Savannahs Nembutsu

by Shogyo Gustavo Pinto from his article in the Newsletter of the International Association of Shin Buddhist Studies

In 2005, a sangha was born near the geodesic center of South America, in the Land of Peace. For the last two years, dozens of pilgrims came, many from Brazil, others from distant places such as Mexico, Portugal, UK and Japan, to hear the Nembutsu while circumvolving the Hill of Japan. One of them, Claudio Santiago, was called to the Rite of 108 laps. Acupuncturist and physiotherapist, he completed the one hundred and eighth consecutive lap on 10 December 2007.

But in what does the hearing of the Nembutsu, while walking for hours around the Hill of Japan, consist? The circumambulation rite starts at night, on a trail in the middle of the wild savanna. Each pilgrim brings only a flashlight, a bottle of water and the Nembutsu he recites. But it is not this Nembutsu that he came to hear. It is another; it is that one from which his is the echo. Pilgrims in the Land of Peace try to hear a Nembutsu that sounds all around us, everywhere, ever since. A Nembutsu voiced in the sky and the earth, in water, fire, air, and in the vast void where the illusory forms of this world flicker.
The pilgrimage starts by probing into the black night. Jaguars, poisonous snakes, dangers abound all around. From within the silence, the frightened heart hears: “I am always with you. I made the Vow to save you in the afterlife and accomplished it. Just trust. There is nothing in this saha world to be feared!” Actually, one does not hear words. Meanings erupt as lightning. But after hearing, one is fated to think. The verbal formulation is done a posteriori in an effort of the intellect trying to build up a description that resembles what was heard.
Next, the pilgrim hears the Nembutsu in sounds that emanate from the somberness. Once it was the noise of the ear’s cartilage of a hungry jaguar following me. The beast’s unequivocal smell impregnated the jungle. When stalking a prey, the jaguar moves its ears and one can hear the delicate clicking of its cartilage. Life crossed over the instant in swift memories, and in a flash I heard the subtle Nembutsu recited by the jaguar’s ear: “Your life is in my hands, not in the jaguar’s jaw. When causes and conditions are ripe, you will be born in the ineffable glory of the Pure Land. So smile, trust!”

The sunrise reveals the beauty of the world in color and forms, while the drought unveils gestures of despair in bare branches. This time what clicks are dead leaves under our feet. On earth, thirst scourges. Suffering is universal. The Nembutsu then blows with the wind bringing clouds from afar. Impermanence and Great Compassion are one. Relief is promised in gray tones and accomplished in thunders while the soaked pilgrim smiles with hands in Gassho. Rocks, plants, insects, all beings in the large sangha of nature rejoice in the Namanda.
The rite comes to an end at the source of a stream. While driving the water unmistakably from the center of the continent all the way to the ocean, the slope recites a silent Namanda. Water responds audibly in its confident flow. Sweet as it is here, there it will become salty. So, all beings will be transformed into Buddhas by the liberating (Sho) practice (Gyo) of the Other Power acting everywhere. Infinite Life-Light recites the Nembutsu through the universe aiming to save all beings. While hearing, gratitude emerges with the same three sounds that early in childhood, we first unintentionally voiced, Na Man Da!

(The “NAMANDA” or “NEMBUTSU” is like a call that this school of Buddhism has as its core. The word Namanda is the short version of “NAMU AMIDA BUTSU” that should be recited frequently with faith and it means “Homage to the Buddha of Immeasurable Light and Eternal Life”. If recited with faith it brings about the birth of the devotee in the Pure Land, a spiritual realm entered after death.)