doctor
    himself, for the ills of the human race, and only lived to eighty.

    The first spots of rain are falling on the pavement as I push the door
    and sit down with the meek band of foreign women in the waiting-room.
    Luckily there's a copy of Shinran's major work in my satchel.



    Namo Amida Butsu.
    I stand in front of my altar
    in the middle of the night
    with nothing left to say.

    Buddha has done the thinking!
    All that remains for this bombu
    is to keep reciting the Name
    as soon as it comes to mind.

    Namo Amida Butsu.
    The benefits are enormous,
    my life has not yet begun
    in every sense of the word.

    There's so much unfinished business.
    There are so many unread sutras,
    talks not given, neglected friends.
    None of it is important.

    Do I have the Settled Mind
    Rennyo often writes about?
    Have I the wits to penetrate
    into the meaning of the Vow?

    Kuan Yin the compassionate lady
    comes into the room where I am
    and gently takes me by the sleeve:
    Come, let's go to the Pure Land.

    23 July 14



    "If, when I become a Buddha,
    all sentient beings in the worlds
    who trust me with unwavering faith,
    hearts filled with joy and gratitude,
    longing to be born in my Land
    and calling my Name just ten times
    do not obtain that blissful birth,
    may I not be fully enlightened."
    This was Amida's Primal Vow.

    And now? Namo Amida Butsu
    rises constantly to our lips
    as we cross samsara's ocean
    on comfortable passenger ships.

    21 July 14




    Buddha, another word for life,
    A name for everything that moves -
    The cobbles dancing underfoot,
    A piece of heaven in the mind.

    The time to lean upon a bridge
    And watch the shadow of a tree,
    Poised like a dancer in full flight,
    Caress the beautiful canal.

    Another step. The utter lack
    Of business needing to be done,
    Women to please, papers to sign,
    Anything resembling a clock.

    Buddha, under his warm clothing
    A person at peace with himself
    Sailing homewards to his dinner
    Blessed with feelings of gratitude.




    On the blank page of today I enter
    The names of those I love but will not see.
    Yours first, my faithful and forgiving friend
    Who admire the man behind his poetry.

    Don't we all sometimes need a helping hand
    To raise our spirits from despondency?
    Night can be cruel, daylight comes too late,
    Are we not prisoners craving to be free?

    Despite some tiny differences of taste
    On one tremendous fact we do agree:
    That we are bound together for a Land
    Beyond the Ocean of Infinity.




    This is 'the easier path'.
    Just by saying nembutsu
    We enter the Gateless Gate
    Set up by the patriarchs.

    Amida solemnly vows
    Not to enter nirvana
    Before he has saved the life
    Of every sentient being.

    This Primal Vow reminds us
    To trust in Other Power,
    Simply uttering the Name
    Namu Amida Butsu.




    I need to be reminded constantly
    That you are with me, working in my heart,
    To wander in your footsteps faithfully
    With whatever friend, to whatever part.

    Not only do I need your compassion
    To make life simpler and to ease the pain
    Which I and others feel in our fashion,
    But I need to learn again and again

    To let go and surrender to your will,
    To yield to the smile on a loved one's face
    Gracefully swallowing the bitter pill
    Of ignorance, dropping out of the race.

    I need self-confidence, courage to change
    For the better, leaving my guilt behind.
    I need you, Amida - does it sound strange? -
    To help and to heal me in body and mind.




    Ten 'seventeeners' by Marcus Cumberlege

    Every thought should be directed towards
    Namu Amida Butsu

    Five kalpas Amida sat for me -
    Five minutes I will sit for him

    A Shinran gets to the Pure Land -
    how much more so a bombu like me

    A dead butterfly
    crushed by motorway traffic -
    surely a buddha

    A poet in Australia might be writing
    these very words now

    Amida is as real as the table
    on which I write these words

    Come, just as you are -
    Amida's waiting for you
    in the Land of Bliss

    We are karmically connected
    with everybody on this planet

    To have stumbled upon a priceless gem -
    that was my fortune in life

    My voice and Amida's voice are one voice -
    Namu Amida Butsu




    Cold water flows from the tap,
    Simple but miraculous.
    Enough light to watch my hands.
    Enough strength to wash dishes.

    Enough Mozart sonatas
    To last fifty-nine minutes.
    Emotion recollected
    On a town bench in the shade.

    Rosebuds on a half-wild bush,
    Quinces soon to turn yellow.
    Such is my Other Power
    And I am grateful for it.




    I pray to you in my bedroom,
    I think of you in the street.
    I put you into my poems.
    I lay my life at your feet.

    You are my cosmic lover,
    You are my closest friend.
    You were at the dawn of time,
    You will be there at the end.

    Bodhisattva of compassion,
    Helper of humankind,
    In all your maiden beauty
    You are pictured in my mind.

    You are an incarnation
    Of this goddess carved in stone.
    You are the greatest blessing
    I have ever known.


    I am certain Amida wants me
    to be at this exact spot
    at this precise moment in time,
    doing what I am doing
    and thinking what I am thinking.

    I am precious, special and unique,
    a child of the universe
    imbued with a sacred destiny
    and blessed with a sense of purpose.

    Although my love and respect
    for my fellow men and women
    is of paramount importance,
    actually what I think of other people
    and what other people think of me
    are two things I think about less and less.

    At times when I find life confusing
    and my friends difficult to get on with
    I can always say Namo Amida Butsu
    with a trusting heart.




    Bruges – Southampton – Bruges
    Friday 15th – Tuesday 19th February '13.
    Buddha's departure

    A good hot strong Belgian coffee
    waiting for the Eurostar to leave.
    People. Passengers reading papers.
    My nearly finished Dharma talk
    and other stuff in the black bag.

    Trust grows as the moment approaches
    to hit the rails for London.
    Maria is probably getting up now
    after making me muesli & sandwiches
    and retiring to bed with a headache.

    Gautama dies. Marcus is on the train.
    A pleasant underwater journey,
    a crosswise leap, awaits this passenger
    blessed with an empty seat beside him.
    The buffet car will not be needed,
    his bladder should last out till Waterloo.

    Peacefully, in his eightieth year,
    the Great Teacher passes away
    from this world of weary travellers.
    We glide out of the smoky city
    just as a nice-looking chap sits down
    with a laptop at my side. Brussels.
    One more grey splotch on the map.

    Emptiness – a pile of wrinkled skin and bones
    wrapped in the customary orange rags
    to be collected by the crowd of arhats
    who have come to see him off.
    There are no big deals, says Daniel Flynn.
    Whether or not he has entered nirvana
    is left to each man's imagination.

    In countries like Thailand and Vietnam
    where the sun is probably shining
    harder than here ( a pallid disc
    bobbing in and out of the clouds
    as we speed through frosty countryside)
    villagers are returning from processions
    which focus on nothing – an old man
    kicking the proverbial bucket,
    a teacher's nose rubbed in his own
    lesson. My head leans back on the seat
    in a bath of welcome sunshine.
    To have tramped all over India
    promoting birth in the Land of Bliss!

    Lille. All passengers are reminded
    not to leave their luggage behind.

    As we glide into a sea of concrete
    I see the word Carrefour on a glass building
    and then the window is plunged into darkness.

    I can hear a baby complaining about
    the enforced discomfort of existence
    in this saha world it may not have chosen
    to make its home in. No conclusions drawn.
    Poets are sometimes tape recorders
    forgotten in doctors' waiting-rooms,
    nature reserves, seaports, cathedrals
    and cars. They too are known to complain:
    of asthma in childhood, of smoke,
    of getting up in the morning and
    of incurable cramps in the writing hand.
    Things will go better in Amida's Land.


    As we disappear under the sea
    for twenty minutes, with no guarantee
    of reappearing alive, I digest the lunch
    my good lady has prepared for me
    and sink into a form of meditation.

    Balanced in a comfy hammock
    of swaying motion, no thought in mind,
    I stare at the silver wedding ring
    on my finger. The collapsible table
    supports my hand, with my bag, and this.
    Let not thy divining heart,
    wrote Donne,
    forethink me any ill

    We are out of the tunnel. England!
    Enlightened at last, I pick up my pen
    to praise the Founder, who must have seen
    the fear of death lurking in our hearts
    when faced by any danger or ill health.
    The “glorious sun of York” now shining
    through this window revives my spirits.

    Inconceivable to feeble minds
    like ours, my friend, for we are bombus
    ignorant as sin, that's his Primal Vow
    to save all beings who recite the Name.
    I like that baffling all-embracing word
    for after battering our brains on life's hard walls
    we do emerge into a brave undreamed-of world.

    The Underground ticket they gave me
    will get me safely across London
    to the Southampton train. That's the least
    of my conspicuously absent worries.
    My bags are light, apart from all the pills.
    No reading matter. The Kukodan shelves
    will be stacked with religious books.
    I see priest Gary standing on the platform.

    Now take a step backwards, Master Marcus
    as the kitchen girls called you in County Cork,
    and contemplate the human race
    unfolding before your foolish bearded face
    in London and its busy bustling stations.
    Realize that nobody dreams of hurting you,
    entrust that all are there for a damn good reason!
    Be compassionate with yourself. Let go.

    It's eleven fifty-eight local time and you've been
    on this train two hours. As it enters Saint Pancras
    we wish you an enjoyable afternoon. No further
    poetry gets written on the way to Waterloo.
    The transit is effected with immaculate precision.

    Getting there

    Farnborough. Fleet. Basingstoke to Poole
    with a dozen small stations in between.
    I'm on the right train. It's going fast.
    I glanced at the board and sprinted for it.
    The kind black ticket lady let me through.
    I jumped aboard just as the whistle blew,
    saving myself an hour. Winchester coming up,
    Southampton Airport next, four flights a day
    to Düsseldorf. What luck – I'm almost there.

    The art gallery

    (The Shin Buddhist sangha of Southampton
    had invited me to give a short dharma talk
    at their annual round-up, while preparing
    for a major conference to be held there next year).

    Van der Weyden - Saint Catherine.
    Emperor Napoleon in full regalia.

    Dicksee. Holman Hunt (Egypt).
    Renoir's “Mühlfeld portrait”.
    Pissarro. Monet. Delvaux:
    “A Siren in Full Moonlight”,
    Stanley Spencer's “Resurrection”.
    Sickert, Grant and Steer.

    A mind-blowing representative collection
    of fairly modern British masters
    in the handsome building over the library
    where I picked up leaflets for Maria
    and chatted with the lady at the Help desk.
    That Andy Warhol postcard I nearly sent,
    to Anabel, who prayed for me in Prague.
    I think everybody should like everybody.
    The girl at the desk has the voice of a sparrow.

    Southcliff & London roads

    A terrible amount is lost in this report.
    I did not use my notebook in Southampton,
    lived intensely from moment to moment,
    from scintillating conversation, to cup
    after cup of green tea amid the well-weighed words
    of heavily smoking priests. Meals were grabbed.
    In the atmospheric cemetery on the common
    I discussed my funeral and epitaph with Fons,
    our man from Antwerp. One huge pink rhododendron
    in glorious bloom, snowdrops along the way.

    Kuan Yin, hearer of cries, Amida's handmaiden,
    on practically every mantelpiece of the house.
    A comfortable fold out bed in a room at the back
    with Buddhas watching me switch out the light.
    Hilarious dreams, with sexual undertones
    shared at breakfast with Frank. The dojo, or hondo
    as Gary now calls it, distancing himself a little
    from Tai Chi, Taoism and Zen: a room at the top
    focussed upon the screen with Zuiken's nembutsu
    calligraphed against the window's pervasive light.
    A charming detail: their family shrine in one corner.
    This is where sixteen people come together to chant
    at the service prepared with so much love for months
    in advance. This at least is recorded on celluloid.
    My dharma talk, written with help from my friends
    seems to have gone down well. The spiritual angle
    is strongly emphasized from start to finish.

    What follows are notes jotted down occasionally
    on my outings to London Road for postcards and stamps
    and crumpets and lemon and ginger tea for Maria.
    I have not attempted to order them into poetry, prefer
    to let them speak for themselves, just as they are.
    Uranus is on my Ascendant. I shower but do not shave.

    A table and chair in the library close to a window.
    Spacious and sunny. Asians put away books as I write.
    No pressures at all. The Co-op: a nice piece of cheddar.
    Wonderful Oxfam bookshop, the assistant tells me
    they've given up selling Third World produce,
    I purchase second-hand views of Sri Lanka, admire
    two whole long shelves crammed with English poetry.
    Soil Mates, a comical gardening card Kris will like.
    Others for Adam's wedding and Julia, not forgotten.
    I had asked the way from a raggedy man on a crutch. I still have the tab
    she gave me, the Black Lady in the red top I approached
    (on Gary's behalf!) to ask a few questions. Whaw!
    My Nat West pin code is wrong: no access to the 250
    pounds remaining on my account in the UK, better
    perhaps. She asked me not to come home with bric-à-brac.
    I left Bruges wearing two sweaters, but now use one.
    The gloves and bonnet are in the house. Mild and sunny.
    I sit in the park and think what I'll send The Kids,
    what Isabel must be doing, and Johan and Pieter as well.

    The Fat Fig, a friendly looking taverna I'd noticed
    yesterday claims my attention for lunch. I'll bring
    the gang back here this evening, instead of that
    boozy dump which our host suggested. My approach
    is planned. “I'd like a houmus and a glass of water”.
    That's what I get, with Greek bread, and it's great.
    A perfect view of the street. You can stare at a tree
    for five minutes before you actually notice it. Yes!

    Eight o'clock Monday morning. The priests have gone
    and Mary is still in bed. We had talked about visiting
    the tombstone outside Winchester Cathedral, only
    half an hour's drive. He refers to “nudging life
    in a certain direction”, an interesting variant on
    Marcus' total surrender to Other Power, stressed
    in his speech to the sangha. Everything Gary says
    on religious subjects carries considerable weight.
    We opt for the docks and a run about in the car
    to the shorelines outside the city. We see the remains
    of the hospital where the soldiers wounded in Africa
    (that war which Churchill fought in!) were brought home
    to fester. I pick up a gratitude stone on the beach.


    Meaning “the heart” in Japanese. The name that Gary's given
    to his home in Southcliff Road, which houses the temple
    where they celebrate that other Name on Thursday nights.
    My kukodan went out to a young psychologist called Judith
    who showed an interest in my poetry. Gary has Reflections,
    but I have promised I will send her one. She had some questions
    about the way I turn the negative to positive, possibly
    thinking my ideas on that might help her patients. She also works
    in conference planning, will be involved with ESC fourteen.
    I'm grateful to her for the talks we had in the crowded lounge
    and later in the park (“the Great Art, as I see it, is feeling good
    when you really feel bad”) and then beside me in the restaurant.
    I may have appealed, in a way, to her hungry Hungarian soul.

    For Tina's desk at Jetair, Bruges: Thanks for the cool organization
    of this British railtrip. The window seats were much appreciated.
    Also the Underground tickets which worked in the machines
    and sent me speeding on my way to Waterloo. Only one comment:
    leave more time for the connections! My Brussels train ran late
    to catch the Eurostar and but for being a weathered city rat
    and someone who never hesitates to ask for help, I might
    have left poor Gary standing on the platform. Well done, anyway.

    It's Tuesday. Mary brings the car back and kisses me goodbye.
    She was the perfect hostess – with migraine and depression,
    coping with Gary's stress and all hell to pay at work. My heart
    went out to her as well. We showed each other our Kuan Yins,
    and talked about them passionately, hearing each other's cries.
    Mary came to the docks and to the pebbled beach with us,
    took our photographs there and in the hondo. Mary was great.

    And now I'm at Saint Pancras once again with half an hour,
    perfectly timed, to kill before I check in for the Brussels train.
    Le Pain Quotidien. In Bruges a groovy indoor tearoom, here
    an inviting little table on the thoroughfare, plenty to watch,
    a chance to catch up with my notebook (alias mobile phone),
    and a waiter who reads my mind. Women on either side of me.
    This nice American lady engages quickly in conversation,
    which pleases me immensely and gets my kukodan beating.
    She's come from Brussels, where she's lived for twenty years,
    folds up her laptop, agrees this makes the perfect waiting room.
    Works for McLaren, a name I've heard of, in suspension, has
    to leave and catch up with some colleagues who are lost.
    Time to think of those I love: time for some spiritual vitamins:
    you, Maria, Gary, Kris, Julia and Company down in France.

    Half an hour into the journey back to mainland Europe.
    Sunny, satisfying, smooth. A free seat next to me to put my bag
    or is it for Kuan Yin the invisible? Bottle of lime flavoured water.
    Across the way a distinguished elderly gentleman, also
    with an empty seat beside him, perhaps for a Greek goddess,
    unwraps his bento lunch, eating it with a glass of wine.
    Funnily enough, I had just started thinking about mine -
    a BLT sandwich (breakfast lunch tea? bacon lettuce tomato?)
    but thought I'd leave it till we got to Lille. You'll soon be home
    from the quilt group. (Was I to know that you were sick in bed?)
    Just for today I'll refuse the fatal glass, drink water instead.

    In and out of the tunnel

    Reflections in the window, black outside:
    figures dancing on a laptop screen, seen
    in the seat in front. A woman giggling,
    our loud hum as we go through under
    the Channel to the continental side
    of European Shin. Priests Fons and Frank
    have blazed the trail in front of me.

    The speckled blue sweater we chose
    for me to look fairly smart in
    rises and falls on my chest as I breathe
    smokeless underwater crosswise air
    heading for the bourgeois life of Bruges,
    without a Buddhist temple of its own,
    thinking of Kopje Troost, clutching my gratitude stone.

    Namo Amida Butsu to you all.
    Perhaps you'd like to know what else I did
    in Southampton's funny sunny city.

    Nothing! In the true Buddhist sense of the word.
    The ubiquitous clocks went round and round,
    people came into the rooms, then left,
    Nembutsu was uttered about a million times
    by arahats and non-arahats alike (the service
    gates were thrown wide open to the populace).

    Like Yeats we climbed the narrow stair to the hondo
    where we photographed the priests. Fellowship was
    the word to describe our togetherness downstairs
    in Mary's smoky room, watched by sweet Kuan Yin.

    We're out! The wide flat fields of France
    stretch sunlit to the horizon. Disneyland
    tickets are on sale in the bar,
    we weave our path
    out of samsara into the Pure Land and back …..

    Say what you like about this marvellous weekend,
    it's great to be going home to Maria. Kuan Yin
    in my pocket will have lots to tell Amida -
    the jizo on my desk. She'll love the Easter biscuits
    Gary bought by mistake and gave to me. Ah well,
    there's a reason for everything. Positive thinking!

    Fleecy clouds float on the afternoon sky
    like the stray thoughts of a meditator.
    France is at peace with herself.
    A farm – one of dozens – shelters
    from the wind behind a row of poplars.
    The black girl behind me is getting out
    at Lille. A van negotiates a country road.
    You might see some meaning in all this.

    Your next trains are to Nantes and Rennes -
    for Marseille and Lyon at six-twenty.

    Time for that sandwich and a sanitary stop,
    as Lieven Boutens called it on the coach
    to La Coupole with Martin, seven years ago.
    Goodbye for ever, cousins getting off at Lille.

    Approaching joy

    Shin Buddhism in daily life – how easy
    is it in practice? Must one meditate or simply
    "say the Name"? Both are possible but the
    Great Masters all agree the Name works best.

    And what about the “problems of existence”
    that are constantly thrown up in our faces
    due to bad karma earned in former lives?

    That's the topic of next year's Conference
    down in Southampton in the heart of Europe.
    That's what will keep us all busy for a year
    or more, coping with our computers,
    our partners' temperamental outbursts,
    plus the proverbial “slings and arrows”
    that pierce the heart and mortify the soul.

    I'm back in Belgium – Brussels is
    five minutes away – I'm ready to dash
    for the rush-hour train to Bruges.
    In gratitude I murmur my Nembutsu,
    in gratitude, and in approaching joy.

    Smartphones galore

    Dusk. A breath of cold in the evening air.
    Not many people waiting for this train.
    A funny old woman with two red bags.

    Just in time for the last available seat,
    luggage perched on my shoulder and my knee,
    a girl with frizzy hair crouched on the steps,
    only one voice, laptops, smartphones, documents,
    books. Bruges and Ghent after a day at work,
    back to the dog & cat, the warmed-up dinner,
    back to the box, too late for the meeting,
    while I sit still in Southampton listening
    to the Triple Refuge chanted loud and clear:

    In the Buddha I take my refuge,
    In the Dharma I take my refuge,
    In the Sangha I take my refuge.

    How many good atmospheric poems
    like the first page of Dostoievsky's Idiot
    have you read about crowded stuffy trains
    creeping and creaking through a winter night?

    Facing me, a handsome girl of forty,
    touch of olive in her skin, a Greek nose,
    perfect dark eyes she seems to want to close.
    Gets out, like nearly everyone, at Ghent
    leaving me again beside the window – black
    by now, and filled with young reflections.
    (She was too beautiful and sad for marriage).

    Now I'm back where I started on Friday
    five days ago – loaded with karmic vitamins.
    This time, my memory camera has functioned.
    Not tomorrow, next week or the whole spring
    will delete the marvellously beautiful
    images imprinted on my roving heart
    of a Belgian ambassador abroad.
    I have put my arms round the First Quarter
    moon and drawn her to me, Tai Chi-wise.

    Prince, take these lines, intended as a gift.
    The young couple opposite fall asleep
    over their mobiles. This notebook is mine.
    Tell her I'm coming back. A million N.A.B's.

    19.2.13, 19.26.




    Namo Amida Butsu
    Namo Amida Butsu
    Namo Amida Butsu

    I have reserved a place for you in the heart of my Pure Land.

    Everything I do today
    will be meaningful and loving.
    Gratitude will be the keynote.

    I depend upon Amida
    as one hand depends on the other.

    Don't worry, be happy, was the song:
    Well, Amida is the singer.

    Slowly the interference
    in my head begins to fade:
    I listen to him and am healed.




    I dedicate this day to you, Amida
    and to your handmaiden Kuan Yin.

    No other dharma equals or excels
    that of your wisdom and compassion.
    Even the plants and trees listen to you.

    Grant me the blessings of satori and
    sobriety as I prostrate before you, an
    acolyte lost in the mists of illusion.

    Take away my doubt and hesitation
    and make this an Amida-minded day!




    It's a perfectly normal, sunny
    Tuesday morning in October
    with Autumn sunlight glinting
    on the peaceful, ordered traffic
    in the square outside the café.
    My Cola Zero froths in the glass.

    I'm not writing for the papers.
    The King and Queen will be here
    on Friday, to take care of that.
    My souvenir-shop ballpoint
    marked "Brugge" (with 3 photos)
    decides what I'm going to say.

    If anything. Outside the Post
    I bumped into a haikuist
    who wants to do a book with me
    . This has gone on for three years.
    The waitress looks away from me,
    knowing damn well who I am.

    Kicking off insomnia all night
    on the computer to Australia
    and a man after my own heart
    I had to get out of the house,
    muttering mouthfuls of nembutsu,
    utterly empty, nervous and sad.

    My daughter is in hospital.
    Hers flies down to the S. of France
    this week, to be with her granny.
    From behind the Belfry & a flag
    Laura gives me a kiss on the cheek.
    It might turn out to be a good week.

    Laura: popular Flemish name for the sun.




    Thank God there's a pile of washing-up
    and a haunting aria from Il Trovatore?
    (I saw it with a friend last Monday)
    with Rosalind Plowright as the soprano.

    The valerian seems to be working
    as I toss the spatula and cooking knives
    into the soapy hot water and unwind,
    after abandoning attempts at proper Zazen

    on my knees in front of the wood stove.
    I utter my nembutsu a dozen times.
    The lighting is as good as the music
    and I can "see what the hands are doing".

    Fighting off thoughts of tea with Anabel
    and Cristo's seven o'clock meeting,
    "First Things First" I keep whispering,
    "Make it to your wedding anniversary

    (forty years happily spliced with Maria)
    on the 9th of November. You could drop dead
    in the street after lunch or get your other
    elbow smashed by a lunatic cyclist."

    Five past one. The pan the sauce was cooked in
    surrenders gracefully. There is no Radio One
    to tell me how many people were killed
    in Syria. So I can have my meal in peace.

    Tuesday (my day off) 15 October 13




    to jan vernieuwe
    and his band of zen people


        I am going
            to the Pure Land

    after this

    I just
        say my

    and hope
        for the
            best -

    the rest
        is in
            His hands.

    Tuesday 10 December 13, 08.43.




    HO ON KO

    "The wish to save all beings" in the present

    Salvation for oneself and others -

    Based on a manuscript of Professor Hoyu Ishida.


    The wish to save all beings and share the benefits of salvation with others is absolutely inherent in your invitation to Eko-Haus for this seminar, dear Professor Aoyama and Reverend Jan-Marc Nottelmann. Your concern for our spiritual welfare, development and progress towards the Land of Supreme Bliss is uppermost in your minds. In this sense you immediately embody the title chosen by Professor Hoyu Ishida for his essay. We do not come here, by difficult journeys across land and water, merely for our own personal benefit, although this plays an important role in our motivation.

    We would not have decided to come, had we not wanted to enjoy the blessings of being members of this sangha, the company and fellowship of fellow aspirants. We are here to enlarge our perspectives by learning from one another, and to share our experience and ideas with receptive and understanding audiences. In all these ways we are putting Professor Ishida's thoughts into practice.

    The wish to save is the keynote of all five gatherings here in Eko-Haus this weekend. The cost of our travel tickets to Dusseldorf is a small preliminary instalment, if only a symbolic one, on our eventual journey to the Pure Land. We could easily have stayed at home, little pratekya Buddhas in our private living quarters, missing out on a unique opportunity to grow in the spirit and pass on some of the truths we have learned hitherto. The opportunity is also there to test some of our beliefs in the context of the papers being delivered as well as in conversations with sangha members outside the conference rooms.

    Did not the Exalted One himself, Sakyamuni Buddha, convene gatherings where he could expound his teaching to the many, wishing, as he did, to save all beings from the endless cycle of birth and death? In coming together like this, we follow in the footsteps of the Buddha. We can pass on our views about the meaning of salvation and its attainment without exposing ourselves unnecessarily to hostile criticism. Our Shin masters warn us against entering into debate on religious issues with outsiders. Here we are in a safe and protected environment. Without the Buddha's teaching, there could have been no Buddhism.

    Professor Hoyu Ishida's presentation examines what "becoming a Buddha" means in the context of "salvation", which is generally understood by Buddhists to mean "liberation” or "enlightenment" in addition to deliverance from disease, misfortune, unhappiness and other forms of pain and suffering in this samsaric world. Personal experience and self-examination are essential on the path to "salvation". Let us remember Shinran having said that Amida's Primal Vow was made for him alone. We must work out our own "salvation" with diligence, in Sakyamuni Buddha's dying words, but this is not the whole story, for it suggests a self-benefiting activity which is only half the aim of Mahayana Buddhism.

    In fact, the Bodhisattva or "Buddha-to-be" seeks by his or her efforts on the spiritual path to obtain the deliverance of all. This unselfish goal takes into account the idea of interdependence, whereby the individual is intimately related to the whole, and all actions are interconnected. In the brief experience of enlightenment known as "satori", which may occur on any square of any town at any time, all the people there present join in and benefit from the exalted mood of the person in question.

    In the school of Buddhism known as Jodo Shinshu "salvation" comes in the first place with the "saying of the Name" recommended in the 18th Vow, as a result of which the devotee is united with Amida and, by virtue of his entrusting heart, is embraced by the Tathagata, never to be abandoned. Honen, the Pure Land Master par excellence, describes it in The Covenant as follows:- "To attain birth in the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss of Amida Buddha requires nothing but implicit faith that mere recitation of Namo Amida Butsu ensures attainment of birth in the Pure Land. The teachings of the threefold devotional heart and the four modes of exercise are encompassed by the firm belief that birth in the Pure Land is assured by the recitation of Namo Amida Butsu. If I further expound on any thought other than this, I would be excluded from the compassionate mercy of the Two Honoured Ones and be at odds with the essential vow of Amida Buddha."

    Single-minded entrusting and irreversible faith in the working of Amida's Vow is known as "shinjin" and it is said to be diamond-hard. In his essay Professor Ishida describes it as "one's awareness or realization of the working of Amida Buddha". I would add a personal note and suggest that, when we recite our nembutsu, which is so simple and yet so complete, we are conscious of other practicers all over the world, doing the same thing, day and night. This is just one way in which the continual practice of nembutsu is anything but a lonely individual activity. We are united with one another, as well as with Amida. There are no five or six different nembutsus.

    For us Shin Buddhists, Namo Amida Butsu is the one true, reliable, sensible and incontestable statement in a highly complex and deceptive world, where every truth is open to interpretation and disappointments lurk at every corner. It brings us back time and time again to Amida's Vow to save all sentient beings, repeating the simple truth that salvation is available to one and all. The active Shin Buddhist who, like the Founder Shinran, is deeply and sometimes painfully aware of his character defects and shortcomings, nevertheless accepts Amida's invitation to "come just as he is". Amida makes no distinction between the virtuous person and the wrong-doer. The gate to Amida's Land is open for one and all. The baffling simplicity of this so-called "Simple Path" confers upon it the allures of a world religion within anybody's comprehension. In their writings the Shin Masters, and Honen in particular, often refer to Shan-tao and the need to distinguish between the Gate of Sages (the difficult path of Self Power) and the Pure Land Gate (the simple path of Other Power).

    Our Masters maintain that it is almost impossible to achieve realization by one's own efforts, and we are therefore driven to surrender and fall back on the Power of Amida's Vow. Other Power, contrasting with the use of the unbridled will, can be felt in many ways, big and small. The Other Power person feels "guided" in his or her actions, to some extent going with the flow, and grateful for opportunities which arise of themselves. In Shin Buddhism this is known as 'the unhindered path'. You know when you are on it, for you are protected by countless Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and you know when you have wandered off it, for your little "I" starts getting mixed up in conflicts. Namo Amida Butsu is sometimes called the nembutsu of Other Power.

    Shan-tao declares that "one saying of the Name eliminates one's entire karmic evil". If this is so, then it is likely that anyone who sees, hears or utters the nembutsu once is on the path to salvation. It is not for us to judge. Inadvertently, in the course of an everyday conversation, we may sow the seed of Buddhahood. For the rest, we should perhaps follow Rennyo's advice, at the end of many of his letters, where he advises us to fulfil our social obligations and simply recite nembutsu unconcerned about our karmic evil. This is the natural way which Shin strives for. With a little wisdom and compassion we will be on the way to taking everyone in our own world with us through the Pure Land Gate.


    Namo Amida Butsu.



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