Unlocking Tannisho, Part 10

VII

In the person of nembutsu opens up the great path of unobstructed freedom. The reason is that the gods of heaven and earth bow before the practicer of true entrusting, and those of the world of demons and rival ways cannot obstruct such a person. The consequences of karmic evil cannot bear fruit, nor does any form of good equal the nembutsu. Thus, it is called the great path of unobstructed freedom.

Explanation:

One who is of the Nembutsu is also called being on the “path of no hindrance”. In the case of this chapter, he of the Nembutsu is also called “being on the path of unobstructed freedom”. What is this path, and what does it mean for those who have achieved other power faith?

Some time ago, I posted 10 benefits that a person receives upon receiving other power faith. I will post those 10 benefits here again:

  1. The benefit of being protected and sustained by gods and bodhisattvas
  2. The benefit of being filled with supreme virtue
  3. The benefit of having evil transformed into goodness
  4. The benefit of being protected and cared for by all the Buddhas
  5. The benefit of being praised by all the Buddhas
  6. The benefit of being constantly protected by Amida Buddha
  7. The benefit of having our hearts filled with joy
  8. The benefit of knowing Amida’s benevolence
  9. The benefit of constantly conveying Amida Buddha’s mind
  10. The benefit of belonging to those who will attain Buddha’s enlightenment (entering the stage of the truly settled, or, the 51st stage of enlightenment).

In this chapter of Tannisho, what Shinran is talking about is what it means to be on the path of no hindrance. First of all, it means that one is looked up to by all other gods and bodhisattvas. The reason is because he of the Nembutsu has attained the 51st level of enlightenment, also known as the state of non retrogression. Many of the other gods and bodhisattvas  have chosen other means to enter into enlightenment, and so they may not quite be on level with one who has achieved other power faith and is of the Nembutsu.

For example, Miroku Bodhisattva, also called Maitreya, has chosen the path of the sages in order to attain enlightenment. Although he is right now at the 51st level, it has taken him many eons to get there, and to attain buddhahood would take another 2.67 billion years. He is also called the Buddha of the future.

Other “freedoms” that will be granted once one is on the path of no hindrance, or the path of the Nembutsu, is being protected from evil and also negative karma. But, when they talk about this, you really have to be careful in interpreting what it really means. What it doesn’t mean is being showered with riches or being immuned from death or wrongdoing. It means that one need not fear any evil because the Nembutsu has the power to turn evil into good.

Before encountering the salvation of Amida Buddha, everyone commits bad deeds on a daily basis, and in mass numbers through the mind, the mouth, and the body alone. Through the Nembutsu, our deeds become purified and the mind-thought process behind the deeds we perform change. No longer are we doing good deeds for our salvation, but we perform good deeds out of sincere gratitude and kindness.

Think about it more closely: what is to stop any one of us from robbing a bank, or killing someone? I don’t think the answer is jail, and here’s why:

For example, recently, there have been many topics in the news about money managers and CEO’s being prosecuted for stealing money from their firms or their clients. They may be ordered to pay some restitution, but at the end of the day they will get about 10 to 20 years on average. Sometimes, perhaps even less. The question though that no one has yet answered, and perhaps will never come up with an explanation for is this: what is wrong with being in jail? Does the punishment fit the crime? Sometimes people get 25 years for killing someone, but if you steal money (ie. Bernie Madoff, Shalom Weiss style) you can get 180~850+ years??? Does that make any sense in the world? Sometimes people get the death penalty for murder, but most of the time not. How does this make sense? It proves the legal system is based on the media and has no logic surrounding it. In my mind, I would think murder to be a more worse crime than stealing money, yet our legal system has it backwards!

But that is the whole key to this mystery – In my mind and I would think. I have said it before, and I will say it again, evil and good are relative terms, and at the end of the day, all people are evil. I have drawn an interesting point, but I have still not answered my own question: Why is it wrong to go to jail? What is so bad about that? Actually, jail seems pretty lucrative compared to being homeless! You get all your stuff paid for by tax dollars, food, shelter, and don’t have to worry about money. It is a wonder why more homeless people aren’t committing crimes – and what is stopping us from going down the same path? Why is it wrong to kill someone, and why is it wrong to go to jail? It doesn’t seem like a big deal in the long run… sure there is some embarrassment, but at the end of the day, you will live and will have the chance of encountering Amida’s universal vow. So what is wrong with that?

The answer lies in Buddhism, and the grave problem of the afterlife. It is the answer to what drives the motivation of every single human on this Earth. Sakyamuni Buddha said that the problem of the afterlife lies in ignorance, and so says Shinran Shonin in the same right. Ignorance is what creates the problem. Deep down, we all fear both if we will die, and when, in addition to fearing what will happen to us after death. Arguably, 99% of all people do not know the answers to these very important questions, even more important is the question of why to live! It ranks up there with all the rest of those questions.

Buddhism teaches that the reason for the problem concerning the afterlife is ignorance, and the steps to eliminating this ignorance lies in taking the noble eight fold path, as told by Sakyamuni Buddha. After that happens, there will be no discrepancy or confusion as to where you will be going after death.

People in this world perform good deeds because, at the root, they are concerned about what will happen to them after death. They would like to accumulate many ‘merits’ before passing on and to ensure that they get up to ‘paradise’. However, the way things really are, and the way we assume them to be are totally different. This is the work of ignorance once again surrounding the afterlife, and it takes far more than good deeds to be reborn in Amida’s pure land. Another explanation lies in the universal law of cause and effect. Bad deeds lead to bad consequences, and so if you do bad deeds, bad things will come to you, however, if you take the right actions, the right speech, the right judgment… then good things will come to you. In the end, all seeds are sown. However, at the end of the day, we are all evil whether we killed, lied, stole or committed the most heinous of acts, and in turn, we are also granted the opportunity of salvation should we obtain true faith from Amida Buddha and encounter his vow.

He who is of the Nembutsu and is on the path of no hindrance is revered among all gods and bodhisattvas for having achieved a rare feat and being granted other power faith. Secondly, their karma becomes purified and can no longer have any bearing once that person becomes reborn in the pure land and resolves to become a Buddha. That is the message of this chapter. So, take refuge in the vow of Amida Buddha and be granted salvation and other power faith. This is called breaking the chains of Samsara in Buddhism, but essentially means being free from karma.

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