Kanji for Muryoko

'Infinite Light'

Journal of Shin Buddhism


The following Dharma message was given by Rev Mark Healsmith
during the Hana Matsuri service on 9th April 2006

Today I'd like to consider this passage from Tannisho, (A Record in Lament of Divergences, a record of Shinran Shonin's words):

Shinran remarked, My entrusting heart (shinjin) and the Master's are one and the same. Seikan-bo, Nembutsu-bo, and others among his fellow practicers strongly argued, 'How can your entrusting heart be the same as the Master's?' Shinran responded, 'The Master possesses vast wisdom and learning, so I would be mistaken if I claimed to be the same in those respects, but concerning the entrusting heart that is the cause of birth, there is no difference whatever. The Master's entrusting heart and mine are one and the same.' The others remained skeptical, however, asking how that could be. So finally they all agreed that the argument should be brought before Honen to determine which side was right. When they presented the details of the matter, Master Honen said, 'My entrusting heart has been given by Amida; so has that of Shinran. Therefore they are one and the same. A person with a different entrusting heart will surely not go to the same Pure Land to which I will go.' Thus it seems likely that among people of the whole-hearted single practice now also, there are those not one in the entrusting heart with Shinran.

There is so much to be learned from this passage. As with all of Tannisho it is dense with meaning. As a starting point we can learn something of how to teach - not just the Dharma, but anything. A teacher must be humble.

Nobody knows everything and sometimes the one being taught can teach the teacher. Also learning anything requires openness to what is being taught, and arrogant certainty on the part of the teacher will surely lead to resistance on the part of the student. Honen casts his lesson, his admonition in such a gentle way. He doesn't tell the others that they are wrong. He invites them to consider that his entrusting heart and Shinran's are one, and therefore what the others think they have awakened to may not be the same and they should reflect on that. Yuien-bo, who compiled Tannisho, adds a similar admonition to his readers and to us. This is all in the spirit of the words of Shakyamuni Buddha throughout His teachings that we don't just take His word for things but that we should investigate and use His teachings to see if they work.

Where specifically does this passage lead us? Why did this episode take place? This leads me to think about Shinran's time with Honen. From the age of 29 when Shinran met his Master until 6 years later when they were both exiled and were parted, Shinran was with Honen. What did Shinran do in these 6 years?

We know that at the age of 33 Shinran was permitted to copy Honen's major work, 'A Collection of Passages on the Nembutsu chosen in the Original Vow'.

We believe therefore that Shinran was a close disciple of Honen as few were allowed this privilege. We don't know much else. What I presume Shinran was doing was hearing the Dharma. By reading and reciting the sutras, by watching and hearing the Master and no doubt by individual teaching from the Master, Shinran was deepening his insight, a process that by the biographical details of Shinran's life that we have and by the study of his writings, we know went on all his life. The other followers of Honen were presumably doing much the same as Shinran, but their entrusting heart was not necessarily the same as Honen's and Shinran's at the time of the above events. Why was this so?

The answer it seems to me is like the Pure Land Teachings themselves, simple yet profound, mysterious and wonderful.

If Shinran and the others were outwardly engaged in the same practice but did not have the same entrusting heart, this leads us to consider the whole issue of causation.

The concept of cause and effect is both a secular commonsense observation, and in the deeper sense of the workings of karma, a profound psychological and spiritual truth. It is a commonplace observation, however, that not everything in life follows a pattern of cause and effect comprehensible to the everyday observer, that is by you and me.

There are many reasons for this. Simple secular ignorance may make simple secular truths obscure to us. There is much that happens in life that only experts can explain - the pattern of the weather is an example. The working of an automobile to the mechanically ungifted or uninterested is an even simpler example.

Attempting to understand life, though, is hard and only a Buddha can trace the potentially infinite regress of causes and conditions that contribute to even an apparently simple event. We fall in love; we are moved by beauty; we fall over and break a leg, all for no obvious reason. We cannot know ourselves, other people, or the world well enough to understand our lives fully. Karma operates across the past, present and future, but we are limited to our imperfect understanding of our present selves.

If we find it hard to understand the mechanics of the physical world, the intricacies of relationships or our own natures, how much harder is it for we limited embodied beings to understand the true nature of reality, or even what true entrusting might be. The difficulty is that the harder we try to solve the problem, the harder we try to achieve a state of spiritual peace, the further we are from it. The beauty of it is that once we give up, once we truly acknowledge the state of spiritual inadequacy and wretchedness that is our inescapable burden of karmic evil, then we are open to Amida's call and true entrusting is feely given to each us. We do not have to understand how this happens; it is incomprehensible for we ordinary people and that does not matter. Amida accepts us as we are and accomplishes everything for us and has already done so from incalculable past when He made the Original Vow.

The other followers of Honen who questioned Shinran's understanding just didn't get it. They were with Honen, superficially doing the same as Shinran but really, I guess they were engaged in a very different practice to Shinran's. Perhaps they saw things this way: Honen is a learned and wise monk, he is a strict keeper of the precepts, he says the Nembutsu thousands of times a day. By conventional cause and effect therefore, if one emulates Honen one will achieve his realization.

Shinran probably already (and in his later writings he makes this clear) saw things differently. We need to listen to the Dharma - to hear the Pure Land teachings - and reflect upon our spiritual helplessness and receive the Buddha's mind of faith. This is mysterious and wonderful and not in the least mechanistic. It comes about naturally and without effort on our part. Conventional cause and effect will do nicely if one is building a bridge; it is futile in the quest for spiritual fulfillment.

There is more to be learned from this passage though. What Shinran is asserting, and what Honen agrees is true is that the diamond-like mind of shinjin, because it is the Buddha's mind given to us, is always and everywhere the same. It was the same in Shinran and Honen, and it is the same in 21st century Australia as it was in 13th century Japan. Although the emphasis of Shinran's understanding evolved over time, the entrusting heart that is the mind of Amida was with him from his time with Honen and this entrusting heart that was the same in Shinran and his Master is the same in each of us today if we hear Amida's call.

The oneness of the non-dual mind of the Buddha, this commonality of experience of Jodo Shinshu followers of whatever time or place is the key to the continuity of the Hongwanji as an institution. The institution has in turn guarded and transmitted the teachings which open all of us to the experience of shinjin. This experience gives us our real connection to the wondrous birth of Shakyamuni Buddha that we celebrate today. Shakyamuni Buddha asserted that His most important, his most long-lasting teachings were the Pure Land teachings and the living legacy of Shakyamuni Buddha is that those teachings illume us today as they have countless others since His time.

It is fitting, therefore, that today we celebrate with gratitude the birth of Shakyamuni Buddha and on the same day celebrate the 13th anniversary of the founding of the Hongwanji Buddhist Mission of Australia. HBMA represents the continuity in Australia of the centuries long mission of the Hongwanji - to make available to all who will hear the Pure Land teachings transmitted from our teacher Shinran Shonin, and thereby the opportunity to be given Amida Buddha's mind of true entrusting. For this I am truly grateful and I hope our small sangha can live and grow here for as long as the Pure Land teachings last.

In Gassho.

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