Freedom in the Nembutsu

Again this year, we will dedicate our 9:30 a.m. Dharma Service on July 1, the weekend before Independence Day, to the memory of the Buddhist Churches of America Bishops who have led our Sangha to flourish here in the United States.

I recently came across some historical writings of one of our previous BCA bishops, Rev. Kenryu Tsuji, in a collection of Buddhist materials donated by one of our senior Sangha members. I was particularly struck by a Dharma Talk that was delivered by Bishop Tsuji to a gathering of Delegates from throughout the BCA and then published in May of 1960 in a collection of Dharma talks by BCA ministers.

I would like to share an excerpt of this talk with you as it speaks very directly to the role that our Sangha plays in the spiritual life of our country. Moreover, I think you will find that the wisdom and insight it offers rings true today 58 years later.

The Buddhist Churches of America is the little baby in his mother’s arm as he is brought to church for the first time in his life. And it is the busy little feet of children as they scurry across a field of daisies to their Buddhist Sunday School.

             It is also the lusty shout of youths urging their basketball team to victory.

             It is the men and women close to the good earth, working in the sun of San Joaquin, Santa Clara, Yakima or Imperial Valley. It is the young family picnicing by the shores of Lake Michigan or Minnetonka. It is the minister racing with death over the treacherous, frozen highway to be present at the bedside of his member.

             It is the cattleman of the great plains, herding his purebreds to shelter in the face of the oncoming storm.

             It is the young secretary in the crowded Uptown subway in Manhattan, returning home after her hectic office hours. And, it is the hushed, solemn congregation that bows its head to pay its last respects to an octogenarian member.

             My friends, these people and numerous others, who live in Amida’s Wisdom and Compassion, represent the vital heartbeat of the movement that is the Buddhist Churches of America.

(“For Buddhism—A National Purpose” in Buddhist Sermons No. 104, p. 10-11, Published Jointly by Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii and the Buddhist Churches of America, May 1960)

Bishop Tsuji goes on to describe the values inherent in the teaching of the Nembutsu as “humility and thanksgiving; moral action prompted by contrition and gratitude; justice, liberty and equal opportunity for all founded on Amida’s Wisdom and Compassion.” In another writing of Bishop Tsuji’s he describes the true freedom that is realized in the Nembutsu: “The power of NAMU AMIDA BUTSU clears the path before us, gives us courage, frees us from evil influences, and brings countless good influences to bless us. It casts the light of infinite love and insight onto the road of our life.” (“Profession of Faith: ARTICLE XI”). The freedom we realize in the Nembutsu is the freedom to live with peace and equanimity in all situations of our life.

When we turn our minds to Amida Buddha and say the Nembutsu of humility and thankfulness, our society becomes more peaceful through each of us who lives a life that reflects the light of Amida Buddha’s wisdom and compassion at work, at school, at home, at the parade, and at the barbecue. Through the lives of calm, peace and harmony that we live in the Nembutsu, our nation becomes, more calm, more peaceful, and more harmonious. When the United States becomes more calm, peaceful and harmonious, the world becomes more calm, peaceful and harmonious. This is true of all nations, large and small.

The wisdom expressed in these writings of Bishop Tsuji echoes the words of Shinran Shonin:

. . . it would be splendid if all people who say the nembutsu, not just yourself, do so not with thoughts of themselves, but for the sake of the leaders of our country (the imperial court) and for the sake of the people of the country. Those who feel uncertain of birth should say the nembutsu aspiring first for their own birth. Those who feel that their own birth is completely settled should, mindful of the Buddha’s benevolence, hold the nembutsu in their hearts and say it to respond in gratitude to that benevolence, with the wish, ‘May there be peace in the world, and may the Buddha’s teaching spread!’

(A Collection of Letters 2, 親鸞聖人御消息 25)


Namo Amida Butsu