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

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Some Thoughts on "Listening" (Chōmon)

In orthodox Jodo Shinshu, listening to the Buddha-Dharma (chomon) is not a spiritual practice (gyo) that brings about a result. This is because "it is not the 'listening' that we do that allows us to receive shinjin" (Kobai, Namo Amida Butsu: Misunderstandings of Master Rennyo). [1]

There is nothing more to shinjin than understanding the meaning of Amida's "name-and-title" (myogo), hearing the call of the Primal Vow, and obeying its command without doubt or hesitation. Hence, "that hearing, just as it is, is what shinjin is."

Or as Zuiken Sensei put it, "Believing does not come after hearing. Peace of mind does not come after believing. Listen carefully to the call of the Original Vow, which has accomplished namuamidabutsu and also accomplished our hearing of it, believing in it and peace of mind. If you have listened well, you will be relieved of the heavy burden on your shoulders." [2]

Of course, in order to hear the Name, it goes without saying that we must "pass through the triple-thousand worlds aflame" with determination to seek the truth of the Buddha's Words. But the process of listening itself does not depend on the calculating mind of foolish beings. This defiled mind of ours cannot “see” the Buddha's mind; only the Buddha can see the Buddha's mind. So how can we see? Amida Buddha makes us see through “hearing the Name.” Besides hearing the Name, there is no practice or condition for sentient beings to fulfill in order to enter the world of salvation.

To state once again, listening to the Dharma in the context of Jodo Shinshu does not mean exerting one's mind in order to “get it.” Rather, it is an opening up to the "marvelously mysterious" working of the Vow, which is itself brought about naturally by the skillful means of our true father-and-mother, Amida. As Zuiken Sensei says, “‘Hearing the Name, having joy in shinjin (faith)’ is the abstruse tenet of Jōdō Shinshū, the anjin (settled mind) of the Shōnin, as well as the basis for salvation. ‘Hearing’ is the working of the Name; other than this working, the Name is not found. ‘Hearing’ is the great shinjin that is the mind of great compassion, so it is the real cause of birth in the Land of Recompense.” [3]

So long as we listen to the Dharma with the mind of self-power, we cannot realize true peace of mind (anjin). But as soon as this self-power mind is overturned, we enter the ocean of the Vow. How is this mind overturned? It is overturned through nothing but the Light and Name of Amida Tathagata.

For more on this topic, please read Chapter 3, "The Way to Shinjin" from Namo Amida Butsu: Misunderstandings of Master Rennyo by Rev. Dr. Eiken Kobai.


[1] The Japanese term chomon 聴聞 may be translated variously as “listening” or “hearing.” In the context of the Buddha-Dharma, “listening” suggests a casual acquaintance with the doctrines or an understanding driven by self-centered effort, while “hearing” implies deep realization of the true meaning of the Name. Upon settlement of shinjin based on Other-Power, we become aware that Amida’s salvation precedes even our “hearing” of it. There is, therefore, as the Myokonin Okaru observed, nothing left but hearing.

[2] Zuiken S. Inagaki, "On Faith" (

[3] Zuiken S. Inagaki, "Shinran Shōnin" (

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