(4) Thought and Voice are One
Someone told Rennyo that he did not understand Honen Shonin’s words, Thought and Voice are One. Rennyo answered, “Whatever is mental will cast an external form: If one believes that shinjin’s essence is namuamidabutsu, we have an example of the singularity of thought and voice.”
Zuiken Inagaki Sensei, a beloved priest in the Hongwanji and a favorite teacher of mine, once wrote the following in his classic essay “On Faith”:
Apart from the all power working of namuamidabutsu, there is no faith, no Nembutsu and no peace of mind. We have only to hear Amida's living voice, 'namuamidabutsu', in which our birth, even our faith is accomplished. It calls us unceasingly. We hear the compassionate voice of the Buddha; we hear the Vow Power of the inconceivable wisdom of the Buddha. How grateful I am for the Vow in which Amida resolved, "If sentient beings are not born in my Land, may I not attain Enlightenment." This is my lifeline.
In the teaching of Jodo Shinshu, everything goes back to the Primal Vow. Without Amida’s promise of enlightenment, as Zuiken Sensei states, there would be no shinjin and no nembutsu. And without these, how could we poor miserable beings, adrift in the sea of samsara, ever know true peace of mind? For us, to hear that the Vow assuredly saves us is the most profound joy we can ever experience in this world. This is the joy of Dharma that motivated Master Rennyo to spread the teachings of the Founder throughout Japan. In this dark, sad world of Saha, this is the only everlasting joy that we can know.
Master Shinran states the following in his Notes on “Essentials of Faith Alone” (CWS, p. 468):
Here, in Amida's Primal Vow, even includes "few" in contrast to "many," teaching us that sentient beings who say the Name as few as ten times will without fail attain birth. Know that "thinking" and "voicing" have the same meaning; no voicing exists separate from thinking, and no thinking separate from voicing.
I believe the Venerable Master wrote this passage in order to prevent us from becoming attached to our thoughts or words, as if they could result in our ultimate liberation. Those who suppose, “I believe in the Buddha, and therefore I will be born in the Pure Land” are still operating in the realm of calculation, depending on their own power of mindfulness. Such human logic is perfectly valid in the conventional world, but it cannot be applied to the “marvelously mysterious” working of the Primal Vow. Another mistake is made when people think, “I say the nembutsu, and therefore I will be born in the Pure Land.” Both of these attitudes lead to self-powered attachment to mindfulness or recitation as the cause of birth. However, the reality is that we cannot be saved by any action, whether mental or physical, on our part. By listening carefully to the Primal Vow, we realize that in fact nothing we can possibly do will be sufficient to resolve our grave karmic problem. At that point, all that is left is to give everything up to the loving care of Namu-amida-butsu. If we possess a store of good from the past, then our self-power reasoning, our calculations, our doubts will all melt away in the bright sun of Amida’s wisdom, and we will be grasped, never to be abandoned. This is the realm of “true and real shinjin” that both Master Shinran and Master Rennyo were able to enter, and which we may enter too.
Again, Zuiken Sensei explains this aspect of true shinjin very well in the following quotation from his book The Sound of Ocean Waves of the Primal Vow:
What you call “faith” (shin), is the trust you owe to the compassion of the Tathagata, to trust to the utmost extent. Therefore, this “faith” is the virtue of faith that does not attach to faith.
Master Rennyo likewise wanted to keep us from making the mistake of thinking that the nembutsu is a practice that we do in order to be born in the Pure Land, or that shinjin is something we can generate through our own efforts. Indeed, we are reminded time and time again that we are not even capable of arousing the kind of pure faith that leads to nirvana. This is why, the Venerable Master tells us, “Amida made verbal utterance the essence of the Primal Vow” (CWS, p. 468). From sentient beings such as ourselves who are mired in delusion and distracted by suffering, any depth of faith, however shallow, would be miraculous. How wonderful it is, then, when such beings as we are made to possess the shinjin of the Primal Vow, which is the supreme, diamond-like faith of the Mahayana! Such a marvelous state of affairs can only come about through the Vow-power. Amida Buddha, recognizing that true and real shinjin could not be expected from us, accomplished the practice and realized the faith that would result in our salvation. For this reason, when pursuing the True Pure Land Way, you must not attempt to establish shinjin by your own power. Remember that whatever self-willed conviction (jiriki no shin) you manage to sustain will be just that—a construct, created by your foolish mind. Instead, listen to the wonderful Dharma, say the nembutsu, trust in the power of the Vow, and leave everything else to Amida. He fulfilled the requirements for your Pure Land birth long ago, and now waits to bestow the virtue of His enlightenment on you. This is the highest, most sublime truth of Buddhism, the thing most difficult to hear and accept in the entire world.
Let us then recite the nembutsu while rejoicing in shinjin, mindful that it is a generous gift from our beloved Parent of great compassion.