Practice and Shinjin on the Pure Land Path

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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?

14 responses »

  1. Hi James,

    Something that I have been wondering about recently in relation to Pure Land practice is what role, if any, the cultivation of mindfulness has? From my studies of other Buddhist traditions I know that mindfulness/ awareness/ introspection /observation plays a crucial role in the practitioners path towards awakening, however, these sorts of things don’t really seem to get a mention much in the Pure Land tradition. I’m assuming this is because they belong to the path of the sages more so than the Pure Land path as they usually involve the practitioner making an effort (self-willed) to cultivate these qualities. Does this mean that Pure Land practitioners in general do not try and cultivate these qualities even as an expedient upaya, remembering that ultimately the enlightened state, which is the perfection of clear lucid awareness, is inherent and cannot be cultivated as such?

    I ask this question as I wonder whether a person with a background in one of the other Buddhist traditions, for example Therevada Buddhism or Chan, who is now trying to adopt a Pure Land mode of Buddhist practice should then stop trying to practice mindfulness in everyday life? My intuition tells me no, as the practice of mindfulness seems to be quite effective in eliminating bits and pieces of suffering in life, but then the logic of recognising our helplessness and our inability to achieve true spiritual fruits through self-serving and ego bound motives makes me think perhaps yes.

    Thanking you in advance.

    Amida

    • The normal (and very traditional) response would be to say (as you have clearly indicated) that one should drop mindfulness for simply saying the Name as the former practice would indicate a return to self-power and a relinquishing of Other Power.

      However, as Śākyamuni has made quite clear, the Dharma is skilful means (upaya) not doctrine.

      In order for upaya to be effective it, like any good medical treatment, must take context into consideration.

      The normative answer (given above) was neither formulated nor prescribed with your use-case in mind and is thus less than suitable as a prescription for you.

      There is also the matter of the use of the technical term ‘mindfulness’ which has come to mean so very many things in common discourse.

      There is also the use of the term ‘qualities’ which must be corrected.

      Let us work backward with these issues and see what our tradition (Buddhist and Jodoshinshu) tells us.

      The term ‘quality’ (Sanskrit: gunam) refers to a property possessed substantially by a thing (like being white, or smooth, or round). Thus, ‘mindfulness’ is not a quality.

      ‘Mindfulness’ (Sanskrit: sati) is a spiritual or psychological faculty (Sanskrit: indriya); it is the fundament of Buddhist praxis.

      That being said, it should be clear that it would be disingenuous for me to tell you to give up the practice of mindfulness per se. What needs to happen is to transition the concept of what ‘mindfulness’ is so as to bring it in line with the broad and encompassing upaya that is the Pure Land tradition.

      To initiate this transition in perspective I will use a quote from the noted scholar/practitioner, Thomas Cleary:

      …I learned to practice turning the light around according to the methods of all the major schools of Buddhism … I was most dramatically affected by the Chan and Pure Land ways of awakening this consciousness [of the Golden Flower]…

      I mention this to let you know that mindfulness is indeed part of Pure Land practice—even a very powerful part—it is just re-contextualized and may thus be less recognizable to those more familiar with other schools of Buddhism. Rest assured that it is not absent.

      In fact, Shinran Shonin in his Jodo Monrui Jusho (Passages on the Pure Land Way, section on Practice) has written:

      Saying the Name is in itself mindfulness; mindfulness is nembutsu….

      Rupert Gethin has (rather usefully to our purpose) described ‘mindfulness’ (sati) as:

      an awareness of things in relation to things, and hence an awareness of their relative value. Applied to the satipațțhānas … what this means is that sati is what causes the practitioner … to ‘remember’ that any feeling he may experience exists in relation to a whole variety or world of feelings that may be skillful or unskillful, with faults or faultless, relatively inferior or refined, dark or pure.

      Now, as to what ‘mindfulness’ might look like in Pure Land practice, I am reminded of a saying of the late Zuiken S. Inagaki, a lineage-holder in the Horai (‘Dharma Thunder’) school of Shin Buddhism:

      Whenever I reflect
      I find myself full of evil passions;
      I accept myself as such.

      Now, if you will permit: let me ask you a question:

      If you are in a room and someone shines a bright light into the room that you are in, what happens to your shadow?

      Does it disappear?
      Does it stay the same?

      What happens?

      • Thank you for your reply, and thank you for correcting my inaccurate use of the word qualities. I need to be more careful with my choice of words. Also thank you for your obvious consideration of the context with in which I am asking this question, and although such a thing is probably incumbent on anyone answering a question to do with Buddhist praxis, I find it very helpful to be shown what the traditional approach is, but also how that should be understood and applied in different contexts.

        It is reassuring to know that mindfulness is also a part of Pure Land practice, but that I find it reassuring perhaps indicates I’ve become a bit attached to my usual mode of practice (what limited practice I do do that is).

        My first thought in answer to your question was that it depends on where the light is coming from. If it is being shone from directly above, it could actually eliminate your shadow, but if it’s side on, it is going to increase your shadow. However, I am not sure if those sort of details are inconsequential. Either way, though, in both cases your shadow would be changed by the shinning of the bright light, so my answer would be that no your shadow does not remain the same by the shinning of the light.

        I’m not sure whether it would be best for me to share what my initial guesses at what your analogy might be pointing to, so I will await your reply before commenting further.

        Amida

      • If the light is coming from above, the shadow will be below (though possibly difficult to see). And, as you say, if the light comes from any side the shadow will increase in size and darkness. These are all external shadows that only seem slightly connected to oneself.

        What if that light came from all sides at once? The shadow might seem to disappear but would actually completely fill one from the inside surface of your form to your core.

        And, finally, what if that light also came from inside as well? Where would the shadow be then?

        It would be darker and cast from inside to the outside (the better for our viewing), and from outside to inside … an internal core casting shadows without, and an external form casting shadows within.

        Of course, as with all analogies and metaphors with any spatio-temporal basis, this one too must break down and cloud rather than clarify the issue.

        But it was useful to show that the shadow darkens, extends, and can be more or less visible (both to oneself and to others) depending on perspective.

        The beauty of the actual reality is that with Shinjin you are flooded with light and one becomes almost accidentally at times, consciously at others, mindful of one’s shadow (as in the quote from Zuiken); furthermore, one accepts and embraces it, but is not defined by it. Also, and quite thankfully, little by little it fades away.

        When we are still at the stage where Amida is perceived as an ultimate Other, the light shines all around us and is the more apparent for doing so, while the shadow is seen to be thrown by the presence of the self. With shinjin and the realization that Amida is within and without without distinction, and with the constant deepening of the realization of the emptiness of the self, the light and darkness of Nirvana and samsara, Amida and devotee, Buddha-Nature and self-nature cease to be so sharply defined.

        Now, there are some that do not like it when people mention that last part. They argue that the Pure Land tradition requires (always) that Amida (Buddha) is held to to be separate from the self. However, this not only contradicts Mahayana Buddhism in general, but also the Anjin-Ketsujo-Sho, and Shinran Shonin’s own Ken Jodo Shinjitsu Kyogyosho Monrui (Kyogyoshinsho), where it is clearly indicated in Shinran‘s quotation from Shan Tao:

        This mind attains Buddhahood. This mind is itself Buddha. There is no Buddha apart from this mind.

        Amida is called ‘Buddha of Unimpeded Light’ precisely because ‘His’ light is not impeded by ‘our’ darkness. In the end, emptiness is form and form is emptiness and Nirvana and samsara and Buddha-Nature and self-nature are learned, seen and known to be one in essence though many in manifestation.

        Postscript: It is also worthwhile to note that the in the Pure Land path, the light shown on oneself is gentle and only increases in intensity as one is able to bear it (through increased reliance on Other-Power). Otherwise, one’s shadow might seem too dark, because one is still relying on self-power, and because one is so very attached to it.

  2. Thank you for your Answer!

    From what you have said, am I right in then understanding mindfulness in the Pure Land tradition as something that is then cultivated through the practitioner opening themselves to Amida’s light, this light being the awareness of things in relation to things and their relative value? I’m not sure if this is right, but it seems to me that in turning to Amida and away from the menagerie of desires, distractions and doubts in our minds, we are both creating that little bit of space in our minds for some free awareness to exist (just as practitioners do in any sort of mindfulness practice) and creating space for Amida’s light to exist and flow into our mind.

    I can definitely relate to the experience of letting go of a particular obsession and feeling the mind brighten, and so in a Pure Land context, when we remember the Buddha in the face of all our kileshas, is there then the double whammy of gaining that light that naturally comes from dissolving a little piece of attachment in your mind, and the space that the creates which then allowing Amida’s light to shine through. However, it then seems that at a certain point you can’t distinguish between the open, clear awareness of your mind and of that given by Amida. Is this what you are pointing at in your answer above?

    Your answer also reminds me that, based on my limited understanding and what I’ve been fortunate enough to be taught, mindfulness or clear awareness is not something created through volition, but rather produced through returning the mind to its natural bright state, done through relaxing the knots of attachment that distort and twist the awareness. Given this, I can see how a path of mindfulness developed through remembrance of the Buddha and relinquishment to the buddha-mind completely makes sense, and would help avoid the delusion that you can push yourself towards being more aware or even enlightenment.

    I also found your postscript addition to be very timely, as just yesterday I was walking down the street and realised that I think of Pure Land practice as me sitting around, waiting for Amida to do something, but then I thought, hang on a second, really isn’t it that Amida is waiting for me? Waiting for me to stop my reliance on and attachment to the self and my shadow, and to be able to welcome the selfless buddha mind and its light, which at many levels I am actually very afraid of. Thinking about this and your postscript, I can then see how the degree to which progress is made is only limited by the degree to which we can bear the intensity of Amida’s light.

    Is it then through the practice of equanimity that one learns to be able to stand in Amida’s light and not want to run away from the long shadow that it casts?

    • It is as exactly you say. In every moment we have a choice to follow the self where it would lead, or follow Buddha-Nature where it would lead. We plan and arrange but our plans go awry and our arrangements suffer from lack of clarity. Letting go we lighten and loosen and this brings more light and as we let go we cease to have such a hard shell (it become at least semi-transparent).

      The analog for our Christian brothers and sisters would be:

      For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.

      Also, it is well to become aware that there is some volition involved in all Pure Land practice.

      We would never tell anyone we do not drive our car, we let Amida drive our car for us; or that we do not do our grocery shopping, but rely on Amida to do it for us; or that we do not fend off muggers, but expect Amida to do that for us.

      No, we do all those things ourselves. The important thing is we do not (or should not) consider the doing of these things as ‘good’ acts, deserving of merit, to be repaid by rewards and favors (spiritual or material).

      So too with mindfulness as the “awareness of things in relation to things and their relative value“. If we follow the self, it will determine what the value of anything is relative to itself. It avoids pain and seeks pleasure. It is averse to that which would tarnish its self-image and attracted by that which would provide it with glory.

      If we weigh the relative value of following self-nature to that of following Buddha-Nature, we have already exercised volition, but that volition too is ultimately given to us. For, of ourself, we would never make that decision. And, of ourselves, we have neither light nor life. It is all very subtle. Do not freeze into immobility, rather move with grace.

      In Pure Land practice we are always aware of our darkness, but never morbidly so.

  3. And now, having understood this, one can lay it aside and engage in nembutsu (or Buddha remembrance) until such time as shinjin arises. One must explore as much as is necessary so that one clears away the cobwebs of doubt (and one might add, disinformation), but when the mind has been swept clean of the cobwebs, one is once again left with the deep listening and heartfelt response of nembutsu.

  4. Thank you for your response and clarifications! Although upon reflection it seems very obvious, your reminder that at the end of the day we should not expect Amida to drive the car for us or do our grocery shopping was really helpful. And so too was your encouragement to return to the essential matter of remembering the Buddha once one’s doubts have been clarified.

    I was actually going to ask a further question about what your thoughts are on practitioners engaging in the practices of multiple traditions at once, but feel that your Genshin’s Ōjōyōshū post pretty much already answered this – almost 🙂

    My further question in relation to this is, given that teachers who encourage people to practice the Nembutsu are not saying that people should stop there other good practices, I still wonder whether there could be complications from trying to practice two methods at once? For example if someone is in engaged in a self power practice of the Sage path and an other power practice of the Pure Land, is there a danger that in moving between the two practices the practitioner may unconsciously be selective in choosing to practice one thing over the other?

    To be honest, although I can see how the Pure Land path has enormous advantages in terms of it being safer to practice without the close guidance of a teacher, that in can be practiced by anyone anywhere, and that by it’s very nature it offers no opportunity for the ego to usurp the spiritual process, I still, however, find myself hesitant to fully take it up, and find it less appealing than other schools or traditions of Buddhism (as superficial as that sounds and with no offence intended). From my discussions with other practitioners and my observation that Pure Land Buddhism is much less popular than Chan or Vajrayana in the West, or in Australia at least, this lack of appeal seems to be reasonably common to people who have grown up in a Western cultural context.

    This is straying a little bit from the initial topic, but have you also seen this where you a based, and if you don’t mind sharing your own experiences, where you initially attracted to Pure Land as a path when you first came in contact with it?

    Having said this, precisely because I don’t find the Pure Land that appealing and because I can feel that a part of that (if not all of it) is related to me feeling like it will take away the sense that ‘I’ have achieved something in spiritual practice, I think that Pure Land is a good remedy and a good form of practice. But then again, true success with any other method of spiritual cultivation wouldn’t allow for any ego aggrandisement either, so perhaps the only difference with Pure Land is that it makes this much clearer, emotionally and rationally, early on.

    Thank you for your continuing thought and attention given to these questions.

    Amida

  5. It can indeed be detrimental to to try to follow both the Holy Path and Pure Land path at the same time. This is not an insurmountable problem, but one’s knowledge and competence must be vast, and one’s deportment must be exemplary.

    The quote from Thomas Cleary (in our original reply) indicates that moving between Holy Path and Pure Land theory and practice can indeed be done. But the question that remains is: “In your heart of hearts, do you know that you are the sort of practitioner who can manage living a lay householder’s life, with all its attendant distractions and diversions, and also acquire and maintain the knowing and the doing of the theories and practices of a variety of different schools such that one can effectively establish, abide and engage in the mindset appropriate to each in its proper time for the necessary duration?”

    The post from the Ōjōyōshū was to indicate that if the only thing that is stopping you from embracing the Pure Land path (and the nembutsu) was that you felt unable to abandon the Holy Path at this point, then you should not let that stop you from reciting the nembutsu. If and when you attain shinjin (complete and total entrusting) then you will not need the other practices and they will drop away of themselves, for the nembutsu, as the Buddha’s Great Practice, encompasses all practices.

    So, while it is not appropriate to encourage you to mix practices, doing so (that is, continuing with Holy Path practices) while yet embracing the mindset and praxis of the Pure Land path would be more beneficial than completely abandoning the latter in favor of the former – unless you are truly a very, very competent practitioner.

    Now, as to the Pure Land path being less favored by Westerners, yes, we too find it to be true. It is common in the West to hear the phrase ‘self-help’ or ‘self-improvement’ and this mindset is endemic at present, so it is really no surprise that Westerners tend toward schools that seem to cater to that mindset. One might also say that the point of Holy Path practices is for them to be ultimately transcended and forgotten. That is consonant with the highest Tantra and the Ekayana. It is at this point that the Holy Path and Pure Land path come together.

    Do not the Daoists say:

    The absolute is the unifying law of yin and yang and the five elements. If you want to operate yin and yang and the five elements, do not by any means focus your effort on yin and yang and the five elements. You must concentrate on the absolute, practicing being unborn; then yin and yang and the five elements will operate spontaneously and naturally without you having to seek to operate them. This is an unknown truth that brings out the whole matter by getting to the gist of it.

    What YOU should do I cannot say – it is not my place to remove that choice by making it for you. The stickiest thing in life is the matter of inclusion and exclusion. Have we the theoretical competence and practical discipline to maintain a fire if we scatter the coals? That is the question one must put to oneself.

    We, personally, have engaged the theories and practices of many schools and traditions. Those practices we found most appealing and effective were the Dzogchen of the Nyingma, the Golden Flower practice, the Chan, the Jìngtǔzōng and the Huáyán which encompasses all. But we settled into the Pure Land theory and practice of the the JodoShinShu tradition due, primarily, to an experience we had the lineaments of which tied in most closely and directly to what Shinran Shonin taught and Amida epitomized; and also, in part, because of an unforeseen event which altered my capabilities such that I was limited in my ability to do any practice with a physical component, or to even read or write without difficulty.

    I am very grateful for this ‘catastrophe’ for it has brought much joy to me in being able to understand and assist my father who has had Parkinson’s Disease for over 25 years. It also made me focus on what I could and could not do – inclusion and exclusion.

    That being said, the combined Zen and Pure Land schools as found in China, Korea, Vietnam and Japan attest to the popularity of this combination. Zuiken S. Inagaki (quoted in our original reply) also combined Zen with Pure Land. But, again, this requires much more out of the practitioner.

    In closing, I hope that you take to heart all the considerations involved in whether or not a combined practice is a viable solution. For myself, I just utter the nembutsu in humble gratitude for being grasped, never to be abandoned.

    _/|\_
    gassho

  6. We have been avoiding making this too obvious (wishing for others to arrive at this insight on their own), but as this question keeps arising it behooves us to be quite clear:

    It is not so much that one must give up other practices, but that the practices must be retooled in light of the Pure Land upaya.

    Put as simply as can be: the goal of any and all miscellaneous (auxiliary) practices should be to come to an awareness of the limited capacity and warped will of self-nature and the Absolute Compassion and Infinite Wisdom of Buddha-Nature, and the value of turning one’s self over to that Other Nature.

    Mindfulness (S. Sati, J. Nen) becomes awareness of one’s self-nature in relation to Buddha-Nature;
    Stopping (S. Śamatha, J. Shi) becomes the calm-abiding of abandoning self-nature through remembrance of Buddha-Nature;
    Seeing (S. Vipassanā, J. kan) becomes insight into the the nature of one’s experience such that one is made aware of the limitations of self-nature and the unboundedness of Buddha-Nature;
    and so on … the ultimate goal of which is simply to prepare the way for shinjin (practices are not causative).

    Until shinjin arises all practices (including nembutsu) are self-power practices; after shinjin has arisen all practices (including nen, shi and kan) are Other-Power practices, subsumed in the sole practice of nen-butsu.

    • Thank you very much for that response. My apologies if my ability to not successfully read what was been suggested by your other comments and quotes lead to you having to spell things out so explicitly, but the clarity with which you’ve framed the practices of Sati, Śamatha and Vipassanā with in Pure Land praxis is really helpful. Though, I am reminded that sometimes there are losses from having someone else have to chew your food for you, and next time I will try and chew the food I have been given.

      Thank you also very much for so clearly outline the considerations in mixing practices. I don’t think it requires much searching on my behalf to know that I am not the sort of exceptional practitioner, or even a tenth of that sort of practitioner, that would be able to manage integrating two different practices and the required discipline and depth of theoretical competence. I have a hard enough time trying to not let the coals scatter as it is, let alone adding to that. That Daoist quote sums up the fundamental aim of it all so perfectly,

      Thank you for sharing a bit of your own history and experience practicing Pure Land too. I’m sorry to hear about the event that happened to you, but it is beautiful to read how you have been able to draw many lessons and much joy from it as well, and therefore my ‘sorry’ is probably quite misplaced.

      That question of inclusion and exclusion is a really good one to remember and reminds me of the line from the Dao De Jing, ‘Therefore (the sage) leaves that and takes this’. I definitely need to look closer at what I’m taking and what I should be leaving.

      Thank you for all your advice and guidance!

      And thank you to the source of all that advice and guidance 🙂

      Amida

      • > My apologies if my ability to not successfully read what was been suggested by your other comments and quotes lead to you having to spell things out so explicitly…

        It is not only you who are confused about this matter—I receive all sorts of enquiries on this topic (including from archaic methods of communication – like ‘snail’ mail)—it is a tradition-wide issue. Shinran so wanted those of simple faith to take up the nembutsu and to ultimately attain shinjin that he didn’t often bother spelling out certain elements that would be required for those who might be approaching JodoShinshu from a similar background to himself (a monk of the Tendai order (Ch. Tiāntái zōng). Only in the Kenjōdo Shinjitsu Kyōgyōshō Monrui (顕浄土真実教行証文類), or Kyōgyōshinshō (教行信証), did he provide such material, but only through quotes from other sources and one is forced to be active in determining the actual teaching from these quotes.

        It is very much like the quote from K’ung-fu-tzu:

        I do not open up the truth to one who is not eager to get knowledge, nor help out any one who is not anxious to explain himself. When I have presented one corner of a subject to any one, and he cannot from it learn the other three, I do not repeat my lesson.

        But to such simple ordinary folk as ourselves, Shinran did not follow this rule, instead he gave straight, simple lessons on the essentials of faith alone.

        To the learned scholars on Mt Hiei, however, he followed the advice of K’ung-fu-tzu and defended the teachings of his master, Honen Shonin, in that very scholarly format so in vogue at the time: quotations from scripture without much to tie them together.

        While some of what is taught here on this dharmalog is denied by sectarian preachers, there is in fact not even a single teaching which is not derived from Kyōgyōshinshō, Tannishō, or other writing by Shinran Shonin. My own master always told me:

        Quote the sutras and the shastras and the writings of the great masters. Found all of one’s teaching on the written tradition – for in doing so, whensoever one’s teaching is contested, one can point to the source and all may be edified.

        I have taken this teaching of my master’s to heart so that I might found my teaching on the best available evidence.

        That said, one must ultimately go beyond tradition or one will merely become traditionary; nevertheless we must use tradition to guide us unless and until we can go directly to the suprahistorical source which gave life to the tradition in the first place: Buddha-Nature.

        _/|\_

  7. A reader writes: I’m not sure if this question is appropriate to be posted on this website so feel free to edit it or not post it…

    It is, as you say, not appropriate for this site.

    I, in pathetic imitation of the ‘thunderous silence’ of the Buddha in answer to metaphysical questions which could only be verified by direct experience and should not be made into intellectual subjects, will begin this response by quoting a couplet found in a tantra on ‘The Non-Duality of Gods and Demons’ from the second chapter, entitled ‘A Discourse in which Vajra Dharma Mati Blesses the Five Nirmanakayas’:

    We may caress our mouths with our ideas
    But we will not thereby cut through to the root.

    While I appreciate intellectual discussion as much as anyone, this site is specifically set up to facilitate deep hearing of the Name that Calls with the inevitable result of the arising of shinjin, not to explore matters, however intellectually stimulating, that are not directly connected with that goal … especially matters likely to distract the internal hearing from attentiveness to the Name that Calls.

    The site must continue to focus on indicating to Western students of Buddhism, that Shinran Shonin was not guilty of creating an aberrant or arbitrary fabrication in developing Jodo Shinshu, but rather provided a careful and considered hermeneutic following a survey of the Buddhist canon (tripitaka) that was both broad and deep.

    More specific to your question: let us not over-reify facets to the extent that we forget the multifaceted nature of the whole.

    And, as Frank Herbert has been so often quoted of late, perhaps I may be forgiven for doing so yet again:

    It’s like life—it presents a different face each time …

    So, we could modify our first quote to read:

    If we caress our mouths with the Name
    We may thereby cut through to the root.

    [Note – the term ‘intellectual’ is here being used in its contemporary, colloquial usage and not in its traditional, technical usage.]

    Addendum:

    The Same reader writes: I was wondering if you could … clarify how the Pure Land upaya [is] more or less suitable for certain people?

    We have mentioned elsewhere (in a comment to the post ‘Backsliding into Apathy’):

    Th[e] conversion process is known in JodoShinShu circles as Sangan Tennyu. In the 6th and final Chapter of Shinran‘s Ken Jodo Shinjitsu Kyogyosho Monrui, we are informed about this process which begins in a variety of self-powered ethical pursuits and meditative practices very much like those of the Path of Sages. This preliminary phase is where many if not all of us begin. Then we may enter a phase characterised by fervent devotion to the single practice of saying the nembutsu. This is still a self-powered endeavor with gross or subtle expectations of merit acquisition. Many people never make it beyond this phase. Ultimately, and beyond all calculation or expectation, there may occur a sudden release from the bonds of self-power machinations and self-serving calculations, and a welling up of gratitude and joy for having been grasped just as we are, never to be abandoned. From this arises, gradually, a life of ‘naturalness’ (jinen) characterized by experience of the transcendence and immanence of the Infinite Light and Life of Amida Butsu, and we thus enter the station of the truly religious life which is utterly without expectation or calculation … a gratefulness and joy that we cannot but feel whether or not this means we experience hell or heaven now or in the hereafter.

    So, for those without will, a true teacher (chishiki, a contraction of zen-chishiki) will develop their will and place them under the 19th or 20th vows. Allowing them to approach the surrender of the 18th at their own pace.

    While for those that are ready, they will be encouraged to “attune [their] will with reality” and entrust themselves to the inconceivable promise of the Primal Vow (hongan) directly.

    Such a thing cannot be rushed and is a matter of ‘grace’ not ‘industry’ – we will deeply hear the Name that Calls when conditions are ripe for us to do so. As long as we do not actively fight it, that time will arrive sooner rather than later.

    One might even be forgiven for asserting that between these two aspects lies much the same difference as may be found between Mahayoga and Atiyoga, respectively.

    _/|\_

    Namu Amida Butsu

  8. Thank you so much for this reply!

    It helped remind me to not get lost in intellectual speculation and to remember the real task at hand. It also clarified the purpose of this blog for me.

    Also thank you for the Addendum. That really clarified some of my questions about the Pure Land upaya and how a teacher might emphasise certain aspects of the upaya to address where the student is at. I also hadn’t previously considered how the vows of Amitabha relate to self-willed practice and great practice, and your mention of these and the difference between mahayoga and atiyoga also helped me get a better understanding of your previous post on Pure Land as Ekayana.

    Thank you,

    Amida

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