Report on the 152nd London Eza: ‘Amida Buddha, Transcendence and Otherness’.

On 12th April 2021, twenty-eight guests joined Three Wheels residents to listen to what Professor John White has declared his ‘last talk’. His erudite and compassionate presentation, drawing on three decades of study and reflection, expressed his deep wish for the nembutsu sangha to go ever beyond the range of conceptual limits and the conflicts that such attachments can cause. In the spirit of the great Mahāyāna sūtras, he encouraged us to consider the use of the words ‘transcendence” and “otherness”, as these can help us avoid the polarisations that arise from attempting to address the limitations of language through negation.

Professor White’s talk gave rise to many questions and impressions. Mr Andrew Webb, a trustee of Three Wheels, thanked John and said that his talks always show us a clear direction. Mr Sam Kelly and other Dharma friends also took the opportunity to thank John for everything he has done to help develop and protect Three Wheels as a place of spiritual encounter. John responded that, “You have all transformed my life. None of us has a permanent self and I am certainly not who I was thirty years ago.” He also spoke of the value of ignorance, which he said, “can be a useful tool when used properly”. “The thing is to be interested all the time, to live moment to moment without hopes and fears, and with concentration. We all make mistakes. We shouldn’t be frightened. Press on! ”

Several people asked John about the relationship between this talk and his previous one on the subject of haiku. John spoke of the importance of spontaneity and said that one should simply look at things with openness, coming back to look again and again. Rev. Ishii noted that this is precisely how Prof. White developed his vision of the Three Wheels Zen garden, through many visits and encounters with the famous Ryōan-ji garden in Kyōto. Rev. Ishii also shared an account of John’s first visits to Shogyoji and said that he felt that John had gone to Japan as a practitioner to find the truth of life for himself and for people of the future. 

Rev. Sato concluded the meeting by saying that “what is behind John’s talk is unconditional love. The way he shows us is beyond conflict. What I can do is just take refuge. Namu Amida-butsu”

The English poet John Burnside once wrote, “the soul that magnifies the unsayable other is itself magnified”. This seems to me to be a very apt description of the kind of greatness that all Dharma friends could feel about Professor White as he delivered his final, life-giving address to the Sangha.

Namu Amida-butsu. Namu Amida-butsu.

Andy B.

12th April 2021