It was mentioned in a comment elsewhere on this site that I suffered great physical trauma about a decade ago, the effects of which took years to manifest. This trauma, the result of a college student texting while they were driving, has left me in a physically debilitated state which few would envy.

Recently, someone asked me whether my faith might have been misplaced because it clearly did not prevent this catastrophe and its resultant suffering from happening.

While the question exhibits a complete lack of understanding of the essence, function and fruit of faith, it nevertheless has value as an opportunity for clarifying Jodoshin dharma.

True Religious faith, basic trust, true entrusting … these are not based on the idea that one will not suffer if one has such faith. Indeed, it is an indication of a lack of faith or trust to harbor any such idea. Such an idea can only spring from a fullness of ‘self’ – it springs from the ‘I’ that does not want to suffer.

True faith, true entrusting grows in inverse proportion to the fullness of the self. True faith springs from emptiness of self (sunyata). As a result of self-naughting it becomes impossible to desire any special dispensation for the ‘self’, rather as faith grows there arises a certainty that whatever happens has arisen in time and in time shall pass away—just like the ‘self’. It is not held to be ‘good’ if it is pleasurable, nor ‘bad’ if it is painful. It simply is and one just responds (but never reacts) to its arising.

Most of us will not arrive in our lifetimes at the point of complete self-emptiness, but in listening to the Name-that-calls and in calling the Name in grateful response we become more and more aware of the very real limitations of the ‘self’ and slowly, almost imperceptibly, we reconnect with the Source of all things. The process of self-naughting thus begun does not allow the self to wholeheartedly believe that it could possibly know what is truly best. One comes to realize that the individual ‘self’, being empty, cannot be hurt by happenstance and is therefore ultimately immune to harm through the vicissitudes of fate. What’s more, as we become emptied of ‘self’, we have the opportunity to become fulfilled by ‘Self’ — the Great Self (Mahapurusha, Buddha-Nature) which is empty of ‘other’.

Are we interested in personal benefits as a reward for ‘our’ faith or does faith extend beyond such mercantile, transactive, and ultimately self-ish, motivations? This is a question well worth asking (imho) … again and again and again.

Of course, true faith, in Jodoshinshu, is not ‘ours’, but ‘given’ by Amida, so the question above points directly to the root of error.

The Primal Vow is for Me, Alone…


A disciple of Shinran came to him with a deep concern regarding the state of his faith, as recorded in Tannisho:

Although I say the nembutsu, the feeling of dancing with joy is faint with me, and I have no thought of wanting to go to the Pure Land quickly. How should it be [for a person of the nembutsu]?’

When I asked the master this, he answered, ‘I, too, have had this question, and the same thought occurs to you, Yuiembō!’

When I reflect deeply on it, by the very fact that I do not rejoice at what should fill me with such joy that I dance in the air and dance on the earth I realize all the more that my birth is completely settled. What suppresses the heart that should rejoice and keeps one from rejoicing is the action of blind passions. Nevertheless, the Buddha, knowing this beforehand, called us “foolish beings possessed of blind passions”; thus, becoming aware that the compassionate Vow of Other Power is indeed for the sake of ourselves, who are such beings, we find it all the more trustworthy.
– A Record in Lament of Divergences 9; CWS, p. 665.)

Alfred Bloom in his ‘The Essential Shinran: A Buddhist Path of True Entrusting” notes:

This is a very significant chapter in the Record in Lament of Divergences (Tannishō) indicating Shinran’s deep identification with, and sympathy for, his disciple … [Yuiembō] did not have joy in the prospect of his birth in the Pure Land, due to the continuing bondage of passion that attends foolish beings … [He] felt quite the opposite because of his worldly attachments and passion and Shinran acknowledges he did also …

This is accurate and true as far as it goes, it is nevertheless individual, specific, and particular. The Shonin expresses sympathy and empathy, and lets the disciple know that while his Master shared the same doubt, nevertheles his faith was settled rather than troubled by it, so there is no need for concern.

While, for Yuiembō, this was precisely what was needed in the context of that encounter, for those of us temporally, geographically, culturally, and contextually distant from the event, more may be needed.

With all due respect, I would like to suggest that we look at this encounter afresh to see the pedagogical method which deep insight and keen self-awareness led Shinran to employ. The Shonin intuitively reframes Yuiembō‘s doubt in light of Amida‘s vow to “grasp all beings”. This is such a useful method for approaching one’s own doubts that it is very worth examining.

Shinran here takes the source of doubt, in this case lack of joy in the prospect of birth in the Pure Land due to the continuing bondage of passion, and turns the very source of doubt into a source of certainty, reassuring his disciple that since Amida‘s vow is especially directed to those of great karmic evil, confusion, and delusion, then it stands to reason that our manifestation of such traits is the very thing that highlights the certainty that the Primal Vow is precisely directed at, and effective for, us.

Shinran wrote:

When I deeply ponder the Vow of Amida, which arose from five kalpas of profound reflection, I realize that it was entirely for the sake of me, Shinran, alone.

This reflects the Ekayana teaching that the source of life is unique, singular, and whole yet shared by all; and the notion that the totality of Reality is resident in each and every part. This is an extension of the analogy of Indra’s net.

In the Śūraṅgama Sūtra it is recorded that:

From [Reality], which does not abide anywhere, springs the world and living things.”

And in the Vimalakīrti Nirdeśa Sūtra it is said that:

It [Reality] is identical with the essence of things, as it is immanent in them all.

The great Huayen scholar-practitioner, Fa Zang, comments:

One should know that all beings without exception will eventually follow this teaching [the Ekayana teaching of inherent Buddha-nature], for it is a Universal teaching that they are all endowed with. Thus, the [Huayen] Sutra says, “The Bodhisattva knows that the enlightenment of the Tathagata is present in the body of every sentient being.”

So, Shinran, in consoling and encouraging Yuiembō, weaves all of these strands together in a tight fabric which simultaneously reveals the interpenetration of the One and the many and the source of the many in the One, but also discloses that since there is ultimately only one Nature (Buddha Nature, Tathata, Suchness), the entire edifice of the Dharma is only for one alone and there is no obstruction which can prevent one from being grasped, never to be abandoned.

Happy New Year!

Frank Herbert on Permanence and Impermanence


Frank Herbert on Permanence and Impermanence

The assumption that humans exist within an essentially impermanent universe, taken as an operational precept, demands that the intellect become a totally aware balancing instrument. But the intellect cannot react thus without involving the entire organism … And thus it is with a society treated as organism. But here we encounter an old inertia. Societies move to the goading of ancient, reactive impulses. They demand permanence. Any attempt to display the universe of impermanence arouses rejection patterns, fear, anger, and despair.

-From Children of Dune

From Jedi to Shin


Darkness, Light, Balance and Harmony

[Note – this post is restored for public access prior to the coming release of episode VIII. If people again insist on pursuing esoteric curiosities and byways i will be forced to once again remove it from view.]

A momentous occasion recently passed … unnoticed by many, very much noticed by others. The day of this occasion was Good Friday … it also happened to be the release of the first official trailer of Stars Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.

Before we discuss what can be ascertained about and hoped for from Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, let us revisit the background of Episode VII: The Force Awakens.


First, let us notice that, if we take the title seriously, it is the Force that awakens [in people], not merely a matter of people awakening [to the Force]. That is, the awakening is a matter of grace and not industry.

In watching Star Wars episodes I – VI, anyone familiar with Shin Buddhism (properly, Jodoshinshu) will have noticed the various Shin technical terms in the Star Wars films.

Typically, linguistic elements in Star Wars names are altered so that they both conceal and reveal their roots and meaning. The single most obvious Jodoshinshu technical term is used in the naming of Padme Amidala. Taking the last name first: Amidala is a feminized form of the name Amida, the Buddha of Infinite Life and Unhindered Light. Also, the name Padme is unmodified Sanskrit, meaning ‘lotus’. This meaning ties into the name Amidala in that those born into Amida’s realm are said to be ‘lotus-born’.

The second rather less obvious reference being the naming of Anakin Skywalker. Taking the last name first, again: Skywalker is a perfectly acceptable translation of the term khandroma, which, in certain forms of Tibetan Buddhism, refers to energetic beings (usually female) of volatile or wrathful temperament. Also, the name, Anakin, is a phonetically restructured form of the Japanese term, akunin, which means (in the context of Jodoshinshu) an ‘evil person’ – an epithet that applies to every human being on earth.

For our Christian brothers and sisters, in the New Testament, Luke 18 – 19, it is recorded:

…a certain ruler asked Him [Jesus]: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me Good? Jesus replied. “No one is Good except God alone.”

Moving Beyond Imbalance and False Harmony

In Episode VII the two primary protagonists are Rey (white female) and Finn (black male). The pairing of the two is a perfect indication of the movement in these films away from the dichotomy of light and dark as indicated by the Jedi and the Sith. As long as the Jedi and Sith each exist (separately), the only form of balance is that of constant opposition and strife.

So, as indicated above, Episode VII and the trailer for Episode VIII show a concerted movement away from the mere balancing of opposing forces toward a harmony born of knowledge, union, integration and transformation. Additionally, there also seems to be a rejection of the path of the so-called Gray Jedi of the Star Wars canon who employ both light- and dark-side powers and motivations in an unreconciled way such that the war between the light and the dark which is acted out by the Jedi and Sith in the external world, becomes a struggle between these unreconciled or unresolved elements within the psyche of the individual.

Though the young Kylo Ren (at least in Episode VII) is seen as rather Sith-like, and therefore dark-side, nevertheless there are several striking quotes from him that allow one to see this type of internal, antagonistic struggle of the canonical Gray Jedi:

Forgive me. I feel it again… The pull to the light…


I’m being torn apart. I want to be free of this pain.

The Letter Shin

One thing that can be noticed in Episode VII is that all three of the primary characters (Rey, Finn and Poe) are marked by different parts of the Hebrew letter shin (see below).



As you can see, Rey (above) is marked with the capitals or heads of the letter (as seen below), whereas Finn (above) is marked by the columns or trunks, finally Poe (below) is marked by the transversal or foot (notice the red line on the Jacket’s left shoulder – bottom-right side of the picture).

Poe Dameron

It is also interesting to note that:

  • Rey means King;
  • Finn is named after a famous Irish King; and
  • Shin looks very much like a crown.

Exegetical Rigor

When one is looking for linguistic clues in a given body of work, it is important to make sure that one is not merely reading something into the material that isn’t supported by the material itself. That being so, it is imperative to seek supporting clues.

For Instance this chain: Amidala/Amida + Anakin/akunin + Ahsoka/Ashoka, etc.

Each successive occurrence of Buddhist terminology (Japanese, Sanskrit, or any other Buddhist hieratic language) lends additional credibility to Buddhist concepts being intentionally used in the material, and lessens the likelihood of this being a case of willful interpretation.

Having said that, the introduction of the Hebrew letter shin as a Western (Abrahamic) faith parallel to the Eastern (Buddhist) faith of Jodoshinshu is, admittedly, a bit of a leap. That being the case, one would expect, by the above stated reasoning, to find another solid indication of the intentional use of the Hebrew language within the material, as well as supporting correlatives between the Hebrew letter shin and Shin Buddhism.

Luckily, we need not look very far before we come across an initial corroboration. The primary antagonist of Episode VII, the aforementioned Kylo Ren, son of Han Solo and Leia Organa, is named Ben: itself the Hebrew word for son.

Nevertheless, the most conclusive correlation is the existence of a decisive homology between the words Amida (in Shin Buddhism, also see nembutsu) and the Amidah prayer (in Judaism).

But before we explore this further, let us take a look at our context…

The Initial Setting

We meet all our characters on the planet Jakku.

Jakku, in the rokuyo Japanese calendar, is one of the 6 days signifying “unlucky” or “bad luck” (another linguistic indicator that we are on the right track as regards the use of Japanese terms).

This meaning is apropos inasmuch as Jakku is the place where Lor San Tekka, the leader of the Church of the Force, is slain by Kylo Ren; it is the place where Rey has been living the life of a scavenger orphan, it is the place where Poe Dameron is captured by Kylo Ren, and it is the place where BB8 is left behind by Poe Dameron.

Jakku, in Hebrew, means “to be behind” (another linguistic indicator that we are on the right track as regards the use of Hebrew terms).

One may be reminded of the line from Episode VII:

Finn: “Why does everyone want to go back to Jakku?”

[Side note: all of these apparently negative things about Jakku are turned to good as the story progresses; not by the self-serving calculations of the characters (however well-meaning), though such efforts help them to capitalize on certain opportunities presented, rather it is the Force that permits their further unfoldment.]

The Hebrew Oral tradition and the Letter Shin

With regard to Rey having the capitals of the letter shin on her head, the letter shin is, in point of fact, traditionally worn on the head (by men) in the form of a tefillin (small black leather cube containing parchment inscribed with biblical passages) while saying the Amidah prayer of blessing. On the right side of this tefillin the three-headed shin character appears, while on the left side the four-headed version is displayed. In the oral mystical tradition of Judaism it is related that the three-headed Shin is of this world while the four-headed Shin is of the world to come.

It should also be noted, before proceeding, that the letter shin (see above) also resembles fire.

In Sepher ha Zohar (The Book of Radiance), Rabbi Simeon bar Yochai, while speaking to a group of students, teaches:

If the Lord be a consuming fire … how could the children of Israel on becoming joined unto the Lord escape from being consumed, and continue to live? It has been explained [previously in the text] how the Divine Being is a Fire that consumes every other kind of fire, for there are flames of fire more intense in their nature than others. To this statement I wish to add a few supplementary remarks. Whoever wishes to understand the mystery of Union with the Divine will do well to reflect and meditate upon the flame proceeding from a lighted candle or a burning coal, in which may be recognized two kinds of flame or light, one white and the other dark in color. The white flame ascends upwards in a straight line, the dark or blue part of the flame, being below it and forming its base. Though these be conjoined together, the white flame is always seen clearly and distinctly, and of the two it is the most valuable and precious … The dark flame is connected and conjoined with that above it, namely, the white, and also below it with the candle or coal in a state of combustion. It sometimes becomes red, whilst the superior white flame never varies in color but remains invariably the same. Furthermore, it is noticeable that the dark flame consumes and wastes the substance of the coal or candle from whence it emanates, but the pure white Light consumes nothing and never varies. Therefore, when Moses proclaimed the Lord to be a consuming fire, he alludes to the [so-called] astral fluid or flame that consumes everything, much like the dark flame that wastes and destroys the substance of the candle or coal. In using the phrase ‘thy God’, rather than ‘our God’, Moses refers to the white or Divine Light which destroys nothing, in which he himself had been enfolded and [from which he] came down from Mount Sinai out of it uninjured and intact. This is the case with everyone who lives in the Divine Light of the Higher Life. He lives, then, the True or Real Life, and the astral light of the lower earthly life cannot harm or injure him. Therefore, to the children of Israel who had sanctified themselves and attained to this life, Moses could truly say: ‘ye cleaved unto the Lord, your God, and are [thus] alive at this time.‘ Above the white flame there is yet another arising out of it, yet unseen and unrecognizable by human sight and this has reference to the greatest of mysteries, dim gleamings and notions of which are revealed to us by the different flames of a lighted candle or a burning coal.

One of the meanings of the word shin, in Hebrew, is shinui, “change.” It is said, in the oral tradition, that in the world to come the Changeless Essence of the Divine Nature will reveal itself within the changing flame [of human nature]. It is precisely this revelation of Essence in manifestation (or Unity in multiplicity) in the world to come that is indicated by the four-headed shin on the left side of the tefillin.

The letter shin, also stands for shuvah (penitence) and represents the Day of Atonement—Yom Kippur. This is because — using gematria (computed using the numerical value of Hebrew letters) — the word ‘atonement’ and the letter shin both equal 300.

The three pillars or columns of the letter shin are often said to represent the three pillars of the Tree of Life. The right line of the letter shin represents Chesed, loving-kindness; the left line represents Gevurah, severity or discipline; while the center ­line represents Tifereth, mercy or compassion. The three lines of the letter shin are also said to signify the three pillars upon which the world stands: scripture, prayer and good deeds (which, represent thought, speech, and action, respectively). The three lines have also been interpreted as representing the three faculties of a human being: will/desire, intellect/reason, and emotion/feeling.

The fourth (silent) pillar of the four-headed shin of the world to come is sometimes said to represent the supportive and nurturing community that permits individuals to develop the virtues represented by the other three pillars.

Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (trailer)

First comes the day
Then comes the night.
After the darkness
Shines through the light.
The difference, they say,
Is only made right
By the resolving of gray
Through refined Jedi sight.
―Journal of the Whills, 7:477

[apparently this is the opening quote for the novelization of The Force Awakens]

This rather doggerel poem from the Journal of the Whills is a roadmap that would seem to confirm our previous readings of Episode VII, and also provide the interpretive template for viewing and assessing the trailer for Episode VIII.

The Text of the Trailer

Luke: “Breathe … just breathe … Now, reach out. What do you see?”
Rey: “Light…Darkness…The Balance.”
Luke: “It is so much bigger. I only know one truth: It’s time for the Jedi to end.”

Black + White != Gray

One of the books featured in the trailer, perhaps the very one which we see being touched, is likely to be the Journal of the Whills, quoted above. Canonically, these are books that Luke believed contained truth[s] about the force which the Jedi either did not know, misunderstood, or misrepresented.

In the quote above we are given a number of key terms to consider:

The first of these is ‘resolving’, which means: “the settling of a dispute”, “to break up or cause to disintegrate“, and also “to convert or transform”.

The second key term is ‘gray’ which refers to an achromatic color between black and white, dark and light.

The third key term is ‘refined’, which means “freed from coarseness and impurities” and “very subtle, precise, or exact”.

And the last key term is ‘sight’, which means “to see”, “to look carefully in a certain direction”, “mental perception, regard or judgment”, and “something seen or worth seeing.”

According to the actual wording given in the poem, it is not that black and white are resolved into gray, but that gray is resolved by refined Jedi sight. So, it would seem that Luke, as the last of the Jedi, has refined his sight so as to be able to resolve the gray.

Shinran Shonin, the founder of Jodoshinshu (a.k.a Shin Buddhism) has written:

Through the benefit of the Unhindered Light,
we realize [the true, real, and sincere] heart-mind of vast, majestic virtues,
and the ice of our blind passions necessarily melts,
immediately becoming water of enlightenment.
Obstructions of karmic evil turn into virtues;
It is like the relation between ice and water:
The more the ice, the more the water;
The more the obstructions, the more the virtues.

And in a gloss, he notes:

Obstructions [refer to] karmic evil and blind passions. [So that if] the amount of karmic evil is great, the amount of virtue is great.

So, in Shin Buddhism, the presence of the darkness does not obstruct the light, nor is the light held to be distinct from the darkness, but, through looking carefully in the direction of the “Unhindered Light“, our obstructions of evil karma and blind passions are seen to be of one substance with the Light and we are rightly guided in a way that permits us to learn from the dark, while yet acting from the light – all without calculation.

One is reminded of the soliloquy to light from Episode VII:

Maz Kanata: “I am no Jedi, but I know the Force. It moves through and surrounds every living thing. Close your eyes. Feel it. The light… it’s always been there. It will guide you.

The failure of the Jedi, in this sense, can be summed up in a single statement of Yoda after he is confronted by the darkness of his own hubris:

Part of me, you are. Yes …
My dark side you are.
Reject you, I do.

Sadly, in that episode (Star Wars: The Clone WarsThe Lost Missions, Episode 12), it is said that Yoda had thus conquered his hubris. Yet, the quote above clearly shows he had not conquered but had merely rejected it, and as a consequence his hubris was still very much intact.

The Shin approach, on the other hand, does not reject the darkness, but rather through looking carefully in the direction of that which is most worth seeing, one is made to become ready, willing and able to embrace it and permit and promote its transformation (like ice melting into water). This is not accomplished, however, by any power of the self, but through another power altogether.

I am reminded of a saying of the late Zuiken S. Inagaki, 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.

Shinran Shonin writes:

The cloud of light is unhindered, like open sky;
There is nothing that impedes it.
Every being is nurtured by this light,
So take refuge in Amida, the one beyond conception.

In his own gloss of this gatha, he clarifies:

Nurtured by this light: Because we are shone upon by the light, wisdom emerges in us.

Beyond conception: beyond the reach of conceptual thought.

He also tells us:

…when lesser sages [and] foolish beings … have experienced a turn-about and entered the ocean of True and Real Faith, they are like river waters becoming one in taste with the Ocean [of Light] upon entering it.

This is the harmoniousness (which I will refer to as Grey), that does not require external wars that tear apart the galaxy; this is that gentle grey-ness that does not require great internal struggles that tear apart the soul.

In Christianity, the color grey is indicative of sackcloth and ashes; a symbol of mourning and repentance; a color of humility and modesty.

The color grey is worn by monks of various Christian orders in Europe, by various Buddhist monks and priests in Japan and Korea, by certain Taoist priests in China, and by Rey and Luke in the final scene from Episode VII.

Luke and Rey in Grey

Shin Buddhism

In the Anjin Ketsujo Sho (The Attainment of True Faith), it is related:

With pity Amida fixes His attention on us so that His mind-and-heart penetrates as deep as the marrow of our bones and stays there. It is like a piece of charcoal that has caught fire. We cannot pluck the fire from the burning charcoal however much we try. The embracing light of His mind-and-heart shines on us right through to the core of our flesh and bones. Even though contaminated with the three poisons of greed, hatred and illusion and with every other defiling passion and anxiety, there is no region of our heart that is not saturated with Amida’s virtue. Thus Amida and sentient beings constitute one body from the beginning.

From this we can immediately see the correlation between what was said (far above) regarding the coal and the flames, and we also see the correlation with the fourth (silent) pillar of the four-headed shin of the world to come.

Finally, to bring this discussion of Shin back to the concept of the synthesis of light and dark, it is related in Aryeh Kaplan’s commentary on Sepher ha Bahir (The Book of Brilliance):

Shin indicates … a letter that connects and specifies. In form, it has three heads on top, coming down to a single point. The three heads indicate … three basic concepts: thesis, antithesis and synthesis … Shin is therefore ‘all the world’, and it is the answer to the why of creation. … [W]e see Him [God] as an absolute Unity … We then see Him expressing Himself … so that we can perceive His glory … Finally, we see him in his multitude of deeds with a unity of purpose, represented by the shin.

Conclusion: A New Hope

Were one to draw conclusions (or hopes) from Episode VII and the trailer for Episode VIII, one might be forgiven for concluding (or hoping) that Episode VIII, when it is released (during the Christmas Holidays) will move away from the antagonism between the dark and the light, as found in the Jedi and Sith, and also away from the dangerous psychological balancing act associated with the canonical Gray Jedi, to some form of harmony through reconciliation and acceptance: without eliminating altogether the polarity. There must ever be a tension between thesis and antithesis in order to provide both the energy and the desire for synthesis.


The symbols: Jedi, Republic, and Shin (respectively)




Permit me to acknowledge thoughts on the concept of Jedi Shinshu developed many years ago by Frederick Brenion (presently only available via the Wayback Machine), though ours differ substantially from his.

Frank Herbert on Bitter Harvests


Frank Herbert on Bitter Harvests

How tempting it is to raise high walls and keep out change. Rot here in our own self-satisfied comfort. Enclosures of any kind are a fertile breeding ground for hatred of outsiders. That produces a bitter harvest.

From Chapterhouse Dune.


Frank Herbert, on Atrocity

Atrocity is recognized by victim and perpetrator alike, by all who learn about it at whatever remove. Atrocity has no excuses, no mitigating argument. Atrocity never balances or rectifies the past. Atrocity merely arms the future for more atrocity. It is self-perpetuating upon itself- a barbarous form of incest. Whoever commits atrocity also commits those future atrocities thus bred. 

Our deepest condolences go out to the friends and families of all those whose lives have been unjustly terminated by atrocities committed by anyone for whatever reason. Violence begets violence. May it find neither place of entry nor place of harbor in our hearts.


Harold Stewart on Faith

Faith has been repeatedly mentioned in these pages, and the reader may well ask what meaning this word has for Buddhism in general and for the Pure Land sects in particular. Faith is the conditio sine qua non not only for the spiritual quest but for accomplishment in any field of endeavour.

Read more of this extract from Harold Stewart’s, ‘By The Old Walls of Kyoto.’


Harold Stewart on Faith


Ippen on Wholeness of Heart

Do not denounce the teachings followed by others;
With wholeness of heart give rise to compassion….

Do not manifest marks of anger and intolerance;
With wholeness of heart dwell firmly in humility’s insights….

Do not generate a mind that cherishes attachments;
With wholeness of heart contemplate the reality of impermanence….

With wholeness of heart aspire for the land of peace.

Ippen on Wholeness of Heart

The Pure Land Upaya as Ekayana


It seems like we have at last covered enough ground to get right to the primary objective of this blog – to point to the precise reason why Jodoshinshu can be considered by Shinran Shonin to be the ne plus ultra of Ekayana Buddhism – Dharmic praxis par excellence.

Thomas Cleary, in the introduction to his translation of and commentary on the Carya Gita (the Tantric Poems of the Siddhas of old Bengal), mentions that Buddhism is a continuum:

In the first stage [purification], living is a form of responsibility; in the second stage [integration], living is a form of duty; in the third stage [re-creation], living is a form of artistry, encompassing responsibility and duty in creative devotion. Living in all its many aspects becomes a practical art of expressing a constructive relationship with absolute truth in the context of life. Tantra is the consummation of the wedding of absolute and relative knowledge, of insight and compassion.

He also writes that:

In the context of Tantric Buddhism, the principles of Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhism are personified as supernal beings … Those who only observe from outside, or those within [the] tradition who have forgotten what they are doing, may see or experience this kind of practice as a form of idolatry … From a unitarian pan-Buddhist [i.e. Ekayana] point of view, however, the differences are only external.

As we have mentioned elsewhere on this blog, Jodoshinshu employs effort (remembrance / calling, nembutsu) to arrive at effortlessness (Sukhavati, Jodo, the Pure Land). In this it is very similar to Chan. The great Japanese Zen master, Dogen (a contemporary of Shinran who was also originally a Tendai monk), similarly employed effort (meditating / sitting, zazen) to arrive at effortlessness (Dhyana / Chan / Zen).

In his Genjōkōan (現成公案), Dogen has written:

To study the Way is to study the Self. To study the Self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things of the universe. To be enlightened by all things of the universe is to cast off the body and mind of the self as well as those of others. Even the traces of enlightenment are wiped out, and life with traceless enlightenment goes on forever and ever.

In the Bendōwa (弁道話), Dogen indicates the rationale behind using effort to arrive at effortlessness:

Thinking that practice and enlightenment are not one is no more than a view that is outside the Way. In Buddhadharma, practice and enlightenment are one and the same. Because it is the practice of enlightenment, a beginner’s wholehearted practice of the Way is exactly the totality of original enlightenment. For this reason, in conveying the essential attitude for practice, it is taught not to wait for enlightenment outside practice.

This is Adi-Yoga (Anuyoga / Atiyoga), the quintessence of all tantras, it is the heart of Dzogchen and Mahamudra, the root of Chan / Zen and the essence of Jìngtǔ / Jodoshu / Jodoshinshu.

Sakya Pandita has written of this same unity of effort and effortlessness, of the non-duality of practice and enlightenment:

If one understands this tradition properly,
Then the view of Atiyoga too
Is wisdom and not [merely] a vehicle.

The Guhyagarbhatantra describes how, in the creation stage (corresponding to the first stage mentioned by Cleary, above), one visualises a deity. This visualization or exteriorization is followed by a dissolving of the deity into oneself (this relates to the second stage mentioned by Cleary). This dissolving is followed by coming to rest in the natural state of innately luminous pure mind (which in turn corresponds to the third stage mentioned by Cleary).

All of which brings us back to that oft-mentioned quote from the Anjin-Ketsujo-Sho, on Amida and Practitioners as One Body:

With Pity, Amida fixes his attention on us so that his mind-and-heart penetrates as deep as the marrow of our bones and stays there. It is like a piece of charcoal that has caught fire. We cannot pluck the fire from the burning charcoal however much we try. The embracing light of his mind-and-heart shines on us right through to the core of our flesh and bones. Even though it is contaminated with the three poisons of greed, hatred and illusion and with every other defiling passion and anxiety, there is no region of our heart that is not saturated with the Buddha’s virtue. Thus the Buddha and sentient beings constitute one body from the beginning. This state of unity is called Namu Amida Butsu.

The crux of this matter, and indeed it is the crux of all Buddhadharma, is recorded succinctly in the Samyutta Nikaya:

I (the Buddha) crossed the flood only when I did not support myself or make any effort.

This cessation of effort and spontaneous arising of effortlessness is the naturalness (jinen) spoken of by Shinran.

For instance in Ichinen-tanen mon’i (Notes on Once-Calling and Many-Calling):

In entrusting ourselves to the Tathagata’s Primal Vow and saying the Name once, necessarily, without seeking it, we are made to receive the supreme virtues, and without knowing it, we acquire the great and vast benefit. This is dharmicness, by which one will immediately realize the various facets of enlightenment naturally. “Dharmicness” means not brought about in any way by the practicer’s calculation; from the very beginning one shares in the benefit that surpasses conception. It indicates the nature of jinen. “Dharmicness” expresses the natural working (jinen) in the life of the person who realizes shinjin and says the Name once.

Shinran discusses the stages mentioned above in the following terms:

Gyaku means to realize in the causal stage, and toku means to realize on reaching the resultant stage.


Myo indicates the Name in the causal stage, and go indicates the Name in the resultant stage.

And also:

Ji means “of itself” – not through the practicer’s calculation. It signifies being made so. Nen means “to be made so” – it is not through the practicer’s calculation; it is through the working of the Tathagata’s Vow.

And yet again:

Jinen signifies being made so from the very beginning. Amida’s Vow is, from the very beginning, designed to bring each of us to entrust ourselves to it – saying Namu-amida-butsu – and to receive us into the Pure Land; none of this is through our calculation. Thus, there is no room for the practicer to be concerned about being good or bad. This is the meaning of jinen as I have been taught.

As the essential purport of the Vow, [Amida] vowed to bring us all to Supreme Buddhahood. The Supreme Buddha is formless, and because of being formless is called jinen. Buddha, when appearing with form, is not called Supreme Nirvana. In order to make it known that the Supreme Buddha is formless, the name Amida Buddha is expressly used; so I have been taught. Amida Buddha fulfills the purpose of making us know the significance of jinen.

Shinran Shonin also provides a caution against the danger of slipping back into effort after arriving at effortlessness:

After we have realized this [i.e. jinen-honi), we should not be forever talking about jinen. If we continuously discuss jinen, the no-working that is True-Working will again become a problem of working. It is a matter of inconceivable Buddha-wisdom.

To cling to concepts of effortlessness, original enlightenment, and Buddha-Nature is still clinging and is thus a return to effort, adventitious delusion, and self-nature.

The Ekayana is the One Vehicle. The One Vehicle is the Buddha Vehicle. The Buddha Vehicle, properly understood, is no vehicle at all – rather it is inconceivable Buddha-wisdom.


Various Quotes Pertinent to 2016

“Power attracts the corruptible. Suspect any who seek it.”

“Do actions agree with words? There’s your measure of reliability.”

“They say they seek security and quiet, conditions they call peace. Even as they speak, they create seeds of turmoil and violence.”

“Warfare leaves a residue…that often leads inexorably to moral breakdown.”

“Clinging to any form of conservatism can be dangerous. Become too conservative and you are unprepared for surprises.”


All quotes from Chapterhouse: Dune by Frank Herbert.