Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Shozomatsu Wasan 114

The Minister Moriya of Yuge,
Because of his boundless false views,
In order to urge all people,
Called the Buddha simply 'hotoke'.

False Views

'Boundless false views'...

Shinran Shonin seems, here, to be alluding to the ancient Buddhist concept of drsthi (Pali, ditthi), view, or opinion. He is going to deeper levels than previous examples of references to false views, when he talks about 'the ninety-five wrong ways'. It is fascinating that at this stage - so late in the day - he draws our attention to such a basic aspect of the Buddha Dharma.

The Mahayana does not usually incorporate the Hinayana teaching of the 'Eightfold Noble Path' into its practice. Its primary concern is with following the Buddha Path to full Enlightenment and not just freedom from suffering. But samyak drsthi, or 'right view' is the first characteristic of the Noble Eightfold Path. Right view is one of two rungs of the Eightfold Path that are classified as a feature of 'wisdom' (prajna), which takes a very prominent place in Mahayana practice. Prajna is closely related to the old Hinayana concept of 'wisdom' but developed, in the Madhyamika tradition, into an exercise in the negation of all views (drsthi).

The first thing that we should remember is that the Buddha Dharma is practical and empirical at the outset, and metaphysical, or theoretical later. I am not speaking here of a linear, temporal process, but of systemic priorities. Most religions seem to establish a doctrinal basis first, and then build a practical course from it, which leads to the goal. The Buddha Dharma works in the opposite direction. There is usually a testing process, and then the path opens up before one.

Shakyamuni was an explorer. He did not begin by constructing a vast theoretical edifice, and then seeking to mould himself into its assumptions. Rather, his way was a quest. He set out to 'discover' an undiscovered truth and then, having found it, to follow its way. Jodo Shinshu is no less a part of this tradition: our quest is generated by the struggles of life and we eventually find release in the Primal Vow, which turns out to be integral to existence and has been waiting for us since time began.

Because the Buddha Dharma is a way of discovery, it was, from the first, designated by other Indian philosophical traditions as nastika, a non-dosctrinal religion. Although much is made of this category within Indian religious discourse, it really only serves to place the Buddha Dharma firmly within the Yogic ethos. Once again, Jodo Shinshu is part of thios same yogic religion. The term 'follower' of faith (shinjin no gyoja) reminds us of the yogic origins of the Nembutsu Way.

In the early days of the Buddha Dharma, the practice was developed into a formal structure. For those of us who inherit the east Asian Mahayana tradition, this was the 'Reality' School (sarvastivada of the Buddha Dharma, which evenually merged with the Mahayana and became a basic feature of it, in much the same way as the foundations of the house merge with the overall edifice itself.

From this essential base grew the shunyatavada schools, which are like a patio. Although they are theoretically supported by the original structure, they prefer the emptiness of the outdoors and a view of the clear sky. The Yogacara Schools preferred to stay indoors and to appreciate the benefits of the original structure, while acknowledging that the foundations had gained greater significance.

It seems to me that the Pure Land Schools are a remarkable blend (rather than a synthesis) of the Sarvastivada and the Madhyamika. Philosophically, our way never really devoloped the kind of sophistication that came to the fore in the other, more metaphysically inclined schools of the Dharma. Although we all work hard to identify a more advanced philosophical basis for Jodoshinshu, it remains a fact that it is essentially a practical school, which is concerned with the objective of entering the pramudita (stage of joy) in the Bodhisattva Path. Awakening to the prasada (Jp. shingyo) of the serene heart (prasnna citta), one enters the way and becomes a bodhisattva - a perfect vehicle for absolute compassion in the world.

So it is, that a study of the foundations of the Buddha Dharma, reveal a purely practical, or empirical, prior status. From this a report is given (Buddhist Scriptures) of the way that we can also develop our practice so as to meet the objective in attainment that has been discovered. To come back to Jodo Shinshu once more, the reading of the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho is just that - it is a report of the way that Shinran found of ultimately moving into the Bodhisattva Way.

This brings us back to 'false views'. A 'false view' is to have an a priori structure at the outset and then to seek to fit ourselves into its pattern. The Kyo Gyo Shin Sho, or the letters of Rennyo Shonin, still embrace the quintessentially Buddhist way of seeing things. For example, from Rennyo's point of view, the facts of our attainmenent are not the initial focus, it is whether or not we abandon all practices and take refuge in the Vow of the Buddha that is the really urgent and pressing question. It is not the doctrine that is prior but what we do. Once we take refuge, then we will discover the truth.

To go back to the Sarvastivada, and to the Abhidharma, which is central to their practice. It is not an exposition of doctrine but a handbook of practice. When we follow its roadmap we will eventually find ourselves at the cusp of our goal. In the same way, satya drsthi (right view) in Jodo Shinshu involves the abandonment of a priori concepts and an immersion in the practical guide - which comprises the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho or the gobunsho (Letters) of Rennyo.

False view in Jodo Shinshu is hakarai, calculation. We are asked to abandon the construction of views and practice, and accept 'Right View', which is the 'Wisdom of the Buddhas'.

- July 21, 2006.

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