Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Shozomatsu Wasan 100

As a mark of increase in the five defilements,
All monks and laypeople of this age,
Behave outwardly like followers of the Buddhist teaching,
But in their inner thoughts, believe in nonbuddhist paths.

The Ninety-five Teachings

The 'five defilements' were a recognised feature of the world in which Shakyamuni appeared some two-and-a-half-thousand ago. But Shinran Shonin is acutely aware that the defilements (or 'dusts') are now 'flourishing'. As we saw throughout the Hymns of the Pure Land Masters and the Hymns of the Dharma Ages, the distance in time from Shakyamuni has resulted in a dimuntion of the force of his light.

So far, in the Hymns, Shinran has alluded to many factors, which reinforce his strong awareness that we now live in the last dharma age. But in this verse, and in those to come, he turns his gaze upon the sangha itself. He includes his own blindness as further evidence of this decline, so he is not standing apart from the sangha and posing as an objective observer. He considers his own person to be part of the problem. This is one of the reasons for the way that Shinran, who continued to wear the robes of a monk, nevertheless described himself as 'neither monk, nor one in worldly life'.

Readers will remember from our review of the Hymns of the Pure Land Masters, that with the passing of his personal teacher, Honen Shonin, Shinran felt that all light and all wisdom had finally disappeared from the world. This is my reading of much that Shinran wrote, including this verse, and the verses that follow it. It is not easy to make any other interpretation because it was well known that Honen was an exemplary monk. He had a high reputation as one who followed the precepts scrupulously.

The canon of Buddhist scriptures - the Tripitaka - is the word of the Buddha. The 'nonbuddhist paths' are doctrines that are not consistent with the Sutras. In fact, Shinran often points to the Sutras, especially the Larger Sutra, as the standard of truth and the measure of all that is real. In other words, he means, by the term 'nonbuddhist paths', anything that was not consistent with the received utterances of the Buddha and the 'Three Seals of the Dharma', nonself, impermanence and nirvana.

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