is Shin Buddhism?
By Professor Takamaro Shigaraki
I. What is Shin?
II. What Is Shinjin?
III. Buddhist Wisdom
IV. Great-Self And Non-Ego
V. The Logic Of Prajna
VI. Causes and Conditions
VII. Great Compassion
IX. Where Is The Buddha?
X. The Transformation Of Shinjin
XI. Other Power
XIII. The Finger and The Moon
XIV. Symbolism and Paradox
XV. Tasting the Dharma
XVI. Change and Growth in Shinjin
XVII. Buddhist Salvation
XVIII. The Problem of Death
XIX. The Pure Land
XXI. The Process of Shinjin
XXIII. The Essential Integration
XXIV. Only Nembutsu is Real
XXV. The Essential Gate
XXVI. The Primal Vow
I. What is Shin?
I am a Shin Buddhist.
Zen, which arose in Japan in the same thirteenth century period of religious
reform as did Shin Buddhism, became popular in America and Europe through the writings of D.T. Suzuki and others. Suzuki's
writings on Shin never attained wide readership. Yet, for we ordinary men and women everywhere, Shin Buddhism's Nembutsu path
opens the Buddhist world of awakening through the process of our everyday lives. It is to explore Shin Buddhism in as clear
and concise a manner as possible that I write this book, which evolved from my lecture series at the Buddhist Study Center's
1979 Summer Session in Honolulu, Hawaii.
I shall approach the teachings of Shinran, founder of Shin Buddhism, from
the broad perspective of my own experience. I was born in Hiroshima, and raised the second son in a country temple. Because
of this background, I received a somewhat strict religious training. For example, as a youngster I liked to go fishing, but
my father did not permit this. 1 had to sneak out to go fishing. When my father caught me, he would really give it to me!
In my early life, the process of death was a condition leading to my religious
sensitivity. When I was eight years old, my sister died. When I was thirteen, my mother died. When I was fifteen, my brother
died. After my mother's death, my father remarried. A stepmother came into my family, and this too became one of the painful
experiences of my youth.
As the surviving son, I was expected to stay and take over the temple, as
is the custom in temple families in Japan. This I did not want to do. Instead, I planned after high school to leave and become
a teacher. In the Larger Pure Land Sutra, one of the five deadly sins is the slandering of one's mother and father. Now, as
I look back on the early days of my stepmother, I realize that my urge to leave home was from my wanting to slander this new
mother who had come into my family.
When I was in school, the war was going on and at age nineteen, I joined
the army. One month after I joined, Japan lost the war. It was a time of confusion. Many were truly lost, spiritually, and
of these many I was one. I abandoned my idea of going to college to become a teacher. In this period of postwar confusion,
I decided to seek out anew the meaning of Shinran in my life.
For those who are not familiar with Shinran, I should like to provide a
brief background. He lived from 1173-1262 during the Kamakura period, a time of intense political and religious upheaval in
Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan. The Emperor was then merely a figurehead, with affairs of the nation in the powerful
hands of a succession of noble families and considerable power wielded by the Buddhist hierarchy of Mt. Hiei, a Tendai complex
of temples and monasteries just northeast of Kyoto. Women and police were both forbidden on that monastic mountain-the result
of the latter prohibition being that among the monks were refugees who had been thieves, criminals of all kinds, who formed
the most powerful army of the day.
A great many of the monks on Hiei were, however, serious and sincere seekers
after enlightenment. Such a one was Shinran, who had taken his vows at the age of nine. For twenty years he immersed himself
in strenuous study, following the most difficult monastic practices. At the age of twenty-nine he felt himself a total failure
in all this, and with despair left Hiei knowing himself incapable of honestly going forward on what he called the self-power
"path of sages." The former Hiei monk, Honen, a brilliant teacher then nearing seventy, had begun a "Nembutsu only" movement
to which Shinran was drawn. For the next six years he remained with Honen, devoting himself to the single practice of his
The "Nembutsu only" practice was that of reliance on salvation (enlightenment)
through "other power" acknowledged by the recitation of Namu Amida Butsu, a homage to the name of Amida, signifying trust
in the Buddha whose Vow was to save all beings everywhere at all times. This was a practice available to even the lowliest,
uneducated person, a way in sharp contrast to the scholasticism and noble family connections of the Buddhist hierarchy on
Mt. Hiei and that other, more ancient Buddhist center, Nara.
Before long, the leaders of Nara and Hiei joined forces to persuade the
Emperor to ban the increasingly popular competition of this "Nembutsu only" movement. Two of Honen's followers were executed.
The others, including Honen himself, and thirty-five year old Shinran, were banished to different remote provinces. Shinran
was exiled to Echigo, now the modern area of Naoetsu. He was stripped of his name, reduced to the status of a common criminal,
and forbidden to practice Nembutsu. It was a prohibition he chose to ignore. Instead, during his exile he himself became a
Shinran, one of the first Buddhist priests to openly marry and live an ordinary
life, called himself "neither priest nor layman. " He fathered a large family and shared the harsh lives of the people among
whom he chose to remain after word of his pardon came from Kyoto. With his wife Eshinni, he moved to Mito-Kanto, which like
Echigo was then a remote rural area. He stayed in that region, spreading "Nembutsu only" and beginning his major work, Kyo-Gyo-Shin-Sho-(Teaching-Living-True
Mind-Awakening), until he was sixty years old. He then left his wife and family behind to return to Kyoto where he devoted
the remaining thirty years of his life to writings and study that he hoped would settle the place of Honen's teachings in
the mainstream of Mahayana Buddhism. He lived in quiet obscurity, without a temple of his own, working at tracing "Nembutsu
only" in a spiritual lineage back to Shakyamuni Buddha, a scholarly project that was disparaged by many of the Nembutsu teachers
of his period. He continuously revised Kyo-Gyo-Shin-Sho, and composed many poems, hymns and a large body of other writings
before his death at the age of eighty-nine.
Throughout his long life, Shinran considered himself only a follower of
his teacher Honen. He had no idea that he himself had founded a new tradition in Buddhism. However, the religious insights
he developed took Shinran far beyond Honen, who is the founder of the Jodo tradition in Japanese Buddhism. Despite the passage
of eight centuries between his time and ours, Shinran's writings and his approach to religion and life remain fresh and compelling.
His is the freeing path that has been described as so simple-yet the most difficult of all difficulties for he encourages
each one of us to make a choice in terms of our own life, to look honestly at our real self and the reality of our life. For
himself, Shinran, Nembutsu was the only way, but for others- "whether you choose to accept it or not, that is up to you."
There is no distinction, no discrimination, no judgmentalism, in Shinran's teachings. He exposes the sham and deception of
ordinary life, and pioneers into the humbling realm of "beyond good and evil." For his followers, and for those of us today
who follow the Nembutsu path, he opens a way of life that leads to boundless spiritual freedom through the totally honest
exploration of oneself and the real world that is so difficult for our ego-limited vision to perceive.
In the past century, Shinran's teachings traveled with emigrants from Japan
to Hawaii, the mainland United States and to Canada. Emigrants also carried Shin Buddhism to South America. Translation of
such Shin Buddhist classics as Tannisho into German, English, and French, stimulated an interest in Shinran's teachings in
England and Europe where Shin Buddhist societies have formed in a number of cities.
II. What Is Shinjin?
Like countless millions over the past 800 years, I feel that my Life has been
enriched and transformed by Shinran 's teachings. It is, as I stated earlier, from the broad perspective of my own experience
that I write these chapters, but of necessity a number of technical terms must be dealt with. In several areas, I have thought
it essential to trace linguistic trails from Sanskrit to Chinese to Japanese, in order to clarify meanings in English. Too
often, a simple translation presents a distorted and misleading view of the original. Such has been the case with Shinjin,
the term that expresses the essence of Shin Buddhism. Shinjin has on occasion been translated as "faith" but to use that English
word without considerable further explanation is inadequate as well as potentially misleading. I propose that, like nirvana
and Nembutsu, Shinjin become one of those Buddhist terms adopted without translation, as is, into the English vocabulary.
Buddhism cannot be grasped by the analytical logic of the west. Therefore, I wish
to tackle the essential question-what is Shinjin?-by first explaining what Shinjin is not. Here is where the linguistic trail
tracing must begin. In Japanese, there are three expressions, which can all be approximately translated by the English word
"faith. " These three-Shinrai, Shinko, and Shinjin-share the common root of shin, "to believe. "
Shinrai, the first of the three possible Japanese translations of "faith," means
to "depend on", or "to use." It expresses a belief that does not have a religious context but is used rather in the area of
secular relationships such as, for example, my assuming something is going to be the way it is even when I don't really know-like
my assumption today that I will be alive tomorrow. This kind of belief is based on my condition now, at this moment. Based
on my wellness today, there is a high probability that I will continue to live on tomorrow. However, if I am ill, that probability
is not so high after all. The "knowing" factor is minimal in this kind of believing. Rather, we believe in terms of what we
think we can project. So, in many of our human relationships we experience difficulty in believing that these really are what
they seem to be, especially at first encounter. With frequency, and familiarity, some kind of understanding is established
and it is then that we believe in terms of what we feel more certain about.
Shinko, the second expression translatable as "faith" is more of a religious term.
During Shinran's time, many of his contemporaries-his teacher Honen, Dogen who was the founder of Soto Zen, and Nichiren,
another Kamakura religious reformer, all used shinko. However, Shinran himself always used shinjin. In dissecting shinko linguistically
to trace its meanings, we find that to the root of shin, "to believe," is added a character "ko" which in this instance is
also read as aogu-"to look up to." For example, in Shinto, the god you believe in is looked up to. In Japanese, the words
for `god' and `above' are homonyms, expressed in the Chinese character read "kami"-god, but a character that often was read
"above" or "on top of", and thus the implication that what is "on top" or "above" is "looked up to." The believer neither
knows nor questions whether the god which he "looks up to" exists or not. This is not a belief in which intellectual, rational,
or scientific evidence is important. In shinko, it is because we do not know that we believe. When Christianity began to establish
itself in Japan one hundred years ago, the word "faith" in the Bible was translated as shinko; This aptly translates the Christian
belief that God is in heaven and therefore spatially "above" or "on top of" the believer.
Shinjin is totally different from either shinko or shinrai in that it has no intimation
whatsoever of "looking up to" but expresses a condition of trust in Amida Buddha and his Vow to save all beings everywhere
at all times. In this entrusting there is no subject, no object, no "I believe in something." It is an entrusting relating
to the Sanskrit word prasada, which describes a condition that is very calm, still, pure. Cittaprasada is "the mind and heart
which is clear and pure," translated in the Chinese text as joshin, "clear or pure mind."
Shinran chose shinjin as the word more adequately carrying his intended meaning
of "the truth of one 's heart and mind in a clear and pure way. " Here "pure" is to be carefully understood not as moral purity
in the puritanical sense, but as the purity that is the result of non-calculation and non-ego. It is at the point where the
pure, clear mind (cittaprasada) becomes my condition that the shinjin of Shinran's teachings becomes manifest. Thus shinjin
is neither "faith" in a secular nor in the commonly held religious sense of the English word.
My interpretations of shinjin as it was used by Shinran is that it’s meaning
has two aspects: that of "realizing" or "knowing" as well as the implicit aspect of truth or reality. It is "to know the heart
and mind" as well as "the heart and mind that is true and real." This "knowing" is a special implication, the "knowing" that
in Sanskrit is expressed by the word praj˝a, the Buddhist wisdom that is the dynamic of shinjin. To know one's heart and mind
refers to the working of praj˝a, the wisdom that brings about "the true mind and heart." This is not a dualism but a whole
in which praj˝a and "true mind and heart" (cittaprasada) are descriptions, one of the function and the other of the essence
Cittaprasada was, in the Sanskrit texts, used synonymously with samßdhi, the state
where the heart and mind being calm, truth or reality, can be penetrated. In other words, cittaprasada refers to the ability
to "see the Buddha," to satori-be awakened and to be born in the home of Tathßgata, the home of the Buddha.
As we interpret shinjin in this light, we begin to comprehend its breadth and
depth. Shinjin embodies the wisdom which cittaprasada expresses: the mind, which is clear and pure, the ability to "see the
Buddha," and to be born into the home of the Buddha.
At this point, we come to the necessity of understanding the nature of Buddhist
III. Buddhist Wisdom
Once again, as with shinjin in the preceding chapter, to understand what Buddhist
wisdom is can best be approached by explaining what it is not. At this point, it is fruitful to examine in terms of human
experience the three kinds of "knowing" which the English word "wisdom" can represent.
The first of these, "knowledge," is based on what is usually called objectivity,
the "knowing" of an object which stands outside of oneself and which, upon analyzing, we can understand. This is the scientific
approach, in which we are all trained to view objects standing in relation to ourselves. In scientific knowledge, the subject-which
is myself- is not the focus of attention. Even in psychology the mind is viewed as an object to be analyzed quite apart from
the whole mind-heart-body of which the mind is but one aspect. Indeed, scientific knowledge so objectifies the world around
us, including ourselves, that in this kind of "knowing," we become an "it."
The other two kinds of "knowing " are quite different. One is a common sense "knowing"
that emerges from our daily experience, a "knowing" that we expect everyone to have. It is a wisdom based not on scientific
analysis but on human experience. There is a Japanese proverb that says, "Those who lose really win. Those who fail are victorious.
" This kind of wisdom infers it's not good to win just to be winning. When we lose, we sometimes become winners. This is a
worldly wisdom, based on "give and take. " In the context of daily human affairs, this kind of wisdom takes into account the
feelings. It is a wisdom born of many experiences in life, a wisdom not immediately graspable by children. It is not fully
subjective, for this wisdom born of experience is always in relation to the object as well.
It is the third, quite different kind of wisdom that is what we mean when we talk
about Buddhist wisdom, the wisdom that, in Shinran's view, is the dynamic through which shinjin is established. This is a
"knowing" that stands in sharp contrast to the "knowing" of science and the "knowing" of common sense. The focus is "deeply"
rooted in the subject, a "depth" referring to the dimension of our human potential for evil, a potential unlimited in our
life. This existential depth is expressed in Japanese by bonno, another word that it would be well to transpose as is into
the English vocabulary.
In his perception of bonno as the profound depths of the self, Shinran is not
speaking from a scientific or from a common-sense point of view. Neither is his a psychological perception. Rather, he speaks
from the dimension of Buddhist wisdom, which is acutely aware of this aspect of existence. The important difference in the
emphasis of Buddhist wisdom is that it is neither subjective nor objective. The total self, freed from any split of subject-object
differentiation, is involved.
In Chapter Two of Tannisho, the slim volume that is the great religious classic
written by Shinran's follower Yuienbo, Shinran is quoted as saying "Hell is my only home." This is a statement of the workings
of Buddhist wisdom, the wisdom of "deep" heart and mind, with "deep" here referring to existential depth. This wisdom does
not simply look outwardly to see things objectively. In "Hell is my only home," Shinran looks inward to the limitless inner
depths of his bonno in order to come to truly know himself. When he says, "hell is my only home," he is talking about the
deep mind that under girds the existential reality of the way we all live. His shinjin, which we too can experience, is based
on this kind of wisdom, an awakening in which one comes to know totally what one is.
For example, the world in which we live is the world in which we die- this is
reality. Yet, in the everyday world we seldom see this essential condition in which our subconscious depths are rooted. In
Buddhism, it is not in spite of our constantly "falling into hell" but because of this condition that we are surrounded, sustained,
embraced in the boundless compassion of Amida Buddha. Buddhism does not have the reward or punishment judgmentalism of the
Christian religion. In Buddhism, the end of life does not necessarily mean going to hell or to Pure Land. In fact, our "falling
into hell" is crucial to 2n appreciation of the Buddhist world of awakening in this life, here and now, at this very moment.
This critical awareness, developed and taught by Shinran at a profound existential level, is succinctly expressed in his "Hell
is my only home."
Shinran's twenty years of monastic practice on Mt. Hiei were mainly at Yogawa,
the place where Genshin, an eleventh century religious teacher and writer, has also once studied and practiced. Genshin's
writings made such a strong impression on Shinran that in the Kyo-Gyo-Shin-Sho he named Genshin as one of the seven patriarchs
through whom he traces the spiritual lineage of the Nembutsu teaching, back to Shakyamuni Buddha.
Genshin's major work was Ojoyoshu-Essentials for Birth, the story of a man falling
into hell. It has been compared to that later western work, Dante's Inferno. As Dante did, Genshin gives a vivid description
of the various levels of hell. For Genshin however, the phrase "bound for hell" expresses symbolically the experience of one
who has awakened to the realization of continuously creating karmic evil, and who perceives the bottomless depths of his own
potential for evil. In the sutras, the statement: "hell is at the bottom of this great earth" symbolizes the hell we create
in the depths of our conscious and unconscious minds. It is this reality, which Genshin depicts, in his classic work.
Genshin's masterpiece portrays a man who, in his extreme suffering, pleads forgiveness
of a demon whose recurrent answer is, "To plead with me is no use. I can't do a thing about it now. Why didn't you state your
situation truly while you were still a human being?" This theme of question and reply, "There's no use asking me now," and
"you created your own hell while you were still alive," runs throughout the work. The first part is a detailed description
of hell in which, according to Genshin, there are eight levels. One works from the first level and descends down into the
eighth level-which he describes as the hell of unlimited suffering.
The first level is the one resulting from committing the slightest evil, such
as the killing of fish or chickens. In this life, according to Genshin, we kill animals and then, when we die, the devils
in hell come after us and chop us up until a cool wind comes across and makes us whole again. This process happens over and
over. The depth of this first stage of hell is described as being 1000 yojanas (one yojana being the distance of about nine
miles or as far as an ox can travel between sunrise and sunset).
From this, the various levels descend to the eighth hell of unlimited suffering,
that of persons who have killed their mother and father or, as Genshin phrased it, "taken life away from father and mother."
Among those who fall into this hell are those who vainly live on the donations from people. Here, Genshin is talking about
himself and through this he tries to clarify the direction into which he sees himself as falling. The depth of this eighth
level is described as falling headfirst for 2,000 years to arrive completely into this unlimited suffering which, to Genshin,
is his own karmic state. This use of the term "falling" into hell does not refer to a physical fall, but rather to an awareness
of the absolute depth of the hell we are all falling into the unlimited depths of our unconscious or deep mind. Thus what
Genshin was writing about was the awakening to one 's own limitless falling into hell as being the very condition essential
for birth in the Buddha Land.
This extraordinary Buddhist view is likewise concisely expressed by Shinran in
Tannisho, Chapter Three (Taitetsu Unno translation): "Even the good person attains birth in the Buddha Land, how much more
so the evil person. But the people of the world constantly say, `Even the evil person attains birth how much more so the good
person.' Although this appears to be sound at first glance, it goes against the will of the Primal Vow of Other Power. The
reason is that since the person of self-power, being conscious of doing good, lacks the thought of entrusting himself completely
to Other Power, he is not the focus of the Primal Vow of Amida. But when he turns over self-power and entrusts himself to
Other Power, he attains birth in the land of true fulfillment."
Shinran then goes on to say, "The Primal Vow was established out of deep compassion
for us who cannot become freed from the bondage of birth-and-death through any religious practice, due to the abundance of
blind passion. Since its basic intention is to effect the enlightenment of such an evil one, the evil person who entrusts
himself to Other Power is truly the one who attains birth in the Buddha Land. Therefore, even the good person attains birth,
how much more the evil person! "
In the Buddhist world of awakening, those who have the confidence to fall into
hell-that is, to see the existential reality of their bonno-are thus able to experience the very joy that they are going to
the "Pure Land, "that spiritual realm of reality itself from which the workings of compassion are manifested. Again, translation
is acutely important. "Pure Land" does not have any connotation of geographical place or location. It is a spiritual realm,
the world of the Buddha, which manifests the great wisdom and compassion of Amida (praj˝a and karuna).
Those who do not really see hell interwoven into their lives do not really see
the Pure Land. In other words, those who do not see hell in the depths of their own minds are really falling into it. Genshin
had this full consciousness of his own evil, and Shinran likewise. So too did an old man in my village temple who used to
say, "Do-sun! Do-sun!" over and over, an exhortation reminding himself and all those inside and outside the temple of this
Do-sun is not translatable. It is one of those onomato poetic Japanese words whose
sounds convey the meaning. I wonder. Is there a like word in English whose sound and meaning are that of falling into hell?
IV. Great-Self And Non-Ego
In both the common-sense way of knowing and in scientific knowledge, there is
always a dichotomy, a split between subject and object. As noted in the preceding chapter, the emphasis is usually in the
direction of the object, including the "Self" as object in such behavioral sciences as psychology. Prajna, Buddhist wisdom,
is quite otherwise. While there is an emphasis in the direction of the self, praj˝a is actually the "knowing" in which the
self gets to know itself as it really is. in this there is no split, no dichotomy, no tension. I look within at myself but
the self that I am seeing is, in the Buddhist wisdom of praj˝a, not a subject of analysis. "I" do not become a separate "thing."
As an example, in the common-sense way of knowing I know that someday maybe even
today I will die. I understand this, but at the same time the "I" that "understands" has no desire to die. When I reflect
in such a common sense or in the objective, scientific way, I don't grasp myself in my totality. My reflection is only partial.
I see only parts of myself. Or, to approach the difference from another angle, in terms of my bonno-the unlimited capacity
for evil in my subconscious depths-I know I am not a good man but this "I" who thinks he is aware of this still harbors somewhere
within "me" the thought that "I am good." In parts of myself, as in thinking of my past, I can say that "I" am bad, but the
"I" looking at those evil parts of my life which I condemn, this "I" looks at parts of myself which are also "I" and which
I objectify- What "I" see about "myself" in this way is only partial seeing, filled with the tension of subject-object dichotomy.
In Buddhist wisdom, praj˝a, the wisdom through which shinjin is established, subject
and object are brought into a unifying whole. What I am and what I think about myself is totally whole, totally complete.
There is an interpenetration of the subject (all that I see inwardly and outwardly in the world) with the object (all that
I am in being seen)-thus a simultaneous realization of interdependence and oneness. In this realization, subject and object
having become one, the tension of dichotomy is released. I am then able to see all things are objects and at the same time,
that all things are subjects. The self that is able to see that all things are subjects is "Great Self." From the perspective
of the Great Absolute Self, when we eat other life we see that we are killing our own life and descending into hell. The primary
focus of Buddhism is to waken to this basic contradiction of life: that we kill in order to survive. Some of us may have the
attitude: "we pay for it and therefore we may consume it." The Buddhist attitude however is that even the life of one egg
is equal in life value to that of my own life. In this attitude, the choice to take other life in order to survive is something
I can make based on my awareness of the equal value of all life. Originally, in India, the focus was on not taking the lives
of animals, but gradually this evolved to the stage where all things in existence were included into what is called life.
The realization developed that man in his egocentricity destroys all these in order to survive.
Man's historical process has shown that the world has developed in material ways
through his own ingenuity. He has employed science and technology but yet has not reached a point of security and happiness
through these developments. Thus it is important for us to look at life from the perspective of Buddhist wisdom, seeing that
all life is interrelated and has the same value as one's own life. "I" am included in all things as object and all things
are included in "me "as subject. The world and myself are not separated, not divided, not different, but share a natural oneness.
A Zen Master was once told by a student that he was afraid of death. The fearful
student asked whether there was a way to escape dying. The Zen Master's answer was, "When it comes time to die, it's okay
to die. This is the only way to escape death" (i.e., to avoid the fear of death). This reply was made from the standpoint
of non-ego: all things are interrelated. It is from this all-object viewpoint that flowers bud, blossom and die, that human
beings are born, live and die. All have the same weight, same value-so why the tears? All things have the same value as objects
in the natural world.
In the natural world of things-as-they-are, that which is true and real-life-is
not beautiful but stark, severe, awesome. How simple and yet how difficult to see that my being "me" is so in exactly the
way the rock is a rock, the tree is a tree, the flower is a flower. I am one with all of these and with the droplet of water
that as water can flow, can fall as rain, can freeze as steam or fog, be itself and yet at the same time be one drop in the
vast ocean or one infinitely small and changing component of a cloud passing an unseen horizon in the sky.
To live in the world of non-ego and at the same time to live in the world in which
all objects are equal as subjects is to live in the Buddha-world. The Buddhist sense of all-self means all things have an
equal value of life and are equal in value to my own life. This is the Shin Buddhist way of "seeing," the Buddhist wisdom
described by the Sanskrit word praj˝a.
Many years ago a Shin Buddhist layman, a man of shinjin named Genza, and his friend
Naoji, both in their eighties, be came ill. Naoji still had an unresolved problem and asked his daughter to take this to Genza.
This the daughter did, repeating to Genza her father's statement of his problem: "I am afraid to die!"
The answer sent back by Genza was, "Naoji, why don't you just die. It's okay to
die. I'm one with you." This is the attitude of non-ego, which is at the same time the way of the Great Self. It is an awareness
rooted in the activity of praj˝a- an activity called "awakening" or "realization."
Flowers bloom, wither, and die. Man is born, lives, and dies. This is how things
are. This is true and real. And it is in this profound dimension of existential reality that we concretely experience shinjin
as religious experience.
V. The Logic Of Prajna
Shakyamuni Buddha was the first to realize this way of looking at life through
the eye of wisdom, of Great-Self, of non-ego. In the subsequent history of Buddhism, the process of this realization took
two main streams: the monastic life in which meditation is central and the way of the ordinary lay person in which Nembutsu
In our everyday lives we tend not to see or think about things other than in terms
of a subject-object dichotomy, a separation of subject and object. Our assumption in this is that separation implies difference.
Only when the dichotomy is negated do we come to see that all subjects are objects, and all objects are subjects. In this
view, which is possible from the standpoint of Buddhist wisdom where all is subject (great mind or great self and all is object
(ego-less-ness, non-ego, without permanent substance), simultaneously all these are equal. Subject equals object. Object equals
and is the same as subject. Each is part of, and one with, the other. D.T. Suzuki expressed this as `A= not A.'
The level of dualism where the split of subject-object dichotomy occurs is the
level of samsara (illusion). It is when one is enabled to see from the eyes of the enlightened one that the split vanishes.
The illusion, which is samsara, is then perceived as in itself the same as enlightenment or oneness. In fact, it is often
said that in Buddhism, samsara is in itself nirvana, enlightenment. Buddhist wisdom (praj˝a) has this power and ability to
make two contradictory poles (such as `A' and 'not A'; samsara and nirvana) become as one.
Dr. D.T. Suzuki's `A' equals `not A' was devised as a formula to express this
activity that makes two contradictory poles able to be seen as one. However, it is a formula in which the `equals' is not
at all the usual simple kind. Samsara (`A') equals nirvana (`not A') when one is enabled to see with the eyes of the Buddha.
This is the `equals' of the dynamic experience of shinjin. The struggle in our lives is how to work through to become awakened
In this process of awakening, Shinran says the Buddha Dharma, the teaching, is
like a finger pointing to the moon. That moon is itself the world of shinjin. Do not mistake the finger for the moon! In other
words, do not mistake the teachings for reality itself. No matter how good a talk or a book may be, they are only like fingers
pointing to the moon, leading us to the moon. Ultimately, each of us must see the moon with our own eyes. Prajna, the dynamic
activity of shinjin, makes this possible.
In Mahayana Buddhism, the focus is on praj˝a, (which is a synonym for satori-enlightenment,)
and also on Prajna’s inseparable companion and component, karuna-compassion. It can be said that karuna has two aspects:
to mourn and to cry-not the cry that comes from a child but the cry of anguish that comes out of the activity of deep sorrow.
Buddhist wisdom has this aspect of the ability to see things as they are in this world, and at the same time to feel great
sorrow for our human condition-a sorrow expressed as Great Compassion.
In Shin Buddhism, the Pure Land (Jodo) is the realm from which the workings of
this compassion are manifested. The ceaseless activity of Great Compassion working throughout my life is a process like the
maturing of pearls in an oyster shell. Just as the oyster is taking in the piece of the shell that is part of him and yet
not part of him, so karuna (Great Compassion) is taking my life into its sorrowing embrace. We can say that as the oyster
in its own dynamism `cries' because it is painful to take in a foreign substance, so, as I am taken in and transformed by
Great Compassion, great sorrow is expressed at my human condition. In other words, the Buddha is always sensitive, crying,
moving to embrace me in the world of samsara, taking in and transforming me from a being of delusion into a being of enlightenment.
VI. Causes And Conditions
Vasubandhu, the second patriarch through whom Shinran traced the spiritual lineage
of Nembutsu teachings, was a fourth century Indian thinker who said there are two forms of faith. The first he described as
that of firm reliance on the Three Treasures: the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha. This, he says, is the threshold for the
second form which he called "true" faith, that of cittaprasada-the lucid, clear purity of mind brought about by the workings
Even when one views this in the natural way of common sense, there is apparent
here a process that works through from the starting point of the Three Treasures to the culmination of cittaprasada. In Shinran's
writings and teachings, we find this same basic approach. The starting point for Shinran is to encounter and believe in the
teaching, and to encounter and believe in the person who transmits that teaching. Both what is said, and who says it, must
become credible and totally dependable.
At Buddhist Study Center's summer session, every morning we chanted Shoshinge,
Shinran's Hymn of True Faith, which is a concise, simplified summary of his teachings. The first of its two parts brings out
the essence of Shakyamuni Buddha's teachings as expressed in the Larger Pure Land Sutra. Towards the end of this section there
is a line which says, "Believe in the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha. " The latter half of Shoshinge is a summary of Shin's
seven patriarchs (including Vasubandhu) from India, China, and Japan. The hymn gives the essence of their teachings, with
the refrain: "Believe only in the teachings of these seven patriarchs." In saying this, Shinran is not referring to the "true
faith" that is the awakening gained in cittaprasada but to the threshold of belief that, as Vasubandhu made clear, is the
starting point for the process that leads to cittaprasada.
What is important is that one begin at the starting point of the process-listening
to the teachings-in order to ultimately experience shinjin and oneself become part of its true meaning. To take off at this
starting point, to encounter the Nembutsu teaching in one's life, means that one meets the per son who manifests the teaching
in his or her own life. Such an encounter can come through direct listening to that teacher, or through "listening" by hearing
or reading the teacher's written words. In Tannisho, Yuienbo describes such a good teacher as a person "with whom our spiritual
destinies are bound." In Japanese, the word for this is zenchishiki, "a good friend of the way," a word, which connotes a
spiritual, guide and gives the importance of the personal dimension in Shinran's teachings.
Rennyo Shonin, a direct descendant of Shinran, was a great Shin Buddhist teacher
and leader of the fifteenth century. His experience of frustration in trying to transmit the teachings to those who literally
"did not like the Buddha" led him to develop the concept of "past good"-shukuzen-as being a cause-and-condition without which
he felt he could not sway even his wife to turn to the teachings. This condition is one of the doctrinal points, which has
led to much discussion among Shin Buddhist scholars over the years.
"Past good" does not mean past good but rather various conditions created for
us by parents, teachers, good friends who have made it possible for us to listen to the teachings and take them into our lives.
We ourselves, by ourselves, do not create good but rather one bumbling path after another. Shukuzen is different from Shinran's
term, shukugo-past karma. Past karma means to be able to see where one is now in relation to the past. Past good implies that
in one's past there exists some kind of condition that results in the effect of one's being able to listen and take in the
Shukuzen was the first of the five conditions Rennyo proposed as leading to birth
in the Buddha Land. The second was that one encounter a spiritual teacher, a "good friend of the way." A third condition is
komyo-the Buddha's Light, a symbolic expression for the teachings. The fourth is myogo, the Buddha's Name, Nembutsu. The fifth
To me this first condition of shukuzen is not a problem of any great importance.
I feel rather that in such an expression Rennyo sought to contrast those people with this condition, and those without. He
defined those with "past good" as those who have been able to truly hear the teachings. Out of his personal experience, in
his description of this as a cause-and-condition, he was primarily lamenting for those who cannot listen or who, if they do
listen, cannot experience shinjin. Conversely, for him, "past good" expressed a joy for those who can and do listen to the
teachings and take them into their lives. It must be emphasized that his awareness of this came from insight gained in his
trying to transmit the teachings and to interpret essential steps in the process leading to shinjin.
The important issue here is that there must be a starting point, that of stepping
onto and moving along the path of the Buddha's teachings. To quote Alan Watts, the American writer on Zen, the truth is something
that is there. You might stumble on it, but this is rare. A good teacher leads you to what by chance you might miss or mistake.
VII. Great Compassion
In Mahayana Buddhism, an underlying premise is that all beings have the potential,
which if nurtured properly, will blossom into enlightenment-Buddhahood. This universality of the potential for becoming Buddha
was understood as his subjective condition by the twentieth century myokonin, Saichi. "Amida's Vow is for me alone," wrote
Saichi. "Everyone will be saved because this Saichi is saved." This restatement of the underlying Mahayana premise is that
of a simple layman, but Saichi's deep understanding is that others who become aware that Amida's Vow is likewise for themselves
alone will also certainly be "saved"-that is, become Buddhas.
Fulfillment of this universal human potential for enlightenment is not a matter
of counting numbers but, as understood by Saichi, of internal awareness on the part of each individual. In Shin Buddhism,
"all beings have the potential of becoming Buddha" means that all beings in the universe are embraced and enfolded in the
Great Compassion of Amida Buddha.
If we look at the karma we create in our life, we really cannot become Buddhas.
The truth of our lives is that by our daily actions we sow the seeds that will cause us to fall into hell! The path for us
to attain Buddhahood is made by the Buddha's actions. This being so, the very act that this path is made available to us-isn't
this karuna, the Great Compassion of the Buddha?
The Sanskrit word karuna is translated in Chinese as Daihi, which can also be
literally translated in English as "Buddha's heart" For my own part; this conveys the essence of Great Compassion. The Buddha
is always sorrowful, crying for me. It is as if should his eyes be fully opened, all the tears would flow out, for he is focused
on me as a being falling into hell. To awaken to this reality-that this "I" am the being creating seeds to fall into hell-is
the experience of shinjin. Since Great Compassion is directed to this hell-bent fearsome heart of mine, how essential to nurture
the conditions by which I can awaken to the awesome reality of my true nature: my limitless potential for evil which in itself
is my "salvation. " It is not that I have created or can create the seeds of Buddhahood. If someone asked the question as
to whether I am creating merit through which I can attain Buddhahood, my honest answer would have to be in the negative. Our
deep-rooted evil is such that if the conditions are made possible, we don't know what we may do. Often, in reading of violence
or watching violence on television, I reflect that I, too, have the potential to kill.
Since Great Compassion is directed to our fearsome hell bent hearts, how essential
it is for us, on our part, to nurture the conditions by which we can become awakened to this reality that is ourselves. Thus
the importance of meeting a good teacher on the way, for no matter how profound a teaching or sutra may be, if it is not manifested
through such a person, its meaning is difficult to grasp.
Nargarjuna, an early teacher of Buddhism in India, and another of those whom Shinran
acknowledges as his patriarch in the lineage of Nembutsu teachings, says that to tread the Buddha Way is like crossing the
river. First you must enter the river and keep walking until you reach the other shore. Likewise, to walk the Buddha's path
one must enter and continue onward entrusting that this is the path of True and Real Life. In the person-to-person encounter
of those who listen to the Dharma, the belief in the teaching starts, is exchanged, or shared. After this entry, in order
to move along the Buddha path there must as well be the strong wish or desire to do so, in order that we can come to see what
the teacher we encounter is expressing in his or her life. Great effort is necessary to deepen our awareness of this process
and in Shin Buddhism, the crux of this effort is listening, an immediate, direct listening with one's heart, one's whole being.
Shinran says to listen to oneself, which is really difficult, for his meaning of "to listen" is to awaken to and manifest
shinjin in one's life.
Shinjin is not a speculation or thinking about things, but a joyful experience.
For us to meet through these words and mutually share and "listen" to the Dharma is one aspect of shinjin. The gradual awareness
that comes through the activity of the Buddha's Great Compassion grows through our listening to the Dharma not in conceptual
terms, but in terms of our own lives. It is a gradual awareness that, indeed, we are beings sowing seeds for our falling into
hell. It is this awareness that shows we are in the process of shinjin, and it is through this process true awakening becomes
"Nem" (or "nen") has a two-fold meaning. One is "to think of." The other is "to
recite" "Nembutsu," therefore means, "I think and I utter or call Amida's Name."
In the ordinary meaning, this would imply that the direction of the calling is
from me to the Buddha, but in the world of awakening to shinjin, there is a complete reversal. The direction is from Amida
to me! My saying of the Nembutsu is not merely my saying-it is at the same time Amidas Calling to me! Thus, Amida is not the
object I am calling but the subject who thinks of and calls me.
This is an analysis still within the realm of objective rational explanation.
It does not translate the personal experiencing of shinjin in one's life in which this other direction of the Nembutsu becomes
real. In order to experience this change of direction, to truly move into the world of shinjin, one must take the first step
into the world of listening to the Dharma. When this happens, I and the Dharma become of one essence, "of one body."
In Japanese, "of one body" is ittai rather than the word gattai, which means "combining."
"Of one body" (ittai) is not a unification where the identity of both are gone. It is the two coming together and still remaining
what they are. Gattai expresses the coming together of a husband and wife, ittai that of a parent and child. In terms of the
latter, a parent is not a parent without a child. There would be no children in this world without parents. Yet, these two
, although they are interdependent, have separate karmas. Unlike the gattai of marriage, which may end in divorce, there is
no split possible in the ittai of parent and child. No condition can alter that the parent is a parent, or that the child
is a child.
The Larger Sukhavati sutra relates that kalpas ago Amida made his original vow
not to become a Buddha until all beings everywhere are saved. Yet, in the same sutra, the statement is made that Amida has
already become a Buddha. This infers that his attainment of Buddhahood was possible only because all beings are already saved.
Amida is not yet a Buddha in the sense of his compassionate weeping for the salvation of all suffering beings. Yet, for many
who have died and are born in the Pure Land, he is Amida Buddha per se. But my Buddha and your Buddha are not yet the Buddha,
so the question is: what am I seeking in life? Is Amida Buddha my Buddha?
In the "of one body" sense expressed in the word ittai, Amida is increasingly,
unceasingly working to make his life one with you, one with me. Thus, although he is originally a Buddha, he is at the same
time not a Buddha because he is working for the salvation-the enlightenment-of each individual, for the deepest wish of each
one of us. It is in this sense that he is not yet a Buddha for you, for me.
How do we come to understand this unceasing working of the Buddha to make his
life one with yours, one with mine? This is an understanding that is a total apprehension of mind and body. It is for this
very reason Amida is shedding great tears for the sorrow I am in. When I experience this, it is the realization that becomes
the awakening to my human condition, to his compassion, to the world of what is true and real, all of which are so difficult
for me to realize that I am already a part.
It is in this way that my Nembutsu is Amida's calling out to me, and that Amida
and I are of one body, one essence, ittai Though Amida has become a Buddha in past time beyond our conception, as he works
for my salvation he has not yet fulfilled his becoming a Buddha. The logic here is again that of `A equals not A,' the logic
based on the wisdom of shinjin. This is the world of awakening in which the Nembutsu is uttered, the world that opens to us
as we tread the path of Shin Buddhism.
In my own life, my own process, I was past the age of forty before I could really
utter Nembutsu, before I myself could experience this world of Buddhist awakening. Yet, it was a process that went back to
my childhood, and my experience of having lost my mother at the age of thirteen. It was February when she died, a cold time
of the year. As she lay dying, she had said she wanted to see me. When I got home from school, my aunt took me to see her,
but her eyes were already closed. I called to her, tugged at her, but she died before me, and from her lips the Nembutsu flowed
at the moment of death. Her dying, and the experience of her death, made me think of life, so after the war, one of the big
motivating factors in my going to Kyoto to seek the meaning of Shinran was my mother's utterance of the Nembutsu as she lay
dying. In the dead end I reached at War's end, I was able to go to Kyoto because of this sad but powerful incident of my mother's
death still remaining a strong motivation for me. I went to Kyoto to seek the meaning of Shinran in the Nembutsu, impelled
by the love for my mother-rather than being drawn by the Nembutsu itself.
As she lay dying, I had called but she had not answered as I wanted desperately.
I wanted her at death to call my name and not the Buddha's name. In so many ways I felt alone, abandoned by my mother. Since
I'd entered elementary school she had been ill with tuberculosis and my recollections of her were of her illness. It was out
of my deep need of love for her and my loneliness for her, I was drawn to study the Nembutsu she had uttered as she died.
In Kyoto I entered Ryukoku University and began my studies of Shin Buddhism. Through
good teachers and students, I was encouraged to pursue my studies. After twenty years of study, at age forty, the Nembutsu
that I'd heard from my dying mother's lips took root in my life as I realized the passage in Tannisho, "In this world of impermanence
and burning house. Only the Nembutsu is true and real."
The fact that I had called my mother and that she didn't reply, made me think
that for the child what seems really true is the parent just as, for the parent, the child seems real. But the Tannisho, through
this passage, struck me with the realization that even this relationship is unreliable, impermanent, and that transcending
this vain and empty relationship is the Nembutsu. Now, reflecting back, I can see that the Nembutsu on my mother's lips as
she died showed this. In the end, the ultimate is to return to the Nembutsu. Thirty years after her death, twenty years after
I started studying, I was able to truly touch and be open to the Nembutsu.
IX. Where Is The Buddha?
In the preceding chapter, we saw that true Nembutsu comes from the direction of
the Buddha. When a small child asks, "Where is the Buddha?" either we point to the statue on the altar, or we pick up a flower,
and say that this flower expresses the life of the Buddha. Neither of these answers is wrong, but neither makes clear the
deeper implication that; even the Name, Amida Buddha, is but a symbol pointing to the True and Real Life flowing through our
existence. In terms of karma and Shinran's view of life, we create our own hell. In each of our hearts is all of hell itself.
But, at the very point where hell resides, this is where the Buddha resides. Yet, to say only "The Buddha is in my heart"
can mislead one in terms of the reality of his existence.
Dogen says we are already Buddhas and this is the reason we practice. In Shin
Buddhism, especially with children, we speak of the Buddha as being in the temple because in doing so we avoid misleading
the young who do not as yet practice bringing out the Buddha from within. As we mature, and begin to perceive the reality
of our existence, to see into the depths of our hell-bent hearts, in this inner world through the activity of praj˝a, the
negative and positive polarities of our life become one-It is only then that the reality of "where the Buddha is" becomes
our existential reality. In Japanese, this is referred to as the area of shinjitsu-truth, the truth, which is the foundation
In his writings, Shinran uses shinshin-"True Mind" interchangeably with shinjin.
Shin (meaning belief) and jin (mind and heart) is the same as, or equivalent to the two characters that each expresses a different
shin, that meaning "truth" and that meaning "mind and heart." To reiterate, Shinran's "faith," the shinjin of Shin Buddhism,
the point where the Buddha becomes my Buddha, is not a matter of relationship between the believer and what is believed in
but has a deeper dimension of the truth itself.
In the Smaller Sukhavati sutra there is the expression "coming together to meet
in one place," referring to the Pure Land. People who live in shinjin are always able to meet, truly able to meet each other
in this here and now. To be able to say "let's meet again" with this meaning is made possible by the power of truth, for the
essence of the life of the person of shinjin is rooted in this True and Real Life. I would like to live within this world
where such expressions are made possible to say to our loved ones, to say even to ourselves.
"Let's meet again," were the dying words of my father. Isn't this the kind of
expression, at my own dying moment, that I'd like to leave with those who love me? I thought of this again recently, at Berkeley,
when I met an elderly lady who was devout in the Nembutsu. She was an invalid, a stroke patient, eighty years old, living
alone. She brought a paper and brush and asked me to write something. I wrote, "Namu Amida Butsu. Let's meet again." She then
said, "I'll be waiting for you!"
I was deeply affected by these words coming out so innocently from her words that
came straight out of the dimension of reality itself. I feel it is Truth sustaining her, making these words come out of her
in a totally natural, non-contriving way. Such a woman does not need to ask, "Where is the Buddha?" She knows.
X. The Transformation Of Shinjin
In Buddhism as a whole, faith is cittaprasada, the pellucid and clear mind. As
we have seen, in Shin Buddhism, the particular word expressing this is shinjin, joyful faith. It is often said that cittaprasada
is like a flower opening up whereby one sees the Buddha. When one experiences this ultimate truth in one's life, one enters
"into the house of the Tathßgata," Thus shinjin equals Buddha-nature, things-as-they-are-of-themselves; and Tathßgata, one
who has come from Suchness.
Shinran speaks of awakening to shinjin through experiences of this ultimate truth.
The person of shinjin, although he is still a being creating karma that destines him for hell, has a true mind that results
in his already living in the Pure Land, for in the experience of shinjin, one receives truth. One receives the Buddha's life
into one's own life. It is in this way we say a new life is born to the person of shinjin. In essence, the old self dies and
a new self is born. The life I received through my parent’s dies and the life of Amida-my spiritual parent-takes over
my life. This is eloquently expressed in myokonin Saichi's description of experiencing shinjin. "My funeral is now over! "
By this he means that his life is now rooted in the Buddha's life. It is in this dimension that "let's meet again" becomes
Shomatsu, a myokonin who lived 150 years ago on the island of Shikoku, was returning
from a pilgrimage to Kyoto, when a violent storm came up, endangering the boat on which he was traveling. Shomatsu slept through
the storm. His worried friends finally found him asleep in the hold and shook him awake. When they did so, his first words
to them were: "Are we still in the world of illusion?" This kind of attitude comes only from the reality of living the life
of Suchness. How to attain this for my own life is the question.
Another myokonin, Oseki, a woman who also lived about 150 years ago, was spiritually
nurtured by a priest, Tokuryu. One day, as she was serving him tea, he asked, "How is your ojo? If you should die now, are
you ready to be born in the Pure Land?"
As she held out the tea to him she simply said, "Yes, Just like this. Just as
Tokuryu replied, "Oseki! Oseki! That's wonderful!"
Thus, in Shin Buddhism, in the experiencing of shinjin, our salvation is established,
a salvation one hundred per cent in this life. Nothing is withheld. Nothing is conditional. No thing is postponed until after
death. We have total assurance of our birth in the Buddha Land and that assurance is confirmed by the experience of shinjin
being accompanied by the experience of a new life, an utter transformation of oneself.
In that transformation, we simply live in truth as such. It is this kind of life-the
kind of life lived by Saichi and Oseki that Shinran taught and that his teachings make possible for each one of us. In order
to meet the Vow Power moving towards us, we need to be moving on the Buddha Path. Anyone can walk that path. And for the person
who does so, he or she must walk it personally, alone. Whether one awakens to this or not is the problem. Shinjin is not like
a ticket with which you reach your destination. Shinjin is the destination.
The person who has not awakened to shinjin is not saved. Ketsu-jo-the settled-ness
of shinjin implies that one "knows" from the deepest part of one's life, a "knowing" which is expressed from the body, for
in shinjin we receive truth as it is and simultaneously that truth becomes our salvation. Therefore, "birth into the Pure
Land at the moment of our death" means the Pure Land begins within this here and now in which we live. With regard to salvation,
Shinran doesn't talk about the kind of happiness you get after you die. His emphasis is solely on the experience of shinjin
in this life.
I don't really know about the after-life. While I live, there is nothing to be
concerned about except meeting the Buddha in my present life, encountering the teachings in my present life. What happens
to me after death? I feel I can leave that up to the Buddha.
When salvation takes root in our lives, whether the Pure Land is going to be there
at the end or not-all this we leave up to the Buddha to do what is best for us. This is the essence of faith that expresses
itself as Amida's faith in me being realized by me with tears of contrition and a smile of gratitude. The process of our life
and death occurs in the heart of the Buddha's life itself. To me, this is the meaning of being saved by the Buddha. It is
a salvation here and now, right this moment, in the present.
But then, if this is so, why didn't Shinran designate the person of faith as Buddha,
and this life as the Pure Land? Dogen, Nichiren, Eisai (founder of Rinzai Zen) all proclaim one does become a Buddha in this
life, and that one who is able to see with the eyes of the Buddha is already in the Pure Land. The reason Shinran did not
say this is because of his hardships, his struggles in life treading the Buddha path for nearly ninety years. Through his
experience, his perception of his own inner life was more truthful. He was honest in regard to his real existential condition.
Thus the stark severity of his teaching.
In Buddhist tradition, Shinran was one who focused on bonno, the defilements of
the body. The ego which is rooted in this body of ours, no matter how old we get, simply cannot be set aside, for it is rooted
in these defilements. It is because of this that Shinran came to the realization he was a common ordinary being, unable to
escape from his ego, which is rooted in his cravings and attachments. In Buddhism, human beings are not viewed as different
from other living beings. The word used in Japanese is shujo: shu meaning "many" or "numerous" and jo meaning "those with
consciousness. " The Sanskrit word for this is sattva. This is basically similar to, and yet different from Darwin's theory
of evolution. Scientific study looks objectively at the history of mankind through archeological finds. The Buddhist view
of shujo is not a reality objectively validated by science but an insight that within the depths of our hearts we lead a life
that corresponds to the most fearsome and repulsive of animals.
It was in this light that Shinran says, "My heart is like the scorpion and the
snake." Outwardly, we are human beings who control our lives moralistically and ethically, but deep within each of us is an
uncontrollable unconsciousness identical to the most savage primitive animals. Our ego-centered lives are rooted in such instincts
and urges. The deep truth is that we are all-out for ourselves.
As he came to realize this, Shinran saw himself as nothing great, a common ordinary
being, and so named himself Gu-toku-Ran, literally, Shinran, the foolish, bald-headed one. With his keen eyes seeing into
the depths of his own heart, Shinran was aware he was embraced in the compassion of the Buddha even as he was creating his
own karmic hell. Yet he could also see that embraced as he was, he was not a Buddha and that his world was not the Pure Land.
My thoughts are that Shinran had to carry a burden of worry and sorrow to the moment of his death-the effect of karma in his
life. At his death, he was born into the Pure Land. This is my imagining, my opinion as I reflect on Shinran's death at the
age of eighty-nine.
XI. Other Power
Deeply connected to the "True Mind" is tariki, often translated as "Other-Power."
Even those outside Shin Buddhism know this term, but there is much misconception as to its real meaning.
Tariki is that which enables me to see that my bonno stuffed mind and "True Mind"
are interrelated in the same way as the interrelatedness of there being no shadow without light, no light without shadow.
Thus the more Shinran encountered the light of shinjin in his life; the more he was able to see the darkness of himself.
What he came to understand as not his, but a gift given to him, was this realization
that he is a being who cannot hear Amida, cannot hear the Dharma, is falling into hell. His receiving of this gift is what
Shinran calls the shinjin of Other-Power. What is "not of me" really is already here. I don't have "True Mind" and yet it
is part of me and I am part of it. In expressing his awakening to this, Shinran says, "There is no thought that penetrates
it completely, no words that express it fully. " In other words, surprise, surprise! It’s inconceivable!
The shocking astonishment of experiencing this gift of what was not here, and
yet has always been here, and is now here, is-literally-"no-root shinjin."
When we meet the Buddha here and now in this experience there are no roots of
bonno in this gift that is given me although having received it I am still a person rooted in bonno But when I have received
this gift that was always there, my ego-centered life is no longer the focus. My focus now becomes non-ego centered life.
Tariki no shinjin does not mean, "believing in the Other Power." Shinjin is itself
the Other Power. To clearly awaken to and experience the world of Nembutsu is to realize that everything we have is given
to us. From our side all is received - even the awakening itself is not mine, is given to me, is in itself Other Power.
In regards to this gift of shinjin given by the Buddha and received by us, Shinran
urges that we seek it out wholeheartedly. There is, in his letters to his followers after he left Mito-Kanto and returned
to Kyoto, a constant admonition to raise the wish to live so as to become Buddhas. Unless this wish emerges in our life, shinjin
will not be realized by us.
There is a saying at the end of the Larger Sukhavati Sutra: "Though fires may
envelop the totality of our universe, we must transcend it, work through it, and listen to the Dharma." Again, "We must pass
through this universal world of fire and listen to the teachings." Shinran reiterates this, emphasizing that we must pass
through the fires of blind passion that envelop the universe to listen to the Buddha's Name.
Shinjin is the wholehearted giving of the Buddha to me, but to fully receive this,
I too must fully seek the meaning of my existence. There is no 50-50 here, no halfway potential either in the seeking or the
receiving of the shinjin, which is Other Power. Shin Buddhism is often called the "Easy Way," but it is easy only once you
have gotten there! "Easy Way" refers to the way possible for everyday people, in contrast to the "difficult" path of sages,
which is the fulltime dedication of the monks.
In some sense, no matter which way is followed, the Buddha path is "all easy."
In some sense, it is "all difficult." What is essential is a total commitment. Shinran constantly stated how truly difficult
is this "easy way" of the Nembutsu path that is open to all-lay people, priests, everybody. In the Shoshinge he repeats, "Of
all the difficulties none is more difficult that this."
The point of total commitment is that if you want to truly become Buddhas, the
possibility for this awakening becomes more real. In Shin Buddhism we talk about cho-mon, "Listening to the Dharma," as the
essence of this commitment. "Listening to the Dharma" means listening to oneself, "listening deeply to what is happening to
oneself." In Shin Buddhism, "to listen" means "to listen to what one is truly about."
Dogen says: "to study the Buddha's Dharma is to study oneself." To study oneself
is to forget-or throw away-oneself, to have that ego-self crushed so it is no longer the center, the focus of one's total
thrust in life. When I listen to the teachings, and I find my ego-self being taken away, then I know I am beginning to truly
listen to the Dharma. If I listen simply to accumulate knowledge, it is like putting on the clothes I wear. This kind of listening
manipulates or uses the Dharma for my own convenience. This is not truly listening.
I do not listen to become "good." I do not listen to make possible my entrance
to Pure Land. I do not listen in order to die better or to live better. These kinds of listening all approach the teaching
from my own hakarai or self-centered calculation. To really listen means the ego-self which is doing the contriving is taken
away from me, is no longer my focus, and is replaced by something True and Real which offers me really nothing beyond the
affirmation of life itself.
For example, if I take home what I hear at a lecture or sermon or study class,
it will become my crutch. Whatever crutch I have-I must leave it at the session, including what I think I am listening to
and hearing about Nembutsu. I, in my daily life, have my own treasure chest. Whatever treasures I cling to, as I listen, whatever
I think I possess-throw it away! My pride, my impression that listening more will become the seeds of my happiness, the belief
in my being different or better in the future, cast it away! When I so strip myself, all that is left is my bonno. There,
as I am-that is how Amida affirms and grasps me. I myself, who am totally incapable of anything but selfish calculation, ego
inflation, ego gratification.
What is this "something" that accepts me as I am, that moves me to an illumination
of the naked reality of myself, that brings me to another focus-myself and yet far greater, far more incomprehensible than
myself It is tariki, Other Power, the awakening of shinjin, the experience that through the Nembutsu I come to know the unreliability
of everything I bank on. I constantly live on the razor's edge, constantly create the karmic seeds that destine me to hell.
To truly listen means to cast this aside-to leave it all here, now-to throw away what I am grasping in my life because, ultimately,
I have nothing to take with me into my death.
This listening is not simply a matter of listening with my right ear but of listening
with a sense of having the very foundations of my being shaken. For example, when the Apollo satellite shot into space, the
news of the resonating through the world caused me to reflect on the return of the spaceship, which had to come in at a certain
angle, otherwise the ship would bounce off the earth's atmosphere. There was no second chance. He had to come at the right
angle, and not too steep an angle or otherwise he would burn up in the descent. This is the condition of our way of listening
to the teaching. We can bounce back into egocentricity. We can burn out in too steep angle of descent. The approach of our
direction to the Pure Land, to the awakening through our listening over and over and meeting various teachers is like that
return of the spaceship. We must constantly correct the angle of our listening so we really listen and so that we really encounter
the awakening of shinjin.
XIII. The Finger and The Moon
One aspect of tariki, Other Power, is paratantra-a Sanskrit term, which translates
literally as "through or in relation ships or in conditions, things occur, rise or emerge." For example, I went to the summer
session in Honolulu not solely on my own volition or calculation but because of the conditions maturing in my life that made
it possible for me to go there. We exist in relationships, in conditions from which things emerge. Thus, as another example,
I am here on this earth through the existential cause of my parents bringing me to life. This example brings us to an examination
of the second aspect of tariki. `To rely, depend on, entrust others."
As Other Power moves into my life, I become object as well as subject. The un-reliabilities
and unreality of my everyday life become part of reality. This is the awareness that comes about through Other Power. To throw
away the focus of my ego is an inexhaustible process. The dynamic of Amida in this process is the non-judgmental, non-discriminating,
unconditional embrace of the ego I cannot throw away.
To "throw it away" means throw away your ego-focus so you can see your real relationship
with your husband, your wife, your children, your parents, so you can begin to understand your life, yourself. This is the
illumination of wisdom and compassion.
Experientially, the natural movement of shinjin is to move outward toward others.
In the case of Shakyamuni’s enlightenment at age thirty-five, for a week afterward he sat in contemplation before his
decision to share and express his experience. Shinran's was a similar experience of being moved to share. Even in old age
he wrote, "I cannot see any more and I have forgotten many things," but he continued to write to his disciples, to share with
them his thoughts on his shinjin experience. This sharing of religious experience is not exclusively Buddhist. It is a universal
movement in religions.
In Shin Buddhism, to be able to listen, study, learn from the teachings, all comes
from the predecessors who gave their full life to extend their shinjin experience and express it so that I, centuries later,
could understand. There is, however, a gap between the original religious experience and its expression-whether that expression
be in music, art, or words. For example, the sutras were developed 2,000 years ago in the Northwestern areas of India. They
state that there are flowers and birds in the Pure Land, and that the Pure Land is in the west. This kind of content developed
within the stream of mankind's history, as molded 2,000 years ago within the context of Indian life.
Similarly, we must not forget that Shinran's writings were developed within the
environment of the experiences of the Kamakura period. The historical and societal aspects of Shakyamuni’s time, and
of Shinran's, were each woven in their own way into their expression of the teachings. Shinran's fundamental religious experience
of shinjin, however, transcends his historical and societal environment, as likewise Shakyamuni’s religious experience
of enlightenment transcends his societal environment. Each expresses the ultimate in words that are naturally conditioned
by the very different times in which each lived.
For both, the expression of the experience came directly from the pure religious
experience itself, but between the experience and its expression in language or written words, there exists a gap, which Shinran
described as being between the finger and the moon. Thus his admonition not to mistake the pointing finger of the teachings
for the moon of Dharma, the pure religious experience itself.
XIV. Symbolism and Paradox
There are, in this perspective of "the finger pointing to the moon" two aspects
I should now like to discuss. One is that of symbolism. The other is that of logic-the Buddhist logic based on paradox or
contradiction. `A' equals `not A' which I found in many of Shinran's writings.
The area of symbolism, and the problems in that area, deal with what Shakyamuni
and Shinran encounter when they try to communicate their experience to those who have not had it. Symbolism then becomes the
vehicle for trying to express their experience as one might try to express the pain of a toothache to one who has never had
an aching tooth.
Or, for example, I am given a pencil, which belonged to a dear friend who had
died. For me, the pencil, which may have been a cheap one in price, is cherished because it symbolizes the depth of my friendship,
the memories of my friend and all he meant to me. This particular pencil thus in itself carries deep meaning, and to simply
replace it with other pencils, other similar objects, does not carry the meaning that lies beyond that object and which that
object expresses to me.
Myogo, the technical expression for the six characters Namu-Amida-Butsu can be
placed in the category of symbols. Symbols communicate the depth of religious experience to those who have not yet experienced
the world of ultimate reality. This communication comes through the use as symbols of that which is found in daily life. For
example, the symbolism of the Pure Land as birds and flowers is symbolism used in the sutras to affirm what is in this world
and yet beyond it. Cool streams, birds, flowers and trees express and affirm some thing simultaneously of this world but there
is, at the same time in this symbolism, a logic that negates a purely literal understanding of these things.
The name of Amida Buddha comes from the Sanskrit, Amitabha and Amitayus. Amita
means "that which is limitless Abha means "light" and ayus means "life," thus the meaning-"the one with limitless light and
life." This expression is inconceivable! What is the light that has no bounds and yet is light that can be realized because
of the contrasting conditions of darkness? What is limitless life? Can we realize the symbolic meaning of such a phrase? Only
when our conditions as we understand them are negated, then in this contradiction offered by the expression "limitless life
and light" can we begin to understand the direction in which the finger of the teachings is pointing.
To entrust one's life in Amida, we must realize that the real Buddha lies beyond
the symbol of Amida. We must encounter that experience! We can't walk around clinging to the symbol as if it were the Buddha
itself. We must go beyond the symbol, just as in the sutras we go beyond the symbols of cooling water, cooling wind, which
were used to give a contrast to the hot harsh reality of the Indian climate. In terms of the natural conditions of that environment,
such symbols took the mind to an experience beyond the limits of one's own actual experience, pointing beyond their literal
meaning, like a finger pointing to the moon.
To the question, "Where is Amida Buddha?" the sutra gives an answer in two ways.
Amida Buddha and his land, viewed from here, is far, far away. But, also, in order to get from here to Amida is "not far."
He is right here! His being at the same time both right here and infinite Buddha worlds away is an expression of Buddhist
logic. This is the same mind transforming logic woven into Shinran's expression of his experience of "awakening," the paradox
there being that Shinran -the very person creating karma that carries him along on a fall into hell-is able to experience
The problems of symbolism and paradox come from the meaning received from them
by this "I" who have not yet awakened to pure religious experience. Thus the difficulty with language, words, expressions.
These two problems: symbol and paradox, are encountered in Shin Buddhist teachings. How to get through them to experience
the truth is my problem, your problem. It is not good enough to grasp the finger as if the finger were the moon itself.
Since Shinran, who lived eight hundred years ago, used the words and symbols of
his own century to express his experience, there may be a gap in our understanding of some of the words and symbols he used.
In spite of this, shining through those words and symbols, bridging the gap in time and societal conditions, is the totality
of his commitment. His touching of my human reality makes the "finger" of his teachings beckon and touches me, extend the
moon of the experience, which Shinran had as potential for me, too.
It is this experience that Shinran was trying to express in his teachings, and
through his writings, that we deal with today. Through the direction of the symbols and paradox of his "finger pointing to
the moon," we too may have Shinran's original pure experience of shinjin. For this reason, the study of Shin Buddhism must
be with one's mind and with one's body, a total integration of the understanding of our mind into our experience.
XV. Tasting the Dharma
The word sutra originally meant "that which is strung together on a string," which
in a literal sense describes the collections of the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha, transmitted orally for some three hundred
years before being written down in the form we know today. It is of course likely that over such a long period of oral transmission,
the content of the sutras was transformed.
The teachings dealing with Amida Buddha that evolved during this period were gathered
into three sutras, of which the major is the Larger Sukhavati Pure Land Sutra. In it are presented various aspects of the
teachings concerning Amida-his Original Vow, his many Vows, and a description of his Pure Land. Other sutras also talk about
laypersons becoming Buddhas, but in this sutra there is an emphasis on telling lay people how they can become Buddhas,
The other two collections dealing with Amida Buddha the Meditation and Amida Sutras-can
be regarded as supplementary to the Larger Sukhavati Sutra. It is this Larger Sutra that during a period of 2,000 years moved
in its development from India, through China, Korea, and into Japan. Shinran taught that for those who lead an everyday existence
in this world, this is the fundamental sutra.
In a previous chapter we discussed two contradictory statements made in the Larger
Sukhavati sutra: Amida Buddha is far, far away-and, Amida Buddha is right here! We cannot grasp Amida with our senses, our
touch, our vision. In that sense, Amida is far, far away. Yet, he is always with us, surrounding us, grasping us. How do we
unify these contradictions in our experience of shinjin?
Osono, a myokonin in the countryside of Nagoya, lived in an area heavily influenced
by both Shin Buddhism and Zen. Near her village lived a young Zen master. Osono had the reputation of being a devout Shin
Buddhist, but the Zen master felt that because of his training he must be deeper in his understanding. One day he went to
see Osono and asked her, "What is the name of the Buddha you are worshiping?"
Osono answered, "Amida Buddha."
The Zen master then asked, "Where is that Amida Buddha?"
Osono answered, "My oyo-sama (spiritual parent) Amida is far, far away in the
"Ah, your oyo-sama is really far away, isn't he?" said the Zen master.
"Oh, no!" said Osono. "Though Amida is faraway, right now at this moment, he is
out of the Pure Land in the West."
This answer surprised the Zen master. "If Amida is out, where is Amida now?"
Osono broke into a smile. "Oh, Master, you ask good questions! Amida is right
here! Right here! Namu Amida Butsu!"
Later, the Zen master told his friends that Osono was deep in her expression of
the Buddha Way. "Even I could not reply as spontaneously as this illiterate old country woman!" he exclaimed.
For Osono, the contradiction of Amida being far away and "out" visiting right
there in her heart, was fully integrated as a whole into her life. When we listen to the teachings, the symbolism and apparent
paradoxes must in the same way be integrated into the depths of our own life. Otherwise we cannot say, "I am truly listening,
truly hearing. "
In Chinese there is an expression (homi), which means the "flavor of the Dharma."
In Japanese, Buddhists often say, "Aji o miru - to see the flavor." To study Shin Buddhism and to experience the Dharma in
one's everyday existence is to "taste" the teachings with one's whole being. Shinran used the word jin-shin profound heart
and mind-as a synonym for shinjin. The symbols of Amida and Pure Land, the logic of paradox and contradiction, are to be "tasted"
in this way.
XVI. Change and Growth in Shinjin
Shinjin is something that grows. It is the awakening to a new dimension of existence,
an awakening in which there is change and growth. This is not a change or growth of objective knowing, which is dualistic,
but that of the subjective knowing of praj˝a in which subject and object become one.
No matter how strong we may become intellectually, that strength does not necessarily
mean we have grown or become changed in an affective way. We may, however, be quite uneducated and out of our capacity to
love and to be touched there can come such an inner transformation, For example, when we subjectively understand our parents'
love and their suffering for us, and we feel gratitude, our heart changes in a subtle way. Another example: intellectually,
though we may have been listening to the Dharma for a long time, we have not been really moved. It is only when we become
genuinely touched in our hearts by the Buddha Dharma that we grow and change in shinjin, that we awaken to this reality and
experience the transformation Shinran described as "to die to oneself and to be born anew to the life of the Buddha." To experience
shinjin means to become a person assured of Buddhahood. This also has that sense of growth and change in my life.
To meet the Dharma itself is to be nurtured, to grow, because it is something
we receive, a transformation that comes to us naturally, spontaneously. In Kyoto there is a women's college founded by Wariko
Kai, who died a few years ago at the age of ninety. She said, "After listening to Shin Buddhism, my life and I have changed.
Because of the Nembutsu I was transformed and changed as a human being. This, to me, is due to Amida Buddha."
It is truly difficult for us to change since we are constantly creating karmic
evil, which destines us for hell. Yet, I constantly meet the Buddha just as I am. This change of waking up to my reality is
a great transformation that occurs through my awakening itself-not from any change coming from me but from Sodatsu "leaving
it up to the power of sustenance itself." Sodatsu means "to grow, to nurture" and thus its meaning in a religious sense that
through listening, a person grows and develops. This process is also expressed as ten-jo, "to turn, to revolve, to become."
It is not a straight-line change. Our solid core of bonno, which we carry just as it is, is turned about and ultimately transformed
into Buddhahood by Amida's power.
A century ago, a famous Shin scholar was visited by an old woman whom he asked,
"Did you bring me any gifts?"
"No," she answered, "I decided to come so suddenly I didn't bring anything."
"You must have something with you! " he pursued. "Give me that something!"
"No. I'm sorry. I have no money, nothing like that to give you."
"Ah!" he said. "But you have your bonno! Leave some of it here!"
"No, no! " said the old woman. "If I give you my bonno, then I don't have anything
to go to the Pure Land with!"
This is the essence of shinjin, expressed with direct simplicity. The old woman
well realized that to be saved by the Buddha is to realize that her only direction is hell, but moving in that direction which
is created by her evil karma, her bonno, she has become the being destined for the Pure Land, the being through whom Amida's
Vow is again being fulfilled.
In a number of his poems, Shinran uses the metaphor of bonno being like ice, which
the power of the Buddha melts into water. I, who am full of the ice of bonno, am embraced and enveloped in the warmth of the
Buddha's compassion. Beginning to melt in this awakening, yet full of karmic evil as I still am, having "died" to my old self,
my new life becomes intimately connected to the life of the Buddha. I am not yet a Buddha, but I am being led to Buddhahood.
Shinran states: "The person of shinjin is equal to the Buddha, but not the Buddha. " This is a delicate point, one to taste,
to settle into.
How astonishing this process! The more our defilements, the more we are sustained
by the Buddha. I ask you, please integrate this into the depths of your life, not on the surface of your existence!
XVII. Buddhist Salvation
The Larger Sukhavati sutra expresses salvation within the Nembutsu as "each and
every person stands tranquilly, peacefully'-that is, everyone is okay living tranquilly in the present as such. The late Professor
Soga of Ohtani University was once asked by his students, "What is the nature of salvation in Jodo Shinshu?" His reply, after
a moment's pause, was "Salvation is just like this, just the way I am standing here. Just like this." This is "tranquilly,
peacefully standing right here in the present, in the here and now."
To die to one's old self, to be born to the new self, is "just like this." My
new life is centered in Amida's life. I too become an active part of compassion. To be saved by the Buddha means no matter
what the circumstance of my life, I am able to stand in that circumstance tranquilly, and at peace.
In the various religions there are generally two types of salvation offered. In
the first, not the self but the environment and society become the problem. The changing of these becomes the focus of being
"saved"-not my personal questioning and problems but the surroundings of my physical and societal environment. For example,
when we become ill, or our work experience is one of failure, or we have family problems-any and all of these affect our surroundings
so that many resort to supplicatory prayers to alleviate these problems. Salvation is equated with some answer to this prayer
perceived as having taken place. Such a kind of prayer for relief to a god who is seen as a divine intervener, a controller
of destiny, is an ancient human dependence. This literature of cure and change through supplicatory prayer ranges from ancient
primitive societies to modern religions.
The second general type of salvation stands in sharp contrast to such a focus
on miraculous change in one's condition. It is not simply an alteration or cure of surroundings but instead goes deeply into
the personal dimension, the inner environment, seeking out a change in one's personal life. This second kind of salvation
in itself divides into two differing kinds. In the first, there is acknowledged a supreme being, a god that controls one's
destiny, judges, and punishes or for gives. In the second, which is the salvation of Shin Buddhism, the "just like this, standing
peacefully tranquilly here and now in the present" of Professor Soga is the salvation of the Nembutsu,
Salvation in terms of a supreme being perceived as the controller of one's destiny
is acutely illustrated by an incident that happened in my village when a motorcycle rider fell from a high place and so injured
his leg that he was told amputation was necessary. After this was done, and he had to walk with a crutch, he began to contemplate
suicide because of his condition. While in this despair, he was encouraged to join a religion and after going into that religion,
his life changed. The response of this religion to him was: "the accident you were in was so severe that you were supposed
to lose two legs, but because of God 's intervention you lost only one and should therefore be grateful for this one leg you
have left." The accident victim was finally able to believe this explanation was right and by accepting this, he experienced
the salvation of that religion in his life.
In this example there is a personal change in his life-no miraculous cure, his
leg is still gone-but his acceptance of it on the terms of that religion is very different from the personal change that occurs
in the salvation of Shin Buddhism. In Shin, personal change does occur, but a personal change of a very different nature.
There is not a change in terms of stopping crying over the loss of one leg to experience happiness over still having the other
leg. Rather, it is a change that occurs at a deeper dimension in life. If I were that amputee, I would find it difficult to
be grateful for the loss of that leg. I would carry that loss in my memory as pain and sorrow at my suffering. To be able
to accept my suffering tranquilly as such in my life, to stand peacefully with all that burden of pain and suffering is the
inner change, the salvation of Shin Buddhism.
No matter what the condition of our daily life-if we face that condition directly,
not running away from it but moving forward in our life, we transcend suffering and in this transcendence, we tranquilly peacefully
stand right here in the present no matter what the circumstances of our life.
The three Chinese characters meaning salvation are expressed in Japanese by the
words tasuku, sukui and wataru. Tasuku designates strength. The ideograph is one box placed on another, so that power is supplemented,
as for example, in illness when you add medical power so that the illness is cured and you are "saved." In sukui the left
portion of the character symbolizes a water bag tied at the top. The character at the right denotes action, or movement. An
illustration of this would be a sense of stopping-you move something to stop something as, for example, when you pour water
on a fire, the fire stops.
The third, wataru, is Buddhism and Shinran's type of salvation. The ideograph
illustrates the span of a hand, which was the original Chinese form of measurement across an area *a movement step-by-step
like an inchworm. It is this sense of crossing step by step that is the sense of salvation in Shin Buddhism. In Sanskrit,
uttarana means "crossing over." It was from this word that the Chinese sai-do and from it the Japanese wataru were derived.
Since the basic meaning of salvation in Buddhism is "crossing over," the use of the English word "salvation" may present a
problem, for this "crossing over" of Buddhism does not mean we get to our destination immediately, but implies there is something
we must cross over and that there is something that pulls us over. In Shin Buddhism we "cross over" pulled by the Nembutsu
and the multitudinous obstacles and suffering in our life. In terms of this, each person must be able to be centered at the
point where he is. By receiving the new life of the Buddha, which makes our basis tranquil and strong, we can truly grow and
cross over. We are nurtured, developed, sustained, enabled to cross over, to stand tranquilly in the breath-to-breath circumstances
of our life.
Shinran explained salvation by the word osho, our being enabled to move straight
forward in our life toward Buddhahood. The technical term for this is "lateral transcendence." Something inconceivable, beyond
our reasoning-a transcendence made possible by the Buddha's power.
In the first line of Kyogyoshinsho, Shinran says that in the Nembutsu teaching
we are able "to cross over the ocean that is difficult to cross." That ocean is his symbolism for the existential suffering
in our life. In Shin Buddhism, "moving straight forward in our life towards Buddhahood" holds the meaning that in saying the
Nembutsu, and in living it in our existence, through the power of Amida we are made to "cross over" our sufferings, to stand
moment by moment bearing that burden tranquilly in the present.
XVIII. The Problem of Death
The symbolism of "crossing the ocean that is difficult to cross" poses a critical
question. On the "other shore" of this ocean of life is death. The critical question in Shin Buddhism is: have you resolved
the direction in which you are moving in terms of your own death?
Death is the problem that surrounds the very being who is going to die: the "myself"
who thinks about the problem will one day or one night-how or when I cannot know-experience that problem as my terminal conscious
awareness. Only humans can be conscious of their death. We are probably the only species that can be aware of our last moments.
How has man throughout the ages viewed death?
First is the focus of how to escape from death. Hospitals in Japan have no room
numbered "4" because the character for shi-"4-"-has the same pronunciation as that of the character for "death." There is
at the basis of mankind's view of death this kind of aversion to reminders of it, and a wish to be able to escape it. Last
year in California I read a news commentary written by a mother: "I don't want to show my child the sight of a funeral because
it will create dark images in its mind and be psychologically damaging."
Intuitively speaking, my first reaction is that this expresses the fact she herself
is escaping from death. Many people today look upon death as a dark intruder in life, an intruder that we wish to escape.
This is a very shallow viewing of life. Is keeping the child from funerals truly educating the child himself? Why not teach
him that one day all beings must die, even his own parents.
The Chinese word for "forgetting" is composed of two characters, one meaning,
"to lose" and the other "heart and mind." Today we "forget" this dimension of death. How often do we reflect on the problem
death poses us: that there is no guarantee there may be a tomorrow for our husband, wife, children, our self, We keep that
at a distance, thus losing a problem that, essentially, we ought to reflect upon within our heart. Forgetting, being busy,
are forms of escaping from reflecting on this great problem of death-a problem we cannot escape since eventually each of us
must die our own death.
Another attitude is: "If I have to die anyway, then I'll leave some kind of substitute
for myself here in this life." For example, even if I should die-whether it's my writings, my own children, my grandchildren,
or something I've built, all these give me an illusion of immortality to which I can cling. In Japan there is a new custom
becoming quite popular in this respect. The living person tries to select a beautiful gravestone for himself before he dies.
In America, there are beautiful "pre-need" gravesites you can choose now. If you think you are going to be under such a site,
isn't your heart eased a little? People say, "Now I have completed my house I will go ahead and build myself a grave site."
In Japan, department stores even have sales on gravesites! Does this really become a resolution to one's death? To a friend
who offered to build the dying Shomatsu a fine gravesite, myokonin Shomatsu said, "No thank you! I won't be living there."
From ancient times another form of escape from death has been the view of reincarnation.
This is an escape, which says since we're going to be born into this life again death should not be feared. In the pyramids
of Egypt were many mummies, a physical preservation that was the result of a belief that at death, the soul leaves the body,
wanders, but needs a body to which it can return. This is a simple way of viewing reincarnation and a kind of belief that
persisted strongly in the past.
The fourth attitude towards death is that of transmigration into another kind
of world, another kind of life, and therefore, again, a reason not to fear death. In the east, this view of transmigration
is prevalent. The hope is that man can be born again to another life as a human being, but perhaps also as an animal. In Shin
Buddhism, the salvation that occurs in shinjin affects our birth into the Pure Land, but we do not go to be born in a Pure
Land because it exists as another world, another life. To be born into the Pure Land is not to posit a Pure Land, which is
in the distance. When I die, the very point at which my death occurs: that is the Pure Land. It is not a place, not another
Rennyo Shonin, the great fifteenth-century Shin Buddhist leader, emphasized "the
great matter of the after-life. " This focus on after-life is not on talking about what happens after you die, but on your
crossing the ocean of this life. To bring the consciousness of death into the great matter of the after-life is the major
thrust of Shin Buddhism. When we look at death it is very dark, but when we look at it-we are carrying so much baggage. We
don't know when, but we must cross over and in our daily life, things such as health, money, inheritances, can all seem to
be aids. We can fool others as well as ourselves by our blind attachment to these things. Yet crossing over becomes clear
only when we are stripped to the very being we were when we came into this world. If I bring the problem of my own death into
focus right now-whether I am sustained, focused, whether I am saved or not should become clear to me.
In Japan, the general mode for cancer patients is that most doctors do not let
the patients know they are terminal. In the United States, they are told, and the doctors and nurses are much involved in
the battle the patient wages against the disease. If this happened in my life, how would I cope? Before it happens, while
we are still healthy, this is a problem we ought to think about. For those who live in shinjin, how do they respond to the
problem of their own death? In the process of working this through, where one stands in one's faith will become much clearer.
In my own life, at age thirteen, my home life was filled with darkness due to
the death of my mother and grandmother, the illness of my brother, and my negative reaction to my father's remarriage. A few
years later my brother died. I myself was so sickly it was predicted I would not live to age twenty. My family life was engulfed
in a kind of personal darkness, a dark confusion. I ran away from home several times in my negative reaction to my father
and stepmother. I entered college in 1945 but was soon drafted and at the end of June of 1945 was sent to Hokkaido. Within
a month the war ended and I went back to school-again it was a very confusing time not only in terms of my personal life but
how I felt about my allegiance to my country as well.
At the end of the following year I transferred to Kyoto to study Shin Buddhism
and in the search to find some kind of personal stability, I met my teacher, Professor Tada. It was about a year after my
transfer that I came across the Meditation Sutra and the story of Ajatashatru, the young king of Rajagriha who murdered his
father and tried to also kill his own mother. I was truly struck by this story, by the weight of karma piled by Ajatashatru’s
acts, an awful weight and yet one that led him to seek the teachings of the Buddha and caused him to be saved. Then, during
my twenty-first year, one night during autumn I was struck by the Nembutsu in my life. It was an experience I cannot forget,
At that time, I wrote a long letter to my father and my stepmother. This was truly an awakening to me-to be touched by the
Dharma and to begin to see myself. From that experience I feel my life changed-a change within me, coming through my family,
through my stepmother, through my young sister and brother, a change coming through Professor Tada, my teacher who, years
afterward, gave me a profound teaching in the way he resolved the problem of his own death.
Shortly before Professor Tada died at age seventy-five, the doctor told Mrs. Tada
that her husband had only a few days left to live. When the doctor left, Professor Tada asked her, "What did the doctor tell
you? If there's something that needs to be known, let me know completely!"
"Death is close at hand," she replied.
"Is that right!" said Professor Tada. "I guess I can just let go of everything
now"-and he died soon thereafter.
To be able to accept in terms of "I guess I can let go of everything now" was
his way of accepting the moment, but his accepting was also due to his wife's being able to freely open the truth of his condition
to him. There is much to learn from the attitude of Mrs. Tada being able to tell her husband so directly what his condition
really was. All of us are humans involved in relationships, which are not easy to yield to death, but when death comes-can
we speak our heart openly? Can we relay whatever direct information needs to be relayed as such? With the Tadas, the relationship
was such as to indicate the depth of Professor Tada's faith, and that of his wife. When we think of our own death, we suffer
our own suffering, but at the same time there is much suffering by those who love US: family, friends.
We describe shinjin as an experience of awakening but at the same time it is an
experience of shinjitsu - t rue mind and heart in our life, In this dimension of the truth of shinjin is the receiving of
the Buddha's life in our life. In this receiving, our birth in the Pure Land is assured. We are one with the Buddha. If so,
and we understand shinjin in such a way, there is always a way to transcend death, to cross over death, to be enabled, like
Professor Tada. to "just let. go of everything here." Shinjin means to experience truth as it is-that we be come one with
Amida in this here and now which means the Buddha always sustains this hellish ego world which we create.
So when you die, simply die. It's okay to die. At that point is the Pure Land.
XIX. The Pure Land
There are two aspects of ojo, a word that means "birth to a new life." The first
aspect is that in this very life we live, we experience birth to a new life in the experience of shinjin. The second aspect
is that of birth in the Pure Land at the moment of death. Over and over in his writings Shinran repeats: "Life is very short.
I will be in the Pure Land. Be sure you meet me there." What he is saying is that in the life of shinjin, the Pure Land is
An old haiku says: "O snail, wherever you die, you are home!" This is Shinran's
view of ojo. It is in this world of defilements and illusion we become human beings bound for the Pure Land. When our death
occurs, sad and lonely through we may be, at that very moment, the Pure Land occurs. Technically, the two aspects of ojo are
"not-body-losing-birth" and "body-losing-birth." In order to experience the one at the time of death, the other must be settled
during my life. Thus the problem is the awakening that occurs in this here and now. We must be clear on this point of ojo,
having shinjin settled in this life, here and now, clear in our understanding that the awakening experience of shinjin takes
place within the time we call our life.
Time, in this Buddhist view, differs from the ordinary concept. Generally, our
idea of existence is that it takes place within time that all things existing happen within "time." However, Buddhism thinks
in terms of existence per se as "time." Thus, the very point of my life, that is the fact I am living now, already indicates
history and time itself. "I am born," "I die" shows the process of history. Because I am, there is in relation to my own existence
history and "time." The Japanese term Gen-zsi conveys the meaning of now the present-in this way. Gen refers to "this present
moment." Zui refers to "living" or "existing." This "now" of genzai forms the basis of the Buddhist notion of "time"-not an
objective appraisal of time but "time" as a strong subjective element,
Ordinarily, time is seen as moving lineally from past into future. But in Buddhism,
time is real in the "now." From the present you see the past as well as the future, The Chinese character for "past", used
in Buddhism, means something past and gone, seen from the vantage point of the present in which we really exist. The future
- mirai (not yet, not yet come)- is seen also from this vantage point of ima, now, the present - my present.
In the Buddhist view, we live in a world of illusion created in timeless past,
but we say this in the depth of the realization of what we are in the present, The act which is propelling us into hell in
terms of the future is rooted in the present realization of the depth and weight of that karmic burden which we carry from
the timeless past. Both in our total human and our unique personal condition, this is a problem in the "now," my "now," a
now in which the problem is to resolve the self for what it really is.
Objectively speaking, because of this subject, this "self," there is time. Because
there is time, there is this self. There fore the ordinary perception of time, an objective time that exists before our birth
and after our death, a time determined by calendar year and watch, a "time" that is outside us, is totally different from
the Buddhist perception of time, which is subjective. In the "here and now" of Buddhist time, subject and object are united
in the vantage point of this present moment in which I resolve the problem of "myself."
The awakening experience of shinjin is fulfilled at this point, which we call
the Absolute Now. To realize the Buddha in one's life and simultaneously to realize oneself as a being creating the burden
of karma that leads us to hell, can only take place in the absolute of now, the Absolute Now. In terms of our daily life,
the realization and experience of true gratitude happens always in this present moment of "now" for it is in the urgency of
this present we feel the lives, the influence, of our parents, of our teachers, of our mates or former mates, our children,
our friends, our adversaries, and awaken to a real understanding and appreciation. In terms of the evils we have committed
in the past, this is often objective, left in the past. But when we truly awaken to our negative acts, the impact of that
realization is always in the present: This very moment! Now!
XXI. The Process of Shinjin
For those who have already experienced shinjin, I hope these writings will help
to deepen it. For those who have not yet experienced this awakening, I hope it will make the process more clear. The key is
that shinjin is an experience, one that goes beyond the meaning of the English word, into the Japanese tai-ken or tai-ge.
Tai is "body." Ken is "test." Ge is "understand." Experiencing shinjin means it must be tested with the body, understood with
the body. It is not just a psychological condition, nor just a physical condition. One's total being is involved in this experience
based in true mind and heart
One sees the Dharma; one shares it, extends it, and must discuss it in terms of
one's personal experience of shinjin. Whether one has been saved by the Buddha or not must become clear in one's life. If
we are not sure, then our sharing and teaching of the Dharma will not be clear. For myself, I like the metaphor that shinjin
is the entrance and the exit of "crossing the river. " The starting point of the Nembutsu as the entry into the Buddha's way
is not entry into shinjin. But, at this starting point of Nembutsu, is where it is important to meet a teacher who is a "good
friend of the way" for in studying the teachings of the Buddha, it is important to be able to walk a path tread by a person
whose footprints were deep in shinjin.
Where does this process begin? To be able to stand at the point where you choose
to study and to live the Nembutsu this is the starting point both of the life of Nembutsu and the shinjin process. From this
starting point it is urgent to listen with one's total being in order to awaken shinjin, an experience that transforms one's
life. Though I am not initially full and complete, this total listening opens within my life a clear direction towards Buddhahood,
towards the Pure Land.
What was Shinran's process? At age nine he was sent to Mt. Hiei. He practiced
the monastic disciplines with diligence there for twenty years. His search was harsh, disciplined as far as looking into the
inner working of his bonno, his burden of karmic evil, was concerned. During this period he lived the life of a celibate monk,
but in spite of that life he saw more and more acutely his own blind desires and defilements. At age twenty-nine, he encountered
the Nembutsu teacher Honen and came to realize there is a true way to become Buddha though there are these defilements in
With his teacher, Shinran had the real awakening experience, the experience of
shinjin. It took him twenty years of perseverance to arrive at this. At the age of twenty-nine, he threw everything away and
returned to Amida Buddha or, in other words, Shinran "died to his old self and was born to a new self." It was a deep experience
in his life, which he expressed through the phrase "one single moment of shinjin," meaning that the experience of shinjin
is fulfilled in a single moment.
It is here, at this single moment when the experience of shinjin is awakened in
our own life, that we can truly discuss and see the world of shinjin, of illusion, as well as the world of enlightenment (Pure
Land, Nirvana). Without this experience, there is not true listening, true hearing, but only listening with one's brain. Such
listening is not "testing with one's body. " It is superficial and unclear.
William James' Varieties of Religious Experience deals with two types of conversion:
one gradual, one abrupt. James describes two factors as bringing about an abrupt conversion. One is the type of personality
and the other is the kind of situation-for example, much anguish and suffering in a person's life. Though James spoke of this
area in terms of Christianity, I feel it is also valid in terms of Shin Buddhism. For example, myokonin Genza's experience
of faith was very abrupt. Genza was only eighteen when his father, working alongside him in the field, died, saying at the
last, "When I die, rely on the Buddha!"
Shocked by this, Genza began to listen to the teachings. The following summer,
at nineteen, he experienced awakening. At that time, farmers used to go up into the mountains to gather grass. They would
load the grass on cows or horses and bring it down from the mountains in such loads that often one could hardly see the animal
under its burden of grass. It was while Genza was loading grass on his cow, in that very moment, that he realized-experienced
with his body-the meaning of Amida's compassion in his life. "Just as the cow carries grass down the hillside, Amida carries
that bonno I am always creating. Amida carries it and has always carried it!"
In contrast to such an abrupt conversion is the gradual, slow ripening illustrated
in the life of another myokonin, Saichi. Saichi's father, though not of a temple family, became a Shin Buddhist priest in
Shimane, a devoutly Shin Buddhist prefecture. Saichi then began listening to the teachings at about age eighteen, listened
but did not understand and so quit for a few years. At age thirty he began listening again, but only after the age of fifty
did he ripen to an experience of shinjin.
In the past, the question in Shin Buddhism used to be, "When did you receive shinjin?"
But, based on this categorization of William James, it may not be necessary for everyone to have such an abrupt awakening-a
gradual awakening may happen. The point is, whether abrupt or gradual, the awakening must be clear in one's life, a transformation
in one's life in which the dark shadows of bonno and the light of Amida stand out distinctly.
Shinjin is complete in itself, but it happens over and over again and deepens
one's sensitivity to the joys and sorrows one experiences. The Buddha is always embracing us and yet, only at times do we
realize we are being embraced. The "absolute" of awakening, the experience of shinjin, which is Other Power, the working of
Amida's Vow, is always-without interruption-the environment of myself. It embraces the "time" which is my process of history
from birth to death. Only in my awakening to the paradox of my inescapably defiled self-the self who is always contriving,
justifying, selecting, discriminating, trying to organize the world of experience around myself-as being this very self that
is embraced by Amida-do realize this ever-present environment of shinjin.
XXIII. The Essential Integration
If, in your mind, as you read and reflect, you are spreading out a map of the
process of the Buddha way of Nembutsu, let me caution you against simply carrying around such a map! Rather, from this map,
find your own path in the process.
Historically, before Shinran, there are descriptions of the Buddha Way expounded
in the sutras based on the original teachings of Shakyamuni: the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. The Four Noble
Truths describe four truths that are inherent in reality. The first two describe our delusory condition, our real condition
as it is: samsara. Human life in its illusory condition is described as the result or responsibility of my karma creating
the delusions and suffering in my world, By this I mean not my family, not my social environment, etc., but my personal karma.
Samsara has this direct personal meaning.
The content of the third truth points to the urgency for us to attain enlightenment
to realize the ideal condition in our life. The fourth truth also deals with us. Thus the four truths express the real condition
of our daily lives: suffering, joy, sorrow, and the way to true happiness, which is what we foolish beings seek. The Buddha
Way, as Shakyamuni preached over and over again, is the way of the Eightfold Path, the way by which a common ordinary being
can become enlightened. Within it is right speech (verbal action); right action (bodily expression, right karma); right thought
(our own mental process). These form the totality of our human existence. To direct this totality of our selves toward Buddhahood
is the thrust of the Buddha's teaching through this path. This is primary, but in the sutras there are also preached many
other ways, In the Larger Sukhavati sutra there are described three ways in which one can become a Buddha. One is the way
by which monks can attain the Pure Land. Second is the way in which the ordinary man or woman can attain the Pure Land. Within
this second way are two possibilities: the first of which is offerings by those who can give them and thus accumulate merit.
But for those poor both in wealth and poor psychologically, spiritually, there is the way of the Original Vow, whereby the
ordinary being, carrying heavy karmic burdens of evil, simply by saying the Nembutsu, listening to the Buddha's name, becomes
a Buddha. This is the original Shin Buddhist way.
Concerning this Nembutsu path, Shinran says in Tannisho: "Even if I should be
misled by Honen and fall into the depths of hell will have no regrets"-but at the same time, he relied implicitly on the teachings
of Shakyamuni, and sought refuge in the power of that teaching. Thus the "belier' or "faith" which Shinran expresses as shinjin,
the experience of awakening, is a world of enlightenment, of awareness, that opens only through an experiential integration
of belief and practice. To emphasize once again, shinjin is taige, understanding with the body, the experience at the point
where awakening occurs: a result both of belief and practice.
What you truly have to listen to is the heart of what Shakyamuni and Shinran are
saying about the true and real in life, in your life. The act of doing, of practicing in our daily life is important for if
we cannot connect the teaching we hear into our daily life, the effort is incomplete. Simply "believing" is not Shin Buddhism.
Unless experience has been integrated into one's commitment and understanding, unless there is this sense of process, it is
not Shin Buddhism.
The transmission of these teachings was neither fast nor easy. From India to China
to Japan, the way was beset with hardships: the Gobi desert, tigers, rough ocean, lives lost. Similarly, difficulties accompanied
the transmission of Shin Buddhist teachings from Japan to Hawaii and the mainland United States over the past hundred years.
We must listen to the history which evolved out of many people's selfless, whole hearted effort to share the dharma, for it
is out of these conditions we today can take the first step of listening to the teachings. This nearly 3,000-year process
of transmission in order for us to meet what is difficult to meet, was all made possible by nearly 3,000 years of commitment,
of believing and totally living in this Buddha Way.
Shinran expressed this historical process in hymn of True Faith, Shoshinge, wherein
he praises the seven patriarchs through whom he traces his spiritual lineage. For Honen, the seventh of these patriarchs (the
Nembutsu practitioner whom Shinran always regarded as his teacher), the Buddha Way was mind and heart plus practice (gyo)
leading to ojo - birth in the Pure Land. Mind and heart corresponds to the original point of "believing." Gyo, practice, is
the recitation of Nembutsu. For Honen, by believing in and relying on Nembutsu, one is able to meet Amida at the point of
Raigo-the "welcoming." This point, of welcoming and meeting the Buddha in one's life, is the point of experience at which
one is able to be born in the Pure Land.
Honen taught Shinran that the way of Nembutsu was the way of the Eighteenth Vow.
Yet, among Honen's students a great problem arose-a difficulty in terms of the practice. How many callings were necessary?
Honen said, "Don't get stuck on the number of times. Just throw yourself wholeheartedly into the utterance with total involvement."
After Honen's death, his various disciples began to form their own branches based
on his teaching. Shinran also dealt in detail with this problem of "how many times?" Through following Honen's way, he explored
the teaching of Honen and that of Shakyamuni in an academic and scholarly fashion, as his writings attest; but most importantly,
he explored their teachings by totally integrating them experientially into his life, Thus in his writings, Shinran left us
both a scholastically and an existentially clear map of the path he followed.
XXIV. Only Nembutsu is Real
Honen says, through the calling of the name one can be born in the Pure Land,
but Shinran goes on to say that simply calling the name is not enough. This differentiation between their teachings remains
a problem today, making it necessary to be very clear in our understanding of Shinran's way to Nembutsu.
The character nen (or nem) originally referred to "thought," to "thinking of."
Concretely, it was translated as "thinking with the body," which in turn was translated as "calling" and thus the Nembutsu
has come to be translated as "calling of the Buddha name. " This was the way opened by Honen, a way embracing all the original
and translated meanings of this character nen. In the thought, and in the calling also, there is really an encounter, or at
least a yearning of encounter with the Buddha. That yearning points me toward the Buddha Way.
D.T. Suzuki's translation of gyo (practice) as "living" is a more precise expression
of the union of shin plus gyo, which Honen teaches. This practice of Nembutsu is expressed in our daily life as we place our
hands in Gassho (palms together in an attitude of reverence) in front of the household altar, Nembutsu permeates our lives
as we live daily activities with awareness of the "thought of Amida Buddha," of the reality of Amida, of the reality of myself.
For Honen, this was senjaku - Nembutsu, the Nembutsu as the "selected" practice of one's life, and so it became for Shinran.
Senjaku-"selecting"-has both the aspect of "to take or receive" and, at the same
time, the aspect of "to throw away." Honen says that uttering Nembutsu is the only treasure, the only virtue in life. Throw
away your reliance on worldly treasures and possessions for only the Nembutsu is true and real. Only it can usher you with
peaceful heart through the gates of death.
When you die, you cannot take your money, your family, your fame, with you. When
you die, you die just as you were born: stripped, naked, alone. The reality of my life is that everything I have now is borrowed.
There is an ultimate aloneness in my life. Only Nembutsu sustains me. I must throw away these attachments to my possessions,
my family, fame,- not throw them away but throw away my dependent clinging, my reliance, my attachment to them in order to
see the compassion that envelops my life.
Honen said, "If you can recite the Nembutsu better by getting married, then get
married. But if marriage becomes an obstacle, then get rid of the marriage." Whatever the conditions of your life, live in
a way that you can say the Nembutsu and say it thoroughly. Nembutsu then becomes your only treasure in life, and becomes real
in and through you,
Shinran's view extending this "selected Nembutsu" as the sole real treasure is
expressed in Tannisho as "All things in this life are vain and empty, only the Nembutsu is real." Really, what Honen's teaching
allowed Shinran was to be him self, see himself, to become aware as a bombu-a foolish, ignorant being embraced by Amida's
Vow. Shinran married, had a full family life-six children and later grandchildren. In that warm full environment he said,
"Only the Nembutsu is real!"
This was his point of definite choice. In spite of his deep relationship with
his wife Eshinni, with the children-facing the temporariness of all such relationships, he selected Nembutsu as the only dependable
reality, as the expression of his relationship as a human being with Amida Buddha.
For me, there was a period in which I both rejected and, at the same time, was
drawn to the Nembutsu that had come from my mother's mouth as she lay dying. When she died, the winter of my thirteenth year,
all the family was there watching her die. She had long been ill. All through my childhood, my only recollection is of her
being in a dark room at the back of the house. Shortly before her death, she had asked to see me, but when I came home from
school, she had lost consciousness. She did not respond to my anguished call, "Mother! Mother! "
In the moment of regaining consciousness as she died, she spoke not my name-which
I yearned to hear her say-but she uttered the Nembutsu and died. This is not to say my mother was a person of deep faith,
but as all around her were reciting Nembutsu, so she too-perhaps as a response. In my teenage years I often thought, if my
mother had been waiting for me to return to her deathbed, why didn't she call my name rather than that of the Buddha's for
I yearned to have heard her recognize me one last time. Yet through this Nembutsu that had been my mother's dying utterance,
I came closer to the Dharma and was able to learn the teachings. Thus it was through my mother that the meaning of the reality
of the Nembutsu filtered into my life. I reflected then. Had my mother held my hand and said my name at death-truly what could
I have done? Instead, her dying utterance of Nembutsu gave me the understanding that she must cast me aside as she dies. Somehow,
I became able to see through this lesson of her death, able to see that the Nembutsu is true, that she is all right as she
XXV. The Essential Gate
I feel it is important here to distinguish between the Nembutsu, which is false,
the Nembutsu, which is temporary, and the Nembutsu that is true. Concretely speaking, false Nembutsu is the Nembutsu used
to gain present benefits in this world. It is like trying to add something to my life by using Nembutsu - as, for example,
like using Nembutsu to cure illness or family problems.
True Nembutsu basically cuts the blind thinking one does. False Nembutsu does
not cut, but merely helps inflate the ego, puffs it. In the case of Nembutsu used merely as a prayer for one's own benefit,
Shinran says that should a thousand persons do this Nembutsu, not a single one will be born in the Pure Land. Likewise, the
Nembutsu recited only for the deceased - that too is false Nembutsu. This is because the Nembutsu is for those who are alive,
to show the way to the Pure Land. Nembutsu is not ritual or ceremony. It is a teaching, a pathway towards Buddhahood, a pathway
towards the Pure Land.
"Temporary" Nembutsu is that condition which lies in between, which is neither
false nor true. While this is not true Nembutsu, it is however still directed towards it and is that process by which one
arrives at true Nembutsu. The technical expression used for this by Shinran, and in the Shin Buddhist tradition, is yomon
- essential gate, Shinmon is the technical expression used for the true gate of true Nembutsu.
Temporary Nembutsu contains the two aspects of the essential gate and the true
gate. It is through this that Shinran's process points to the essential and true gate of true Nembutsu, through which the
Great Vow is experienced. yomon is the kind of Nembutsu expressed in the Meditation Sutra, one of the many good deeds which
that sutra encourages. The Meditation Sutra does not express the completeness of Nembutsu, but it does describe the process
by which one moves through Nembutsu towards the Pure Land, saying that the Nembutsu is the essential step in moving in that
In Shinmon, the true gate, there is no mixed practice, one stands on the Nembutsu
alone sifting down to selecting this single choice, as did Shinran. Nembutsu generally means, "I call the Buddha's name."
In its fullest realization, Nembutsu expresses cutting aside all roots, but still it is like a crutch, and "temporary" since
it is still my addition. It becomes my good, my virtue, by my saying it. By throwing all aside however, we are able to meet
the Buddha's compassion in our life, to encounter the transformative power of the Nembutsu that is true and real, the Nembutsu
that is Gugan - Great Vow. In this, the Buddha is calling me, and because he is calling me, I am able to utter his name!
My father is eighty-eight years old and yet, he writes to me. Even if I forget,
my father is constantly thinking of me. Thus, often our calling as a child is a response to that which comes from a parent.
In this way, to be able to accept the heart of the Buddha-to know the Buddha who is constantly calling us, ceaselessly thinking
of us, focusing on us-is the "turning over," the transformation of true Nembutsu in which my calling of the Buddha's name
is to hear at that very same moment the Buddha calling me. This kind of turnabout or transformative experience is what is
called shinjin, and therefore we can say that true Nembutsu equals shinjin, which in turn equals awakening.
XXVI. The Primal Vow
The Buddha's power effecting a transformation in my life is the Nembutsu of Great
Vow (Gugan), the "true" Nembutsu taught in the Larger Sukhavati Sutra. The three "Pure Land" Sutras, all of which point us
in this direction, are called Vows or "gates" by Shinran. For him, Meditation Sutra is the nineteenth Vow, what he calls the
essential gate - Yomon. The Amida Sutra, the twentieth Vow, is the "true gate," Shinmon. The Larger Sukhavati Sutra, the eighteenth
Vow, is for him Gugan, the gate of Great Vow. All three constitute the process culminating in shinjin, the process selected,
experienced, and taught by Shinran. The meaning of the last one, the transformative "true Nembutsu" of Gugan is that there
is no gate, there is no process, there is only the Great Vow.
Today, in my life as a scholar and professor of Shin Buddhism at Ryukoku University
in Kyoto, I often tell the students I am able to teach that Shinran and the Nembutsu offer a real sense of decision, a decisiveness
in one's life. To put it in words from Tannisho, ultimately all deep loving relationships are unreliable. You can't hang on
to anything. To be able to throw away those relationships, to stand on a point of real choice, means that Nembutsu is not
a matter of vague acceptance but a personal decision. To clarify this sense of choosing, you have to know what to throw away.
If your cup is full, nothing else comes in. If you're clinging, you can't accept anything else. Only when you throw all else
out, is the Nembutsu able to strike you. "All things are empty." All things wealth, prestige, relationships-are ultimately
unreliable. That realization, and the realization that only the Nembutsu is real, is a reality that is made the decisive choice
in the meaning of life.
Shinran's teacher Honen said we should live in such a way that we can say the
Nembutsu through these essential gates, so as to touch with our life the fullness of hearing the Nembutsu which the Buddha
directs to us. This is existentialism beyond the Absolute of Camus and Sartre's absurdity and despair. The Pure Land is an
Absolute of acceptance of life as it is, and of myself as an interconnected part of this. Gugan - the Great Vow which is "no
gate"-opens to me this Absolute which I can share, perceive, live in, in the vantage point of my awakening in this here and
now to this reality.
The areas of death and karmic evil are often emphasized to lead to this insight.
However, I feel the sense of secularism alluded to in Tannisho, "all things in the world are empty and vain," becomes more
pointed in our modern secular world. We see this finite, nihilistic dimension of life pointing to the reality of the Nembutsu.
To be definite and clear about this reality is to arrive at the clarity of Gugan, the "true" Nembutsu. The stark finiteness
of this realization in itself then leads to our seeking the teachings more in our life.
The teaching is like a mirror, which reflects oneself. By looking into the mirror
of the teachings we can look into our daily lives. The starkness presented is part of the teaching. To listen is always to
focus on the reality that is existence itself, to deeply seek the self with all its meaning and thus to choose the Nembutsu
as the meaning for our lives.
My effort in writing of all this has been like a map, like a finger pointing to
the moon. What you do to walk this path, to point your life in the direction of the Buddhist world of awakening is your choice.