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11. Correspondence with a Reader

I received an e-mail from a young reader of our site. I think the mail deserves to be shared, so that it is provided here with the sender's obliging permission.

First mail:

I have just finished reading the page on your English site about "sin" and "repentance." (cf. Chapter 3 on this site.) As someone who is practicing Zen, I agree on the fact that, rather than seeing the Buddha Nature, all I can see right now are my mistakes, flaws, and foolishness. This is especially bad for me, because I am a perfectionist, or someone who wants everything to work out as planned, and I have clinical anxiety. Every time I mess up on something important, I feel like, for lack of a more descriptive term, utter crap inside. Whenever I do try to fix my errors, I have to use all of my mental energy. So at the end of most week, I just feel really tired and mentally exhausted. This makes it especially hard to maintain concentration for a long time during my Zen practice, because most of the energy I could have used was spent on trying to pointlessly fix my mistakes; you even said (on the page) that the more we struggle against our flaws, the stronger they bite us back. A good number of times, I just feel stuck in a corner, not even knowing how or where to begin fixing my broken self. So when I read about repentance and its great creative, energizing power, you got my attention.

The first question I have has to do with the negative aspects of the self. On the page, it says that "negative aspects of the self have significant power in a certain sense." Can you explain that "certain sense," please? What kind of significant power does our negative aspects have?

Next, what does "confessing yourself in the presence of Buddha" actually look like? How do I be in the presence of Buddha to confess? How would I actually go about confessing? How would I know of Buddha's forgiveness? Is it something I would experience within me?

My final question, depending on the answer, could be related to the previous one. Is this related in any way to the chanting of the Nembutsu to Amitabha Buddha? If so, how?

I look forward to your insight on these topics.

With Gassho,
(Name withheld by Editor)

Reply:

I read your email. I think I understand your situation. Your first question:

On the page, it says that "negative aspects of the self have significant power in a certain sense." Can you explain that "certain sense," please? What kind of significant power does our negative aspects have?

Power or force is neutral. For example, attractive force between two persons appears as both love and hatred. You can learn this from your own experience. Don’t say, “Love is good, hatred is bad." Of course the feelings are different, but they come from the same "attractive force."
If you pay attention to this fact, you might be able to change the gear of life. I think that your “perfectionist" has a lot of power. You can become friends with the “perfectionist" because his/her power might show a right way for you in the future.

The second question:

What does "confessing yourself in the presence of Buddha" actually look like?

Many Buddhists have their home altars. In the daily practice before the altar we have time for confessing. (It is good to go to Buddhist temples but there are not many temples in Europe or America.

The third question:

Is this related in any way to the chanting of the Nembutsu to Amitabha Buddha? If so, how?

Amida Buddha will welcome us to his Pure Land regardless of our morality. He receives our negative aspects as positive. Therefore we chant the Name. I hope these answers will be of some help.

Namu Amida Butsu,
Taijun Kasahara

Second mail:

Thank you very much for your answers, and taking time to understand where I am coming from. I can now see how my negative aspects, with a simple change of perspective, can have the potential to become something positive. Confessing to Buddha should help me to fully accept this. Once I learn how to set up my own Buddhist home altar (and also have the money for it), I will most definitely add repentance as something I should do daily, alongside chanting the Nembutsu and meditating. Hopefully, doing so will help me in my life.

I've been to Tokyo (Japan, for that matter) only once in my life. One day, I aspire to actually go live in Japan. As cold as it may be, I bet the snow is beautiful (we barely get snow here where I live).

With Gassho,
(Name withheld by Editor)

Reply and Request:

Thank you for the reply. Could I post these questions and answers on our website anonymously? I think there are some people who have the same questions as yours. I’d also like to be helpful to them.

Namu Amida Butsu,
Taijun Kasahara

Reply:

I would be truly honored if you did. I believe everyone should be able to know and understand the true, authentic Jodo Shu Buddhism. If I can play even a small part in this spread of the Dharma, I would be very happy. I do hope that in the future, there will be more people benefitting from the Nembutsu like I am now.

With Gassho,
(Name withheld by Editor)