Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Koso Wasan 84

Those who revile and attack the Primal Vow
Are termed 'persons completely blind to dharma' or
        'persons lacking the seed of Buddhahood.'
Passing kalpas numerous as the particles of the great earth,
They long sink in the three evil courses.

Icchantikas

Shinran Shonin made several marginal notes that explain implicit questions that are raised by this verse. On its own it can leave us perplexed. What are icchantikas ('persons lacking the seed of becoming a Buddha')? In fact, if these questions do spring to mind, it is worth knowing that the icchantika-problem has a very long - and controversial - background.

Shinran says in a marginal note that icchantikas are 'those for whom it is hard to attain the status of a Buddha; those wholly without trust in the Buddhist teaching'. The question that caused endless anxiety within the Buddhist community was whether or not an icchantika could be anything other than an anti-Buddhist boor.

Was a person who had spent his or her life frankly abusing the dharma, capable of changing? This question is truly vexed because Buddha-nature, which is the potential to become a Buddha, is a given quality implicit in all constituents of existence (Sk. dharma). It is a synonym of tathata (suchness) - the 'wisdom that fills all things'. How is it possible for icchantikas to be devoid of Buddha-nature and beyond any hope of becoming a Buddha?

Nevertheless, the Nirvana Sutra, which contains Shakyamuni Buddha's final words, resolves this question. It makes it clear that, yes, even icchantikas, are endowed with Buddha-nature.

Who are the people who would revile and attack the Primal Vow? What is it that they do, which could be spoken of in such strong terms: 'to revile and attack the Primal Vow'? Shinran's marginal note clears this up for us easily. 'Those who would revile and attack the Primal Vow' are those who (in Shinran's words) 'say that the teaching one follows is superior and that the teaching others follow is inferior'. These people are the inherently blind.

Tragically there is very little likelihood that, because they see the Pure Land way as inferior, they will ever become Buddhas, since they may never accept shinjin of the Primal Vow.

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