Lowly as I am, having lofty karmic weight, and a body full of worldly desires, born into the age of the Great Dharma’s decline, and having to witness that decline first-hand, I have also been blessed. Blessed with the virtue of having discovered the one Great Dharmic Vehicle, whose teachings are boundless and fertile within even the most ignorant and defiled beings such as myself. The Dharma which, like a wise doctor, perscribes certain medicines for certain ailments dependent on the patient. These medicines, that the Buddha has instructed us to take, in the form of his various and supreme teachings, can be bitter to swallow, but also, at other times, pleasant to taste. They are the different and vast expediencies at the Buddha’s disposal which all lead to the one True Dharma, that ultimately ends in Nirvana. They are vast in appearance, because vast also, are the abilities of sentient beings.
Some of us may be born in a land where the Dharma flourishes, where good teachers are abundant and faith within the Dharma reaches all beings, others, like myself, because of previous karmic merit, may be born into lands where the Dharma flutters, where a true teacher is hard to find and any faith within the Dharma is hidden or comercialized. In these latter circumstances, the Buddha offers to us ignorant and defiled beings whose capabilites are limited by heavy karmic weight, expediencies such as the Nembutsu, which we can practice at any time without neccesarily a formal Buddhist setting, so long as we can develop some form of faith within the Dharma.
In the Lotus Sutra, there is a section that lists among many different expediencies :
Even a child in puerile play
Gathered sands into a Buddhaic Stupá
All of these people in sooth
Have already attained the Buddha-Way
Why is this so? The reason is twofold. Firstly, as taught by the Buddha, all beings have Buddha-Nature, meaning that all sentient beings, from the pesky mosquito to you, yourself, have the ability to become a Buddha and reach Buddhahood. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the child is his play who builds a Stupa out of sand dedicated to the Buddha, demonstates a certain faith within the Buddha himself. Even in innocent play, an honest offering to the Buddha in the form of a sand stupa is enough to liberate said being from the Samsaric realms, so long as they have developed a firm and unshakable faith in the Dharma.
To liken this child to our own lives, we can say that daily we are plagued with worldly desires. Some of which, may be harmful to our karma while others may have a neutral or positive effect. These worldly desires, are naturally our “innocent play” which we are engaged in because we know nothing better, however when we direct our desire, say from the worldly or the mundane, to that of the ultramundane and the realm of the Dharma, in the form of offerings, or gestures of compassion, however small of lofty they may be, we develop a faith within the Dharma that can only be put out with our Nirvana.
To extend this idea further, we can look to another, more famous analogy(famous more then likely because it explains away the division and sectarian nature we find in modern Buddhism) in the Lotus Sutra, that of the children trapped playing within the burning house and their father who must use whatever expediencies he has on his disposal to coax them out from their play amongst horrible ghouls, demons, and the burning timbres of falling support beams. In the parable, the father offers these three children, a specific cart based upon their own peculiar fondness and likeness. These carts, the father says are an Ox cart, a Deer Cart, and a Goat Cart. However no such cart exists for the children, the father is merely saying whatever he can to coax these children out from their play in the burning house.
The Buddha likens himself to the father, where as we defiled and ignorant beings are the children who are trapped within the burning house, Samsara, which is teaming with all sorts of horid monsters and blood sucking ghosts, our worldly desires, that could drain us of any lifeforce if they can catch us and have their way. Because the Buddha is desperate to not let any being suffer within the realms of samsara, he offers his teachings,the carts, which are likened to our own interests or our aptitude, in order to lead us safely as far away as possible from the burning house. However we, being inside the burning house, must have faith within the Buddha’s offering if we are to emerge unscathed. When the children emerge from the flames, it is soley because of the faith they placed in recieving a splendid cart of their very own. The children see however, that no such cart exists, and instead the father puts forward, 3 similar carts of equal and intense wealth and lavishness to give to the children. These actual carts can be likened to our own Supreme Enlightenment, while whatever peculiar expediency that leads us out of the burning house are the teachings,which are enevitably part of the one True Dharma, and is no less and no greater of a path, for they all lead, inevitably to the same cart, that of our own liberation from samsara!
Om Mani Padme Hum