Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Koso Wasan 19

Shinjin is the mind that is single;
The mind that is single is the diamondlike mind.
The diamindlike mind is the mind aspiring for enlightenment;
This mind is itself the Other Power.

Vajra Citta

What a truly wonderful verse this is! Here is the voice of Shinran Shonin in all of its certainty and security. It is the voice of a person who has become settled in his destiny, and knows it at depth; the voice of someone who found total affirmation of his realisation in the sacred texts that he knew and consulted.

We find an exposition of the concepts found in this verse in the fifty-second section of the Book of Shinjin in Shinran's six-volume anthology, the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho. In this passage, too, he traces the origin of the kind of enlightenment mind (bodaishin, Sk. bodhi-citta) that arises in the heart of an ordinary person; the mind - as we shall soon see - that is the assurance of nirvana, along with the mind of compassion that dawns with it, in the next life.

The adamantine, or diamondlike mind, is a synonym of bodhi-citta. Bodhi-citta is the moment of full and uncompromising determination to awaken to enlightenment for the sake of oneself and all other beings. It arises in conjunction with the first moment of settled faith. All Buddhist traditions acknowledge this or a similar process as being the key of the gate to the path to Buddhahood, which is the goal of dharma practice.

Adamant (Sk. vajra) is an especially apt term to use for the arising of pure confidence or trust in the dharma because of its association with awakening. All Buddhist schools tell us that all conditioned things are impermanent. The unconditioned, which is nirvana, is permanent - adamantine, like a diamond. It is neither generated nor passes away.

Adamant (Sk. vajra) was thought to be the irreducible inner core of refined gold. The dharma tends to use metallurgical, mineralogical and meteorological metaphors to describe its reality and experience. The vajra, adamant, is both a diamond and a thunderbolt. This describes in one metaphor its immutability and the way in which it is realised. It arises in a split second, in a brilliant flash of realisation; suddenly everything is momentarily revealed. The mind is forever transformed - having for a trice seen things as they are.

We all experience lightning in thunderstorms. When a thunderclap and a flash of lightning occur simultaneously, we are almost bowled over by the sound and at the same time see our surroundings with absolute clarity. After that, darkness floods back in but we are now aware of our surroundings as never before. In the spiritual life our 'seeing' leaves us permanently transformed. Our significance, destiny, view of life and self-image change forever. The thunderbolt remains our defining moment. Soon the sound of the thunderclap and the flash of light themselves fade from memory but their effect upon us never leaves us. So the adamantine shinjin, that Shinran speaks of, describes (at least as I see it) his sense of settled destiny.

This kind of ontology - sense of being - is very difficult for us in our time, especially for those of us who live in societies which have inherited the European tradition. We are conditioned from birth to see the spiritual life as soft and elusive - rather 'unreal'. To us it is the world of the senses which is real. Anything that is not tangible is dubious; perhaps even illusory. Thus this verse challenges our prejudices, for it suggests that the reality is otherwise. It is the spiritual life which is solid and lasting; the material life which is false and evanescent.

Our perception of the material world as being durable and real is a matter of prejudice. It is actually an irrational view, since it can be clearly demonstrated that our perception is inevitably distorted and that sensory things all pass away. But a materialist ideology desperately tries to hide this uncomfortable truth. We see the symptoms of our mass-psychosis all around us, especially in our worship of youth, our denial of death and the fact that we only have a sense of purpose or worth if we are earning money so that we can consume goods ad services.

In section fifty-two of the section of faith in the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho, Shinran presents a careful analysis of the diamond mind and its synonym, the Bodhi Mind. There is no question in his mind that this mind settles our future as being an eventual awakening to nirvana. He takes up the traditional view that there are two kinds of bodhi-citta and that the bodhi-citta of the Pure Land way is the only one available to him. He says forthrightly that the same word, bodhi-mind is used in the teaching of the dharma, 'though with different meanings'.

Shinran did not see how it could be possible for an ordinary person like him - a person beset by the conflicting attachments of his heart (bonno, Sk. kleshas) - to realise the bodhi mind and attain enlightenment, but he was quite certain that he had realised it, even so. He knew from the joy that he remembered on entering the gate of the way at the time of his meeting with Honen Shonin in 1201, that, at that moment, his life had been irreversibly transformed. He found in the writings - especially of Vasubandhu and T'an-luan - clear confirmation of this awareness and identified it with bodhi-citta; the bodhi-citta of the Pure Land way.

If it was difficult for Shinran to see how he could awaken bodhi-citta, which is essential for progress along the Buddhist way - it is even more unimaginable for us. We have a world view which actively abrogates spiritual realities. There was, for Shinran, only one way in which it could even be remotely possible for bodhi mind to have awakened for him, and that was by the active intervention of the bodhi mind itself. Instead of the bodhi mind being something that he had worked to attain, it was something that burst into his world, unexpectedly, uninvited, inconceivably, incontrovertibly and permanently. To Shinran, it was amazing and incredible.

Given our circumstances and our conditioning, it is even more amazing and incredible that bodhi mind should arise in our time.

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