Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Koso Wasan 49

Second, shinjin is not single
For it lacks decisiveness;
And third, shinjin is not enduring,
For it is disrupted by other thoughts.

Constancy

Nevertheless, distracted by the business of everyday life, I tend to be negligent for hours at a time. Still, whether day or night it never slips from my mind, and there is only the act of rejoicing in Amida's compassion; there is solely the diamondlike shinjin whether walking, standing, sitting, or reclining, without any thought of the propriety of time or place; there is only the saying of the Name out of gratitude for the Buddha's profound benevolence and for the joy imparted by [the benevolence of the masters].

The nembutsu is not a daily routine for me. I wonder if this is wrong. As the matter of ultimate importance for my life, nothing surpasses this. Wishing to receive, if possible, your full and detailed instruction, I have written down something of what I have thought.1

I conveyed the contents of your letter in detail to the Shonin, and he stated that it was altogether free from error. 2

This is a short quotation from a long letter sent by Kyoshin to Shinran Shonin, followed by a comment added by Ren'i. Ren'i points out that Shinran had given his full consent to almost everything that Kyoshin wrote.

The passage that I have reproduced here is important because it sheds light upon Koso Wasan 49. Although he is distracted by the business of daily life, and negligent in formal nembutsu ( shomyo), Kyoshin is aware at the core of his being of the benevolence of Amida Buddha.

Thus, single-mindedness and constancy equate neither to narrow-mindedness nor mere continuity of practice . Shinran's perspective on the way of nembutsu is such that breadth of vision and the demands of daily life are not precluded. He brought to light the way that, in single-mindedness, we discover openness and freedom.

Throughout the centuries leading up to - and including - Shinran's time, those who took up the nembutsu way displayed an unsettling anxiety about this practice: they found it hard to develop a sense that their destiny was assured. The result was a tendency to obsessive calling of the Name of Amida Buddha. One's faith and attainment tended to be valued on the basis of quantity. Great Pure Land masters, especially Tao-ch'o, Shan-tao and even Honen Shonin were famous for the number of times they said the nembutsu each day.

Shinran realised that it is not the quantity but the quality of the nembutsu that matters. It is for this reason that he seems to have found such a kindred spirit in T'an-luan and especially valued the passage upon which he based the five verses that we are considering now.

Shinran does not hold constant repetion of nembutsu to be a matter of form. Instead, it is an inward disposition - shinjin. Any formal, outward expression is a matter of opportunity and does not demand regular, rigorous practice. Nembutsu as an outward display of gratitude for the benevolence of Amida Buddha is integral to the very ethos of the nembutsu way - but, at the same time, it is not a weighty burden of ritual obligation.

The way of nembutsu inevitably calls us to constancy but Shinran determined that it is not a burden but a source of freedom and openness. How is this so? Shinran explains it in the course of these final verses dedicated to T'an-luan.


1: CWS, p. 542.

2: CWS, p. 543.

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