Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Shozomatsu Wasan 49

Casting off the pain of birth-and-death since
    the beginningless past,
We are certain of attaining supreme nirvana.
This is through Amida's directing of virtue for going forth and
    returning;
Our gratitude for the Buddha's benevolence is truly hard
    to fulfil.

Quiet Depths

I committed evil whose recompense spanned past,
    present and future.
Now, before the Buddha, I repent;
May I henceforth never perform evil again.1

Before his encounter with Shakyamuni and the realisation of adamantine shinjin, Ajatashatru had been a notoriously violent, cruel and inconsiderate man. But when he was confronted with the light of the Buddha he felt shame and remorse. Henceforth he determined to abandon his evildoing, which, in both his context and the sight of the dharma, is to live the life of ahimsa - non-harming. The desire to express gratitude takes a serene and joyful, muted aspect.

We know, too, from history, that the Emperor Ashoka's realisation that he could not fully express his gratitude to the dharma had a similar effect: a muted, quiet joy, that expressed itself in gentleness and generosity.

So it is that those who awaken to shinjin realise at the same time that their gratitude can neither be adequately expressed nor properly repaid. This has commonly turned to a quietude that finds expression in the peaceful arts: flower arranging, calligraphy, the desire to excel at whatever one does, the Way of Tea, quiet sitting (seiza) and attention to shomyo - chanting of the Shoshin Nembutsuge and Wasan.

None of these things are mandatory, of course, but when they feel something wonderful deeply, yet know that there is no way that they can do it justice, many people fall to quiet reflection, deep repentance and a new and buoyant life that seeks to do all things well.


1. Kyo Gyo Shin Sho, III, 116; CWS, p. 139/40

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