INSIGHT AND CALM
In the approach known now as Insight Meditation, there are two phases to practise. The first is to calm the mind and the second is “looking into the true nature of things as they are”. In other words, calm is a basis for the development of insight. However, in our Amida Shu approach it is the other way around. First we enquire into the state of things and then we offer whatever insight we have to the Buddhas who then bestow their blessing of great peace. So in this schema, insight leads to calm, which is to say to peace of mind, for which the Japanese term is anjin, sometimes translated as “settled faith”.
Why does faith need to “settle”? Everybody has faith, or, in most cases, a variety of faiths, that are, much of the time, at odds with one another, all vying for priority. When we say “faith” here, for practical purposes we can say we are referring to what one puts one’s faith in. It might be financial security, or a political cause, or a relationship, or one’s own cleverness, or good health, or many other things. A little insight reveals all of these to be unreliable. they are all subject to conditions and therefore impermanent. None of them constitutes a true refuge, yet all of these things exercise us in ways that are stressful and demanding.
Insight, therefore, can be unsettling. Seeing into the state of things is challenging. The only reliable way to overcome this disturbance is to admit one’s own incapacity to solve the riddle. In Buddhism, one does this by offering all of this to the Buddhas. This is our prayer: “Oh Buddha, please receive my offering. Please receive all the complicated puzzle that is my life. I give it all to you in confidence that you alone know how to deploy it within your scheme of harmony.”
We do not have to use these words; in fact, it is better to use one’s own words and to be specific about what it is that one is offering today, which might be sorrow, or joy, or anger, or longing, or confusion, or whatever. It might be arrogance, or generosity, or stubbornness, or chagrin, or achievement, or defeat. It might be tears. It might be the unreliability of body and mind. It will be whatever one has discovered in one’s inner search. The point is that it is not a matter of offering the right thing, but rather of being honest about what one has found within and offering it unconditionally.
The Buddhas are always offering their peace. Only when we turn toward them and unburden ourselves do we actually receive it. This receiving can be quite physical. One can feel peace and calm descending through one’s body as one offers one’s offering up.
Such peace comes because when we take refuge in Buddha, or, we can say, in Buddhadharma, all our faith is reunified. The reunification of faith is samadhi. This makes one into a suitable channel for the descent of the Buddha light into the heart. This, therefore, is the Amida Samadhi, the samadhi without measure, without limit, that is completely centred, yet boundless. This is what Honen means by “gazing upon the moon”. Here “the moon” represents the spiritual light. Standing outside on a summer’s night and gazing at the physical moon in the sky gives one a sense of peace. This, therefore, has become a way of representing the act of taking refuge. In taking refuge one gazes upon a moon that is eternally present, outside of time, always shedding its benign light.