Monday, April 27, 2009

Cool Monday

Zaku II

nam myoho renge kyo nam myoho renge kyonammyhorengekyonammyohorengekyo...

Somehow I never did take to the Daimoku, the chanting of Nam myoho renge kyo. The first time I heard the Daimoku, and the Gongyo, a recitation of liturgy chanted in a kind of phonetic pidgin Chinese, the sound struck me as cacophonous, jangling, unpleasant. Nine years later my opinion of it hasn't changed. And try as I would, I just never got comfortable with the use of the Gohonzon, a piece of caligraphy used as an "Object of Worship". My wife is a devout believer, and practitioner as are most of her close friends. I tried for a year, but- what can I say? It left me flat. Too bad, too because it did cause a rift between Mary and me. And it would be nice if we both shared the same religious views. I never really realized how deep set my own belief in God was until I tried to practice a religion in which that God was absent. I just couldn't do it.

Charlie was a firm believer in the Gohonzon, as is his sister. He was passionate, evangelical; he introduced many people to Buddhism. Charlie's sister and a couple of his closest friends sat with him and chanted the Daimoku as he lay dying. The last thing Charlie heard in this world was his sister and friends chanting for him, and the sound carried him over the line, and into the next world.

And the Daimoku rang out and clattered through the chapel where nine years and four days ago, Charlie had delivered me safe and sound to sit up on the stage there and exchange wedding vows with Mary. There was a black and white portrait of him on the stage. And the service.

Look, I don't want to give the wrong impression. We were not close friends, Charlie and I. But he was barely a year older than me. It's one of those instances where the lightning strikes uncomfortably close to home. And looking around the room there yesterday I saw a great many people who were there at our wedding, and every one of them just looked old. Well, that's because they are. And so am I. Mary is sixty.

I guess it just adds up to one of those dark epiphanies- getting a first hand look at mortality, and really realizing that you too have a ticket on that bus. And so does your most dearly beloved hold a ticket for that bus. Like it or not. In a few day's time this will fade, and I will go back to believing that there is no such vehicle. That's our default setting, and necessarily so.


Today was good. I worked the day shift at the Beachside school, and other than some rotten meat on the playground (go figure), and a stopped up toilet the day was uneventful, and just busy enough to make the time fly. And Mary just got home, and we're going out for Mexican food, although she doesn't know it yet.



walt said...

I was introduced to the Daimoku in SF, when a fellow who had spent some time in Japan invited several of us to attend a "Buddhist service." It was at a very modest house, and there were perhaps 12-15 people there. Since it was all in a foreign language, I didn't know what was going on, but at some point we all chanted the Daimoku. There were hand gestures that went along with the cadence.

When I read your account, I Wiki'd the subject and finally learned what the Daimoku means, at least translated into English (i.e. the surface, not the depth). Very nice! Reminded me right away of how the Orthodox tradition condensed the whole of their teaching down to the Jesus Prayer, the Prayer of the Heart. No wonder your friend derived peace from it as he passed from this life!

Anonymous said...

I can understand not liking the chanting. What I wonder is how does a rational person believe in God?

jwm said...

At the service, one of the speakers reminded those in attendance that one does not understand nam myoho renge kyo with the rational mind.
Similarly, a search for God using only the rational faculties will come up as empty as the searcher wishes it to be.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

If this is not Truth, then you, and I are the end result of a zillion years of sunlight shining on mud.

To quote another author- I choose to believe the better story.

I have no bone to pick with Nichiren Buddhism, or any of its practitioners. It's a fine religion full of wonderful people. It's just not my cup of tea.


Anonymous said...

If belief in God is not rational then why believe? I think the person mispoke, buddhist dharma can be rationaly explained to a large extent.

jwm said...

I did not say that belief in God is not rational. In fact, I framed a reason for my faith in the form of a formal argument. IF there is no God, Then, we are the end result of a zillion years of sunshine on mud. You may, using pure reason, come to the conclusion that we are indeed just so much inanimate matter that jumped into life on its own some time in the way distant past, and kept at it until it turned around and became aware of itself. And then kept going until it turned into you.
What I said was- a search using only the rational faulties will come up as empty as the searcher wants. Ultimately this becomes tediously circular. You can always come up with a bucket of reasons not to believe in God, and I can come up with a bucket of reasons why I do. As I said, I choose to believe in The Creator and The Christ. If you don't, that's fine with me.