Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Koso Wasan 76

Only with the diamondlike shinjin
Can we, living in the evil world of the five defilements,
Completely abandon birth-and-death forever
And reach the Pure Land of naturalness.

The Pure Land of Naturalness

Over and over again, Shinran Shonin discovers, paradoxically, that the oppressive conditions of the last dharma age are a cause for joy. Because of the tyranny of the forces, which accompany the decline of the dharma, we discover - to our delight - the power that transcends our circumstances and is, though - initially - only dimly understood, absolute; the unconditioned.

In this verse, he is thinking of some words of Shan-tao in the Hanju San:

When their lives end, they will return immediately to the unconditioned. The unconditioned is Amida's Land.1

We notice, once again, that the Pure Land is not a 'heaven'. As we have already seen, Buddhist cosmology places 'heavens' - the dwelling-place of gods of various kinds, including the gods of even major cults - within the 'realm of desire' (Sk. kama dhatu). They are encapsulated entities, comprising the five skhandas, and oppressed, as we are, by the associated limitations. Athough they may have immense power, can be invoked to help others, and are happy, loving, kind (some are angry and vengeful, too) and often extremely popular, they are subject to all of the limitations of samsara. Shakyamuni said of the gods in their respective heavens that they think they are eternal because of their longevity. Even so, they are not enlightened (although, of course, they may be very knowledgable) and have not attained nirvana. Some of the gods are so old that they even think that they have created the world, but, of course, Shakyamuni discovered that this was a process known as 'the chain of causaton' (Sk. pratitya samutpada).

In any case, leaving aside the gods who inhabit the heavens, it is an important part of the Buddhist world-view to see the heavens as part of a continuüm, which is samsara. The heavens are places of ease and comfort. Their causation is the good behaviour of those who are born there. A life that is, for example, faithful to the five precepts may result in a human birth. On the other hand, a life that is exemplary in both precepts and that is also marked by progess in meditation (zen, Sk. dhyana) will result, if all goes well, in a heavenly birth. The Pure Land of naturalness on the other hand, can be attained beyond questions of good and evil. Hence, as the Nirvana Sutra and the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho both attest, the 'shinjin that has no root in us' is the only cause.

According to Shan-tao in the Hanju San, in keeping with his learned predecessors - and, of course, Shakyamumi - the Pure Land is a synonym for the unconditioned itself. It does not belong any more to the realm of desire. Shinran further demonstrates in the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho that the Pure Land, which is described in pictorial language, is temporary and provisional; a manifestation described in such a way as to attract us. In reality, however, it is the land of light and beyond description. Any actual encounter we may have with the temporary form of the Pure Land is, in a sense, our own creation and, as we shall see in the Shozomatsu Wasan, can itself imprison and stultify our ultimate leap to final release.

The Pure Land, the unconditioned, is described in this verse as the 'the Pure Land of naturalness'. In the original text this is jinen no jodo. In a general sense, jinen is close in meaning to the Greek word physis. It can be associated with the natural world, one's 'nature' (inner make-up), natural powers, constitution, the law of nature - and so on. Jinen describes both the life of the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha, and the Pure Land. As such, the working of the Primal Vow to bring about the shinjin, which results in birth in the Pure Land - the unconditioned - cannot be inlfluenced by any interference or karmic action.

Diamondlike shinjin (kongo no shinjin is - in Shan-tao's view - tantamount to full awakening. This awakening inevitably realises its completion in the Pure Land, nirvana. It is full awakening. As we have seen, within the Pure Land tradition it involves an acknowledgement of both the fact that we are in the realm of birth-and-death (Sk. samsara) and that our endowed inheritance is nirvana. This is nishu jinshin - the twofold heart-felt insight, or faith.

In the Pure Land way, then, shinjin is wondrous and palpable. It is the only attainment that is either required or possible in this life.


1: RTS, Vol. VI, p. 101, fn. 1.

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