Kanji for Muryoko

'Infinite Light'

Journal of Shin Buddhism

Marcus Cumberlege





























How does the nembutsu practiser cope with suffering in his or her daily life? What guidelines exist?

Is prayer a valid or recognized means for obtaining relief from suffering? Is there any teaching about this? Is there any point in "asking for help" or lighting candles?

Is it bad practice (kami) to use the word "God" when patiently explaining the principles of Shin Buddhism to outsiders? (For example, the phrase “God as we understand Him” as commonly used in twelve step programmes to cover any thing or person in which we believe). Rennyo strongly advises us not to get into discussions about our faith. I start to feel guilty about my interest in astrology and my veneration of Kuan Yin.

I know that Amida cordially invites me to participate in the joys of his Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss; but is it fond imagination on my part to suppose that he, in turn, can actively participate in my life "down here"?

Following the previous question: I hear of certain Shin followers who "talk with Amida" as though he were an intimate spiritual friend. Are these people batty, or have they got something going for them that the rest of us are missing out on? Some hard-line Buddhists like Shitoku Peel of Antwerp see Him as nothing more real than the Name – Namo Amida Butsu. A traditional Buddhist friend of mine in England once shut me up with: "Buddha is dead. Forget him." I myself have a soft spot for him.

How can one live with temptation or what Shinran called "his blind passions"? Anger, greed, lust, pride, jealousy, resentment and fear often raise their ugly heads. Depression makes me introspective and ego-centric and "separates me from God" (if I may use that expression again!). Is the utterance of Namo Amida Butsu at these critical moments enough?




The Great Masters,
    who are transformed Buddhas,
      say nembutsu in their sleep.


Self Power gets you
    so far, no further.
        Other Power really works.


A little girl holding
    her mother's hand crosses
        the street: TOTAL TRUST.


Namo Amida Butsu is the key
to my sanity, and love is the door.


Am I going to be
    a grumpy old man today
        or pull my socks up?


Master Rennyo -
    must I be grateful
        for my life or for my death?




Know that apart from the Vow-Power
there is no way to birth in the Pure Land.
- Zuiken

Namo Amida Butsu.
There is no need for panic.
You are saved.
Tuesday 10 Sept 13, 0420.

Clocks everywhere
but no time to think
of anything but Amida.

Why me?
Why me, Amida?
Why me of all people?
Why am I saved?

My little mind,
My little will,
Your great design
For my little life.

Namo Amida Butsu!
Thank you for thinking
of me, Amida!

Tcha! Even my best
buddy hasn't got it -
the truly settled mind.

For Jan and Christine:
Practising nembutsu
doesn't mean that you can't
do zazen and cook.




Namo Amida Butsu -
    Amida calling
        from the Land of Bliss.

Namo Amida Butsu -
    my response
        to the essential vow.

Monday 2 September.

Vocalize nembutsu whenever and as soon as
the thought of it arises in your mind,
no matter what mood you are in,
however negative or tired you feel!
Better nembutsus – and hence a better mood -
will soon appear, as the result of your
perseverance. Be resolute!

Namo Amida Butsu -
    this one nembutsu
        makes my day worth while.

One genuine nembutsu
    is enough to open
    the gates of bliss.

Namo Amida Butsu
    cleanses the muddy
    whirlpool of my mind.

"Those who possess the threefold
devotional heart will realize birth
in the Pure Land of Utmost Bliss
without fail." HONEN.

Namo Amida Butsu -
    do I long for birth
        in the Land of Bliss
or secretly cling
    to this world of suffering?

Namo Amida Butsu -
    saying these words
        bad karma disappears.

Every single nembutsu that I say
is like a bright star in the Milky Way.




Namo Amida Butsu -
    thank you for this
        crummy old human life
which gets me up
    at four in the morning
        to the amazement
            of my teddy bears
and the disbelief
    of my anxious wife.

Namo Amida Butsu
    in the ten quarters -
        thank you for the light
which I perceive
    with my feeble
        sense of sight.

Namo Amida Butsu -
    whatever strength I have
        is in the Name.

One wee nembutsu
    breathes life
        into this bearded idiot.

Namo Amida Butsu -
    I must learn to say it
        with gratitude
for the primal vow
    which results in birth.




"The karmic activity that leads to birth
    in the Pure Land is the speaking of the Name
        of Amida Buddha." - SHAN-TAO

Somewhere out there
    someone is uttering
        the same nembutsu as me.

The first few nembutsus
    may seem futile
        but the gratitude will grow.

Namo Amida Butsu -
    after saying that
        nothing can go wrong.

Namo Amida Butsu -
    there's always one more
        nembutsu to say.

Namo Amida Butsu -
    I don't stop saying it
        because I'm saved.

Namo Amida Butsu -
    I actually hear myself
        calling his name.

Sometimes I say it
    to Amida and sometimes
        He says it to me.

You ask me what
    my plans are for today?
        Namo Amida Butsu!

Namo Amida Butsu -
    I'm incapable
        of anything else.

What is “the good life”?
    Simply to recite
        Namo Amida Butsu
and slightly reduce
    the number of
        deliberate derelictions.

Namo Amida Butsu -
    as long as I breathe
        I'll recite the Name.




"Do not fill your precious time with pursuing
man's trifling wisdom when you could be
reciting nembutsu." - HONEN to SHINKU.

When a nembutsu appears
    in the back of your mind
        -vocalize it.

Namo Amida Butsu
    Namo Amida Butsu -
        that's better!

Mystifyingly simple -
    the call of
        Namo Amida Butsu.

Namo Amida Butsu
    to all that is holy,
        all that is good.

A thousand nembutsus a day
    to begin with -
        and see how it goes.

Namo Amida Butsu
    I'll feed that blackbird -
        the Zazen can wait.

I'm really sorry about
    all my foolish thoughts
        on meditation.

Zazen provides
    a perfect platform
        for the practice
            of nembutsu.

No calculation nembutsu.
    Other power nembutsu.
        That's all.

I can feel it
    coming up inside me -
        Namo Amida Butsu.

Ignorance brought me
    to the nembutsu -
        now I must use it wisely.




ESHIN-SOZU once said: "A man's heart
is always distracted by the various conditions
around him. For this reason I merely recite

Instead of dissipating thought
    on this and that -
        say your nembutsu.

One distracted nembutsu
    or even a fearful one
        is better than
            no nembutsu at all.

Namo Amida Butsu
    in the back room
        of this quiet café.

Coming out into
    the sunshine I said
        "Namo Amida Butsu".

Namo Amida Butsu -
    finally Amida
        finds and saves me.




Once more I awaken
    with a head full of shit -
        sleep medication.

Am I just gabbling
    Namo Amida Butsu -
        or do I mean it?

Do I want
    a blessèd birth in the Pure Land?
        I suppose I do.

Then say nembutsu!!
    (because that is Amida's wish) -
        with all your heart!!

All the Great Masters
    of Jodo Shinshu
        advocate the nembutsu.

Weak in every way,
    I can but rejoice
        Amida has found me.

Namo Amida Butsu -
    two glasses of green tea
        have cleared my head.

So much rubbish
    drifts through my mind each day.
        Namo Amida Butsu.

Namo Amida Butsu -
    How deeply do I trust
        in the Primal Vow?

Have I a truly settled mind?
That's the big question I ask myself.

Namo Amida Butsu -
    I stand here in the garden
        saying it.

Namo Amida Butsu -
    I now feel connected
        with Amida.




How bad is bombu?
    One day he's on fire
        with nembutsu – next day dead.

Utter it, mutter it, stutter it -
    but go on saying

Confucius says
    the truly good man
        is balanced
            and at peace with himself.

I would say sixty
    thousand nembutsus a day
        to achieve that goal.

Namo Amida Butsu -
    three words which have turned
        my life upside down.

Bombu decides to have lunch -
    half a day wasted
        in speculation.

"This," he says, looking himself
    squarely in the mirror,
        "Amida has saved".

Folk dances of Aragón
    and Corfu see him
        through the washing-up.

Namo Amida Butsu -
    accept yourself
        exactly as you are.

"Every mortal, without exception,
can attain birth in the Pure Land."

Pass on! Even the nembutsu
    you forgot to say
        Amida heard.

Namo Amida Butsu
    says nothing, does nothing,
        solves everything.




Sakyamuni tells us
    that Right Effort
        will always be rewarded.

Trusting, to the best of my ability, that I am saved
by the incomprehensible, compassionate working
of Amida's universal vow, I am nevertheless restless,
discontented, irritable – fearful of the hours ahead,
of making mistakes and of dying. Confucius' peace
of mind seems a long way off. Can nembutsu help me?

Namo Amida Butsu! I confess to being easily discouraged.
At times (i.e. mostly) when I am not feeling tip top, the
bugaboos of despondency and self pity creep in. If only I
had the blind faith to recite the nembutsu during these
periods – for I'm certain this would "restore me to sanity"
and the balance known to Confucius and my Tai Chi masters.

Looking back, I am eternally grateful to Master Rennyo
for telling me not to worry about bad karma when reciting.
I am now able to bring up the immense gratitude he often
refers to, and which was impossible to find during my deep
depressions of 30 years ago. Amida's compassion is boundless.

Live a life which enables you
to recite nembutsu naturally.

Remember that you may
    be called to the Pure Land
        at any moment.




This first week I'll set
    my target at a thousand
        nembutsus a day.

I turn down the critical
    voice which says nembutsu
    is not worth while.

When gratitude gets into
    your recitation
        you're on the right track.

Namo Amida Butsu
    leads to birth in the Pure Land -
        if nothing else!

Every single nembutsu
    brings the Pure Land
        that much closer.

At times, like this,
    Namo Amida Butsu
        seems absolutely right.

Namo Amida Butsu
    is my way of saying Thank You
        to Amida.

Create a life
    with more opportunities
        for saying nembutsu.

Another day
    passes into eternity -
        Namo Amida Butsu.

During Zazen
    I empty my mind
        of everything but nembutsu.

Turning bad karma
    into good karma -
        nothing else happened
                all day.

Namo Amida Butsu -
    thank you María
        my belovèd wife.




Yesterday evening's practice
    was rewarded
        with a delightful dream
in which María, friends
    and I were busy
        adorning an altar
in my bedroom.

I awoke with Namo
    Amida Butsu on my lips
        and got up
into the bearable samsaric
    world of an old man's
        stiff body.

In the kitchen and the veranda
my nembutsu got under way
without a trace of yesterday morning's
horrible fuzz in my head.

It's four in the morning
    and I'm planning to write
        a thank-you letter to Frits
for kindly sending me The Promise
    of Amida Buddha -
        Honen's Path to Bliss

"In her crown a motto,
    the Virgin of Pilar -
'I am mother of all
        who dwell upon this star.'"

Kami-the blissful Spanish virgins
and patron saints along my path
through Bruges, celestial city.

Hakarai – Japanese word
    for the nonsense
        that rattles through my head
when I'm too indolent
        to say nembutsu.

Namo Amida Butsu,
    I can't help calling it -
        life is so short.

Namo Amida Butsu -
    the "unhindered path"
        to the Land of Bliss.




The nembutsus I forget
    are those Amida
        most appreciates.

The trees in our garden -
    now visible -
        utter silent nembutsus.

Jizo - the little plaster Buddha
    on my desk -
        enjoys a candle.

The pursuit of worldly fame
    is only a soap-bubble
        blown by a child.

Maria is getting up -
    I can hear her footsteps
        on the floorboards.

Anderlecht draws with
    Barcelona in the second
        round of the Cup.

Fear of sex, fear of sleep, fear of death,
fear of coffee with sugar, fear of love,
fear of anger, greed, failure and hate,
fear of being late, fear of forgetting
the reason why I utter my nembutsu -
all those absurd, irrational fears of
the person haunted with bi-polarity:
I try to wash them off in the shower,
but only nembutsu works.

"Desire is the slayer of the real" -
that's all I know of Blavatsky.
(First thought out on the street).

Dog lovers – do they
    deserve my undivided
        love and devotion?

Let your nembutsu be
    an instinctive reaction
        to "heaviness"

Make your nembutsu
    a positive affirmation
        of happiness,
a task taken up with joy,
    a treasure.




The nurse who x-rayed
    my broken elbow
        treated me like an old friend.

The doctor's diagnosis
    was perfect – and quick.
        A charming young man.

I was out of the hospital
almost as soon as I had arrived -
to find Amida's bus awaiting me
for a pleasant journey home
(as though on a river boat!).

Including the silent ones
    I'd uttered
        over a thousand nembutsus
            and hopefully faced
                the evening ahead.

Thirty degrees in the shade.
    On the terrace
        I looked at my work so far.

Have I learned as much as Julia
completing her first week at school?

The Thursday night crowd was on form.
Marjan looked after the newcomer.
Eli needed a new hip operation.
Carine took charge of the kitchen.
With music, John drove me back to my door.
I said nembutsu through the boring bits.

Mercury and the Moon
    are transiting my Neptune
        in the Sixth House …

A punchline is needed to close this page.
Namo Amida Butsu.

I almost forgot
    Anabel, taking on
        two new Spanish students.




I kneel down
    and put my head on the floor
        for a Muslim nembutsu.

My first hundred nembutsus.
    My third pot of tea.
        Bats in the garden.

Am I feeling too WELL
    to utter another
        thousand nembutsus?

Life can be so seductive.
    JIRIKI (Self Power)
        lurks in the wings.

Rita's huge white orchids say nothing
but go on flowering week after week.

Will this practice
    make me a little wiser
        and more compassionate?

There is nothing
    like the feeling of gratitude
        to settle the mind.

Shall I go to the library
    and take out
        some edifying music?

Be extremely careful -
    the surf-wave of a good mood
        can break your back.

You'll never see
    the likes of me again!
    My Irish T-shirt.

Difficult to know whether
    I am breathing or reciting:

    a whole day ahead of me
        and nothing to do
            but say nembutsu.




Wandering back
    from the Record Library.
        Non-arisal of thought.

Perfectly normal people
    behaving in
        a perfectly normal way.

A restless, impatient
    coach-horse stretches
        its neck and
            paws its shadow.

Namo Amida Butsu
    booms the great bell
        on the marketplace tower.

Namo Amida Butsu
    murmurs the poet
        under the statue
of the two heroes
    who defeated the French
        in 1302.

Feet tied together
    the man on crutches
        gets where he wants to be

Namandabu! Clip-clop,
    clip-clop! Past the Dali
        museum they trot.

Sunshine on the bus-stop
    window-sill, waiting
        for the next nembutsu.

Lost count completely!
    Luckily I have my beads
        to keep me on course.

My Moroccan friends
    plan a trip to Marrakesh
        to spend their millions.

I'll treat Maria,
    back from her shopping,
        to a blast of opera.




"Recite nembutsu at all times
    while desiring birth
        in the Pure Land
and await the arrival
    of Amida Buddha.

Aspire to the attainment
    of birth in the Pure Land
        without fearing illness or death."
                - Honen's Essential Teaching.

Five nembutsus of gratitude
    and five of joy.
        Two thousand and ten.

My recitation lacks depth!
    I'm a student
        mumbling a formula.

I don't seem to be able
    to penetrate
        the compassionate vow …

Amida must know     how attached I am
        to this charming house of ours
(nightfall seduces the garden
    with its five imperishable trees
        as Maria watches television).

Amida must know
    how I cling to my poetry
        like a flimsy reed,
wanting to be remembered
    by future generations -
        O! The utter absurdity.

Perhaps the beads I received
    at confirmation
        know more than I do.

O-Juzu is their Japanese name,
a solid white bracelet of prayer
that will go down to the grave with me
after my final nembutsu.




Kuan Yin simply and sweetly
    sits there saying:
        "Put all your trust in me."

"What a shame! What a pity!"
    cries Shinran,
        "I don't rejoice in my birth."

Prostration – I dedicate
    this day to you,
        Amida and Kuan Yin.

Hungry Angry Lonely Tired:
within moments of awakening …

Nothing matters to me now
    but to say
        "Namo Amida Butsu!"

for the apricot, the banana,
the music from Argentina

and Maria coming downstairs
grumpy, bitten by a mosquito.

Tathagata's benevolence
encompasses all universes,

embracing this devotee
    in his obscure corner
        of the Pure Land
            four hours before dawn.

No dharma equals or excels
that of your wisdom and compassion.

With all its clatter and sham
    the tin-pot world of today
        is the best
I am able to imagine
    and I love it with all my heart.

Take away my hesitation,
make this an Amida-minded day.




Thank you for the great day ahead.
I'll meet its exciting challenges.

Help me, Amida!
    Help me, help me, help me
        to keep my sanity.

(I'm stretched on my back on the floor
after doing my elbow exercise).

Slowly   slowly   slowly
    the long awaited dawn
        appears in the sky.

I see Honen
    as a kindly
        middle-aged man
            with beads in his hands.

All night -
    invisible Moon in Libra -
        Murphy's Law operated.

Sincerity, joyful faith
    and desire for birth -
        the Three Minds of Shin.

I would be perfectly
    happy with a little bit
    of one of them.

Verdi, breakfast time:
    Never far from my thoughts,
        Amida, with O-Juzu
            on the table.

Being good costs blood,
    sweat and tears, but being
        bad makes you feel guilty.

Fatima leaves for Paris
    tomorrow – I told her
        she was beautiful.

Empty-minded Saturday.
    Nothing to do
        but utter the Name.




On my O-Juzu
    there are thirty beads -
        I'm learning to handle them.

Why don't you go
    to the park with a book
if you have nothing to do?
    says Fati.

Why don't I go to the moon
    on a rocket? I might well
        have answered.

Just then twenty tourists
    came into the joint for lunch -
        her prayer was answered.

God, as each of us
    understands you, grant me
    the Serenity to accept …..

I'm a 74 year-old
    married Buddhist
        alcoholic poet

with a dislike of
    beer-drinking hooligans
        shouting abuse in a park

not very far from the Pure Land
in its unspoiled natural beauty.

A bench. A notebook.
    An O-Juzu in the sun.
        That empty bandstand.

Home to my desk. Nothing
    important has happened.
        Anna Netrebko once more

warbles her nembutsus
    to my starving ears -
        Maria tucked up in bed.

You can almost hear
    the banality explode
        as I pen these words.




Roger Green rang me
    from Hydra to wish me
        an enjoyable month.

A friendly e-mail -
    Anabel's mother flies back
        to Guatemala.

It's sunny enough to sit on the terrace
and mumble nembutsu under my breath
to the fig tree and half dead roses -
Maria is once more sleeping the sleep
of the just. I suppose she must.

I'm taking valerian pills
    to soothe my nerves -
        no peace for the wicked!

Everyone's on holiday
    or having a good time
        doing their thing.

I seem to be waking up
    out of a deep sleep -
        the blackbirds are here.

I have moved the green chair
    into the sun
        and I start to feel better

with one of Rida's bottles
    of water from the fridge
        in my left hand,
my white O-Juzu
    fastened round my arm.

She waters the orchids
    on the garden table
        lovingly watched by me.

The Buddha in the poet
    greets the Buddha
        in the reader.




"The Name, Namo Amida Butsu,
embodies all good practices."
- Rennyo

"There is no need for effort on our part.
Buddha's mind and ours are one."
- Rennyo

"It is the inconceivable power
of the Vow that saves us all."
- Rennyo

"Amida is Other-directed
and wants only our benefit."
- Marcus

"Other Power is, firstly, letting go
of your calculating mind."
- Marcus

"It is hearing Amida
    utter nembutsu
        through your own lips."
- Marcus

"To have the joyful heart
    is to believe unshakeably
        in one's birth."
- Various

"Profound reliance
    on the essential Vow
        will always lead to birth."
- Shan-Tao,

"Doubt is the biggest bugaboo
hindering my nembutsu practice."
- Marcus

"Born of a prideful perfectionism,
it poisons my honest zeal."
- Marcus

"The wisdom of Buddhas
surpasses conceptual understanding."
- Shinran


"Simply achieve your birth,
    firmly avoiding
        all scholarly debate."




Just go on quietly saying your nembutsu,
while the blackbird sings its song in the garden,
a succulent pear between your finger and thumb.
Namo Amida Butsu, Namo Amida Butsu . . .
This practice opens for you the Pure Land gate,
gently increases your store of happiness and joy.

No matter if Confucius attempts to confuse you
with questions like "What is coming into the room?"
and the teachers of Tarot and Kundalini advise you
not to give vital energy to the opposite sex -
just go on saying it in spite of all annoyances,
an electricity bill, a grouch, an unpleasant mood.

Haste and fear are among the diseases of our time,
weapons which Mara the Tempter uses against us.
Action and inaction battle against one another,
the path gets lost, there is no light on the question.
Be resolute, and forge ahead with the utterance
strongly recommended by the Masters of our school.

All manner of things shall be well,wrote T.S. Eliot,
wisely exercising his poetic and prophetic gifts.
And nothing indeed can bar the progress of the person
who resolutely walks the unhindered Pure Land path,
calling Amida's name ten or ten thousand times a day
as though there were nothing else important left to say.




Return to the lists of poets