Shin-zoku nitai is usually translated ‘the true way and the worldly way’. Although it is implicit in the Jodo Shinshu no Seikatsu Shinjo (Shin Buddhist Creed), it seems to have fallen out of favour during the last forty years, or so.
The concept derives from the Letters of Rennyo, and the Ryogemon (Statement of Received Understanding) which enjoin certain rules (Okite) upon Jodo Shinshu followers. One of these rules, which Rennyo Shonin repeatedly upheld in his letters, is:
‘Deeply savour your faith in Amida Buddha, but do not outwardly put on airs of faith.’ (HBL, p. 44) This suggests a deep inner life and an outward way that conforms with ordinary manners and mores.
Actually, the sense of two spheres of reality is intrinsic to the Mahayana world view. Shin-zoku nitai is certainly a variant of this traditional idea but I cannot see how that invalidates it in practical terms.
The original idea in the Mahayana is well-known. It is the Way of Two Truths.
‘In general Buddhism, when all existences in the universe are considered, those which are in the relative and discriminating states are called ‘zokutai‘ (Sk. samvrti-satya) and those in the absolute non-discriminating states are called ‘shintai’ (Sk. paramartha-satya). However, Jodo Shinshu considers ‘shintai‘ as religious life, and ‘zokutai‘ as ethical life. (SS, p. 482)
The eighteenth (Primal) Vow affords the scriptural basis for shin-zoku nitai because it contains the clear path to liberation through entrusting heart (shinjin) but adds a warning about the exclusion of ‘those who have committed the five grave offences and abused the right Dharma.’
In the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho (CWS, pp. 143-150), Shinran deals with the exclusion clause , upholding Shan-tao’s interpretation that this statement is a caution against bad behaviour, but not a hindrance to absolute and universal salvation through the power of the Primal Vow.
The Larger Sutra as a whole is also redolent with shin-zoku nitai. It includes the account of the causal Vows, which bring us salvation, and also the grave and miserable world of the Five Evils. Like the exclusion clause of the eighteenth Vow, the Sutra encourages us to take up an ethical demeanour in the world, despite the suffering caused by the Five Evils.
So the Sutra and the eighteenth Vow stand as the model of shin-zoku nitai: salvation is realised unconditionally and universally through entrusting heart, but – because of the warning – our sense of gratitude makes us aware that we ought to behave ethically in response.
Shin-zoku nitai means that once shinjin is firmly established we then seek to give form to our gratitude by saying the nembutsu and ethical behaviour: obeying the law, the life of benevolence and righteousness, and diligence in the affairs of the world.
This outward way of life, zokutai, is entirely voluntary. It is neither an automatic outcome of Other Power entrusting heart, nor does it play a part in our salvation, and neither is it mandatory. The way of nembutsu is fundamentally a life of freedom and jinen, naturalness.
‘The life of benevolence and righteousness’ refer to the Confucian way but, for us, kindness is enough.
The underlying motivation for framing our debt of gratitude in this way is to play our part in not bringing the nembutsu teaching into disrepute. While this seems a bland basis for personal demeanour, it is, nonetheless, consistent with the development of the Vinaya, the rules for bhiksus, many of which which were created in response to the need to avoid causing scandal to laymen and laywomen.
A further problem may seem to be that shin-zoku nitai is an attempt to maintain conflicting elements of one’s life. However, I think shin-zoku nitai is a way of balance. The interplay of religious and secular inform each other – zokutai constantly reminding us of our shortcomings, and shintai constantly leading us to adore the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha in everything that we undergo.
It is sometimes said that one source of the idea of shin-zoku nitai can be found in the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho, chapter 6, which is a quotation from Lamp for the Last Dharma-Age (by Saicho):
‘He is a dharma-king that, basing himself on oneness, sets flowing the cultivation of beings.
‘He is a benevolent king that, widely reigning over the four seas, sends down the winds of virtue.
‘The benevolent king and the dharma-king, in mutual correspondence, give guidance to beings. The supra-mundane truth and the mundane truth, depending on each other, cause the teaching to spread. Thus, the profound writings are everywhere throughout the land, and the benevolent guidance reaches everywhere under heaven.’ (CWS, p. 244)
It is interesting to note that, although this passage occurs in the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho, Shinran discouraged to use of secular power to support the Dharma. (CWS, p. 568)
It seems to me that the way of shin-zoku nitai, while it has fallen away as a straightforward guiding principle, nevertheless reminds us that the outward assertion of a religious identity can simply serve to massage our ego. Hence, conformity to common mores that unite us with others is a worthy objective.
I think that religious faith should not become an instrument of identity, ego and conflict. Even with the most noble of intentions we find our blind passions (bonno, Skt. kleshas) lurking in the background. Rather, we let the warm embrace of the Buddha within our heart cause us to seek to put others at ease, and to live in peace.