Turning medicine into poison, and poison back into medicine


The Vimalakīrti Nirdeśa Sūtra states:

A straightforward (simple or sincere) mind is the site of enlightenment because it has no falsehood or artificiality.

This begs the question: How can one use the complex and duplicitous mind of the self-nature of the common person to arrive at the simple and sincere mind of self-less Buddha-Nature?

Shinran, seeing the duplicity of his own mind, lost as it was in a maze of self-power calculation and ego aggrandizement, realized that in such a mind even religion/dharma (liberative theory and praxis) would be appropriated by the ego – turning medicine into poison. Jodoshinshu dharma eliminates the basis for ego appropriation by eliminating the concept of merit accumulation, while highlighting the paradox involved in the idea of attainment of enlightenment through self-power knowing and doing (using the ego to transcend the ego) replacing these with absolute reliance on the merit-store of the straightforward (sincere) mind transferred through the Other-Power practice ‘given’ by Amida.

By removing practice and even faith (shinjin) from the realm of things which the self can perform and elicit through its own limited powers and delusory views, Jodoshinshu Dharma eliminates any possible merit for the ego to appropriate. When confronted with the Ekayana Shin Dharma of Shinran‘s Jodo Shinshu, the ego has only two choices: turn away from the omnipresent reality of Buddha-Nature/Dharmakaya (Amida), or diminish and make room for the straightforward and sincere mind of Amida (as Buddha-Nature / Dharmakaya). However, as we shall see below, turning away is merely a delaying tactic, and not a permanent state.

In certain Jodo Shinshu circles Dharmakara Bodhisattva, Amida Buddha, Other-Power, Merit-transference, and the Pure Land are often understood literally and dualistically, and this is fine. But this does not represent the only or complete view. Jodo Shinshu Dharma may also be understood non-dualistically (or better yet: trans-dualistically) as reliance on formless Buddha-Nature which is ‘other’ only in relation to the deluded mind of the being trapped in samsara (the ever-revolving wheel of birth and death) due to constantly shifting ideas and desires, but which is also the basal nature of the truly settled (sincere or straightforward) mind of the person of shinjin.

Shinran, in KyoGyoShinSho, writes:

The Tathāgata gives this sincere mind to all living beings: an ocean of beings possessed of blind passions, karmic evil and false wisdom. This mind [given by Amida] manifests the true mind of benefiting others. For this reason, it is completely untainted by the hindrance of doubt. This sincere mind takes as its essence the revered Name of supreme virtues.

The Shonin also quotes from the Mahayana Mahāparinirvāna Sūtra:

Great love and great compassion are called Buddha-Nature. Why? Because great love and great compassion always accompany the Bodhisattva, just as shadows accompany things. All sentient beings will without fail ultimately realize great love and great compassion. Therefore it is taught, “All sentient beings are possessed of Buddha-Nature. Buddha Nature is Tathāgata.”

The sutra goes on to indicate that great joy and great equanimity (or even-mindedness) are also called Buddha-Nature. Shinran continues to quote the sutra as follows:

Buddha-Nature is great shinjin. Why? Because through shinjin the Bodhisattva-Mahasattva has acquired all the paramitas from charity [dana] to wisdom [prajna]. All sentient beings will, without fail, ultimately realize great shinjin. Therefore it is taught, “All sentient beings are possessed of Buddha-Nature.” Great shinjin is none other than Buddha-Nature. Buddha-Nature is Tathāgata.

The sixth Patriarch of Chan in China, Hui-Neng, seems to echo all of this when he states with characteristic clarity and concision:

If you are purely and wholly straightforward in mind, wherever [you are], whatever you are doing, you do not move from the site of enlightenment, which actually becomes the Pure Land. That is called absorption in one practice.

Namu Amida Butsu


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