Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Shozomatsu Wasan 81

Those who, doubting the inconceivable Buddha-wisdom
But believing in the recompense of good and evil,
Aspire to attain the PureLand by practicing the root of good
Are taught to be of 'womb-like birth.'

The Doubters' Digest

As we approach the final verse on the subject of 'doubt', it is probably time to recapitulate the most important points about Shinran Shonin's understanding of the subject, so that we can move on from these verses with a clear idea of what he meant.

Needless to say, we can begin with an unequivocal assertion that to have 'doubt' is to lack the entrusting heart - shinjin. Perhaps 'doubt' is not a good word to translate giwaku, but it appears to be very difficult to find an alternative term, and all existing translations use it.

It is easy to think that to doubt is to 'lack something' in the sense of 'not believing' in something, but in many ways it is to be a strong believer. In fact, it is to be a determined believer in certain things, which serve as obstacles to the working of the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha. We can discern some of these beliefs from the verses on 'doubt'.

It seems to me that, at a personal level, the key doubts - or beliefs - go something like this:

  • I must be good to attain birth in the Pure Land;
  • I can obtain birth by carrying out certain practices, by following a particular curriculum or by reciting the nembutsu;
  • I must remove my afflicting passions; and
  • I must see things in a certain way or generate intentions, beliefs and faith.

I would suggest that to adopt these attitudes is to have the mind of doubt and to obstruct the working of Amida Buddha's Primal Vow. It goes without saying that doubt is the antonym of the entrusting heart, which is to accept the Name - Primal Vow of Amida Buddha - exactly as we are, including our afflicting passions, and without changing into anything other than ourselves or becoming anything other than ourselves. This is pure trust in the dharma, which becomes firm and settled by 'hearing'. 'Hearing' (chomon) involves reading, listening to, and reflecting upon the dharma of Amida Buddha.

To help us to greater clarity in respect of the problem of doubt, Shinran uses three key phrases in these verses. They are:

  1. The mind of self-power (jiriki shin);
  2. Assessing the virtue or value of actions and thoughts (hakarai); and
  3. Having faith in the potency of good or evil (shin zaifuku shin).

Shinran described the antithesis of these dispositions in one pithy sentence, when he said:

As for me, I simply accept and entrust myself to what my revered teacher told me, 'Just say the nembutsu and be saved by Amida'; nothing else is involved.1

From the above three key tendecies that are associated with doubt, many variations have arisen from time to time within the Nembutsu community. In each case all three come into play. Some examples of these are:

  • It is imperative that we should remember the first moment of the entrusting heart: ichinen kakuchi.
  • Amida Buddha's virtue becomes ours through the Name, i.e., we can become Buddhas in this life: ichiyaku bomon.
  • The joyful mind is the cause for birth: kangi-shoin.
  • Only the wise and good [can be accepted by Amida]: senju kenzen.
  • Amida Buddha and the Pure Land are only in my own mind: yuishin-no-mida and koshin-no jodo.
  • The true cause of birth is to say Amida's Name: shomyo shoin.
  • Desire for birth in the Pure Land is the true cause: yokusho shoin.
  • The entrusting heart is manifested in thoughts, words and actions: sango kimyo.
  • It is necessary to induce an awareness of one's evil nature: shin-ki jiriki.
  • Examining myself and lamenting (my evil) is the first step to the awakening of faith: shin-ki shoin.2

It seems to me that, in all of these common claims about the entrusting heart, we can see the operation of hakarai, self-centred belief in the efficacy of good and evil. They all set up expectations in regard to the entrusting heart that imply a need for something other than a simple acceptance of the Primal Vow; an acceptance, which is not burdened with expectations, pretension or effort. It is the determined and active rejection of Other Power.


1. CWS, p. 662

2. For a more detailed explanation of the manifestation of doubt see A Standard of Shinshu Faith, by Ryosetsu Fujiwara, pp. 23-25.

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