Walking the Code-Talkers Into the Pure Land

When I consider the abysmal state of much of the Shin sangha - how so many of the clerics and scholars have left Shinran’s plain teaching behind, just as Shinran’s own son Zenran did - I’m reminded about Shakyamuni’s dialogue with Maitreya, recorded in the Larger Pure Land Sutra.

He describes such people as those who will be born after this life in what is called “the borderland”. It is a place that is close enough to the Pure Land so that it is visible. Although, compared to our own world system, it is a wonderful place, yet it is a place where suffering is still very much a part of the landscape of consciousness. It is a place where there is still desire - and unfulfilled desire at that.

It is a place of purgation - where those who have been saying Nembutsu, and yet depending on their own ideas, and their own practices - must struggle yet a little longer.

Let’s listen deeply together to the words of Buddha Shakyamuni in dialogue with Bodhisattva Maitreya:

Shakyamuni Buddha: Let us suppose that a wheel-turning monarch has a special chamber which is adorned with seen jewels and provided with curtained couches and silken banners hanging from the ceiling. If princes have committed offense against the king, they are taken to that chamber and fettered with gold chains. There they are served with food and drink, provided with clothes, couches and cushions, flowers and incense, and can enjoy music. Being treated just like the wheel-turning monarch himself, they have no wants. Do you think that those princes would enjoy living there?

Maitreya: No they do not. They would seek various means of approach to ask a man of power to help them escape.

Shakyamuni Buddha: Those beings born within the lotus-buds are like that. Because of their doubt in the Buddha’s wisdom, they have been born in palaces. Although they receive no punishment or ill treatment even for a single moment, they must pass five hundred years there without being able to see the Three Treasures, make offerings to the Buddha, or cultivate a stock of virtue.

This is distressing to them. Though there are other pleasures, they do not enjoy living there.

If those beings become aware of the faults committed in their former lives and deeply repent, they can, as they wish, leave and go to where Amitayus dwells. Then they can worship and make offerings to him; they can also visit innumerable and countless other Buddhas to perform various meritorious practices.

Maitreya, you should know that the bodhisattvas who allow doubt to arise lose great benefits. For this reason, you should have resolute faith in the supreme wisdom of the Buddha.

This is the outcome for people like Shinran’s son Zenran. Shinran disowned him because Zenran did not remain faithful to the the teaching he had received from his father, and was supposed to transmit to others.

What would cause an 84 year old man, who had been made the Dharma Master for this age of Dharma Decline, to take such a radical step? Listen to Shinran, as he he explains in his own words, in this anguished letter to his wayward son.

I have never heard and do not know such statements concerning the teaching as you are making or even the terminology you use. Nevertheless, you have been telling others that I taught them to you privately one night, and so, concerning me also, the people of Hitachi and Shimotsuke are all saying that I have lied to them. Therefore, there shall no longer exist parental relations with you.

Further, it is inexpressibly shocking that you are making groundless accusations about your mother, the lay-nun. The woman of Mibu came bringing a letter that she said she received from you; she left the letter here. I have this letter of yours. In this letter as it stands, it is written that you have been deceived by your “stepmother”; it is indeed deplorable. It is a shocking falsehood to say, while she is still alive, that your mother - whom you call “stepmother” - has been deceiving you.

Further, in the letter to the woman of Mibu you make statements about your birth without knowing anything about it; these are utterly incomprehensible falsehoods. I lament this deplorable matter.

It is distressing that you have spoken such lies and that you have petitioned the Rokuhara and Kamakura magistrates concerning them. Falsehoods of this kind are worldly matters and thus may be dismissed as such. Even so, telling lies is wretched, and how much more grievous is it to mislead others regarding the great concern of birth in the land of bliss, casting the people of the nembutsu in Hitachi and Shimotsuke into confusion, and to make groundless accusations about your father.

I have heard that you likened the Eighteenth Primal Vow to a withered flower, so that all the people have abandoned it. This is truly the offense of slandering the dharma. Further, to favor the five grave offenses and to harm people by misleading them is lamentable.

The offense here of disrupting the sangha is one of the five grave offenses. To make groundless accusations about me is to murder your father; it is among the five grave offenses. I cannot fully express my grief at hearing these things. Hence, from now on there shall no longer exist parental relations with you; I cease to consider you my son. I declare this resolutely to the three treasures and the gods.

It is a sorrowful thing. It rends my heart to hear that you have devoted yourself to misleading all the people of the nembutsu in Hitachi, saying that [what they have been taught] is not my true teaching. Rumors have reached as far as Kamakura that I have instructed you to denounce the people in Hitachi who say the nembutsu. It is deeply deplorable.

Shinran was broken-hearted over the PERSONAL actions of his son in speaking falsely about his family ties. But he was resolute and adamant concerning his son’s willful twisting of the dharma teaching, of his misleading and confusing the sangha of those simple people who were saying the Nembutsu in faith.

Shinran knew that to change the terminology he had so carefully used would confuse people, to say that the teaching was a faded flower would confuse people, to offer some “new an improved” dharma would confuse people. And this was, to him, the MOST unacceptable kind of human behavior.

Right now, the very same thing is happening as the DOMINANT activity in much of the Shin Sangha. The major Shin training centers have been taken over by the sons of Zenran. They are propagating strange ideas - ideas born from their own unresolved doubt, and way too much education in both western ideas and the ideas of the 84,000 paths of the sages.

A few short weeks ago, a simple person of Nembutsu - a man who by his own admission is not comfortable with deep scholarship - wrote how he was losing his religion after reading an article from Nobuo Haneda on Al Bloom’s Shin Dharma Net website.

All he wanted was to believe what countless simple people have believed, because of Shinran’s Dharma teaching:

  • That Amida Buddha IS true and real
  • That he to IS grasped, never to be abandoned, because of Amida Buddha’s primal vow
  • That at the end of this life he too will go to Amida’s Pure Land
  • That once in the Pure Land he too will quickly become a Buddha

That’s all he wanted. And that’s all Shinran would have wanted for him - and for ALL of us.

But then he reads the writings of one prominent Shin Buddhist scholar on the website of another - writings that tell him that his own understanding is defective and immature - that Amida Buddha is a state of mind rather than a real Buddha.

And then, seeking an explanation, he hears from others that the Larger Sutra is really some kind of “code” - that only immature and intellectually deficient people see it as truth in a plain sense way. And he is told, with enough condescenion to make Shinran weep, that’s it is ok to hold on to the old, deficient ideas if he cannot grasp the new ones.

This is the dharma destroying work of the CODE-TALKERS. These code-talkers are the sons of Zenran. These are the clerics and scholars who are actually destroying the faith of others, just as Shinran declared.

As this kalpa draws to a close, the five defilements flourish. Since sentient beings possess wrong views, they find it hard to have faith.

We are taught to practice wholeheartedly the nembutsu alone, taking refuge in the path to the West. But because of others our faith is destroyed, and we remain as we originally were.

Since innumerable kalpas in the past we have always been thus. It is not that we realize this for the first time in this present life.

Because we have not encountered the excellent, decisive cause, we have been transmigrating, unable to reach the other shore.

Just as Shinran knew, and just as Shinran declared - it is because of others that the faith of many are destroyed. This is the reason that Shin Buddhism is failing in the West - and of so little interest to young people in the land of Shinran as well.

The question that arises is WHY? When Shinran is so plain, so unambiguous, so clear to say that he is concerned with teaching the UNLEARNED the simple teaching of NamuAmidaButsu - WHY do these clerics and scholars screw it up so completely?

When Shinran declares so plainly, “Above all let there be NO calculation”, how to these people of superior education fail to understand so completely?

What’s REALLY going on?

I’ll take on that question in my next post - not with MY opinions (which are worth NOTHING), but with Shinran’s dharma teaching, which is worth EVERYTHING.

Meanwhile, let me circle back to Shakyamuni’s words, and their application to Zenran, and the sons of Zenran - the CODE-TALKERS who are confusing the Shin Sangha today.

They must endure the unhappy experience of taking birth after this life in the gilded cage that Shakyamuni describes. Shinran and Shakyamuni explain WHY:

  • Because, as Shakyamuni declares plainly, “of their doubt in the Buddha’s wisdom.”
  • Because, like Zenran, they make strange statements about the teaching, using terminology that Shinran never used
  • Because, like Zenran, they are misleading others regarding the great concern of birth in the land of bliss
  • Because, like Zenran, thye are casting the people of the nembutsu into confusion
  • Because, like Zenran, they are destroying the faith of others.

Shakyamuni declares plainly that they arrive in the borderlands, the gilded cage called the Lotus Bud, or the Womb Palace, for one reason: they have not yet abandoned their own self-power. That is what is at the root of the work of Zenran, and the sons of Zenran. That is the self-deception that lies beneath all the fancy language of all the CODE-TALKERS.

So - if you are just a plain person, who doesn’t understand the gobbledygook of code-talking Shin Buddhist clerics and scholars, it’s not because you are deficient. Shinran is speaking directly to you, in plain language. He is speaking to you as the Dharma Master of this age, and also as a person who couldn’t make it on his own self-power, doing any practice whatsoever.

  • He abandoned code talking, because his own teacher Honen told him to abandon it, because Honen had abandoned it, too.
  • He entrusted himself to the LITERAL (not mythological) Amida Buddha, putting his karmic destiny in the hands of the Buddha who was a king Dharmakara who became a monk.
  • He recognized that Dharmakara completed perfect practice over countless ages because Shinran himself was not capable of perfect practice.
  • And he recognized that the Primal Vow that Dharmakara declared was SPECIFICALLY for him - for his eternal benefit.

So there is no need to be confused, or seduced, or distracted by the CODE-TALKERS who are dominating the ranks of teachers and scholars today. Why? Because everything said, and everything Dhamakara did, he said and did specifically for YOU. Dharmakara, a REAL Bodhisattva, made REAL declarations of his karmic intent - true and real vows. Shakyamuni declared them on Vulture peak, as recorded in the Larger Pure Land Sutra, specifically for YOU, as well.

Specifically for YOU - and specifically for ME - and specifically for Zenran and the code talkers too.

Zenran and the sons of Zenran are not yet ready to meet Amida on Amida’s home ground. And so they take birth at the end of their lives in the gilded cage - the womb palace. It is not a place of punishment, but it IS a place of suffering. As Shakyamuni Buddha explains, being born in the gilded palace, sayers of self-powered nembutsu, and code-talkers who confuse the Shin sangha, have no pleasure there.

  • They have no pleasure because they see from afar the Land of Pleasure.
  • They have no bliss because they see from afar the Land of Bliss.
  • They remain in the darkness of samsara, because they still experience the light of Amida Buddha from afar, rather than worshipping him face to face.

And at some point, sitting in the gilded palace, they awaken to the nature of their own delusion. And because Buddhism is about compassion and not ultimate judgment, they get to change their minds. That is what the word REPENT really means - to change one’s mind.

For Zenran, and the sons of Zenran, change of mind means acknowledging at last both Amida Buddha’s truth - and their doubt - and the destructive work of confusing the sangha and destroying the faith of others. Finally Zenran and the sons of Zenran are able to recognize at last the ROOT cause of this dharma-destroying work - which is nothing less than oh so human PRIDE.

That is why Shinran calls the borderland “the land of indolence and pride“.

It sounds strange to say that someone who’s done all the work needed to get a Ph.D. in Buddhism is INDOLENT - or LAZY. But it is indolence - the kind of laziness that makes a scholar unwilling to look at himself deeply, and then listen DEEPLY to Shinran on Shinran’s terms, that is the heart of the problem. And the root cause of that laziness is PRIDE - pride about one’s wisdom, about one’s scholarship, about one’s accomplishments.

That pride is at the root of the unexamined life - the life that claims to be speaking on Shinran’s behalf, while diverging so deeply from what Shinran plainly teaches. And the gilded cage Shakyamuni discusses is the place where the sons of Zenran get complete that examination at last.

When the sons of Zenran arrive at the golden palace, they get to think long and hard about where they are imprisoned - and WHY. They get to feel the great desire for true and ultimate freedom that comes only in the Pure Land - a place to which they have yet not been allowd to enter. In the gilded cage of the womb palace, they are roused from their current mental torpor as the light of Amida Budda pierces the armor of their egotism at last.

The code-talkers necessarily go to the land of indolence and pride because that is who they are, still - even though they are learned, and scholarly, and know more about Buddhism than I will ever know in this life. But an abundance of scholarship is NOT the measure of Amida’s Gift. The measure of his gift is diamondlike SHINJIN - freely given to those who truly entrust themselves, who release their own own ideas and opinions, and listen deeply to Shinran’s and Shakyamuni’s True Teaching.

Because Shinran was caused by the Buddhas to be the dharma master of this age of Dharma Decline, all who stand against him and deny what he plainly asserts are necessarily WRONG. The are necessarily acting out of self-power. They are necessarily diverging from the teaching based on personal views.

It’s just that simple, and that profound. Shakyamuni and Shinran have borne witness. We can either accept that their witness is TRUE - or find another dharma that suits us better for right now, and meet the True Teaching at some indeterminate time in the future.

It is entirely up to each and every one of us as to what we do. Shinran writes:

This, then, is the True Teaching easy to practice for small, foolish beings; it is the straight way easy to traverse for the dull and ignorant. Among all teachings the Great Sage preached in his lifetime, none surpasses this ocean of virtues.

Let the one who seeks to abandon the defiled and aspire for the pure; who is confused in practice and vacillating in faith; whose mind is dark and whose understanding deficient; whose evils are heavy and whose karmic obstructions manifold - let such persons embrace above all the Tathagata’s exhortations, take refuge without fail in the most excellent direct path, devote themselves solely to this practice, and revere only this shinjin.

Trapped in the gilded cage, finally the code-talkers have no admiring audience for their personal opinions that diverge from Shinran anymore. No one cares about their arcane abstractions, their complicated code-talking, their post-modernist perspectives any more. Finally it is clear that all their thoughts are not just useless - but WORSE than useless.

And while no one cares about their perspectives in the gilded palace, the plain truth is that Amida Buddha cares DEEPLy about them, just as he cares about us all. Because they now feel deeply Amida’s compassion, their own desire for true birth - for birth in the Pure Land of Amida - becomes a white-hot flame. All that “cool” contemplative post-modernist thinking simply burns up in the heat of real and honest yearning for the end of suffering - for true Buddhahood - at last.

Are they worse than me? No. Not at all. They are as I once was. They will become as I now am - a person of simple faith, who takes both Shakyamuni and Shinran at their word - no code-talking, no mythos, no post-modernist perspectives, no process theology.

Is is because I am special? No. On the contrary. It is because in the wake of great and terrible suffering that was beyond my own ability to endure, I abandon the last vestiges of any egotism - any thoughts of specialness - and took refuge completely and utterly, worshipping Amida Buddha just as countless plain people have done.

Leaving behind my own thoughts, ideas and opinions, I listened deeply to Shakyamuni Buddha and Dharma Master Shinran, convinced beyond all doubt that their perspectives were true and real, while mine were false and delusional. In this way I joined the vast throng of those who are of the same SHINJIN as Dharma Master Shinran, and will experience the same transmigration to the Pure Land of Amida Buddha he did. And once I arrive there at the end of this life, I will experience the same transformation to full and complete Buddhahood Shinran experienced, as I listen deeply to Amida Buddha face-to-face.


What the CODE-TALKERS finally SEE stuck in the gilded palace is the same reality we each and all SEE to find the gate of True Entrance into the Pure land of Amida Buddha. It is the prelude of the state of grace we call SHINJIN - of truly ENTRUSTING ourselves to Amida Buddha on Amida Buddha’s terms - not ours.

For each of us, and all of us it will ultimately come to this:

  • No more code-talking.
  • No more shuck ‘n’ jive about what a good Buddhist, what a smart Buddhist, what a diligent Buddhist I am.
  • No more yammering about precepts or paramitas in this, the age of Dharma Decline.
  • No more self-prescribed and self-administered Dharma medicine.

Not because such things are GOOD or BAD - but simply because such things do not work to end suffering and bring enlightenment for foolish beings like you, like me, like US - in this age of dharma decline.

Finally, imprisoned in the gilded palace in the borderland of the Pure Land, these CODE-TALKERS will each and all lay their code-talking down. All that will remain is NAKEDNESS:

  • The nakedness of a bonbu who KNOWS he is a bonbu
  • The nakedness of a deluded being who KNOWS he is a deluded being
  • The nakedness of an idiot who KNOWS he is an idiot - when it comes to anything having to do with the dharma of Amida Buddha and Shakyamuni Buddha and Dharma Master Shinran.

When the code-talkers stuck in the golden palace - the land of indolence and pride - finally GET it - they will abandon their code-talking once and for all, and say TRUE NEMBUTSU at last. That’s what finally happened to me. And that’s what will finally happen to them. That’s what finally happens to us ALL.

Because of Amida Buddha’s Person and work, that’s what we ALL come to in the end. True Worship. True Refuge. True Nembutsu.

Thank you, Amida Buddha. I couldn’t do anything, and you did everything. NamuAmidaButsu.

Thank you, Amida Buddha. My wisdom was foolishness, and your foolishness is wisdom. NamuAmidaButsu.

Thank you, Amida Buddha. Even as I clung to the tattered rags of egotism, you were working in your own mysterious way to pry my fingers loose. NamuAmidaButsu.

Thank you, Amida Buddha. As I sit here in the golden palace I can see at last that you are True and Real, just as Shakyamuni and Shinran declared. I repent of my own foolish ideas - and my work of teaching them to others. NamuAmidaButsu.

A while back, on the Shin Ugly Blog, Rev Al Bloom asked me this question: “Is it necessary to be a KNOW-NOTHING to be a person of SHINJIN?”.

The answer is SO simple, even if the code-talkers can’t understand it right now: When it comes to the Pristine Dharma, we ARE know-nothings.

The worst thing is to think we are KNOW-SOMETHINGS. That is why it is so difficult for the current crop of clerics and scholars. They know so much that it just gets in the way of listening like an illiterate person would listen.

It gets in the way TODAY. But one day, as they sit in the gilded cage of the borderlands, it won’t get in the way anymore. One day, they will see the obvious that they just can’t see right now. One day, the light of Amida Buddha’s light will pierce the darkness of their self-powered calculations, their current delusions, their dharma opinions based upon their own personal views.

Because of the compassion of Amida Buddha, we each and all have our time - the moment when we are finally ready to stand there, with open heart, open minds and empty hands, and be instructed in the way of Shinran.

If you’re reading this, perhaps your time is NOW.

If you remain unsure about the Dharma, don’t take my word for ANYTHING. Ask Amida Buddha to show you HIS truth. And then crack open Shinran’s writings, and listen deeply FOR YOURSELF. Lay aside the thoughts, ideas and opinions of EVERYONE else - and listen deeply at last. Leave the realm of INDOLENCE and PRIDE behind, and listen deeply to the only person who really has something USEFUL to say about the end of suffering at last.

Just come naked. Just listen deeply.

Just listen deeply. Nothing else - NOTHING else - is needed. .

Just listen deeply - honestly - with open heart and mind. Amida Buddha will do it ALL.


Paul R.

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