As we enter the month of June, another school year comes to an end and we welcome the arrival of summer vacation. Before students get to enjoy their summer vacation, there is hard work to be done preparing for final exams and big end-of-the-year projects. At this time of year, I find myself reminiscing about my college days, and I remember something my college Japanese professor Larson Sensei would say at the end of the semester. As she collected our final exams, she would smile and say, “Congratulations on all the hard work you did this term. I hope you will find some opportunities to use your Japanese over the break, so that you don’t forget all that you’ve learned this year. That said, for the next week please give yourself a good break and don’t open your textbook or do any studying.” Having finished a big task, it is important to have a good rest. During the time of rest, we can think back on what we have accomplished and consider what our next project should be.
While preparing for an exam or project, my efforts are concentrated on mastering the material for myself, and my attention naturally turns to “What I can do.” Resting during a break, I realize that anything I accomplish is possible thanks to the support of my teachers, family, and friends. Having worked hard at something, I can enjoy a good rest. Likewise, I find that taking a break from time to time enables me to continue to put forth my best effort. Maintaining a healthy balance between working hard and taking a rest is the essence of the Middle Way taught by the Buddha. In order live by the Middle Way, it is necessary to maintain a consistent daily rhythm in life. When my priorities shift from “What can I accomplish?” to “How shall I live?” I find that the things which need to get done do get done.
Resting our bodies is important, but resting our minds is even more essential. Even if I sit down to rest my body, if my mind does not also rest, I do not feel refreshed. At the same time, having my mind at rest can enable me to keep working at a challenging task without feeling tired. From that perspective, it is important to learn to rest our minds.
A self-centered mind is never at rest. When I go through life working only to fulfill my self-centered desires, my mind will not rest until I obtain the object of my desire. What’s more, even if I manage to acquire that thing I was chasing after, another desirable object will immediately appear, such that my mind never rests in satisfaction. Likewise, when I set out to avoid all the things I personally dislike, I find that many unpleasant encounters are impossible to avoid. Even if I do manage to avoid one distasteful encounter, I soon find myself faced with something else I despise, such that my mind never enjoys a peaceful rest.
On the other hand, when I let go of striving to attain my personal desires and avoid my individual dislikes, my mind opens to the life of appreciation and gratitude. When I turn about and awaken to a life of gratitude, my mind is truly at rest. In gratitude, my dissatisfied mind that endlessly chases after selfish desires turns about and rests in appreciation of all I receive. My anxious mind that constantly seeks to avoid the slightest unpleasant experience turns about and acknowledges all the unpleasantness my self-centered attitudes cause for others. With awakened self-awareness, my mind rests in deep gratitude for the patience and kindness I continue to receive from the friends and family who are my companions on this journey of life.
Living in the Nembutsu, my deepest gratitude is for Amida Buddha who guides my self-centered mind to turn about and rest in the great peace of awakening. The following words of Shinran Shonin beautifully express the gratitude of one who rests in the settled mind:
Those who feel uncertain of birth [in the Pure Land] 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!’
(Collected Works of Shinran, p. 560)
Namo Amida Butsu