Kanji for Muryoko

'Infinite Light'

Journal of Shin Buddhism

John Paraskevopoulos

The Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana
and its significance for Shin Buddhism

The Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana (Jp. Daijokishinron) presents itself as one of the most profound, concise and authoritative summaries of Mahayana philosophy and metaphysics that this tradition has bequeathed to us. This text has been used and venerated by all the major schools of the Greater Vehicle for centuries and continues to inspire and challenge students of Buddhism even to this day. Although recent scholarship has attempted to call into question the Indian origins of the text, it still remains inconclusive as to whether this was a work by the Indian sage Asvaghosha or a work originally composed in Chinese at a much later date. An original Sanskrit version of this text has never been found but if the Indian origins of this text were ever to be validated, it would confirm that this may be the earliest Mahayana shastra known to us, predating even the works of Nagarjuna. In the introduction to his translation of the Awakening of Faith, D.T. Suzuki even suggested that Asvaghosha might well have been the spiritual master of Nagarjuna himself although this would no doubt be contested by a number of scholars of the present day.

The principal aim of this treatise is to present, in as succinct manner as possible, an explication of the nature of the ultimate or highest reality as envisaged by Buddhism - Suchness or Dharmakaya - and to explain its relationship to the conditional or relative world of samsara. It also attempts to show how sentient beings, who find themselves at the crossroads of the Absolute and the Relative, participate in both and are thereby able to choose whether to surpass their finite condition or to confine themselves to the limitations of samsara; this choice or position constituting both the ambiguity and the supreme opportunity afforded by the human condition (which, as the Sutras point out, is so difficult to obtain). By examining some of the fundamental concepts in The Awakening of Faith, I will attempt to suggest how Shin Buddhism, informed by a deep metaphysical understanding, cannot only enrich our understanding of the Dharma but is, indeed, indispensable to addressing a number of important questions regarding the relationship the Buddha has to each one of us and the physical world in which we live; questions that are sometimes overlooked by Shin Buddhist commentators who appear reluctant to explore some of the metaphysical/ philosophical implications inherent in Jodo Shinshu when considered in light of the wider perspective of Mahayana wisdom.

The Awakening of Faith is considered to be the most representative text of the tathagata-garbha school of Mahayana. According to the famous Hua-yen Master, Fa-tsang (the most acclaimed traditional commentator on this work), Indian Buddhism can be classified into four major categories, namely: (1) Hinayana; (2) Madhyamika; (3) Yogacara; and (4) Tathagata-garbha, with the latter employing and developing the chief ideas of its predecessor schools. Other famous works belonging to this tradition of the Mahayana include the Lankavatara Sutra, the Srimala-devi Sutra and the Ratnagotra Shastra and, increasingly, more scholars are beginning to acknowledge the distinctiveness and importance of this school in its own right. [1] For Fa-tsang, the tathagata-garbha doctrine represents the theory of the interpenetration of the universal and the particular which cuts to the heart of how we should interpret this text accurately.

The principal concern of The Awakening of Faith is to give the reader a sense of what the absolute reality is in Buddhism. The vision of this reality is presented in a very terse and often paradoxical form which resists easy assimilation by the intellect but it is important to persevere with this difficulty and understand why this must be so. For the author of this treatise, what is real is Suchness alone - 'The Mind in terms of the Absolute is the one world of Reality and the essence of all phases of existence in their totality.' [2] The Zen master, Dogen, interprets this to mean that 'all existences, the entire range of phenomena, are of the One Mind alone and nothing is excluded. All these manifold phases of existence are equally of the One Mind and none differs from it.' [3] This is, of course, another way of saying that 'Samsara is Nirvana'. According to Asvaghosha, this 'One Mind' or Suchness is 'unborn' and 'imperishable' and that it is only through delusion (avidya) that all things come to be differentiated into independent existences separate from it. This world of seemingly distinct and disconnected entities as perceived by ordinary sentient beings is what essentially constitutes samsara with all its uncertainties, difficulties and unsatisfactoriness.

An important feature of Suchness or the Dharmakaya (considered metaphysically) is that it presents itself under two important aspects; namely, as being both transcendent and immanent. That is, as completely beyond anything that we can imagine or conceive in samsara and surpassing all of its manifold limitations and restrictions on the one hand and, on the other, as constituting the very heart or core of everything that exists - the deepest centre and 'Ultimate Source'[4] of samsara itself. Indeed, Asvaghosha goes as far as to say - paraphrasing the Srimala-devi Sutra - that 'The Mind as phenomena (samsara) is grounded on the Tathagata-garbha' [5]. Nothing exists outside the embrace of the Dharmakaya because all things that make up the infinitely varied and complex world around us are none other than its manifestations and self-expression.

In this sense, the highest reality in Buddhism is considered by Asvaghosha to be both sunya ('empty') and a-sunya ('not empty'). Firstly, 'Suchness is empty because from the very beginning it has never been related to any defiled states of existence, it is free from all marks of individual distinction of things and it has nothing to do with thoughts conceived by a deluded mind.' [6] Considered in this way, 'emptiness' should not be considered as 'non-existent' but simply (as Yoshito Hakeda, in his commentary, notes) 'devoid of a distinct, absolute, independent, permanent, individual entity or being as an irreducible component in a pluralistic world....However, this negation does not exclude the possibility of Suchness being seen from a different viewpoint or order with which one is not accustomed. Hence, there is room to present Suchness, if it is done symbolically, as replete with attributes.' [7] Asvaghosha, after pointing out that Suchness 'was not brought into existence in the beginning nor will it cease to be at the end of time; it is eternal through and through' goes on to say, 'From the beginning, Suchness in its nature is fully provided with all excellent qualities; namely, it is endowed with the light of great wisdom, the qualities of illuminating the entire universe, of true cognition and mind pure in its self-nature; of eternity, bliss, Self and purity; of refreshing coolness, immutability and freedom....these qualities are not independent from the essence of Suchness and are suprarational attributes of Buddhahood. Since it is endowed completely with all these and is not lacking anything, it is called the tathagata-garbha (when latent) and also the Dharmakaya of the Tathagata....Though it has, in reality, all these excellent qualities, it does not have any characteristics of differentiation; it retains its identity and is of one flavour; Suchness is solely is one without a Second.' [8]

There is much to think about in the passage just cited. An important distinction raised by Asvaghosha is that between the 'essence' of Suchness which is immutable, inconceivable, eternal etc. and the 'attributes' of Suchness which serve to infuse the opaqueness of samsara with the radiant influences and qualities of Buddha-nature. In this context, Asvaghosha often speaks of 'permeation' (vasana) in the sense of Suchness 'permeating' or 'perfuming' samsara and, in some cases, vice-versa. Given that, ultimately, there is no real distinction between the realms of nirvana and samsara, it is not surprising that the two should be intimately and inextricably intertwined - informing and reflecting each other like Indra's jewel-studded net in the Avatamsaka Sutra. For example, we read that 'The essence of Suchness is, from the beginningless beginning, endowed with the 'perfect state of purity'. It is provided with suprarational functions and the nature of manifesting itself. Because of these two reasons, it permeates perpetually into ignorance. Through the force of this permeation, it induces a man to loathe the suffering of samsara, to seek bliss in Nirvana and, believing that he has the principle of Suchness within himself, to make up his mind to exert himself.[9] Also, we read: 'The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas all desire to liberate all men, spontaneously permeating them with their spiritual influences and never forsaking them. Through the power of the wisdom which is one with Suchness, they manifest activities in response to the needs of men as they see and hear them.' [10]

An interesting and important feature of this treatise is that it does not restrict the manifestations of Suchness to Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya Buddhas alone. That which is formless reveals itself through forms (nama-rupa), to be sure, but the forms that it can assume are limitless and are, indeed, the entire cosmos at all its levels. Asvaghosha states: 'Since the Dharmakaya is the essence of corporeal form, it is capable of appearing in corporeal form because, from the beginning, corporeal form and Mind have been non-dual....Since the essential nature of wisdom is identical with corporeal form, the essence of corporeal form which has yet to be divided into tangible forms, is called Dharmakaya pervading everywhere. Its manifested corporeal forms have no limitations.' [11] D.T. Suzuki, in his Outlines of Mahayana Buddhism, provides a very insightful comment on this question [12]:

Suchness as absolute is too remote, too abstract and its existence or non-existence seems not to affect us in our daily social life, inasmuch as it is transcendental. In order to enter into our limited consciousness, to become the norm of our conscious activities, to regulate the course of the evolutionary tide in nature, Suchness must surrender its 'splendid isolation', must abandon its absoluteness. When Suchness thus comes down from its sovereign-seat in the realm of unthinkability, we have this universe unfolded before our eyes in all its diversity and magnificence. Twinkling stars inlaid in the vaulted sky; the planet elaborately decorated with verdant meadows, towering mountains and rolling waves; the beasts wildly running through the thickets; the summer heavens ornamented with white fleecy clouds and, on earth, all branches and leaves growing in abundant luxury; the winter prairie destitute of all animation, only with naked trees here and there trembling in the dreary north winds; all these manifestations, not varying a hair's breadth of deviation from their mathematical, astronomical, physical, chemical and biological laws, are naught else than the work of conditional Suchness in nature. When we turn to human life and history, we have the work of conditional Suchness manifested in all forms of activity as passions, aspirations, imaginations, intellectual efforts etc. It makes us desire to eat when hungry, and to drink when thirsty; it makes the man long for the woman, and the woman for the man; it keeps children in merriment and frolic; it braces men and women bravely to carry the burden of life....In brief, all the kaleidoscopic changes of this phenomenal world, subjective as well as objective, come from the playing hands of conditional Suchness.

Suzuki was greatly influenced by The Awakening of Faith when he wrote this book, and the above passage has been quoted at length to demonstrate how the concept of the essence of Suchness and its manifestations or 'reflections' in the evanescent world of samsara can be understood or assimilated in a more concrete fashion. Suzuki further notes: 'It is on account of our limited senses and finite mind that we have a world of particulars which, as it is, is no more than a fragment of absolute Suchness. And yet, it is through this fragmentary manifestation that we are finally enabled to reach the fundamental nature of being in its entirety' [13]. For Asvaghosha, 'what is immortal and what is mortal are harmoniously blended, for they are not one, nor are they separate....herein all things are organised; hereby all things are created.' [14]

How is it possible, one may ask, for the Absolute and the relative, Nirvana and Samsara to be both separate and inseparable at the same time ? Asvaghosha gives us a simile that may be helpful in understanding this. With regard to identity, he says: 'Just as pieces of various kinds of pottery are of the same nature in that they are made of clay, so the various magic-like manifestations (maya) of both enlightenment and non-enlightenment are aspects of the same essence, Suchness.[15] With regard to non-identity, he says: 'Just as various pieces of pottery differ from each other, so differences exist between the states of enlightenment and non-enlightenment, and between the magic-like manifestations of Suchness manifested in accordance with the mentality of men in defilement, and those of men in ignorance who are defiled (ie. blinded) as to the essential nature of Suchness.'[16]

Earlier, I mentioned Asvaghosha's notion that the human state lies at the intersection of the Absolute and Relative orders; in other words, that sentient beings, by nature, are able to participate in both realms. 'The state of man, who belongs intrinsically to the Absolute and yet, in actuality, remains in the phenomenal, finite and profane order, is expressed in terms of the tathagata-garbha (receptacle of the Absolute)'[17]. According to Yoshito Hakeda, 'this concept grew out of attempts to explain how man, while residing in the temporal order, at the same time possesses the potential to reinstate himself in the infinite order.'[18] It would appear, then, that the tathagata-garbha is the Dharmakaya immanent within all sentient beings and the phenomenal order, the intrinsic Buddha-nature in its latent form awaiting its full flowering into enlightenment which has yet to be realized. Therefore, man is originally enlightened or saved but because he does not realize this, he continues to suffer and wander aimlessly in samsara seeking illumination and deliverance in places other than where it is to be truly found. If it were not for the constant presence of the tathagata-garbha in all sentient beings, their eventual enlightenment would not be possible. However, even though 'the principle of Suchness in men is absolutely pure in its essential nature, it is filled with innumerable impurity of defilements'[19] effectively obscuring it from our consciousness and realization. This is the essential meaning of avidya or basic ignorance which afflicts all of us as ordinary beings (Skt. prthagjana; Jap. bombu). This point leads Asvaghosha to his treatment of the alaya-vijnana or 'storehouse consciousness'. Unfortunately, considerations of space preclude me from discussing this topic at any length, suffice it to say that a thorough study of this concept is critical to our understanding of how karma, both individual and collective, operates in the world. There has been much heated debate over the centuries as to whether the alaya-vijnana, as the origin of our fundamental consciousness, is ultimately identical with Suchness or not, but this debate must be left for another time.

We must now turn to Shinran and see how the ideas raised in the foregoing discussion are reflected in his approach to the Dharma. It is sometimes claimed that Shinran never subscribed to the notion of buddha-nature and that this concept has no place in Pure Land thought. I will attempt to show that this conjecture is certainly erroneous and that Jodo Shinshu can, in no way, be considered an authentic form of Mahayana if it really denied such a fundamentally important proposition.

In his Notes on 'Essentials of Faith Alone', Shinran, in commenting on a hymn from Shan-tao, makes the following observations about Nirvana[20]:

Nirvana has innumerable names. It is impossible to give them in detail; I will list only a few. Nirvana is called extinction of passions, the uncreated, peaceful happiness, eternal bliss, true reality, Dharmakaya, dharma-nature, suchness, oneness and Buddha-nature. Buddha-nature is none other than Tathagata. This Tathagata pervades the countless worlds; it fills the hearts and minds of the ocean of all beings. Thus, plants, trees and land all attain Buddhahood. Since it is with these hearts and minds of all sentient beings that they entrust themselves to the Vow of the dharma-body as compassionate means, this shinjin is none other than Buddha-nature. This Buddha-nature is dharma-nature. Dharma-nature is the Dharmakaya.

Not only does Shinran explicitly recognize the reality of buddha-nature in this passage, but he identifies it with shinjin itself. But in also identifying buddha-nature with the Dharmakaya, he is effectively saying that the innermost reality of all ordinary beings is Suchness itself and that it is this reality that expresses itself in the minds of deluded beings as the embrace of Amida's wisdom and compassion. In one of his famous letters, Shinran makes the following observation[21]:

The Supreme Buddha is formless and because of being formless is called 'jinen'. When this Buddha is shown as being with form, it is not called the supreme nirvana (Buddha). In order to make us realize that the true Buddha is formless, it is expressly called Amida Buddha; so I have been taught. Amida Buddha is the medium through which we are made to realize 'jinen'.

Because we cannot see buddha-nature directly, given the depth of passions and ignorance, Suchness, in its personified form of Amida, takes the initiative with regard to those who are spiritually incapacitated and enters our hearts and minds as shinjin. This is not to say that when we are awakened to other-power faith we receive something new which we did not possess before. All beings possess buddha-nature; otherwise their eventual enlightenment would be impossible - this truth is also expressed by the saying that Amida has always embraced us from the 'beginningless past'. However, because we have been blind to this fact all our lives, we feel that we are nothing but a fragile bundle of klesa and avidya and that there is no buddha-nature to be found in the dark depths of our ignorant and delusional minds. Nevertheless, when we are awakened to shinjin through the working of Amida's Vow, we come to realize not only that his Infinite Light is our true nature but that it is the real essence of all that exists. In such an experience, one's ego is naturally emptied of its powerful stranglehold and its pernicious influence transformed into illumination, thanks to Amida's Light which provides us with the only reliable standard for that which is true and real.

Yoshifumi Ueda and Dennis Hirota, in their introduction to Shinran, make the following observation[22]:

Dharma-body as suchness always fills the minds of all sentient beings, and when beings realize shinjin - when their minds become one with the mind of dharma-body as compassionate means - for the first time this becomes known to them. Before realization of shinjin, they are unaware of it, for the unenlightened, delusional minds of beings and the dharma-body as suchness that fills them stand in absolute opposition and mutual negation. For this reason, the basic Mahayana teaching that all beings possess buddha-nature is not a form of pantheism. Through the transformation that occurs with the realization of shinjin, this opposition is overcome, and the unenlightened mind becomes aware of dharma-body or true reality that fills it. Thus, to realize shinjin is to return to one's fundamental reality.

In other words, shinjin is not something that we receive from without, something that is simply added to us from outside ourselves; it is the realization of that which constitutes our true self and which is shared with all other beings - a realization of which we are entirely ignorant until Amida's light pierces the hard crust of our egoistic shell and reveals the dharma-body within pervading all our hearts and minds. Such a realization is not enlightenment, of course, because the ego is only checked, not eliminated - we continue to dwell in a shadow-land simultaneously comprised of both darkness and light. The aspirant for the Pure Land must await the final moment of death when the full radiance of buddha-nature can shine, unimpeded, in all its glory.

Before moving on from this topic, it should be noted that not only is shinjin buddha-nature revealing itself as the mind of Amida in us but it is prajna, or the wisdom of Amida, as well. Without prajna, no form of Buddhist wisdom is possible and in the experience of shinjin, we receive the wisdom inherent in Amida's enlightenment as prajna illuminating the gross turbidity and darkness of our minds. In the Shoshinge, Shinran boldly proclaims that 'When Faith is raised in a deluded and defiled ordinary man, he is made aware that Birth-and-Death is itself Nirvana.'[23] Such a realization could only be possible if the wisdom given to us by Amida is identical with the prajna which enables us to see reality as it truly is - namely, as the permeation of Suchness in all things; the universal embrace of Amida's infinite light throughout the ten directions of the universe.

So what insights can The Awakening of Faith contribute to our understanding of Amida ? As the personified form of Suchness or formless reality, Amida must also share the essential attributes of the supreme reality of Dharmakaya itself; namely, 'eternity, bliss, purity, immutability and freedom'[24] to quote Asvaghosha. If we accept the comprehensive account given of the Dharmakaya by Asvaghosha earlier in this discussion, we have to concede that the activity of Amida cannot simply be restricted to the domain of our individual spiritual realization. All existence and life in the 'countless worlds' of the universe - from the grossest physical level to the most rarefied state of our immaterial being must be envisaged as the operation and manifestation of Suchness itself in its limitless variety. Amida, who is inseparable from Suchness, is described as Infinite Light because there is nowhere where his light does not shine; nothing which it cannot penetrate. This means more than just the fact that all beings are embraced. It also means that all existence - 'plants, trees and land' as Shinran would say - is the manifestation of Amida as 'conditioned Suchness' (to use Suzuki's term) and equally capable of revealing his presence within samsara to those whose spiritual eye has been informed by shinjin. The corporeal forms that the dharma-body of Amida is able to assume are, of course, limited but they are necessary if limited beings (also fragmentary reflections of the Dharmakaya) are to recognize true reality within the manifold limitations of the samsaric prison in which we find ourselves. This, ultimately, is the meaning of upaya - tailoring the truth to the capacities of those in need of enlightenment. The ultimate reality in Mahayana Buddhism is, therefore, seen to be a fully dynamic reality, ceaselessly reaching out to all sentient beings and permeating or 'perfuming' (as Asvaghosha would say) their hearts and minds with its blissful and liberating presence. It is not simply a static, unattainable entity which stands aloof from the creatures that are its very expression and raison d'ètre. As Shugaku Yamabe has pointed out[25]:

In short, out of the Absolute Buddha, or Dharmakaya, has the Buddha of salvation appeared and naturally, the spirit of Amida is in deep and intimate communion with the Absolute itself. And on our side, as we are also sharers in the being of the Absolute Buddha, we and Amida must be said to be one in substance, only differing in functions.

There are some who will doubtless object that the foregoing treatment of Amida completely ignores the traditional explanation of the origin of Amida as depicted in the story of Dharmakara as found in the Larger Sutra. It is clear from the writings of Shinran, that he considers Dharmakara to be a form assumed by Suchness itself in order to convey the teaching and practice of the Primal Vow and the Nembutsu to stranded and suffering beings in samsara. If this is true then, strictly speaking, Amida is eternal (like Suchness itself) and cannot be properly said to have an origin in time (e.g. 'ten kalpas ago'). However, there must have been a time when the story of Amida as Dharmakara first became known to sentient beings in this world (through Sakyamuni) and possibly other worlds 'in the ten directions'. Perhaps the emergence of Dharmakara from the realm of Suchness at a particular point in time was in response to the needs of humanity at the dawn of the present age of mappo when spiritual darkness had already begun to descend on the world. Another difficulty raised by some commentators is that if we consider the Pure Land to be synonymous with Nirvana (as Shinran does), then how can it be said that Dharmakara, by simply accumulating practices over many kalpas, created such a Pure Land if it is already acknowledged that, being Nirvana itself, such a reality is eternal and, therefore, 'uncreated'? It might, therefore, perhaps be better to speak of Dharmakara as having 'revealed' these eternal verities through the rich upayas we find in the sutras rather than having brought them into being in the literal sense that is sometimes supposed. This problem, however, is not a substantial one for Jodo Buddhists, for example, who still maintain a distinction between the Pure Land as a preparatory place for Nirvava and Nirvana itself.

The final question I wish to address is the function of the Name in Jodo Shinshu and to see whether The Awakening of Faith can help us to understand this function better. Towards the end of his treatise, Asvaghosha states[26]:

Suppose there is a man who learns this teaching for the first time and wishes to seek the correct faith but lacks courage and strength. Because he lives in this world of suffering, he fears that he will not always be able to meet the Buddhas and honour them personally, and that, faith being difficult to perfect, he will be inclined to fall back. He should know that the Tathagatas have an excellent expedient means by which they can protect his faith: that is, through the strength of wholehearted meditation on the Buddha, he will, in fulfillment of his wishes, be able to be born in the Buddha-land beyond, to see the Buddha always, and to be forever separated from the evil states of existence.

He then proceeds to cite a reference to Amitabha from a sutra as an authority for such a view. The citation is not from the Triple Sutra as such but the perspective is very akin to that which we find in the these works. Although Asvaghosha recommends the nembutsu in the sense of buddhanusmriti or 'remembrance of the Buddha', there is no explicit exhortation to recitation of the Name itself. Nevertheless, his conception of the working of Suchness within samsara can furnish us with some very helpful keys in understanding the significance of the Name.

In the Notes on 'Essentials of Faith Alone', Shinran states[27]:

The sacred name of Amida surpasses measure, description and conceptual understanding; it is the Name of the Vow embodying great love and great compassion, which brings all sentient beings into the supreme nirvana....the Name spreads universally throughout the worlds in the ten quarters, countless as minute particles, and guides all to the practice of the Buddha's teaching.

It is clear that Shinran envisaged the Name to possess all the qualities of enlightenment itself - the perfect form taken by the formless Buddha in order to make itself known and realized by sentient beings. This could only be possible if the Name were none other than the buddha-nature itself; otherwise such a transforming effect could not be possible. This perspective is entirely consistent with Asvaghosha's belief that the ultimate reality, being fundamentally non-dual with that which appears to be its complete opposite, can invest any form with its presence and light as a means of making itself known. Although all existence is a conditioned manifestation of Suchness and can, in principle at least, awaken prajna if the proper meditations are performed, the Name has been particularly singled-out by the Buddha as a more direct and efficacious means of providing that very same insight without us having to rely on our own imagined strength or wisdom. In other words, to use the terminology of The Awakening of Faith, Suchness - in the form of the Name - 'permeates' or 'perfumes' the hearts and minds of deluded beings in order to awaken us to shinjin and to the realization that all things possess buddha-nature, being none other than forms and reflections of Suchness itself in the samsaric world of relativity and limitation. Note that the initiative for this realization comes from the Buddha and not from us - if it were not for the operation of the Name and the Light which it embodies, no ignorant beings could ever come to an awareness of Amida's reality.

If shinjin, then, comes entirely from the Buddha and is not determined by our individual abilities or merits, why is it that some people have it and others do not ? If the light of Amida is unhindered by the evil passions of sentient beings, why is it that there are still so many people who are entirely bereft of any awareness of the Dharma ? Rennyo's answer was in terms of the requisite karmic conditions in each individual being fully matured to the point where one could be in the position to 'hear' the Dharma for the first time. Shinran also stressed the importance of the 'inner cause' of birth which is 'true and real shinjin' in contrast to the 'outer cause' of the Name and the light which, on their own, are not sufficient to bring about birth. Both 'inner' and 'outer', direct and indirect, causes must be present in order for the Name to be effective in the realization of Amida's mind.

By way of conclusion, I should like to bring together the various threads of this paper by suggesting how, in the light of The Awakening of Faith, one might approach the question of 'practice' in Jodo Shinshu. A number of commentators have observed that Shinran does not offer any concrete advice on how shinjin is to be realized for he considers true practice to be given by Amida. As Ueda and Hirota note[28]:

Shinran advises his followers, 'Simply entrust yourself to the Tathagata' or 'Simply entrust yourself to the power of the Vow', yet in his writings there is no instruction concerning how one should do this and no description of a general process that results in realization of shinjin. This is to be expected; were there some course of action to be fulfilled in order to attain shinjin, it would become our own practice, subject to our deliberation and design....Nevertheless, although one might wish to cast off the pain and self-attachment of one's life and entrust oneself to the Vow, this is not easily accomplished. We are told to eliminate all our desperate clinging to the goodness and worth of ourselves and rely on Amida, but though we might wish to do so, since 'the power of the Vow' cannot be perceived, wholehearted trust is impossible.

No wonder, perhaps, that Shinran calls the realization of shinjin, 'the most difficult among all things difficult' ! How are we, then, to conduct ourselves in the face of this difficulty ?

I believe that an initial clue can be gleaned from Asvaghosha when he states[29]:

It may be said that there is the principle of Suchness and that it can permeate into ignorance. Through the force of this permeation, Suchness causes the deluded mind to loathe the suffering of birth-and-death and to aspire for Nirvana. Because this mind, though still deluded, is now possessed with loathing and aspiration, it permeates into Suchness in that it induces Suchness to manifest itself. Thus a man comes to believe in his essential nature...

Hakeda makes the following commentary on this important passage[30]:

This permeation has traditionally been understood as 'internal permeation'. It is the inner urge of Suchness in man to emerge, so to speak, from the state of unawareness to the state of awareness. It is an internal movement of Suchness within, from potential to actual, or from essence to existence, so that essence permeates into existence, or nirvana into samsara. Suchness within, ie. original enlightenment, is constantly asserting itself in order to be actualized by breaking through the wall of ignorance.

In this way, one can see that the initiative for seeking enlightenment can only come from Enlightenment itself. Strictly speaking, our limited egos can contribute nothing to this process because they are ultimately insubstantial and unreal - 'empty' of self-being and thus incapable of generating light out of darkness. All we can really do, under these circumstances, is to maintain mindfulness of Amida's Dharma through monpo, or 'hearing' (Skt. sruta-maya-jnana). This calls for an attitude of receptivity whereby we remain open to the influence and blessings of the Infinite Light shining from both within and without. Of course, such a degree of receptivity presupposes favourably appropriate karmic conditions but one can never know whether such conditions exist in advance of our actually striving to conform to that which we acknowledge to be the truth. Once we are able to accept, admittedly after much struggle and travail, the Primal Vow into our lives, we leave ourselves open to its complete embrace which serves to guide us through the stormy ocean of samsara towards the blissful shores of the Land of Light wherein all the 'ice' of our doubts, anxieties and shortcomings are finally transformed into the soothing waters of emancipation.

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