Sometimes, I have found, people step forward to engage in a profound dharma dialogue - though intially they don’t actually KNOW they are stepping forward, but rather often think they are stepping backward - away from authentic engagement and deep listening.
In such a state, I’ve observed and experienced how people can throw a series of intellectual punches - whether from inside the Buddha-dharma, or from some other metaphysical perspective: pow, pow, bam, bam, BAM.
The idea, I have found, behind all this intellectual punching is to deny and demolish (in their mindstreams) the second leg of Shinran’s three-legged stool: his SHIN UGLY declaration that when it comes to attaining Buddhahood, we just can’t get there from here.
Because we live in the age of Dharma Decline, Shinran teaches that regardless of how competent, able or powerful we might be in any and all other areas of our lives, when it comes to this arena - the arena of becoming True Buddhas and ending our suffering at last - we remain IMPOTENT.
Now, if the person doing all that counterpunching (not against my words, but against Shakyamuni’s and Shinran’s) and really meant it, the next logical step would be to simply agree to disagree.
But when the person hangs on to the dialogue like a pit bull anyway, what I have found is that something else is going on - underneath the apparent resistance.
What’s actually happening? My observation and experience is that these pit-bull persistent counter-punchers are experiencing the call of Amida, and being tugged at by the mysterious power of His Primal Vow to save all beings from further rebirths as non-buddhas into yet ANOTHER life of suffering.
At the same time, these pit-bull persistent counter-punchers are experiencing the pull of whatever delusions and obscurations, whatever blind passion, makes surrendering entirely to Amida’s call so difficult for sentient beings.
This is the common, liminal state - the in-between state - when a person is struggling both to hang on (to whatever beliefs sustain their old way of thinking about their ability to end their own suffering) and to let go (surrendering entirely to Amida, who has vowed to save all beings who simply entrust themselves entirely to his work, and let go entirely of theirs).
Here’s an example, from a dharma friend of mine who has given me permission to use our onging dialogue in service of teaching Shin Ugly on this blog. She wrote it after visiting a Shin Buddhist website, which may or may not contain the same SHIN UGLY teaching Shinran gave.
There is nothing in this interpretation that conflicts with my
practice. Because nothing in this interpretation conflicts with my
practice, I am now more confused than ever.
And here is my honest Shin Ugly response to my friend:
I’ve been through this site, and pretty much every Shin site you can find on the net, by using Google.
Unfortunately many modern Shin teachers diverge critically from Shinran. They ignore, or minimize, the plain sense of his teaching for a zillion karmic reasons.
Someone who is committed to a scholar’s vocation as a true student of Shinran (like Eiken Kobai) can deconstruct and refute their “dharma talk” with precise examples from Shinran’s collected writings.
Now…I’m not going to go back to this site right now, in an attempt to see if it measures straight and true, to Shinran’s plumbline.
But I can, and will say this:
The very fact that you continue to focus on “my practice” is a sure sign that you haven’t yet heard clearly, nor deeply, what Shinran is saying.
That’s not a dig, my friend - merely an observation.
Having not yet heard deeply, nor clearly, of course you will remain confused - about this subject, not necessarily any other.
Honest confusion is not a bad thing. In the context of grappling with Shin Ugly dharma, it’s that liminal in-between state that is a necessary part of letting go of something that we had confidence in before - without yet having a clear grasp of what we can reliably have confidence in going forward.
It’s an uncomfortable state - and the more we have invested in our original thoughts and ideas, the more uncomfortable it is. This too is yet another perfect illustration of our blind passion at work - our cravings and aversions making it difficult to simply sit with such a state easily. And, just as Buddha teaches, the greater the cravings and aversions, the more uncomfortable we will feel when the rug gets pulled out from under us.
If you are encountering Amida’s Vow and Shakyamuni’s final teaching for plain people honestly, you WILL experience the rug getting pulled out from under you.
In deep listening, in such an encounter, you will come to recognize the complete and utter futility of MY path, MY practice, MY service - when it comes to the single PRIMAL goal we share, regardless of all our other goals in life.
This in-between state is critical for many people who ultimately become people of SHINJIN - of TRUE ENTRUSTING. It’s not necessary for everyone, however.
Those who are already painfully aware of their essential impotence to reach the primal goal they aspire too - the end state of True Buddhahood - are not so burdened.
Such people can move more easily and more quickly into the state of SHINJIN because nothing is holding them back. There is no tug of blind passion left to pull them away from Amida’s all encompassing dharma gate to the end of suffering at last.
They have no thoughts, no beliefs, no cravings and aversions, that would try to convince them that a “do-it-yourself” Path of the Sages approach is the more expedient way to end their suffering at last.
What should you DO if you do experience this back-and-forth tug?
The best thing to do is sit with it honestly, and continue to listen deeply. Listening deeply is the only thing you can do, and the only thing you need to do, in order to resolve the tension that exists in this in-between state.
When you open yourself to listening deeply, and stop turning away from the mirror of Amida’s Infinite Light that reveals your true need, your resistance will be dissolved - and your existential dilemma will be resolved.
At that point, the act of true entrusting miraculously emerges as the EASIEST thing - rather than the HARDEST.
With the power of our egotism - our misplaced trust in our own ability to end our suffering entirely - utterly collapsed, we sink into the arms of our Amida - our Perfect Parent (oyasama in the original Japanese).
Now, finally, we are simply grateful that we have been led to a path, a way, a dharma gate - that will end our endless wandering in life after life as endarkened beings - to the end of suffering at last.
This simple gratitude is the sure sign of a person of SHINJIN - of TRUE ENTRUSTING. This is the reason for Shinran’s dharma teaching about “salvation in the present” because we are now guaranteed Buddhahood in our next birth.