Comment on Shinran's Statement in Tannisho:
"The Nembutsu Alone Is True and Real"

by Rev. Josho Adrian Cirlea

In the Tannisho, Yuien-bo quoted a saying of Shinran which is very close to my heart:

"When I consider deeply the Vow of Amida, which arose from five kalpas of profound thought, I realize that it was entirely for the sake of myself alone! Then how I am filled with gratitude for the Primal Vow, in which Amida resolved to save me, though I am burdened with such heavy karma."

These words show that religion is something very personal and intimate, and not a pile of philosophical ideas destined to be food for your delusional mind.

I think that if you don't come to the point when you realize the teaching is addressing to you personally, then everything is in vain. Treat the Dharma as if Shakyamuni, Amida, Avalokitesvara, Mahasthamaprapta Bodhisattva, Shinran, Rennyo and all the patriarchs speak directly to you. Think they are before you, addressing personally.

And this is not just a symbol or metaphor, but the real truth. Perceive the teaching as being an exclusive, intimate, friendly and maternal relationship between you and Amida Buddha. The Tathagata doesn’t treat sentient beings as numbers, but addresses each one individually, so His relation with you is like between mother and child. Think that Amida Buddha addresses to your own personal suffering, to all the forms that suffering manifests in your life and that He wishes to heal you once and for all.

Add your name to the words "when I consider deeply the Vow of Amida, which arose from five kalpas of profound thought, I realize that it was entirely for the sake of myself alone! …" and say, "I realize that it was entirely for the sake of me, [John or Mary, etc.] alone."  Also, you may say to yourself, "how I am filled with gratitude for the Primal Vow, in which Amida resolved to save me," Jim or Mary, depending what your name is. Because indeed Amida thought of you personally when He made His Vows and when He practiced as a Bodhisattva for so many long kalpas.

Buddhas are not myths, symbols or fictional characters, but real Enlightened persons who don’t seclude themselves in their ultimate nature (Dharmakaya), but come to you personally like a true friend, looking after you, caring about you, until you are liberated from the suffering of birth and death. Buddhism is a personal relation between you and the Buddhas and especially between you and Amida Buddha. You never walk alone, dear friend, once you took refuge and entrusted yourself in Amida Buddha. Please, meditate on this.

Unfortunately, instead of realizing the profound maternal and compassionate aspect of Buddhism, too many Buddhists followers nowadays dwell in thoughts of personal spiritual evolution, staring at the sun of Enlightenment portrayed in the books, while they can't see their feet and their whole body is drowned in the excrement of delusion and evil karma. I wonder what chance of reaching the sun has a person who has lived in darkness for so many kalpas, just by talking about the sun.

In the Western countries, self power Buddhism has so much success because people like to talk a lot about Enlightenment and final liberation, about ultimate nature of things or emptiness, because like monkeys they like to superficially copy the masters of the past and stare into the ideal without realizing their true capacities and the desperate situation they live in. They are unaware of the Compassion of the Buddhas and how far this Compassion can go in order to bring them to Buddhahood. Instead, they lose themselves in provisional teachings like "Buddhas are only teachers and guides" or "you have to be your own light", ignoring the true capacities of this age and people living in it or as I said, being unaware of the fact that Buddhas are not immovable in their wisdom and freedom, but are always active and present just like a loving mother is always present at the bedside of her sick child. They are unaware of how much they need the helping hand extended to them by the Buddha called Amida who especially vowed that He will help such people like us. "We are in delusion, knowing nothing at all of the depths of our karmic evil or the vastness of Amida's benevolence" says Yuien-bo in the postscript of Tannisho.

Who is ready in this world filled with "how great we are" kind of visions, to see himself or herself in the words of Master Shan-tao, quoted by Yuien-bo:

"Know yourself to be a foolish being of karmic evil caught in birth-and-death, ever sinking and ever wandering in transmigration from innumerable kalpas in the past, with never a condition that would lead to emancipation."

This is exactly the starting point in Jodo Shinshu, when you realize your failure in reaching spiritual emancipation. If in other Buddhist methods you start with acknowledging that every being has Buddha nature and is a potential Buddha (which is true), in Jodo Shinshu you start with the realization that for you it is actually impossible to become a Buddha by yourself. The awareness is strong and definitive, knowing deeply that there is no condition, ever, for you that will lead to emancipation.  

Once you have this strong and profound conviction about yourself, just like an alcoholic recognizes his present situation and accepts help, you no longer need to dwell in thoughts of  self power and personal evolution, but you become ready to receive the hand of Buddha that has been extended to you. Superficial talks about good or evil can be left aside for those who wish to busy themselves with them, but for you, only the helpful hand of Amida is all that matters.

I often have the feeling of living in a world I don’t really understand, which if I am to describe it in only one word I would chose "chaos". My mind is chaotic and so are the minds of others. For example, I couldn’t understand, no matter how much I tried, why some dear persons left me, until I finally realized there is nothing to understand. There can be an understanding of why some people do this or that if they have a clear and stable mind, but what can one understand from a chaotic mind led by unknown and unstoppable karmic impulses?

In chaos you cannot see a clear path with a beginning and an end, with reasons why some actions were done and others were not done. In fact, the majority of people act without knowing why, led by strong impulses like madmen, and you are also crazy if you imagine you can somehow find an explanation of their deeds. Of course people give a lot of explanations to their actions, especially when they hurt another one, but my advice that, for example, I often give to those that pass through the suffering of a divorce, is not to care about these explanations, don't listen to them like you don't take serious the explanations coming from mentally disturbed persons. People instinctively hurt one another because they are mentally ill and the power of their evil karmic tendencies are so overwhelming that there is no chance to stop them.

It is like living in the same house with persons who have been mentally sick from birth. You are crazy if you imagine that you can find some long lasting peace or warmth or reason in this place.

To me the words of Shinran:  "… in this fleeting world - this burning house - all matters without exception are empty and false, totally without truth and sincerity" illustrate the best about what I wrote above, which are my own personal experiences and thoughts about the world I live in. I often repeat to myself these words of Shinran in times of great sorrow when the chaos, misery and stupidity of this world hits me hard, so that I renew my awareness of the true nature of the place I am forced to live in due to my past karma. I sometimes encourage myself with the thought that for a person living in the Amazon jungle is normal and natural to be bitten by mosquitoes and is stupid to wish things would be otherwise. In the same way, this being the nature of this world, it is normal that I suffer.

Living in the middle of so much suffering with various adverse circumstances coming to us every day, driven as we are by unconscious karmic impulses, how can we truly know what is good or bad, or how can we truly see with calm eyes how things really are? If one is in the middle of a narrow street with very high buildings on his left and right, how can he has a general survey of the entire city? He in fact sees only the street he walks on and where he spends his entire life; but without flying above the city with an airplane he will never have a complete vision of the city. It is the same with the vision of ordinary unenlightened people and the vision of the Buddhas. The first is limited by ignorance, blind passions and karmic tendencies, while the latter is free and unrestricted by anything. This is, I think, the meaning of Shinran’s words:

"I know nothing at all of good or evil. For if I could know thoroughly, as Amida Tathagata knows, that an act was good, then I would know good. If I could know thoroughly, as the Tathagata knows, that an act was evil, then I would know evil…."

In fact, for "a foolish being full of blind passions, in this fleeting world - this burning house - all matters without exception are empty and false, totally without truth and sincerity." Nothing can be truly understood by an unenlightened mind, living a life full of suffering resembling fire, in an impermanent world where he cannot rely on anything stable, be it physical or mental.

Only one thing is true and trustworthy here in this unending chaos and nightmare and this is the helpful hand of Amida extended to us, the nembutsu of faith, as Shinran assures us at the end of this true description of life and the world: "the nembutsu alone is true and real."

This quote from Shinran helps me to pass through this life with a clear awareness of its true nature and the path I need to follow. I do hope it will have the same effect on you.

Josho Adrian Cirlea