We find, again and again, that the most difficult concept in Jodo Shinshu is the relationship between shinjin and practice. So often we find that ‘practice’ is entirely restricted to saying the name (Namu Amida Butsu), which is correct as far as it goes, but it does not go nearly far enough.
Saying the name, as Shinran Shonin tells us, is not our practice at all but rather, as ‘Great Practice’, it is and must remain the sole doing of Amida.
That granted, then what, if anything, is our practice?
As mentioned elsewhere on this blog (and in slightly different terms), our only practice (if it can be called such) is to allow, in each and every moment, for the possibility that the inconceivable merit of the dharma treasury (dharmakara), bequeathed to us through the Original Vow (hongan) and made available to us through saying the name (nembutsu) in gracious response, may be actually present in us so that we may cast aside self-willed (and self-serving) reactions to arising circumstances and embrace the natural, spontaneous and uncontrived response of Amida. That is, in making such allowance, a gap is created between stimulus and response into which may flow the perfect wisdom and absolute compassion of the Buddha of Infinite Life and Light.
“When thinking of this merit accomplished by the Buddha they take advantage of His Original Vow and give themselves up to it, their three-fold activity [of body, mouth and mind] is supported by the Buddha-substance and raised up to the state of enlightenment which constitutes Buddhahood.” – excerpted from Anjin-ketsujo-sho
“When a person awakens shinjin and utters the name, Amida‘s light embraces and protects him, and in this life he acquires immeasurable virtue.” – excerpted from Jodo monrui jusho
Deep-hearing of the name may occur in each and every thought-moment, even—or especially— after the attainment of shinjin.
It is important that we understand that it is not a matter of going around doing what we imagine to be good deeds as this would be a return to a purely self-power, self-willed (jiriki, hakarai) practice. As Honen has indicated: “No working, is true working.”
And we should also understand that no deed, however ‘good’ we or others might deem it, is in any way a source of ‘merit’ to be recompensed with good fortune, enlightenment or birth in the Pure Land.
However, if we fail to allow for the ripening of the seed of aspiration-for-Buddhahood-for-the-benefit-of-all-beings which was planted in our storehouse consciousness (alayavijnana) by Amida through our initial response to deep-hearing of the name-that-calls and attainment of shinjin, and thus fail to provide for the creation of that gap between stimulus and response, we will continue to go through life (just as we have always done) constantly reacting to arising circumstances based on seeds sown through our individual and collective history and thus never allow our truest form of gratitude for the Perfect Wisdom and Absolute Compassion of the Original Vow to manifest in this saha world. Would this not be lamentable?