Innumerable are sentient beings: I have harmed them all;
Uncountable are the holy precepts: I have broken them all;
Unfathomable are the Dharma teachings: I have offended them all;
Immeasurable are deluded passions: I have indulged them all;
Unconditioned is the heart of Buddha: I am accepted completely.
In the western redaction of Buddhism one does not much encounter the term contrition, nor the sentiments that are associated with it, and yet in the eastern reception of the Dharma it is precisely this dimension of life that constitutes the golden gateway to emancipation, awakening, faith and salvation.
My mission, in the attempt to fulfil in my own limited manner, the charge given to me by my teachers, both Zen and Pureland, has been to try to evolve a presentation of the Dharma that is suitable for the West, yet is true to the spirit of the East.
This means a Dharma that is suitable for the ordinary person who is willing to be honest about the ordinary state, about human nature as it is, rather than being intent upon pretense to a perfection that is unrealistic, unattainable, self-aggrandising and deceptive.
When i read the descriptions of many of the presentations of Buddhism to the west, they say such things as: “This is the form of Buddhism for the highest class of practitioner,” or “This is the most direct path to enlightenment,” or something of the kind. Well, how many of us are numbered in the highest class of practitioners? If we were then we would have been reborn 2500 years ago when Shakyamuni was on the Earth, would have heard his teaching and been immediately enlightened and not been reborn here again. Therefore, the answer is none of us.
We are faulty, vulnerable, prone to error, full of wayward passions, attached to unwholesome objects, invested in unwholesome ways of life, complicit in the ecological destruction of the planet, materialist consumers. No amount of high sounding discussion of intrinsic Buddha nature, inner wisdom, or original virtue will erase this fact.
We live in a kind of paradise that is also a place of incessant predation. We are winged animals, but our angelic wings are mostly folded away neatly out of sight. We commonly think - wrongly - that emphasising our well-polished good aspect will itself be sufficient for our spiritual emancipation. Do we think the gods are so easily deceived?
It is much healthier to be realistic and to be willing to look at the whole human being. This does not mean indulging in self-pity or self-castigation - they are also forms of pride. It means having a matter-of-factness about humanity, a humility about the part we play, and contrition in respect to the impact that our very existence has upon the world that supports us.
We do not do this because we fear some awful divine judgement. We do it simply out of honesty. The Buddha’s will love us anyway. When we deeply realise that that is so, something in us will melt and we shall lose some of the impulse to put on airs. When that happens we shall find we are among friends in a world where the Light is always shining.
This, anyway, is my understanding. Namo Amitabhaya.