Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Shozomatsu Wasan 101

How lamentable it is that monks and laypeople
Select 'fortunate times' and 'auspicious days,'
And paying homage to gods of the heavens and earth,
Engage in divination and rituals of worship.

Darkness to Darkness

One of the most remarkable features of Shinran Shonin's thought and outlook is his unequivocal commitment to the Buddha Dharma, to the exclusion of all other religious intrusions. Shinran was clearly not interested in eclecticism. Although he recognised the existence of the gods of heaven and earth (tenjin chigi) and aligned himself with the traditional Buddhist view that these deities were guardians of the dharma, he had no room for servility in relation to them.

Worship of gods of any kind is inimical to the Buddha Dharma because such service usually seeks to alter the course of karmic outcomes. Such a thing is impossible without an internal transformation and, in any case, the outcomes of our previous actions can ultimately only be transcended. We cannot amend the course of the chain of effects that result from our previous actions by appealing to another person, no matter how exalted, to change them. The flow of the karmic stream is inexorable.

Deities are sentient beings who belong to the field of existence that we share with them: the realm of desire. They may be happier - and longer lived - than we are, but in other ways they are our equals, and certainly not enlightened. Apart from their adoption of the role of protecting the dharma, we have no business with them; although, surely, we would be kind to them, and not speak ill of them, as we ought to do to all sentient beings. Indeed, it seems to me, that for a person who has found the single way of the nembutsu, such worship is not only meaningless but distasteful. What more do we need than the embrace of Amida Buddha's compassion?

The last section of The True Teaching, Practice, and Realisation addresses the problem of double-mindedness. It is concerned with a sense of dissatisfaction with just the entrusting heart and the Name, Namu-amida-butsu. It seems to me that, for Shinran, this is evident in sundry practices, self-power nembutsu, allegiance to other religious traditions, petitionary prayer, the worship of deities and various mantic practices.

In fact, Shinran deprecates all religious activities that are incidental to the nembutsu way. Obviously, this is consistent with his sense of the core significance of 'the mind that is single'. We only need to read T'an-luan's Commentary on Vasubandhu's Discourse on the Pure Land, and to contemplate Shan-tao's Allegory of the Two Rivers and the White Path, to discover the extent to which Shinran is faithful to the tradition. Double-mindedness is truly incompatible with the Pure Land way.

Current image

Jodo Wasan

Koso Wasan

Shozomatsu Wasan

Home

Back | HOME | Next