Continuing the teachings on Summary of Faith and Practice:
TEXT: Thus we know in experience that we are foolish beings of wayward passion.
The expression “foolish beings of wayward passion” refers to our bombu nature. As human beings dwelling in samsara we are prone to many errors, both practical and ethical. We are emotionally vulnerable. Our mood can change drastically and abruptly in response to eventualities over which we have no control. We commonly try to protect ourselves from the likelihood of such occurrences but no such protective manoeuvres can ever be totally successful. We can waste a lot of energy trying to achieve an impossible degree of immunity.
When something breaks through our self-protection, we respond from a position of confusion. We feel something is “wrong” - things are not as they “should be”. Furthermore, we often take what happens as reflecting upon our ego ideal. We find ourselves surrounded by evidence that we ourselves are not as we think we should be. We might even say, “I was not myself.”
Typically, we respond to the evidence of our own folly by ignoring, projecting or justifying. In the West we live in cultures that have for two thousand years been dominated by the idea that a “judgement day” awaits, and we feel a compulsion to try to justify ourselves. This often involves projecting blame onto others or simply ignoring the evidence.
The invitation in this passage of text is to change our attitude. If we embrace the evidence, we learn about ourselves and, by extension, all our fellow beings. This is the foundation of true compassion. It is also the necessary step for faith to become possible. Self-justification is the attitude that goes with a belief that one can, by oneself, achieve some kind of perfection. It is a rejection of help. In Pureland, we say that it is precisely for foolish beings of wayward passion that Amitabha opens the doors of his heart. Help is at hand.
Of course, this is a middle path. while the common attitude of self-justification and attempting to gather as much credit for oneself as possible is one extreme, the other is to wallow in self-pity and melodramatically sing of one’s own poverty of talent. This is really just the other side of the same coin. It is also a kind of conceit, a drama played for audience effect. All that is required is that one be more natural.
So why do we say “wayward”? The sense is that passions carry one away. This is the Buddhist sense of samjna. Samjna refers to ordinary day-to-day consciousness. It means trance. Ordinary life flows along from one trance to another. Each thing that catches and arrests one’s attention triggers some kind of internal routine. While our attention is held we become fixated and oblivious to other things that may be going on. This is not a problem in the ordinary little things of life. It is good to concentrate and fix attention on what one is doing. However, the same mechanism can run away with us and lead us into extensive waste of energy or even into activities that undermine our spiritual life. It becomes a kind of blindness or avidya. At the extreme, we speak of addiction and obsession.
We should not let this observation lead us to think that what is required is something dry or distant. When I was lecturing on this topic I was asked is there such a thing as passion that is not wayward. This question helps us to realise that there is passion that is Wayward. That passion is called bodhichitta - the Way-seeking mind. Buddhism, especially in its Pureland forms, is a passionate affair. Loving the Buddha and the Buddha Way we plunge in, entrusting ourselves completely. As it says in another scripture, the Dharma farer is one who is “impassioned for peace, a speaker of words that make for peace.”
There is a warfare raging in the world that, like a grass fire, springs up now here, now there, in this breast and that. People are all at war with themselves, unwilling to be the creatures that they are, projecting their unwillingness onto others and then condemning those others for being as human as themselves. There is another way.
Recognising our bombu nature is liberating. We do not have to wait until we are perfect or until we have decided what is the perfectly best option. We do what we can. We are willing. We trust that it is part of a bigger picture that is beyond our ken. Here right action is a function of faith. Having taken refuge in Buddha we feel ultimately secure, no matter how things turn out in the short run.
This text thus invites us to be open to the evidence of our life that shows us our common humanity. It also shows us the impossibility of really judging others. Of course, being foolish beings, we do judge them, but from studying how unreliable our judgements of ourselves can be we start to realise that our judgements of others are at best extremely provisional. There is so much one cannot know.
Buddhism is often presented as a DIY spirituality, but the belief in our own ability to control our own spiritual destiny is itself an arrogance that blocks the Way. What is required is, rather, an attitude that says, Here i am, just as I am, I’m willing. I am willing to be part of the Buddha’s great vision of love, compassion, joy and peace. My part may be a tiny one, but my bit-part role in the creating of Buddha’s Pure Land is what I have got and is my great treasure.
With this attitude we can work together. We can cooperate without bitterness or condemnation springing up. We are all in the same boat, all all-too-human, and, somehow, mysteriously, that is so wonderful.
In Sandokai it says, “If from the experience of your senses basic truth you do not know, how can you ever find the path?” It also says, “Here born we clutch at things and then compound delusion later on by following ideals.” We already know in experience all that we need in order to participate in the great sangha - we know our own humanity.