JODOSHINSHU IN A NUTSHELL Jodoshinshu was founded by Shinran Shonin in Japan about 1224. F

Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

JODOSHINSHU IN A NUTSHELL Jodoshinshu was founded by Shinran Shonin in Japan about 1224. From a doctrinal point of view, it is very simple. Hozo Bosatsu (Dharmakara Boddhisattva, a Buddha-to-be) made 48 vows which he promised to fulfill before he would attain enlightenment and become Amida Buddha. From the Jodoshinshu point of view, the most important is the 18th vow, which goes: "If, after I have attained Buddhahood, sentient beings in the ten quarters who with sincere mind, faith serene, desire birth in this country of mine, recite my name even (up to or down to) ten times, are not born there, may I not attain the highest enlightenment. Those who commit the five unpardonable transgressions and abuse the right dharma are excepted." The 18th vow is called the "Causal Vow" because it is the cause for us sentient beings to be born in the Pure Land. It is also called the "Original Vow" because it is the most important of the 48 vows and contains everything in all the others. "This country of mine" is the Pure Land, a perfect environment where we sentient beings in this imperfect world who have to work for a living, care for our parents and children, and do not have the time to go through the practices required to attain enlightenment, will be able to work toward our ideal environment for attaining enlightenment, with enlightenment itself. The "my name" mentioned in the 18th vow is _Namuamidabutsu_, which literally means "I rely on Amida Buddha." Reciting "my name" implies accepting Amida Buddha's 18th vow as the cause of our birth in the Pure Land. The "name" given to "my name" is Nembutsu. To recite the Nembutsu means to recite the name _Namuamidabutsu_. According to the 18th vow those who recite _Namuamidabutsu_ will gain birth in the Pure Land. The phrase "(up to or down to) ten times" means just once or an infinite number of times, i.e., the number of times does not matter. From the wording of the vow, however, it seems that there are three conditions that must be met when we recite the Nembutsu: 1. Sincere mind 2. Faith serene 3. Desire birth (in the Pure Land) This has been the subject of much scholarly study within Jodoshinshu. The conclusion is these three "conditions" are all contained in the "mind of faith (Shinjin). This is formulated from sanshin isshin (the three minds are really one). The only requisite to birth in the Pure Land is reciting the Nembutsu with "the mind of faith" (shinjin). As indicated in the Causal Vow, Hozo Bosatsu said, "if... sentient beings...are not born (in the Pure Land)...may I not attain the highest enlightenment." Since all sentient beings have not been born in the Pure Land yet can we say that Hozo Bosatsu has become Amida Buddha (attained the highest enlightenment) yet? Clearly Hozo Bosatsu's enlightenment depends on the enlightenment of all sentient beings (from a Jodoshinshu point of view, it depends on _my_ attaining birth in the Pure Land). This is in the true Mahayana Buddhist tradition of sacrificing your own enlightenment for the sake of others. The Jodoshinshu interpretation of this part of the 18th vow is that all the "conditions" for birth in the Pure Land have already been completed. There remains only our responsibility to have "sincere mind, serene faith, and desire birth" in the Pure Land. This is accomplished with the "mind of faith" (shinjin). But the mind of faith is not something we use our will to attain;rather,it is that which is given to us by Amida Buddha. Our response to receiving the "mind of faith" (Shinjin), is Namuamidabutsu. The remaining point to be considered regarding the 18th vow is the exclusion of those who commit the "five unpardonable transgressions", which are: 1. Killing your father 2. Killing your mother 3. Killing an Arhat ( a person enlightened through the Therevada way) 4. Causing dissention in the Sangha 5. Shedding the blood of a Buddha According to Zendo, the Fifth Patriarch of Jodoshinshu, this qualification is not a part of Hozo Bosatsu's vow, but was added by the historical Shakamuni Buddha to discourage men from committing evil deeds. The Jodoshinshu interpretation of this qualification is that although the vow clearly states that those who commit any of the five transgressions will not gain birth in the Pure Land, Amida Buddha's compassion is so great he cannot help but work towards birth in the Pure Land for even those who have committed these evil deeds. Just as a mother forgives her child who has disobeyed her, so Amida Buddha forgives those who do bad. This does not mean, of course, that because Amida will forgive us we can do bad things without penalty. As Shinran Shonin has clearly pointed out, we do not take poison just because there is an antidote. The Jodoshinshuist's response to receiving the "mind of faith" (Shinjin) and realizing that Amida Buddha's compassion and wisdom is directed event towards those who commit the "five unpardonable transgressions", cannot be other than Namuamidabutsu. You may not feel the simplified outline of Jodoshinshu is simple, especially when it is considered intellectually (with a human beings calculating mind). But it is simple when you experience it. This is the only important thing about Jodoshinshu doctrine--your personal experience. There are certain things that cannot be fully expressed in words, yet which hold us and give us sustenance, regardless of how long it is considered (thought about with our human calculating mind). Here is where the "religiousness" of Jodo shinshu arises. This is the true use of doctrine in Jodoshinshu. You must consider doctrine with your heart, and not with your mind. Though Jodoshinshu is something to experience, and not to study, this does not mean you should not pay attention in Dharma School or read about and study Jodoshinshu on your own. It only means that study _alone_ will not get you to where Jodoshinshu is pointing (to the path of Shinjin). Here are some books which will help create causes and conditions for your receiving Shinjin: 1. _The Awareness of Self_, by Gyodo Haguri (translator-Rev. William Masuda) 2. _The Buddhist World of Awakening_, by Takamaro Shigaraki (translator Rev. William Masuda) 3. _Bodhisattvas Everywhere_, by T. Sakakibara 4. _The Buddhist Way of Life_, by Christmas Humphreys These books are available for sale from the church office or to read/check out from the church library. LISTEN TO THE TEACHING A cow lives in a meadow. It eats grass and drinks water from a nearby stream. The water that the cow drinks turns into nourishing milk and supports both her calf and people who drink it. In the same stream, where it flows by a thicket, lives a poisonous snake. It eats bird eggs and frogs, and when thirsty, also drinks the stream water. But in the case of the snake, the water is turned into deadly poison and used to kill. Although the water is the same, in one case it is the source of life, in the other, death. We also drink water. Not only liquid water, but also the water of knowledge and skill in performing various activities. The knowledge and techniques we acquire or "drink" can be turned to milk for benefit or into poison to harm. How we use what we acquire depends on the attitude of our heart. Let us listen to the teaching that allows us to turn the water of knowledge in to good uses rather than bad. THE IDEAL Some people are concerned solely about what those in their circle of friends think and try only to avoid being caught in an illegal act. Such people are inferior. Some people are concerned with living a good moral life so others will not point an accusing finger at them. Such people are average. And then there are those who, always conscious of eternity and striving to live within the sight of Buddha, are prudent in their speech and behavior. What they think or how they act is the same whether they are alone or in a crowd. Such people are superior. Let us try to be like them. DESTROYING SUPERSTITIOUS BELIEFS Superstitious beliefs develop in times of crises when we grasp at straws for a solution. When a satisfactory result occurs together with a nonrelated action, we tend to believe the action was the cause of the satisfactory result. Many athletes develop superstitions for just this reason. The basketball player who makes both free shots after rubbing a certain part of the uniform just before shooting will tend to keep doing this until the next time he makes both free shots, which makes him feel even more that the rubbing is the cause of the skillful shot. The next step from this type of superstition is a belief that a particular form of worship or "faith" in something will bring material reward. Here we must positively assert that all such beliefs are pure superstition and cannot be the guiding principle of your life. When we are of sound mind and body, we can easily make proper judgements, but when we are confronted with a crisis, we often revert to child-like superstitious attitudes. We should be on guard against this at all times. PERSONAL QUIZ 1. Do you have a good luck charm in your car to protect you from accidents? Yes ( ) No ( ) 2. Do you feel uneasy if you walk under a ladder or if a black cat crosses your path? Yes ( ) No ( ) 3. Do you believe Friday the 13th is an unlucky day? Yes ( ) No ( ) If you answered "Yes" to even one of the above questions you must rate yourself as being superstitious. The uneasiness with which you go through life because of your superstition will not be helped by science, for even pilots of modern jets have "good luck" charms in their cabins. In the same way that a good medicine penetrates to the smallest cell of our body and cures us from inside out, so true "faith" ,or Shinjin, will penetrate to the lowest state of our consciousness and will remove our anxiety from the innermost level of our being. From the time of Shinran Shonin, Jodoshinshu has consistently rooted out superstitious beliefs, and shown us the proper way to live. USING TECHNOLOGY TO SEEK COMFORT;SUFFERING BECAUSE OF TECHNOLOGY Our age is one in which we use machines to do what was formerly done by our hands. Because of this life today is far more convenient than even 25 years ago. From things like cooking and washing, to getting around and communicating with others, life has become far more comfortable. When our technological age began, everyone looked to the future with rose-colored glasses. We all speculated on what we would do with our surplus time when it became possible to buy a gadget which would cook our meals with the flip of a switch. "When mankind is released from physical toil and household drudgery," we said, "we will be truly free, and live as men were meant to." However, contrary to our expectations, such a rose-colored time did not come into being. We seem to live in a time which is busier and more rude than ever. What happened? We developed technology to live more comfortable lives, and yet because of technology, our suffering has increased many times. The car which was created to make transportation easier spurts out deadly gases which make it dangerous to breathe. The microwave oven which lets us cook entire meals by pushing a button may be a dangerous source of radiation. In all areas, our age is the richest in the history of the world. We are surrounded by a flood of technology and leisure, yet we are setting new records for crime, traffic accidents, and the number of people needing psychiatric help. If our present age is one in which we use machinery to take the place of our hands, the coming age is one in which we will use machines to take the place of our minds or the logical processes. It has been characterized as the age of the information explosion. Our newspaper has so many pages we cannot keep up with it. The average number of pages in the Los Angeles Times is over 100 daily and about 500 on Sunday. We have our weekly magazines, technical journals, and bulletins from organizations which we belong. If we add to this trying to help children with their homework (or doing homework if you are in school!), keeping up with all the information constantly confronting us becomes an almost impossible job. But there are still the radio and TV programs, particularly the commercials, to overwhelm us! A device has been invented to help us manage the huge amount of information constantly being thrown at us. As you know, this is the computer. Even small companies now make use of the computer to manage the details of their business. The Japanese National Education Television network has a program titled "Diagnosing Japan" which makes use of a computer to look at Japanese life. Once a computer was given information about modern Japanese society then asked, "Will anxiety decrease in our society?" The answer was not what they expected: "Without a doubt, it will increase," the computer answered. ASKING THE COMPUTER HOW TO LIVE A scientist once programed a computer to answer: "In an uneasy age where we are constantly flooded with information and dependent on machines to survive, what is the best way to live?" The computers answer was short and to the point: "Select only those things that are truly important." isn't this a most suitable answer? Whether it is a TV program, a book, a job, or any thing--choose only the best or most important. When we consider it, we always seem to be pushing off to one side the most important question of our life that must be answered. We evade this most important question by raising the status of questions and problems of lesser importance, and allowing them to take up our minds time. When young, it is getting a date, playing sports, studies (sometimes!), television; when we get older, it is worry about our health, our job or retirement--there is no time when you will not worry about something. But isn't there something that must be solved or decided before anything else? Suppose there are five problems on a math test which must be solved in an hour. Where would you start? "Start with the easiest problem. Once you have solved that and know you will get some kind of grade, you may be more able to concentrate on the next most difficult problem better. Leave the hardest until the very last, and if there is any time left, try tackling it and go for 100%." This is probably the way you were taught to take a test in school. However, the test you get in life must be solved in exactly the opposite way! If you leave the hardest until the last, there is no assurance you will have time to solve it. This is how life is. No one can foretell when the bell ending the examination of life will ring. Do not wait to solve the greatest problem.... Long before computers were even thought of, the statement above was repeated over and over in the Buddhadharma (our religious teachings). What is this "greatest problem"? 1. What is the reason this person known as "I" was born? 2. What should I base my life on? 3. What happens when my physical body disappears? There are some who answer the first question by saying, "My purpose in living is to work." Are they any different from ants who busily work each day? There are others who say they work only to raise their children properly. But it is wrong to live your life through your children or anyone else. Others must lead their own lives. The first thing you must do is to be able to answer the three questions above. When you can, you have laid the base for a life which will continually unfold and grow into something beautiful. First you must learn to know your true self. THEREFORE "FAITH" IS REQUIRED "It is quite possible to live without faith. I am proof of that statement. I have a life which does no one any harm, and which no one can point an accusing finger at. This being the case why do I have to have faith?" This is a good question. That is why someone asked it of the Buddha. A good question deserves a good answer. But rather than giving a crushing logical refutation to this question, the Buddha told a simple easy-to-understand story: "Once there was a hawk. During the fall months it captured insects and frogs, and hid them in preparatation for winter. Since this hawk was not very intelligent, it used a cloud as a landmark to locate the hiding place. 'If I come to this tree located under that round-shaped cloud,' it thought, 'I will be able to find my store of food for the winter." When winter came the hawk went looking for the cloud under which it thought its store was located. Since clouds do not stay in one place, the hawk could not find the store and went hungry. What did the Buddha mean with this story? His point was that if you base your life on something that is impermanent, your live will be a failure. But it seems as if everything we rely on in life changes: 1. OUR PHYSICAL BODY--it becomes ill and injured. It becomes old and senile. 2. WEALTH--it may increase, but it may also decrease. 3. FAMILY--unfortunately they suffer the same fate as our bodies individually. SCIENCE CANNOT REPLACE RELIGION There are those who believe that if science continues to advance, there will be less need of religion. They look with wonder at the constant progress of science and technology, and feel that the time will come when everything will be capable of being understood in scientific terms. They thus find it easy to conclude that since even the finest instruments are not able to detect it, there cannot be a Buddha or a world of reality--the Pure Land. However, this point of view can quickly be shown to be false. Those who believe that science can explain everything still have the problems of stubborn parents, disobedient children, or that they do not enjoy their work. Science will not help their indignation when they hear about things such as the Watergate affair, or the inhumanity of the atomic bomb. All these problems are outside the sphere of science. It is impossible for science and religion to encroach the area of the other. Arthur Rubinstein is probably the worlds greatest pianist and George Foreman the worlds greatest boxer(1973), but it would be meaningless to put them in competition with each other to determine who is greater. However, our life is based on religious consciousness--the world of the heart. Have you ever been tormented by the law of gravity or the law that governs the refraction of light? Suffering arises because man's joy and anger, his grief and pleasure have no connection with science. A true scientist is very much aware of this. "A scientist who believes that science is all there is, is not a first rate scientist."----Hideki Yukawa (Nobel Prize winner in physics). Is it correct to say that something does not exist simply because it cannot be seen with our eyes or measured with the most precise instruments? Can we say that because love cannot be measured, that it does not exist? No! When love is expressed, it results in an act which can be seen, and move those who see it. Although the Buddha, the Buddha's desire (the Causal Vow), and the Buddha's world (the Pure Land) cannot be seen with human eyes, they exist. They exist in my heart. They are expressed in my "faith" which moves me, and this can not only be seen, but have great influence. The characters in children's cartoons on television make use of the most advanced sort of technology. A rocket ship is as commonplace as a car today. Every convenience is available by only pushing a button. But the most used devices in these cartoons are ray guns to fight superhuman monsters and other enemies. In these cartoons with their far-out characters, good is clearly pitted against evil. They symbolically demonstrate that even in the most advanced society that we can conceive, hostility, injustice, anxiety, and all the problems that we are confronted with today will still be with us. If anything they will be greater because of technological advances. This is something we all should think about. THE BUDDHA'S DISCOVERY The Buddha was born in India, 566 years before the modern era. Buddhadharma was discovered by the historical Buddha and the sermons expressing his findings were transmitted orally for hundreds of years before the were written down and preserved in their present form which are called sutras, now the common heritage of all people. We use the word "discovered" to relate the teaching of the Buddha with the Buddha himself. This is because Buddhadharma is not something the Buddha created after speculating on the matter. Rather, he discovered the law which runs through the universe, and what is most important, experienced it in his own life. This is why he is called the Buddha, which means "the Enlightened One." In this sense the "law" of Buddhadharma which he discovered is similar to the "laws" of nature. The law of gravity was discovered by Isaac Newton, but even if Newton did not discover the law which shows the relationship between two masses, that law would still be in effect and control the movement of all things in this universe. The one way in which the "law" of Buddhadharma differs from natural law is that the Buddhadharma discovered by the Buddha was specifically in answer to the question, "how do I overcome my present suffering?" The Buddha expressed his discovery in logical systemizations which we call the Four Noble Truths and The Noble Eight-fold Path. They are further expressed in other very sophisticated doctrinal formulations, but basic to all these formulations is the "law of cause and effect", which can be said to be the distinctive feature of what the Buddha discovered. IF YOU ARE INJURED Suppose you are injured by a piece of machinery at work. You would probably do one or more of the following: 1.Go to a doctor to be cured and wonder if you will get some compensation. 2.Think about the cause of your injury and that you should be more careful or that the setup was bad , or that the machine was not well designed etc. 3.You might believe your injury was caused by superstition (Friday the 13th). Because of recent revival of interest in the occult, you might even think you had a curse put on you by an enemy. 4.You could feel that life is a struggle and the injury is only one more thing you have to put up with. 5.Then you might consider the future; how to pay for the medical treatment, the effect on your work and home life, etc. WHAT DOES THE BUDDHA TEACH US? What would the Buddha suggest in the above situation? In a very well known story, "The Parable of the Broken Arrow," the Buddha taught: "Suppose you are suddenly struck by a poisoned arrow. The members of your family, relatives, and close friends crowd around and make arrangements to remove the arrow and apply an antidote to the poison. But what would happen if you stopped them, saying 'Wait! Before you remove the arrow I must know what sort of person would do this to me. I must know if it was a male or a female. I must also know how the bow and arrow were made, and the type of poison used. Do not remove the arrow until you can explain these things to me.' If you had such an attitude, it is obvious the poison would seep through your body, and you would die. Similarly, there is no time to ask what the structure of the universe is, whether we have an immortal soul, or whether a Buddha exists or not. First pull out the arrow, tend your wound, and then you may speculate on these matters, if you wish. But the answer to these speculations in no way connected with healing your wound. PROPER TREATMENT(CAUSE) RESULTS IN HEALING(EFFECT) We have just presented an example in terms of an injury, but if you should happen to get injured or become ill you must trust the doctor. Although the study of medicine has progressed a great deal, in comparison with an absolute standard of healing, there is still much to learn. However, since healing is the specialty of doctors you must trust their judgment. When the Buddha became ill, he was cared for by Biba, the lord of healing. Although we are all willing to endure the pain of a dentist's drill in order to fill a cavity in our teeth, we feel no similar compulsion to seek specialized help in filling the cavity of our heart. Those with incomplete spiritual lives who are gifted mentally and physically are worse off than those who are not so gifted because they will use their talents to fill their emptiness. This works to a certain degree, but it will never carry you to enlightenment. If your body becomes injured or ill, it will raise a temperature, and show other symptoms of illness. If your spiritual heart becomes injured or ill, it also develops symptoms--greed, anger, a complaining attitude. These are symptoms all of us have. We must seek the care of, and receive the treatment prescribed by the doctor of the heart, the Buddha. THE LAW OF CAUSE AND EFFECT All things, without exception, arise from a direct cause which comes in contact with the proper conditions. This is referred to as conditional causation (engi), and must be taken into account in order to arrive at a correct decision. The simplest way to understand conditional causation is through an example. A flower will bloom only after the seed (the direct cause) comes in contact with soil, water, light, etc.(the proper conditions). Only then will a beautiful flower blossom(the result). If either the direct cause(the seed) or the proper conditions(soil,water,light, etc.) is absent, the result(flower) will not come into being. According to the Buddha, conditional causation means "seeing things as they are." "Seeing things as they are" means understanding that if we work at it hard enough, something will come of it. It also means giving up manfully and with good grace when we see that no amount of contriving will bring about the result we seek. In Japanese this "seeing things as they are", is often referred to as being shikata ga nai (it can't be helped), that term which sansei and yonsei use to deride the seemingly pessimistic point of view of their issei forebearers. But Shikata ga nai is only the negative aspect of "seeing things as they are." The positive aspect is seeing what must be cone, and getting up and doing it. Thus although sansei and yonsei look down on the shikata ga nai attitude of their ancestors, they should realize that their grandparents were really "seeing things as they are" within the conditions of their times. Now that social conditions have changed, it is possible to "see things as they are" under different conditions, which presently means changing those things which need changing. And there are many. Many of our brightest sansei and yonsei are happily moving in the direction of social change, but it is to be hoped that they realize they do so by the same "seeing things as they are" teaching of the Buddhadharma they either consciously or unconsciously received from their parents. SHINRAN SHONIN Born near the ancient capital of Kyoto on may 21st 1173; a period of great social unrest. Lost both parents at an early age. Became a monk at the age of eight. Studied Buddhadharma for 20 years at Mt. Hiei, the center of Buddhist studies at that time. At the age of 28, descended Mt. Hiei and became a disciple of the monk Honen. Attained the assurance of birth in the Pure Land he had all his life. Because of political pressure from other religious groups against his master, was exiled to the province of Echigo. From there immigrated to the then frontier area of Kanto (general area of modern-day Tokyo) where he spread the Nembutsu teaching. Returned to Kyoto in his old age. Wrote the Shoshinge (Hymn of True Faith) and many other works expressing the absolute "Buddha-centered power" teaching of the Nembutsu. The first monk to publicly take a wife, Esshinni, who bore him seven children, among them Zenran and Kakushinni. Died on January 16th, 1262 at the age of 89. The above is a brief outline of Shinran Shonin's life. If you wish to learn more, we recommend SHINRAN: His Life and Thought , by Norihiko Kikumura, published by The Nembutsu Press. The 89 years of Shinran's life resulted in two major accomplishments which are described in the next section. THE NEMBUTSU Shinran Shonin's first achievement was to refine the essence of faith from the various practices which existed in his day, and to express it in the form of tariki (Buddha-centered power). At that period of Japanese history, art, medicine, government,science, and everything that would come under the general classification of culture, was considered to be religious. As these areas of activity and study began to be investigated independently of their religious significance, however, the sphere of religion became vague. Shinran Shonin's predecessor scholar-monks had begun the process of discarding the nonreligious elements from Buddhadharma, and groped toward the idea of "faith" (Shinjin). The Shonin inherited this tradition, and carried it to its highest development, that of faith based on absolute Buddha-centered power. It is impossible to go beyond this level. Anything further than the point to which Shinran carried Buddhadharma will result in a "nonfaith" deviation from the religious sphere. The second thing Shinran Shonin did was to simplify Buddhism so that even unenlightened persons such as you and I could participate in the teachings, and gain birth in the Pure Land. The teachings left by the historical Shakamuni Buddha are remarkable for their wisdom and truth. However, his teachings are intended for monks who have the leisure that comes only from leaving home and family. For a home owner with a family to support they are extremely difficult to follow. There are considered to be 53 levels of enlightenment in Buddhadharma. However no matter how far you progress on the way to enlightenment, until you reach the 53rd level it is possible that at any time you will fall back to the lowest level requiring you to start all over again. Shakamuni Buddha had a disciple named Shariputra who determined to pass through all 53 levels and attain enlightenment through the way of dana (giving freely everything he owned.) A man once asked Shariputra for his eyes. Shariputra hesitated, but reasoned, "Even if I give one eye away, I will still have another left; that should be sufficient." He tore out an eye and gave it to the man. But the man receiving the bloody eye said it was dirty and throwing it to the ground stomped on it. Seeing this Shariputra lost his temper and immediately lost all the merit gained from his long years of religious practice. Until Shinran Shonin, everyone who wished to attain enlightenment had to follow what is referred to as "The Path of Sages" (shodomon), in which the devotee had to spend every moment of his life in his religious quest. Shinran himself diligently pursued this path for 20 years. Regardless how ideal this path may be, we must seriously consider whether it is one that we can walk. Although we may be able to physically go through all the prescribed forms of religious training which others can observe, it is extremely difficult to develop the heart which motivates these actions. In a later paragraph we will describe what one person went through following the "Path of Sages". "But for this ignorant Shinran..." This is the attitude which Shinran Shonin started. "But"--this skeptical and doubting attitude toward our self is where our spiritual enlightenment begins. Where this doubt is pierced, is where the world of Nembutsu begins. Or rather,when this doubt is wrapped in the Causal Vow, is where the entrance to the Pure Land opens up. Doubt is basic to the teachings of Jodoshinshu, for without it the experience of the Causal Vow will not be had. Experiencing the Causal Vow is usually referred to as having "faith" in it. There is nothing wrong with the word faith except it can be understood as meaning to believe in something because it is impossible to know about it. But experience of the Causal Vow is knowledge of it. This will be discussed in more detail later. HOW TO APPROACH THE GATE OF THE TEACHINGS In order to decisively encounter the Buddha's true intentions (his Causal Vow), we must have a seeking heart. Each of us must approach the gate of the teachings ourselves, and enter in ourselves. But how do we approach the gate in order for it to open up for us ? There are religions that require you to pray before the gate opens. There are others that require you to fast and perform ascetic rituals before you can enter in. Some religions require sitting in meditation, and yet others to repent before you can enter. How did Shinran Shonin approach the gate ? His approach was to use his ears . He entered into the gate of the teachings through hearing. In Japanese,the character "to hear" is written with the character for "ear" placed inside the character for "gate", thus perfectly symbolizing the Jodoshinshu way to approach the gate of the teachings. "Hearing" is both the beginning and the end of Jodoshinshu. A follower of Jodoshinshu always listens diligently, whether in the temple or at home, whether the subject is religious or not, for it is not what is said that is as important as what is heard. A wise man can learn even from listening to a fool. The Japanese term used to refer to the way a Jodoshinshuist hears a sermon, is monpo, written with the characters for "hearing" and "law" or "dharma". A Jodoshinshuist who does not "hear" is a Jodoshinshuist in name only, not in heart or experience. Although not a Buddhist, Confucious passed a stage where he "paid obedience to my ears"(mimishitagau). "At forty I was ignorant," he said. "At fifty I understood heavens will." And when he reached sixty Confucious "paid obedience to his ears," before attaining perfection at seventy. This shows the humble attitude Confucious had before realizing his goal, and illustrates how important it is "to hear". Just what is it that we listen for and how do we hear it ? WHAT DO WE LISTEN FOR ? The world of religious awareness is not known through academic study, so there is no need to memorize all the things you hear. There are only two matters about which we should listen very carefully. These are: * My heart * Buddha's heart Regardless of what passage we may select from a sutra, if we consider very carefully, these two matters will always be found to be discussed. No matter whose sermon we may listen to, if these two matters are not discussed and we do not hear it, it is the same as if we did not hear the sermon. Since many of the Jodoshinshu ministers in the United States and Canada were born and raised in Japan, their English is not as good as many of you may wish. But you do not attend a Jodoshinshu service to speak English. Try to hear what is behind the words your minister is using. This is the true Jodoshinshuist's attitude. WHAT ARE WE ? You have probably heard of Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico; some of you may have been there. Deep in the caves is a river where blind fish live. These fish have the remnants of eyes, but living in the pitch darkness of the caverns for thousands of years has caused their eyes to atrophy from lack of use. If you were to ask these fish, "Don't you find it inconvenient not to see?" they will undoubtedly reply, "What? What do you mean by seeing ?" Because they have not experienced what it is to see, they doubt there is such a thing. Aren't all of us like these fish ? Buddhadharma teaches that without exception all men have a sort of blindness. But even if we are told this, it is very difficult for us to agree, and this is how we are like the blind fish. We differ because we are not completely blind. Rather than not being able to see anything, we see things in distorted form because of the colored glasses we wear. We wear these glasses from the time we are born until the day we die. Our glasses cause us to see things in distorted form because they are dyed with the color of "egotism." Since you and I cannot see except through the lenses of "egotism" we always look at ourselves very tolerantly, but look at others very critically. Whether walking along the sidewalk or driving down the street, we alone are the center of interest to ourselves. When walking, drivers are a nuisance. When we are driving, pedestrians are just something to try and avoid hitting. Even on those occasions when we are able to observe ourselves objectively, and clearly recognize that we were the ones at fault, the judge deep in our heart forgives us because of circumstances. However, when it comes to the other person, we are merciless in our criticism. So far we have discussed the results of our egotistical attitude in relation to other people. But our attitudes become even more clear when we consider our relationship with animals. We speak of this insect as being harmful- pest, or that bird as being beneficial;that meat is good to eat, or that eggs are nutritious. These judgements, harmful, pest, beneficial, good to eat, or nutritious are all made in relation to how they affect us . Does an insect that is harmful to man consider itself to be harmful? No. It is only doing what is natural to it. It is simply "insecting"! From the insects point of view, it is man who is harmful. Have any of us performed a pure and simple "good deed" even once? All of us have helped others, but deep down didn't we do it after carefully calculating what others would think of our act? Or feeling self satisfied with "It feels good to help others"? It is extremely rare not to feel the smug satisfaction of giving others a treat or a gift. There is an old saying, "At times we can truly grieve over the disaster that has befallen another, but only a heavenly being can truly rejoice over the good fortune of another." This is truly what we are like. "To listen to my heart," means the following: "The person who is riding the fiery chariot of egotism and crossing the icy river of selfishness is none other than myself. It is important to realize that even those who do not "listen to their heart" are able to live "good" lives;however, they live what seems to be a good life only as seen through distorted lenses. At the base of their lives is a large cavity of which they are not aware. In a poem, Shinran Shonin wrote: Because even the practice of good Turns into evil It is called "the fools practice." lamenting the calculation and self conceit that lurks behind all of our "good" deeds. Those who are not aware of the delusions of their heart are like germ carriers. While performing what they think are good deeds, they do not know that they are spreading germs which are harmful to themselves and others. What should we do to stop this? Should we throw away our egotism and renew our heart? It would be wonderful if we could. Regardless of how deeply we reflect and strive to discard our ego in order to live life selfishlessly, it is an impossible task! It is like asking the darkness to create the morning sun and light up the sky through its own efforts. Jodoshinshu teaches the truth. Regardless of how distasteful and painful it may be, if it is the truth about ourselves, we must listen. WHAT IS THE HEART OF THE BUDDHA? In Jodoshinshu, the only Buddha we have "faith" in is Amida, "the Buddha of limitless wisdom and compassion." When we are bathed in the light of limitless wisdom, the state or condition of our heart as described in the previous paragraph becomes very clear, which really means that right now Amida Buddha's rays of wisdom are shining on us. If the blind fish of Carlsbad Caverns are exposed to light for as long as they have been deprived of it, their eyes will again begin to function and they will be able to see. Similarly, only through continuous exposure to the light of limitless wisdom will the eyes of our heart begin to open up. When Amida Buddha calls us, he does so by name. The name he calls us by is "evil and ignorant being full of base desires." He cannot call us using the term "good person". In response to Amida Buddha's calling, unless we say "He is referring to me," we will not understand his teaching. We will think he is referring to someone else, and his teaching will pass over our head. But our egotistically-colored glasses make it difficult for us to accept this form of reference to ourselves. In the next section we will discuss more what it means to be "evil". "True. That is what I am like." Shinjin (the "mind of faith") is nodding our head in agreement to Amida Buddha's calling. When we hear the truth of Amida's call, it is natural for us to let it act in our life. We are then relieved of making any effort to bring about our own enlightenment, resulting in "peace of mind" (anjin), which is the highest level possible for Jodoshinshuists. The term "mind of faith" is often misunderstood. We may resolve to ourselves, "Allright. I will have faith," and feel that making this effort will result in "the mind of faith." but this sort of "faith" is only a hardening of our ego, and is just another name for stubborness. Since it was a bombu (an unenlightened person) who made the resolve to "have faith", that "faith" may be broken very easily. Then we will say, I went out of my way to have faith, but nothing happened." Or we may have faith which borders on madness, in that it lies in the face of reason. "Faith" in the Nembutsu is not like "faith" which is a hardening of the ego. Rather, it is a breaking up of the ego by the strength of wisdom which is limitless, and a path which we can follow to continually grow. Here is the story of a man who met Amida in a dramatic way. In the village of Aoya in Tottori Prefecture in Japan, there lived a farmer named Genza Ashikaga. One summer morning when he was 30 years old, Genza led his horse to the mountains to gather grass. After gathering and bundling the grass, while loading the grass he could not carry on his own back on the horses back, Genza's heart was suddenly struck open. In his own words, "Suddenly, I was led to understand." What was it that Genza was led to understand? The grass he gathered is Karma, and that karma is too heavy for Genza to carry alone on his back. But the horse (Amida) is more than able to carry the load Genza cannot. The horse eats the grass he carries on his back and becomes a horse; Amida Buddha carries Genza's karma and consuming it, becomes Amida Buddha. Genza's view of the world changed completely. From that time on until his death in the late 1920's at age 88, he lived a full life. He survived two Fires in his home, and the insanity and later death of a child. Yet he was never discouraged and was always helping his neighbors. WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE EVIL? A fencing master was once asked, "If I study fencing for two hours each day, how long will it take me to become an expert?" The master replied, "It will take 5 years." If I study for 4 hours each day, how long will it take?" The master replied, "It will take 10 years." "But if I practice as hard as possible for 8 hours each day, how long will it take?" "In that case," replied the master, "it will take a lifetime." This story seems wrong because the more you practice, the faster you should become an expert. But in this story is the essence of Jodoshinshu teachings. During his lifetime, Shinran Shonin was looked on by his disciples as being a Saint. There is record of his direct disciple, Ren'i, having said that Shinran was the incarnation of a Boddhisattva. This is how Shinran was seen by others. But how did Shinran see himself? In a poem written when he was over 80 years old, Shinran wrote: "Though I rely on the True Teaching of the Pure Land, The True Mind is difficult to acquire I have an ignorant and insincere body, And am absolutely without a Pure Mind." Can there be a greater difference in how the same person was evaluated? His disciples considered him to be a saint; he considered himself to be a hypocrite. It is impossible to reconcile these two attitudes unless we understand the standards Shinran set for himself. The fencing master considered that a person who was willing to spend only two hours a day in practice would not have very high standards, and could convince himself that he was an expert in only 5 years. If one practiced 4 hours a day, his standards would be much higher and at least 10 years would be required before he could be satisfied. But if the student was motivated enough to practice 8 hours a day, he would never be satisfied with his level of skill, even if he won all contests. Similarly, because Shinron's conduct exceded the standards of others, he was seen as a saint. But Shinran's conduct was far below the standards he set for himself. Also, the more Shinran's conduct approached his already high standards, the higher he saw they could be set. Although people looking at Shinran could see him growing morally and spiritually, he himself felt that in comparison with his constantly rising standards (which always rose faster than his ability to achieve them) he was falling behind, and thus his sense of "evil" (his consciousness of imperfection) increased. The reason we do not sense our "evil" nature as strongly as Shinran did, is that we are not as severe with ourselves as he was. The more severe we are with ourselves, the greater will be our sense of imperfection, or "evil". The sense of evil or "sin" in Jodoshinshu is different from "sin" in Christianity. According to Christian dogma, "Man is born in sin." In Jodoshinshu, however, this sense of imperfection or "evil develops only when we strive to improve ourselves. RELIGIOUS PRACTICE What do you do if you wish to become a good basketball player? You practice baskettball. And if you wish to be good at any sport, or study, you must practice. In order to do anything well, you must practice. But what do you practice to become enlightened? In Buddhadharma, the word used to refer to religious practice which results in enlightenment, is shugyo. As some of you know, the Shugyo of the Zen school of Buddhadharma is meditation (zazen). The Shingon school emphasizes "finger movements" (mudras) as the way to follow in attaining enlightenment. The shugyo of the Nichiren school is to recite the "sacred title" (daimoku) which is Namumyohorengekyo. In that school, it is felt that the more often and earnestly you chant the daimoku, the more material benefits you will receive. What is the position of Jodoshinshu regarding shugyo? Jodoshinshu is unique among all Buddhist schools in that from a doctrinal point of view, there is no shugyo to perform, for all shugyo is contained in the name Namu Amida Butsu. Not only all shugyo, but also all good and all benefits are contained in it. The number of times you recite Namuamidabutsu has no bearing on your birth in the Pure Land. Jodoshinshu is a teaching for lay people; it is not a teaching for monks, as all other Buddhists schools are. In Japanese, to become a monk is referred to as shukke, which is written as the characters for "leave" and "home", i.e., in order to become a monk, you must give up all your possessions, leave home, and spend your entire time and effort in the cultivation of enlightenment. Is this possible for everyone? And even if it were possible for all to leave home, would all have the will power to do the difficult practice required? Shinran Shonin became a Tendai monk in the year 1181. Although no one is sure what he did as a monk, there is little doubt as to the kind of shugyo he had to do, for the Tendai monks today are very proud of the fact that the religious practice today is the same as that first practiced by the founder of the sect in Japan, Dengyo Daishi. In the next section, you will read about the shugyo that a Tendai Buddhist monk went through. KAIHOGYO Shocho Hagami is a modern Buddhist monk of the Tendai school who underwent the very rigorous Kaihogyo shugyo still practiced on Mt. Hiei, the center of Tendai training. Kaihogyo literally means "around-peak-practice" and consists of making one thousand circuits around the peak of Mt. Hiei. Upon entering this practice, monk Hagami was given a short sword to commit seppuku (the proper term for what is referred to in English as hari-kiri, ritual suicide) if for any reason he was unable to walk the circuit when he was supposed to. No excuses are allowed. Monk Hagami would not have been allowed time off if his parents were sick, or even if he had broken a leg and was unable to walk. A monk continued to practice the Kaihogyo shugyo during World War II when all available manpower was supposedly put towards the war effort. The war was not good enough reason to stop shugyo. Regardless of the reason, if monk Hagami had been unable to walk the circuit even once, he had to be ready to give up his life. During the first several years of his shugyo, monk Hagami walked about twenty miles a day over rough terrain with many natural obstacles. During the last few years, he walked over fifty miles every day. This was in addition to the normal routine each monk followed. After the circuit was made 700 times, monk Hagami went through a special shugyo within the Kaihogyo shugyo. This special shugyo lasted nine days. During this time he could not: 1. Eat any food. 2. Sleep lying down (he could rest in a chair) 3. Drink any water Physiologically man is not susposed to be able to live more than two or three days without drinking any water, but monk Hagami had to go for nine days without it. Not only did he have to forego any water during this period, he had to draw water for the other monks to drink. But this was not all. After fasting, going without sleep for nine days, monk Hagami participated in what is called a goma ceremony. A fire was made and monk Hagami ceremoniously placed sticks of wood about half an inch thick and about a foot long into the fire. The sticks of wood symbolized the "evil" in himself to be consumed by the fire. The goma ceremony was held in the dead of winter in an area without central heating. Monk Hagami was required to burn no less than 120,000 pieces of wood. The stack of wood was over eight feet high; the fire it made created flames which leaped ten feet into the air. Although the part of monk Hagami's body facing the fire felt as if it was burning up, the part of his body away from the fire felt as if it was freezing. When a doctor from the nearby city of Kyoto heard that monk Hagami was going to undergo the austerities just described, he arranged to make regular examinations to determine how the shugyo affected monk Hagami's bodily functions. On the nineth day, the doctor came to examine monk Hagami as usual, and found him resting on his chair with his eyes closed. The doctor raised monk Hagami's eyelids and peered in, but getting no reaction, remarked to his companion, "It seems as if he has died." Of course, monk Hagami had not died; he was quite aware of the doctor and of having his eyelids raised. He was just so exhausted, his organs did not react sufficiently to allow the doctor to conclude that life still remained. Monk Hagami was 52 years of age when he completed this severe part of the Kaihogyo. You may wonder why anyone would want to undergo the type of shugyo that monk Hagami did. If you were to ask him he would probably say, "I did it because my master ordered me to, and because it is the practice handed down to me from Master Dengyo. Now that I have completed the shugyo, however, I can state that I benefited greatly from it." That sort of answer is not very satisfying to those who have not experienced shugyo, but perhaps it is all that can be said about the matter; unless you have undergone it yourself, you cannot understand shugyo nor have any right to comment on it. However, it is possible to understand something about monk Hagami's shugyo. Walking twenty or even fifty miles, around the peak of Mt. Hiei can be done by anyone in good physical condition. But it becomes shugyo rather than a physical exercise because of the attitude with which this activity is done, and the grind of doing it every day in addition to your other duties as a monk. When your physical efforts are maximized while the amount of rest and nutrition you receive is minimized, you cannot continue through physical strength alone; you must draw on your spiritual resources, which grow as a result of being called upon. Another way of looking at it is that we appreciate our health most when we are ill. That is, when we are ill, we have something to compare our health with, and thus our health is experienced as precious. Similarly, we can say that we do not appreciate the sacredness of life as much as we should because we do not have anything to compare it with. Life is something that we have had all our life and therefore take for granted. Can you imagine what it would be not to have life? The state that differs from life is death. But if we die, we cannot come back to life no matter how much we feel we will appreciate it. Monk Hagami's shugyo can thus be looked at as a sort of "controlled death", a state which he experienced and which he could compare with the state of life... Please remember, however, that the above are only intellectual attempts to understand monk Hagami's shugyo experience. We cannot gain the exact same insight from reading about it that we would get from experiencing shugyo. THE JODO SHINSHU SHUGYO Would you be able to undergo a shugyo like monk Hagami did? Until Shinran Shonin's time, all monks had to practice shugyo similar to what monk Hagami did, but with Shinran's awakening to the true nature of the causal vow, came the understanding that all shugyo is contained in it. Because Amida Buddha had undergone all the ascetic practices required when he was Hozo Bosatsu, there is no need for us to undergo them to be awakened or saved. Monk Hagami was very impressed with Shinran Shonin and the teachings of Jodoshinshu. He frequently spoke to Jodoshinshu groups, always remarking that he could never have completed the Kaihogyo austerities through his own effort, and that looking back he realizes that it was tariki (Buddha centered power) that saw him through. As already mentioned, there is no shugyo in Jodoshinshu because according to doctrine, it is all contained in Nembutsu. But that only means that there is no special shugyo which we have to leave home to practice. The other side of this doctrinal formulation is that we do not have to do anything special because everything that we do is shugyo. The way we wake up in the morning (can't we get out of bed less grumpy? Or without our parents having to yell?), the way we greet our parents (can't we be more cheerful and cooperative?), the way we eat (do we have to rush?)., the way we go to school , the way we work ,...there is nothing that is not shugyo for a Jodoshinshu Buddhist. As discussed in the previous section "WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE 'EVIL'", when we practice living a better life, we realize that we can become even better. If it were possible to measure "goodness," if we become better by a value of one, our goal of goodness will increase to two. If we act "better" by two, our goal will become four, etc. Although someone looking at us from outside may feel that we are becoming a better person, in relation to the constantly increasing ideal in our mind (which always increases faster as we become better), we realize that we are falling behind or getting worse. This is the Jodoshinshu sense of "evil" that we are always facing. TRUE FAITH (or TRUE ENTRUSTING) In the last three sections we indicated the difficulty of religious practice and the imperfection sensed by those who strive to become better. As we become aware of how much better we can become (and although we do become better), because our standards increase faster than our attainments, we feel as if we are getting worse. If it stayed that way, we would soon despair of living! We would become very critical of the world and weary of living in it. The famed author of the story Rashomon, which was made into a prise-winning movie, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, was a person who reached just that point of view. He committed suicide at the early age of 35, leaving the following note: "I am unable to be responsible for the evils of this world..." This note expresses the heart of a very sensitive artist; his standards for the world exceeded that of the great majority of us. But it lacks one thing. The thing lacking is the saving grace which understands and accepts his sense of "evilness" or imperfection. This is why Amida Buddha's Causal Vow is so important. Whether it is our sense of "evil" that leaves us no choice but to accept Amida Buddha's vow to cause our birth in the Pure Land, or whether it is Amida Buddha's Causal Vow that allows us to see how imperfect and "evil" we are, our sense of evil and Amida's Causal Vow are related to each other in a way that makes them impossible to separate. You have heard of the "irresistible force meeting the immovable object." This is a logical impossibility of course, for if there was an immovable object, by definition that means there is nothing that can move it, i.e. that there is no irresistible force. Or in the same way if there is an irresistible force then there can be no such thing as an immovable object. Amida's Causal Vow can be equated to either the immovable object or the irresistible force. Regardless of how "evil" you think you are, Amida's compassionate vow to cause your birth in the Pure Land will overcome it resulting in your birth there. Further, it can be said that the greater your awareness of your "evil" nature, the greater you will experience the wisdom and compassion of Amida and the Causal Vow. Those who do not feel a sense of "evil" or imperfection in themselves will feel that it is their "right" to be born in the Pure Land, just as many Christians believe they will go to heaven if they live moral lives. Those who are aware of their "evil" nature find it difficult to believe they will be born in the Pure Land because they do not feel worthy of it. But being worthy or unworthy has nothing to do with the matter--this is just a measure of moral good or acceptance by society. Regardless how you evaluate yourself, Amida is onesidedly working toward your birth in the Pure Land. This is what the widely quoted but little understood phrase from the Tannisho means: "Since even the good man will be born in the Pure Land, how much more so will the bad man." Faith has two aspects; first, the firm conviction that we are evil beings ever drowning in the sea of birth and death. Second, the unshakable belief that Amida Buddha's 48 Vows welcome and embrace all sentient beings, and that we are certain to be born in his Land of Bliss. Zendo (Chinese:Shan-tao) Fifth Patriarch of Jodoshinshu This passage is the fundamental explanation of "faith" in Jodoshinshu. The "conviction that we are evil beings" is the seemingly irresistible force that comes in contact with the actual immovable object of the Causal Vow. "Drowning in the sea of birth and death" is the seemingly immovable object that comes in contact with the actual irresistible force of the Causal Vow. Regardless of how strong our sense of "evil" or imperfection, Amida's vow to cause our birth in the Pure Land is stronger. We cannot experience the strength of the Causal Vow unless we come in contact with it. Sometimes this contact is through a head-on confrontation, but most often it is a gradual awakening to the reality that we have been enveloped in its power all along without being aware of it. This is not just playing with words; it is an expression of an experience that all Jodoshinshuists have gone through. Have you? AWAKENING TO WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT How many days have there been when you could say, "Today I lived fully and have no regrets about it?" Count yourself lucky if you have even one. Isn't your usual feeling, "One of these days, when I get __________(many things can go here: older, out of school, on my own, retired, rich, etc.) cleared up, then I will be able to live a fuller life"? This means that you are not living life to the fullest now. There will always be work to do or something to be concerned about! Waiting until later before living life to its fullest will not work, because that day will never come. Our world today is one in which no matter how we hurry, we are always late. Let us ask a person who is rushing by a few questions. "Just why are you hurrying about, working so hard?" "I work in order to eat." "But why do you eat?" "Because I will die if I don't." "Then why do you want to live?" " order to work." A complete circle has been made and we are back where we started. Lets try something slightly different. "You say you work in order to eat--eat to live--and live to work. Then does that mean if you are just able to eat that you will not die?" That is it. That is the most important consideration, how not to die. We are so busy this is what most of us have forgotten. In Japanese the characters for "busy" and "to forget" are both written with the characters meaning "heart" and "to lose", only arranged differently. That is what happens when we are too busy--we lose our hearts. The problem with us today is that our hearts are asleep regarding that most important matter--how to not die. A sleepy or drunk driver is extremely dangerous, not only to himself but to others. Are you aware that you are driving your body around while asleep about what is most important? Young people are much more understanding than their parents about living life to its fullest. The hippie movement in the 1960's represented an attempt to change life styles and get out of the "rat race" to a fuller life. But that movement floundered because although the young knew that they did not care for things as they were, they did not know what it was that they wanted. Merely to escape without a goal to direct yourself to is to find yourself in another type of trap. True "escape" consists in finding freedom where you are right now! An enlilghtened person can never be imprisoned, even behind bars. Let us awaken our sleeping hearts. Buddhadharma and the Nembutsu within it show us how to live a full and free life. Starting today, let us listen to the dharma, the teachings, which show us our true nature, and which awaken us to the infinite compassion of Amida Buddha. The words above were written with the desire to present the Nembutsu teaching as simply as possible. Having come this far, I hope you will choose to participate in your Karma, and not stop at this point! The important thing is the "mind of true faith" (shinjin), experience of the Causal Vow. Look to the people you know in your temple and strive to understand the teachings. Participate in meeting the five conditions required by our religion to receive shinjin: 1. Past conditions and circumstances leading one to the dharma 2. A "Good Teacher of the Dharma" 3. The Light of Amida Buddha 4. Shinjin ("faith") 5. Amida's name--Namu Amida Butsu Amida is calling-----------will you answer? NAMUAMIDABUTSUNAMUAMIDABUTSUNAMUAMIDABUTSUNAMUAMIDABUTSUNAMUAMIDABUTSU


E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank