Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Shozomatsu Wasan 20

Concerning the aspiration for supreme enlightenment in the
      Pure Land path,
We are urged to realise the mind that seeks to attain Buddhahood;
The mind that seeks to attain Buddhahood
Is itself the mind that seeks to save all sentient beings.

The Bodhi Tree

This verse begins a new series of thirty wasan that celebrate the wondrous Power of Amida Buddha's Primal Vow. The previous verse, which introduced the Vow of Light and Life, serves as a transitional point between Shinran Shonin's lamentation at the darkness of un-illuminated human existence in this dharma-ending Age and the irresistible power of Amida Buddha's shinjin. In this way Shinran delineates, once again, the two aspects of the 'mind of faith'. As we have seen, the first is the realisation that our human limitations make fulfilment of the bodhisattve path impossible for us; the second is the simultaneous realisation of Amida Buddha's Vow, which opens the way for us.

This section of the Shozomatsu Wasan has many resonances with the Jodo Wasan, except that the author now has a life-time of experience to draw on. His insights are firmer and more profound: instead of drawing on sacred texts like the Larger Sutra, Shinran speaks as one who has clear first-hand knowledge of the truths that they reveal. He is at a stage of life in which his earliest discoveries, hopes and intuitions have been confirmed. The record of the Pure Land way through history is that it is always thus.

This verse and the seven following verses represent the very heart of Shinran's discovery of the purpose of shinjin - its place in the the schema of the bodhisattva vehicle. The verse that we are considering now is a direct quote from T'an-luan:

In reflecting on the Sutra of Immeasurable Life taught at Rajagrha, it is clear that although among the three levels of practicers some are superior in practice and some inferior, not one has failed to awaken the mind aspiring for supreme enlightenment. This mind aspiring for supreme enlightenment is the mind that aspires to attain Buddhahood. The mind that aspires to attain Buddhahood is the mind to save all sentient beings. The mind to save all sentient beings is the mind to grasp sentient beings and bring them to birth in the land where the Buddha is. Thus, the person who aspires to be born in the Pure Land of happiness must unfailingly awaken the mind aspiring for supreme enlightenment.1

'The mind aspiring for Buddhahood' is none other than bodhi-citta, the bright aspiration for enlightenment that occurs at the dawn of the bodhisattva career. In the remarks that lead up to that wonderful quote from T'an-luan, Shinran proclaims a fact that seals the Pure Land way as the quintessential approach to the bodhisattva vehicle - not just in the dharma-ending Age, but, as we shall see - for all people of all time.

[The serene faith (shingyo)] is directed to beings through the power of the Vow. It is the mind that aspires to attain Buddhahood. The mind that aspires to attain Buddhahood is the mind aspiring for great enlightenment of crosswise orientation. It is called 'the diamondlike mind of crosswise transcendence.'

Although the same term is used, the crosswise and the lengthwise minds of aspiration for enlightenment differ in significance; nevertheless, both take entrance into the true as right and essential, both take true mind as their foundation, both reject the wrong and sundry, and both take doubt to be erroneous.2

'...the mind aspiring for great enlightenment of crosswise orientation' refers to bodhi-citta in the Pure Land way. After this passage, Shinran goes on to warn us to listen carefully to what he is saying and to understand the implicit message of the quote from T'an-luan's Ojoron Chu, which follows - and which I have quoted above. You will also remember that the crosswise transcendence is the Pure Land way; the 'lengthwise' is the path of sages.

Let us be clear about this. Shinran knew 'the mind aspiring for great enlighenment' as integral to his spiritual life; he could not see how such a mind could conceivably arise within the mind of one, like him, who is 'outwardly wise, inwardly foolish' - a living manifestation of the bondage and darkness of the dharma-ending Age. For him there was no question that it had originated in the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha. Although Amida's light could not be seen, it was known, it was felt.

The importance of Shinran's emphasis cannot be over-stated. Probably because of his strong identification with T'an-luan, the Pure Land sage and exponent of the Mahdyamika system, Shinran's Pure Land perspective is more nearly attuned to the orthodox tradition of the bodhisattva vehicle. Although the Pure Land way had been drifting for centuries in the direction of a devotional and even sentimental doctrine, Shinran stopped this tendency in its tracks by reminding one and all that the actual manifestation of faith (Sk. prasada) in a person was a sign of the inception of the bodhisattva career - and that it emerged in association with the mind aspiring for enlightenment, bodhi-citta. The special feature of these events in the Pure Land way is that it is recognised that such profound realisations cannot be generated by the mind of self-interest, but only from 'outside' (for want of a better term) - from Other Power.

There is more. Along with the drift into devotionalism and ritual the Pure Land itself had begun to be seen as the objective, as the goal of seekers. However, in a passage from T'an-luan's Ojoronchu (it occurs slighty later than the one, which I quoted above from the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho) it is made clear that there will be no birth for those who seek the Pure Land as an object in itself. Shinran stresses, following T'an-luan, that the motivation that supports those who ride upon the bodhisattva vehicle is 'the determination to save all sentient beings'.

The suggestion that the Pure Land is a 'thing in itself' and not essentially a transformative process is constantly eroded by the use of inappropriate terms like 'heaven' or 'paradise' to describe it. Both these terms suggest a static end-of-journey accomplishment. In the Buddha-dharma also, heavens remain within the 'world of desire' (Sk. kama dhatu), while the Pure Land transcends it. The correct and original name for the Pure Land is sukhavati, 'Land of Bliss'. From the perspective of the Dharma there is only one 'bliss', namely 'nirvana'. sukha is the obverse of dhukha - suffering - in the way that 'nirvana' is the obverse of 'samsara'. Sukhavati is the attainment of Enlightenment, the stage at which one becomes a Buddha.

Shinran draws us back to traditional Buddhist orthodoxy when he insists upon reminding us that the attainment of enlightenment is for the 'salvation of all' and not merely for our own enjoyment. In precisely the same way, the Pure Land does not exist, so to speak, for our enjoyment but as a place of transformation and transition.

This brings us, at last, to the very heart of the dharma. For Shakyamuni the shade of the bodhi tree was nothing less than the 'sukhavati', the 'Land of Bliss' that is the Pure Land. From the very beginning the dharma tradition has supported such an idea. From beneath the bodhi tree, Shakyamuni attained enlightenment; he surveyed all of time both forwards and backwards; he understood the dharma in all it fullness; he filled the world with his compassion and light. Yet sitting under the bodhi tree enjoying the bliss of nirvana was not the purpose of his quest. He had set out with the mind that seeks to save all sentient beings.

In time Shakyamuni stood up and walked down from the Buddha Land that was the shade of the bodhi tree and back into the world of the five defilements: to proclaim the Turning of the Wheel of the Dharma.

The mind of faith, shinjin, in the Pure Land Way, shares precisely this same goal.


1. CWS p. 108

2. CWS p. 108

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