(7) The Lower Depths of Shinjin
Rennyo Shonin one day talked about shinjin to Gansho and Kakuzen, (Matashiro) from Raga province: “Shinjin is assurance of rebirth. It is single-mindfulness in relying entirely on Amida Buddha for favorable birth in the one-moment calling, namuamidabutsu. In spite of many evils they are all eradicated and dispersed by the power of shinjin at the very moment of absolute reliance.” Rennyo cited a text and then explained, “Illusory seeds of karma accumulated from beginningless beginning through endless round of births on the six paths are obliterated by the wondrous vow-power of Amida's wisdom at the single-minded reliance in namuamidabutsu. This is the first flowering of the true cause of ultimate nirvana.” Rennyo, after having spoken, then summarized this thought on a scroll and gave it to Gansho.
In this Dharma talk to Gansho and Kakuzen, two nembutsu followers from Raga province, Rennyo Shonin offers perhaps the most succinct definition of entrusting heart (shinjin) to be found anywhere. Shinjin is simply “assurance of rebirth.” Rebirth in this case does not mean continued birth in samsaric states of existence, but rather the “birthless birth” of the Pure Land, which is the unconditioned realm of Truth that lies beyond our unenlightened horizon.
Although Nirvana is literally under our noses, we go through our everyday lives in painful ignorance of it. The purpose of Buddha-Dharma is to awaken us to the timeless reality of Nirvana; one who is thus awakened is called a Buddha. Be that as it may, no amount of self-willed awareness will make up for the fact that we are incapable of realizing Buddhahood in our present bodies, as Shakyamuni did over 2,500 years ago. Because of this, most people today assume that enlightenment is immensely difficult, perhaps even impossible, to obtain. This is not the case, however, if one relies on the power of the Buddha. As Master Shinran states, “Truly we know that the supreme, perfect fruit of enlightenment is not difficult to attain; it is pure shinjin, true and real, that is indeed difficult to realize” (The Collected Works of Shinran, Vol. I, 299).
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the Shinshu teaching for many people to understand is how a single moment of reliance on the Primal Vow can effectively cut off our continued existence in samsara. After all, we have been spending the sum of our past lives mired in delusion, killing and being killed, bound by our actions to the great wheel of suffering. How could a mere moment of mindfulness arrest our inexorable turning through the six realms? However, this is because we do not see the problem of our own birth-and-death from the Buddha’s point of view. We do not see it with the eye of enlightenment, the Wisdom-Eye of the Buddha’s unconstrained power and compassion, but rather with the limited eye of sentient beings imprisoned in calculation and rational thinking.
Because of this, people give rise to superstitious and incorrect views regarding the Buddha-Dharma, such as believing that we can win nirvana through our own efforts, or that after all the evil we have committed is an insurmountable obstacle to our Pure Land birth. All of these mistaken ideas are turned upside down, however, when we are brought through Other-Power to see things the way they really are. In that moment, that “first flowering,” we truly recognize for the first time that our nature is not Buddha, that we have no hope of enlightenment in this or any other lifetime, and that it is because of this, rather than in spite of it, that we are saved by Amida “just as we are.” As long as we harbor even the slightest thought of self-powered calculation, our quest to reach the castle of nirvana will ultimately end in disappointment and failure.
I believe such doubts as the ones I have described arise because we do not truly comprehend the power of the pure acts performed over countless eons by Amida Buddha during his sacred career as Bodhisattva Dharmakara. We cannot begin to fathom the immensity of the merit-store that the Buddha has painstakingly prepared for our liberation. Unlike the provisional merit of sentient beings, the Buddha's merit is true and real, in full accord with suchness. In comparison with the boundless light of Amida’s Dharma-body, the pile of karma that we have built is necessarily reduced to nothing. Master Tan-Luan states in his Commentary on the Treatise, “Suppose there is a room that has been dark for a thousand years. If light reaches it, however briefly, the room immediately becomes bright. How can the darkness say that, having occupied the room for a thousand years, it refuses to leave?" (The Collected Works of Shinran, Vol. I, 146)
However dark our current existence may be, and however deep the hole of despair we may dig, there is no heart so blackened by evil that Amida’s light cannot penetrate. The story of Jodo Shinshu is the story of hopelessly wicked people who, upon encountering the Buddha’s light, were forever changed. These “hopelessly wicked people” are none other than ourselves. When we hear the timeless truth of Amida’s Vow embodied in His Name, it echoes in our hearts as shinjin, the true cause of our enlightenment. In that moment of entrusting, we are brought into perfect unity with the Dharma that saves. Freed from the fetters of human calculation, we are carried away by the power of the Primal Vow, and gratitude comes out of our mouths in the form of Namu Amida Butsu. From that moment on, we dwell in absolute assurance of our birth in the Pure Land and ultimate attainment of nirvana, as soon as our present life comes to its natural close.