Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Jodo Wasan 24

People who aspire for the land of happiness
Dwell in the stage of the truly settled.
None in that land are falsely settled or unsettled;
Therefore the Buddhas offer Amida their praise.

On Not Falling Back

The 'rightly established state' (shojoju) is the most significant feature of the first bodhisattva stage. There are ten stages; although, there is another system which ennumerates fifty-two. In that case, this stage is the forty-first. The first stage is also called the stage of the truly settled and the stage of joy. The entire objective of life for a Mahayana Buddhist is the attainment of this first stage, for once it has been reached, one's ultimate attainment of nirvana is assured.

A striking example of the main focus of formal Mahayana is to be found in the Discourse on the Ten Stages by Nagarjuna Bodhisattva, which is almost entirely concerned with the characteristics of the first stage (Sk. bhumi) and with the practice necessary to attain it. Nagarjuna does briefly mention the second stage but goes no further, despite the title of his work.

Chapter 3 of the Discourse on the Ten Stages lists the specific features of the first stage,

The bodhisattvas of the First Stage manifest forbearance;
They do not like disputes; their hearts are full of joy and
    happiness;
They always seek purity of heart; they compassionately
    pity sentient beings;
And they have no anger and enmity;
They mostly abide by these seven disciplines.1

In expanding these features, one of the signs of forebearance that Nagarjuna outlines is 'no fear of falling into hell', which I always think is a revealing section.

(The bodhisattva's reply to the Mara)
'In order to perform the act of giving, I fall into the hell of
    shrieking;
Those who receive my gifts shall attain rebirth in the
    heavens;
If so, I will perform more acts of giving continuously;
Let sentient beings dwell in the heavens, while I receive
    pain in the hell of shrieking.'2

I can't imagine a more succinct summary of the bodhisattva path and the significance of generosity as the fundamental practical aspect of emptiness - true compassion.

The rest of the Discourse on the Ten Stages covers topics associated with a correct mental disposition towards - and practical aspects of - attaining the first bhumi. It is brilliant and lucid, and gives a superb insight into the whole ethos of the Mahayana. Much of its content is really an extension of earlier teaching and all of it is faithful to the precedent of the sutras. It is a conservative document, but reading it one can glimpse the genius of Nagarjuna.

Much of the path outlined in the Dashbhumika Vibhasa is extremely rigorous even for lay people. Yet much prejudice current at the time is turned on its head, for example, when Nagarjuna points out that dana given to an ordinary person is of greater merit that that given to an arhat.

Yet, what about the 'foolish being'? Is there a way that people like us who are lacking in virtue and unable to carry out rigorous practices for whatever reason can proceed in the dharma?

In explaining this further, Nagarjuna says,

There are innumerable modes of entry into the Buddha's teaching. Just as there are in the world difficult and easy paths - travelling on foot by land is full of hardship and travelling in a boat by sea is pleasant - so it is among the paths of bodhisattvas. Some exert themselves diligently, while others quickly enter non-retrogression by the easy path based on shinjin.3

It was Shinran Shonin who first came to the clearest understanding of the obvious relationship between shojoju and the awakening of shinjin. The person who accepts Amida Buddha's shinjin attains the stage of the truly settled at that moment.


1: Nagarjuna's Discourse on the Ten Stages, Dashabhumika-vibhasa, translation and study by Hisao Inagaki, Ryukoku Literature Series V, p. 20

2: op. cit. p. 22.

3: op.cit. p. 139

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