march 2009 buddhist carnival – in reverse

roses are blooming on the rosebush.
there is nothing strange.
the flower blooms silently and falls quietly without sound,
never again to return to its branch.
her total existence is expressed in that one moment.
one place on the branch.
that is the voice of the flower,
the truth of the single flower on the branch.
therein lies the joy of life, infinitely brilliant and everlasting.

a single rosethis poem appears more than once in sensei ogui’s zen shin talks, a book that i have been slowly savouring over the last seven weeks.

for the buddhist carnival today, rather than featuring posts from various buddhists writers, i want to start with a story from the book. it is a story about sensei ogui, who is a buddhist minister in the shin or pure land tradition, going to visit a dying man.

when i walked into the hospital room of the dying man, i heard family members crying. the man dying was an issei pioneer, a first generation japanese american. his son said, “papa, priest is here.”

with his whole strength the dying man extended his hand to shake my hand. i shook his extended hand. he said, “thank you very much for all kinds of things.”

i kept quiet. i couldn’t find any adequate words to describe my feelings. i shook his hand tightly.

the son with tears in his eyes said, “papa, i shall see you again the pure land [which could be roughly translated as the shin buddhist term for heaven]. i learned this in sunday school.”

i was quiet.

the dying man began talking with all his strength. “say, my son, do i have to go to some other place to meet you again? i have already met you and i’m meeting with you in nembutsu. na man da bu. na man da bu.”

[“nembutsu” is short for “namu amida butsu”.  “namu” refers to “refuge”, and amida buddha (“butsu”) is the buddha of infinite life and light. infinite life manifests as infinite compassion and infinite light manifests as infinite wisdom. the chant “na man da bu” is the sound of oneness with amida buddha.]

at the end of this chapter, sensei ogui turns this into a question to ponder over for a lifetime – he calls it lifetime homework.

do i have to go to some other place to meet you again? i have already met you and i’m meeting with you in nembutsu. na man da bu. na man da bu.

what is this?

i am so intrigued by this question, and i do want to spend some time mulling this over, tasting the question, sleeping on it, dreaming about it …

perhaps it means …

we are already where we need to be. this is it. no striving, no “tomorrow i will …”, no “what if yesterday … “. we are all connected in light, compassion and wisdom.

or perhaps it means … what are your thoughts?

so for buddhist carnival today, i want to ask some bloggers this question. and since i’ve dedicated my blog posts in the last little while to the topic of eating disorders, i’ll ask both buddhist bloggers and those who blog about eating disorders.

do i have to go to some other place to meet you again? i have already met you and i’m meeting with you in nembutsu. na man da bu. na man da bu.

what is this?

i am inviting all of you to reflect on this, among others, these people:

the conservative
american buddhist
a buddhist catholic
the f-word
anmol mehta
urban monk
joanna poppink
12-step buddhist
daily buddhism
operation lola
eating with your anorexic
dano macnamarrah
ED bites
eating disorders foundation

image from jepoirrier’s photostream


  1. oops, neha, i left out a step in my explanations. i’ve corrected it now (above). “nembutsu” basically refers to refuge in the amida buddha, the buddha of infinite life, light, wisdom and compassion. i hope that helps …

  2. Hello,

    @Neha: Shin Buddhism, or more formally Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, is a branch of Pure Land Buddhism that is widely followed in Japan.

    The nembutsu, like Isabella said, is the main practice of Shin Buddhism, where we take refuge in Amida Buddha. It runs counter to the usual notion of Buddhism as a self-oriented practice (meditation, tantra, etc), but that is only on the surface. As one’s understanding of Shin Buddhism deepens, there’s a kind of convergence between this and other kinds of Buddhism. Speaking from experience.

    @Isabella: I’ve been pondering that “homework” as well from time to time. It is indeed a life-long question one ought to solve in Shin Buddhism.

    Reminds me of another Shin Buddhist “koan”:


    Doug’s last blog post..Cool Japanese Buddhist poem

  3. great article. It really makes you think. i love stories like this it really inspires you to think about your life and how to improve upon it.

  4. @kate pure land buddhism has quite a few similarities with lutheran ideas.

    @pino yes, i also think that is one of the ways to interpret this. that fits very well with the buddhist concept of impermanence. a person never stays the same, we are always shifting and changing. so perhaps death is just another shift.

  5. @kate: I’d say that there are some common threads between them, but there are also some differences as well. On the surface they appear very similar, but Pure Land Buddhism is part of the larger Mahayana Buddhist movement (basically everything from Tibet to Japan), and has some underlying assumptions that don’t resonate in Western religions. Not to say that they’re irreconcilable, just the more you study it, the more it you see the differences.

    The nature of Amida Buddha, speaking from experience, appears as one thing in the beginning, but becomes something different over time. I think the writers of the Pure Land scriptures had something in mind when they described Amida and the Pure Land as they did, but it’s not obvious at first. Like anything else, it’s just one of those things that gradually reveals itself. 🙂

    Doug’s last blog post..What is a Bodhisattva? 菩薩はなんですか?

  6. The term “eternal” is kind of loaded term, especially given that there is no lasting substance in any phenomena said to “exist”, but the idea of constantly shifting and changing is right on. The totality of this interdependence and constant change is a big subject in East Asian Buddhism though, and something that does indeed relate to the nature of Amida Buddha. 😉

    (speaking of the subject…)

    Doug’s last blog post..What is a Bodhisattva? 菩薩はなんですか?

  7. I am a bit late to the carnival! Two weeks of busy travel has kept me from the blog world.

    Nembutsu, in its simplicity, is one of the deepest concepts of Buddhist teachings.

    As in many Dharma teachings, there is no simple yes or no answer. Pondering a question like this during meditation will illicit different meanings to different people.

    As soon as we meet, our lives become intertwined if only in a minuscule way and some of this combined energy will continue. Since the Buddha gave no relevance to the existence or non existence of an afterlife, my interpretation reads this as the importance of infinite wisdom and light moving beyond this life rather than a specific place we may once again meet.

    The Buddha often spoke of how all things are interconnected. Each action we take has an impact on something else. I also think it speaks of how the actions we take in this life continue once we die, similar to one of the definitions of karma. Each of us will leave some kind of an imprint on the world long after we are gone.

    This will make for a great topic to explore more fully.

    The Buddhist Conservative

    Roger’s last blog post..Most of the Worst Things That Ever Happened to Me, Never Happened

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