Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Koso Wasan 114

Amida Tathagata, manifesting form in this world,
Appeared as our teacher Genk├╗;
The conditions for teaching having run their course,
He returned to the Pure Land.

Seasons

The Mughal (mogul) dynasty prevailed in northern India from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century. The Mughal were of Turkic origin and their governance was marked by an attempt to integrate Hindus and Muslims into a harmonious community. In their gardens they grew deciduous plants to symbolise the endless round of birth-and-death - the basic assumption of Indian traditions. The evergreen trees and plants were intended as reminders of the divine unity that is a prominent theme of Islam.

In this verse, we are reminded of the way that the dharma views time and, especially the appropriateness of events in relation to it. We are reminded constantly in the sutras that karmic seeds that are sown, are awakened from their timeless dormancy, at just the right moment, to sprout, grow into living things, bear fruit and die. This is the pattern for deciduous plants. In spring they burst into life and flourish for a season. Eventualy, the cycle ends, their leaves fall and dissolve back into the earth, providing nourishment for the next season's growth.

Even without deciduous trees to remind us, those of us who are privileged to live in climates, which have a marked round of seasonal variations, know and understand the cyclic nature of life. On the Oceanic continent, where most of Australia's population lives, all of the areas that have coasts adjacent to the Indian Ocean have markedly seasonal conditions. (This is an arc that stretches from Melbourne in the south-east to Cape York in the north.) In the north there is a rainy season in the summer (December - March) and in the south the rainy season is in the winter. Here it varies slightly from place to place. In the area where I live winter rain is relatively reliable and it completely transforms the world that surrounds us when it arrives May.

By late summer - early in March - the earth is dry and bare. Winds lift grass seeds and they land in forks of trees, the eaves of buildings and even in places like the grooves in old fence posts. When the first soaking rain arrives, the world around us bursts into a brilliant swathe of emerald. Grass and other tiny plants can be seen growing where their seeds had blown, giving the impression of green snowfall. Throughout May, June and July - the season of the most reliable and plentiful rainfall - the moisture penetrates deep into the earth, dry river beds gradually swell and become lively streams of clear water, and mosses cover rocks and old tree trunks.

The rainfall begins to ease from August to October but the fertile boggy soil, the lengthening days, the clearing skies and warming air, nurture all living things - both new and old. Trees and shrubs send clean new and vigorous shoots from their branches. On uncultivated ground, flowers cover the fields in patches of yellow and purple. On the first day of spring (September 23), the world is a riot of colour. The fields of wheat, barley and oats have grown to their full height. Wildflowers exuberantly relish the new season, adding their extraordinary and varied patchwork quilt of colour wherever they grow. Native orchids spread their shy and delectable flowers for those who are willing to seek out their charms. In October, the air is full of scent - from lilac, white cedar, wisteria, jasmine and many native plants, like boronia.

From mid-winter until the end of spring, there is of course, the morning chorus from the world of birds, sometimes amost deafening in its shrill delight.

In early December, with the approach of summer, elms come into leaf, jacarandas are covered in clouds of purple or pink flowers, the wheat ripens. The last few showers occasionally dust the ground with light, misty rain as they pass. At this time, the grain harvest is completed. The deathly silence of summer sets in just as the New Year begins. The air becomes heavy with the scent of red gum flowers. The birds having fallen silent, there is only the sound of bees and small cicadas, their tiny voices pulsating as though exhausted in the oppressive afternoon heat. Very occasionally thunderstorms that spin off from the monsoons in the north, venture south. Mainly dry by the time they reach these parts, their lightning serves to ignite the fires which the bush needs for regeneration.

Then, in the hottest part of summer - late February and early March - the grapes are harvested. The stubble left in the fields begins to blow away, the earth becoming bare and hard. At the beginning of autumn, the world is so quiet and dead, that it is hard to believe that it can ever revive. The birds seem to have gone somewhere else. As the days cool the first morning dew entices the crickets to emerge from their long gestation. As the evening air gradually becomes more moist, they cheer us with their song.

Just as, in the natural course of the seasons, grapes cannot be harvested in winter, grass will not germinate without moisture and the early winter chill, lilacs and wisteria will not flower without the lengthening of days, and wheat cannot be harvested without its normal seasonal growth - rain and sunshine coming at reliable times - so the ripening of karma comes in its own time and when conditions are suitable. During Shakyamuni's time, large numbers of people were awakenened to his truth and found enlightenment. After his death, awakening became less common and the rate of such events diminished with the passage of time, until they fell away altogether.

As we see in this verse, eventually the moment for Honen to teach fell away; so did the time, in which, people would welcome and hear his teaching well.

At a personal level, too, shinjin does not arise until we are ready. Things come together having begun an inexorable course towards their meeting long ago, arising from karma that was formed in the immeasurable past. Only when conditions had ripened, could we hear the dharma and find its joy in our hearts.

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