Right Speech
This last month, there have been several classes from the wider community visit otera. Some were from Bible Colleges; others were from universities or high school groups. One was an International Baccalaureate class. All were very well prepared for their visit. They had read about the Four Noble Truths with its Eightfold Path in texts books. The International Baccalaureate Class had even skimmed through the more then 30,000 websites on Buddhism in the internet. It was a challenge meeting with such a well-prepared audience. They knew very little about Pure Land Buddhism, however, and nothing about Jodo Shinshu.
I began by telling them that according to Shinran’s Wasan Shakyamuni is our father and Amida is our mother. We even chanted the Wasan in question together.

Shakyamuni has much to say about Right Speech (samma vaca). He divided it into four components: abstaining false slanderous speech, abstaining from slanderous speech, abstaining from harsh speech and abstaining from idle chatter.

Speech is a powerful tool that involves the total mind, body and psyche of one person impacting the total mind, body and psyche of another through the movement of the vocal cords to the movement of the ear drum of someone else. The karmic effects are tremendous. And to think that we do that without having to think about it. Buddha asks us to do this mindfully and respectfully.

In his teachings Shakyamuni explained each of the four components of Right Speech in some detail. There are even whole sutras devoted to Right Speech. The demands on the monks and nuns were far more strict than for the lay people, but even they too were expected to some day become equal to the devotion of the monks and nuns in their dedication to Right Speech.

Amida Buddha as our mother offers us a way to practice Right Speech in the form of reciting the Buddha’s name, the Nembutsu. When we recite the Nembutsu we are reciting what it True and Real. The Nembutsu is the gift of the Bodhisattva Vow that embraces us all with loving-compassion and loving-kindness (diajihi). The Bodhisattva Vow is true and real so the Nembutsu is true and real.

Sitting in the otera with our Dharma Friends and reciting the Nembutsu is one of the rare times in our busy daily routines when we actually have the chance to hear the true and real words. Wherever else do we have such a chance in the confused times? There are very few times or places where we can go in this world to trust words as true and real words. Yet, sitting in a group of Dharma Friends reciting what is True and Real is restorative. This is because there is, in the moment of the Nembutsu, no attention paid to gender, status, income, past life experiences, illness, disabilities, race or ethnic origins, age, nor even to fitness levels. We are all one in the Nembutsu. What a unique experience in our confused and violent times!!

But then Buddha Dharma has always offered such restorative experiences to its followers, and the teaching of the Way of the Nembutsu is no exception in its offering of true and real words worthy of our trust. It restores us and makes trust again, an available experience to those who have become cynical and self-absorbed in a world where deep trust is becoming a rare experience.
Both Shakyamuni and the Way of the Nembutsu of Amida Buddha offer the experience of uttering and hearing words that are absolutely trustworthy. The Nembutsu brings the benefits of the Dharma to all alike—lay or ordained, religious or non-religious, secular or holy. That’s why we are moved to take refuge with confidence and courage.

And by the way, the students promised to come back next year. Are you ready for the trust that comes from at last hearing what is true and real? The Nembutsu is not false speech, not slanderous speech, not harsh speech and not idle chatter. It is Right Speech itself. So will you come back too?

Sensei Ulrich

June 22, 2008