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

Friday, June 13, 2014

Walking with Rennyo: Scholarly Ways

(12) Scholarly Ways
 
We may be well learned in the bulk of our religious literature, but lacking a settled peaceful mind of the other-power this study is useless. Our rebirth, determined by Amida, is the faith of one-mind lasting to the end of life and in the certainty of rebirth.
 
Since the days of the Founder Shinran, the Hongwanji denomination has developed an impressive body of scholarly literature in which the essential points of Shinshu teaching are set forth in fine detail. In this way, the standard of Shinshu teaching has been firmly established for the followers (monto) of the Head Temple, as well as for many who look to Shinran Shonin as their spiritual guide and mentor in this Dharma-ending Age. Such orthodox interpretations are not absolute, but embody the sincere efforts of the Masters to guide us in the True Path, and away from erroneous or insufficient teachings. They remind us that Jodo Shinshu is not a path of vague religious symbols and abstract speculations, but of spiritual realities with vital relevance to our present condition. Sincere seekers of birth in the Fulfilled Land must be wary of a purely academic approach to Shinshu, however. They should recognize that such study, though useful, is not the end of the journey, but rather the foundations for diamond-like Faith (shinjin).
 
Not that there is anything wrong with studying Shinshu as an academic subject. On the contrary, examining our tradition with academic rigor can only serve to heighten our appreciation for it. The Pure Land Way may be counted among those schools of Buddha-Dharma that are based on the sutras, the recorded sermons of Shakyamuni Buddha, specifically the Threefold Pure Land Sutra. It is decidedly not an esoteric path such as that transmitted without words to Venerable Mahakasyapa in the famous “Flower Sermon,” and which became the basis of the Zen school in later centuries. Rather, the Pure Land Way was widely proclaimed throughout India and China, and finally Japan, thanks to the writings and missionary activities of the Japanese Masters, including Genshin, Honen, and Shinran. To study these scriptures and commentaries, therefore, is a noble and praiseworthy endeavor, if not altogether necessary for comprehending the Path, and it is one that Rennyo Shonin himself encourages. It is certainly an unfortunate thing that there are many scholars of Jodo Shinshu who, though they know so much about its origins and development over the centuries, lack the heart of True Faith that enlivens authentic Shinshu discourse, and distinguishes it as a living Dharma, rather than an extinct or dormant one.
 
Although we engage in reading and perusing of the scriptures, however, we should not close our minds to the Dharma experience that lies outside such study. Only yesterday I was taking a walk in the evening, enjoying the sights and sounds of nature while contemplating Shinran Shonin’s teachings, as I like to do now and then. A refreshing summer breeze was blowing from the river nearby, rustling the countless leaves on the trees surrounding, each a universe of minute worlds. By the side of the walkway, hundreds of ants were busy repairing their hills. I was struck at that time by the infinitude of Amida’s Dharma-body, by the inconceivable activities of its light, and the scope of its compassionate wisdom. A similar sense of wonder must have come upon the beings assembled on Vulture Peak when Shakyamuni Buddha revealed the glory of the Pure Land. I was aware that this wisdom and compassion enveloped all things—the trees, the sky, the ants by the roadside, as well as myself, who am in the final analysis little more than an insect—tirelessly urging them to awaken. Suddenly overwhelmed by a deep joy that nearly made my hair stand on end, I began to say the nembutsu. I repeated it again and again, feeling as though I had to say it or burst. It must have seemed odd to people passing by, seeing me smiling like a lunatic and mumbling to myself! They probably thought I was drunk.
 
I mention this personal anecdote because I feel it illustrates the importance of everyday life in Dharma-hearing. For all the many benefits I have gained from poring over our traditional literature, I would rather have one such moment of genuine insight than a diploma in Shinshu studies from a famous Buddhist university. More importantly, I think Rennyo Shonin would agree. Throughout his many sayings and letters, he is constantly urging us to cast aside our doubts and fears and plunge headfirst into the Dharma-streams of life. Rennyo Shonin himself was the kind of person who lived in the Light to the absolute fullest extent possible, and he wanted the same for all nembutsu followers, knowing that it is in the very act of living that Amida’s unbounded Life expresses itself, finding ways to reach our hearts. The sutras, the Masters’ commentaries, the Dharma-talks of good teachers—these manifestations are all intended for us, who are alive, and who “have ears to hear.” It does no good to learn about the Dharma, if we do not incorporate our daily existence in that learning process. In Understanding Jodo Shinshu, the Rev. Eiken Kobai reminds us that deep listening (chomon), while certainly including ordinary religious activities, is in no way limited to them [1]. It may be at the most unexpected time that the Dharma chooses to illuminate our minds, and it is up to us to be ready for these occasions. If we listen carefully, we will hear Amida's call summoning us to trust in the Vow made for each and for all.
 
Gassho _/\_
 
 
 
 
[1] Eiken Kobai, Understanding Jodo Shinshu (Craiova, Romania: Dharma Lion Publications, 2007), 173.