Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Jodo Wasan 41

Pure winds blow in the jewel-trees,
Producing the five tones of the scale.
As those sounds are harmonious and spontaneous,
Pay homage to Amida, the one imbued with purity.

The Complexity of Being

The way we see things, the way we hear things - our disposition when confronted with ideas, events and people - can have profound repercussions. Our spontaneous reaction can rebound not only throughout our own lives but, potentially throughout the lives of countless others. Many people suffer indelible scars because an event or person - which confronted them - caught them at a vulnerable moment. The same person or event can induce a reaction within us of attraction, or repulsion just because of the mood we are in, or because of associated environmental factors like smell, or scent; whether or not we are feeling ill or well, or irritable or comfortable. The same 'innocent' remark from a friend can sometimes cause us to respond with anger and irritation or laughter and delight, depending how we feel about ourselves at the time. Like a chime of bells, we are each made up of complex variants that sometimes mesh and sometimes seem to interact discordantly. We all tend to move gently between 'highs' and 'lows'.

The 'five notes' may be seen as an allegory for the transformation of the 'five aggregates', the skandhas. The first is rupa skandha - form. It includes all material objects, including the great elements of earth, water, air, fire and their derivatives. The second is vedana - sensation. Sensation is the 'interface' between externalities and internal consciousnesses. Then there is samjna skandha, which is perception; the way sensations are received and interpreted. It is where errors of judgement that result in inconsistent and mistaken reactions occur. Fourth is samskara - will. It is at this point that karma is produced. Sensations and perception do not generate karmic results - it is how we respond to them and determine to address them that matters. Finally, the fifth group is called vijñana skandha - conciousness.

In the transformed Pure Land (keshindo) the 'hot' complexities of personality - warmed as they are by greed, anger and folly - are assuaged by the 'pure breeze' of the dharma - as Shinran describes it in this wasan.

One of the most striking functions of the transformed Pure Land is to set up an image of reality, which is in an environment where the dharma holds complete sway. It is completely absent of greed, anger and folly and so the perception of form and the resultant response is entirely sweet and harmonious - replete with wisdom and compassion. This image of the pure dharma realm serves to make clear to us that our current existence in samsara is entirely discordant and inharmonious both within the confines of our own being and in our environment.

The dharma realm of the Pure Land is truthful and harmonious but the world of our current experience is a realm of lies, illusion, distortion and competeing interests.

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