Unlocking Tannisho, Part 18


Some people say that one can attain enlightenment in this very body filled with blind passion. This is completely out of the question.

This passage of the Tannisho is quite difficult, and so I will take it piece by piece rather than commenting on the whole.

Here, in this first paragraph, the enlightenment that is being talked about is enlightenment of the 52nd level, or Buddhahood. At first glance, you might misread this to mean that enlightenment is impossible to achieve on this planet, while still alive. However, what this really means is that we could attain enlightenment of the 51st level in this lifetime, and subsequently resolve to attain Buddhahood after we are reborn in the pure land where the conditions are more favorable.

The doctrine of attaining Buddhahood in this very body is the essential teaching of Shingon Esoterism, the ultimate attainment of the three esoteric practices. And the purifying of the six sense-organs is the doctrine of the One Vehicle teaching of the Lotus Sutra, the attainment of the four blissful practices. These are all difficult practices performed by superior religious adepts and enlightenment realized through perfecting meditative practices. In contrast, the enlightenment that unfolds in the next birth is the essence of the Pure Land way of Other Power, the true entrusting which is settled and final. This is the effortless practice undertaken by inferior religious practicers in which the distinction between good and evil is non-existent.

This passage basically confirms more of the above. In order to truly reach Buddhahood in this lifetime, we would need to go through both all the practices of the Lotus Sutra, which purify the six-sense organs (ie. alaya mind, karma, etc.) and extreme meditative practices to purify the body. All of this is extremely difficult for an ordinary being to do, let alone impossible. The only one who has ever done it was Sakyamuni Buddha himself on this earth planet.

In contrast, the conditions for reaching the pure land through the path of the Nembutsu are more favorable and easy for us defiled beings, and when we do reach the pure land, attaining enlightenment of the 52nd level is indeed possible. This is also called the path of the pure land; the way of practice through sutras and meditation is called the path of the sages.

Since it is unthinkably difficult to sunder blind passion and evil hindrances in this present life, the virtuous monks of Shingon and Tendai disciplinary practices also pray for enlightenment in the life to come. How much more so for ordinary people like ourselves! Although the upholding of precepts and attainment of wisdom are lacking, when we have crossed the painful ocean of birth-and- death on the vessel of Amida’s Vow, reaching the Other Shore of the land of Fulfillment, the dark clouds of blind passion immediately vanish and the moon of enlightenment, dharma-as-it-is, appears instantaneously. Having become united with the Unhindered Light that illuminates the ten quarters, we bring benefits to all beings. This is true enlightenment.

In this passage, Yuien describes what it means to achieve enlightenment of the 51st level, in this lifetime. Inevitably, it is impossible to rid ourselves of the blind passion that plagues us such as greed, money, jealousy and anger.

At this time, I too would like to also ask a question: Why is it that human beings are evil? Why is it that we are plagued with and made up of nothing but blind passions? In my whole life I have never come across one individual who did not, at the core, suffer from these passions. To be honest, I do not know the answer to that question. I have searched and searched, but have yet to come up with a true answer. What I know is that us humans are plagued with these blind passions, and to escape them means to turn to Amida Buddha and his vow to attain other power faith. This is all I know at present.

Once we attain other power faith, the darkness vanishes and Amida’s light rushes in like the Sun after a heavy thunderstorm.

Do those who believe in attaining enlightenment in this very body reveal themselves in various forms of enlightenment, as did the historical Sakyamuni? Do they possess the thirty-two features and eighty characteristics of an enlightened being? Do they benefit sentient beings by expounding the Buddha Dharma? This is what constitutes enlightenment in this life. Shinran writes:

When true entrusting, firm as a diamond,
Is settled, at that very instant
Amida’s light grasps us and protects us,
And we forever transcend birth-and-death.

This means that when true entrusting is realized, Amida grasps us never to abandon us, and we no longer transmigrate through the six realms. When we understand this fully, how can we confuse it with the enlightenment in this life? How sad that such a misunderstanding exists. As the late master said, “In the true teaching of Pure Land I have been taught that in this life we entrust ourselves to the Primal Vow and in the Pure Land attain supreme enlightenment.”

Considering the above explanations, this passage is pretty self explanatory. In it, Yuien explains by means of the words of Shinran that there is a confusion over the enlightenment which occurs in this lifetime (51st level) and the enlightenment that occurs after one reaches the pure land (52nd level). Furthermore, once enlightenment is attained in this lifetime, and other power faith is granted, we can no longer traverse the six realms. Meaning, we will no longer be caught in the torturous cycle of birth and death and caught between other realms like on the border of the pure land or hell. Amida’s vow alone is enough to realize salvation.


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