The radiant light, unhindered and inconceivable, eradicates suffering and brings realization of joy; the excellent Name, perfectly embodying all practices, eliminates obstacles and dispels doubt. This is the teaching and practice for our latter age; devote yourself solely to it. It is eye and limb in this defiled world; do not fail to endeavor in it. Accepting and living the supreme, universal Vow, then, abandon the defiled and aspire for the pure. Reverently embracing the Tathagata's teaching, respond in gratitude to his benevolence and be thankful for his compassion.

~ Shinran Shonin, Passages on the Pure Land Way

Monday, August 26, 2013

Walking with Rennyo: "Unobstructed Light" in the Wasans

(2) “Unobstructed Light” in the Wasans

Rennyo based his talk during the morning service on the six wasans beginning with the five inexplicabilities and concluding with the following lines:

Penetrating light unobstructed
throughout the ten quarters
pierces the darkness of ignorance,
and with one thought of joyousness
attainment of nirvana is finalized

He compared the gist of the six wasans with a passage describing Amida’s light penetrating darkness throughout the ten directions, and a poem of Honen Shōnin:

There is no place lacking moonlight,
but seen by watchers at night
wherever they may be.

The occasion was impressive for those who heard the discourse given by Rennyo on the previous evening, and again in the morning. Jitsunyo expressed deep gratitude and praise which he could not fully describe in words.

For a Buddhist sermon to be effective and of lasting relevance, it must be firmly established in the teaching and expound it accurately, while taking into account the capacities of its audience. I have often wondered what it must have been like to listen to a discourse given by Rennyo Shonin. Too often nowadays “Dharma talks” are vague, insufficient, or unfocused, and fail to draw attention to the most important matter, which is the attainment of true faith (shinjin). Needless to say, this was not Rennyo’s approach. He always drew on his vast knowledge of the sutras and the masters’ writings, urging his listeners to accept them in faith. The results, we are told, were “impressive.”
            In this instance, Rennyo bases his morning sermon on six wasans from the Hymns of the Dharma Masters. The “five inexplicabilities” referenced in these wasans are enunciated by Master T’an-luan in his Commentary on the Treatise as follows:

The sutras teach that there are five inconceivabilities: first, the inconceivability of the number of sentient beings; second, the inconceivability of karmic power; third, the inconceivability of the power of dragons; fourth, the inconceivability of the power of meditation; fifth, the inconceivability of the power of Buddha-dharma.

While any of these items is certainly likely to confound our powers of reason, it is the inconceivability of the power of the Buddha-dharma that is supreme, according to T’an-luan. In the eighth letter of Lamp for the Latter Ages, our Founder writes, “The Pure Land teaching is the inconceivable dharma-teaching.” It is the Pure Land Way, then, that is the most inconceivable of all the Buddha’s teachings.
In his sermon, Rennyo also quotes a poem by Honen Shonin, testifying to the universal nature of Amida Buddha’s light. Those who are still in doubt concerning the efficacy of the Primal Vow may ask, “If Amida’s light shines on everyone everywhere, why doesn’t everyone awaken to it?” The short answer is that everyone does awaken to it at some point; otherwise, Amida Buddha would not be Amida Buddha. The Anjin Ketsujo Sho tells us that all beings have been born, are being born, or will be born in the Pure Land. As for why all sentient beings do not immediately attain shinjin as soon as the light shines on them, the reason is that as bombu, we are simply blind to the “radiance of enlightenment” that surrounds us. This is stated in the Nirvana Sutra: “All sentient beings are constantly oppressed by immeasurable blind passions and lack the wisdom-eye; hence they cannot see.” As Master Genshin attested, “Although I too am within Amida's grasp, blind passions obstruct my eyes and I cannot see [the light]; nevertheless, great compassion untiringly and constantly illumines me.” In the same way, although samsara and nirvana are actually one and the same, we cannot possibly realize this in our current unenlightened state.
So, since we are blind from birth to the sun of wisdom that constantly shines upon us, how can we possibly find our way? Our only hope lies in reverently listening to and trusting in the words of Shakyamuni Buddha and the call of Amida, which is “the Name fulfilled in the Primal Vow,” Namu-amida-butsu. Only by obeying the voice of a trustworthy guide can the blind person proceed in safety. Likewise, only by heeding the encouragement and sincere call of our compassionate parents (Shakyamuni and Amida) can we who are full of base desires and blind passions finally be saved from the burning house of this Saha world. Then we realize that, like Master Genshin, we are constantly embraced by the Buddha’s light, even though we cannot see it. When we are born in the Pure Land, our wisdom-eyes will be opened, and we will perceive the Dharma-realm in all its resplendent glory.
Shakyamuni Buddha tells us in the Nirvana Sutra that the Dharma “surpasses conceptual understanding.” Accordingly, our Founder’s sacred writings are full of words negating measurement, such as “indescribable,” “inconceivable,” “inexplicable,” and “inexpressible.” In short, the Dharma cannot be contained or qualified by our limited, unenlightened minds. For this very reason, we are constantly warned against undertaking practice and establishing faith while depending on our own understanding or conscious effort. In Jodo Shinshu, “No working is true working.” It is enough for us to know that Amida’s Vow is true, and unfailingly brings us to the Pure Land. To hear this and accept it, being free of doubt and calculation, is to realize the “one thought-moment of shinjin and joy.” When we reverently embrace the Tathagata’s teaching, we are liberated by it, and our joy is overwhelming. In fact, it simply cannot be fully expressed in words. Like Jitsunyo, we may attempt to convey our gratitude and praise, and fall short. However, this only serves to further increase our indebtedness to the Buddha who saves us.

The light of compassion illumines us from afar;
Those beings it reaches, it is taught,
Attain the joy of dharma,
So take refuge in Amida, the great consolation.
Hymns of the Pure Land (CWS p. 327)