Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Jodo Wasan 59

Those who attain true and real shinjin
Immediately join the truly settled;
Thus having entered the stage of nonretrogression,
They necessarily attain nirvana.

Jñana

The Buddha dharma grew out of the yogic tradition of the Gangetic Plain and the forests of the Black Mountains: the foothills of the Himalaya. However, it is a non-dogmatic (Sk. nastika) religion of awakening: the actual knowledge (Sk. jñana) of liberation. Even the utterly authoritatative teaching of the Buddha must be proven for oneself and practiced. Shakyamuni Buddha and Shinran Shonin are both yogins, they are one with enlightenment, or shinjin, respectively.

When Shinran speaks and writes, we hear shinjin; listening to him we hear the voice of shinjin itself. Yet this is something, which we can also know for ourselves: that everything Shinran wrote is the nembutsu of the seventeenth Vow 'that all buddhas praise the Name' of Amida; that it is simultaneously the two aspects of the deep faith (nishu jinshin): realization of one's hopeless bondage to karmic evil and the certainty of Amida Buddha's liberation.

Shinjin should not be accepted on the basis of dogmatic authority. True shinjin (shinjitsu shinjin) is known as it is by the person who accepts it, although the moment of its germination in moving from seed to tree is inconceivable; indeed it is always inconceivable, manifesting itself as Namu-amida-butsu.

When we keep in mind the jñana focus of the Buddha dharma we will never accept anything on someone's mere say so, but prove it within and for ourselves. So when we hear people make dogmatic assertions like, 'Everyone has already received Faith from Amida', 'Everyone is already enlightened', 'This mundane world is the Pure Land' or 'the Pure Land exists in the mind', we should treat such assertions with care, since such generalizations can never be truly known; they are dogmas. In the Buddha dharma the knowledges, the awakenings, are individual: occurring to each and every person one-by-one.

Shinran sometimes seems to use generalisations, as when he says in Jodo Wasan 6, 'None is there unblessed by the Light.' However, it is clear from his writing that - for him - the idea that the Larger Sutra emerges from the jñana of Shakyamuni is fact. It is something that Shinran knows from his own experience. It is not a matter of dogma or belief. When it came to those things of his actual experience and direct knowledge Shinran is ever only strikingly honest and frank. He invariably relates things precisely as he sees them.

He certainly did not swallow glib assurances of shinjin; for him it was truly known.

Therefore, when Amida Buddha's shinjin arises in our hearts, we actually know that we are 'embraced and not forsaken' by the power of the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha. At that very time, in the midst of busy, ordinary lives, we enter the 'rightly established state' and receive, in the present moment, the certainty that on birth in the Pure Land we will become a Buddha.

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