Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Jodo Wasan 81

Let us overturn the three minds of self-power,
      whether meditative or nonmeditative,
Which vary with each practicer;
Let us aspire to enter into shinjin
That arises from Amida's benefiting of others.

Of Seeds and Trees

Today we will think about seeds and trees; of the way in which implicit things become explicit.

No living organism - if it is really a vital thing - emerges into the light of day as a fully formed, mature proposition. Every thing that has life grows from a seed - the 'germ of an idea'. Eventually, too, it grows old, tired and weary and dies; and is superseded by its offspring. Thus the Buddha Dharma emerged at a time of immense perplexity, which had arisen in the world because of the irrefutable certainty in people's minds, that the ruling principle of events was the law of karma. This caused immense anxiety: and Shakyamuni was the one who discovered how to transcend the wandering in samsara which it set in train.

The germ of Shakyamuni's idea was expressed in the Sutra on the Turning of the Wheel of the Dharma, which revealed the the Eightfold Path and the Four Noble Truths. This seed was to become a huge tree of wisdom, compassion and knowledge, and it would in time encompass almost the entire civilised world. The liberating awakening increased its light into a life-giving sun which spawned a plethora of religious movements and gave nourishment and refuge to countless millions of people for now more than 2,400 years.

The great tree of the Buddha Dharma continues to draw on the germ within its original seed for the content and millieu which propels it on to ever greater heights. This is the process we can see everywhere in the world of human ideas and spirituality. It is true that some new branches wither early and this usually happens because the pattern of the seed is violated or deformed in some way; thus cutting off the nutrients. But wherever there is growth, strength, beauty and truth it is always because some idea implicit in the original seed has become explicit. Religious movements grow and develop - and bring forth new ways and new ideas as they manifest those things which are integral to the whole and the origins of the movement; but may often have at first been hidden or implicit.

Shinran Shonin is a genius of the spiritual life because of the clarity with which he understood this fact. Studying the dharma deeply and widely and, having spent a lifetime contemplating it and its implication for the liberation of all, Shinran saw things which only he was able to bring to light.

In the Three Pure Land Sutras, he saw an implicit significance which refered back always to the Primal Vow. Even in the Contemplation Sutra - which is ostensibly about meditation - he saw anew things which had been lying dormant for a thousand years. Shinran gives prominence, not to the meditation techniques that are described in the sutra, but to the events which elicited the proclamation of the Pure Land way. And in the Contemplation Sutra we are enjoined to cultivate 'three minds' in association with our spiritual practice:

  1. Sincere mind (shijoshin);
  2. Deep mind (jinshin);
  3. The mind which aspires for birth by transferring one's own merits (ekohotsuganshin).

Having established in the previous few wasan that we have no merits to transfer, Shinran sees in these three minds, not only the one mind of the entrusting heart but that this one mind is of the Other Power, pointing out - in his marginal note - that 'shinjin' is 'the Primal Vow's true and real shinjin.'

In drawing our attention to these new buds, which were implicit in the Pure Land way, Shinran's acuity sparkles and illuminates our hearts; his radiant insights freeing us from the constraints of our blindness and bringing us blissful consolation.

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