Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Shozomatsu Wasan 90

Prince Shotoku, the Buddhist Master of Japan -
His immense benevolence is difficult to repay.
Take refuge with singleness of heart
And unfalteringly praise him in reverence.

Again, Singleness

In association with 'take refuge' (kimyo), the phrase 'singleness of heart' (isshin) signifies nothing less than the entrusting heart (shinjin). In fact, the last character - pronounced shin and jin, respectively -, is the same in both expressions. Shinran Shonin's insistence that the entrusting heart is 'single' is clear from almost everything that he taught. Its importance derives from the Bodhisattva Vasubandhu and the Chinese Dharma Master T'an-luan. When other Dharma Masters, like Shan-tao, discuss the entrusting heart in greater detail, Shinran goes to great lengths to remind us of its intrinsic integrity, and its unity. Ineeed, he points to a singular characteristic, which is 'serene trust' (shingyo), and teaches us that this is the quintessential feature of the entrusting heart.

It seems to me that 'singleness' and 'serene trust' describe the experience of the entrusting heart perfectly. While shinjin (the entrusting heart) is constantly discussed in Jodo Shinshu hermeneutics, it really is an uncomplicated and simple matter. It is Rennyo Shonin, Shinran's successor in fifteenth century Japan, who is most unequivocal and trustworthy in interpreting Shinran's Dharma. All we need to do, as Rennyo says, is to 'cling to the sleeve of Amida Buddha.' This analogy is a metaphor for surrendering ourselves totally to the Dharma in 'Namu Amida Butsu'. Only those who do so understand the meaning of tariki, 'Other Power', and the astonishing way that it transforms their lives.

In this verse, Shinran reminds us that Shotoku Taishi deserves credit for his efforts, on behalf of the Primal Vow, to propagate singleness of heart to his own countrymen, and throughout the world, forever. In fact, Shinran seems to be suggesting that we should take refuge in Shotoku Taishi himself. However, this presents us with an opportunity to think again about what we mean by the term 'singleness of heart'.

Throughout his writing, Shinran seems to emphasise many essential features of the 'heart that is single.' One of the most significant is the fact that it is decisive. There is no wavering, uncertainty or failure to make an exclusive choice in 'the heart that is single.' It is the 'diamond mind' (kongo shin, Sk. vajra citta).

Again, the 'heart that is single is not a monotheistic concept. By this I mean that the mind that is single does not see other religious views, other gods or buddhas as non-existent. The entrusting heart has chosen - awakened to - one Buddha among many Buddhas. Amida Buddha is not the only Buddha. The teaching of other Buddhas can lead us to enlightenment. The heart that is single recognises that other gods and Buddhas exist but it does not take refuge in them. We take refuge in Amida Buddha alone because it is he who made the Primal Vow, which transfers the entrusting heart to us in Namu Amida Butsu and thereby enables us to attain Nirvana.

The land of bliss is the realm of nirvana,
    the uncreated;
I fear it is hard to be born there by doing sundry
    good acts according to our diverse conditions.
Hence, the Tathagata selected the essential
Instructing beings to say Amida's Name with singleness, again
(Shan-tao's Nembutsu Liturgy; Notes on 'Essentials of Faith Alone'; CWS, p. 460.)

The heart that is single encompasses the three minds (san shin) of the Contemplation Sutra. Although in some Pure Land traditions the aspirant needs to awaken the three minds, Shinran tells us that these minds are the one mind that is transferred by Amida's Vow. In this way, Shinran remains consistent with his insistence that the entrusting heart is free of contrivance. It is a simple, single acceptance in Namu Amida Butsu, of Amida Buddha's Vow.

The heart that is single is durable because it is not swayed by the doubts and blandishments of others. It does not waver and has moved beyond uncertainty. But it is not a rigid, unbending, bigoted mind. Shinran tells us in the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho that the person of the entrusting heart becomes soft and gentle in body and mind.

So singleness of mind does not mean anything like mere 'religious belief', 'conviction' or 'narrow mindedness'. It is open to things as they are. Because, above all, this openness includes the awareness of self, it does not reject other people or demean them. It is secure, enduring, exclusive, unwavering and free of misgiving and calculation. It has the same qualities as the Primal Vow: it is 'the inconceivable, inexplicable and indescribable' serene trust (shingyo). It is Namu Amida Butsu.

- February 10, 2006.

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