Settling in

Ultimately, even the nembutsu arises not from ourselves, from our own ego, but is experienced as the call from the deepest level of reality, from the depths of our own being, in which the flow of emptiness/oneness is realized in each manifestation of form and appearance.

Mark & Taitetsu Unno, from the foreword to Jeff Wilson, Buddhism of the Heart, Wisdom Publications 2009

In the Shin view, awakening isn’t something we strive desperately for and obtain through our own efforts at study or meditation—it is something we settle into and receive.

Jeff Wilson, Buddhism of the Heart, Wisdom Publications 2009, p.4

Over the years of my Christian contemplative practice, and perhaps even more so now, I have felt keenly that contemplation is not so much something we do as something we enter, however intentional that entering may have to be. I have never felt that practice was – for me at any rate – a matter of self-improvement, or even attainment. (This may be why I have always been uncomfortable with contemplative metaphors such as the eponymous ladder of John Climacus, and some of the rather Baroque imagery associated with Vajrayana Buddhism.) The sense is not one of passivity (as some have felt applicable to the concept of infused contemplation) but of receptivity, openness to something of which we are already part, albeit unconsciously. Practice, then, could be conceived as a way of becoming conscious, waking up, to this.

“This” of course, is really no more than “things-as-they-are”, that which actually is (Eckhart’s istigkeit) regardless of the ego’s samsaric constructs through which we, half-asleep, tend to experience objects and events: “Rather than desperately trying to bring about our own buddhahood, we recognize that if we relax and don’t stick our foolish egos in the way of things, then the Dharma will naturally bring about our transformation… Amida is the means by which the Dharma, the truth of things-as-they-are, acts upon us to help us awaken to liberation… what we need to do is develop trust in the embracing ocean of the Dharma.” (Wilson, op. cit., p. 33)

Perhaps this is why I have always been drawn to practices like the Jesus Prayer and the Nembutsu, which are explicitly simple practices for simple (bombu) people. For all the words we use, for all the complexities we in our anxieties construct, it is that just simple. All we need to do is stop thrashing about, and settle in.

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