The Way of Jodo Shinshu
Reflections on the Hymns of Shinran Shonin

Jodo Wasan 78

Amida and Sakyamuni, employing compassionate means,
And Ananda, Maudgalyayana, Purna, Vaidehi,
Devadatta, King Ajatasatru, Bimbisara,
Jivaka, Candraprabha, Varsakara, and others -
[continues in Wasan 79...]


Hoben (Sk. upaya) 'compassionate means' is a practice of buddhas and those bodhisattvas who have attained the later stages (Sk. bhumi) of development. For example, the appearance - or tangible form - of Amida Buddha as the Name (Namo Amida Butsu) is an upaya of the dharma body as suchness (hossho hosshin), which is the formless, colourless, and inconceivable reality beyond time, and cause-and-effect. By becoming an intelligible, linguistic modality Amida Buddha is the dharma body as compassionate means (hoben hosshin). Hence, when the dharma body as suchness takes form, it becomes the dharma body as compassionate means.

All Buddhas and bodhisattvas have dharma bodies of two dimensions: dharma body as suchness and dharma body as compassionate means. Dharma body as compassionate means arises from dharma body as suchness, and dharma body as suchness emerges out of dharma body as compassionate means. Those two dimensions of dharma body differ but are not separable; they are one but cannot be regarded as identical.1

'Compassionate means' can be transgressive. In the Lotus Sutra Shakyamuni speaks of his own upaya, likening it to the father of children in a burning house whom he entices out with the promise of toys. In this case deception and lying is involved. The significance of this is that, because unenlightened existence is rooted in ignorance (Sk. avidya) and desire (Sk. trshna), the enlightened ones need to transform themselves into forms redolent with the ingrained substance of our personalities. Thus the buddhas can appeal to each of us in ways that are unique and appropriate.

We have already seen that Shinran's wife, Eshin-ni, described in a letter a dream she had in which Honen was revealed to her as the Bodhisattva Mahasthamaprapta; a description with which Shinran readily concurred. This, too, an an upaya. But the important thing to remember is that the upaya is not Honen's but the bodhisattva's.

Needless to say, ordinary people like us are not qualified to use compassionate means as a way to lead others to the dharma. We need to be born in the fulfilled Land of Amida Buddha and commence our career as Buddhas before this option is available to us. Any claim by an ordinary person, a bombu, to be using compassionate means is quite deluded. For an unenlightened person to do this is to stoke the fires of our own desires.

1: CWS, p. 165.

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