Watercolor illustration of clouds
The eight-spoked wheel of Dharma, with a graphic representation of a lotus at its center.

Steadfastly Walking the Path with Others

Master Shinjo Ito

April 25, 2022

An illustration of diverse men and women in different types of dress, some walking, one in a wheelchair, moving in parallel rows toward the right.

The Achala image is generally depicted in a bluish-black hue. He has a lotus flower atop his head, but below it his body is depicted as if being immersed in mud, the filthiest kind found in a drainage ditch. This is why his images often come in a bluish-black color.

The Nirvana Sutra tells us that a realm of joy can permeate even that type of filth, that we can find happiness and fulfillment even within this very life. This is another sense of “achala” (imperturbable/immovable) that is spoken of in the Nirvana Sutra. The Achala enshrined in the main hall at Shinchoji depicts the nirvana dharma body. It is gold in color to represent Achala in this aspect as the purity of nirvana manifested even within this life.

The Nirvana Dharma Body Achala that I sculpted represents an aspiration to cultivate a buddha realm as we lead our lives in the present. Teachings that affirm a buddha realm in this very life, rather than a realm of joy that is attained when we die, are about nirvana. Thus, in this sense, it is the imperturbability (achala) of nirvana itself that affirms the existence of a realm of happiness in this very life.

As we go through life, we will inevitably encounter sadness or hardship. But rather than lament “How unfortunate this is!” we can perceive the lovingkindness and compassion of the buddhas even through such difficult experiences. As they say, “Only when there is filth will the lotus flower bloom.” Flowers like the lotus never bloom in clean places.

As someone who finds value in living in shinnyo, we must be determined to bloom lotus flowers with our actions. We can do this whether or not our efforts are recognized. As I have stated in verse:

The path that enlightened beings have paved for us is one of love;
it is the path we walk together with others.

We may sometimes do good things because we gain recognition for it. But whether or not people recognize our actions, we still must act rightly. That is what living rightly means, to hold ourselves steadfastly to this purpose throughout our lives, overcoming any hardship. I hope that regardless of whether or not our good conduct gains us recognition, we will walk a just and right path and affirm a buddha realm for ourselves as we live our lives in the here and now.

Let me share a brief story of someone who did just that. Once, in a city in Germany, children were happily playing barefoot in a plaza. An elderly gentleman, shabbily dressed, stood nearby enjoying the sight of the children at play. 

As he looked on, he would walk around the plaza, stooping down from time to time to pick something up and put it into his pocket. He did this many times, until his pocket was bulging. A policeman noticed this and felt the man was possibly up to no good. He stopped the fellow and commanded, “What do you keep picking up there? Show it to me.”

The elderly gentleman smiled and said, “Oh, it’s nothing, really.” But the policeman insisted that he empty his pockets. When the man complied, the officer was surprised to see that his pockets were filled with bits of broken glass.

“Now, why on earth would you want these?” the policeman asked.

“You see the lovely children there,” the elderly gentleman tenderly replied, “Not one of them is wearing shoes.”

People later discovered that this man was actually a renowned Swiss reformer of early childhood education. 

This is a morality tale, but it skillfully illustrates how essential it is for those of us who profess faith in our spiritual tradition to do everything we can for others and the world we live in, whether we gain recognition for it or not.

Roadside grass is often trampled upon,
yet is equipped with the capacity to endure and grow.

Even when we feel trampled upon or undervalued, as spiritual practitioners we still must do our best. If people laugh at us, even if they scorn us, we will still attain liberation. If we perform good deeds, such as sharing the dharma or providing spiritual guidance, we will almost certainly invite criticism and belittlement. Whenever you experience criticism and belittlement, remember, as I’ve already said, “Only when there is filth will the lotus flower bloom.”

If we expect others to praise us for our good conduct, does it really amount to anything in terms of spiritual growth? The seeds that yield the fruit of true joy take root when we weather the storms of criticism and belittlement, imperturbable in our resolve for spiritual practice. Whether we gain any recognition for it or not, we must live rightly our whole lives through. I hope that as spiritual practitioners we can live rightly, holding ourselves steadfastly to this purpose throughout our lives, overcoming any hardship.

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