The Gift of Silence
The Gift of Silence: this is a phrase we encounter in our services at otera in Winnipeg. We normally read it at least twice on the printed program, both to open and to close the service.

During some of our services we also have 3-5 minutes of seiza---quiet sitting. We are just sitting there, doing nothing, going nowhere, and being nobody.

These gifts of silence are of profound meaning for us. They are unique to Jodo shinshu because it is a silence shared communally—as a community. That is as a sangha. It is not meant to be individualistic navel gazing. It is a sangha experience alive with the possibility of shinjin, as expressed in the Gobunsho that we regularly chant. Shinjin is not something that happened in the past to a fortunate few. It is still dynamically present to us here and now.

Shinjin may embrace us in this Gift of Silence, just as it did Shinran and Rennyo. The nembutsu—namo amida Buddha—emerges from us as giving voice to that which has embraced us, just as it did for the founders of old. We are encouraged to come to otera with no intentions of reciting the Nembutsu. Do no intend to speak and do not intend not to speak. Just be there and the Amida will find you, and then you can give voice to the gratitude of having been found by the great compassion and wisdom that embraces all living things.

This sitting in silence together and reciting the Nembutsu together has an impact on the way we experience “together”. This kind of togetherness is sangha. In the silence pregnant with the possibility of shinjin there is neither male nor female, neither high nor low, neither adult nor child, neither good nor evil, neither smart nor average, neither sick nor healthy. It is the awakening of oneness in the nembutsu- the Bodhi of Equality.

This experience of oneness had a powerful effect on the early Nembutsu followers in Japan. It is just the kind of experience modern people need too, just sitting there, being nobody, doing nothing, going nowhere. Our hyper self-centred, over-active lives need this kind of healing.

It is a good way to start the meetings. We may be sitting there tired from overwork. Maybe we are reviewing our week, or the week to come. Perhaps we have an activity planned for after the service. But in our silent waiting for the Light of the Vow to dawn in us, even these mundane thoughts prepare us for the possibility of shinjin. Gradually we all come to that deep centred place of silence within ourselves, where we can hear the voice of Amida calling our own names, just as we are sitting there, in this now moment.

As Shinran said, we can recite the Nembutsu lying down, standing, walking, sitting—in every possible human condition. So the Nembutsu of the sangha becomes the Nembutsu of our private lives. The Nembutsu we practice in private is the same Nembutsu we experience together. Both the private and the communal are united in the Nembutsu.

As far as attending the services at otera is concerned, our coming, going and returning is life itself, because life itself is a coming, a going and a returning. So just prepare yourself to receive the Gift of Silence on your journey.

Sensei Ulrich

May 25, 2008