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

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Walking with Rennyo: Fulfillment of Compassion

(10) Fulfillment of Compassion

Fukudenji said he did not understand that Amida’s great compassion fills the heart of foundering sentient beings. Rennyo answered, “The lotus of the buddha-mind blossoms internally in the mind and heart, and not in any other bodily organ. It is said that Amida’s benevolence fills the heart and mind of sentient beings throughout the universe, which refers only to those acquiring shinjin.” Fukudenji was grateful for the reply.

The teaching that Fukudenji struggled with comes from the Anjin-ketsujosho, or “Tract on the Settled Mind.” As we shall see, Master Rennyo had the highest regard for this treatise, which is said to have originated within the Seizan sect of Jodo Shu, but was adopted by him as containing the pith of Shinshu teaching. It is indeed a wonderful piece of sacred literature, thoroughly plumbing the depths of Namo Amida Butsu while uncovering its essence, the unity of the Dharma and sentient beings in the sacred Name. Because of the profundity of its theme, however, it can be difficult for those of us who are not scholars to understand. So it is not surprising that Fukudenji was perplexed.

When Master Rennyo speaks of “the lotus of the Buddha-mind,” he is referring of course to shinjin, the true entrusting heart. Ordinarily in Buddhism, bodhi-mind (Sanskrit bodhicitta) refers to the initial spark of nirvana struck out by the bodhisattva in the initial stage of his (or her) spiritual quest. It is likened to a lotus because, while it grows in the hearts of sentient beings, it is rooted in the true reality of Tathata, or "suchness." Master Shinran makes it clear that this bodhi-mind and the shinjin bestowed by Amida are one and the same. In fact, shinjin is Amida’s own pure enlightened mind reflected in the being to be saved. For this reason, we may speak of shinjin as being adamantine or diamondlike—wholly indestructible, unlike faith generated by the myriad religious paths of this Saha world.

Buddhism rejects the notion of the duality of mind and heart. Indeed, this arbitrary distinction, the product of western Romanticism, is not recognized by the vast majority of peoples throughout history. This is reflected in the Japanese language in the word kokoro, which translated means “heart-mind,” indicating the organic unity of the emotive and cognitive aspects of consciousness. To say that the lotus of the Buddha-mind blossoms internally in the heart and mind, therefore, is to acknowledge that the truth and virtues of the Primal Vow pervade the world of true nembutsu—of nembutsu arising from gratitude in response to Amida’s working.

What an expansive picture Master Rennyo paints in this short talk! Truly, the Buddha is all-pervasive, and His Name reverberates throughout the infinite cosmos. All beings, whether they are human or divine, on earth or in the heavens, in whatever world they may find existence—all are, without exception, shone upon by this Light, which is eternal Wisdom. There is not a single one who is not touched by Amida’s light. In the Kyogyoshinsho, Master Shinran writes:

Truly we know that without the virtuous Name, our compassionate father, we would lack the direct cause for birth. Without the light, our compassionate mother, we would stand apart from the indirect cause of birth. Although direct and indirect causes may come together, if the karmic-consciousness of shinjin is lacking, one will not reach the land of light.

So we see that it is solely in the person of shinjin that the compassion of Amida Buddha finds perfect fulfillment. Although sentient beings may be touched by the Immeasurable Light, so that they feel joy in mind and body and good thoughts arise, it is of no avail if they do not also encounter the Name. And even if a person meets with both light and Name, if shinjin is not thereby called forth, birth in the Pure Land will not be finalized. It is only when the steadfast mind to entrust in the Primal Vow is awakened in us that we are grasped by Amida Buddha, never to be abandoned. Which is why Master Rennyo’s observation concerning people of shinjin is so important.

Looking back at the many conditions that have brought us to enter the Pure Land Way, we may be tempted to take credit for some of them as due to our own efforts. But when we honestly reflect on the matter, we realize that everything is owing to the working of Other-Power. The circumstances of our birth, our discovery of the Dharma, and the past actions which led us to the present moment—all of this was the result of the Buddha’s cultivation over uncountable lifetimes. If in the past we practiced precepts, we did so only at the Buddha’s encouragement. If in this life we devoted ourselves to listening to the Dharma, we did so only because we were captivated by its inherent virtues. Even the nembutsu we pronounce is but the natural response which great love and great compassion draw from us. It has nothing whatever to do with any virtue or merit on our part. Just as the lotus in its muddy ground is nurtured by causes and conditions (sun, water, soil) outside of itself, so too shinjin is nourished by causes outside of ourselves. It is Amida who lets fall the Dharma rain; we merely receive this benevolent gift. “Hence,” as Master Shinran states, “whether with regard to practice or to shinjin there is nothing whatever that has not been fulfilled through Amida Tathagata's directing of virtue to beings out of the pure Vow-mind. It is not that there is no cause or that there is some other cause.”

Finally, we should take note of Fukudenji’s response, which was one of gratitude. How often do we remember to thank our good teachers for their efforts to instruct us? We should feel ashamed if we did not repay those who take the trouble to guide us in the right way. Surely the best way to repay them is to heed the wholesome message they deliver, abandon various and sundry religious practices, and entrust ourselves without doubt or hesitation to Amida Buddha and His Vow alone.

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