Deep From Within
“When the thought of wanting to say the nembutsu emerges from deep within, having entrusted ourselves to the inconceivable power of Amida’s Vow, in that very moment we are grasped never to be abandoned, thus receiving the ultimate benefit.”

This is a quote from Dr. T. Unno’s translation of the Tannishio. I have heard Dr. Unno say many times. In fact, he taught at IBS when I was there back in the 1970s. It seems like ancient history now, but the words above still move me as they did when I first heard Unno Sensei (as we came to call him) recite them to the students at the Institute of Buddhist Studies.

What stands out to me are the words, the thought… “emerges from deep within”, along with “entrusting ourselves”, “inconceivable power," “that very moment,” and “we are grasped never to be abandoned.”

“The thought…emerges from deep within” refers to a place that is beyond words. It is not only wordless, but, also address less and nameless. In fact it is not even a place in a geographic sense. This is important because religious thought is often about words becoming so real to us, that they are made important than the thing they refer to. For example the word Dharma is not the Dharma. The word salmon is not the same as the fish we eat. It is only a reference, a way of orientating ourselves to the fish we prefer to eat. Try an experiment; scrape the word salmon off this page for supper tonight.

One of the effects of the mindfulness meditations is the experience of being aware without words, being conscious without the compulsion to name and categorize things. In this way our reality can speak to us on its own terms. Animals and children are capable of doing this; hence, they “can know things from the core.” There lies an “inconceivable power” that nurtures and supports us with an active universal compassion amidst the suffering of everyday life. To this power we give the name Amida Buddha’s Vow—the promise of the force of infinite light and infinite life.

For many of us, our first word is “Mommy”. When we say this word, there is no delusion that the word Mommy is mommy herself. There is a spontaneous realization of nurturing, food, warmth, security, bonding. And one word represents that realization. It is not a simple sound reproduction, but a profound moment of realization of relationship, perhaps deep love and appreciation. It is the first word in the awareness of the young one’s real life situation of dependence on others for survival.

The saying of the nembutsu, after the thought of saying it emerges, is the first word in the new direction of our spiritual lives. It arises from deep within, from a place that is the deep within everything. No one can control it or own it. It is beyond organizations and intellection. It can never fully be put in to words. But it reflects our real life situation. Once we are moved to say the nembutsu, it becomes our first word’. In that moment our real situation of depending of Other Power is real to us on its own terms. After that, every nembutsu is the nembutsu of gratitude for “being grasped never to be abandoned.”

This is an important experience for us moderns who live in a digital world of 24/7 work with its split shifts. It is a world hungering for human contact and the spiritual experiences that arise out of our mutual interdependence. Even the promise that there is a “real” world behind all the data, lends a new perspective on the hectic in our over-active pace of life. But there is indeed a force that is the deepest inside of everything. It is a force that is revealed to us in the nembutsu teachings. It is beyond the noisy world of talking heads and the endless flow of words. The nembutsu is both our ‘first word’ and the word that ends all words. Put your hands together now and recite it, then enjoy the delicious silence that follows.

Sensei Ulrich

February 24, 2013