Unlocking Tannisho, Part 5


I believe that the reason you have come here, crossing over more than ten provinces at the risk of your lives, is solely to ascertain the path that leads to birth in the Pure Land. But if you suspect that I know ways other than the Nembutsu to attain birth, or that I am versed in the scriptures connected with them, you are greatly mistaken. If that be the case, there are many eminent scholars in the monasteries of Nara and Mt. Hiei, so you should go see them and ask them in detail about the way to attain birth in the Pure Land.

Shinran Shonin, in his entire life of 90 years, has never taught anything new, nor did he ever have some unique specialized knowledge about Buddhism. He merely trusted in the previous master’s words, and relies on the Nembutsu as a means of achieving salvation in the pure land. Yet, despite this, it was often the case that many followers did make the long and dangerous pilgrimage to see Shinran expecting that he knew something unique or hidden about Buddhism. Evidently, he did not. The Nembutsu, namely, the mind which is intent on reciting the Nembutsu out of gratitude towards Amida Buddha, is the sole act which is responsible for one’s salvation and birth in the pure land.

As for myself, Shinran, I simply take to heart the words of my dear teacher, Honen, “Just say the Nembutsu and be saved by Amida,” and entrust myself to the Primal Vow. Besides this, there is nothing else.

We discussed Honen Shonin before in our Shoshinge discussion, and if you recall, he relied solely on the Nembutsu as a means for achieving salvation. What they are talking about here in this passage is that the Nembutsu and the primal vow of Amida Buddha are of utmost importance in terms of achieving other power faith, however, when you recite the Nembutsu, they are talking about reciting it when having attained other power faith; with that mind of true faith. If you can do that that is all there is to do to achieve salvation.

I really do not know whether the Nembutsu may be the cause for my birth in the Pure Land, or the act that shall condemn me to hell. But I have nothing to regret, even if I should have been deceived by my teacher, and, saying the Nembutsu, fall into hell. The reason is that if I were capable of realizing buddhahood by other religious practices and yet fell into hell for saying the Nembutsu I might have dire regrets for having been deceived. But since I am absolutely incapable of any religious practice, hell is my only home.

This is a very interesting passage, and a very complex one. at first glance, it seems as if Shinran is doubtful of the saving power of the Nembutsu, however, he is anything but that. The reason is that there is no other path to turn to for salvation. That is why he said that he would not feel regret even if he was betrayed and condemned to hell because he was led by the Nembutsu, however he says he would feel regret if he was capable of performing religious practices and then finally arrived at being condemned to hell by saying the Nembutsu. This means there is only one path to paradise – hell!

it is a little bit confusing, so I will take a step back and explain this paragraph more clearly. If you recall, we discussed that there is what is called a twofold revelation that occurs in Buddhism upon reaching the gateway to other power faith. Essentially, the revelation is that you realize the evil nature of human beings and of your own self and realize there is no other place you can possibly go but hell. At the same time you realize that the vow of Amida Buddha is there, and grants us foolish beings the opportunity of salvation through his vow and allows us to be born in his pure land. So, it is at that instant you also realize that there is no destination for you but paradise.

This passage means that it is through the Nembutsu only that you are able to arrive at this revelation, and that ordinary religious practice is the long and tiresome way to enlightenment. This is why Shinran says he would feel regret if he took this path, and it is implied he probably would not have achieved enlightenment so fast, mabe wasted time along the way as well. Practice of the Nembutsu is also what is known as the “easy path” according to previous masters of Buddhism like Vasubandhu and Shan-tao.

If Amida’s Primal Vow is true, Sakyamuni’s teaching cannot be false. If the Buddha’s teaching is true, Shan-tao’s commentaries cannot be false. If Shan-tao’s commentaries are true, how can Honen’s words be empty of meaning? If Honen’s words are true, what I, Shinran, say cannot be meaningless. In brief, such is the true entrusting of this foolish one. Now, whether you accept the Nembutsu, entrusting yourself to it, or reject it, that is your own decision.

if Amida’s primal vow is true, then Sakyamuni’s teachings can’t be false, because that is the reason why Sakyamuni Buddha appeared on this earth planet 2500 years ago. Likewise, the teachings of Honen and Shan-tao cannot be false if Sakyamuni’s teachings are true – so then how can the words of Shinran be empty? The Nembutsu is the tried and true gateway for realizing birth in the pure land, but whether you accept this teaching or not is up to you. You should of course, accept it, as it falls in accordance with the vow of Amida Buddha and attaining salvation in this lifetime.


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