Happy New Year!
Thank you all very much for everything you did for me and my family in the past year. We extend our sincere appreciation to all Sangha members and Dharma friends for your warm friendship and continued support. We wish every one of you a wonderful 2023 filled with happiness, health, peace, and the Nembutsu.
Love is Wonderful
As the New Year begins, I would like to talk about loving others. In our world, there are countless examples of self-expression such as movies, songs and books that have love as their theme. This fact alone shows how much people agree that to love others is wonderful. Love is truly a universal given.
When someone we are fond of tells us, “I love you,” we feel so happy. It is because a desire to be loved exists unconditionally in our minds because it fulfills a sincere wish. The famous American psychologist Erik Erikson calls this simple wish, “Basic Trust.” This Basic Trust can be developed in babies from birth to 12 months and is the most fundamental stage of human life. Whether the baby develops Basic Trust or not depends on the quality of its relationship with its mother. When the mother consistently cares for and loves her baby, that baby’s development is greatly affected and enriched. Even before it can speak, the baby begins to experience thinking positively about its existence in this world, learning that the world is trustworthy, discovering that life is worth living and has a deep meaning, and so on. In this way, the baby will develop trust that can transition into relations beyond that with its parents. This is how the baby develops trust in others and in the world around it.
By developing this sense of Basic Trust thanks to the parent’s deep love, even if that baby faces hardships in the future, it can try to do its best to overcome any difficulties. In other words, Basic Trust becomes the source of mental energy for humans to survive. Those who are sustained by this mental energy will not become discouraged easily, but will continue to move forward with strength. Unfortunately, those who lack this mental energy will tend to give up hope when they face some obstacles.
What makes the baby develop this Basic Trust is unconditional maternal love. By receiving unconditional love, the baby grows with a profound sense of security. It begins to unconsciously understand, “Wow , I am being accepted by everyone just as I am! This world is so wonderful! I want to live with everyone in it!” These kinds of emotions naturally spring from the mind of the baby who is enveloped in a sense of happiness nurtured by its parent’s love.
As babies grow, their environment will inevitably change because their parents will gradually become stricter with them. But even when they can no longer enjoy their parents’ unconditional love, they will never lose or forget the feeling of Basic Trust. They will always have that sense of happiness that they first experienced as the unconditional love of their parents. That basic sense creates the mental energy that makes people lead hopeful lives. So when these babies mature and become adults, if they find someone who tells them, “I love you,” they are able to have reawakened in themselves the happiest memories of being embraced by their parents’ unconditional love.
Just As We Are
Everyone has the basic desire to be loved and accepted by others just as we are. In Buddhism, what can fulfill this sincere wish is the Buddha’s compassion. And what embodies the Buddha’s compassion is the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha. Our founder Shinran mentions the Primal Vow in the book of Tannisho which describes the essence of Jodo Shinshu. Shinran says things like, Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow doesn’t discriminate between young and old, good and evil.
In other words, Shinran teaches us that Amida’s Primal Vow is truly the great compassion that embraces all beings equally without discrimination. So when we become fully aware of Amida Buddha’s Vow, which focuses on each one of us, our basic desire to be loved just as we are is fulfilled, and we feel happy and at peace. So in a religious sense, the parent’s love that accepts their own child unconditionally has the same elements as salvation.
However, we also need to acknowledge that humans loving one another has a limitation. We must accept that we are in essence foolish beings, so if our love for someone can grow stronger, surely our hatred for them can also grow if we feel betrayed by that person. Likewise, if the person we love doesn’t return our feelings, we can get frustrated and angry over this, even to the point of wanting revenge. In Buddhism, we call it the Oneness of Love and Hate. Sakyamuni Buddha teaches us that love and hate are just like a sheet of paper that has both a front and a back side.
But in comparison to a human’s love, Buddha’s compassion will never waver. It is because the Buddha’s compassion is supported by Right Wisdom. In the Tannisho, Shinran explains:
All this Buddha already knew and called us foolish beings filled with blind passions.
Thus, when we realize that the compassionate Vow of Other Power is for beings like ourselves, the Vow becomes even more reliable and dependable.
Amida Buddha Accepts Us Unconditionally
As you can see, Shinran clearly explains that, because Amida Buddha truly understands our foolish nature full of selfishness and attachment, he couldn’t help but establish the Primal Vow to allow us to attain Buddhahood just as we are. Amida Buddha embraces us unconditionally, not because he loves humans or expects people to become better in the future, but only because Amida Buddha deeply understands our deeply self-centered nature.
Because of the great compassion based on such right wisdom, even if we turn our back to Amida Buddha’s calling voice, Amida Buddha accepts us unconditionally without abandoning or disappointing any one of us. Unfortunately, human love doesn’t include such right wisdom. So, when we are betrayed by someone we love, we can get angry and hateful, declaring, “I never realized that you were like that!”
We are able to feel happy and at peace when we fully become aware of Amida Buddha’s great compassion that accepts and receives us unconditionally just as we are. Although our love is limited, when we are steadfastly encouraged by Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow, we should love, respect, understand and accept everyone around us. I believe that to do our best to love all those around us and bring peace of mind to one another is our way of living led by Amida Buddha’s compassion. It is also an expression of our deepest feelings of gratitude for Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow. So as we cultivate right wisdom, let’s make 2023 a wonderful and peaceful year filled with our love supported by the Nembutsu.
Rev. Yushi Mukojima