Kanji for Muryoko

'Infinite Light'

Journal of Shin Buddhism



Thank you Sensei for this opportunity to speak here again, and thank you all for attending this important service today. While our remembering of our teacher Shinran Shonin is solemn, it should prompt us to joyful gratitude that he devoted most of his long life to transmitting the true essence of the Pure Land way that he received from his teacher Honen Shonin. My words today arise from thinking about what we have to be grateful for today and every day.

Gratitude is I think one of the most beautiful and nourishing emotions that we can experience. It nurtures all manner of positive acts of mind, speech and body. It cements family relationships; it is the essential but unspoken accompaniment to trust in innumerable of the interactions of civil society. In my profession, gratitude to our teachers motivates us to pass on our knowledge freely to the next generation of doctors. When you stop and think about it there is so very much to be grateful for. I think that it is only through gratitude that we bonbu can get a glimpse of direct knowledge (prajna) of the interdependence of all things.

As wonderful and special as gratitude in everyday life is, there is a gratitude that surpasses all of this. I would like to read No. 30 in the collection of Rennyo Shonin's letters, Gobunshoo: 'The Teaching of Our Tradition'.

If you wish to know thoroughly the essentials of the teaching recommended in our tradition and attain birth in the land of bliss, you should, first of all, know about the entrusting heart of Other Power.

What is the entrusting heart of Other Power for? It is the provision by which helpless beings like us can easily be born in the Pure Land.

How is it to have the entrusting heart of Other Power? It is simply to awaken a single thought of entrusting with single-minded and unwavering reliance on Amida Tathagata without any qualms; then the Buddha unfailingly sends forth the embracing light and keeps you within it while you are in this Saha world. This is precisely how your birth is settled.

Thus, Namo Amida Butsu itself is how the entrusting heart of Other Power has been established in you. You should understand that this entrusting heart reveals how Namo Amida Butsu has been fulfilled. So you should not have even a trace of doubt that only by attaining this entrusting heart of Other Power, you are to be easily born into the land of bliss.

How wonderful is Amida's Primal Vow! How could you express your deep gratitude for Amida's benevolence? You should express your gratitude for Amida Tathagata's benevolence by simply reciting Namo Amida Butsu always, whether awake or asleep.

What should be your motivation for saying Namo Amida Butsu? Remember that it is to express your joyful gratitude and appreciation to the benevolence of Amida Tathagata for saving you.

Humbly and respectfully.

The central importance of gratitude is a recurring theme in Rennyo's letters. This is the all surpassing gratitude. What is there to be grateful for? Rennyo goes straight to the heart of the matter in the first paragraph - '... you should, first of all, know about the entrusting heart of Other Power.' The entrusting heart is shinjin and a direct consequence of shinjin is gratitude. Gratitude is not the point of the entrusting heart though. The entrusting heart that the Buddha gives us has one purpose. It is the only means by which '... helpless beings like us can easily be born in the Pure Land.' Our gratitude is because the Buddha freely gives us this mind, which is the entrusting heart and is the means by which we will be born in the Pure Land.

Rennyo then compassionately takes the reader by the hand and explains the content of the experience of shinjin. It is 'single minded and unwavering reliance on Amida Tathagata'. It is the embracing light that the Buddha sends forth. Rennyo's words are simple and concrete but listen deeply to them and you will hear the Buddha's call.

In the next part of this letter Rennyo is telling us that saying the Nembutsu is the entrusting heart and the entrusting heart is the Nembutsu. In the saying of the Nembutsu there is no duality. There is no room for doubt. Further, in Tannisho it is recorded that Shinran Shonin said:

The Nembutsu, for its practicers, is not a practice or a good act. Since it is not performed out of one's own designs, it is not a practice. Since it is not good done through one's own calculation, it is not a good act. Because it arises wholly from Other Power and is free of self-power, for the practicer, it is not a practice or a good act.'

Thus, when we have the entrusting heart, the Nembutsu is performed not out of our own design or calculation. The entrusting heart itself is the great practice of Amida Buddha freely given and it is the Nembutsu. There is no duality here. This is subtle and beautiful. You have to listen carefully, and when you hear you will be filled with gratitude.

In the last paragraphs Rennyo, as he does so often in his letters, tells us that we should express our gratitude, and that the form this should take is recitation of the Nembutsu. This gratitude is not forced or self determined. It does not arise 'through one's own calculations'. It too 'arises wholly from Other Power'. Mundane gratitude can be cultivated, for example in Naikan practice and Rennyo may be misunderstood as suggesting this. While the cultivation of gratitude may have psychological and social benefits, and while gratitude is a crucial element of the Jodo Shinshu way, we should not think that the gratitude that can be cultivated is the gratitude that Rennyo is concerned with. The gratitude that leads us to the Nembutsu is given to us by the Buddha and has no element of calculation. It is an expression of shinjin, a mark of shinjin, an integral part of shinjin and Rennyo emphasizes it again and again so that we, his readers, will look into ourselves. If we find that gratitude toward Amida Tathagata is not present we should come to a realization of our spiritual wretchedness and open our hearts to the Buddha's calling voice. When gratitude is present, saying the Nembutsu is uncalculated. Saying the Nembutsu and the mind that is grateful is, again, non-dual. Finally, how can one say the Nembutsu 'always, whether awake or asleep'? Remember that the Nembutsu and the entrusting heart are non-dual.

I have perhaps rather laboured the point as far as gratitude goes, but gratitude, I feel, is the whole point of today's commemoration. This commemoration is a serious, but joyful time. Rennyo could not have taught what he did without having received the teachings of Shinran Shonin and for that he was surely grateful. Today together we can feel grateful for Shinran's life and struggle, a joyful gratitude which spreads to Shinran's teacher Honen, to all the Pure Land masters, to our great teacher Shakyamuni Buddha and most especially to Amida Buddha.

Thank you for listening to these random and inadequate thoughts.


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