The Way of Jodo Shinshu
Reflections on the Hymns of Shinran Shonin

Jodo Wasan 106

The gods of the heavens and earth
Are all to be called good,
For together they protect
The person of the nembutsu.


The Icy South-Easterly and the Sun

A Fable of Æsop with an Antipodean Twist

A dispute arose between the Icy South-Easterly Wind and the Sun, each claiming that he was stronger than the other. At last they agreed to try their powers upon a traveller, to see which could soonest strip him of his cloak. The Icy South-Easterly had the first try; and gathering up all his force for the attack, he came whirling furiously down from the hills upon the man, and caught up his cloak as though he would wrest it from him by one single effort: but the harder he blew, the more closely the man wrapped it around himself. Then came the turn of the Sun. At first he beamed gently upon the traveller, who soon unclasped his cloak and walked on with it hanging loosely about his shoulders: then he shone forth in full strength, and the man, before he had gone many steps, was glad to throw his cloak right off and complete his journey more lightly clad.1

Well, of course, this is the story of the North wind and the Sun but in the unique climate experienced by those of us who live in the southern latitudes of Australia, the North wind accompanies the short but frequent episodes of extremely hot conditions which we experience in summer. It is already hot before the wind gathers strength and no one would be wearing a coat in the first place! Rather, towards the middle of autumn, in these parts, the south-easterlies, which brought us weekly relief from the heat in summer, turn bitterly cold.

In any case, this is a story about influence, which is described in the dictionary2 as, 'The invisible or insensible action exerted by one thing or person on another.' Although in the story of the North Wind and the Sun, the Sun's influence is not insensible - it is at least invisible - because it is warmth. The North Wind (or the South-Easterly, here) used only force - and resistance was the result. The Sun just smiled and extended his warm grace upon the battered traveller who accepted his bidding with ease.

To take this further: in the physical world of our solar system the sun just simply exists. We know it be a system of relatively straight-forward reactions which have nuclear fusion as their ingition. Here on earth, however, the sun's light and energy is the very source of life. It does not actually create any of the plant life - and the animal life which feeds on the plants - but all ultimately receive their sustenance from its light: the plants from photosynthesis and the animals from the plants. Almost all life on earth develops its own form but is entirely dependent on the sun which, yet, does not design the resulting forms. Yet it is the source of all. The sun's role is a kind of influence.

Buddha, the wisdom that pervades all things, while not to be confused with the physical world, can be well understood by using the sun's role in relation to life on earth as an analogy. When Buddha acts, it is not to create the things which are dependent on it but to emerge into the mystic (sambhogakaya) world or the sensible world (nirmanakaya) in a form that manifests enlightenment. Yet all existing things are pervaded by Buddha (or the dharma body) and all of their internal, spiritual light, wisdom and compassion, derives from it. Buddha does not force itself upon beings, it just exists; our choice is either resistence or acceptance. Self-effort to attain enlightenment is a form of resistence since it is based on force. Other power relies only on influence, which is the 'perfuming' of samsaric consciousness by the dharma body. The vehicle which carries the influence is Namo Amida Butsu.

The gods of heaven and earth, as sentient beings with individuality and conditioned personalities, are creatures of force. They are active, always seeking to use their power to either help or hinder. But in the view of the Buddha Dharma they have become friends of the dharma and now protect its followers.

Yet, influence is an important way for us to develop an understanding of the dharma - or anything, for that matter. I have always tended to be more strongly influenced by those people who are what we might call 'quiet achievers'. These are people who work away with quiet determination and self-confidence - often unremarked and unrewarded - and build or create something enduring and great, beautiful or useful. Their generosity of spirit and selflessness exemplifies the life of the dharma. Yet, they may never know how they have influenced or helped others. And we have all been lastingly influenced by an apparently insignificant thing - a brief encounter or passing gesture.

The means by which truth is transferred is ultimately influence. Force just causes hurt and resistance and is often superficial. Influence is viscerally received and sometimes even a revolution in thought can occur because of it. It is warmly received in its own time and profoundly endures.

Shinran Shonin was and remains a man of influence. He never set out to reform the world but quietly sat at home and answered the questions of those who sought his guidance. He wrote the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho as a way of accounting for his perspective of the teaching of Shakyamuni and Honen Shonin rather than a noisy vehicle of propaganda.

We do well to take a lesson from the example of the quiet osomosis of the dharma, by the deities who are now its guardians, and the way in which Shinran set in motion a huge spiritual movement which still endures to this day. That which endures and is warmly welcomed comes by way of influence, not by force or loud bluster. As Shinshu followers, let us turn our attention to the dharma and live sincerely within its light. If we openly and honestly live with the nembutsu and the light of Amida Buddha warming our hearts we can leave the influence of others to his pervasive presence. Influence is invisible and we may never know the impact we have upon others. But by just being ourselves as nembutsu followers and, speaking when called upon or from a wish to express our nembutsu-faith as an end in itself, tell of the dharma just as we see it. Leaving aside the desire to force our views upon others or to control the outcomes of our encounters, may we let influence alone play its part.

1: Æsop's Fables, William Heineman Ltd. 1912, p. 23.

2: All definitions, spelling and grammatical styles for this [web site] are guided by the most popular dictionary of Australian English usage, Macquarie Encylopedic Dictionary, in various editions.

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