The Easy WayA Sangha member recently asked about the Heart Sutra , in particular the mysterious concept of emptiness (sunyata). Our discussion reminded me of the vulnerability we have of being attracted to, challenged/confused by or turned away from our faith by difficult philosophical ideas. It is typical of modern Westernizing influences in religious life that things get boiled down to the most impenetrable notions, and people are judged as infirmed if they cannot show a dexterity with notions such as emptiness, impermanence or non-difference.
Our religious lives are not college entrance exams and we don’t need to cram for some mid-term to stand (or sit) in our community. Our practice is not one of figuring things out, some advanced research project. It is the way we align ourselves with the Dharma, and we do this with the body and mind we have at our disposal. In this effort, we have, as we say in our Tendai tradition, “10,000 ways” to practice. To be sure, some of these ways include “Dharma study”, the exploration and interpretation of religious texts. However, this way is appropriate only for some and not required of all.
When we are tempted to throw up our hands at the mysteries, we have what Shinran calls “the easy path” to follow. This is the path of recitation or nembutsu, simply keeping the phrase “om namu amida butsu” in our attention at all times. And it is just one of those many alternates to study.
When we hear a piece of music and are moved by it, we can relate to it by attentive listening. This what it was created for in the first place. That may be enriched by understanding the details of the musical composition, the subtleties of performance and the historical context. This is not better than the first, nor an impediment. We are helped when we notice how we undermine our own practice by expecting intellectual sophistication as the standard for practice.
Yours in the Dharma,
om namo amida butsu
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