In the spring and fall, we celebrate Ohigan. It is the seasonal equinox. Both night and day are equal. The translation means crossing over to the ‘other shore’ because the two shores of light and dark are so close to one another and the passage back and forth is easier.

The other shore referred to is nirvana, or the Pure Land. This life is samsara, or the saha world of delusion. In traditional religious thought, if we follow the right path, we go to our eternal reward in the after life.

Shinran, however, points to another path away from dualistic thought. If we do make it to the other shore, we can look at the place we left and its suffering and troubles. A great compassion awakens in us and we long to return to the place we left with real spiritual powers to help out. After all, those with whom we have karmic ties are still abiding there. For those in the saha world, nirvana is the other shore. For those in nirvana, the saha world is the other shore! For Shinran, both shores are part of a whole experience. They can not be separated.

Of course the parable of Amida Buddha is the proto-type of going and returning. He worked for many lifetimes to perfect his 48 vows and became the Infinite Buddha of Life and Light. He then pours compassion and wisdom into the world of suffering beings. In a sense Amida is pouring himself into our lives selflessly. When we follow the nembutsu path, we follow in the footsteps of this proto-type. We ourselves become Buddhas upon the descent of death. Thus we go to the afterlife and return to this world. No going without returning.

In our Seiten, we have a passage that represents the going phase of this recycling of compassion back into our world: “Amida surrounds all men and all forms of life with infinite love and compassion. Particularly does he send forth loving thoughts to those in suffering and sorrow, to those in doubt, to those who are striving to attain truth, and to those whose feet are standing close to the great change we call death, Amida Buddha sends forth oceans of Wisdom and Compassion.”

But, there is another version reflecting the returning phase. It reflects all the joy and elegance of the Bodhisattva path: “Amida Buddha surrounds all forms of life with infinite love and compassion. Amida particularly sends forth loving thoughts to those who are happy and dancing with joy, to those living in the Awakening to a Sane Faith, and to those who have seen deeply. And finally to those whose feet are close to he great change of rebirth into a new life, Amida sends oceans of mercy, wisdom and support.”

So, Ohigan is not just about one shore, the other shore. It is about two shores bound together by a river of compassion. This makes the crossing over easy for us ordinary beings. Having understood this, what else is there left to do but recite the nembutsu?

Sensei Ulrich

September 15, 2007