TABLE OF CONTENTS
I What is Shin?.................... 1
II What Is Shinjin.................. 6
III Buddhist Wisdom.................. 10
IV Great-Self and Non-Ego........... 16
V The Logic of Prajna.............. 20
VI Hell and PureLand................ 23
VII Causes and Conditions............ 26
VIII Great Compassion................. 29
IX Nembutsu......................... 32
X Where is the Buddha?............. 36
XI The Transformation of Shinjin.... 38
XII Other-Power...................... 43
XI The Finger and the Moon.......... 47
X Symbolism and Paradox............ 50
XV Tasting the Teachings............ 53
XVI Change and Growth in Shinjin..... 56
XVII Buddhist Salvation............... 59
XVIII The Problem of Death............. 63
XIX Ojo.............................. 69
XX The Process of Shinjin........... 72
XXI The Essential Integration........ 76
XXII Only Nembutsu Is Real............ 80
XXIII The Essential Gate............... 83
IV Gugan-Great Vow.................. 85
There exists a distance between knowing Buddhism in
intellectually and being a Buddhist. In the author of this
concise work, Professor Takamaro Shigaraki of Ryukoku University,
that distance is completely eliminated, since he is an eminent
scholar of Shin Buddhism and a devout Buddhist as well.
In this collection of lectures which were given at the
Buddhist Study Center in the summer of 1 979, the author clearly
describes, chapter after chapter, the salient features of Shin
Buddhism that have given Shinran Shonin's teachings a unique
place not only within the family of Buddhist schools, but also
within the community of religions.
The primary purpose of these lectures is to instruct, and
thus, drawing abundantly from his childhood experiences and his
continuing encounter with life's pain and suffering, Professor
Shigaraki succeeds in making complex Shinshu concepts quite
understandable to novices as well as those who are more familiar
The translator, the Rev. Will Masuda, Director of the
Buddhist Study Center, has effectively captured the spirit of
Shin Buddhism and brought to life through his command of English
an exciting world of the religious life for those familiar with
the Japanese language.
The author likens this group of lectures to the finger
pointing to the moon of the Buddha Dharma. it is certainly that,
but at the same time these lectures will prepare the reader to
appreciate other works on Shinshu and general Buddhism so that
the journey to the moon may be more exciting and gratifying.
Bishop Yoshiaki Fujitani
Honpa Hongwanji Mission
WHAT IS SHIN?
I am a Shin Buddhist.
Zen, which arose in Japan in the same thirteenth century period of
religious reform as did Shin Buddhism, became popular in America and Europe
through the writings of D.T. Suzuki and others. Suzuki's writings on Shin
never attained wide readership. Yet, for we ordinary men and women
everywhere, Shin Buddhism's Nembutsu path opens the Buddhist world of awakening
through the process of our everyday lives. It is to explore Shin Buddhism
in as clear and concise a manner as possible that I write this book, which
evolved from my lecture series at the Buddhist Study Center's 1979 Summer
Session in Honolulu, Hawaii.
1 shall approach the teachings of Shinran, founder of Shin
Buddhism, from the broad perspective of my own experience. I was born in
Hiroshima, and raised the second son in a country temple. Because of this
background , I received a somewhat strict religious training. For example,
as a youngster I liked to go fishing, but my father did not permit this. 1
had to sneak out to go fishing. When my father caught me, he would really
give it to me!
In my early life, the process of death was a condition leading to
my religious sensitivity. When I was eight years old, my sister died. When
I was thirteen, my mother died. When I was fifteen, my brother died. After
my mother's death, my father remarried. A stepmother came into my family,
and this too became one of the painful experiences of my youth.
As the surviving son, I was expected to stay and take over the
temple as is the custom in temple families in Japan. This
2 The Buddhist World of Awakening
I did not want to do. Instead, I planned after high school to leave and
become a teacher. In the Larger Pure Land Sutra, one of the five deadly
sins is the slandering of one's mother and father. Now, as I look back on
the early days of my stepmother, I realize that my urge to leave home was
from my wanting to slander this new mother who had come into my family.
When I was in school, the war was going on and at age nineteen, I
joined the army. One month after I joined, Japan lost the war. It was a
time of confusion. Many were truly lost, spiritually, and of these many I
was one. I abandoned my idea of going to college to become a teacher. In
this period of postwar confusion, I decided to seek out anew the meaning of
Shinran in my life.
For those who are not familiar with Shinran, I should like to
provide a brief background. He lived from 1173-1262 during the Kamakura
period , a time of intense political and religious upheaval in Kyoto,
the ancient capital of Japan. The Emperor was then merely a figurehead,
with affairs of the nation in the powerful hands of a succession of noble
families and considerable power wielded by the Buddhist hierarchy of Mt.
Hiei, a Tendai complex of temples and monasteries just northeast of Kyoto.
Women and police were both forbidden on that monastic mountain-the result
of the latter prohibition being that among the monks were refugees who had
been thieves, criminals of all kinds, who formed the most powerful army of
A great many of the monks on Hiei were, however, serious and sincere seekers after enlightenment. Such a one was Shinran, who had taken his
vows at the age of nine. For twenty years he immersed himself in strenuous
study, following the most difficult monastic practices. At the age of
twenty-nine he felt himself a total failure in all this, and with despair
left Hiei knowing himself incapable of honestly going forward on
The Buddhist World of Awakening 3
what he called the self-power "path of sages." The former Hiei
monk, Honen, a brilliant teacher then nearing seventy, had begun
a "Nembutsu only" movement to which Shinran was drawn. For the
next six years he remained with Honen, devoting himself to the
single practice of his teacher: Nembutsu.
The "Nembutsu only" practice was that of reliance on salvation
(enlightenment) through "other power" acknowledged by the
recitation of Namu Amida Butsu, a homage to the name of Amida,
signifying trust in the Buddha whose Vow was to save all beings
everywhere at all times. This was a practice available to even
the lowliest, uneducated person, a way in sharp contrast to the
scholasticism and noble family connections of the Buddhist
hierarchy on Mt. Hiei and that other, more ancient Buddhist
Before long, the leaders of Nara and Hiei joined forces to
persuade the Emperor to ban the increasingly popular competition
of this "Nembutsu only" movement. Two of Honen's followers were
executed. The others, including Honen himself, and thirty-five
year old Shinran, were banished to different remote provinces.
Shinran was exiled to Echigo, now the modern area of Naoetsu. He
was stripped of his name, reduced to the status of a common
criminal, and forbidden to practice Nembutsu. It was a prohibition
he chose to ignore. Instead, during his exile he himself
became a religious teacher.
Shinran, one of the first Buddhist priests to openly marry
and live an ordinary life, called himself "neither priest nor
layman. " He fathered a large family and shared the harsh lives
of the people among whom he chose to remain after word of his
pardon came from Kyoto. With his wife Eshinni, he moved to
Mito-Kanto, which like Echigo was then a remote rural area. He stayed
in that region, spreading "Nembutsu only" and beginning his major
work, Kyo-Gyo-Shin-Sho-(Teaching-Living-True Mind-Awakening),
until he was sixty years old. He then
4 The Buddhist World of Awakening
left his wife and family behind to return to Kyoto where he
devoted the remaining thirty years of his life to writings and
study that he hoped would settle the place of Honen's teachings
in the mainstream of Mahayana Buddhism. He lived in quiet
obscurity, without a temple of his own, working at tracing
"Nembutsu only" in a spiritual lineage back to Sakyamuni Buddha,
a scholarly project that was disparaged by many of the Nembutsu
teachers of his period. He continuously revised Kyo-Gyo-Shin-Sho,
and composed many poems, hymns and a large body of other writings
before his death at the age of eighty-nine.
Throughout his long life, Shinran considered himself only a
follower of his teacher Honen. He had no idea that he himself had
founded a new tradition in Buddhism. However, the religious
insights he developed took Shinran far beyond Honen, who is the
founder of the Jodo tradition in Japanese Buddhism. Despite the
passage of eight centuries between his time and ours, Shinran's
writings and his approach to religion and life remain fresh and
compelling. His is the freeing path that has been described as so
simple-yet the most difficult of all difficulties for he encourages
each one of us to make a choice in terms of our own life, to
look honestly at our real self and the reality of our life. For
himself, Shinran, Nembutsu was the only way, but for others-
"whether you choose to accept it or not, that is up to you."
There is no distinction, no discrimination, no judgmentalism,
in Shinran's teachings. He exposes the sham and deception of ordinary
life, and pioneers into the humbling realm of
"beyond good and evil." For his followers, and for those of us
today who follow the Nembutsu path, he opens a way of life that
leads to boundless spiritual freedom through the totally honest
exploration of oneself and the real world that is so difficult
for our ego-limited vision to perceive.
In the past century, Shinran's teachings traveled with
The Buddhist World of Awakening 5
emigrants from Japan to Hawaii, the mainland United States and to
Canada. Emigrants also carried Shin Buddhism to South America.
Translation of such Shin Buddhist classics as Tannisho into
German, English, and French, stimulated an interest in Shinran's
teachings in England and Europe where Shin Buddhist societies
have formed in a number of cities.
WHAT IS SHINJIN?
Like countless millions over the past 800 years, I feel that
my Life has been enriched and transformed by Shinran 's teachings.
It is, as I stated earlier, from the broad perspective of
my own experience that I write these chapters, but of necessity
a number of technical terms must be dealt with. In
several areas, I have thought it essential to trace linguistic
trails from Sanskrit to Chinese to Japanese, in order to clarify
meanings in English. Too often, a simple translation presents a
distorted and misleading view of the original. Such has
been the case with Shinjin, the term that expresses the essence
of Shin Buddhism. Shinjin has on occasion been translated as
"faith" but to use that English word without considerable further
explanation is inadequate as well as potentially misleading. I
propose that, like nirvana and Nembutsu , Shinjin become one of
those Buddhist terms adopted without translation, as is, into the
Buddhism cannot be grasped by the analytical logic of the
west. Therefore, I wish to tackle the essential question-what is
Shinjin?-by first explaining what Shinjin is not. Here is
where the linguistic trail tracing must begin. In Japanese, there
are three expressions which can all be approximately translated
by the English word "faith. " These three-Shinrai,Shinko, and
Shinjin-share the common root of shin, "to believe. "
Shinrai, the first of the three possible Japanese translations
of "faith," means to "depend on", or "to use." It expresses
a belief that does not have a religious context but is used
The Buddhist World of Awakening 7
rather in the area of secular relationships such as, for
example, my assuming something is going to be the way it is even
when I don't really know-like my assumption today that I will be
alive tomorrow. This kind of belief is based on my condition
now, at this moment. Based on my wellness today, there is a high
probability that I will continue to live on tomorrow. However,
if I am ill, that probability is not so high after all. The
"knowing" factor is minimal in this kind of believing. Rather,
we believe in terms of what we think we can project. So, in many
of our human relationships we experience difficulty in believing
that these really are what they seem to be, especially at first
encounter. With frequency, and familiarity, some kind of understanding
is established and it is then that we believe in terms
of what we feel more certain about.
Shinko, the second expression translatable as "faith" is
more of a religious term. During Shinran's time, many of his
contemporaries-his teacher Honen, Dogen who was the founder of
Soto Zen, and Nichiren, another Kamakura religious reformer,
all used shinko. However, Shinran himself always used shinjin.
In dissecting shinko linguistically to trace its meanings, we
find that to the root of shin, "to believe," is added a character
"ko" which in this instance is also read as aogu-"to look
up to." For example, in Shinto, the god you believe in is looked
up to. In Japanese, the words for `god' and `above' are
homonyms, expressed in the Chinese character read "kami"-god,
but a character that often was read "above"or "on top of", and
thus the implication that what is "on top" or "above" is "looked
up to." The believer neither knows nor questions whether the god
which he "looks up to" exists or not. This is not a belief in
which intellectual, rational, or scientific evidence is
important. In shinko, it is because we do not know that we
believe. When Christianity began to establish itself in Japan
one hundred years ago, the word "faith" in the Bible was
translated as shinko; This aptly translates the Christian
The Buddhist World of Awakening
belief that God is in heaven and therefore spatially "above" or
"on top of" the believer.
Shinjin is totally different from either shinko or shinrai
in that it has no intimation whatsoever of "looking up to" but
expresses a condition of trust in Amida Buddha and his Vow to
save all beings everywhere at all times. In this entrusting
there is no subject, no object, no "I believe in something." It
is an entrusting relating to the Sanskrit word prasada, which
describes a condition that is very calm, still, pure.
Cittaprasada is "the mind and heart which is clear and pure,"
translated in the Chinese text as joshin, "clear or pure mind."
Shinran chose shinjin as the word more adequately carrying
his intended meaning of "the truth of one 's heart and mind in a
clear and pure way. " Here "pure" is to be carefully understood
not as moral purity in the puritanical sense, but as the purity
that is the result of non-calculation and non-ego. It is at the
point where the pure, clear mind (cittaprasada) becomes my
condition that the shinjin of Shinran's teachings becomes
manifest. Thus shinjin is neither "faith" in a secular nor in
the commonly held religious sense of the English word.
My interpretations of shinjin as it was used by Shinran is
that its meaning has two aspects: that of "realizing" or "knowing"
as well as the implicit aspect of truth or reality. It is
"to know the heart and mind" as well as "the heart and mind that
is true and real." This "knowing" is a special implication, the
"knowing" that in Sanskrit is expressed by the word prajna, the
Buddhist wisdom that is the dynamic of shinjin. To know one's
heart and mind refers to the working of prajna, the wisdom that
brings about "the true mind and heart." This is not a dualism
but a whole in which prajna and "true mind and heart"
(cittaprasada) are descriptions, one of the function and the
other of the essence of shinjin.
Cittaprasada was, in the Sanskrit texts, used synonymously
The Buddhist World of Awakening 9
with samadhi, the state where the heart and mind being
calm, truth or reality, can be penetrated. In other words,
cittaprasada refers to the ability to "see the Buddha," to
satori-be awakened and to be born in the home of Tathagata,
the home of the Buddha.
As we interpret shinjin in this light, we begin to comprehend
its breadth and depth. Shinjin embodies the wisdom which
cittaprasada expresses: the mind which is clear and pure, the
ability to "see the Buddha," and to be born into the home of the
At this point, we come to the necessity of understanding
the nature of Buddhist wisdom.
Once again, as with shinjin in the preceding chapter, to
understand what Buddhist wisdom is can best be approached by
explaining what it is not. At this point, it is fruitful to
examine in terms of human experience the three kinds of "knowing"
which the English word "wisdom" can represent.
The first of these, "knowledge," is based on what is
usually called objectivity, the "knowing" of an object which
stands outside of oneself and which, upon analyzing, we can
understand. This is the scientific approach, in which we are all
trained to view objects standing in relation to ourselves. In
scientific knowledge, the subject-which is myself- is not the
focus of attention. Even in psychology the mind is viewed as an
object to be analyzed quite apart from the whole mind-heart-body
of which the mind is but one aspect. Indeed, scientific
knowledge so objectifies the world around us, including
ourselves, that in this kind of "knowing," we become an "it."
The other two kinds of "knowing " are quite different. One
is a common-sense "knowing" that emerges from our daily
experience, a "knowing" that we expect everyone to have. It is a
wisdom based not on scientific analysis but on human
experience. There is a Japanese proverb that says, "Those who lose
really win. Those who fail are victorious. " This kind of wisdom
infers it's not good to win just to be winning. When we lose, we
sometimes become winners. This is a worldly wisdom , based on
"give and take. " In the context of daily human affairs, this
kind of wisdom takes into account the feelings. It is a wisdom
born of many experiences in life, a wisdom
The Buddhist world of Awakening 11
not immediately graspable by children. It is not fully subjective,
for this wisdom born of experience is always in relation
to the object as well.
It is the third, quite different kind of wisdom that is
what we mean when we talk about Buddhist wisdom, the wisdom
that, in Shinran's view, is the dynamic through which shinjin is
established. This is a "knowing" that stands in sharp contrast
to the "knowing" of science and the "knowing" of common-sense.
The focus is "deeply" rooted in the subject, a "depth" referring
to the dimension of our human potential for evil, a potential
unlimited in our life. This existential depth is expressed in
Japanese by bonno, another word which it would be well to
transpose as is into the English vocabulary.
In his perception of bonno as the profound depths of the
self, Shinran is not speaking from a scientific nor from a
common-sense point of view. Neither is his a psychological
perception. Rather, he speaks from the dimension of Buddhist
wisdom, which is acutely aware of this aspect of existence. The
important difference in the emphasis of Buddhist wisdom is that
it is neither subjective nor objective. The total self, freed
from any split of subject-object differentiation, is involved.
in Chapter Two of Tannisho, the slim volume that is the
great religious classic written by Shinran's follower Yuienbo,
Shinran is quoted as saying "Hell is my only home." This is a
statement of the workings of Buddhist wisdom, the wisdom of
"deep" heart and mind, with "deep" here referring to existential
depth. This wisdom does not simply look outwardly to
see things objectively. In "Hell is my only home," Shinran looks
inward to the limitless inner depths of his bonno in order to
come to truly know himself. When he says "hell is my only home,"
he is talking about the deep mind that undergirds the
existential reality of the way we all live. His shinjin, which
we too can experience, is based on this kind of wisdom , an
12 The Buddhist World of Awakening
awakening in which one comes to know totally what one is.
For example, the world in which we live is the world in
which we die- This is reality. Yet, in the everyday world we
seldom see this essential condition in which our subconscious
depths are rooted. In Buddhism, it is not in spite of our
constantly "falling into hell" but because of this condition that
we are surrounded, sustained, embraced in the boundless compassion
of Amida Buddha. Buddhism does not have the reward or
punishment judgmentalism of the Christian religion. In Buddhism,
the end of life does not necessarily mean going to hell or to
Pure Land. In fact, our "falling into hell" is crucial to 2n
appreciation of the Buddhist world of awakening in this life,
here and now, at this very moment. This critical awareness,
developed and taught by Shinran at a profound existential
level, is succinctly expressed in his "Hell is my only home."
Shinran's twenty years of monastic practice on Mt. Hiei
were mainly at Yogawa, the place where Genshin, an eleventh
century religious teacher and writer, has also once studied and
practiced. Genshin's writings made such a strong impression on
Shinran that in the Kyo-Gyo-Shin-Sho he named Genshin as one of
the seven patriarchs through whom he traces the spiritual
lineage of the nembutsu teaching, back to Sakyamuni Buddha.
Genshin's major work was Ojoyoshu-Essentials for Birth, the
story of a man falling into hell. It has been compared to that
later western work, Dante's Inferno. As Dante did, Genshin
gives a vivid description of the various levels of hell. For
Genshin however, the phrase "bound for hell" expresses symbolically
the experience of one who has awakened to the realization
of continuously creating karmic evil, and who perceives
the bottomless depths of his own potential for evil. In the
sutras, the statement : "hell is at the bottom of this great
earth" symbolizes the hell we create in the depths of our
The Buddhist World of Awakening 13
and unconscious minds. It is this reality which Genshin depicts
in his classic work.
Genshin's masterpiece portrays a man who, in his extreme
suffering, pleads forgiveness of a demon whose recurrent answer
is, "To plead with me is no use. I can't do a thing about it
now. Why didn't you state your situation truly while you were
still a human being?" This theme of question and reply, "There's
no use asking me now," and "you created your own hell while you
were still alive," runs throughout the work. The first part is a
detailed description of hell in which, according to Genshin,
there are eight levels. One works from the first level and
descends down into the eighth level-which he describes as the
hell of unlimited suffering.
The first level is the one resulting from committing the
slightest evil, such as the killing of fish or chickens. In this
life, according to Genshin, we kill animals and then, when we
die, the devils in hell come after us and chop us up until a
cool wind comes across and makes us whole again. This process
happens over and over. The depth of this first stage of hell is
described as being 1000 yojanas (one yojana being the distance
of about nine miles or as far as an ox can travel between
sunrise and sunset).
From this, the various levels descend to the eighth hell of
unlimited suffering, that of persons who have killed their
mother and father or, as Genshin phrased it, "taken life away
from father and mother." Among those who fall into this hell are
those who vainly live on the donations from people. Here,
Genshin is talking about himself and through this he tries to
clarify the direction into which he sees himself as falling. The
depth of this eighth level is described as falling headfirst for
2,000 years to arrive completely into this unlimited suffering
which, to Genshin, is his own karmic state. This use of the term
"falling" into hell does not refer to a physical fall, but
14 The Buddhist World of Awakening
to an awareness of the absolute depth of the hell we are all
falling into the unlimited depths of our unconscious or
deep mind. Thus what Genshin was writing about was the
awakening to one 's own limitless falling into hell as being the
very condition essential for birth in the Buddha Land.
This extraordinary Buddhist view is likewise concisely
expressed by Shinran in Tannisho, Chapter Three (Taitetsu Unno
translation) : "Even the good person attains birth in the Buddha
Land, how much more so the evil person. But the people of the
world constantly say, `Even the evil person attains birth how
much more so the good person.' Although this appears to be sound
at first glance, it goes against the will of the Primal Vow of
Other Power. The reason is that since the person of self-power,
being conscious of doing good, lacks the thought of entrusting
himself completely to OtherPower, he is not the focus of the
Primal Vow of Amida. But when he turns over self-power and
entrusts himself to Other Power, he attains birth in the land of
Shinran then goes on to say, "The Primal Vow was established
out of deep compassion for us who cannot become freed
from the bondage of birth-and-death through any religious
practice, due to the abundance of blind passion. Since its basic
intention is to effect the enlightenment of such an evil one,
the evil person who entrusts himself to Other Power is truly the
one who attains birth in the Buddha Land. Therefore, even the
good person attains birth, how much more the evil person ! "
In the Buddhist world of awakening, those who have the
confidence to fall into hell-that is, to see the existential
reality of their bonno-are thus able to experience the very joy
that they are going to the "Pure Land,"that spiritual realm of
reality itself from which the workings of compassion are
manifested. Again, translation is acutely important. "Pure Land"
does not have any connotation of geographical place or location.
It is a spiritual realm, the world of the Buddha, which manifests
The Buddhist World of Awakening 15
the great wisdom and compassion of Amida (prajna and
Those who do not really see hell interwoven into their
lives do not really see the Pure Land. In other words, those who
do not see hell in the depths of their own minds are really
falling into it. Genshin had this full consciousness of his own
evil, and Shinran likewise. So too did an old man in my village
temple who used to say, "Do-sun! Do-sun!" over and over, an
exhortation reminding himself and all those inside and outside
the temple of this existential reality.
Do-sun is not translatable. It is one of those onomato
poetic Japanese words whose sounds convey the meaning. I wonder.
Is there a like word in English whose sound and meaning are
that of falling into hell?
GREAT-SELF AND NON-EGO
In both the common-sense way of knowing and in scientific
knowledge, there is always a dichotomy, a split between subject
and object. As noted in the preceding chapter, the emphasis is
usually in the direction of the object, including the "Self" as
object in such behavioral sciences as psychology. Prajna,
Buddhist wisdom, is quite otherwise. While there is an emphasis
in the direction of the self, prajna is actually the "knowing"
in which the self gets to know itself as it really is. in this
there is no split, no dichotomy, no tension. I look within at
myself but the self that I am seeing is, in the Buddhist
wisdom of prajna, not a subject of analysis. "I" do not become a
As an example, in the common-sense way of knowing I know
that someday maybe even today I will die. I understand this,
but at the same time the "I" that "understands" has no desire to
die. When I reflect in such a common-sense or in the objective,
scientific way, I don't grasp myself in my totality. My
reflection is only partial. I see only parts of myself. Or, to
approach the difference from another angle, in terms of my
bonno-the unlimited capacity for evil in my subconscious
depths-I know I am not a good man but this "I" who thinks he is
aware of this still harbors somewhere within "me" the thought
that "I am good." In parts of myself, as in thinking of my past,
I can say that "I" am bad, but the "I" looking at those evil
parts of my life which I condemn, this "I" looks at parts of
myself which are also "I" and which I objectify- What "I" see
about "myself" in this way is only partial
The Buddhist World of Awakening 17
seeing, filled with the tension of subject-object dichotomy.
In Buddhist wisdom, prajna, the wisdom through which
shinjin is established, subject and object are brought into a
unifying whole. What I am and what I think about myself is
totally whole, totally complete. There is an interpenetration of
the subject (all that I see inwardly and outwardly in the world)
with the object (all that I am in being seen)-thus a
simultaneous realization of interdependence and oneness. In this
realization, subject and object having become one, the tension
of dichotomy is released. I am then able to see all things are
objects and at the same time, that all things are subjects.
The self that is able to see that all things are subjects is
"Great Self." From the perspective of the Great Absolute Self,
when we eat other life we see that we are killing our own life
and descending into hell. The primary focus of Buddhism is to
waken to this basic contradiction of life: that we kill in order
to survive. Some of us may have the attitude: "we pay for it and
therefore we may consume it." The Buddhist attitude however is
that even the life of one egg is equal in lifevalue to that of
my own life. In this attitude, the choice to take other life in
order to survive is something I can make based on my awareness
of the equal value of all life. Originally, in India, the focus
was on not taking the lives of animals, but gradually this
evolved to the stage where all things in existence were included
into what is called life. The realization developed that man in
his egocentricity destroys all these in order to survive.
Man's historical process has shown that the world has
developed in material ways through his own ingenuity. He has
employed science and technology but yet has not reached a point
of security and happiness through these developments. Thus it is
important for us to look at life from the perspective of Buddhist
wisdom, seeing that all life is interrelated and has
18 The Buddhist World of Awakening
the same value as one's own life. "I" am included in all things
as object and all things are included in "me "as subject. The
world and myself are not separated, not divided, not different,
but share a natural oneness.
A Zen Master was once told by a student that he was afraid
of death. The fearful student asked whether there was a way to
escape dying. The Zen Master's answer was, "When it comes time
to die, it's okay to die. This is the only way to escape death"
(i.e., to avoid the fear of death). This reply was made from the
standpoint of non-ego: all things are interrelated. It is from
this all-object viewpoint that flowers bud, blossom and die,
that human beings are born, live and die. All have the same
weight, same value-so why the tears? All things have the same
value as objects in the natural world.
In the natural world of things-as-they-are, that which is
true and real-life-is not beautiful but stark, severe, awesome.
How simple and yet how difficult to see that my being "me" is so
in exactly the way the rock is a rock, the tree is a tree, the
flower is a flower. I am one with all of these and with the
droplet of water that as water can flow, can fall as rain, can
freeze as steam or fog, be itself and yet at the same time be
one drop in the vast ocean or one infinitely small and changing
component of a cloud passing an unseen horizon in the sky.
To live in the world of non-ego and at the same time to
live in the world in which all objects are equal as subjects is
to live in the Buddha-world. The Buddhist sense of all-self
means all things have an equal value of life and are equal in
value to my own life. This is the Shin Buddhist way of "seeing,"
the Buddhist wisdom described by the Sanskrit word
Many years ago a Shin Buddhist layman, a man of shinjin
named Genza, and his friend Naoji, both in their eighties, be
came ill. Naoji still had an unresolved problem and asked his
The Buddhist World of Awakening 19
daughter to take this to Genza. This the daughter did, repeating
to Genza her father's statement of his problem: "I am afraid
The answer sent back by Genza was, "Naoji, why don't you
just die. It's okay to die. I'm one with you." This is the
attitude of non-ego which is at the same time the way of the
Great Self. It is an awareness rooted in the activity
of prajna- an activity called "awakening" or "realization."
Flowers bloom, wither, and die. Man is born, lives, and
dies. This is how things are. This is true and real. And it is
in this profound dimension of existential reality that we
concretely experience shinjin as religious experience.
THE LOGIC OF PRAJNA
Sakyamuni Buddha was the first to realize this way of
looking at life through the eye of wisdom, of Great-Self, of
non-ego. In the subsequent history of Buddhism, the process of
this realization took two main streams : the monastic life in
which meditation is central and the way of the ordinary lay
person in which nembutsu becomes central.
In our everyday lives we tend not to see or think about
things other than in terms of a subject-object dichotomy, a
separation of subject and object. Our assumption in this is that
separation implies difference. Only when the dichotomy is
negated do we come to see that all subjects are objects, and all
objects are subjects. In this view, which is possible from the
standpoint of Buddhist wisdom where all is subject (great mind
or great self and all is object (egolessness, non-ego, without
permanent substance), simultaneously all these are equal. Subject
equals object. Object equals and is the same as subject. Each is
part of, and one with, the other. D.T. Suzuki expressed this as
`A= not A.'
The level of dualism where the split of subject-object
dichotomy occurs is the level of samsara (illusion). It is
when one is enabled to see from the eyes of the enlightened one
that the split vanishes. The illusion which is samsara is
then perceived as in itself the same as enlightenment or
oneness. In fact, it is often said that in Buddhism, samsara is
in itself nirvana, enlightenment. Buddhist wisdom (prajna) has
this power and ability to make two contradictory poles (such as
`A' and 'not A'; samsara and nirvana) become as one.
The Buddhist World of Awakening 21
Dr. D.T. Suzuki's `A' equals `not A' was devised as a
formula to express this activity that makes two contradictory
poles able to be seen as one. However, it is a formula in which
the `equals' is not at all the usual simple kind. Samsara
(`A') equals nirvana (`not A') when one is enabled to see with
the eyes of the Buddha. This is the `equals' of the dynamic
experience of shinjin. The struggle in our lives is how to work
through to become awakened to this.
In this process of awakening, Shinran says the Buddha
Dharma, the teaching, is like a finger pointing to the moon.
That moon is itself the world of shinjin. Do not mistake the
finger for the moon! In other words, do not mistake the teachings
for reality itself. No matter how good a talk or a book may
be, they are only like fingers pointing to the moon, leading us
to the moon. Ultimately, each of us must see the moon with our
own eyes. Prajna, the dynamic activity of shinjin, makes this
In Mahayana Buddhism, the focus is on prajna, (which is a
synonym for satori-enlightenment,) and also on prajna's
inseparable companion and component, karuna-compassion. It can
be said that karuna has two aspects: to mourn and to cry-not
the cry that comes from a child but the cry of anguish that
comes out of the activity of deep sorrow. Buddhist wisdom has
this aspect of the ability to see things as they are in this
world, and at the same time to feel great sorrow for our human
condition-a sorrow expressed as Great Compassion.
In Shin Buddhism, the Pure Land (Jodo) is the realm from
which the workings of this compassion are manifested. The
ceaseless activity of Great Compassion working throughout my
life is a process like the maturing of pearls in an oyster
shell. Just as the oyster is taking in the piece of the shell
that is part of him and yet not part of him, so karuna (Great
Compassion) is taking my life into its sorrowing embrace. We
22 The Buddhist World of Awakening
can say that as the oyster in its own dynamism `cries' because it
is painful to take in a foreign substance, so, as I am taken in
and transformed by Great Compassion, great sorrow is expressed at
my human condition. In other words, the Buddha is always sensitive,
crying, moving to embrace me in the world of samsara , taking
in and transforming me from a being of delusion into a being of
HELL AND THE PURELAND
With total sincerity, Shinran told his follower Yuienbo, the
author of Tannisho , "Hell is my only destination." For me,
personally, this too is my realization. The one path I have
plunges me into hell and yet, at the same time, into birth in the
Pure Land, to which the experience of shinjin awakens me. Shinran
expresses the existential sadness of falling into hell, but, at
the same time he expresses his joy about going to the Pure Land.
Thus he says, with equal conviction, "Hell is my only
destination" and "I am walking to the Pure Land".
Again, these are the contradictory poles of `A' equals 'not
A' , the formula used by Dr. Suzuki to express the logic of
Buddhist wisdom. The `equals' that welds these contradictory
poles of Hell and the Pure Land is the very point of
nembutsu, the point of all-connectedness at which one is enabled to
experience the reality of non-dualism. To repeat and emphasize
the content of the previous chapter, this is not logical in
terms of western logic, but in the way of contradictions, the
logic of paradox, a way which Shinran uses freely because he has
passed through a depth of experience that unifies the
contradictions in his life. To explain in terms of example,
there is a haiku that reads :
"Matsu kage no kuraki wa tsuki no hikari kana."
This translates as "the starkness of the shadow of the pine
tree at night comes from the light of the moon" or, "the
stronger the moon radiates its light, the darker the shadow."
This poem illustrates the two-fold aspect of Shin Buddhist
awakening. The shadow refers to myself, living in hell, living
24 The World of Buddhist Awakening
in the everyday world of illusion, ignorance and suffering that
is samsara. The moon refers to my walking in the light of
Amida Buddha's wisdom and compassion-to my being made able to
experience and appreciate myself as I truly am, the world as it
truly is, in the boundless freedom of nirvana, of non-ego, of
oneness, of Great Self.
The meaning of being born in the Pure Land is that you are
going to move away from Hell. But only those who have fallen
into hell are going to be saved to move towards the Pure Land !
Therefore the statement that Pure Land "equals" Hell forms the
very structure of shinjin. I, the being creating hell in my
life, am the same being who is saved by Amida. The more we
listen to the teachings and our awareness deepens, the more we
cannot help but awaken to this two-fold aspect of reality in
which we live. The question that then arises is, can those who
have experienced shinjin-who have awakened to this "equals" of
nembutsu-be called Buddhas?
Shinran called shinjin "wisdom." Dogen, the founder of Soto
Zen, also made this same equation. Yet, though he and Shinran
share the same meaning in this, Dogen places the emphasis on
the side of the Buddha, whereas Shinran emphasizes the side of
ordinary beings. Zen views wisdom as "who the Buddha is," while
Shin views wisdom as "who I am." The reason for this difference
is that Dogen's path was that of the monk. His was the
realization gained on becoming a Buddha. This is why Zen's
emphasis is on the side of the Buddha. Since Shinran's dimension
is the common ordinary life of samsara, where illusions are
spun, his emphasis is on wisdom, on this side, the side of
In Zen, meditation is of primary importance, based on the
premise that "I am already a Buddha and only the Pure Land is my
destination. Since I am already a Buddha, my practice is a
practice that goes on throughout my lifetime." For Shinran,
however, the starting point is that he is an ordinary
The Buddhist World of Awakening 25
hell-creating being, that "awakening" is made possible only
through the Other Power of the Vow (Hongan) to save such beings.
In the light of Amida's Vow, Shinran becomes able to truly see
himself as an ordinary hell-creating being. He emphasizes this
realization, this awakening, seeing Pure Land as the destination
coming to him, the being heavy with karmic evil, who is
awakened and embraced by the Vow. The crucial point of Shin Buddhism
is that the very being who is falling into hell is the one who
is born in the Pure Land. Thus the person of shinjin is not a
Buddha but, Shinran says, equal to or the same as a Buddha. The
reason for this distinction is that his emphasis is on the
being, not on the Buddha.
CAUSES AND CONDITIONS
Vasubandhu, the second patriarch through whom Shinran traced
the spiritual lineage of nembutsu teachings, was a fourth
century Indian thinker who said there are two forms of faith. The
first he described as that of firm reliance on the Three
Treasures: the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha. This, he says, is the
threshold for the second form which he called "true" faith, that
of cittaprasada-the lucid, clear purity of mind brought about by
the workings of prajna.
Even when one views this in the natural way of common
sense, there is apparent here a process that works through from
the starting point of the Three Treasures to the culmination of
cittaprasada. In Shinran's writings and teachings, we find this
same basic approach. The starting point for Shinran is to
encounter and believe in the teaching, and to encounter and
believe in the person who transmits that teaching. Both what is
said, and who says it, must become credible and totally
At Buddhist Study Center's summer session, every morning
we chanted Shoshinge, Shinran's Hymn of True Faith, which is a
concise, simplified summary of his teachings. The first of its
two parts brings out the essence of Sakyamuni Buddha's teachings
as expressed in the Larger Pure Land Sutra. Towards the end of
this section there is a line which says, "Believe in the
teachings of Sakyamuni Buddha. " The latter half of Shoshinge
is a summary of Shin's seven patriarchs (including Vasubandhu)
from India, China, and Japan. The hymn gives the essence of
their teachings, with the refrain : "Believe
The Buddhist World of Awakening 27
only in the teachings of these seven patriarchs." In saying this,
Shinran is not referring to the "true faith" that is the
awakening gained in cittaprasada but to the threshold of belief that,
as Vasubandhu made clear, is the starting point for the process
that leads to cittaprasada.
What is important is that one begin at the starting point
of the process-listening to the teachings-in order to
ultimately experience shinjin and oneself become part of its true
meaning. To take off at this starting point, to encounter the
nembutsu teaching in one's life, means that one meets the per
son who manifests the teaching in his or her own life. Such an
encounter can come through direct listening to that teacher, or
through "listening" by hearing or reading the teacher's written
words. In Tannisho, Yuienbo describes such a good teacher as a
person "with whom our spiritual destinies are bound." In
Japanese, the word for this is zenchishiki, "a good friend of the
way," a word which connotes a spiritual guide and gives the
importance of the personal dimension in Shinran's teachings.
Rennyo Shonin, a direct descendant of Shinran, was a great
Shin Buddhist teacher and leader of the fifteenth century. His
experience of frustration in trying to transmit the teachings
to those who literally "did not like the Buddha" led him to
develop the concept of "past good"-shukuzen-as being a
cause-and-condition without which he felt he could not sway even
his wife to turn to the teachings. This condition is one of the
doctrinal points which has led to much discussion among Shin
Buddhist scholars over the years.
"Past good" does not mean past good but rather various
conditions created for us by parents, teachers, good friends who
have made it possible for us to listen to the teachings and take
them into our lives. We ourselves, by ourselves, do not create
good but rather one bumbling path after another. Shukuzen is
different from Shinran's term,shukugo-past karma.
28 The Buddhist World of Awakening
Past karma means to be able to see where one is now in
relation to the past. Past good implies that in one's past there
exists some kind of condition that results in the effect of
one's being able to listen and take in the teachings.
Shukuzen was the first of the five conditions Rennyo
proposed as leading to birth in the Buddha Land. The second was
that one encounter a spiritual teacher, a "good friend of the
way." A third condition is komyo-the Buddha's Light, a symbolic
expression for the teachings. The fourth is myogo, the Buddha's
Name, nembutsu. The fifth is shinjin.
To me this first condition of shukuzen is not a problem of
any great importance. I feel rather that in such an expression
Rennyo sought to contrast those people with this condition, and
those without. He defined those with "past good" as those who
have been able to truly hear the teachings. Out of his personal
experience, in his description of this as a cause-and-condition,
he was primarily lamenting for those who cannot listen or who,
if they do listen, cannot experience shinjin. Conversely, for
him, "past good" expressed a joy for those who can and do listen
to the teachings and take them into their lives. It must be
emphasized that his awareness of this came from insight gained
in his trying to transmit the teachings and to interpret
essential steps in the process leading to shinjin.
The important issue here is that there must be a starting
point, that of stepping onto and moving along the path of the
Buddha's teachings. To quote Alan Watts, the American writer on
Zen, the truth is something that is there. You might stumble on
it, but this is rare. A good teacher leads you to what by chance
you might miss or mistake.
In Mahayana Buddhism, an underlying premise is that all
beings have the potential which, if nurtured properly, will
blossom into enlightenment-Buddhahood. This universality of the
potential for becoming Buddha was understood as his subjective
condition by the twentieth century myokonin, Saichi. "Amida's
Vow is for me alone," wrote Saichi. "Everyone will be saved
because this Saichi is saved." This restatement of the
underlying Mahayana premise is that of a simple layman, but
Saichi's deep understanding is that others who become aware that
Amida's Vow is likewise for themselves alone will also certainly
be "saved"-that is, become Buddhas.
Fulfillment of this universal human potential for enlightenment
is not a matter of counting numbers but, as understood
by Saichi, of internal awareness on the part of each individual.
In Shin Buddhism, "all beings have the potential of becoming
Buddha" means that all beings in the universe are embraced and
enfolded in the Great Compassion of Amida Buddha.
If we look at the karma we create in our life, we really
cannot become Buddhas. The truth of our lives is that by our
daily actions we sow the seeds that will cause us to fall into
hell! The path for us to attain Buddhahood is made by the
Buddha's actions. This being so, the very act that this path is made
available to us-isn't this karuna, the Great Compassion of the
* wondrously devout lay person.
30 The Buddhist World of Awakening
The Sanskrit word karuna is translated in Chinese as Daihi
which can also be literally translated in English as "Buddha's
heart" For my own part, this conveys the essence of Great
Compassion. The Buddha is always sorrowful, crying for me. It is
as if should his eyes be fully opened, all the tears would flow
out, for he is focused on me as a being falling into hell. To
awaken to this reality-that this "I" am the being creating seeds
to fall into hell-is the experience of shinjin. Since Great
Compassion is directed to this hell-bent fearsome heart of mine,
how essential to nurture the conditions by which I can awaken to
the awesome reality of my true nature: my limitless potential
for evil which in itself is my "salvation. " It is not that J
have created or can create the seeds of Buddhahood. If someone
asked the question as to whether I am creating merit through
which I can attain Buddhahood, my honest answer would have to be
in the negative. Our deep rooted evil is such that if the
conditions are made possible, we don't know what we may do.
Often, in reading of violence or watching violence on
television, I reflect that I, too, have the potential to kill.
Since Great Compassion is directed to our fearsome hell
bent hearts, how essential it is for us, on our part, to nurture
the conditions by which we can become awakened to this reality
that is ourselves. Thus the importance of meeting a good teacher
on the way, for no matter how profound a teaching or sutra may
be, if it is not manifested through such a person, its meaning
is difficult to grasp.
Nagarjuna, an early teacher of Buddhism in India, and
another of those whom Shinran acknowledges as his patriarch in
the lineage of nembutsu teachings, says that to tread the
Buddha Way is like crossing the river. First you must enter the
river and keep walking until you reach the other shore.
Likewise, to walk the Buddha's path one must enter and continue
onward entrusting that this is the path of True and Real
The Buddhist World of Awakening 31
Life. In the person-to-person encounter of those who listen to
the Dharma, the belief in the teaching starts, is exchanged, or
shared. After this entry, in order to move along the Buddha path
there must as well be the strong wish or desire to do so, in
order that we can come to see what the teacher we encounter is
expressing in his or her life. Great effort is necessary to
deepen our awareness of this process and in Shin Buddhism, the
crux of this effort is listening, an immediate, direct listening
with one's heart, one's whole being. Shinran says to listen
to oneself, which is really difficult, for his meaning of "to
listen" is to awaken to and manifest shinjin in one's life.
Shinjin is not a speculation or thinking about things, but
a joyful experience. For us to meet through these words and
mutually share and "listen" to the Dharma is one aspect of
shinjin. The gradual awareness that comes through the activity
of the Buddha's Great Compassion grows through our listening to
the Dharma not in conceptual terms, but in terms of our own
lives. It is a gradual awareness that, indeed, we are beings
sowing seeds for our falling into hell. It is this awareness
that shows we are in the process of shinjin , and it is through
this process true awakening becomes possible.
"Nem" (or "nen") has a two-fold meaning. One is "to
think of." The other is "to recite."Nembutsu"therefore means "I
think and I utter or call Amida's Name."
In the ordinary meaning, this would imply that the
direction of the calling is from me to the Buddha, but in the
world of awakening to shinjin , there is a complete reversal.
The direction is from Amida to me ! My saying of the nembutsu
is not merely my saying-it is at the same time Amidas Calling to
me! Thus, Amida is not the object I am calling but the subject
who thinks of and calls me.
This is an analysis still within the realm of objective
rational explanation. It does not translate the personal experiencing
of shinjin in one's life in which this other direction
of the nembutsu becomes real. In order to experience this
change of direction, to truly move into the world of shinjin ,
one must take the first step into the world of listening to the
Dharma. When this happens, I and the Dharma become of one
essence, "of one body."
In Japanese, "of one body" is ittai rather than the word
gattai, which means "combining." "Of one body" (ittai) is not a
unification where the identity of both are gone. It is the two
coming together and still remaining what they are. Gattai
expresses the coming together of a husband and wife, ittai that
of a parent and child. In terms of the latter, a parent is not a
parent without a child. There would be no children in this world
without parents. Yet , these two , although they are
interdependent, have separate karmas. Unlike the gattai of
The Buddhist World of Awakening 33
marriage which may end in divorce, there is no split possible in
the ittai of parent and child. No condition can alter that the
parent is a parent, nor that the child is a child.
The Larger Sukhavati sutra relates that kalpas ago Amida
made his original vow not to become a Buddha until all beings
everywhere are saved. Yet, in the same sutra, the statement is
made that Amida has already become a Buddha. This infers that
his attainment of Buddhahood was possible only because all beings
are already saved. Amida is not yet a Buddha in the sense of his
compassionate weeping for the salvation of all suffering beings.
Yet, for many who have died and are born in the Pure Land, he is
Amida Buddha per se. But my Buddha and your Buddha are not yet
the Buddha, so the question is: what am I seeking in life? Is
Amida Buddha my Buddha?
In the "of one body" sense expressed in the word ittai,
Amida is increasingly, unceasingly working to make his life one
with you, one with me. Thus, although he is originally a Buddha,
he is at the same time not a Buddha because he is working for
the salvation-the enlightenment-of each individual, for the
deepest wish of each one of us. It is in this sense that he is
not yet a Buddha for you, for me.
How do we come to understand this unceasing working of the
Buddha to make his life one with yours, one with mine? This is
an understanding that is a total apprehension of mind and body.
It is for this very reason Amida is shedding great tears for the
sorrow I am in. When I experience this, it is the realization
that becomes the awakening to my human condition, to his
compassion, to the world of what is True and Real, all of which
are so difficult for me to realize that I am already a part.
It is in this way that my nembutsu is Amida's calling out
to me, and that Amida and I are of one body, one essence, ittai
Though Amida has become a Buddha in past time beyond
34 The Buddhist World of Awakening
our conception, as he works for my salvation he has not yet
fulfilled his becoming a Buddha. The logic here is again that of
`A equals not A,' the logic based on the wisdom of shinjin. This
is the world of awakening in which the nembutsu is uttered, the
world that opens to us as we tread the path of Shin Buddhism.
In my own life, my own process, I was past the age of forty
before I could really utter nembutsu, before I myself could
experience this world of Buddhist awakening. Yet, it was a
process that went back to my childhood, and my experience of
having lost my mother at the age of thirteen. It was February
when she died, a cold time of the year. As she lay dying, she
had said she wanted to see me. When I got home from school, my
aunt took me to see her, but her eyes were already closed. I
called to her, tugged at her, but she died before me, and from
her lips the nembutsu flowed at the moment of death. Her
dying, and the experience of her death, made me think of life,
so after the war, one of the big motivating factors in my going
to Kyoto to seek the meaning of Shinran was my mother's
utterance of the nembutsu as she lay dying. In the dead end I
reached at War's end, I was able to go to Kyoto because of this
sad but powerful incident of my mother's death still remaining a
strong motivation for me. I went to Kyoto to seek the meaning of
Shinran in the nembutsu, impelled by the love for my
mother-rather than being drawn by the nembutsu itself.
As she lay dying, I had called but she had not answered as
I wanted desperately. I wanted her at death to call n?y name and
not the Buddha's name. In so many ways I felt alone, abandoned
by my mother. Since I'd entered elementary school she had been
ill with tuberculosis and my recollections of her were of her
illness. It was out of my deep need of love for her and my
loneliness for her, I was drawn to study the nembutsu she had
uttered as she died.
The Buddhist World of Awakening 35
In Kyoto I entered Ryukoku University and began my studies of
Shin Buddhism. Through good teachers and students, I was
encouraged to pursue my studies. After twenty years of study, at age
forty, the nembutsu that I'd heard from my dying mother's lips
took root in my life as I realized the passage in Tannisho, "In
this world of impermanence and burning house. . only the
nembutsu is true and real."
The fact that I had called my mother and that she didn't
reply , made me think that for the child what seems really true
is the parent just as, for the parent, the child seems real. But
the Tannisho , through this passage, struck me with the realization
that even this relationship is unreliable, impermanent,
and that transcending this vain and empty relationship is the
nembutsu. Now, reflecting back, I can see that the nembutsu
on my mother's lips as she died showed this. In the end, the
ultimate is to return to the nembutsu. Thirty years after her
death, twenty years after I started studying, I was able to
truly touch and be open to the nembutsu.
WHERE IS THE BUDDHA?
In the preceding chapter, we saw that true nembutsu comes
from the direction of the Buddha. When a small child asks, "where
is the Buddha?", either we point to the statue on the altar, or
we pick up a flower, and say that this flower expresses the life
of the Buddha. Neither of these answers is wrong, but neither
makes clear the deeper implication that; even the Name, Amida
Buddha, is but a symbol pointing to the True and Real Life
flowing through our existence. In terms of karma and Shinran's view
of life, we create our own hell. In each of our hearts is all of
hell itself. But, at the very point where hell resides, this is
where the Buddha resides. Yet, to say only "The Buddha is in my
heart" can mislead one in terms of the reality of his existence.
Dogen says we are already Buddhas and this is the reason we
practice. In Shin Buddhism, especially with children, we speak
of the Buddha as being in the temple because in doing so we
avoid misleading the young who do not as yet practice bringing
out the Buddha from within. As we mature, and begin to perceive
the reality of our existence, to see into the depths of our
hell-bent hearts, in this inner world through the activity of
prajna, the negative and positive polarities of our life
become one-It is only then that the reality of "where the
Buddha is" becomes our existential reality. In Japanese, this is
referred to as the area of shinjitsu-truth, the truth which is
the foundation of shinjin.
In his writings, Shinran uses shinshin-"True Mind"
interchangeably with shinjin . Shin (meaning belief) and jin (mind
The Buddhist World of Awakening 37
and heart) is the same as, or equivalent to the two characters
that each express a different shin, that meaning "truth" and
that meaning"mind and heart." To reiterate, Shinran's "faith,"
the shinjin of Shin Buddhism, the point where the Buddha
becomes my Buddha, is not a matter of relationship between the
believer and what is believed in but has a deeper dimension of
the truth itself.
In the Smaller Sukhavati sutra there is the expression
"coming together to meet in one place," referring to the Pure
Land. People who live in shinjin are always able to meet, truly
able to meet each other in this here and now. To be able to say
"let's meet again" with this meaning is made possible by the
power of truth, for the essence of the life of the person
of shinjin is rooted in this True and Real Life. I would like
to live within this world where such expressions are made
possible to say to our loved ones, to say even to ourselves.
"Let's meet again," were the dying words of my father.
Isn't this the kind of expression, at my own dying moment, that
I'd like to leave with those who love me? I thought of this
again recently, at Berkeley, when I met an elderly lady who was
devout in the nembutsu. She was an invalid, a stroke patient,
eighty years old, living alone. She brought a paper and brush
and asked me to write something. I wrote, "Namu Amida Butsu.
Let's meet again." She then said, "I'll be waiting for you!"
I was deeply affected by these words coming out so
innocently from her words that came straight out of the
dimension of reality itself. I feel it is Truth sustaining her,
making these words come out of her in a totally natural, non
contriving way. Such a woman does not need to ask, "Where is the
Buddha?" She knows.
THE TRANSFORMATION OF SHINJIN
In Buddhism as a whole, faith is cittaprasada, the pellucid
and clear mind. As we have seen, in Shin Buddhism, the
particular word expressing this is shinjin, joyful faith. It is often
said that cittaprasada is like a flower opening up whereby one
sees the Buddha. When one experiences this ultimate truth in
one's life, one enters "into the house of the Tathagata," Thus
shinjin equals Buddha-nature, things-as-they-are-of-themselves;
and Tathagata, one who has come from Suchness.
Shinran speaks of awakening to shinjin through experiences
of this ultimate truth. The person of shinjin, although he is
still a being creating karma that destines him for hell, has a
true mind that results in his already living in the Pure Land,
for in the experience of shinjin, one receives truth. One
receives the Buddha's life into one's own life. It is in this
way we say a new life is born to the person of shinjin. In
essence, the old self dies and a new self is born. The life I
received through my parents dies and the life of Amida-my
spiritual parent-takes over my life. This is eloquently
expressed in myokonin Saichi's description of experiencing
shinjin. "My funeral is now over! " By this he means that his
life is now rooted in the Buddha's life. It is in this dimension
that "let's meet again" becomes so meaningful.
Shomatsu, a myokonin who lived 150 years ago on the island
of Shikoku, was returning from a pilgrimage to Kyoto, when a
violent storm came up, endangering the boat on which he
was traveling. Shomatsu slept through the storm. His worried
friends finally found him asleep in the hold and shook him
The Buddhist World of Awakening 39
awake. When they did so, his first words to them were:"Are we
still in the world of illusion?" This kind of attitude comes
only from the reality of living the life of Suchness. How to
attain this for my own life is the question.
Another myokonin, Oseki, a woman who also lived about 1
50 years ago, was spiritually nurtured by a priest, Tokuryu.
One day, as she was serving him tea, he asked, "How is your
ojo?* If you should die now, are you ready to be born in the
As she held out the tea to him she simply said, "Yes, Just
like this. Just as I am!"
Tokuryu replied, "Oseki! Oseki! That's wonderful!"
Thus, in Shin Buddhism, in the experiencing of shinjin ,
our salvation is established , a salvation one hundred per cent
in this life. Nothing is withheld. Nothing is conditional. No
thing is postponed until after death. We have total assurance of
our birth in the Buddha Land and that assurance is confirmed by
the experience of shinjin being accompanied by the experience of
a new life, an utter transformation of oneself.
In that transformation, we simply live in truth as such. It
is this kind of life-the kind of life lived by Saichi and Oseki
that Shinran taught and that his teachings make possible for
each one of us. In order to meet the Vow Power moving towards
us, we need to be moving on the Buddha Path. Anyone can walk
that path. And for the person who does so, he or she must walk
it personally, alone. Whether one awakens to this or not is the
problem. Shinjin is not like a ticket with which you reach your
destination. Shinjin is the destination.
The person who has not awakened to shinjin is not saved.
Ketsu-jo-the settledness of shinjin implies that one "knows"
from the deepest part of one's life, a "knowing" which is
*"is your birth into the Pure Land clear?"
40 The Buddhist World of Awakening
expressed from the body, for in shinjin we receive truth as it is
and simultaneously that truth becomes our salvation. Therefore,
"birth into the Pure Land at the moment of our death" means the
Pure Land begins within this here and now in which we live. With
regard to salvation, Shinran doesn't talk about the kind of
happiness you get after you die. His emphasis is solely on the
experience of shinjin in this life.
I don't really know about the after-life. While I live,
there is nothing to be concerned about except meeting the Buddha
in my present life, encountering the teachings in my present
life. What happens to me after death? I feel I can leave that up
to the Buddha.
When salvation takes root in our lives, whether the Pure
Land is going to be there at the end or not-all this we leave up
to the Buddha to do what is best for us. This is the essence of
faith that expresses itself as Amida's faith in me being realized
by me with tears of contrition and a smile of gratitude.
The process of our life and death occurs in the heart of the
Buddha's life itself. To me, this is the meaning of being saved
by the Buddha. It is a salvation here and now, right this moment,
in the present.
But then, if this is so, why didn't Shinran designate the
person of faith as Buddha, and this life as the Pure Land?
Dogen, Nichiren, Eisai* all proclaim one does become a Buddha in
this life, and that one who is able to see with the eyes of the
Buddha is already in the Pure Land. The reason Shinran did not
say this is because of his hardships, his struggles in life
treading the Buddha path for nearly ninety years. Through his
experience, his perception of his own inner life was more
truthful. He was honest in regard to his real existential
condition. Thus the stark severity of his teaching.
In Buddhist tradition, Shinran was one who focused on
* the founder of Rinzai Zen.
The Buddhist World of Awakening 41
bonno, the defilements of the body. The ego which is rooted in
this body of ours, no matter how old we get, simply cannot be
set aside, for it is rooted in these defilements. It is because
of this that Shinran came to the realization he was a common
ordinary being, unable to escape from his ego which is rooted in
his cravings and attachments. In Buddhism, human beings are not
viewed as different from other living beings. The word used in
Japanese is shujo: shu meaning "many" or "numerous" and jo
meaning "those with consciousness. " The Sanskrit word for this
is sattva. This is basically similar to, and yet different from
Darwin's theory of evolution. Scientific study looks
objectively at the history of mankind through archeological finds.
The Buddhist view of shujo is not a reality objectively
validated by science but an insight that within the depths of
our hearts we lead a life that corresponds to the most fearsome
and repulsive of animals.
It was in this light that Shinran says, "My heart is like
the scorpion and the snake." Outwardly, we are human beings who
control our lives moralistically and ethically, but deep within
each of us is an uncontrollable unconsciousness identical to
the most savage primitive animals. Our ego-centered lives are
rooted in such instincts and urges. The deep truth is that we
are all-out for ourselves.
As he came to realize this, Shinran saw himself as nothing
great, a common ordinary being, and so named himself Gu-toku-Ran,
literally, Shinran, the foolish, bald-headed one. With
his keen eyes seeing into the depths of his own heart, Shinran
was aware he was embraced in the compassion of the Buddha even
as he was creating his own karmic hell. Yet he could also see
that embraced as he was, he was not a Buddha and that his world
was not the Pure Land. My thoughts are that Shinran had to carry
a burden of worry and sorrow to the moment of his death-the
effect of karma in his life. At his death, he was born into the
Pure Land. This is my imagining,
42 The Buddhist World of Awakening
my opinion as I reflect on Shinran's death at the age of
Deeply connected to the "True Mind" is tariki, often
translated as "Other-Power." Even those outside Shin Buddhism know
this term, but there is much misconception as to its real
Tariki is that which enables me to see that my bonno
stuffed mind and "True Mind" are interrelated in the same way as
the interrelatedness of there being no shadow without light, no
light without shadow. Thus the more Shinran encountered the
light of shinjin in his life, the more he was able to see the
darkness of himself.
What he came to understand as not his, but a gift given to
him, was this realization that he is a being who cannot hear
Amida, cannot hear the Dharma, is falling into hell. His
receiving of this gift is what Shinran calls the shinjin of
Other-Power. What is "not of me" really is already here. I don't
have "True Mind" and yet it is part of me and I am part of it.
In expressing his awakening to this, Shinran says, "There is no
thought that penetrates it completely, no words that express it
fully. " In other words, surprise, surprise! it's inconceivable!
The shocking astonishment of experiencing this gift of what
was not here, and yet has always been here, and is now here,
When we meet the Buddha here and now in this experience
there are no roots of bonno in this gift that is given me
although having received it I am still a person rooted in bonno
But when I have received this gift that was always there, my
44 The Buddhist World of Awakening
ego-centered life is no longer the focus. My focus now becomes
non-ego centered life.
Tariki no shinjin does not mean "believing in the Other
Power." Shinjin is itself the Other Power. To clearly awaken
to and experience the world of nembutsu is to realize that
everything we have is given to us. From our side all is received
- even the awakening itself is not mine, is given to me, is in
itself Other Power.
In regards to this gift of shinjin given by the Buddha and
received by us, Shinran urges that we seek it out wholeheartedly.
There is, in his letters to his followers after he left
Mito-Kanto and returned to Kyoto, a constant admonition to raise
the wish to live so as to become Buddhas. Unless this wish
emerges in our life, shinjin will not be realized by us.
There is a saying at the end of the Larger Sukhavati Sutra:
"Though fires may envelop the totality of our universe, we must
transcend it, work through it, and listen to the Dharma." Again,
"We must pass through this universal world of fire and listen to
the teachings." Shinran reiterates this, emphasizing that we
must pass through the fires of blind passion that envelop the
universe to listen to the Buddha's Name.
Shinjin is the wholehearted giving of the Buddha to me, but
to fully receive this, I too must fully seek the meaning of my
existence. There is no 50-50 here, no half-way potential either
in the seeking or the receiving of the shinjin which is Other
Power. Shin Buddhism is often called the "Easy Way," but it is
easy only once you have gotten there! "Easy Way" refers to the
way possible for everyday people, in contrast to the "difficult"
path of sages which is the fulltime dedication of the monks.
In some sense, no matter which way is followed, the Buddha
path is "all easy." In some sense, it is "all difficult." What
is essential is a total commitment. Shinran constantly
The Buddhist World of Awakening 45
stated how truly difficult is this "easy way" of the nembutsu
path that is open to all-lay people, priests, everybody. In the
Shoshinge he repeats, "Of all the difficulties none is more
difficult that this."
The point of total commitment is that if you want to truly
become Buddhas, the possibility for this awakening becomes more
real. In Shin Buddhism we talk about cho-mon, "Listening to the
Dharma," as the essence of this commitment. "Listening to the
Dharma" means listening to oneself, "listening deeply to what
is happening to oneself." In Shin Buddhism, "to listen" means
"to listen to what one is truly about."
Dogen says: `To study the Buddha's Dharma is to study
oneself." To study oneself is to forget-or throw away-oneself,
to have that ego-self crushed so it is no longer the center, the
focus of one's total thrust in life. When I listen to the
teachings, and I find my ego-self being taken away, then I know
I am beginning to truly listen to the Dharma. If I listen simply
to accumulate knowledge, it is like putting on the clothes I
wear. This kind of listening manipulates or uses the Dharma for
my own convenience. This is not truly listening.
I do not listen to become "good." I do not listen to make
possible my entrance to Pure Land. I do not listen in order to
die better or to live better. These kinds of listening all
approach the teaching from my own hakarai or self-centered
calculation. To really listen means the ego-self which is doing
the contriving is taken away from me, is no longer my focus, and
is replaced by something True and Real which offers me really
nothing beyond the affirmation of life itself.
For example, if I take home what I hear at a lecture or
sermon or study class, it will become my crutch. Whatever crutch
I have-I must leave it at the session, including what I think I
am listening to and hearing about nembutsu. I, in my daily
life, have my own treasure chest. Whatever treasures I
46 The Buddhist World of Awakening
cling to, as I listen, whatever I think I possess-throw it away!
My pride, my impression that listening more will become the seeds
of my happiness, the belief in my being different or better in
the future, cast it away! When I so strip myself, all that is
left is my bonno. There, as I am-that is how Amida affirms and
grasps me. I myself, who is totally incapable of anything but
selfish calculation, ego inflation,ego gratification.
What is this "something" that accepts me as I am, that
moves me to an illumination of the naked reality of myself, that
brings me to another focus-myself and yet far greater, far more
incomprehensible than myself It is tariki, Other Power, the
awakening of shinjin , the experience that through the nembutsu
I come to know the unreliability of everything I bank on. I
constantly live on the razor's edge, constantly create the
karmic seeds that destine me to hell. To truly listen means to
cast this aside-to leave it all here, now-to throw away what I
am grasping in my life because, ultimately, I have nothing to
take with me into my death.
This listening is not simply a matter of listening with my
right ear but of listening with a sense of having the very
foundations of my being shaken. For example, when the Apollo
satellite shot into space, the news of the resonating through
the world caused me to reflect on the return of the spaceship
which had to come in at a certain angle, otherwise the ship
would bounce off the earth's atmosphere. There was no second
chance. He had to come at the right angle, and not too steep an
angle or otherwise he would burn up in the descent. This is the
condition of our way of listening to the teaching. We can bounce
back into egocentricity. We can burn out in too steep angle of
descent. The approach of our direction to the Pure Land, to the
awakening through our listening over and over and meeting
various teachers is like that return of the spaceship. We must
constantly correct the angle of our listening so we really
listen and so that we really encounter the awakening of shinjin.
THE FINGER AND THE MOON
One aspect of tariki, Other Power, is paratantra-a Sanskrit
term which translates literally as "through or in relation ships
or in conditions, things occur, rise or emerge." For example, I
went to the summer session in Honolulu not solely on my own
volition or calculation but because of the conditions maturing in
my life that made it possible for me to go there. We exist in
relationships, in conditions from which things emerge. Thus, as
another example, I am here on this earth through the existential
cause of my parents bringing me to life. This example brings us
to an examination of the second aspect of tariki. `to rely,
depend on, entrust others."
As Other Power moves into my life, I become object as well
as subject. The unreliabilities and unreality of my everyday
life become part of reality. This is the awareness that comes
about through Other Power. To throw away the focus of my ego is
an inexhaustible process. The dynamic of Amida in this process
is the non-judgmental, non-discriminating, unconditional
embrace of the ego I cannot throw away.
To "throw it away" means throw away your ego-focus so you
can see your real relationship with your husband, your wife,
your children, your parents, so you can begin to understand
your life, yourself. This is the illumination of wisdom and
Experientially, the natural movement of shinjin is to move
outward toward others. In the case of Sakyamuni's enlightenment
at age thirty-five, for a week afterward he sat in contemplation
before his decision to share and express his
48 The Buddhist World of Awakening
experience. Shinran's was a similar experience of being moved to
share. Even in old age he wrote, "I cannot see any more and I
have forgotten many things," but he continued to write to his
disciples, to share with them his thoughts on his shinjin
experience. This sharing of religious experience is not
exclusively Buddhist. It is a universal movement in religions.
In Shin Buddhism, to be able to listen, study, learn from
the teachings, all comes from the predecessors who gave their
full life to extend their shinjin experience and express it so
that I, centuries later, could understand. There is, however, a
gap between the original religious experience and its
expression-whether that expression be in music, art, or words. For
example, the sutras were developed 2,000 years ago in the
Northwestern areas of India. They state that there are flowers
and birds in the Pure Land, and that the Pure Land is in the
west. This kind of content developed within the stream of
mankind's history, as molded 2,000 years ago within the context
of Indian life.
Similarly, we must not forget that Shinran's writings were
developed within the environment of the experiences of the
Kamakura period. The historical and societal aspects of
Sakyamuni's time, and of Shinran's, were each woven in their own
way into their expression of the teachings. Shinran's
fundamental religious experience of shinjin, however, transcends
his historical and societal environment, as likewise Sakyamuni's
religious experience of enlightenment transcends his societal
environment. Each expresses the ultimate in words that are
naturally conditioned by the very different times in which each
For both, the expression of the experience came directly
from the pure religious experience itself, but between the experience
and its expression in language or written words, there
exists a gap which Shinran described as being between the
The Buddhist World of Awakening 49
finger and the moon. Thus his admonition not to mistake the
pointing finger of the teachings for the moon of Dharma, the
pure religious experience itself.
SYMBOLISM AND PARADOX
There are, in this perspective of "the finger pointing to
the moon" two aspects I should now like to discuss. One is that
of symbolism. The other is that of logic-the Buddhist logic based
on paradox or contradiction. `A' equals `not A' which I found in
many of Shinran's writings.
The area of symbolism, and the problems in that area, deal
with what Sakyamuni and Shinran encounter when they try to
communicate their experience to those who have not had it.
Symbolism then becomes the vehicle for trying to express their
experience as one might try to express the pain of a toothache
to one who has never had an aching tooth.
Or, for example, I am given a pencil which belonged to a
dear friend who had died. For me, the pencil which may have been
a cheap one in price is cherished because it symbolizes the
depth of my friendship, the memories of my friend and all he
meant to me. This particular pencil thus in itself carries deep
meaning, and to simply replace it with other pencils, other
similar objects, does not carry the meaning that lies beyond
that object and which that object expresses to me.
Myogo, the technical expression for the six characters
Namu-Amida-Butsu can be placed in the category of symbols.
Symbols communicate the depth of religious experience to those
who have not yet experienced the world of ultimate reality. This
communication comes through the use as symbols of that which is
found in daily life. For example, the symbolism of the Pure
Land as birds and flowers is symbolism used in the sutras to
affirm what is in this world and yet beyond it.
The Buddhist World of Awakening 51
Cool streams, birds, flowers and trees express and affirm some
thing simultaneously of this world but there is, at the same time
in this symbolism , a logic that negates a purely literal
understanding of these things.
The name of Amida Buddha comes from the Sanskrit,
Amitabha and Amitayus. Amita means "that which is limitless
Abha means "light" and ayus means "life," thus the
meaning-"the one with limitless light and life." This expression
is inconceivable! What is the light that has no bounds and
yet is light that can be realized because of the contrasting
conditions of darkness? What is limitless life? Can we realize
the symbolic meaning of such a phrase? Only when our conditions
as we understand them are negated, then in this contradiction
offered by the expression "limitless life and light" can we
begin to understand the direction in which the finger of the
teachings is pointing.
To entrust one's life in Amida, we must realize that the
real Buddha lies beyond the symbol of Amida. We must encounter
that experience! We can't walk around clinging to the symbol as
if it were the Buddha itself. We must go beyond the symbol, just
as in the sutras we go beyond the symbols of cooling water,
cooling wind, which were used to give a contrast to the hot
harsh reality of the Indian climate. In terms of the natural
conditions of that environment, such symbols took the mind to an
experience beyond the limits of one's own actual experience,
pointing beyond their literal meaning, like a finger pointing to
To the question, "Where is Amida Buddha?" the sutra gives
an answer in two ways. Amida Buddha and his land, viewed from
here, is far, far away. But, also, in order to get from here to
Amida is "not far." He is right here! His being at the same time
both right here and infinite Buddha worlds away is an expression
of Buddhist logic. This is the same mindtransforming logic
woven into Shinran's expression of his
52 The Buddhist World of Awakening
experience of "awakening," the paradox there being that Shinran
-the very person creating karma that carries him along on a fall
into hell-is able to experience Pure Land.
The problems of symbolism and paradox come from the meaning
received from them by this "I" who have not yet awakened to pure
religious experience. Thus the difficulty with language, words,
expressions. These two problems: symbol and paradox, are
encountered in Shin Buddhist teachings. How to get through them
to experience the truth is my problem , your problem. It is not
good enough to grasp the finger as if the finger were the moon
Since Shinran, who lived eight hundred years ago, used the
words and symbols of his own century to express his experience,
there may be a gap in our understanding of some of the words and
symbols he used. In spite of this, shining through those words
and symbols, bridging the gap in time and societal conditions,
is the totality of his commitment. His touching of my human
reality makes the "finger" of his teachings beckon and touch me,
extend the moon of the experience which Shinran had as
potential for me, too.
It is this experience that Shinran was trying to express in
his teachings, and through his writings, that we deal with
today. Through the direction of the symbols and paradox of his
"finger pointing to the moon," we too may have Shinran's
original pure experience of shinjin. For this reason, the study
of Shin Buddhism must be with one's mind and with one's body, a
total integration of the understanding of our mind into our
TASTING THE TEACHING
The word sutra originally meant "that which is strung
together on a string," which in a literal sense describes the
collections of the teachings of Sakyamuni Buddha, transmitted
orally for some three hundred years before being written down in
the form we know today. It is of course likely that over such a
long period of oral transmission, the content of the sutras was
The teachings dealing with Amida Buddha that evolved during
this period were gathered into three sutras, of which the major
is the Larger Sukhavati Pure Land Sutra. In it are presented
various aspects of the teachings concerning Amida-his Original
Vow, his many Vows, and a description of his Pure Land. Other
sutras also talk about lay persons becoming Buddhas, but in this
sutra there is an emphasis on telling lay people how they can
The other two collections dealing with Amida Buddha the
Meditation and Amida Sutras-can be regarded as supplementary to
the Larger Sukhavati Sutra. It is this Larger Sutra that during
a period of 2,000 years moved in its development from India,
through China, Korea, and into Japan. Shinran taught that for
those who lead an everyday existence in this world, this is the
In a previous chapter we discussed two contradictory
statements made in the Larger Sukhavati sutra: Amida Buddha is
far, far away-and, Amida Buddha is right here! We cannot grasp
Amida with our senses, our touch, our vision. In that sense,
Amida is far, far away. Yet, he is always with us,
54 The Buddhist World of Awakening
surrounding us, grasping us. How do we unify these contradictions
in our experience of shinjin?
Osono, a myokonin in the countryside of Nagoya, lived in
an area heavily influenced by both Shin Buddhism and Zen. Near
her village lived a young Zen master. Osono had the reputation
of being a devout Shin Buddhist, but the Zen master felt that
because of his training he must be deeper in his understanding.
One day he went to see Osono and asked her, "What is the name of
the Buddha you are worshiping?"
Osono answered, "Amida Buddha."
The Zen master then asked, "Where is that Amida Buddha?"
Osono answered, "My oyo-sama (spiritual parent) Amida is
far, far away in the West."
"Ah, your oyo-sama is really far away, isn't he?" said the
"Oh, no!" said Osono. "Though Amida is faraway,right now at
this moment, he is out of the Pure Land in the West."
This answer surprised the Zen master. "If Amida is out,
where is Amida now?"
Osono broke into a smile. "Oh, Master, you ask good
questions! Amida is right here! Right here! Namu Amida Butsu!"
Later, the Zen master told his friends that Osono was deep
in her expression of the Buddha Way. "Even I could not reply as
spontaneously as this illiterate old country woman!" he
For Osono, the contradiction of Amida being far away and
"out" visiting right there in her heart, was fully integrated as
a whole into her life. When we listen to the teachings, the
symbolism and apparent paradoxes must in the same way be
The Buddhist World of Awakening 55
integrated into the depths of our own life. Otherwise we cannot
say "I am truly listening, truly hearing. "
In Chinese there is an expression (homi) which means the
"flavor of the Dharma." In Japanese, Buddhists often say, "Aji o miru
- to see the flavor." To study Shin Buddhism and to
experience the Dharma in one's everyday existence is to "taste"
the teachings with one's whole being. Shinran used the word
jin-shin profound heart and mind-as a synonym for shinjin. The
symbols of Amida and Pure Land, the logic of paradox and
contradiction, are to be "tasted" in this way.
CHANGE AND GROWTH IN SHINJIN
Shinjin is something that grows. It is the awakening to a
new dimension of existence, an awakening in which there is change
and growth. This is not a change or growth of objective knowing,
which is dualistic, but that of the subjective knowing of
prajna in which subject and object become one.
No matter how strong we may become intellectually, that
strength does not necessarily mean we have grown or become
changed in an affective way. We may, however, be quite
uneducated and out of our capacity to love and to be touched
there can come such an inner transformation, For example, when
we subjectively understand our parents' love and their suffering
for us, and we feel gratitude, our heart changes in a subtle
way. Another example: intellectually, though we may have been
listening to the Dharma for a long time, we have not been really
moved. It is only when we become genuinely touched in our hearts
by the Buddha Dharma that we grow and change in shinjin, that we
awaken to this reality and experience the transformation
Shinran described as "to die to oneself and to be born anew to
the life of the Buddha." To experience shinjin means to become a
person assured of Buddhahood. This also has that sense of
growth and change in my life.
To meet the Dharma itself is to be nurtured, to grow,
because it is something we receive, a transformation that comes
to us naturally, spontaneously. In Kyoto there is a women's
college founded by Wariko Kai, who died a few years ago at the
age of ninety. She said, "After listening to Shin Buddhism,
The Buddhist World of Awakening 57
my life and I have changed. Because of the Nembutsu I was
transformed and changed as a human being. This, to me, is due to
It is truly difficult for us to change since we are constantly
creating karmic evil which destines us for hell. Yet, I
constantly meet the Buddha just as I am. This change of waking up
to my reality is a great transformation that occurs through my
awakening itself-not from any change coming from me but from
Sodatsu "leaving it up to the power of sustenance itself."
Sodatsu means "to grow, to nurture" and thus its meaning in a
religious sense that through listening, a person grows and
develops. This process is also expressed as ten-jo , "to turn,
to revolve, to become." It is not a straight line change. Our
solid core of bonno, which we carry just as it is, is turned
about and ultimately transformed into Buddhahood by Amida's power.
A century ago , a famous Shin scholar was visited by an old
woman whom he asked, "Did you bring me any gifts?"
"No," she answered, "I decided to come so suddenly I didn't
"You must have something with you ! " he pursued. "Give me
"No. I'm sorry. I have no money, nothing like that to
"Ah!" he said. "But you have your bonno! Leave some of it
"No, no! " said the old woman. "If I give you my bonno,
then I don't have anything to go to the Pure Land with!"
This is the essence of shinjin , expressed with direct
simplicity. The old woman well realized that to be saved by the
Buddha is to realize that her only direction is hell, but moving
in that direction which is created by her evil karma, her bonno,
58 The Buddhist World of Awakening
she has become the being destined for the Pure Land, the being
through whom Amida's Vow is again being fulfilled.
In a number of his poems, Shinran uses the metaphor of
bonno being like ice which the power of the Buddha melts into
water. I, who am full of the ice of bonno, am embraced and
enveloped in the warmth of the Buddha's compassion. Beginning to
melt in this awakening, yet full of karmic evil as I still am,
having "died" to my old self, my new life becomes intimately
connected to the life of the Buddha. I am not yet a Buddha, but
I am being led to Buddhahood. Shinran states: "The person of
shinjin is equal to the Buddha, but not the Buddha. " This is a
delicate point, one to taste, to settle into.
How astonishing this process! The more our defilements, the
more we are sustained by the Buddha. I ask you, please integrate
this into the depths of your life, not on the surface of your
The Larger Sukhavati sutra expresses salvation within the
nembutsu as "each and every person stands tranquilly,
peacefully'-that is, everyone is okay living tranquilly in the
present as such. The late Professor Soga of Ohtani University
was once asked by his students, "What is the nature of salvation
in Jodo Shinshu?" His reply, after a moment's pause, was
"Salvation is just like this,just the way I am standing here.
Just like this." This is "tranquilly, peacefully standing right
here in the present, in the here and now."
To die to one's old self, to be born to the new self, is
"just like this." My new life is centered in Amida's life. I too
become an active part of compassion. To be saved by the Buddha
means no matter what the circumstance of my life, I am able to
stand in that circumstance tranquilly, and at peace.
In the various religions there are generally two types of
salvation offered. In the first, not the self but the
environment and society become the problem. The changing of
these becomes the focus of being "saved"-not my personal
questioning and problems but the surroundings of my physical
an"d societal environment. For example, when we become ill, or
our work experience is one of failure, or we have family
problems-any and all of these affect our surroundings so that many
resort to supplicatory prayers to alleviate these problems.
Salvation is equated with some answer to this prayer perceived as
having taken place. Such a kind of prayer for relief to a god
who is seen as a divine intervener, a controller of destiny, is
an ancient human dependence. This literature of cure and
60 The Buddhist World of Awakening
change through supplicatory prayer ranges from ancient
primitive societies to modern religions.
The second general type of salvation stands in sharp
contrast to such a focus on miraculous change in one's condition.
It is not simply an alteration or cure of surroundings but instead
goes deeply into the personal dimension, the inner environment,
seeking out a change in one's personal life. This
second kind of salvation in itself divides into two differing
kinds. In the first, there is acknowledged a supreme being, a
god that controls one's destiny, judges, and punishes or for
gives. In the second, which is the salvation of Shin Buddhism,
the "just like this, standing peacefully tranquilly here and now
in the present" of Professor Soga is the salvation of the
Salvation in terms of a supreme being perceived as the
controller of one's destiny is acutely illustrated by an
incident that happened in my village when a motorcycle rider
fell from a high place and so injured his leg that he was told
amputation was necessary. After this was done, and he had to
walk with a crutch, he began to contemplate suicide because of
his condition. While in this despair, he was encouraged to join
a religion and after going into that religion, his life
changed. The response of this religion to him was: "the accident
you were in was so severe that you were supposed to lose two
legs, but because of God 's intervention you lost only one and
should therefore be grateful for this one leg you have left."
The accident victim was finally able to believe this
explanation was right and by accepting this, he experienced the
salvation of that religion in his life.
In this example there is a personal change in his life-no
miraculous cure, his leg is still gone-but his acceptance of it
on the terms of that religion is very different from the
personal change that occurs in the salvation of Shin Buddhism.
In Shin, personal change does occur, but a personal change of a
The Buddhist World of Awakening 61
different nature. There is not a change in terms of stopping
crying over the loss of one leg to experience happiness over
still having the other leg. Rather, it is a change that occurs
at a deeper dimension in life. If I were that amputee, I would
find it difficult to be grateful for the loss of that leg. I
would carry that loss in my memory as pain and sorrow at my
suffering. To be able to accept my suffering tranquilly as such
in my life, to stand peacefully with all that burden of pain and
suffering is the inner change, the salvation of Shin Buddhism.
No matter what the condition of our daily life-if we face
that condition directly, not running away from it but moving
forward in our life, we transcend suffering and in this transcendence,
we tranquilly peacefully stand right here in the present
no matter what the circumstances of our life.
The three Chinese characters meaning salvation are expressed
in Japanese by the words tasuku, sukui and wataru.
Tasuku designates strength. The ideograph is one box placed on
another, so that power is supplemented, as for example, in
illness when you add medical power so that the illness is cured
and you are "saved." In sukui the left portion of the character
symbolizes a water bag tied at the top. The character at the
right denotes action, or movement. An illustration of this would
be a sense of stopping-you move something to stop something as,
for example, when you pour water on a fire, the fire stops.
The third, wataru, is Buddhism and Shinran's type of
salvation. The ideograph illustrates the span of a hand, which
was the original Chinese form of measurement across an area *a
movement step by step like an inch worm. It is this sense of
crossing step by step that is the sense of salvation in Shin
Buddhism. In Sanskrit, uttarana means "crossing over." It was
from this word that the Chinese sai-do and from it the Japanese
wataru were derived. Since the basic meaning of salvation in
Buddhism is "crossing over," the use of the English
62 The Buddhist World of Awakening
word "salvation" may present a problem, for this "crossing over"
of Buddhism does not mean we get to our destination immediately,
but implies there is something we must cross over and that there
is something that pulls us over. In Shin Buddhism we "cross
over" pulled by the nembutsu and the multitudinous obstacles
and suffering in our life. In terms of this, each person must be
able to be centered at the point where he is. By receiving the
new life of the Buddha, which makes our basis tranquil and
strong, we can truly grow and cross over. We are nurtured ,
developed , sustained , enabled to cross over, to stand
tranquilly in the breath-to-breath circumstances of our life.
Shinran explained salvation by the word osho, our being
enabled to move straight forward in our life toward Buddhahood.
The technical term for this is "lateral transcendence."
Something inconceivable, beyond our reasoning-a transcendence
made possible by the Buddha's power.
In the first line of Kyogyoshinsho, Shinran says that in
the nembutsu teaching we are able "to cross over the ocean that
is difficult to cross." That ocean is his symbolism for the
existential suffering in our life. In Shin Buddhism, "moving
straight forward in our life towards Buddhahood" holds the
meaning that in saying the nembutsu, and in living it in our
existence, through the power of Amida we are made to "cross
over" our sufferings, to stand moment by moment bearing that
burden tranquilly in the present.
THE PROBLEM OF DEATH
The symbolism of "crossing the ocean that is difficult to
cross" poses a critical question. On the "other shore"of this
ocean of life is death. The critical question in Shin Buddhism
is: have you resolved the direction in which you are moving in
terms of your own death?
Death is the problem that surrounds the very being who is
going to die : the "myself" who thinks about the problem will
one day or one night-how or when I cannot know-experience that
problem as my terminal conscious awareness. Only humans can be
conscious of their death. We are probably the only species that
can be aware of our last moments. How has man throughout the
ages viewed death?
First is the focus of how to escape from death. Hospitals
in Japan have no room numbered "4" because the character for
shi-"4-"-has the same pronunciation as that of the character
for "death." There is at the basis of mankind's view of death
this kind of aversion to reminders of it, and a wish to be able
to escape it. Last year in California I read a news commentary
written by a mother: "I don't want to show my child the sight of
a funeral because it will create dark images in its mind and be
Intuitively speaking, my first reaction is that this
expresses the fact she herself is escaping from death. Many people
today look upon death as a dark intruder in life, an intruder
which we wish to escape. This is a very shallow viewing of life.
Is keeping the child from funerals truly educating the child
himself? Why not teach him that one day all beings must die,
even his own parents.
64 The Buddhist World of Awakening
The Chinese word for "forgetting" is composed of two
characters, one meaning "to lose" and the other "heart and
mind." Today we "forget" this dimension of death. How often do
we reflect on the problem death poses us: that there is no
guarantee there may be a tomorrow for our husband , wife,
children, ourself, We keep that at a distance, thus losing a
problem that, essentially, we ought to reflect upon within our
heart. Forgetting, being busy, are forms of escaping from
reflecting on this great problem of death-a problem we cannot
escape since eventually each of us must die our own death.
Another attitude is : "If I have to die anyway, then I'll
leave some kind of substitute for myself here in this life." For
example, even if I should die-whether it's my writings, my own
children, my grandchildren, or something I've built, all these
give me an illusion of immortality to which I can cling. In
Japan there is a new custom becoming quite popular in this
respect. The living person tries to select a beautiful
gravestone for himself before he dies. In America, there are
beautiful "pre-need" grave sites you can choose now. If you
think you are going to be under such a site, isn't your heart
eased a little? People say, "Now I have completed my house I
will go ahead and build myself a grave site." In Japan,
department stores even have sales on grave sites! Does this
really become a resolution to one's death? To a friend who
offered to build the dying Shomatsu a fine grave site, myokonin
Shomatsu said, "No thank you! I won't be living there."
From ancient times another form of escape from death has
been the view of reincarnation. This is an escape which says
since we're going to be born into this life again, death should
not be feared. In the pyramids of Egypt were many mummies, a
physical preservation that was the result of a belief that at
death, the soul leaves the body, wanders, but needs a body to
which it can return. This is a simple way of viewing
reincarnation and a kind of belief that persisted strongly in
The Buddhist World of Awakening 65
The fourth attitude towards death is that of transmigration
into another kind of world, another kind of life, and
therefore, again, a reason not to fear death. In the east, this
view of transmigration is prevalent. The hope is that man can be
born again to another life as a human being, but perhaps also as
an animal. In Shin Buddhism, the salvation that occurs in
shinjin effects our birth into the Pure Land, but we do not go
to be born in a Pure Land because it exists as another world,
another life. To be born into the Pure Land is not to posit a
Pure Land which is in the distance. When I die, the very point
at which my death occurs: that is the Pure Land. It is not a
place, not another world.
Rennyo Shonin, the great fifteenth-century Shin Buddhist
leader, emphasized "the great matter of the after-life. " This
focus on after-life is not on talking about what happens after
you die, but on your crossing the ocean of this life. To bring
the consciousness of death into the great matter of the
after-life is the major thrust of Shin Buddhism. When we look at
death it is very dark, but when we look at it-we are carrying so
much baggage. We don't know when, but we must cross over and in
our daily life, things such as health, money, inheritances, can
all seem to be aids. We can fool others as well as ourselves by
our blind attachment to these things. Yet crossing over becomes
clear only when we are stripped to the very being we were when
we came into this world. If I bring the problem of my own death
into focus right now-whether I am sustained, focused, whether I
am saved or not should become clear to me.
In Japan, the general mode for cancer patients is that most
doctors do not let the patients know they are terminal. In the
United States, they are told, and the doctors and nurses are
much involved in the battle the patient wages against the
disease. If this happened in my life, how would I cope? Before
it happens, while we are still healthy, this is a problem we
ought to think about. For those who live in shinjin, how do
66 The Buddhist World of Awakening
they respond to the problem of their own death? In the process
of working this through, where one stands in one's faith will
become much clearer.
In my own life, at age thirteen, my home life was filled
with darkness due to the death of my mother and grandmother, the
illness of my brother, and my negative reaction to my father's
remarriage. A few years later my brother died. I myself was so
sickly it was predicted I would not live to age twenty. My
family life was engulfed in a kind of personal darkness, a dark
confusion. I ran away from home several times in my negative
reaction to my father and stepmother. I entered college in
1945 but was soon drafted and at the end of June of 1945 was
sent to Hokkaido. Within a month the war ended and I went back
to school-again it was a very confusing time not only in terms
of my personal life but how I felt about my allegiance to my
country as well.
At the end of the following year I transferred to Kyoto to
study Shin Buddhism and in the search to find some kind of
personal stability, I met my teacher, Professor Tada. It was
about a year after my transfer that I came across the Meditation
Sutra and the story of Ajatasatru, the young king of
Rajagriha who murdered his father and tried to also kill his own
mother. I was truly struck by this story, by the weight of karma
piled by Ajatasatru's acts, an awful weight and yet one that led
him to seek the teachings of the Buddha and caused him to be
saved. Then, during my twenty-first year, one night during
autumn I was struck by the nembutsu in my life. It was an
experience I cannot forget, At that time, I wrote a long letter
to my father and my stepmother. This was truly an awakening to
me-to be touched by the Dharma and to begin to see myself. From
that experience I feel my life changed-a change within me,
coming through my family, through my stepmother, through my
young sister and brother, a change coming through Professor
Tada, my teacher who,
The Buddhist World of Awakening 67
years afterward, gave me a profound teaching in the way he
resolved the problem of his own death.
Shortly before Professor Tada died at age seventy-five, the
doctor told Mrs. Tada that her husband had only a few days left
to live. When the doctor left, Professor Tada asked her, "What
did the doctor tell you? If there's something that needs to be
known, let me know completely!"
"Death is close at hand," she replied.
"Is that right!" said Professor Tada. "I guess I can just
let go of everything now"-and he died soon thereafter.
To be able to accept in terms of "I guess I can let go of
everything now" was his way of accepting the moment, but his
accepting was also due to his wife's being able to freely open
the truth of his condition to him. There is much to learn from
the attitude of Mrs. Tada being able to tell her husband so
directly what his condition really was. All of us are humans
involved in relationships which are not easy to yield to death,
but when death comes-can we speak our heart openly? Can we relay
whatever direct information needs to be relayed as such? With
the Tadas, the relationship was such as to indicate the depth of
Professor Tada's faith, and that of his wife. When we think of
our own death, we suffer our own suffering, but at the same time
there is much suffering by those who love US: family, friends.
We describe shinjin as an experience of awakening but at
the same time it is an experience of shinjitsu - t rue mind and
heart in our life, In this dimension of the truth of shinjin is
the receiving of the Buddha's life in our life. In this
receiving, our birth in the Pure Land is assured. We are one
with the Buddha. If so, and we understand shinjin in such a way,
there is always a way to transcend death, to cross over death, to
be enabled, like Professor Tada. to "just let. go of everything
here." Shinjin means to experience truth as it is-that we be
68 The Buddhist World of Awakening
come one with Amida in this here and now which means the
Buddha always sustains this hellish ego world which we create.
So when you die, simply die. It's okay to die. At that
point is the Pure Land.
There are two aspects of ojo, a word that means "birth to
a new life." The first aspect is that in this very life we live,
we experience birth to a new life in the experience of shinjin.
The second aspect is that of birth in the Pure Land at the
moment of death. Over and over in his writings Shinran repeats:
"Life is very short. I will be in the Pure Land. Be sure you
meet me there." What he is saying is that in the life of shinjin,
the Pure Land is real.
An old haiku says: "O snail, wherever you die, you are
home!" This is Shinran's view of ojo. It is in this world of
defilements and illusion we become human beings bound for the Pure
Land. When our death occurs, sad and lonely through we may be,
at that very moment, the Pure Land occurs. Technically, the two
aspects of ojo are "not-body-losing-birth" and
"body-losing-birth." In order to experience the one at the time
of death, the other must be settled during my life. Thus the
problem is the awakening that occurs in this here and now. We
must be clear on this point of ojo, having shinjin settled in
this life, here and now, clear in our understanding that the
awakening experience of shinjin takes place within the time we
call our life.
Time, in this Buddhist view, differs from the ordinary
concept. Generally, our idea of existence is that it takes place
within time, that all things existing happen within "time."
However, Buddhism thinks in terms of existence per se as "time."
Thus, the very point of my life, that is the fact I am living
now, already indicates history and time itself. "I am
70 The Buddhist World of Awakening
born," "I die" shows the process of history. Because I am, there
is in relation to my own existence history and "time." The
Japanese term Gen-zsi conveys the meaning of Now the present-in
this way. Gen refers to "this present moment." Zui refers to
"living" or "existing." This "now" of genzai forms the basis of
the Buddhist notion of "time"-not an objective appraisal of time
but "time" as a strong subjective element,
Ordinarily, time is seen as moving lineally from past into
future. But in Buddhism, time is real in the "now." From the
present you see the past as well as the future, The Chinese
character for "past", used in Buddhism, means something past and
gone, seen from the vantage point of the present in which we
really exist. The future - mirai (not yet, not yet come)- is seen
also from this vantage point of ima, now, the present - my
In the Buddhist view, we live in a world of illusion
created in timeless past, but we say this in the depth of the
realization of what we are in the present, The act which is
propelling us into hell in terms of the future is rooted in the
present realization of the depth and weight of that karmic
burden which we carry from the timeless past. Both in our total
human and our unique personal condition, this is a problem in
the "now," my "now," a now in which the problem is to resolve
the self for what it really is.
Objectively speaking, because of this subject, this "self,"
there is time. Because there is time, there is this self. There
fore the ordinary perception of time, an objective time that
exists before our birth and after our death, a time determined
by calendar year and watch, a "time" that is outside us, is
totally different from the Buddhist perception of time, which is
subjective. In the "here and now" of Buddhist time, subject and
object are united in the vantage point of this present moment
in which I resolve the problem of "myself."
The Buddhist World of Awakening 71
The awakening experience of shinjin is fulfilled at this
point, which we call the Absolute Now. To realize the Buddha in
one's life and simultaneously to realize oneself as a being
creating the burden of karma that leads us to hell, can only
take place in the absolute of Now, the Absolute Now. In terms of
our daily life , the realization and experience of true
gratitude happens always in this present moment of "now" for it
is in the urgency of this present we feel the lives, the
influence, of our parents, of our teachers, of our mates or
former mates, our children, our friends, our adversaries, and
awaken to a real understanding and appreciation. In terms of the
evils we have committed in the past, this is often objective,
left in the past. But when we truly awaken to our negative acts,
the impact of that realization is always in the present : This
very moment! Now!
THE PROCESS OF SHINJIN
For those who have already experienced shinjin, I hope these
writings will help to deepen it. For those who have not yet
experienced this awakening, I hope it will make the process more
clear. The key is that shinjin is an experience, one that goes
beyond the meaning of the English word , into the Japanese
tai-ken or tai-ge. Tai is "body." Ken is "test." Ge is "understand."
Experiencing shinjin means it must be tested with the body,
understood with the body. It is not just a psychological
condition, nor just a physical condition. One's total being is
involved in this experience based in true mind and heart
One sees the Dharma, one shares it, extends it, and must
discuss it in terms of one's personal experience of shinjin.
Whether one has been saved by the Buddha or not must become clear
in one's life. If we are not sure, then our sharing and teaching
of the Dharma will not be clear. For myself, I like the metaphor
that shinjin is the entrance and the exit of "crossing the river.
" The starting point of the nembutsu as the entry into the
Buddha's way is not entry into shinjin. But, at this starting
point of nembutsu, is where it is important to meet a teacher
who is a "good friend of the way" for in studying the teachings
of the Buddha, it is important to be able to walk a path tread by
a person whose footprints were deep in shinjin.
Where does this process begin? To be able to stand at the
point where you choose to study and to live the nembutsu this is
the starting point both of the life of nembutsu and the
The Buddhist World of Awakening 73
shinjin process. From this starting point it is urgent to listen
with one's total being in order to awaken shinjin , an
experience which transforms one's life. Though I am not
initially full and complete, this total listening opens within
my life a clear direction towards Buddhahood, towards the Pure
What was Shinran's process? At age nine he was sent to Mt.
Hiei. He practiced the monastic disciplines with diligence there
for twenty years. His search was harsh, disciplined as far as
looking into the inner working of his bonno, his burden of
karmic evil, was concerned. During this period he lived the life
of a celibate monk, but in spite of that life he saw more and
more acutely his own blind desires and defilements. At age
twenty-nine, he encountered the nembutsu teacher Honen and came to
realize there is a true way to become Buddha though there are
these defilements in one's life
With his teacher, Shinran had the real awakening experience,
the experience of shinjin. It took him twenty years of
perseverance to arrive at this. At the age of twenty-nine, he
threw everything away and returned to Amida Buddha or, in other
words, Shinran "died to his old self and was born to a new
self." It was a deep experience in his life, which he expressed
through the phrase "one single moment of shinjin ," meaning that
the experience of shinjin is fulfilled in a single moment.
It is here, at this single moment when the experience of
shinjin is awakened in our own life, that we can truly discuss
and see the world of shinjin, of illusion, as well as the
world of enlightenment (Pure Land, Nirvana). Without this
experience, there is not true listening, true hearing, but only
listening with one's brain. Such listening is not "testing with
one's body. " It is superficial and unclear.
William James' Varieties of Religious Experience deals with
two types of conversion: one gradual, one abrupt. James
describes two factors as bringing about an abrupt conversion.
74 The Buddhist World of Awakening
One is the type of personality and the other is the kind of
situation-for example, much anguish and suffering in a person's
life. Though James spoke of this area in terms of Christianity, I
feel it is also valid in terms of Shin Buddhism. For example,
myokonin Genza's experience of faith was very abrupt. Genza was
only eighteen when his father, working alongside him in the
field, died, saying at the last, "When I die, rely on the
Shocked by this, Genza began to listen to the teachings.
The following summer, at nineteen, he experienced awakening. At
that time, farmers used to go up into the mountains to gather
grass. They would load the grass on cows or horses and bring it
down from the mountains in such loads that often one could
hardly see the animal under its burden of grass. It was while
Genza was loading grass on his cow, in that very moment, that he
realized-experienced with his body-the meaning of Amida's
compassion in his life. "Just as the cow carries grass down the
hillside, Amida carries that bonno I am always creating . Amida
carries it and has always carried it!"
In contrast to such an abrupt conversion is the gradual,
slow ripening illustrated in the life of another myokonin, Saichi.
Saichi's father, though not of a temple family, became a
Shin Buddhist priest in Shimane, a devoutly Shin Buddhist
prefecture. Saichi then began listening to the teachings at
about age eighteen, listened but did not understand and so quit
for a few years. At age thirty he began listening again, but
only after the age of fifty did he ripen to an experience of
In the past, the question in Shin Buddhism used to be,
"When did you receive shinjin?" But, based on this categorization
of William James, it may not be necessary for everyone to
have such an abrupt awakening-a gradual awakening may happen.
The point is, whether abrupt or gradual, the awakening must be
clear in one's life, a transformation in one's life
The Buddhist World of Awakening 75
in which the dark shadows of bonno and the light of Amida stand
Shinjin is complete in itself, but it happens over and
over again and deepens one's sensitivity to the joys and sorrows
one experiences. The Buddha is always embracing us and yet, only
at times do we realize we are being embraced. The "absolute" of
awakening, the experience of shinjin which is Other Power, the
working of Amida's Vow, is always-without interruption-the
environment of myself. It embraces the "time" which is my
process of history from birth to death. Only in my awakening to
the paradox of my inescapably defiled self-the self who is
always contriving, justifying, selecting, discriminating,
trying to organize the world of experience around myself-as
being this very self that is embraced by Amida-do ] realize this
ever-present environment of shinjin.
CHAPTER TWENTY NINE
THE ESSENTIAL INTEGRATION
If, in your mind, as you read and reflect, you are spreading
out a map of the process of the Buddha way of nembutsu, let
me caution you against simply carrying around such a map! Rather,
from this map, find your own path in the process.
Historically, before Shinran, there are descriptions of the
Buddha Way expounded in the sutras based on the original
teachings of Sakyamuni: the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold
Path. The Four Noble Truths describe four truths that are
inherent in reality. The first two describe our delusory
condition, our real condition as it is: samsara. Human life in
its illusory condition is described as the result or
responsibility of my karma creating the delusions and suffering
in my world, By this I mean not my family, not my social
environment, etc., but my personal karma. Samsara has this
direct personal meaning.
The content of the third truth points to the urgency for us
to attain enlightenment to realize the ideal condition in our
life. The fourth truth also deals with us. Thus the four truths
express the real condition of our daily lives: suffering, joy,
sorrow, and the way to true happiness which is what we foolish
beings seek. The Buddha Way, as Sakyamuni preached over and over
again, is the way of the Eightfold Path, the way by which a
common ordinary being can become enlightened. Within it is right
speech (verbal action) ; right action (bodily expression, right
karma); right thought (our own mental process). These form the
totality of our human existence. To direct this totality of
ourselves toward Buddhahood is the
The Buddhist World of Awakening 77
thrust of the Buddha's teaching through this path. This is primary,
but in the sutras there are also preached many other ways,
In the Larger Sukhavati sutra there are described three ways in
which one can become a Buddha. One is the way by which monks can
attain the Pure Land. Second is the way in which the ordinary man
or woman can attain the Pure Land. Within this second way are two
possibilities: the first of which is offerings by those who can
give them and thus accumulate merit. But for those poor both in
wealth and poor psychologically, spiritually, there is the way of
the Original Vow, whereby the ordinary being, carrying heavy
karmic burdens of evil, simply by saying the nembutsu, listening
to the Buddha's name, becomes a Buddha. This is the original Shin
Concerning this nembutsu path, Shinran says in Tannisho:
"Even if I should be misled by Honen and fall into the depths of
hell [ will have no regrets"-but at the same time, he relied
implicitly on the teachings of Sakyamuni, and sought refuge in
the power of that teaching. Thus the "belier' or "faith" which
Shinran expresses as shinjin, the experience of awakening, is a
world of enlightenment, of awareness, that opens only through an
experiential integration of belief and practice. To emphasize
once again, shinjin is taige, understanding with the body,
the experience at the point where awakening occurs: a result both of
belief and practice.
What you truly have to listen to is the heart of what
Sakyamuni and Shinran are saying about the true and real in
life, in your life. The act of doing, of practicing in our daily
life is important for if we cannot connect the teaching we hear
into our daily life, the effort is incomplete. Simply
"believing" is not Shin Buddhism. Unless experience has been
integrated into one's commitment and understanding, unless there
is this sense of process, it is not Shin Buddhism.
The transmission of these teachings was neither fast nor
78 The Buddhist World of Awakening
easy. From India to China to Japan, the way was beset with
hardships: the Gobi desert, tigers, rough ocean, lives lost.
Similarly, difficulties accompanied the transmission of Shin
Buddhist teachings from Japan to Hawaii and the mainland United
States over the past hundred years. We must listen to the
history which evolved out of many people's selfless, whole
hearted effort to share the dharma, for it is out of these
conditions we today can take the first step of listening to the
teachings. This nearly 3,000-year process of transmission in
order for us to meet what is difficult to meet, was all made
possible by nearly 3,000 years of commitment, of believing and
totally living in this Buddha Way.
Shinran expressed this historical process in hymn of True
Faith, Shoshinge, wherein he praises the seven patriarchs
through whom he traces his spiritual lineage. For Honen, the
seventh of these patriarchs (the nembutsu practicer whom
Shinran always regarded as his teacher), the Buddha Way was mind
and heart plus practice (gyo) leading to ojo - birth in the Pure
Land. Mind and heart corresponds to the original point of
"believing." Gyo, practice, is the recitation of Nembutsu. For
Honen, by believing in and relying on nembutsu, one is able to
meet Amida at the point of Raigo-the "welcoming." This point,
of welcoming and meeting the Buddha in one's life, is the point
of experience at which one is able to be born in the Pure Land.
Honen taught Shinran that the way of nembutsu was the way
of the Eighteenth Vow. Yet, among Honen's students a great
problem arose-a difficulty in terms of the practice. How many
callings were necessary? Honen said, "Don't get stuck on the
number of times. Just throw yourself wholeheartedly into the
utterance with total involvement."
After Honen's death, his various disciples began to form
their own branches based on his teaching. Shinran also dealt in
detail with this problem of "how many times?" Through
The Buddhist World of Awakening 79
following Honen's way , he explored the teaching of Honen and
that of Sakyamuni in an academic and scholarly fashion, as his
writings attest ; but most importantly, he explored their
teachings by totally integrating them experientially into his life,
Thus in his writings, Shinran left us both a scholastically and
an existentially clear map of the path he followed.
ONLY NEMBUTSU IS REAL
Honen says, through the calling of the name one can be born
in the Pure Land, but Shinran goes on to say that simply calling
the name is not enough. This differentiation between their
teachings remains a problem today, making it necessary to be
very clear in our understanding of Shinran's way to nembutsu.
The character nen (or nem) originally referred to
"thought," to "thinking of." Concretely, it was translated as
"thinking with the body," which in turn was translated as
"calling" and thus the Nembutsu has come to be translated as
"calling of the Buddha name. " This was the way opened by
Honen, a way embracing all the original and translated meanings
of this character nen. In the thought, and in the calling also,
there is really an encounter, or at least a yearning of
encounter with the Buddha. That yearning points me toward the
D.T. Suzuki's translation of gyo (practice) as "living" is
a more precise expression of the union of shin plus gyo which
Honen teaches. This practice of Nembutsu is expressed in our
daily life as we place our hands in gassho (palms together in an
attitude of reverence) in front of the household altar, Nembutsu
permeates our lives as we live daily activities with
awareness of the "thought of Amida Buddha," of the reality of
Amida, of the reality of myself. For Honen, this was senjaku -
nembutsu , the nembutsu as the "selected" practice of one's
life, and so it became for Shinran.
Senjaku-"selecting"-has both the aspect of "to take or
The Buddhist World of Awakening 81
receive" and, at the same time, the aspect of "to throw away."
Honen says that uttering nembutsu is the only treasure, the only
virtue in life. Throw away your reliance on worldly treasures and
possessions for only the Nembutsu is true and real. Only it can
usher you with peaceful heart through the gates of death.
When you die, you cannot take your money, your family, your
fame, with you. When you die, you die just as you were born:
stripped, naked, alone. The reality of my life is that
everything I have now is borrowed. There is an ultimate aloneness
in my life. Only Nembutsu sustains me. I must throw away
these attachments to my possessions, my family, fame,- not throw
them away but throw away my dependent clinging, my reliance, my
attachment to them in order to see the compassion that envelops
Honen said, "If you can recite the nembutsu better by
getting married, then get married. But if marriage becomes an
obstacle, then get rid of the marriage." Whatever the conditions
of your life, live in a way that you can say the nembutsu and
say it thoroughly. Nembutsu then becomes your only treasure in
life, and becomes real in and through you,
Shinran's view extending this "selected nembutsu" as the
sole real treasure is expressed in Tannisho as "All things in
this life are vain and empty, only the Nembutsu is real."
Really, what Honen's teaching allowed Shinran was to be him
self, see himself, to become aware as a bombu-a foolish, ignorant
being embraced by Amida's Vow. Shinran married, had a
full family life-six children and later grandchildren. In that
warm full environment he said, "Only the Nembutsu is real!"
This was his point of definite choice. In spite of his deep
relationship with his wife Eshinni, with the children-facing the
temporariness of all such relationships, he selected nembutsu
as the only dependable reality, as the expression of his
relationship as a human being with Amida Buddha.
82 The Buddhist World of Awakening
For me, there was a period in which I both rejected and, at
the same time, was drawn to the Nembutsu that had come from my
mother's mouth as she lay dying. When she died, the winter of my
thirteenth year, all the family was there watching her die. She
had long been ill. All through my childhood, my only recollection
is of her being in a dark room at the back of the house. Shortly
before her death, she had asked to see me, but when I came home
from school, she had lost consciousness. She did not respond to
my anguished call, "Mother! Mother! "
In the moment of regaining consciousness as she died, she
spoke not my name-which I yearned to hear her say-but she
uttered the nembutsu and died. This is not to say my mother was
a person of deep faith, but as all around her were reciting
nembutsu, so she too-perhaps as a response. In my teenage years
I often thought, if my mother had been waiting for me to return
to her deathbed, why didn't she call my name rather than that of
the Buddha's for I yearned to have heard her recognize me one
last time. Yet through this nembutsu that had been my mother's
dying utterance, I came closer to the Dharma and was able to
learn the teachings. Thus it was through my mother that the
meaning of the reality of the nembutsu filtered into my life. I
reflected then. Had my mother held my hand and said my name at
death-truly what could I have done? Instead, her dying utterance
of nembutsu gave me the understanding that she must cast me
aside as she dies. Somehow, I became able to see through this
lesson of her death, able to see that the nembutsu is true,
that she is all right as she is now.
THE ESSENTIAL GATE
I feel it is important here to distinguish between the
nembutsu which is false, the nembutsu which is temporary, and
the nembutsu that is true. Concretely speaking, false nembutsu
is the nembutsu used to gain present benefits in this
world. It is like trying to add something to my life by using
nembutsu - as, for example, like using nembutsu to cure illness
or family problems.
True nembutsu basically cuts the blind thinking one does.
False nembutsu does not cut, but merely helps inflate the ego,
puffs it. In the case of nembutsu used merely as a prayer for
one's own benefit, Shinran says that should a thousand persons
do this nembutsu, not a single one will be born in the Pure
Land. Likewise, the nembutsu recited only for the deceased -
that too is false nembutsu. This is because the nembutsu
is for those who are alive, to show the way to the Pure
Land. Nembutsu is not ritual or ceremony. It is a teaching, a
pathway towards Buddhahood, a pathway towards the Pure Land.
"Temporary" nembutsu is that condition which lies in
between, which is neither false nor true. While this is not true
nembutsu, it is however still directed towards it and is that
process by which one arrives at true nembutsu. The technical
expression used for this by Shinran, and in the Shin Buddhist
tradition, is yomon - essential gate, Shinmon is the technical
expression used for the true gate of true nembutsu.
Temporary nembutsu contains the two aspects of the
essential gate and the true gate. It is through this that
84 The Buddhist World of Awakening
process points to the essential and true gate of true nembutsu,
through which the Great Vow is experienced. yomon is the kind
of nembutsu expressed in the Meditation Sutra, one of the many
good deeds which that sutra encourages. The Meditation Sutra
does not express the completeness of nembutsu, but it does
describe the process by which one moves through nembutsu
towards the Pure Land, saying that the nembutsu is the
essential step in moving in that direction.
In Shinmon, the true gate, there is no mixed practice, one
stands on the nembutsu alone-sifting down to selecting this
single choice as did Shinran. Nembutsu generally means, "I
call the Buddha's name." In its fullest realization, nembutsu
expresses cutting aside all roots, but still it is like a
crutch, and "temporary" since it is still my addition. It
becomes my good, my virtue, by my saying it. By throwing all
aside however, we are able to meet the Buddha's compassion in
our life, to encounter the transformative power of the nembutsu
that is true and real, the nembutsu that is Gugan - Great Vow. In
this, the Buddha is calling me, and because he is calling me, I
am able to utter his name!
My father is eighty-eight years old and yet, he writes to
me. Even if I forget, my father is constantly thinking of me.
Thus, often our calling as a child is a response to that which
comes from a parent. In this way, to be able to accept the heart
of the Buddha-to know the Buddha who is constantly calling us,
ceaselessly thinking of us, focusing on us-is the "turning
over," the transformation of true nembutsu in which my calling
of the Buddha's name is to hear at that very same moment the
Buddha calling me. This kind of turnabout or transformative
experience is what is called shinjin, and therefore we can say
that true nembutsu equals shinjin which in turn equals
The Buddha's power effecting a transformation in my life is
the nembutsu of Great Vow (Gugan), the "true" nembutsu taught
in the Larger Sukhavati Sutra. The three "Pure Land" Sutras, all
of which point us in this direction, are called Vows or "gates"
by Shinran. For him, Meditation Sutra is the nineteenth Vow, what
he calls the essential gate - Yomon. The Amida Sutra, the twentieth
Vow, is the "true gate," Shinmon. The Larger Sukhavati Sutra,
the eighteenth Vow, is for him Gugan, the gate of Great Vow. All
three constitute the process culminating in shinjin, the
process selected, experienced, and taught by Shinran. The meaning of
the last one, the transformative "true nembutsu" of Gugan is
that there is no gate, there is no process, there is only the
Today, in my life as a scholar and professor of Shin
Buddhism at Ryukoku University in Kyoto, I often tell the
students I am able to teach that Shinran and the nembutsu offer
a real sense of decision , a decisiveness in one's life. To put
it in words from Tannisho, ultimately all deep loving
relationships are unreliable. You can't hang on to anything. To
be able to throw away those relationships, to stand on a point
of real choice, means that nembutsu is not a matter of vague
acceptance but a personal decision. To clarify this sense of
choosing, you have to know what to throw away. If your cup is
full, nothing else comes in. If you're clinging, you can't
accept anything else. Only when you throw all else out, is the
nembutsu able to strike you. "All things are empty." All
things wealth, prestige, relationships-are ultimately unreliable.
86 The Buddhist World of Awakening
That realization, and the realization that only the nembutsu is
real, is a reality that is made the decisive choice in the
meaning of life.
Shinran's teacher Honen said we should live in such a way
that we can say the nembutsu through these essential gates, so
as to touch with our life the fullness of hearing the nembutsu
which the Buddha directs to us. This is existentialism beyond
the Absolute of Camus and Sartre's absurdity and despair. The
Pure Land is an Absolute of acceptance of life as it is, and of
myself as an interconnected part of this. Gugan - the Great Vow
which is "no gate"-opens to me this Absolute which I can share,
perceive, live in, in the vantage point of my awakening in this
here and now to this reality.
The areas of death and karmic evil are often emphasized to
lead to this insight. However, I feel the sense of secularism
alluded to in Tannisho, "all things in the world are empty and
vain," becomes more pointed in our modern secular world. We see
this finite, nihilistic dimension of life pointing to the
reality of the nembutsu. To be definite and clear about this
reality is to arrive at the clarity of Gugan, the "true"
nembutsu. The stark finiteness of this realization in itself
then leads to our seeking the teachings more in our life.
The teaching is like a mirror which reflects oneself. By
looking into the mirror of the teachings we can look into our
daily lives. The starkness presented is part of the teaching. To
listen is always to focus on the reality that is existence
itself, to deeply seek the self with all its meaning and thus to
choose the nembutsu as the meaning for our lives.
My effort in writing of all this has been like a map, like
a finger pointing to the moon. What you do to walk this path, to
point your life in the direction of the Buddhist world of
awakening is your choice.