The apparently selective arising of settled faith


I am frequently asked: “Why does settled faith arise in some people and not in others?

When I humbly contemplate the matter, I recall that Shinran in the Koso Wasan wrote:

Looking to and encountering the moment
When faith—firm and diamond-like—becomes settled
In that instant Amida’s compassionate light grasps and protects us,
So that we part forever from birth-and-death.

In Jodo Shinshu, faith and practice as well as realization (their mutual fruit) are said to be ‘given’ by Amida rather than being dependent upon the calculative efforts of the individual.

[NOTE – While many see this as being an instance of a unique ‘innovation’ on the part of Shinran, it is really just a very specific restatement of the general Mahayana concept of the identity of practice and attainment which is another way of asserting the identity of Buddha Nature and Buddhist Practice (the Japanese Zen Master Dogen also wrote about this – this is not a concept unique to Shinran, though the skillful means (upaya) which he designs to project it, is so).]


Such ideas as these (the identity of Buddha Nature and Practice) are implicit in the Fo Xing Lun (“Buddha Nature Treatise”) and the Tathagatagharba literature and stem from the concept that Buddha Nature is the promise (vow), means (practice) and fulfillment (Realization) of Buddha Dharma.

For Instance:

There are four aspects to the meaning of ‘child of the Buddha’: cause, condition, basis, and fulfillment. There are two causes: Buddha Nature and Joyful Faith. Of these two (causes) Buddha Nature is unconditioned, while Joyful Faith is conditioned. Joyful Faith—as that which attains Buddha Nature—is the cause of completion because it manifests and completes the true causal nature. Joyful faith—as prayoga— is the productive cause because it gives rise to all practices.

So, if faith, practice and realization are all ‘given’, why is it that some people develop settled faith (shinjin/anjin) while others simply ‘have faith’ (belief) in a creedal sense?

Shinran wrote:

Truly we know that without the virtuous Name, our compassionate father, we would lack the direct cause of birth. Without the light, our compassionate mother, we would stand apart from the indirect cause of birth. Although direct and indirect causes may come together, if the karmic consciousness of true and real faith is lacking, one will not reach the land of light. The karmic consciousness of true and real faith is the inner cause. The Name and light—our father and mother—are the outer cause.
Kyo Gyo Shin Sho, II, 72; CWS, p. 54.


So, the Shonin seems to be indicating that “the karmic consciousness of true and real faith”—which he calls the ‘inner cause’— is that which allows the ‘outer cause(s)’ of Name and Light (Life and Light, Wisdom and Compassion – i.e. Buddha Nature) to bring forth settled faith (shinjin/anjin).

Judging from the foregoing it would seem that the “karmic consciousness of true and real faith” refers to whatever seed in the storehouse consciousness (ālāyavijñāna) allows one to respond to the hearing of the name and vow with not only faith (of the creedal or dryly epistemological type), but with joyful faith arising from overwhelming gratitude. This joyful faith allows one to “[Look] to and [encounter] the moment when faith—firm and diamond-like—becomes settled.” And it is also this Joyful faith that “attains Buddha Nature” and “gives rise to all [practice]. And it is also this same Joyful Faith that the Shonin likens to the “first fruit.”

Thus it is written in “The Hymn of True Shinjin“:

The Name embodying the Primal Vow is the act of true settlement,
The Vow of entrusting with sincere mind is the cause of enlightenment;
One realizes the equal of enlightenment and supreme nirvana
Through the fulfillment of the Vow of nirvana without fail.

The Tathagatas appear in this world
Solely to teach the oceanlike Primal Vow of Amida;
We, the ocean of beings in this evil age of the five defilements,
Should entrust ourselves to the Tathagata’s words of truth.

When the one thought-moment of joy arises,
Nirvana is attained without severing blind passions;
When the ignorant and wise, even grave offenders and slanderers of the dharma, all alike turn about and enter shinjin,
They are like waters that, on entering the ocean, become one in taste with it.

The light of compassion that grasps us illumines and protects us always,
And the darkness of our ignorance is already broken through;
Still the clouds and mists of greed, desire, anger, and hatred
Cover as always the sky of true and real shinjin.

But though the light of the sun is veiled by clouds and mists,
Beneath the clouds and mists there is brightness, not dark.
When one realizes shinjin, seeing and revering and attaining great joy,
One immediately leaps crosswise, severing the five evil courses.


And in “Notes on the Inscriptions on Sacred Scrolls” it is written:

Know that when the true and real Shinjin that is one thought-moment of joy unfolds, you will be reborn without fail in the land fulfilled by the primal vow. Joy is joy upon realizing Shinjin…


As I continue to contemplate this matter, it seems evident that it is the ‘evil person’ who is most likely to have that “karmic consciousness of true and real faith” that is “One thought-moment of joy” which allows for the arising of Joyful Faith at hearing the Name and Vow. Perhaps it is for this reason that Shinran made this arguably infamous (certainly controversial) yet undeniably insightful statement:

Even a good person attains birth in the Pure Land, so it goes without saying that an evil person will.


And Shinran Shonin, to be very clear about all of this, announces in the preface to his masterwork, Ken Jodo Shinjitsu Kyogyosho Monrui:

Hence I know clearly that the auspicious Name of the all-complete supreme virtue is the embodiment of the perfect wisdom that can turn evil into merit and also that joyful faith, indestructible as a diamond but difficult to accept in our hearts, is the truth that removes our doubts and awakens enlightenment.

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