Reflections on the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho: A Guide
by Hisao Inagaki, Professor Emeritus Ryukoku University, Kyoto, Japan

The True Enlightenment

At the basis of the True Enlightenment is the Eleventh Vow, the Vow of Unfailing Attainment of Nirvana, which reads:

If, when I attain Buddhahood, humans and devas in my land should not dwell in the definitely assured stage and unfailingly reach nirvana, may I not attain perfect enlightenment. (BDK, 12-II, IV, p. 15)

In the ordinary bodhisattva way, when practices are accomplished, one realizes enlightenment. In Jodo Shinshu, since the perfectly accomplished practice has already been endowed to us through the Name, we do not need to cultivate any practice whatsoever. As soon as the True Faith is established, we are assured of enlightenment in compliance with the Eleventh Vow. The True Enlightenment is the final goal of the Mahayana pursuit of the Way; it is the highest Nirvana; it is the Dharmakaya; it is True Suchness.

It must be clarified, from the beginning that the Mahayana Nirvana is different from the Hinayana Nirvana in that this is not merely a state of extinction; it is a state of dynamic activity. Originally, Nirvana is the state in which our evil passions, along with our tenacious self-attachment, are completely eradicated. The Mahayana Nirvana contains both a negative aspect and a positive aspect. The Mahayana speaks of ‘Nirvana of no-abode’ (apratisthita-nirvana); based on the principle of non-duality of Samsara and Nirvana, those who attain Nirvana in the Pure Land do not dwell there indefinitely but are saving suffering beings in Samsara. They, as bodhisattvas, are engaged in endless altruistic activities in accordance with the Twenty-second Vow. In connection with this, we must note that they act in compliance with Amida’s ‘Endowment in the aspect of Returning’. This vow reads:

If, when I attain Buddhahood, humans and devas in my lands of the other directions who visit my land should not ultimately and unfailingly reach the stage of becoming a Buddha after one more life, may I not attain perfect enlightenment. Excepted are those who wish to teach and guide sentient beings in accordance with their original vows. For they will wear the armor of great vows, accumulate merit, deliver all beings from birth and death, visit Buddha Tathagatas throughout the ten directions, enlighten countless sentient beings as numerous as the sands of the Ganges River, and establish them in highest, perfect enlightenment. Such bodhisattvas transcend the course of practice of ordinary bodhisattvas, manifest the practices of all the bodhisattva stages, and cultivate the virtues of Samantabhadra. (BDK, 12-II, IV, p. 16)

This vow first assures that those who come to the Pure Land reach the stage of becoming a Buddha after one more life (eka-jati-pratibaddha), which is the highest bodhisattva stage. Secondly, the exclusion clause admits that those who so wish can remain as bodhisattvas of no rank indefinitely to save living beings. Shinran seems to emphasize the latter.

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