Salt Lake Buddhist Fellowship
Christopher Kakuyo Sensei
As I am working on the content for our certified dharma teacher course, I have been thinking about what makes our fellowship unique. First, we are different because the Pure Land tradition and its teachers inspire many of us, but we are not a Shin Buddhist or any other kind of traditional Pure Land Buddhist Sangha; we do not claim to be. The Pure Land Buddhism of the Dobokai Movement in Shin Buddhism has had a significant influence, but we are not a Pure Land sangha; we are transectarian in nature. So what are we?
We are a fellowship of seekers seeking the Way of the Buddha. And as a fellowship, we find meaning in the symbols and myths of the Pure Land. This is especially true regarding the mythopoetic and archetypal Buddha Amida, a symbolic and cosmic buddha of boundless light and life that embraces everything and every one just as you are – it is the heart of “come as you are.”
Now for those of a more secular bent, I ask for your indulgence – we are not as far apart as some of you may think. The scientific and the poetic, the religious and the philosophical, in the most meaningful ways, are not at odds with one another; they are simply different languages in our explorations of being human.
For today’s dharma talk, I want to start with a poem I wrote that we recite each Sunday before we chant. Here is the poem,
Come as you are
Is the call of Buddha
Just as you are
Namu Amida Butsu
Is the invitation we give
To all Living Beings
To the totality of our lives – just as we are.
So come, come as you are,
Attend to all and each
Namu Amida Butsu
Stop torturing yourself
With all those made-up stories
Of who you think you are
and aren’t, regardless
of who you are or
Of what you have done or
and enter the gate of boundless compassion
Namu Amida Butsu.
My writing of this poem attempts to convey what Namu Amida butsu – or the nembutsu means to us, to our community. In it, I am trying to take something from a much different place and time, Medieval Japan, and infuse its meaning and healing power in a way that can speak to our lives right here and right now.
As with much of art – poetry is translation, an attempt to give words to the wordless, which is beyond concept or language but is present in the heartbeat, the pulse, and breath.
Over the past months, we have spoken to some of the teachings in these verses. We will talk about them again and again from different angles and at other times. “Just like an open field or a hidden canyon will reveal their secrets to those willing to be still in the changing light, so too is it with the teachings of the Buddha.” We repeatedly look at the same teachings through the changing light of our lives, and new truths are revealed. As Gyomay Kubose Sensei has taught, “truth is forever revealing itself in all forms and phases of life.”
Today I want to focus mainly on one verse from the poem,
So come as you are,
Attend to all and each
Namu Amida Butsu.
Attend to all and each; this is what I want to talk about today.
The heart of these few lines is the answer to what we do after accepting the invitation, Namu Amida Butsu, or as we translate it, to “come as we are.” We attend to ourselves as part of the whole and others as a part of the whole. This is the Buddha’s teaching that spiritual friendships are the whole of the way – that the refuge of the sangha, the third jewel of Buddhism – is the whole of the way. We need one another to be able to awaken.
One thing that has attracted me to the traditional story of Amida Buddha – the archetypal Buddha – the mythic Buddha of boundless compassion- is his and our interdependence.
The mythic Amida Buddha makes a series of vows as he starts his bodhisattva career to help all beings attain supreme enlightenment. His compassion is so boundless that if any living being cannot awaken, he vows not to attain enlightenment and become a Buddha.
I love this story because it shows how we are all interrelated, connected, and interdependent. Let me be more direct; we are dependent on one another to awaken. Amida Buddha’s awakening is dependent on our awakening. We need one another to wake up. Here is a poem that I love. This poem was written by a person known in the Shin tradition as a myokonin – these are simple and uneducated people who can convey profound spiritual truths in powerful ways. Saichi was one such person, a carver of wooden shoes and a poet. Here Saichi refers to Amida Buddha as Namu Amidabutsu – for him, there was no difference between the two names. This poem expresses the very thing we are discussing.
I’m so happy, I’m so-o happy,
I’m so happy, I’m so-o happy.
Namu Amidabutsu , Namu Amidabutsu,
Namuamidabu comes to Saichi’s rescue,
Saichi rescues Namuamidabu.
That’s something else, don’t you think?
I love how Saichi and Amida rescue one another – there is no hierarchy – only interdependence. The natural outflow of this understanding of interdependence is the attending to all and each. As Emerson has written, “All are needed by each one.” So what does it mean to attend to one another and ourselves?
The English word attend comes from the 14th century, French atendre – to pay attention to stretch toward something or someone, take care, attend, and be present with or for. At the heart of attending and tending is attention – presence.
Still, the reciprocal invitations to “come as we are” need to be more than just the words. When we answer the call of Namu Amida Butsu, we respond with the same invitation to ourselves, others, and the entirety of our lives just as they are. We demonstrate our heeding the invitation by our presence, in our courage to show up, again and again for our life, for others, willing to show front and back, to listen deeply to ourselves and others without judgment. By this simple act, we are tending to one another. Through this reciprocal invitation and our showing up, we show our aspiration to attend, to give our attention to what life is right now. in the flow of now, and not waste energy on how life is supposed to be.
It is attending to all of our life as it is, to all our wounds that dance around one another, and to each other, that we can find the Buddha in our everyday lives. It is also by attending to our joy, love, aspiration for healing and wholeness, and the myriad ways these manifest. Accepting the invitation to come just as we are, we tend to another person just as they are. We attended to each other just as we are, amid the ever-changing and unimaginably unique locus of becoming who we each are.
What makes this possible? There is something about this holding of space, this acceptance and compassion that we have so longed for, that unfolds the intricate origami of who we think we are. Such simple words – come as you are – just as you are. When we accept the invitation, there is an opening up, a softening of boundaries, and a natural freedom that comes from learning to let go of the shame or thinking we need to be someone else than who we are to be loved.
This opening, this attending, this tending to each other, is what I see as the naturalness of who we are, our innate Buddha-selves, that are born out of “come as you are – Namu Amida Butsu” Here is where the healing energy of nembutsu is found. In this opening space, revealed by this invitation, we find the space to become who we are from moment to moment – an awakening, a ripening. As Rilke, the poet, has written,
“All becoming has needed me.
My looking ripens things, and they
come toward me to meet and be met.”
Our attention, intention, and presence are necessary for all becoming. It makes it possible for us to finally meet each other as we are and not through the myopia of the given and borrowed stories that have defined us.
So why do we need the invitation from the Buddha to come as you are? Many of us require that invitation; we need the Buddhas to say it’s ok to be ignorant, wounded, and beautifully broken because it’s amid our ordinariness that we wake up. As Koyo Kubose Sensei writes,
“Every spiritual journey begins in the dark.
Responding to the call, we can let go of all the stories of who we are and are, not of who we think we are supposed to be or the weight of all the things we have done or left undone.
Underlying all things is the invitation; in a very practical way, everything can be a bodhisattva can be a teacher. Darkness and devils can be Buddhas helping us to wake up. Even our screwed-up lives can be a gift of awakening. We have heard the call, and our first steps are tentative and maybe for a long time. The first step is accepting, tending to, and embracing our lives just as they are. But this is no passive acceptance, no giving up, quite the opposite.
This acceptance is an acceptance that does not make excuses for apathy, nihilism, or bad behavior. This is not the acceptance that excuses an abuser’s actions but the acceptance that comes with, at times, a heart-crushing realization that my lover is an abuser and I need to leave or that I am a preparator and need to get help.
The hardest part is accepting our wounded selves. Whatever we are running from inside of us, this is what needs our attention, intention, and presence; it longs for our compassion. The invitation opens up a space where I can begin to tend to the darker sides of myself, the wounded sides of myself, because I know that I am embraced, never to be abandoned just as I am. And because of this, we can finally attend to what needs attending and where we can begin to embrace our inner wholeness.
Carl Jung once said I would rather be whole than good. This sentiment is what it means to go to the Pureland. We don’t go to the Pure Land because we are good but because we are whole, whole in the compassion of Amida Buddha. The Pure Land is all of us gathering in an open field that Rumi speaks of in one of his poems a place beyond good and evil. The Pure Land is out beyond good and evil. Or as DT Suzuki has written,
“Far as Amida is concerned, he is all love; there is no thought in him of punishing anybody; such discriminative judgments are not in him. He is like the sun in this respect, shining on the unjust and the just. A sinner comes to the Pure Land with all his sins, or rather, he leaves them in the world where they belong, and when he arrives in the Pure Land, he is in his nakedness, with no sinful raiments about him. Karma does not pursue him up to the Pure Land.”
When we attend to ourselves and others, we take the journey into all the places we have hidden our suffering and woundedness from view and bring it as an offering to the Buddhas. This tending to one another is not so much a needing someone to go with you or of you needing to go with someone, but it is the knowledge that someone is there, without judgment, waiting for you to return with open arms.
This acceptance is moving towards wholeness, healing, and awakening. As Gyomay Kubose Sensei has taught, acceptance IS transcendence; it is our freedom. This moving toward is our pilgrimage. I love this from Philip Chircop,
“On our pilgrimage towards wholeness, in a gentle act of hospitality, we’re challenged and invited to name and welcome all the bruised and broken pieces of our marvelous and beautiful story. In the process, we will slowly integrate all the different voices within us competing for attention, learning to love out of the unity of voices that we are.”
Here I want to interject a word of caution. Some of us were raised, intentionally or unintentionally, as caretakers. We, caretakers, have to be vigilant because we have a habitual tendency to tend to others’ feelings while ignoring our own. As Dr. Margaret Paul has taught, avoiding our feelings is a way to avoid responsibility for them as we try to fill the void of our self-abandonment.
Coming as we are, is the first step on our pilgrimage toward wholeness, it is the invitation of Buddha – of all Buddhas. And hearing the call of Namu Amida butsu, come as we are, we begin cultivating our attention and capacity for presence. Namu Amida Butsu is a call to be alive.
Sometimes I am so on autopilot I forget that I am living a life. That is what regular meditation practice helps us do. Cultivating our intention and capacity to be present helps us stop living on the surface of things. As the essayist Maria Popov has written, to fully feel life’s course through us, indeed, we ought to befriend our attention.” To befriend our attention requires intention. But simple attention is not enough. Most of our habitual attention is not focused on that which needs healing. In general, our default attention is not intentional but habitual and unconscious, at the service of some story we are telling in our heads.
As Gregg Kretch writes in Naikan,
“How often is our attention wasted on judging, criticizing, and correcting others while we neglect the examination and lessons of our own life? “
We tend to use our attention to justify or validate our script. The kind of attention we are talking about here is intentional, self-reflective, honest, humble, and straightforward but not self-centered or self-absorbed.
Gregg Kretch goes on to write,
“Our attention is our life. Shifting our attention opens us to reality and reveals what has always been there.”
The shifting of our habitual attention toward intention and presence is the heart of this attending – this tending that we are talking. Part of this tending is developing the capacity to hold space within paradox. Andrew McAlister talks about this in one of his essays. It is the simultaneity of our woundedness/shame/self-loathing and our essential goodness. Coming as we are, gives us the space to hold these two at the same time.
“Something deep in us says we are not good, that we don’t deserve to be good. And yet, the more we practice attending to the depths of us, the more our already given goodness is lavished upon us.
As attention on the mantra (ours would be namu Amida butsu (added)) is deepened, clarified, and focused (thanks to a regular practice) the paradox that woundedness and essential goodness experienced together becomes, over time, resolved.”
This quote reminds me of these lines,
So stop torturing yourself
with all those made-up stories
of who you think you are
and are not, regardless of who
you are or are not, regardless
of what you have done
or have left undone
and enter the gate of boundless compassion.
Come as you are is an invitation for us to tend the garden of our hearts in the refuge of the dharma and the sangha and the boundless compassion of Amida Buddha.
I appreciate this from Jack Kornfield,
“You have in you the seeds of great compassion, the seeds of wisdom and care for others. Meditation then is not to make some special experience, but it is to learn how to tend the garden of the heart and to water the seeds of kindness and presence in your own heart.” 
Namu Amida Bustu
Let us attend to each other
to our lives. to all of life,
as it is, as you are
I find such great joy in this.
I want to close with this poem from Saichi.
The whole world and vastness of space is Buddha!
And I am in it–
 Everyday Suchness, by Reverend Gyomay M. Kubose
 Tending to Our Woundedness https://www.philipchircop.com/
 JackKornfield.com. Preface to Episode 73. https://jackkornfield.com/heart-wisdom-ep-73-the-garden-of-the-heart/
Christopher Kakuyo Sensei
Salt Lake City, Utah