Shinran Shonin’s fervent wish

Helleborus, 05.10.15
Helleborus, 05.10.15

‘My fervent wish is this: Whether monk or layperson, when on board the ship of the great compassionate Vow, let pure shinjin be the favorable wind, and in the dark night of ignorance, let the jewel of virtue be a great torch.’ (Shinran, Passages on the Pure Land Way, CWS, p. 303)

The ‘jewel of virtue’ is the actualistion of Amida Buddha’s ‘great compassionate Vow’, the Name–Namo Amida Butsu. The virtue is Amida Buddha’s and it is transferred to all who entrust themselves to the Name.

Shinran Shonin’s ‘fervent wish’ for us is a mark of his profound compassion. It appears in the middle of his short treatise Passages on the Pure Land Way.   ‘Way’ is a synonym for dharma.

According to Professor Kosho Yamamoto, Passages on the Pure Land Way was completed in 1255, when Shinran was 83 years old–about eight years after he completed the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho.

Passages on the Pure Land Way is an elegant, straightforward and accessible exposition of the nembutsu teaching–the Pure Land way. It includes quotes from the Larger Sutra and the Amida Sutra, along with short passages from the Pure Land Masters Nagarjuna, Vasubandhu and Shan-tao. As I have said in a previous post, this short treatise is valuable as an introduction or gateway to Shinran’s major–and more comprehensive work–, the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho.

Shinran’s fervent wish comes at the conclusion to the core of his treatise, although there is much to follow, including an alternate version of the Shoshin Nembutsu Ge, which is the hymn that we use in our daily liturgy.

At the beginning of Passages on the Pure Land Way Shinran tells us that he reverently entrusts himself to the ‘teaching, practice and realisation that are the true essence of the Pure Land way.’ (CWS, p.  295)  Towards the end, he quotes from Shakyamuni:

‘[This] is the dharma that, for all people of the world, is most difficult to accept.’ (CWS, p. 317)

Why, then is Shinran’s wish for us so fervent, so pressing and so important? It is because

‘the radiant light (Amida Buddha), unhindered and inconceivable, eradicates suffering and brings realisation of joy; the excellent Name, perfectly embodying all practices, eliminates obstacles and dispels doubt.’ (CWS, p. 295)

It is the Name that dispels doubt.  It is therefore the Name with which we should engage.  Argument can not dispel doubt, reason can barely help, since it is the construct of a limited sentient being, subject to emotion, anxiety, fear, prejudice.

This is the very reason that the teaching, as Shakyamuni says, is so difficult to accept. Instead of simply engaging with the ‘treasure of virtue’–Namo Amida Butsu–and leaving everything else to the working of what Shinran calls ‘the wisdom of the Buddhas’, we believe that we have the all the wisdom we need to own and control it for ourselves.

We invent a metaphysical framework around the Name, by investing it with something of ourselves–our logic, our effort, our prejudices, our anxieties and even our hopes and desires.

When those who know the way of nembutsu are aware that they have found ‘the treasure of virtue’–something that is infinitely precious, perfect, pure and true–it is no wonder that they form a fervent wish that others may know about it, too.