Now is the time,
The Place is here at your feet,
Living in awareness,
Through the life we live hard,
Eternal life can be realized.
By Dr. Shiio Benkyo, the 82nd Chief Abbot of Zojoji Temple
(Translated by Kosen Ishikawa)
This short poem is one of the masterpiece poems by Dr. Shiio Benkyo (1876-1971) who was known as an unparalleled Jodo Shu priest.
For me, this poem has been my source of inspirations. It's so simple and such a short poem. However it was truly difficult to translate it English with poetic sound.
Dr. Shiio was a multitalented priest who was s Buddhist scholar, philosopher, social activist and also a member of House of the Representatives in Japan.
He started “Kyosei(Tomoiki)”movement to apply Honen Shonin’s teachings to daily life for the betterment of society. “Kyosei” or “Tomoiki” literally means “co-living” or “Living together” which was his modern translation of “to be born in the Pure Land together.”
His core idea of co-living is based on the fundamental Buddhist doctrine of “Engi(pratītya-samutpāda)” or dependent origination that all things without exception are interdependent and interrelated each other. Traditionally this can be simply expressed as “this is because that is.” Or “ "if this exists, that exists; if this ceases to exist, that also ceases to exist".
Based on this interdependency, Dr. Shiio understood that the life we live was actually a part of “eternal life” and by realizing this eternal life, co-living could be possible.
Dr. Shiio seemed to think it would be difficult for modern people to believe in Amida Buddha and his Pure Land. Thus he stressed the importance of living in the present moment here with others in order to transmit Jodo teachings even to the modern people who are not Buddhists.
As Dr. Shiio intended this movement practiced in the wider society, this short poem has been recognized widely over the time and quoted by not only priests but also various specialists.
Needless to say, life we are living is supported by many people and many things both in the past and in the present. In other words, thanks to countless blessings, we are now living. And if we can be mindful of this interdependency, we can realize we are not alone nor independent. We are connected to the very core of life which doesn’t have both beginning and ending, so-called eternity.
Dr. Shiio found eternity in this present moment. There is no past nor future without this present moment. This short poem indicates both past and future lies here and now in this present moment. Dr. Shiio encourages us not to miss this chance of now and not to waste this precious time.
But this is not all. Dr. Shiio put another meaning onto this poem. That is Nenbutsu. By reciting Namu Amida Bu(tsu) in this moment, we can become one with Amida Buddha who is known as Buddha of eternal life. And even after we die, we are able to live for good and all though the practice of Nenbutsu now.