Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Koso Wasan 66

Performing auxiliary and right practices together is 'mixed praxis';
Since those who endeavour in this way
Have not attained the mind that is single,
They lack the heart that responds in gratitude to the
      Buddha's benevolence.

On Communication

Shinran Shonin is unable to let go of these unforgettable words of Vasubadhu,

Single-heartedly I, take refuge in Tathagata of light - permeating Unhindered the Ten Quarters.1

When we arrive at 'the mind that is single', settled shinjin is established in us. What is the mind that is single? Why is it so significant? Only a person who has such a mind can tell us.

There are many ways that we human beings communicate with each other, some are useful, some are false and some are the best we have. After he had returned to Kyoto from the east, Shinran clearly depended to a great extent on writing.

Writing is one of the true forms of communication. For most people, I am sure that it is impossible to tell lies in writing; and there is something most malevolent about someone who consciously sets out to mislead others by means of the written word. Such action requires a deliberate, pre-meditated intention to deceive and to distort.

This is not to deprecate the wonderful art of story-telling, for allegory is a time-honoured way of conveying truths and insights that are difficult to tell in other forms. When we enjoy fiction or stories handed down through time, we know that the author is not lying, even though he or she is using an artform that is often only loosely connected with fact.

Writing has the advantage of intimacy. Readers give their undivided attention to the author, and we can pause in our reading to ponder the events and ideas that are presented to us. Without doubt, writing is the finest medium by which to transmit tradition from one generation to another. As I have previously suggested, Jodo Shinshu is a very literary religion.

Rennyo Shonin strongly encouraged reading:

When you read the scriptures, there is no use just passing your eyes over them. Rennyo Shonin advised, 'Make a point of reading the scriptures over and over.' Also, 'There is a saying If you read a passage a hundred times, its meaning becomes clear by itself. Remember this. The passages of the scriptures should be understood as they are. After that you can refer to the master's personal instructions and orally transmitted teaching. Arbitrary interpretations should never be applied.2

Rennyo used to say to youngsters, 'Make it a rule to read (scriptures).' Next, when they become a little older, he said to them, 'It is useless if you do not review what you have read.' When they became old enough to be sensible, he admonished them, 'Even if you read the scriptures and discern their sounds well, you ought to know their meanings.' Later on, he warned, 'After you have learnt the meaning of passages, it would not do you any good if shinjin is lacking.'3

So, a first rule for spiritual development in Jodo Shinshu is that we should often 'read the scriptures'. As Rennyo says, it is only after mastering the scriptures that it is meaningful to turn to commentaries or other living teachers. The scriptures themselves may be difficult but with repeated reading their meaning becomes clear. They should be our principal resource so that we understand the teaching accurately and are able to critique the writings of others for ourselves.

There is no question that to understand and attain 'the mind that is single', Shinran is the best resource even now, 750 years after his parinirvana. His works canvass the entire scope of the Pure Land tradition - from Shakyamuni Buddha to Shinran's own teacher, Honen. Nevertheless, it depends on our own preferences as to just what works within the corpus of his writing we find most useful. The most popular collection of Shinran's words is the Tanni Sho, which is a completely reliable, yet succinct, work.

Some writers convey a much greater closeness than others. For some reason, Shinran is an intimate writer and the Hongwanji translation of his writings - The Collected Works of Shinran - is truly skilled, in that this fine work manages to convey this intimacy to those who can only read English.


1: CWS, p. 191.

2: Thus I Have Heard from Rennyo Shonin (Rennyo Shonin's Goichidaiki-kikigaki), tr. Zuio Hisao Inagaki, Dharma Lion Publications, Romania, 2008, [Goichidaiki-kikigaki 2008] p. 61.

3: Goichidaiki-kikigaki 2008, p. 100

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