Why Enlightenment is Easy - But SHINJIN is Hard

(Note: This is cross-posted from the online Sangha located at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/true_shin_buddhism/)

Buddhism is not simply a prescription for mental health, intellectual aerobics or instruction on how to meditate.

No - to MERELY consider Buddhism on that level (as many modern Buddhist teachers do, unfortunately) is to trivialize the life work of the one we call THE BUDDHA - Shakyamuni - formerly Prince Gotama of the Shakya clan.

No - to understand Buddhism we must begin with the very CORE of Buddhism. A single idea which shines with the intensity and focus of a laser beam down through the ages: The very CORE of Buddhism is the idea, the hope, the dream of attaining enlightenment - or Buddhahood.

At one point in his writings, Master Shinran declares that attaining enlightenment is easy - what is hard is attaining SHINJIN (true faith).

At first glance, this is a puzzling statement - especially in light of the fact that Shinran also declares - quite unequivocally - that in our age (called MAPPO - “the age of Dharma decline”) not one person can attain enlightenment by virtue of any of the self-powered practices.

So then, how is attaining enlightenment EASY? And what makes attaining SHINJIN so HARD?

To answer those questions, let’s talk first about the time when Shakyamuni Buddha was still here in the flesh, preaching and teaching the Dharma in Southern India. We have a number of incidents recorded of his interaction with some unlikely disciples who attained enlightenment with ease.

One story that has always touched me concerned a young man who we would clinically diagnose today as mentally retarded. He had an older brother who wanted to leave everything to follow the Buddha, and he went along with him. But while the brother was intelligent, and well able to understand Buddha’s words, the young man couldn’t understand anything that the Buddha said. Deeply discouraged, he went to the Buddha. Weeping, he told the Buddha he was going to go back home, because he just wasn’t smart enough understand what the Buddha was talking about - much less be a good disciple.

But the Buddha would not give up on him. Instead, he took the young man to a hut that was home to an aged disciple who couldn’t take care of himself any more. The Buddha asked the young man if he’d be willing to serve the old monk as a companion. And then he taught the young man how to sweep out the hut. Whenever you sweep, the Buddha said, say to yourself “Sweep away the dirt. Sweep away the dust”.

And that’s what the young man - this mentally retarded young man - did. And simply by doing that, he quickly became enlightened, even before his intelligent and zealous older brother, who was astounded at his brother’s attainment.

So what made it so easy for this young man - and so many others - to attain enlightenment during the Buddha’s lifetime - and for several hundred years after that. It certainly wasn’t because of his own efforts. I mean, really - you try sweeping (or vacuuming) every day, and saying a little mantra, and see how far it gets you.

No, what made ALL the difference was the transcendental and supernatural power of the Buddha’s presence. In the larger Sutra of Amida Buddha, this phenomena is called “the Buddhafield” - an effulgence that radiates from every Buddha, and can affect beings in it’s spacetime vicinity. In the Larger Sutra, Shakyamuni explains the size and power of the Buddhafield varies from one Buddha to another - and that Amida Buddha has the greatest Buddhafield of all. In fact, there is no place in the universe that is not touched by this Buddhafield. This is why the light and the life of Amida Buddha is continually available to all beings, everywhere.

So you can see that Master Shinran is right - becoming enlightened really IS easy. All that is needed is a yearning for enlightenment -and close proximity to a Buddha so you can receive the transcendental POWER of the Buddha’s Buddhafield. That’s why - in the first age of the Dharma - when Shakyamuni was so close to us in space and time, so many became enlightened so often - and (as with this young man) sometimes with little or no effort, as we have become accustomed to think of self-powered effort today in various of the self-powered schools of Dharma.

Master Shinran declares that attaining enlightenment is easy - and we’ve seen how enlightenment really IS easy, when it comes because of GRACE - the power and presence of a Buddha’s Buddhafield. Anyone who is familiar with Shakyamuni Buddha’s teaching in the Larger Sutra - or Shinran’s own teaching - knows that when someone actually awakens in Amida’s Pure Land after death, he or she is in the presence of Amida Buddha - and thus IMMEDIATELY becomes a true Buddha.

That’s how overwhelmingly powerful the Buddhafield of Amida Buddha really is…and that’s how EASY enlightenment really is, too.

But Master Shinran declares that attaining SHINJIN (true saving faith) is hard.

So why is that, anyway?

To answer that question, let’s take a look at a most remarkable document. It was dictated by Shinran’s personal teacher, Master Honen, two days before his death. (Shinran designates Master Honen as the last of the 7 seminal Pure Land Masters in his own work, the Kyo_Gyo-Shin-Sho).

Honen’s last teaching is called THE ONE SHEET DOCUMENT or THE ONE PAGE PRAYER (ICHIMAI KISHOMON. Here it is:

The method of final salvation that I have propounded is neither a sort of meditation, such as has been practised by many scholars in China and Japan, nor is it a repetition of the Buddha’s name by those who have studied and understood the deep meaning of it. It is nothing but the mere repetition of “Namu Amida Butsu” without a doubt of his mercy, whereby one may be born into the Land of Perfect Bliss.

The mere repetition with firm faith includes all the practical details, such as the threefold preparation of mind and the four practical rules.

If I as an individual have any doctrine more profound than this, I should miss the mercy of the two Honorable Ones, Amida and Shakyamuni, and be left out of the vow of Amida Buddha.

Those who believe this, though they clearly understand all the teachings Shakyamuni taught throughout his whole life, should behave themselves like stupid people who know not a single letter, or like ignorant nuns or monks whose faith is implicitly simple. Thus, without pedantic airs, they should fervently practise the recitation of the name of Amida and that alone.

Here, in Master Honen’s ONE SHEET DOCUMENT, is the reason why it is so hard for people to attain SHINJIN - the saving faith that assures us that this is our last life of wandering in Samsara - the saving faith that assures us that we will undoubtedly be born in Amida’s Pure Land after this life is over - the saving faith that assures us we will be transformed immediately into Buddhas once we awaken there.

It is hard, Dharma friends, because we are not stupid people.

Because we are not stupid people, we trust in the conceptualizations of our own minds more than in the words of Shakyamuni Buddha. Because we are not stupid people, we tend to bring the great storehouse of our western intellectual tradition to the pristine Dharma of Amida Buddha - trying somehow to mix the two together. Because we are not stupid people, we tend to bring the great storehouse of the various Buddhist schools to the pristine Dharma of Amida Buddha - once again trying somehow to mix the two together.

Now - I’m not saying that all this is true of you PERSONALLY. Certainly it is not true of me at this point, because of Amida’s grace. Thanks to the influence of a true teacher in my own life, I DO trust Amida simply, and say Nembutsu gratefully, in just this way…and I know there are others in this online Sangha who are of the same mind.

But as I look at the larger Shin Sangha today, and read what clerics, scholars and lay people write, I can see that this simple trust is the exception, rather than the rule.

It’s both ironic, and tragic: Here is Master Honen - arguably one of the greatest Dharma scholars of all time - standing up in the congregation and saying in a loud, firm voice, “I’M STUPID”.

But the driving thrust behind so much that is being taught as Shin Buddhism today is, “I’M SMART”.

  • I’M SMART - so I think that the words of the Larger Sutra are not really the true words of Shakyamuni Buddha…even though Shinran declares that the reason Shakyamuni came into this world was to preach THIS sermon, above all others.
  • I’M SMART - so I think that everything written in the Larger Sutra is some sort of esoteric code with a hidden meaning that plain people just don’t understand.
  • I’M SMART - so I think that without having a broad and deep understanding of Mahayana Buddhism. a person can’t really understand Shin Buddhism, much less attain to a state of SHINJIN.
  • I’M SMART - so I’ll re-cast the plain and perfect words of our Dharma Masters into some other sort of language, because I don’t want my hearers to think that Shin Buddhism is merely Japanese Christianity.

This problem of “I’M SMART” is not a new problem for the Shin Sangha. Indeed it has been the main problem in the Sangha ever since Master Honen and Master Shinran began their public ministries. It is, in fact, the reason that Shinran’s personal student Yuien-bo wrote The Tannisho (Lamenting The Divergences).

Even though I’m not a scholar, I could easily cite many examples, both from the present and the past, of this fundamental “I’M SMART” proclivity among too many Shin priests and scholars. And make no mistake about it - the proliferation of “I’M SMART” teachers and their “I’M SMART” teachings is the single most damaging thing that could happen to the pristine Dharma of the True Pure Land Way.

Why do I say that? Because, in Shin Buddhism there is only ONE thing to do: and that is listen, and listen again, and listen yet again. to the True Teaching of our True Teachers. As we listen, our minds and our hearts open up. Our hidden aspiration for Buddhahood begins to be a greater reality in our life. We begin to YEARN, deeply and honestly, for the completion of our journey through countless lives, countless forms, countless births and countless deaths.

And as we look honestly at ourselves, we begin to realize that we just don’t have “the right stuff” - the personal characteristics needed to persevere with a self-directed program of spiritual advancement and attainment. No amount of study, or of discipline - no keeping of precepts or of practicing good deeds - will be sufficient for us. We begin to recognize that we are all just plain people, after all.

To use Master Shinran’s words - we are stuck on the vast ocean of birth and death, transmigrating from life to life helplessly - and we cannot possibly paddle our way to the far shore of full awakening.

We come to know all this simply by LISTENING - and as we listen, it is Amida Buddha himself who causes us to bear witness to this truth.

Now - having awakened our aspiration for Buddhahood, and having come to the honest recognition of our own limitations, we are ready to receive the Dharma that Shakyamuni Buddha offered to the monk Ananda and many others one day at Vulture Peak. This Dharma is the Pristine Dharma of the Larger Pure Land Sutra. It is, Master Shinran declares, the reason that Shakyamuni actually came into this world and took on a flesh body some 2500 years ago.

But this Dharma only reveals itself to us when we are finally ready to stop being SMART - and willing to listen as STUPID people - just as Master Honen said in his ONE SHEET DOCUMENT.

You see, Dharma friends - the reason that “I’M SMART” is the greatest impediment to coming to True Saving Faith is that “I’M SMART” people depend on the organ of their intellect in a way that is inappropriate when it comes to the Triple Gem. In Shinran’s own words, the True Teaching, Practice and Realization of the Pure Land Way is INCONCEIVABLE. It is TRANSCENDENTAL. It cannot be reduced to anything that our logical minds can actually GRASP.

All that we do is listen - and it is Amida Himself who causes the OBJECTIVE truth of the teaching to become subjective and personal truth for us, each and all. And when that happens, gratitude NATURALLY wells up inside us. We KNOW beyond all doubt, that we are indeed grasped by Amida Buddha, never to be abandoned. We become certain - in a way no one can become by his own efforts - that at the end of this life we will complete our journeys through countless incarnations into countless forms. Finally, we can rest - trusting Amida Buddha himself to bring us to true Buddhahood - true Nirvana - true FREEDOM, at long last.

NamuAmidaButsu - I take refuge in Amida Buddha. NamuAmidaButsu - I am grateful to Amida Buddha. NamuAmidaButsu - I rejoice in Amida Buddha.

It couldn’t be any simpler, really. Shin Buddhism IS “The Easy Path to Buddhahood” after all.

But I can say that for one reason, and one reason only: the GRACE of Amida Buddha at work in my own life - leading me to let go of my own “I’M SMART” proclivities and listen deeply to the True Teaching of the Pure Land Way.

Thank you, Amida Buddha. NamuAmidaButsu.

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