Unlocking Tannisho, Part 8

V

I, Shinran, have never even once uttered the nembutsu for the sake of my father and mother. The reason is that all beings have been fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, in the timeless process of birth-and-death. When I attain buddhahood in the next birth, each and everyone will be saved.

If it were a good accomplished by my own powers, then I could transfer the accumulated merits of nembutsu to save my father and mother. But since such is not the case, when we become free from self-power and quickly attain the enlightenment of the Pure Land, we will save those bound closest to us through transcendental powers, no matter how deeply they are immersed in the karmic sufferings of the six realms and four modes of birth.

Explanation:

Shinran Shonin, in his 90 years of life, wanted nothing more than to save others from repeating the same cycle of birth and death over and over again. He wanted this so much that he vowed that he would not spend more than one minute in the pure land after death, and would vow to come back to guide beings toward Amida’s Vow.

In this passage, Shinran Shonin says that he has never once uttered the Nembutsu for the sake of his father and mother, for that would be pointless. Everyone, in their multitude of lifetimes have been brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers. The life of the present is merely a stage in the countless number of lives someone has led since the distant past. You, me, everyone have all died before and here we are today. One need not investigate or contemplate this fact, for it is very obvious. It is the only way that the law of cause and effect works, and because it is law, it is true in all conditions, no matter what the circumstance. Our birth in the present life and in our present form is due to circumstances surrounding our soul and our karma in the past life. It is the only way to explain how some families stay together, while others drift apart, and how some people end up being a certain way, while others are not so lucky. Anything and everything is bound by the law of cause and effect, and there is no way to escape it.

Thus, here Shinran is, telling the reader that he has never once uttered the Nembutsu for the sake of his mother and father. Well, what does that mean? There is a common misconception among Buddhist followers, and also among non-buddhist. First of all, someone dies, and then there is a funeral. At the funeral, there might be different types of ceremonies and prayers, and then the body is either buried, or, in the Buddhist tradition, cremated. That is the way people see things generally, but it doesn’t mean that is the way that it works. The way that it works is that someone dies, and thereafter they are reborn somewhere. There is no lingering ‘in attachment’ or going to ‘purgatory’ as in the usual sense. Someone dies, and immediately, depending on their karma, are reborn elsewhere  meaning Amida’s pure land, or hell, or one of the other six realms. Sakyamuni Buddha once said that once a stone sinks in the ocean, there is nothing which can make the stone rise, no matter what we do or how we pray. This is just like death – it happens and immediately after, rebirth happens. It is in accordance to Samsara, or the cycle of birth and death. So, there are no such things as ghosts, spirits protecting others, saints, and so on. These are merely entities manufactured by the mind and do not have any bearing on this particular world. Yes, there are other realms beings can be born into, but they do not and cannot affect our present life, so that also means there are no curses or jinxes.

So, what Shinran Shonin is saying has to do with the way things work in accordance to the law of cause and effect and the cycle of birth and death.

Furthermore, Shinran also states in the second paragraph – “If it were a good accomplished by my own powers, then I could transfer the accumulated merits of nembutsu to save my father and mother. But since such is not the case, when we become free from self-power and quickly attain the enlightenment of the Pure Land, we will save those bound closest to us through transcendental powers, no matter how deeply they are immersed in the karmic sufferings of the six realms and four modes of birth.”

What this means is that the Nembutsu itself is not an act that one can perform and have it save someone else or prevent another from suffering. The Nembutsu is something that only Amida Buddha can give to us, and we cannot transfer its supreme merits to another, no matter how much we try, it just doesn’t work that way. If it did, then there would be no wars in the world, everyone would encounter Amida’s Salvation in this lifetime and the world would be a better place. However, everyone has their own path to enlightenment and everyone must walk their own distance on the path to salvation. Shinran also says that when we become free of self power and achieve salvation in this lifetime, we cannot help but convey the teachings of Buddhism to others. Once one is saved by the vow of Amida Buddha, and attains unlimited happiness, there is an insatiable desire to spread the teachings and convince those around us to take refuge in the vow so that they may experience the very same happiness we have.

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