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

Jodo Wasan 6

The cloud of light is unhindered, like open sky;
There is nothing that impedes it.
Every being is nurtured by this light,
So take refuge in Amida, the one beyond conception.


The tenth and final of the stages, through which an aspirant Buddha must pass, is dharma cloud. My understanding is that, after ├Žons of spiritual development, a bodhisattva (one who is becoming a Buddha) receives the acclamation and consecration of all Buddhas throughout the universe. His body is transformed from that of a mere human being into the body of a Buddha with its eighty-four special traits. The dharma cloud is light, or wisdom, and, like mist, it pervades unhindered all existing things. It fills the inner being, coccoons all things and fills the space in between. Like a cloud, it brings compassionate release and coolness from the parched desert of samsara; like rain it brings life and nuture to all living beings.

For the people of India, like all people who live in places which have distinct dry and wet seasons, clouds are full of significance. Before the rain comes, the ground is parched and dry from months of drought; and the building humidity and heat as the monsoon approaches intensifies the suffering: the pain and depression of samsara. Anyone experiencing these last days of long dry conditions would know the significance of dharma cloud.

The clouds begin to build, and thunder to sound, and soon the first drops of rain begin to fall. Hungry to watch this wondrous event we sit exhausted from the heat and humidity, and see first one, then two, then three, drops of cool rain stain the ground. Then, gradually the earth is wet and soon small puddles of cooling water start to form. The rain begins to seep into the crevices in the rocks and to penetrate the aching earth, thickening the soil, releasing sweet and healing vapours into the air and causing gentle mist to rise from the baking ground. Seeds swell and ponds fill anew with fresh life; the world, in time, bursts into bloom and new green leaf, bringing joy to all living things. The sound of the blessedness of running water can be heard everywhere; the singing of birds and the bustling movement and activity of insects and small animals on the forest floor.

One could say that this is how it is it for the nembutsu, too. The first sound of Namo Amida Butsu wells up like a sob from beneath the hidden recesses and that distant horizon which we keep out of sight because of our habitual self-centredness. It seems to me that, in Namo Amida Butsu, inconceivable light, like mist, coccoons beings in its compassionate embrace. It brings a quiet joy and begins to soften their parched hearts. It begins to relieve their spiritual thirst and hunger for truth and love. It sows seeds of joy which gradually begin to bear fruit until, like a huge apple tree, first sweet blossoms of dharma and then a rich resource of spiritual nutrients begin to provide beings with a reason for living and a purpose in life.

The rain does not move the world from parched desert to rich fecundity in a split second. The evidence suggests that, generally speaking, neither does the nembutsu way. Yes, there is a point at which the seeds begin to sprout after being soaked in the rain; a point-of-no-return in which the world has passed from death to life. But such a moment is imperceptible, vital and critical as it is. The nembutsu way is natural - nothing is forced. As we listen to the dharma, the life of shinjin begins gently: just as from a tiny seed a huge and fruitful tree may grow.

But the wonder of it all is that when the trees are once again in full leaf, the air is full of the scent of flowers, and the understorey of the forest is again teeming with life, we become aware with blinding clarity of the fact that all of this has happened by itself. We did not cause the thunder to peal, the rain to fall, the flowers to bloom or the seeds to burst into life.

So the dharma clouds come in their own time. The first drops of dharma rain fall in their own way, the dharma seeds break open in their own time; the dharma blooms and bears fruit in our lives just at the right moment, and not at a time of our choosing.

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