There Is Nothing that Is Not the Name

Once again you write with questions of a technical order:

How should one sit when meditating? How should one breathe? Is there a “most appropriate” mode of invocatory elocution? What is the best way to “coordinate” the attention given the Name and the attention required—or so you say—for maintaining one’s posture? What about the timing and length of a given session of prayer? Should a prayer rope be used?

Technique of course has its place—a very important place—in the spiritual Path, and I have no wish to underestimate it. But it’s not everything, and I sense in the rather anxious way you keep returning to such questions that you’re at some risk of losing your spiritual balance.

What you must understand is that “you” are never going to succeed in getting things right, for when they are right there will be no “you”. This is nothing more than Mantray?na 101—if you’ll permit me this flippancy! The whole point of following the Way of the Name after all is that the Name(d) might do—in us and through us and for us—what we cannot possibly do on our own.

I recently had the pleasure of reading a wonderful book called No Abode: The Record of Ippen. Ippen was a thirteenth century Japanese Pure Land master, whose teachings concerning the nembutsu are well worth the careful study of anyone using the Jesus Prayer or other Prayer of the Heart. Here are a few reflections that caught my attention. I encourage you to ponder them deeply.

“There is neither Buddha nor self, much less any reasoning of this and that…. Among all living things—mountains and rivers, grasses and trees, even the sounds of blowing winds and rising waves—there is nothing that is not the nembutsu.”

“A multitude of doctrines have been established and left behind by the many wise masters, but they are all merely temporary statements made in response to different confusions. The practicer should therefore discard even these and simply say the nembutsu.”

Namu-amida-butsu: When breath expended in saying Buddha’s Name is drawn again you sit on a lotus in the Pure Land.”

“When you have taken refuge in Immeasurable Light that is timeless and unperishing, you strip away the illusive thinking of self-attachment; that taking refuge and that taken refuge in become one, and the form of the original nothingness of birth-and-death is brought to realization as the six characters, Namu-amida-butsu.”

“To be totally unconcerned with all such matters as mindfulness or lack of mindfulness, exertion of will or failure to exert your will, and to attain Buddhahood in simply one thought-moment—this is wholeheartedly practicing the saying of the Name alone.”

“When you have taken refuge in Namu-amida-butsu, in which there is no ‘self’ and no ‘someone’, there is no person who must be raised up, no self that must be humiliated.”

“You must not, with a mind of self-attachment and self-power, seek to deal with the Name in one way or another.”

“Saying the Name moment by moment is constant repentance. Do not cultivate repentance with the mind of self-attachment in self-power.”

“It is the point where the dichotomies of ‘self-power’ and ‘Other Power’, ‘sentient being’ and ‘Dharma‘, are done away with that is called Namu-amida-butsu.”

“Saying the Name is itself the true coming of Buddha. When you have realized that saying the Name is itself Amida’s coming, then Amida’s coming is decisively settled; hence, on the contrary, you are awaited. All things, apart from the Name, are but phantasmal.”

Namu-amida-butsu is the nonduality of nowness and originalness.”

“In every one of the Buddhist teachings, a person attains emancipation from birth-and-death through entering the stage of the extinction of subject and object. The Name, right now, is the oneness of subject and object.”

“Prepare no foundations for saying the nembutsu. The manner of practice is not born in the Pure Land—not the quality of the voice, or the deportment of the body, or the attitude of the heart and mind. Only Namu-amida-butsu is born.”

“Once you have encountered the Name embodying supreme virtue in a single utterance, there is nothing for which you must live to the morrow. It is wishing to die immediately that becomes your fundamental desire.”

“Though you are taken and held by the Name, do not seek to take hold of it.”

“To expend your time in studies instead and neglect the nembutsu, or to become attached to the sacred teachings and fail to say the Name, is like pointlessly counting someone else’s treasure. It is like having a promissory note for a thousand pieces of gold and failing to collect it.”

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