Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Jodo Wasan 76

Jivaka and Candraprabha earnestly admonished the king,
Saying such acts were those of an outcaste,
And that they could not remain in the castle should he persist;
Thus they tried to quell his lawless impulses.

On Violence

Jiva and Chandraprabha were two devoted followers of the Buddha Dharma, wise and gentle men they are forced to take emergency action by rstraining Ajatashatru from an act of grave wrongdoing.

It is well-known that the basis of conduct enjoined by the dharma is harmlessness (Sk. ahimsa) and we see this reflected in prominent ethical discourses like the 'Advice to Rahula' (Shakyamuni's son) which features a kind of ethic based on consideration of the degree of harm inherent in an action; both to one's self and others. This ethic is the first in human history to suggest that consideration should be given to the outcome of actions - not just from the perspective of its karmic effect, but in terms of its impact upon others. The ethical system derived from the crucial Buddhist insight into 'not-self' (Sk. anatman) was the first to be other-regarding.

Consideration of karmic outcome is a different aspect of the dharma from the ethical, since at base the objective of the practice of the dharma is to transcend karma and not merely to settle for a good rebirth. The Buddha Dharma is Vedantic - seeking to bring an end the the 'round of birth and death' (Sk. samsara) altogether. Self-centered concern for the outcome of karma (actions) is popular but inherently self-defeating.

When it comes to the matter of the violence we see in the account of the conflict at the palace of King Bimbisara, which is given in the Contemplation Sutra, a telling juxtaposition of attitudes and outcomes. Ajatashatru, the usurper, slanders the dharma by insulting the sangha; threatens his mother's life; takes decisions which result in his father's death. Eventually, Ajatashatru, is the one who suffers the most as a result.

Needless to say, the purpose of the Buddha Dharma is not to provide an ethical system nor is it to keep followers in the round of birth and death by encouraging them to practice karma which may lead to a good rebirth. The purpose of the Buddha Dharma is final transcendence - liberation. In a striking paradox, the story of Ajatashatru as it moves on from the moment that is being rehearsed in this verse, brings about the realisation, through the working of the Primal Vow, that the way of nembutsu is our only option. When this realisation is firm and unshakeable, the entrusting heart is settled and our liberation is assured.

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