‘Our sangha has a glorious tradition of upholding and transmitting the Dharma from person to person. It is my hope that we will keep this wonderful custom despite of the current social fluctuations, and discover diverse potentialities in the teaching and tradition of Jodo Shinshu so that we can share them with as many people as possible and together follow the path toward realizing a society in which everyone is mutually accepted and respected.’ (from ‘Message on Retirement’, His Eminence Ohtani Koshin, (Sokunyo Shonin); Monshu Emeritus, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha)
The Pure Land tradition recognises individual differences and does not try to enforce rigid conformity. It is a tradition in which Amida Buddha’s light embraces all people of nembutsu, no matter who they are, or whatever their background and character. Such is the nature of the wisdom of the Buddhas.
Hence it is particularly gratifying to read the passage that I quoted, at the beginning of this post, from the speech delivered by our Monshu (Head priest) Emeritus on the occasion of his retirement. In our sangha the dharma is transmitted from person to person, one at a time.
Personal relationships and friendships are always unique. The dynamic that plays out within them is born from the particular circumstances of each individual, so there are bound to be slight differences in emphasis in the way that the Dharma is transmitted within each relationship. Ultimately, we come to share the same entrusting heart because it is of Amida Buddha, and common to all who share it.
The Monshu describes the transmission of the Dharma from person to person as a glorious tradition. It think that is true. All of us can recall the first moment of realisation – the moment that we thought ‘Ah! Yes! This is my way! This is the path that I shall take out of samsara.’
It could be in a quiet setting while reading a book that perhaps attracted our attention while browsing a bookshop or the Internet. It could be during a conversation with a Buddhist friend. It is invariably a moment in which there is the ripening of our karmic inheritance, an intersection of time and infinity. Whatever structure or form it takes, it is always personal and unique.
Monshu’s comments also remind us that the nembutsu way, and the sangha that it nurtures, has an ancient and venerable history that spans some twenty-five centuries. During this time it has passed from one person to another, either in a direct meeting or through writing. The one-to-one transmission sometimes itself spans many centuries and diverse cultural backgrounds. Consider, for example, the transmission of the dharma from Shan-tao (613-681) directly to Honen Shonin (1133-1212).
One of the more glorious features of the transmission of the nembutsu Dharma since the time of Shinran Shonin is its strong lay tradition. In this way the person-to-person transmission becomes even more intimate and special. It is one man or woman, maybe even a child, whose personal commitment inspires another – an associate, husband, wife, partner, lover, friend, acquaintance, author, teacher, thinker.
The reasons we hear the dharma from just one other person are as varied and gloriously individual as the people passing it down to us.