The Longest Distance In The World

My dharma friend Jason writes:

I must confess that I walked away confused from our last conversation. The whole issue of doubt in Shinran’s teaching continues to plague me.

I have moments of what one could call doubt on a semi-regular basis — much of it stemming, I think, from my own psychological makeup, family conditioning and pressures, as well a mind that’s been conditioned by Academia to doubt everything that comes my way.

So, since I am a person of Shinjin, must I still bear the “consequences of doubting,” as you said in our last conversation?

Or, as you wrote to me in a blog post, does it simply not matter what happens post-Shinjin? Honestly, this is a point on which I find Shinran ambiguous.

My heart tells me that I’ve been grasped, never to be abandoned — no matter what my mind coughs up.

As a serious person, Jason asks a profound question. Here is my best reply:

Dear Jason -

Of course I am no Buddha, so I can’t see clearly - but my sense is that indeed you have been grasped, even though your mind “coughs things up”.

Our minds are unreliable - that is surely unambiguous from Shinran’s perspective. My own mind was plagued with doubts about Jessie’s karmic destiny after her death, as I told you. Finding Eiken Kobai’s books was a help, particularly for my OWN sense of settled SHINJIN - but honestly the Sorrento incident (see Jessie Checks In) was the turning point for me in bringing me to some kind of assurance about the reality of Jessie’s being grasped after her thought-moment of entrusting Amida fully.

I think that it is not unusual for us poor benighted human beings to be doubting Thomases, archetypally speaking. That is why, in Amida’s wisdom, it takes only one thought-moment, I have often thought - especially with my own karmic experience to consider. We human beings find it IMPOSSIBLE to sustain ANY state of mind. We are ALL easily confused and distracted. Thus Shinran spoke of himself as a man who had said True Nembutsu for many, many years. Full knowledge of this frailty of unenlightened beings was no doubt part of the wisdom Dharmakara acquired after consulting countless Buddhas - a supreme wisdom that led him to structure his salvic Vow just as he did.

As I recall our conversation, what I was speaking to was something entirely different than the moments of existential doubt that define the Doubting Thomas archetype. It is the cool reasoning of a mind that weighs and measures, and then consciously chooses to reject the Buddha’s direct and unambiguous teaching, in favor of some other teaching, rather than the mind that struggles out of normal human weakness with moments of darkness and uncertainty. While there are many modern examples of this - which I discuss bluntly in the Shin Ugly Blog - the archetype here would be Shinran’s own son Zenran, who Shinran disowned for teaching that Shinran’s dharma was a “fading flower”, and that he had a “new and improved” dharma to share with a broken world.

For those of us in the “Doubting Thomas” category - as you have been and I have been too - Shinran’s words are plainly an exhortation. He speaks like a good coach or an elder brother. But to those in the Zenran category - who deliberately deny, distort, undermine and reject the Buddha’s teaching about the True Pure Land Way - Shinran warns about the consequences of such willful doubt- about about being shut up in a gilded prison at the borderland of the Pure Land for 500 years.

Why? Because these Zenran types - these willful doubters - along with the self-powered practitioners of Nembutsu who are deluded into thinking that THEIR praxis can be good enough, pure enough, persistent enough to burn up their karmic debt, are simply not yet ready for Amida Buddha’s salvation. They’re just not ready to GIVE UP. They are denied, for a while, entrance into the Pure Land for that one reason: their own continued dependence on self-power. And yet they are also embraced, grasped and not to be rejected - even though they remain ensnared in self-powered praxis of the 84,000 paths of the Sages, in intellectual hubris of one sort or another, and in the 95 non-buddhist teachings of an endarkened age.

Here’s what Shinran teaches about such people: As they sit in the way station of the Borderlands, from which the Pure Land is clearly visible, visibly illuminated by the still distant light of Amida Buddha, their intellectual hubris and self-reliance will naturally be purged. This is a time of PREPARATION, not PUNISHMENT.

There they will recognize what Shinran spoke of ALWAYS: that we do not have the power to bring ourselves to enlightenment, or to the Pure Land by our own power, or our own understanding. There they will release their tight-fisted grasp on man-made ideas of every sort. There they will come to know that we can only listen to the teaching of Shinran and Shakyamuni, and say “Thank You Amida Buddha” - NamuAmidaButsu.

So Dharma Master Shinran teaches:

Those who say the Name in self-power, whether meditative or nonmeditative -
Having indeed taken refuge in the Vow that beings ultimately attain birth
Will spontaneously, even without being taught,
Turn about and enter the gate of suchness.

Those who, though aspiring for the Pure Land of happiness,
Do not realize shinjin that is Other Power,
Doubt the Buddha’s inconceivable wisdom and therefore dwell
In the borderland or the realm of indolence and pride.

As someone who has lived with the weight of great grief and great yearning for my now departed daughter for only TWO years, 500 years seems a VERY long time. But it is a drop in the bucket compared to the endless ages in which we have all been transmigrating from suffering life to suffering life - and the endless ages that beings will continue to transmigrate in the future, until they have reached the point of both desire for enlightenment AND the sense of personal exhaustion that makes TRUE ENTRUSTING in Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow their only viable option.

At that point, the so-called “easy path to Buddhahood” will indeed be easy, for each and every sentient being who is ready to let go of everything, become a KNOW-NOTHING, and say NamuAmidaButsu - “Thank you Amida Buddha”.

Many in this world are being prepared for such TRUE ENTRUSTING right now - including many people of faith in other spiritual venues. Somehow Amida Buddha will parley their trust, however imperfect or misplaced it might currently be, into TRUE ENTRUSTING - whether he does it here on this planet - in some other part of spacetime in which all these people will take birth at the end of this life. So Dharma Master Shinran teaches:

All the good acts and myriad practices,
Because they are performed with a sincere mind and aspiration,
Become, without exception, provisional good
That will lead to birth in the Pure Land.

Of course, we cannot possibly know the details of all this until we awaken in the Pure Land and become Buddhas ourselves. That is why, for us right now, Amida’s Primal Vow is full of MYSTERY. The mystery took shape as he labored as Bodhisattva Dharmakara, unter the mentorship of Buddha Lokesvararaja. So Dharma Master Shinran teaches:

The Buddha of Inconceivable Light, under Lokesvararaja Buddha,
Selected the best qualities from among
All the pure lands of the ten quarters
To establish the Primal Vow.

The light of the Buddha of Unhindered Light
Harbors the lights of purity, joy, and wisdom;
Its virtuous working surpasses conceptual understanding,
As it benefits the beings throughout the ten quarters.

But what we CAN know is that every action performed by the Buddhas - and particularly by the greatest of all the Buddhas - is done out of PERFECT metta (lovingkindness) and PERFECT karuna (wisdom).

Speaking in specifics, within the matrix of pristine Buddha-dharma there is no final moral judgment undergirding our experience - as there is in the faith of your childhood. As the Buddha explains - to those who have “but a little dust in their eyes” - all are being called to the far shore of full awakening.

And all will finally respond to the call, and all will rejoice at last as pilgrims who have found the end of their journey after drowning over and over again in the sea of birth and death.

I know you know this, but it never hurts to say it again: The longest distance in the world is the 18 inches between our heads and our hearts. The spark of Amida’s Light has gapped across that vast distance - in my life, and I am convinced in your life as well.

My best to you, as ever, dharma friend.


WordPress database error: [Table 'netpaul.wp_comments' doesn't exist]
SELECT * FROM wp_comments WHERE comment_post_ID = '154' AND comment_approved = '1' ORDER BY comment_date

Leave a Reply