Is A Person of Settled Shinjin Capable Of (Fill in the Blanks)?

My dharma friend Jason, who has newly experienced SHINJIN, writes this:


So there I am, walking to work early one morning last week, when out of a cloudy, depression-laced gray sky comes the thought: “I’m not sure I believe any of this at all. It’s all just too fantastic, too incredible to be literally real.”

Once again, I ask you: Is a person of settled shinjin capable of such a thought–a thought, I might add, that arose as spontaneously as the overwhelming gratitude that supposedly marks out those who are grasped, never to be abandoned?

I’ve reached my own conclusion about this incident–truthfully, the only conclusion I could reach based on my own experience–but I am curious about what Shinran says about such things.

To answer your sincere question, I’d like to look at the TANNISHO - Lamenting Divergences. In it, Yuien recalls Shinran’s words to those who had travelled far to see him:

Each of you has come to see me, crossing the borders of more than ten provinces at the risk of your life, solely with the intent of asking about the path to birth in the land of bliss.

But if you imagine in me some special knowledge of a path to birth other than the nembutsu or of scriptural writings that teach it, you are greatly mistaken. If that is the case, since there are many eminent scholars in the southern capital of Nara or on Mount Hiei to the north, you would do better to meet with them and inquire fully about the essentials for birth.

As for me, I simply accept and entrust myself to what my revered teacher told me, “Just say the nembutsu and be saved by Amida”; nothing else is involved.

I have no idea whether the nembutsu is truly the seed for my being born in the Pure Land or whether it is the karmic act for which I must fall into hell. Should I have been deceived by Master Honen and, saying the nembutsu, were to fall into hell, even then I would have no regrets.

The reason is, if I could attain Buddhahood by endeavoring in other practices, but said the nembutsu and so fell into hell, then I would feel regret at having been deceived. But I am incapable of any other practice, so hell is decidedly my abode whatever I do.

It is, for me, an amazing passage into the mind and heart of our Master Teacher Shinran, dharma friend.

  • First, Shinran is telling those who have journeyed far to see him - with such difficulty - that he has NO SPECIAL KNOWLEDGE to give them - other than the simple Nembutsu teaching he has declared publicly to all for the whole course of his dharma life.
  • And then, he talks movingly about how he has no other options as a seeker. He can’t do any practice to end his own suffering and attain Buddhahood at last. There is nothing left for Shinran than to entrust himself like a child to the teaching of his own dharma master Honen, who told him to say the Nembutsu, and be saved by Amida.

Shinran goes on to say this:

The nembutsu is the single path free of hindrances.

Why is this? To practicers who have realized shinjin, the gods of the heavens and earth bow in homage, and maras and nonbuddhists present no obstruction.

No evil act can bring about karmic results, nor can any good act equal the nembutsu.

“No evil act can bring about karmic results…”

This is INCONCEIVABLE to most people who practice any form of any spiritual or religious path - including all the other 84,000 Paths of the Sages within Buddhism.

As George Gatenby has been pointing out recently in his excellent posts on DOUBT in his Notes On The Nembutsu, doubt certainly qualifies in Shinran’s thought as an evil act. And yet, for a person of SHINJIN there are no karmic results. (You can get links to those posts HERE).

That is why Shinran talks about Shakyamuni’s teaching about Amida’s Vow being specifically for dharma dummies like you and me - the lowest of the three grades of aspirants. Because we’re dharma dummies, we simply aren’t capable of keeping our minds pristine - free of doubt, or free of anything else.

When it comes to enlightenment, we’re hopeless, just like we were before. We’re still slaves to our blind passions - our endless obscurations and delusions. That’s the reality for every person who has an experience of the same SHINJIN as Shinran himself. And that’s what Shinran said about his own mind as well - as did Honen, Shinran’s teacher, about his mind, too.

But here’s the point - so hard to understand, as simple as it is: Pristine or not pristine, it just doesn’t matter any more. We have been sealed by Amida Buddha himself for rebirth in the Pure Land in our next life - where we will quickly become Buddhas at last.

That’s why Shinran says, with understanding even DEEPER than that of his teacher Honen:

It is impossible for us, who are possessed of blind passions, to free ourselves from birth-and-death through any practice whatever. Sorrowing at this, Amida made the Vow, the essential intent of which is the evil person’s attainment of Buddhahood.

Hence, evil persons who entrust themselves to Other Power are precisely the ones who possess the true cause of birth.

Evil persons.

But not just any evil persons - but specifically evil persons who entrust themselves to Other Power - the power of Amida Buddha.

So says Shinran. So I have come to believe.

And now I want to look at one more passage in the Tannisho, that leaped into my awareness as I read your letter above. in it, Yuien is recounting another conversation with Shinran that blows out of the water ALL of his conventional thinking - and (I believe) yours as well:

The late Master said, “Knowing that every evil act done- even as slight as a particle on the tip of a strand of rabbit’s fur or sheep’s wool- has its cause in past karma.”

Further, the Master once asked, “Yuien-bo, do you accept all that I say?”

“Yes I do,” I answered.

“Then will you not deviate from whatever I tell you?” he repeated.

I humbly affirmed this. Thereupon he said, “Now, I want you to kill a thousand people. If you do, you will definitely attain birth.”

I responded, “Though you instruct me thus, I’m afraid it is not in my power to kill even one person.”

“Then why did you say that you would follow whatever I told you?”

He continued, “By this you should realize that if we could always act as we wished, then when I told you to kill a thousand people in order to attain birth, you should have immediately done so. But since you lack the karmic cause inducing you to kill even a single person, you do not kill. It is not that you do not kill because your heart is good. In the same way, a person may not wish to harm anyone and yet end up killing a hundred or a thousand people.”

Thus he spoke of how we believe that if our hearts are good, then it is good for birth, and if our hearts are evil, it is bad for birth, failing to realize that it is by the inconceivable working of the Vow that we are saved.

How does all this apply to you, your question, and your situation? Here’s what I believe:

  1. You are a person of the lowest grade - a plain person, just like me and most everyone else.
  2. Therefore it is not reasonable that you would be able to keep your mindstream pristine and free from the stain of doubt - any more than the stain of anger, greed or fear. No doubt you’ll have your good moments - and your not so good moments.
  3. That’s why the TRUE SANGHA is so important. The presence of other people of the same SHINJIN as Shinran is a powerful tool used by Amida Buddha to re-anchor us in the recognition of the gift that has already been given - and will not be taken away.
  4. To complete your endless journey, you have no other options but to entrust yourself entirely to a supernatural being - AMida Buddha - with inconceivable power and perfect intention who will do what you cannot.
  5. In the midst of that process - this side of the Pure Land - you could easily do any and all kinds of evil things, under the right karmic circumstances.
  6. Regardless of what you do - or do not do - including having one or more thought-moments of doubt - you are grasped, never to be abandoned, by Amida Buddha himself. No evil act - including the act of DOUBT - can bring about karmic results in your life - anymore.

Finally, I invite you to join me in looking in awe and wonder at a little teeny-tiny bit of the vast and inconceivable MULTI-VERSE that Shakaymuni describes in the his discussion with the NEXT Buddha of this world - Bodhisattva Maitreya - in the Larger Pure Land Sutra:

Let’s listen deeply - together - to Shakyamuni in the Larger Sutra:

The Bodhisattva Maitreya said to the Buddha, “World-Honored One, how many non-retrogressive bodhisattvas are there in this world who will be born in that Buddha-land?

The Buddha replied, “Sixty-seven kotis of non-retrogressive bodhisattvas from this world will be born there. Each of these bodhisattvas has previously made offerings to innumerable Buddhas with almost as much diligence as you did, Maitreya. Furthermore, bodhisattvas of lesser practices and those who have performed small acts of merit, whose number is beyond calculation, will all be born there.

The Buddha said to Maitreya, “Not only those bodhisattvas from this world but also those from Buddha-lands in other quarters are born there.

  • First, in the land of the Buddha named Far-reaching Illumination there are one hundred and eighty kotis of bodhisattvas, who all visit there.
  • Second, in the land of the Buddha Jewel-storehouse there are ninety kotis of bodhisattvas, who all visit there.
  • Third, in the land of the Buddha Immeasurable Sound there are two hundred and twenty kotis of bodhisattvas, who all visit there.
  • Fourth, in the land of the Buddha Taste of Nectar there are two hundred and fifty kotis of bodhisattvas, who all visit there.
  • Fifth, in the land of the Buddha Dragon-subduing there are fourteen kotis of bodhisattvas, who all visit there.
  • Sixth, in the land of the Buddha Superior Power there are fourteen thousand bodhisattvas, who all visit there.
  • Seventh, in the land of the Buddha Lion there are five hundred kotis of bodhisattvas, who all visit there.
  • Eighth, in the land of the Buddha Undefiled Light there are eighty kotis of bodhisattvas, who all visit there.
  • Ninth, in the land of the Buddha Peak of Virtue there are sixty kotis of bodhisattvas, who all visit there.
  • Tenth, in the land of the Buddha Mountain of Excellent Virtue there are sixty kotis of bodhisattvas, who all visit there.
  • Eleventh, in the land of the Buddha King of Men there are ten kotis of bodhisattvas, who all visit there.
  • Twelfth, in the land of the Buddha Splendid Flower there are innumerable and incalculable bodhisattvas who are all non-retrogressive and possessed of unrivaled wisdom, who have previously made offerings to countless Buddhas and are able to learn in seven days the adamantine teachings of the Dharma that can only be attained by mahasattvas after practicing for a hundred thousand kotis of kalpas. Those bodhisattvas all visit there.
  • Thirteenth, in the land of the Buddha Fearlessness there are seven hundred and ninety kotis of great bodhisattvas and incalculable minor bodhisattvas and bhiksus, who all visit there.

The Buddha said to Maitreya, “Not only do the bodhisattvas from those fourteen Buddha-lands visit that land, but also bodhisattvas from innumerable Buddha-lands in the ten quarters, whose number is incalculable.

Even if I were to give you only the names of the Buddhas in the ten quarters and the number of the bodhisattvas and bhiksus who visit that land, enumerating them continuously day and night for a kalpa, I would not be able to complete the list.

This is why I have given you only a brief description.

The bottom line is: the Larger Pure Land Sutra is a Buddha’s best efforts to explain INCONCEIVABLE reality to non-buddhas, bonbus, village idiots - and yes, even dumbbells with Ph.D.’s who make preposterous pronouncements about that which they necessarily know nothing about.

And yes, I admit it. I picked out that particular picture from the Hubble set because the name give me a particular tickle as I am writing this. Let’s chalk that up to me being a foolish person - foolish enough to make a sad joke about the current state of the Shin sangha, even as I make what I hope is a meaningful - even profound - point.

The point is this: there are dumbbells, and then there are DUMBBELLS.

Shinran was a dumbbell in that he had what Shakyamuni would call RIGHT VIEW of his own ignorance and inability in this age of Dharma Decline. Knowing he was a dumbbell - emotionally, morally, intellectually, spiritually - he entrusted himself - simply and fully - to the content of the dharma of Shakyamuni about Amida Buddha and his inconceivable work on behalf of us all.

in fact, knowing he was a dumbbell - the word INCONCEIVABLE became a BIG part of his personal vocabulary.

On the other hand, to spend one’s life studying Shakyamuni and Shinran, and then CHOOSE to leave them far behind in an attempt to shrink down the limitless dharma into something that can fit into pre-existing personal views - is the act of a TRULY foolish person - a capital “D” DUMBBELL.

It is, in fact, the very distinction old Socrates made: He knew he did not know. He lived in Plato’s Cave. He was a dumbbell. Others were infuriated by his admission - and his implicit assertion that he wasn’t the only one. That’s why they forced him to drink the hemlock. That’s why they were capital “D” DUMBBELLS - rather than merely being dumbbells.

Back to dharma for dummies: Because Amida Buddha has secured the salvation of EVERYONE - good and evil alike - dumbbells and DUMBBELLS alike - I wait for the completion of his karmic work - in my life and your life and everyone else’s life too.

Meanwhile, I rejoice in being a dumbbell who has been given the INCONVCEIVABLE gift of INCONCEIVABLE shinjin - by the INCONCEIVABLE work and person of Amida Buddha.



Rest easy, dharma friend.

Paul R

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