Two Kinds of Enlightenment

In his magnum opus, the Kyo-Gyo-Shin-Sho, Master Shinran quotes from many Dharma sources: from various sutras (sermons) of the Buddha, from the writings of the seven Pure Land Masters, and from various other Buddhist sages as well.

In fact, 90% of the Kyo-Gyo-Shin-Sho (True Teaching, Practice and Realization of the Pure Land Way) is actually quotes from other sources, strung together by Master Shinran’s vision as the supreme expositor of the True Teaching.

Here is a piece of a more extensive quotation by Master Shinran, from THE NIRVANA SUTRA. In it, Shakyamuni Buddha is speaking to his followers about two kinds of enlightenment:

Good sons, there are two kinds of enlightenment: eternal and impermanent. There are also two kinds of bodhi: eternal and impermanent. Nirvana is also like this. The enlightenment of nonbuddhist ways is called impermanent, Buddhist enlightenment is called eternal. The bodhi possessed by sravakas and pratyekabuddhas is called impermanent, the bodhi possessed by bodhisattvas and Buddhas is called eternal. The emancipation of nonbuddhist ways is called impermanent, the emancipation of Buddhist ways is called eternal.

Good sons, enlightenment, bodhi, and nirvana are all eternal. All sentient beings are constantly oppressed by immeasurable blind passions and lack the wisdom-eye; hence they cannot see. And desiring to see the practice of precepts, meditation, and wisdom, all sentient beings, through practice, see enlightenment, bodhi, and nirvana. This is called the bodhisattva’s attainment of enlightenment, bodhi, and nirvana. The nature and characteristics of enlightenment are in actuality nonarising and nonperishing. Because of this, it cannot be grasped… Although enlightenment is formless and featureless, it can be seen, it can be reckoned and known; in reality it possesses functioning… Such things as the sentient beings’ minds are formless. They are neither long nor short, neither rough nor fine, neither bound nor free; they are not visible. Nevertheless, they exist as things.

(KGSS 5:12)

Perhaps you do not realize it, but there is a TREMENDOUS amount of enlightenment teaching on the planet today. Before I found myself following (however poorly) the Buddha, I immersed myself in Taoism, in Advaita (or neo-advaita), and various sorts of consciousness studies emerging from transpersonal psychology.

Oprah Winfrey - who has a global reach - is a student of and a promoter of an “enlightened” Englishman named Eckhart Tolle, who was already a best selling author, and is now becoming an enlightenment superstar because of Oprah’s publicity.

Recently, one of the early arrivals from the east, the former guru to the Beatles, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, passed away.

Here’s why I bring this up in the Sangha.

While there are no doubt some charlatans who come to the west in order to fleece people of their money, there are also those who do, in fact, have the sort of enlightenment that Shakyamuni Buddhs describes above. Shakyamuni Buddha calls it “non-Buddhist enlightenment”.

And the single most important thing we can say about such enlightenment is that it is IMPERMANENT. It is TEMPORARY. Those who experience it remain subject to the same essential problem of RETROGRESSION as you and I.

Now - to the extent that the Sangha is healthy and doing it’s singular job - its mission in the world is to help people come to a place of PERMANENT enlightenment - the kind of enlightenment that does not leave a sentient being vulnerable and exposed to what Inigaki Sensei calls “the demon of impermanence”.

And of all the various schools and branches of the Sangha, the ONLY one that can lead people to that kind of PERMANENT enlightenment at the end of this lifetime in which we are living is…the Shin Sangha.

Why is that? Because, even in all the other branches of the Buddha-sangha, not one person in a million who does all the practices prescribed will break free. Each and all of them - no matter how dedicated - will end this life STILL subject to rebirth - and STILL subject to retrogression.

So says Master Shinran.

And while I certainly can’t claim to have done ANYTHING like perfect practice, this was my experience in my own life. I remained VULNERABLE - like a defenseless baby - to the ups and downs of life. I was not - during the down times - able to keep a Dharma view. When my life became terrible, I was overwhelmed entirely. None of the practice, none of the study, none of the discipline, kept me from drowning in anguish and sorrow.

These enlightened non-buddhist teachers - and their non-buddhist students - remain just as vulnerable as me. And our fellow Buddhists in the various self-powered schools of the Hiniyana, Mahayana and Vajrayana remain equally vulnerable.

So says Master Shinran.

But - when a person listens closely - listens deeply - to Master Shinran’s Dharma - and recognizes his or her continued vulnerability - and then decides to entrust his or her karmic destiny ENTIRELY to Amida Buddha - everything changes.

Every single person who so entrusts himself or herself - 10 out of 10, 100 out of 100, 1000 out of 1000 - becomes sealed in that very first moment of True Entrusting by Amida Buddha Himself. In that very moment, he or she is GRASPED by Amida Buddha, NEVER to be abandoned to rebirth in Samsara once again. That person is now scheduled to receive, not impermanent enlightenment, but PERMANENT enlightenment…and he or she will receive directly at the end of this life, when he or she awakens, not in another imperfect form in one of the six realms of samsara - but rather in the Pure Land, in the very presence of the living, transcendental Buddha AMIDA.

At that moment, in a way and with a power that is impossible for us to comprehend fully right now - Amida Himself will cause that man or that woman to complete the journey, and emerge as a true Buddha - with all the marks of a true Buddha - with the PERMANENT enlightenment of a True Buddha.

This is the Vow, and this is the fulfillment of it. Not for special people. Not for people who cultivated goodness, discipline, morality or wisdom. This is the vow for EVERYONE. It is the UNIVERSAL vow. It is the vow Amida Buddha made, while still in his pre-Buddha form as the Bodhisattva Dharmakara - that was all inclusive enough to bring wise beings and stupid beings, oriental beings and occidental beings, ancient beings and modern beings, terrestrial beings and extra-terrestrial beings - all to the same end state.

This is why all the other individuated Buddhas - including Shakyamuni Buddha - honor, revere and praise Amida Buddha. His works are marvelous - unsurpassed - and unequaled by any other Buddha.

This is why our Dharma masters tell us not to disparage any other Buddhas, Bodhisattva, spirit beings - but also not to take refuge in them either. None of them can offer what Amida Buddha offers so freely: PERMANENT enlightenment - the END of suffering - and the beginning of endless NIRVANA.

Dharma Friends, when the Shin Sangha repudiates the current false teachings that have gripped it, and sits down the false teachers who tell us that Amida Buddha is anything less or anything else than I have described above - then it will be able to go about its true business once again.

It will be able to proclaim, week in and week out, from one temple to another, across the entire continent of Japan, and in the USA, and in Canada, and in Europe, and everywhere else too - the critical TRUTH about enlightenment that no other teacher or group can proclaim.

I can tell you - with 100% certainly - that there are countless thousands of people out there who are ready TODAY to hear this Dharma message. Just as I looked all over, and many of you have looked all over, they are looking all over too. They are ready, because Amida Buddha has made them ready.

The problem - the missing link in Amida’s Golden Chain - is that the Sangha doesn’t know the Dharma of it’s founder, more often than not. That is why the work of restoration must begin - as it did in Master Rennyo’s day - with the Sangha itself.

What must happen is simplicity itself: The Sangha MUST return to the True Teachings of our True Teacher. If it does - when it does - it will be ready to meet those thousands who are ready and waiting to hear the truth that can give them the promise of PERMANENT enlightenment that they are seeking - just as Amida has given many of us here the promise of PERMANENT enlightenment we were seeking.

So - for all who read this in the Shin Sangha - it’s time to abandon ALL of your doubts in the Dharma as it has been delivered to us. If you cannot yet abandon them, then at least be willing to discuss them - not from a place of pride and indolence - but from a place of openness and tender-hearted humility.

If you’ve gotten so much western education that you cannot accept that there are transcendental realities beyond your own capacity to weigh and measure - then at least be AGNOSTIC about your lack of faith in what our Dharma masters teach. Be agnostic - and then make a heartfelt request that if there are indeed any Buddhas “out there”, that somehow you would come to an awareness in your ocnsciousness of them as a reality beyond our mundane perceptual mechanisms.

Others have come to know…not just me, but countless clerics, scholars and laypeople. You can come to know as well.

Only from this KNOWING can TRUE SHINJIN emerge. For how could we entrust ourselves to the same Amida Buddha Master Shinran entrusted himself to - if we don’t KNOW that Amida Buddha is true and real even as Master Shinran knew.

When that same KNOWING spreads in the Sangha once again - it will reclaim its vision, its purpose, its reason for being in the world. And that is to be able to explain the way to an enlightenment that is just as true, and just as real, as the real and true Buddha Amida.

Imagine that. Countless people, in countless sanghas, online and offline, able to show the way to countless others who are ready, willing and able to hear - if only we can find our corporate voice once again.


Paul R

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