KGSS Preface: Realizing the Inconceivable

As I said in the last post: if you miss the very first sentence of Shinran’s great work, the Kyo-Gyo-Shin-Sho, you miss Shinran’s Dharma Teaching completely.

Here he is, saying what most needs to be said.

It is the open book - the key to everything anyone needs to know - to come to the end of suffering at last.

Shinran says:

When I humbly contemplate matters, I realize that the inconceivable universal Vow is the great ship that carries us across the sea of samsara which is difficult to cross and that the unhindered Light is the sun of wisdom which breaks the darkness of ignorance.

Shinran’s realization - in this one sentence - is two-fold. It is worth a long, hard look. It’s worth a pause in your life, and in mine. It’s worth listening to deeply - with great intensity, and great sincerity.

So let’s go slowly, and we will see how his single introductory sentence - written in a book that he worked on over two decades - keeps playing itself out over and over again as his Dharma teaching unfolds.

In Shinran’s Dharma teaching, there is simply nothing else to do but listen deeply to what he says.

Listening deeply and humble contemplation are one and the same. When we listen deeply, Amida Buddha’s other power does the inconceivable salvic work in our lives. That is what Shinran has done. And that is what we are given to do as well.

Here is Shinran’s two-fold realization:

  1. The inconceivable universal Vow is the great ship that carries us across the sea of samsara which is difficult to cross
  2. The unhindered Light is the sun of wisdom which breaks the darkness of ignorance

Shinran Realized That The The Vow Is Inconceivable

The Inconceivable Vow is described in the Larger Pure Land Sutra. In it, Shakyamuni Buddha tells us all about a sentient being - a King named Dharmakara. This king awakened his aspiration for Buddhahood. His journey from aspiration to attainment took many lives, over a long long period of time.

Let’s be honest, and admit that to us this story is simply beyond anything we can really grasp. We think in terms of our own life span - of the usual milestones of birth, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, old age and death. We think in terms of getting an education and (perhaps) pursuing a family life and career - or two or three. We think in spans of years and decades - not lifetimes.

That whole approach to purposeful, conscious living is - for most modern folks - simply INCONCEIVABLE.

To be fair - many religious people - Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike - do think in terms of LIFETIMES rather than decades.

But as we read the Larger Sutra - which Shinran declares is the main reason that Shakyamuni Buddha came into the world - there is not a one of us who can conceive of what Shakyamuni describes.

  • Shakyamuni describes a person who took birth, over and over again, in form after form, to instruct generation after generation in the dharma.
  • Shakyamuni describes a person who visited countless realms, and consulted with the countless Buddhas in charge of each of those realms, in order to deeply understand what to do - and not to do - in creating his own Buddha realm.
  • And finally, Shakyamuni describes a person who did PERFECT PRACTICE for each of those countless lives.

Let’s be clear about what that REALLY means: PERFECT practice means not one slip; not one distraction; not one moment of fear, or anger, or greed; not one moment where cravings or aversions or desires of ANY type overtake the calm awareness of the awakened mind.

There’s not a single Buddhist on the planet today with that experience. Not The Dalai Lama, not Thich Nhat Hanh. Not your teacher(s), nor anyone(s). Not one monk, not one lama, not one sensei, not one roshi.

I’m not talking negatively about these dharma teachers. I’m repeating what they themselves have said, on the record, in their books, and when asked directly. Certainly their practice is a lot better than anything I ever could do - but just as certainly there is nothing PERFECT about any of them.

Ask yourself this question HONESTLY: can you even CONCEIVE of yourself living a whole lifetime of PERFECT PRACTICE?

Me neither.

And that is the FIRST way in which this Dharma Teaching is simply INCONCEIVABLE. This life, of this Bodhisattva, lived through birth after birth after birth - is simply INCONCEIVABLE to ALL of us today.

Here’s What’s Tragic

People with too much education have made a decision that what Shinran calls INCONCEIVABLE is really UNBELIEVABLE.

They don’t believe such things are true - but Shinran did. They don’t believe Dharmakara really existed in the way Shakyamuni describes - but Shinran did.

Who is correct, and who is deluded? Who is a reliable source of GOOD DHARMA, and who is not?

Was Shinran deluded because his mind was too primitive? Was Shakyamuni Buddha deluded when he told this story? Or (as so many assert) was Shakyamuni Buddha speaking as an esoteric “code talker” - speaking above the head of the common man and women - so that his teaching would be hidden from the crowd - and something for the elite?

Or is it the modern Shin Buddhist teachers who say that Dharmakara was not a real Bodhisattva who are deluded? It is the modern Shin Buddhist teachers who say Amida Buddha is mythic, like Hamlet (as one has said), who are deluded?

These are not merely intellectual questions - they are KARMIC questions. Your own karmic destiny at the end of this life depends on you searching out the answers.

There is only one way to do that kind of searching:

Humbly contemplate what is before you right now.
Listen deeply.
Ask Amida Buddha to show you what is true - and what is not - and He will.

Humble contemplation of the inconceivable universal vow begins HERE: with listening to Shakyamuni Buddha describe the life and work of Bodhisattva Dharmakara - who emerges after AGES of perfect practice as AMIDA - the greatest of all the Buddhas. Then - ask the same Amida Buddha for DHARMA REVELATION.

Are the words of Shakyamuni TRUE and REAL? Or are they half-true and mythological?

Can we trust the teaching of the Larger Pure Land Sutra as Shinran Shonen trusted it? Or do we have to discount those words in favor of some esoteric commentary from someone with a Ph.D. in Buddhism?

Don’t Babble. Ask!

Don’t just babble NAMU AMIDA BUTSU and hold onto your own opinions. That is not sincere.

The Nembutsu is not a mantra…and not a magical phrase either.

NAMU AMIDA BUTSU means “As a small, foolish being I take refuge in YOU, Amida Buddha“.

So don’t just SAY it. TRULY take refuge! Ask Amida Buddha what is true and real - and what is not.

ASKING AMIDA is something most people who call themselves Shin Buddhists today just won’t do. Shinran knew that in his day as well. He had direct firsthand experience of that phenomenon - human egotism that speaks as though it knows what it simply does not.

If Shinran were here today, he’d say: THINK DIFFERENT.

Think different. Ask Amida Buddha to show you what is true, and what is real - and what is NOT.

Be open. Be humble. Listen deeply. That is the way - the only way - you will ever come to the same realization as Shinran - the same INCONCEIVABLE shinjin - the same TRUE ENTRUSTING.

Humility is the pre-cursor to realization.

To be continued…


Paul R.

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