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Nembutsu of New Beginnings

The transition from one year to another is a time of reflection, rededication, and celebration. During our New Year’s Eve Service, we reflect upon the past year and the numerous causes and conditions which have enabled us to live and grow. We pause to offer gratitude for all that we have learned and to think about all the questions we have yet to answer. We come to realize that we actually have more questions than answers. But might having questions be the point of living? If we had all the answers, what would there be to learn or to experience? How would we grow without having to live the questions of our lives?


As is tradition we ring out the old year with Joya no Kane. This sounding of the temple bell is a symbolic release of our attachments and delusions which permeate our lives. We lay down our sorrows and release our burdens as we set our intention for the new year.


This moment is a time for new beginnings. We find hope in this turning of the year as a mental and spiritual reset for our lives. This is an opportunity to discern what we will leave behind and what lessons we will bring forward with us as we venture into the opportunities and possibilities of the new year.


Beginnings are significant because we realize the way we begin serves as the foundation for our journey ahead. Shinran Shōnin begins the Shōshinge (Hymn of True Entrusting) with the following lines,


Kimyō Muyryōju nyorai—I take refuge in the Tathāgata of Immeasurable Life!

Namo Fukashigikō—I entrust myself to the Buddha of Inconceivable Light!


It is both an acknowledgement of his deep and profound trust in the dynamic working of wisdom and compassion in his life and a sincere and heartfelt urging for us to do the same by responding to the calling voice of Amida Buddha.


These two lines are the foundation for our lives on the path of Nembutsu and reminds us of how the dual acts of taking refuge and entrusting in Amida Buddha is in itself a perpetual new beginning. Of how when we say the Nembutsu, we are reflecting on and acknowledging the working of a power beyond the self. It is the continual surrendering of our ego and our rededication to following the path of the Buddha. Namo to “entrust in” or “give up” to Amida Butsu a “power beyond the self.” The Nembutsu is a life-giving and life-transforming path of reflecting on, meditating on, of remembering the infinite Buddha within.


According to Rev. Kenryu Tsuji,


The Nembutsu is the complete identification of myself with the transcendent power of Wisdom and Compassion from which I derive my meaning for existence. The Nembutsu is this center of my being, the spiritual home from which I operate and where I find the spiritual power to carry out all my moral, social and religious commitments. It is the verbalization of my inner awakening to the reality of life and the world. It is the sound of the Infinite touching the finite.


Our voicing of Namo Amida Butsu is a returning home to our true self which is the Infinite Light and Life that is Amida Buddha.


This is why we often chant the sutra Jūseige (Verses Reaffirming the Vows). It reminds us of Amida vowing to become a Buddha, vowing to create the Pure Land, vowing to liberate all who are suffering in this world of samsara, and vowing to give us the Name, Namo Amida Butsu as our path for living with profound awareness, gratitude, and joy each moment of our lives.


The true nature of awakening that the Buddha teaches is one of continual learning and growth. Every moment is an opportunity for self-discovery and for better understanding the fullness of our life in all its joys and sorrows. We become more fully human through all that we experience. From the simple to the extraordinary moments of our lives, we are being shown who we are and how we can be. This is the voice of Amida Buddha which is the sound of the universe calling us home to ourselves.


What a profound gift it is to awaken to this realization that we are living our lives together with the infinite. That we are embraced and affirmed in our full humanness. Of how our lives are truly limitless due to Amida’s working. In a verse from the Jōdo Wasan (Hymns of the Pure Land), Shinran shares his deep appreciation for receiving new life through the inconceivable gift of Namo Amida Butsu:


The light of wisdom exceeds all measure,

And every finite being

Receives this illumination that is like the dawn,

So take refuge in Amida, the true and real light.


How remarkable that on the Nembutsu path we don’t have to wait for a new year to begin again. Each moment with Namo Amida Butsu is a precious new beginning. What an amazing way to journey through this impermanent and unrepeatable life!


May we always take refuge in the dynamic activity of all-inclusive wisdom and all-embracing compassion. Let’s live the questions of our lives within the Nembutsu of new beginnings. Namo Amida Butsu.

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