Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Koso Wasan 51

Because it is not shinjin that is decisive,
Mindfulness does not endure;
Because mindfulness does not endure,
One does not realise the shinjin that is decisive.

Things That Come to Mind

The decisive shinjin (ketsujo shin), which assures the ultimate attainment of enlightenment is not evident when thinking on the Buddha (okunen), so it does not endure.

Our minds are always aware of the beating of our hearts but we rarely stop to listen to it. Sometimes, though, we become conscious of it - in times of joy or extreme stress. Yet, it beats constantly so that we can stay alive. It seems to me that this is analogous with the life of constant mindfulness of the Buddha. Sometimes people of nembutsu find themselves saying Namu-amida-butsu and hear, with greater awareness the call of the Vow. It is a kind of living the spiritual life, without any effort. On the other hand, such living is free of sanctimonious posturing or overt piety. People I have known who are manifestly people of determined shinjin are like that. There is nothing about them that you can see that is special except perhaps a deeper humanity: like people who are really alive and not living in an entirely habitual or mechanical way. I have heard many stories of such people; and I am sure that I know some, too.

Rennyo Shonin suggests in one of his letters that the person of shinjin has a questing attitude, so such a person would not be conceited or complacent, but would always be seeking and growing, with a child-like mind. A child-like mind does not mean, of course, infantilism but an open, eager, questing spirit that is always asking questions and learning more. This is what one would expect from someone who lives in the light of Amida Buddha. It also manifests a measure of internal security, as well. The closed fist of a mind and heart is a frightened, insecure one.

Mindfulness - and constant consciousness - is an ancient feature of living in the dharma. Samyac sati is the seventh rung of the Noble Eightfold Path. It is a power (balam) and, so the Other Power is consistent with this feature. It seems to me that this mindfulness is essentially free from attachment, so that a self-constructed faith which clings to hopes and beliefs is not real mindfulness. Right mindfulness involves seeing things in a way that is not coloured by prejudice, values or assumptions. For example, in dhyana things just come and go and one does not cling to them, hold on to them, judge them or give them significance. There is the famous saying, 'When sweeping, know that you are sweeping.' This suggests that the constructs - our reasons for doing something - that surround any activity that we undertake have fallen away and we are wholly engaged in what we are doing. Our daily work always has the potential for this kind of disposition and I have discussed it before.

Constant mindfulness of the Buddha involves an encounter with life that is not coloured by judgemental, qualifying inputs. Although we need to control our behaviour in order to function amicably and efficiently within society, the embrace of the Buddha, frees us to see and accept the reality of the contents of our conciousness (Sk. manas), just as they are. As we have already seen, we are speaking mainly of the kleshas (bonno) and it is these which remind nembutsu people, paradoxically, of the embrace of the Buddha. For the shinjin (believing mind, prasanna citta) of the nembutsu path is ever two-fold - as we shall see in more detail, when we come to the verses concerning Shan tao. The person of such internal dynamism is, to my mind, a person who lives in truth. Clearly, Shinran was such a person.

What comes to mind is a plethora of impressions that stimulate a response: love, fear, hate, friendliness, joy, loathing, depression, and so on. The Abhidharma actually lists many of these things when it ennumerates the kleshas: ignorance, lassitude, indolence, scepticism, false-humility, arrogance, anger, deceit, stingyness, jealousy, the desire to hurt others, affliction, misrepresentation of ourselves, arrogance and concealment. These are all listed in the Abhidharma as those constantly arising and falling defilements (bonno, Sk. klesha) that fill our minds and hearts. The Buddha-dharma has no illusions about the reality of the human mind.

How is it possible, under these circumstances, to live in such a way as to be always conscious of the Buddha? Well, I would ask, 'How is it possible, under these circumstances, not to live without persistently thinking of the Buddha?' With one's kleshas so apparent and so real, how could one avoid living in constant adoration of the power of the Primal Vow?

Namu-amida-butsu

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