KGSS Chapter 1: One Unequaled Moment

Everything in the dharma teaching Shinran propagated for his entire life springs from something he heard about but never saw personally - something that occurred in one unequaled moment in space and time.

What moment was that? It was the moment when Shakyamuni Buddha shifted from one mode of being into another.

If you lack a strong background in Buddhist teaching, a bit of explanation is in order.

The man we call “the Buddha” had lived his existence as the former Prince Gotama - inhabiting a Buddha body that is called the Nirmanakaya body - a flesh and blood body located at a certain point in space and time - about 2500 years ago in southern India.

But now - in this one unequaled moment - he shifted into a state beyond space and time as we know it - manifesting himself in a supernatural state called “the Sambhogakaya body”.

At that one unequaled moment, he was surrounded by many of his disciples. But the change in state - though profound - was subtle. Only one of those present noticed it. That one was the Buddha’s beloved cousin Ananda.

In that one unequaled moment, Ananda saw that Shakyamuni Buddha had shucked off the limitations of mere humanity, and was manifesting his transcendent form - as he had been before - and would be again - after his earthly life was done.

Ananda saw that Shakyamuni Buddha had shifted from the limited form of a man - called the Nirmanakaya body in Buddhist teaching - to a form unbound by space and time - called the Sambhogakaya body in the same teaching.

The shift Ananda noticed was manifested as five distinct “auspicious qualities”. Never - before or after in his earthy journey - did Shakyamuni display them again.

Those qualities - along with the capacity to manifest individuality beyond the constraints of space and time - reflect the reality of Buddha life that we simply do not know, as those who are still trapped in samsaric life.

And it is because Ananda saw these qualities of Shakyamuni Buddha in that one unequaled moment - and asked Shakyamuni about them - that Shakyamuni Buddha began to preach the sermon we know today as the Larger Pure Land Sutra. It was the moment for him, as the last Buddha of this world we live in, to unveil the final teaching, the ultimate dharma, the great vehicle able to bring anyone and everyone across the vast ocean of birth and death, to Buddhahood at last.

The entire point of the first chapter of Shinran’s life work - the KyoGyoShinSho - is summed up in this understanding. Shinran wants you and I to know that it is because of that one unequaled moment he himself came to KNOW - through the instruction of his Dharma Master Honen - that the Larger Pure Land Sutra is indeed the definitive teaching - the TRUE teaching - for leading plain people to the end of suffering at last.

To discuss briefly this five auspicious qualities of the Buddha that Ananda noticed, Shinran quotes the Pure Land Master Kyeong-heung’s commentary on several key verses of the Larger Sutra:

Today, the World-Honored One dwells in the rare and marvelous Dharma‘ describes the appearance which the Buddha manifests by his transcendent power. It is not only unusual but also unequaled.

Today, the World-Hero dwells in the Buddha’s abode‘ shows that he dwells in the Samadhi of Universal Equality and subdues the king of devils, the powerful gods.

Today, the World-Eye concentrates on the performance of the leader’s duty‘ shows that he is first and foremost in guiding sentient beings; his five eyes are called ‘the leader’s duty.’

Today, the World-Valiant One dwells in the supreme Enlightenment‘ shows that he dwells in the four wisdoms, with which he attains the highest and peerless state.

Today, the One Most Honored in Heaven realizes the Tathagata’s virtue‘ describes the Buddha as the Lord of the Ultimate Reality, for he embodies Buddha-nature which is not void.

How does Shinran KNOW that this is the one unequaled moment in the Buddha’s 45 year earthly career?

He knows because he sat at the feet of his dharma master Honen - and LISTENED DEEPLY. He listened as only a desperate man would, who was lost in suffering despite his best efforts.

And because he listened in just that way, Amida Buddha caused him TO HEAR. In that moment of true HEARING, all of Shinran’s doubts about the dharma - about how to end his own suffering and become a Buddha - about how to lead others to the end of suffering as well - came to an end.

In that moment of true HEARING, Shinran became a person of authentic SHINJIN - true entrusting. In that moment, he received the gift of KNOWING that the Larger Sutra is indeed, the True Teaching about enlightenment for plain people living in the age of Dharma Decline.

  • Are you a person of such KNOWING as this?
  • Have you received the gift of SHINJIN that Shinran received?
  • Are you entirely convinced that this is your last lifetime as a non-Buddha?
  • Do you KNOW that at the end of this life, you will immediately go to Amida Buddha’s Pure Land as Shakyamuni Buddha preached and taught that day on Vulture’s Peak, 2500 years ago?

Let’s listen once again, to Dharma Master Shinran himself, as he bears witness unequivocally to the TRUTH of the True Teaching concerning the Pure Land Way to Buddhahood:

The above quotations afford clear testimony of the fact that the Larger Sutra is the True Teaching.

The Larger Sutra is indeed the correct exposition of the Dharma for which the Tathagata appeared in the world.

The Larger Sutra is the wonderful scripture, rare and supreme

The Larger Sutra is the ultimate doctrine of the One-Vehicle teaching; the golden words which make possible quick attainment of perfect and all-merging truth

The Larger Sutra is the sincere words praised by all the Buddhas in the ten quarters

The Larger Sutra is teaching of truth befitting the time and the capacities of people.

Let us be clear about this.

If you call yourself a Shin Buddhist, I invite you to contemplate these questions:

  • Is the testimony Shinran cites in chapter 1 of the KyoGyoShinSho CLEAR TESTIMONY to you?
  • Have you come to KNOW that the Larger Sutra is the True Teaching?
  • Have you come to KNOW that it is the correct exposition of the Dharma?
  • Have you come to KNOW that it is the reason for which the Buddha Shakyamuni appeared in this world, 2500 years ago?
  • Do you LISTEN DEEPLY as you read it? Do you read it with reverence - having come to know it is the wonderful, rare and supreme scripture?
  • Have you come to KNOW that it is the ultimate teaching about the one vehicle - the great boat of enlightenment given to carry each and all across the endless ocean of birth and death to the far shore of full awakening?
  • Have you come to KNOW that here in the Larger Sutra are the golden words that make it possible for you to quickly become a Buddha, even though you are just a plain person beset by endless blind passions?
  • Have you come to KNOW that these words of the Larger Sutra are praised by ALL the Buddhas as the one teaching that is RIGHT for our time and our capacities?

Once again - Dharma Master Shinran asks you and me and all of us who declare ourselves to be students of his: are we each and all clear about this?

In a word - are we people of the same SHINJIN as he?

To really understand that question - and answer it for yourself - I invite you to read Eiken Kobai Sensei’s wonderful essay on The Venerable Master Shinran’s Shinjin

Becoming people of the same SHINJIN…that was Shinran’s wish. That was his intent. That was why he devoted 60 years of his long life to propagation of the Ultimate Dharma - abandoning utterly all other teachings - Buddhist and non-Buddhist alike. That is why he wrote the KyoGyoShinSho over many, many years time.

WHY is Dharma Master Shinran asking you these questions - whether you are a Shin Buddhist, some other kind of Buddhist, or a non-Buddhist at this moment?

  • Because if you have not come to KNOW these things, you are not a person of the same SHINJIN as Shinran
  • Because if you have not come to KNOW these things, your future at the end of this life is indeterminate.
  • Because if you have not come to know these things, you are still carrying your karmic burden from endless ages past.
  • Because if you have not come to KNOW these things, you will take birth again in one of the six realms that define sentient existence - whether on this planet or some other - and continue to live a life that is defined by suffering.
  • Because if you have not come to KNOW these things, you will continue to be plagued - as we all are plagued - by blind passions - by cravings and aversions - by the demon of impermanence - by delusions and obscurations.
  • Because if you have not come to KNOW these things, you will continue to grow old, sicken and die - and so will everyone you know and love. And then you will do it all again, and again and again - ad nauseum.

Even the greatest Buddhist teachers of our day are plagued with these evils. Speaking honestly - and without judgement - I ask you: How will you avoid them in your own life, apart from receiving the GIFT OF SALVATION that only Amida Buddha can give?

It is not because Shinran was judgmental as human beings think of judgment. It was - rather - because Shinran KNEW as few others ever have known the implacable burden of karma - and the inexorable workings of it in the lives of sentient beings - not just for one lifetime - but for life after life after life of suffering in one way or another.

That’s why Shinran’s whole live was dedicated to helping others to come to know these things - beyond any doubt - for themselves, just as he did. Once they came to know what Shinran knew - and had the same experience of HEARING Shinran had - their lives were defined by an awareness of SALVATION that transcended whatever the circumstances of the moment might be.

Amida Buddha’s gift of HEARING - given freely to everyone who abandons him or herself ENTIRELY to the Primal Vow - is, indeed the experience of SALVATION IN THE PRESENT - as Eiken Kobai Sensei says so clearly in his writing.

Whether he was speaking to the most learned and sophisticated of monks - or the most ignorant of peasants who didn’t know ANYTHING about Buddhist thought or teaching - his goal was always the same: to bring each and all to this same experience of SALVATION IN THE PRESENT.

How did Shinran do it? By his own words, he shared this ultimate teaching over and over again - so that the open-hearted listener would be able to LISTEN DEEPLY - listening based on his or her FELT NEED - listening as someone suffering without end and without hope of an end - listening as only those awakened to their own desperate situation can listen.

  • For scholar and peasant alike, only such listening is needed to become people of the same SHINJIN.
  • What so few have understood, though - in their quest for enlightenment - is that for scholar and peasant alike, only such listening is possible in this age of Dharma Decline. Anything else we try to do to inch ourselves forward “on the path” is doomed to failure.
  • Only such listening can make a way for Amida Buddha - omnipresent and waiting as we stumble from foolish life to foolish life - to make his own Primal Vow the determining factor in our lives.
  • Only such listening - listening deeply - listening humbly - listening reverently - to the ultimate teaching of the ultimate teacher will allow at last for a man or woman to finally HEAR.

And that is the moment at which a life changes - fully and finally. That is the moment at which a person’s indeterminate future as a being bound to the wheel of samsaric life finally is OVER. Finally the person’s future becomes FULLY determined - because that being is no longer at the mercy of the inexorable law of karma.

Why? Because in the moment of HEARING - after countless lifetimes of suffering - Amida Buddha actually TRANSFERS his infinite karmic merit to us - who have so much karmic debt from lifetimes we simply cannot even see. That gift - the gift of his own karmic merit - is the jewel Amida Buddha chose to give us in declaring and fulfilling his 48 Vows. That gift is what brings us to the end of suffering, at last - and the beginning of Buddha life without delusion or obscuration any more.

As my friend and dharma teacher Eiken Kobai Sensei declares - that is the moment in which the Buddha-dharma is COMPLETED in a human being’s life.

If you haven’t read it yet, please go and read Eiken’s wonderful essay - an essay that Shinran himself could have written and would surely approve - “Buddha-dharma Is Completed With Hearing”.

The completion of the dharma in your life and in mine - all comes in the moment of HEARING - which begins with the listening to Shakyamuni Buddha’s dharma teaching in the Larger Sutra - which comes to pass because of that one unequaled moment when Shakyamuni revealed himself utterly as the supernatural and transcendent Buddha he was…and is even today.

In that one unequaled moment, on Vulture Peak over 2 millenia ago, Shakyamuni Buddha expounded the rare and marvelous dharma so that we might listen deeply - as plain people of profound need. He did it so that we might come to KNOW - even as Shinran came to KNOW.

That coming to KNOW completes the dharma in our lives.

  • We come to KNOW - that the words of Shakyamuni Buddha in the Larger Sutra are true and real
  • We come to KNOW - that Amida Buddha made and completed his vows, and created his supernatural Pure Land
  • We come to KNOW - that only FAITH in the person and work of Amida Buddha required for the good and the evil, the learned and the unlearned.
  • We come to KNOW - that becoming people of this FAITH - this SHINJIN - is the whole point of everything that Dharma Master Shinran ever said.

That coming to KNOW is NOT our doing. It is a GIFT - the GIFT of Amida Buddha to anyone and everyone who comes to Shakyamuni Buddha and his Dharma teaching with open heart, open mind and empty hand - even as Ananda did.

That coming to KNOW is a sure and sturdy KNOWLEDGE that simply defies the particulars of our current moment - however good or evil that moment might be.

That coming to KNOW is NOT a mystical feeling. Shinran confesses openly that he is rarely flooded with anything resembling mystic bliss. And he bears witness to what he has come to know on the good days and the bad days of his life alike.

Because he listened deeply to his dharma master Honen, he was given the gift of HEARING by Amida Buddha. He speaks only because he has HEARD. That speaking is itself the very witness of the reality of the transference of Amida Buddha’s infinite karmic merit into Shinran’s finite life.

And so it is with anyone and everyone who shares the same SHINJIN.

People who reject the Larger Sutra - who reject the final teaching of Shakyamuni - cannot possibly come to KNOW in that way. They cannot possibly BE CLEAR ABOUT THIS as Shinran exhorts us to be clear.

Sure, they can become Shin Buddhists. Sure, they can become Shin Buddhist Priests. Sure, they can become Shin Buddhist scholars. And yes, they can even become Shin Buddhist Abbots.

But they cannot possibly become people of the same SHINJIN as Shinran himself.

No - those who grasp onto their own ideas, their own doctrines, their own interpretations will NEVER come to KNOW - until finally they open their clenched hearts and clenched minds - and let go entirely of whatever it is they are grasping that keeps their own divergent doctrines and ideas INSIDE - and Amida Buddha OUTSIDE.

But Buddhism - and Buddha - are about ultimate COMPASSION - not ultimate judgement. So when they do let go entirely - in this life or in another - then they too will begin to HEAR what Shakyamuni Buddha is actually saying in this ultimate Sutra. Then, even if they have taken birth as illiterate peasants or imperious scholars, they too will hear what so many peasants and scholars heard out of the mouth of Shinran himself - as he preached and taught the self-same Dharma, over and over again.

They all heard, because Shinran himself had heard…all about Shakyamuni Buddha’s one unequaled moment. And so shall everyone finally hear - in this life, or another - in this world, or another.

And that is what True NamuAmidaButsu was all about for Dharma Master Shinran - and is for Eiken Kobai Sensei, and for Rev. George Gatenby, and for me, as well.

  • NamuAmidaButsu. Along with Dharma Master Shinran - I too take refuge in the person and work of Amida Buddha.
  • NamuAmidaButsu. Along with Dharma Master Shinran - I too leave every other teaching and practice - Buddhist and non-Buddhist alike - far behind forever.
  • NamuAmidaButsu. Along with Dharma Master Shinran - I too listen to the True Teaching of the Larger Sutra as a drowning man who has been thrown a life preserver that will lead me all the way to Buddhahood at last.
  • NamuAmidaButsu. Along with Dharma Master Shinran - I too am simply grateful that I have been made to HEAR - and come to KNOW - salvation in the present.
  • NamuAmidaButsu. Along with Dharma Master Shinran, I too express my gratitude by passing along this dharma to others who are being made ready to hear it also.
  • NamuAmidaButsu. Along with Dharma Master Shinran, I too look forward to each and every sentient being coming to have that one unequaled moment in his or her own life.
  • NamuAmidaButsu.

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