Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Jodo Wasan 98

When we say 'Namu-amida-butsu,'
Which surpasses all virtues,
Our heavy obstructions of evil - past, present, and future -
Are all unfailingly transformed, becoming light.

Lightness of Being

Here we are not talking about mere behaviour but something far more profound and organic. Hindrances (Sk.: nivarana) lie at the very core of our existence, serving to compound our difficulties in pursuing the way. They stop us being able to practice the dharma effectively and make us unable to discern the truth. They surely weigh heavily upon us. They are deeply oppressive and can cripple our ability to live effectively. They cause us to live with a sense of being constantly confused and in darkness. We are tossed from pillar to post, always runnning after this or that, driven to respond blindly to random stimuli; never knowing what to think, what to believe and what to trust.

The hindrances are mainly sensuous desire, ill will, sloth, indolence, restlessness and scruples. They are a great burden for living because our judgement is always clouded by the fog and the emotional noise that they create. They cause us, for example, to respond to people on the basis of whether or not we find them attractive; or, we are driven by unthinking prejudice and bigotry. We know that our life is bound by this debilitating fog but we can't name or identify it properly.

It is only in the nembutsu that results from the awakening of shinjin that this oppressive burden stops weighing us down and crippling our spirits. This is probably the most momentous effect of faith in our everyday life and one point at which it has mundane implications.

When the hindrances cease being a burden, they also lose their power over us, allowing us to set out cheerfully upon the way. The clouds of desire, fear and anger break away and the light of Amida Buddha makes its presence felt. We literally have a sense of lightness and of freedom. We can see that although the hindrances are organic, we are more able to accept ourselves as we are. We discover that there is really nothing that exists except Amida Buddha.

This relief, the lifting of the burden of karmic hindrances, manifests itself in different people in different ways, because there is a myriad varieties of human personality and background. The relief and joy is in direct relation to the depth of oppression one has felt in the first place.

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