Presented at the 15th European Shin Buddhist Conference held at Bad Reichenhal in Germany in August 2008
David Brazier The Buddhist House 12 Coventry Road Narborough Leicestershire LE19 2GR UK Tel: (0)116-2867476 www.amidatrust.com firstname.lastname@example.org
This collection of poems was presented at the 15th European Shin Buddhist Conference held at Bad Reichenhal in Germany in August 2008. I felt that it was suitable to present material that had been generated by cross-fertilization of cultures bearing upon Pureland Buddhism and it was very nice that this collection was well received in a conference where the great majority of offerings were much more academic.
What will this day bring? Sorry, joy, insight and confusion. Let it be. The power that brings the day will bring the Buddha with it.
This composition is a collection of short poems strung together with prose comment. The poetry style is loosely based on the Japanese waka. Each verse has 31 syllables in English, divided into one section of 17 and one of 14, with some contrast between the two unequal portions, all within a single theme. The waka style was widely used by Japanese court poets and then adopted by Pure Land sages. The writing of poetry became a favourite means of expressing the truth so hard to define in other ways. Style also conveys meaning. Life is multifaceted. The facets of each moment of experience are contrasting yet not symmetrical. Pure Land Buddhism is about living fully, savouring this multi-facetedness: 2.
Like a humming bird that sips on bloom by bloom I drank from poetry until the world was one great flower by name Amida Bu
When questions about the nature of existence arose, the Buddha tended to keep a noble silence. Since then the different schools of Buddhism have advanced a wide range of notions, from realism to idealism. The works of the philosophers are all beautiful in their own way, but the silence of the Buddha is somehow more touching and, therefore, poetic: 3.
The morning star rises before him. Is it self or is it other? Silent consummation comes as mighty Earth quakes witness.
Through his awakening he saw the world in a new light and saw that we are all communing with it in a more intimate way, constantly nourished by power greater than ourselves. There is something exquisite about not being in control. The power of the great elements is over us just as it is over all things:
Water, earth, wind and fire he taught them, 'til they lost the fetter of pride. This body is not "a finer clay" nor this mind either.
His inspiration then gave rise to a sangha community with the potential to heal this fractured world and manifest the Land of Utmost Bliss. This community persists to this day and there is a place for all of us within it: 5.
My Pure Land will not be destroyed when this world by fire is all consumed for though they think me gone my secret life is aeons long.
We can still entrust ourselves to this action of the Buddha by which the Pure Land is constantly appearing in our midst: 6.
Amida's rosary lies scattered: a bead falls into every life. Faith will retrieve and rejoin them hand to hand hand in hand.
The question of practice is a matter of much discussion. Should one meditate or not? Is ritual superstition or an essential gateway? What about going on alms round, eating the food, washing up one's bowl, as Buddha did - or breathing even? Are these practices or just incidentals? Is the nembutsu the one true practice, one among many, or not a practice at all? How people struggle with problems of definition: 7.
Buddha walked and Buddha sat: samadhi for him was to be right here and as keepsake to Ananda He gave Amida's name.
Pure Land Buddhism has traditionally been a religion of ordinary people and so has concern for the problems of the world. The most threatening of all the horrors that hang over us is the risk of nuclear war. Some may know the story of Sadako Sasaki whose statue stands in the Peace Park at Hiroshima. She died of leukemia ten years after the atomic explosion there. During her illness she made paper cranes by origami and even today children bring paper cranes they have made as tokens of remembrance: 8.
Like paper cranes you cannot fly nor undo bombs already fallen, but do you know that you too are a child of Hiroshima? Page 2
Even non-nuclear war leaves terrible scars on those who get caught up in them, whether as civilians or as combattants: 9.
Mourners admire the medals and the faded commendation letter, but only the son knows Dad never got over the war.
It is only possible to overcome the ills of the world by ceasing to worry about whether one's own group, or oneself even, will come out on top in the ceaseless scramble for advantage that pervades our social life, but rather think of the others who get trodden down in this rushing madness. At present large parts of the world are being reduced to poverty by the economic aggression of those countries that are already well off. People in poor countries are not only impoverished at home but also forbidden to resettle in the richer lands: 10.
Detention another hundred years or back to poverty and tears for you are black and not wanted where the "nice" people live.
What does faith require of us in the face of so much suffering in this world? Are we really willing to entrust ourselves to the Buddha's path? 11.
Sky jumping there's no turning back whether the 'chute opens or not. So before you open your heart to Amida, beware!
Poetry can be in a person's behaviour, in the grace of goodness, or in an unpretentious smile. It is in the kind of life that is inhabited by willingness - the willingness to act without guarantees of personal reward or safety: 12.
To what shore would you have me cross? Though it be unknown I'll surely go. As it's unknown, I'll be more free to be at peace with thee.
Life is one encounter after another, not just with people, but with the "myriad dharmas" phenomena of every kind. Each encounter is unique and ephemeral, yet something in us longs for permanence:
Walnut tree in the yard, still so strong, will you be lonely when I'm gone? The joy you give me is bitter sweet, you who live so long.
Faith brings beings to life. When we stop relying upon self power to get the results we want from life, worries drop away. Namo Amida Bu. No longer is existence divided up into good fortune and bad fortune. Every turn of events has its shadow, but where there is shadow there must also be light. This is also the theme of the Chinese poem Sandokai: 14.
Sweet are the pangs and bitter the joys for the stone maiden who dances; dark is the dawn and bright the new moon as she awakens.
The knowledge that we are foolish beings is not given to us simply so that we can become smug in our sins. Contrition - sange mon - is the royal gateway to faith's birth and renewal: 15.
Meeting again, years on, it's not, "If only the past could be undone." No, better not to go back to the pride before the fall.
In the Sutra of Measureless Life, Shakyamuni exhorts us to "plant roots of good merit", therefore we can hardly say that precepts are mere self power practices to be abandoned by those of faith. Nonetheless, there may be a world of difference between the kind of virtue that springs from entrustment and from gratitude, and that which comes from spiritual ambition: 16.
Please do not say that I made this or that for all is freely given. The maker of made things cannot be known. Unmade are they.
Shakyamuni tells Maitreya that he has given us the precepts because it pains him so to see us falling into such terrible suffering and confusion when the alternative of entering the Pure Land is both so readily available and so little undertaken: 17.
Even a person set in their ways might be melted, might just soften, if they knew how Buddha loved, if they knew that Buddha wept.
Poetry can be in places, even â€˜anywhereâ€™, as many poets and sages of the past have demonstrated. The poet monks of old would go to a place already renowned in verse, or of particular beauty or spiritual association, in order to absorb and celebrate the natural poetry of Page 4
rock and shore, mountain or marsh. Poems were exchanged or written together and such writing became a way of ‘travelling westward’: 18.
Though hollow, the tunes from broken reeds along the shore at Naniwa may yet find an echo hidden in one whose heart is free.
Poetry can be in the motion of the body as well as the voice. When a number join together in faith, special harmonies begin to arise, like those generated by the breezes that play through the jewel trees of the Pure Land. As such a ‘poetry in motion’ we adopted the practice of ‘walking nembutsu’: 19.
Amida's name rising and falling like ocean swell - Amida's name. Who calls? Who hears? What remains? Only Amida's name.
Postscript This collection was well-received at the conference. What I had not anticipated, however, was the strong impression made by three particular poems, each for a separate reason. Poems 11 and 19 were favourably commented upon for their religious significance. Poem 9 stirred a considerable emotional response. This was understandable when one reflects that in the hall were together an assembly that included Japanese, Chinese, Americans, English and Germans, many of who9m had either been children during the Second World War or had, like myself, been born immediately after it. I hope that the poem made some contribution to reconciliation. It certainly led to my being encountered by a number of participants precipitating tender and moving interactions. All of this supports the sense that poetry can be an important vehicle for spiritual and personal matters.
Published on Sep 3, 2008