Morpheus, “Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain. But you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life. That there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there. Like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is the feeling that has brought you to here. Do you know what I’m talking about?”
Neo asks, “The Matrix?”
“Do you want to know what it is?” Morpheus asks?
“The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on the television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled -- the world over your eyes is your ego -- over your eyes to blind you from the truth.”
“What Truth?” asks Neo.’’
‘That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else, you were born into bondage, born into a prison you cannot smell or taste or touch. A prison for your mind.
Unfortunately, no one can be told what the matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.
This is your last chance. After this there is no turning back.
You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake in your bed and believe… whatever you want to believe.
You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland and I’ll show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.
Remember, all I’m offering you is the truth. Nothing more.”
The Matrix 1999
This is one of my favorite scenes from any movie. It’s right up there with Dorothy saying, “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore” when first arriving in Oz. In this particular scene Neo played by Keanu Reeves is taken to meet with Morpheus, the mysterious leader of a group that has been contacting him over the Internet. This movie, “The Matrix” has often been considered a Buddhist parable about our own search for Truth.
I believe it is a very good parable for Jodo Shinshu. This month we are celebrating the birth of Shinran Shonin, the founder of our sect of Buddhism. Shinran Shonin had been searching for answers for his entire life. He was born May 21, 1173, in Kyoto, Japan. This was at the close of the Heian period moving into the Kamakura period in Japanese history, a time of great social upheaval. His father had left the family to enter a monastery when he was very young. His mother died shortly after his birth. At the age of 9, he himself entered the monastery on Mt. Hiei to search for the answers to the ephemeral nature of life. He stayed in this mountain monastery for 20 years searching for answers, yet he could not find them. There was a “splinter in his mind.” Just as Neo sees a message on his computer screen, Shinran Shonin reads a text by Honen Shonin. Shinran was like Neo in the movie and Honen was Morpheus. Honen was telling Shinran, “You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain. But you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life. That there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there. Like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is the feeling that has brought you to here. Do you know what I’m talking about?”
I know exactly what Neo and Shinran are feeling. Each of us on a spiritual journey must have a similar “splinter in our mind.” This feeling that something does not seem right. This is a perfect description of the first noble truth: “Dukkha”. This word is often translated as suffering. However, it is more of a feeling that things are not quite right. I have been taught that Dukkha is best described as the axle on a cart not being straight, causing the cart to be misaligned. Our life becomes a bumpy ride. Our life is like the cart; the axle “our ego.” Together they create the bumpy ride. The cart is just the cart, the road just the road, however, this distorted view or ride caused by this unbalanced axle creates the bumpy ride. This is the first truth. This is the first step into the rabbit hole of truth.
In coming to the temple, you are being offered the blue pill or the red pill. As I explained at Hanamatsuri, the birth of the Buddha has shown us the Matrix of life. He has offered us the red pill. Shinran Shonin, born this month 845 years ago, took the red pill and is our guide through this rabbit hole of life. The Nembutsu teaching is the Truth, Shinran found.
I would like to close with the advice offered by Shinran Shonin to all of us on this journey. This is found in the book Tannisho, Chapter 2 CWS 662. I hope you will join us on this journey through the rabbit hole. Our Gotan E (Shinran’s Birthday) and Hatsumairi (Infant Presentation Service) will be held on May 20, but the choice is up to you!
As for me, I simply accept and entrust myself to what my revered teacher told me, “Just say the Nembutsu and be saved by Amida”; nothing else is involved.
I have no idea whether the Nembutsu is truly the seed for my being born in the Pure Land or whether it is the karmic act for which I must fall into hell. Should I have been deceived by Master Honen and, saying the Nembutsu, were to fall into hell, even then I would have no regrets.
The reason is, if I could attain Buddhahood by endeavoring in other practices, but said the Nembutsu and so fell into hell, then I would feel regret at having been deceived. But I am incapable of any other practice, so hell is decidedly my abode whatever I do.
If Amida’s Primal Vow is true, Shakyamuni’s teaching cannot be false. If the Buddha’s teaching is true, Shan-tao’s commentaries cannot be false. If Shan-tao’s commentaries are true can Honen’s words be lies? If Honen’s words are true, then surely what I say cannot be empty.
Such, in the end, is how this foolish person entrusts himself [to the Vow]. Beyond this, whether you take up the Nembutsu or whether you abandon it is for each of you to determine.