Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Jodo Wasan 47

Those of immeasurable wisdom throughout the ten quarters
      - past, present, and future -
All, without exception, having grounded themselves in oneness,
Equally attain the enlightenment of perfection in the two aspects
      of wisdom;
Their salvation of beings according to conditions is beyond conception.

Becoming Wise

Oneness has many synonyms and we have already encountered most of them in the wasan. Two of these synonyms are dharma nature and suchness. Shinran Shonin is, of course, speaking of the 'immutable and unchanging principle underlying all things'. In the Pure Land tradition this is Amida Buddha as the dharma body as suchness1. All buddhas throughout the universe depend upon this dharma body as the source of their enlightenment. Amida Buddha is the teacher of all buddhas.

Here, Shinran introduces more explicity the 'two truths' - which we have also already encountered - in his reference to the ' two aspects of wisdom' of the enlightenment which is the same for all buddhas. These two aspects of wisdom enable all Buddhas throughout the universe to approach sentient beings in the way most suited to their hearers, so as to to present the dharma to them. The ' two aspects of wisdom' includes the worldly wisdom which uses intellect and reason, appearance and form, to distinguish between things; most importantly, the Abhidharma of the Hinayana, in which all elements of nature and constituents of being are discriminated and analysed. The transcendent wisdom is, on the other hand, supra-rational and based upon non-discriminatory wisdom, which is compassion. These are the two great elements of a Buddha's character that are at the heart of all existing things.

Buddhas have the capacity through their 'two aspects of wisdom' to reach the entire range of existing things, understanding all beliefs, tendencies and characteristics with their prajna (wisdom) in such a way as to identify with them, because prajna is the insight into emptiness, which is the quality of all dharmas, the constituent elements of experience. This is the meaning of compassion in Buddhism.

The 'twofold wisdom' is the characteristic model of the Buddhist way of life. Since the compassion of Buddhas urges the dissemination of the dharma in the world for the liberation of suffering beings, a wholistic approach to knowledge and wisdom in its adherants is most appropriate. Those of us who are either seeking or have awakened bodhicitta, the 'mind of enlightenment' - through shinjin of the Pure Land path, or by entering pramudita, the first stage of enlightenment, in the path of sages - are particpants in an obligation to understand the world at large and to grow in both worldly and transcendent wisdom.

In the Pure Land path this growth in wisdom leads us into a deepening awareness of our status as prthagjana, ordinary people who are not sages. Paradoxically, the wisdom that comes from living in the light of the Buddha and the nembutsu way, is true knowledge of the depth of our ignorance. To know our absolute dependence on the wisdom of the Buddhas, the power of the Primal Vow, is to be truly wise. It is to know the blessedness of deep veracity; the fulfilment of actual insight.


1: 'In order to make us realise that the true Buddhahood is without form, it is expressly called Amida Buddha.' (Ryukoku Translation Series, Vol VII, p. 117). This is a passage from the Jinen Honi Sho, a letter attributed to Shinran, and said to have been written late in his life.

In any case, Shinran attests to the identity of Amida Buddha with both the dharma body as suchness and the dharma body as compassionate means (the latter aspect of the dharma body having become the fulfilled body of the Buddha) in several places in the wasan. Amida is both 'supreme Buddha' (dharma body as suchness), and the 'Buddha with form' (dharma body as compassionate means).

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