In a recent address to the Sangha, our temple President began his remarks with the words, “I would like to offer my condolences to Reverend Adams. . .” Wondering what loss I should be grieving, I momentarily searched my memories of the preceding weeks. Then he finished his sentence with the words, “. . . for the inhospitable treatment your Minnesota Vikings received from the San Francisco 49ers yesterday afternoon.” I grew up in Minnesota and the previous day those two professional football teams had faced off for the Division Title. Having suffered defeat at the hands of the 49ers, the Minnesota Vikings lost their chance to play in the Super Bowl on February 2. For many families, Super Bowl Sunday is a major social event that rivals the traditional winter holidays as an occasion for gathering friends and loved ones for elaborate feasting and celebration—or drowning your sorrows in bean dip and hot wings if your team happens to be losing.
A classic American tradition, the Super Bowl is the championship game that decides who can claim the honor of being the best team in American football. In order to reach the Super Bowl, two teams must emerge victorious over the other teams in their division and conference. Having played at the consistently superior level to reach the Super Bowl, the team that wins the championship game needs to have the inward attributes of motivation, strategy, and discipline, as well as the outward attributes of speed, strength, and good equipment.
Although few of us will have the opportunity to play in the Super Bowl, we enjoy the excitement of watching the game because we all face challenges in our own lives and receive inspiration from seeing others rise to the occasion and put forth their best effort, whether they win or lose.
Among the various challenges that we face in life, the Buddha teaches that the most important victory to pursue is the victory over greed, anger, and ignorance. Greed, anger, and ignorance arise from our self-centered way of thinking, and are referred to as the three poisons because they poison our lives by causing all kinds of suffering for ourselves and others. The way for us to overcome these three poisons is to attain enlightenment and receive the wisdom and compassion of the Buddha.
The members of the winning Super Bowl team possess the inner and outward attributes of a superior athlete. Likewise, one who conquers greed, anger, and ignorance and attains the victorious state of Buddhahood possesses the inner and outward merits and virtues of enlightenment. The inner virtues of the Buddha include wisdom and fearlessness. The Buddha also displays outward virtues, such as sharing the Dharma for the benefit of all beings. By sharing the Dharma, the Buddha shines the light of his wisdom freely illuminating every aspect of our lives.
The nembutsu, or the practice of reciting the name of Amida Buddha in the words “Namo Amida Butsu,” has been provided for us by the Buddha as a way to receive the immeasurable wisdom and compassion of awakening. In his writings, the eminent 12th century Japanese priest Honen describes how all the virtues of enlightenment are contained in the words “Namo Amida Butsu,” the name of Amida Buddha:
. . . into the name flow all of Amida’s uncountable virtues. That is to say, in the name are contained all the merits and virtues of Amida’s inner enlightenment, such as the four kinds of wisdom, the three bodies, the ten powers, and the four kinds of fearlessness. Also contained in it are all the merits and virtues of his outward activities, such as the major and minor bodily characteristics, the emanation of light, the preaching of the Dharma, and the benefitting of sentient beings.
(Honen’s Senchakushu published by the Kuroda Institute, page. 76)
In providing us with the nembutsu teaching, the Buddha provided us with a means to receive all the merits and virtues of enlightenment. To say the words “Namo Amida Butsu,” is to gratefully acknowledge the working of the Buddha’s wisdom in our lives. We receive the benefits of the Buddha’s awakening as the light of the Dharma illuminates our lives, liberating us from the fear and darkness of ignorance.
As you face the challenges in your life, I encourage you to keep in mind that the Buddha has provided his teachings in the Dharma as a light to guide you on your path to awakening and a life of wisdom and compassion. When you feel the presence of the Buddha’s wisdom and compassion in your life, you may find the words “Namo Amida Butsu” coming forth in gratitude from your lips.
Namo Amida Butsu