Dialogue with a Seeker
about the Easy Path to Buddhahood
with Paul Roberts
And the same has been true ever since the beginning of the Shin Sangha in Master Shinran's day (and even before, actually). Many people who had no real Buddhist qualifications or aptitudes or excellence in terms of any self-power practice were able to receive Amida's gift of SHINJIN, simply because they were karmically READY to receive it.
Master Shinran tells the story of such a person in one of his letters:
What I have been saying to all of you from many years past has not changed. Simply achieve your birth, firmly avoiding all scholarly debate. I recall hearing the late Master Honen say, “Persons of the Pure Land tradition attain birth in the Pure Land by becoming their foolish selves.” Moreover, I remember him smile and say, as he watched humble people of no intellectual pretensions coming to visit him, “Without doubt their birth is settled.” And I heard him say after a visit by a man brilliant in letters and debating, “I really wonder about his birth.” To this day these things come to mind.
Seeker: Please could you offer me your understanding concerning three or four questions; perhaps this will bring me closer to your thoughts on this.
Question no. 1) Who or what is Amida?
Aspect #1: AMIDA is DHARMAKARA BODY - the Original Buddha - formless and indescribable and incomprehensible - the Suchness that pervades the entire universe with sentient consciousness.
Aspect #2: AMIDA is the greatest of all the individuated Buddhas, whether we're talking about the Buddhas in transcendental form (SAMBOGHAKAYA BODY) or the very rare appearance of Buddhas in fully enfleshed physical form (NIRMANAKAYA BODY), for example, the body of Shakyamuni Buddha, when He walked the earth 2500 years ago.
Now...some modern Shin scholars might have some other ideas, but I am not talking about their ideas at all. I'm talking about Master Shinran's Dharma ideas.
Seeker: Question no. 2) Who or what is the Bombu, the evil person, the foolish person, and so on?
And (again in Master Shinran's thought), in this particular Dharma Age, known as MAPPO (Japanese term), a.k.a. “The Age of Dharma Decline,” that term includes ALL OF US. Why? Because (again in Master Shinran's thought) not a single person in this Dharma Age is able to use self-power practices and good acts to bring himself or herself to the critical stage of non-retrogression and thence to Buddhahood.
For that reason, each and all of us are doomed to try to climb the mountain of enlightenment, only to fall down to the bottom, over and over again - ad nauseum and ad infinitum - just like the mythic Sisyphus.
Now there is a vast difference between something BEING true, and us RECOGNIZING it is true. The earth has ALWAYS revolved around the sun, but it took a long, long time for us to recognize that fact.
Similarly, each sentient being who has our sort of human consciousness is actually a BOMBU, but it can take a long, long time (i.e. many lifetimes) to recognize that fact.
When a person's karma has ripened, he recognizes several Dharma truths, or spiritual facts:
First, he becomes conscious that his deepest desire is to complete his journey of many lives and become a Buddha, at long last.
Second, he recognizes that he cannot achieve his aspiration for Buddhahood by his own efforts, no matter what he does and how long he might do it for. In other words, he recognizes that he is a BOMBU - an “evil person” - incapable of completing the journey to Buddhahood. At that point, the person is karmically ready to listen to the True Teaching of the Pure Land Way – a.k.a. Shin Buddhism.
Seeker: Question no. 3) Who or what is the person of shinjin?
First, he knows that he is grasped by Amida Buddha, and will never be abandoned by Him.
Second, he knows that he has been given the full store of Amida Buddha's infinite karmic merit, thus making his own karmic debt a non-issue in terms of his next birth at the end of this life.
Third, he knows that at the end of this life, he will take birth in Amida's own Pure Land, and will immediately experience the final transformation - the transformation to Buddhahood.
For the person of SHINJIN this faith-mind consciousness is certain - without doubts of any sort - diamondlike - adamantine.
This is NOT a reflection on such a person's personal moral excellence, wisdom, or character development - but rather on the moral excellence, wisdom and character development of Amida Buddha Himself.
Speaking personally, I received Amida's gift of TRUE SHINJIN back in 2004. Since then, I have had the usual ups and downs of life, like any BOMBU - but I have never, not for one single moment, had a doubt about the reality of my salvation.
Master Shinran calls this recognition SALVATION IN THE PRESENT. This mindset of “salvation in the present” is the mind of SHINJIN, the mind of true faith that Master Shinran and Master Rennyo talk about so much.
As Master Rennyo said, “In our school, SHINJIN is EVERYTHING.”
Seeker: Question no. 4) What/How is the interplay/interdependence of these three questioned existential components?
Amida is the One who saves.
It may take countless lives for us to awaken to the reality of the Dharma, and the reality of our own Buddha nature that yearns to fulfill its true and hidden potential by us finally becoming Buddhas. But sooner or later our karma ripens and we become conscious of our yearning for enlightenment.
At that point, we start actively looking at one path or another.
We continue looking, for many years and/or many lifetimes. At some point, we find the teachings of the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, and we decide that HE and not another is the great world teacher of our age.
And so, we become disciples of Shakyamuni...just like Master Shinran was. And, as disciples of Shakyamuni, most of us try to follow the directions on one or more of the self-power paths of the Hinayana, the Mahayana and/or the Vajrayana. Our experience(s) are mixed, at best. And ultimately, we experience failure and often existential burnout from trying and failing spiritually so many times.
At some point, we begin to hear about ANOTHER Buddha...a Buddha named Amida, who created an entirely different paradigm for attaining Buddhahood. And so, when karmic conditions are ripe, we begin to LISTEN DEEPLY to this Dharma message, looking for a way to achieve Buddhahood that does not depend on us and our ineffective self-power attempts.
It may take a long time of simply listening deeply to the Dharma...but at some point, we become convinced that Amida can and will do for us what we could never do for ourselves. Then - and only then - will we actually take full and final refuge in the real and true, living Buddha Amida.
And then - when we FINALLY take refuge in that full and complete way, Amida gives us the inconceivable gift - the gift of SHINJIN.
For a fuller answer to this question, I recommend you carefully read Chapter 2 of Eiken Kobai Sensei's on-line wonderful book, UNDERSTANDING JODO SHINSHU: