A few years ago, I traveled to the UK to spend time with the sangha of Amida Mandala Buddhist Temple. I was warmly welcomed by Satyavani and Kaspalita, the priests who run the temple, and quickly made friends with the rest of its community.
The location was equally welcoming. Amida Mandala sits on the side of the Malvern Hills, a place where it’s said that C.S. Lewis and Tolkien found inspiration for their stories. If one were to look to the Northeast of the Malverns (my vantage point at the temple), one would see why.
Rolling earth laps at the hillside. From the vast sky, fog rolls in, hugging the earth, often shrouding little hills in the distance. The weather puts the landscape into a constant state of graceful flux.
It’s no wonder that this region became such an inspiration to two literary giants. Likewise, it would become my inspiration while I was in the midst of questioning my spiritual path.
Part of my stay at the temple included a solitary retreat. Over 48 hours, alone in a room, I spent my time chanting Nembutsu (while I was awake, of course). Though fulfilling, this endeavor would prove to be quite challenging.
At about one third through the retreat, I was becoming rather depressed. I was questioning why I was there, why I was so far from home, and why I decided to follow a spiritual practice. Part of me felt foolish and weak for handing myself over to an “Other Power”.
As I sat down, disillusioned, (still chanting for some reason) I saw a copy of Amida Shu’s sutra book. After staring at it awhile, I picked it up and flipped through the pages. That’s when I read one of the vows of Dharmakara, the bodhisattva who would become Amida Buddha.
The vow is written as follows:
31st Vow: Oh Blessed One, may I not come to complete awakening if, when I have done so, my land does not have mirror purity such that the lands of all other Buddhas, inconceivably countless, throughout the ten directions, are completely reflected in it.
I then looked outside. The scenery was different. The rolling land looked even more beautiful than before. It looked greener, deeper, and hallowed.
I then felt an ease and joy like I have seldom known. It was not something I could control as it was a feeling that leapt from somewhere different deep within. My mind could not grasp it.
I saw a land reflected in Sukhavati itself. I saw Amida’s realm.
Just outside my window, in the midst of life, death, and secular matters, was the Land of Bliss.
Namo Amida Bu
Image of Malvern from Wikipedia