KGSS Chapter 2: What Is Great Practice?

I continue to say - because of Master Shinran’s own testimony, and Master Rennyo’s too - that there is nothing for us human beings to do in the True Pure Land Way to Buddhahood…except to listen deeply and humbly contemplate what is being taught by our dharma teachers.

The wonderful news is: the act of listening deeply is something any of us can do…

  • whether we are young or old
  • whether we are from the East or from the West
  • whether we are illiterate or highly educated
  • whether we have a background in Buddhism - or no Buddhist background whatsoever.
  • whether we are “good” or “evil” by the standards of conventional morality.

To listen deeply is to humbly acknowledge what Shinran acknowledged: that when it came to the prime question - the question of achieving true Buddhahood, true Enlightenment, true Nirvana - the end of suffering at last - each and all of us are simply unable to do anything that is meaningful and permanent.

To say it clearly using the plain language of Buddha himself: we are trapped, each of us, in samsaric life - taking birth again and again countless times. Each life we live is lived in more or less ignorance, and more or less delusion. Our progress on the path of awakening - if we are even consciously on a path - is tenuous and temporary. We rise and fall and rise and fall, over and over again - carrying our karmic burden from past lives like a terrible weight upon our backs from life to life to life. Worst of all..mostly we don’t even have a clue…and so we suffer in utter ignorance of both our problem - and Buddha’s solution.

To listen deeply is to humbly contemplate this truth given by Shakyamuni Buddha. It is something very few are willing to do, even though this simple path of escape from the endless rounds of birth and death is wide open to one and all.

It was from the lips of his own teacher - Master Honen - that Shinran became completely convinced that all we can do is listen deeply. Thus, in Shin Buddhism, everything begins to happen when we are at last willing to listen deeply, and humbly contemplate the dharma gem that has been given to us all.

In Chapter 2 of the KyoGyoShinSho, Shinran explains all this as he humbly contemplates the great practice of saying Nembutsu. He begins be recognizing that this great practice is not something that comes from us. It actually comes from Amida Buddha himself. It arises in us - this NamuAmidaButsu - naturally as gratitude expressed by the person who has received the great faith mind of Amida Buddha himself.

That is why listening deeply is EVERYTHING in Shin Buddhism. Because it is by listening deeply that we finally HEAR the dharma…and receive this faith mind in an instant - in one moment of thought.

This faith mind, called the mind of SHINJIN, is given freely by Amida Buddha himself to anyone who humbly contemplates the dharma, regardless of his or her personal situation in life.

Let’s listen to Master Shinran together, as he talks about this:

When I humbly contemplate the ‘Going forth’ aspect of Amida’s Merit-transference, I realize that there are Great Practice and Great Faith.

The Great Practice is to call the Name of the Tathagata of Unhindered Light.

This Practice contains all good and roots of virtue, and is perfectly accomplished and most efficacious in bringing about emancipation.

It is the treasure-sea of merits of True Suchness, the absolute truth. For this reason, it is called Great Practice.

If we are willing to humbly contemplate along with Master Shinran, some questions come to mind:

  • Why is this practice so POWERFUL - when we are powerless to create and sustain our own experience of true Buddhahood?
  • Why does it contain all good and all the roots of virtue - when anyone who is honest knows that his or her roots of virtue are shallow indeed, and easily uprooted?
  • Why is it perfectly accomplished - when there isn’t a hope that any of us can accomplish such practice perfectly?
  • Why is it a treasure sea of merits - when none of us have anything like a treasure sea of merit to draw upon?
  • Why is it the absolute truth - when not a one of us would know the absolute truth if it fell off the back of a truck and landed on our head?

In other words - why does Shinran say that this practice - this calling of the Name of the Tathagata - the Buddha of Infinite Light and Life - the Buddha Amida - is GREAT PRACTICE?

The reason is that THIS practice doesn’t come from you - or from me. Rather it comes from Amida Buddha himself. Let’s listen deeply again to Master Shinran as he explains:

This practice comes from the Vow of Great Compassion, the [Seventeenth] Vow, which is called the Vow that the Name shall be glorified by all the Buddhas.

It is also called the Vow that the Name shall be praised by all the Buddhas and the Vow that the Name shall be lauded by all the Buddhas.

Further, it can be called the Vow accomplishing the Going-forth aspect of the Merit-transference, and also the Vow of the Nembutsu chosen from among many practices.

This is what NO ONE understands - except for the person of SHINJIN - the person who has been given the faith mind of Amida Buddha himself - the person who has come to know the reality of “salvation in the present”.

Only the person of SHINJIN knows that behind every silent or voiced saying of “NamuAmidaButsu” is the power and merit of Amida Buddha himself. It is Amida Buddha, acting with great POWER to fulfill his very own vow, which goes forth to us who can do nothing for ourselves to assure our deliverance from endless lives of endless sorrow.

When we hear this dharma, and lay aside all doubts, and put away all other practices, and rely no more on any other Buddhas, Bodhisattvas or spiritual beings from other realms - and entrust ourselves and our karmic destiny ENTIRELY to Amida Buddha - then this faith mind goes forth from Amida Buddha to us.

It may take us many hours, days, weeks, months, years and even lifetimes to hear this dharma - and to listen deeply - and respond by casting ourselves entirely upon Amida Buddha, forsaking any and every other solution to the problem of our karmic darkness - but at some point, in some life, it happens for each and every person.

At that moment - after listening deeply - we actually HEAR this dharma from Amida Buddha himself. We HEAR it, and we KNOW it is true.

It is the moment when we embrace, at last - both our utter powerlessness and Amida Buddha’s complete saving power - both at the same time.

It is the moment when we receive the priceless gift of Amida Buddha’s own FAITH-MIND…the mind that allowed him, as the Bodhisattva Dharmakara, to complete countless ages of perfect practice, to declare his vows, and to create his Pure Land.

It is the moment when all our evil karma - built up and sustained from endless ages past - is completely and utterly eradicated - leaving us instead with the pristine karma of Amida Buddha as our possession - and our guarantee of sure birth at the end of this life in his own Pure Land.

It is the moment that we KNOW - beyond any doubt - that our birth in that Pure Land is utterly and completely assured.

It is the moment that we KNOW - beyond any doubt - that we are grasped - and will never be abandoned - no matter WHAT.

If you are reading these words right now, it is indeed no accident. It is your good karma that has brought you here - to listen deeply to this teaching - not my teaching at all - nor even my teacher Eiken Kobai’s teaching - nor even our Dharma Master Shinran’s teaching…but rather the true teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha for all of us in this age of Dharma Decline.

If you read these words, and already KNOW about the saving grace of Amida Buddha in your own life, I share your joy. We both have come to know the inconceivable SHINJIN which is Amida Buddha’s gift to plain people like us.

We have both come to know that we will meet at the end of this life in Amida Buddha’s Pure Land. There we will each complete our journey to Buddhahood quickly, undistracted by any darkness within or without - and become true Buddhas at last.

On the other hand…if you are not certain…or don’t understand…or simply don’t KNOW - then there is nothing to be ashamed of. Only be REAL about your current state of not knowing - and ask Amida Buddha to guide you into his very own light and life.

Reach out to someone who DOES know…and begin a dharma dialogue. Bring your questions. Bring your concerns. Bring your uncertainty. Bring your doubts.

You are welcome to email me here at the Shin Ugly Blog. Or, if you prefer, you can email one of the men who I am grateful to look to as my own two dharma mentors - men of TRUE SHINJIN - men of the same SHINJIN as Shinran Shonin himself. They will absolutely steer you in the direction of Shinran Shonin himself - and will not confuse you with their own self-generated ideas whatsoever.

The first man is Eiken Kobai Sensei - possibly the greatest living expositor of the True Teaching of Shinran Shonin’s Dharma Teaching. Contact him through his website:

The second is Rev George Gatenby. He has been studying Shin Buddhism for thirty years. Contact him through his website

I recommend their websites as SUPERB sources of Shin Buddhist teaching - teaching with depth, clarity - and a FAITHFULNESS to Shinran’s Dharma - that I have not found elsewhere on the web.

Finally, here are some other posts from the Shin Ugly Blog which you may find useful as you listen deeply, and humbly contemplate the Dharma:

Everything - yes everything - depends on you experiencing that one thought moment of true entrusting that changes karmic destiny forever. May you know that moment.

NamuAmidaButsu. Thank you Amida Buddha.

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