TO THE LIGHT:
HOW TO BRING
QUAKER SIMPLICITY TO OUR LIVES
AUTHOR: JIM PYM
RIDER BOOKS ISBN 978 0 7126 7020 3
REVIEW BY STEVE LANE
is not a recent publication (1999) nor is it about Pure Land
Buddhism and yet it has much to say that is true of our tradition.
If you haven't read it, this is a book well worth considering.
Perhaps this is not surprising as it is written by Jim Pym.
It was Jim who kept the Pure Land Buddhist Fellowship going
after Jack Austin died, and created Pure Land Notes and who
remained its editor until Gary Robinson took over in 2005. During
those twenty some years Jim's commitment to the Quaker tradition
remained undiminished alongside his dedication to Buddhism.
He has published equally on Buddhism and the Quaker tradition.
Quaker tradition, Jim explains, is based on the belief in 'that
of God in us.' This is the divine, the spiritual truth at the
heart of everything. He says, "If we accept the Divine
within ourselves, we will feel able to turn to it for guidance.
If we recognise it in others, we automatically set them free
We have only to replace the word 'Divine' with 'Buddha nature'
or 'Amida' and we have a clear statement of Shin faith.
more than 300 years, this Quaker practice of "listening
to the Light" has developed a deep moral commitment and
concern for justice. In different eras this has expressed itself
in such fields of as the abolition of slavery, refusal to pay
the portion of taxes that support nuclear weapons, penal reform
and support of gay marriage. It is a practice that readily translates
into action, and it has meant that this small religious group
has played a significant part in the development of contemporary
believe that the divine, the Light, is a positive force guiding
us for good if we will just 'wait upon it', or 'listen to it'.
This is perhaps similar to our Shin concept of 'deep hearing'
of the nembutsu. As we have seen, for Quakers the Divine is
imaged as Light. We call this the Infinite Light. It is interesting
that Quakers in their worship, "wait upon the Light."
They cannot conjure it up, cajole it or force it. It is a power
they have no influence over. It is, as we would say, Other Power.
But it is here that the differences between the two traditions
become clearer. The Quaker way is a passive waiting in silence
for connection with the Divine. The Shin way is a joyous realisation
that that connection is a 'given' if we can but realise it.
But how often do we really feel it on a daily basis?
in recent years the Buddhist Churches of America has adopted
silent meditation as part of its services. Jim's decades-long
dual commitment suggests he has also found a way to combine
such a short space I cannot explore further the many fascinating
connections between two traditions that seem so different: The
Friends have no definition of the Divine beyond the metaphor of
Light, no practice beyond silence. We have definitions, mythic
figures, afterlife destinations, poems and sutras to chant, with
no space in our services for silence. And yet, the two traditions
seem very close in essence and their understanding of how a self-effacing
faith can transform daily life.
Listening to the Light is a most rewarding read. Like all Jim
Pym's books it is written with the kind of simplicity and clarity
that only comes from a lifetime transformed by faith. In Jim
Pym's case, a dual faith: each, I suspect, enriching the other.