A Standard of Shinshu Faith
Ryosetsu Fujiwara

Effect of Faith

1. What are the effects of Shinshu Faith?

There are two. One is the 'Benefit of Attaining Nirvana'; the other is the 'Benefit of Abiding in The Rank of the Assured.' These two benefits are vowed in the eleventh Vow.

2. What is Nirvana?

Nirvana is a Sanskrit word which means 'extinction' (of the flame of lust) or 'emancipation' (from Samsara or birth and death). Mahayana Buddhism views it as the status of absolute freedom and tranquility. It is a synonym of Buddhahood and refers to the final goal of Buddhist life. Sometimes this term is used to mean Shakyamuni's death, this is because Shakyamuni as Nirmanakaya was believed to have returned to eternal and perfect Nirvana with his physical death.

3. What is the 'Rank of the Assured'?

It is the state in which those who have true Faith are assured of Birth in the Pure Land and attainment of Nirvana. This rank is called 'Shojoju' in Japanese, and it is identical with 'Futaiten' or 'Non-retrogressive State.' The term was originally used for the first of the 'Ten Ranks of Bodhisattvahood.' However, Shinran interpreted it as the benefit which is given by Amida at the moment of the Awakening of Faith.

4. Does it mean that a portion of Buddhahood is realised in this rank?

As long as our physical body lasts and evil karmas still work day by day, we cannot become Buddha. We remain ordinary persons filled with sufferings and passions until our life's end. The only change is that as the cause for Buddhahood has been received, the root of the evil Karma is severed and thus it does not carry its effect into the next life.

5. What happens if we are disturbed by passons and pains on our death-bed?

Nothing happens. Whether we suffer from unrest and agony or keep mindfulness does not make any difference. Since Buddha's absolute virtue has been received through Faith and we are already in His 'All-embracing and Non-forsaking Light,' we are sure to be born in His Land regardless of our mental condition on the death-bed. And in the instant of Birth in the Pure Land, we become Buddha.

6. Does Shinshu set forth any practical benefits of Faith besides the ultimate attainment, i.e. Buddhahood?

Shinran states in the Kyogyoshinsho that those who have the diamond-hard, true Faith unfailingly obtain the 'Ten Benefits' in the present life. The 'Rank of the assured' is one of these.

7. Why was this benefit mentioned and were the other nine benefits neglected in the Eleventh Vow?

The 'Benefit of Abiding in the Rank of the Assured' is the most fundamental of these ten benefits, the remaining nine are the benefits which were derived from it. These individual and concrete benefits, however, represent what Shinran called the 'Innumerable Benefits' in another text. The number of the benefits should not be of concern.

8. Do they include any material benefits?

No. Buddhists do not pray to Buddha for any material gains, nor do they expect any miracle. They only try to conform to the Law of Causality and endeavour with right views to better their lives. For such sincere efforts Faith in Amida may give not only spiritual encouragement but also material benefits, but such material effects are not specially demonstrated; farmers harvest wheat and naturally get straw but obtaining straw is not the main purpose. The benefits of 'Being protected by all Buddhas'; 'Being protected by Invisible Beings'; 'Being praised by all Buddhas'; 'Being always protected by His Spiritual Light'; and 'Having welling Joy in mind' are some examples to show how Shnshu Faith helps us enjoy a happy life.

9. Is there any benefit concerned with moral effect in the Ten Benefits?

Amida's Compassion transcends even morality; He saves all beings without any discrimination of good and evil. Besides, the purpose of the Awakening of Faith is wholly to receive Amida's Compassion and thus attain Enlightenment, not mere moral improvement. However, it is also true that Shinshu Faith, far from being anti-moral, has a moral influence on human life, although the devotee himself is not necessarily conscious of it. For example, there is the Benefit of 'Turning evil into good.' To turn evil into good is indeed the highest ideal in moral life and is the essence of Mahayana Buddhism. Shinshu shows that it is practicable for all people through receiving Amida's absolute good and virtue. The Benefits of 'Being awakened to Amida's Benevolence and having a desire to repay what we owe'; 'Always doing works of Great Compassion'; and 'Being possessed of the Highest Virtue;' seem to be concerned with a moral effect although they can be actualised only through Amida's working and are not always perceptible to sentient beings. All those benefits, after all, come from the 'Benefit of Abiding in the Rank of the Assured' which is the basis of our feelings of hopefulness, relief, happiness, joy or gratitude.

10. Where can Nirvana be obtained?

The self-power schools claim that Nirvana can be attained even in this world if one accumulates pure good and wakening absolute wisdom in oneself. The Pure Land schools realise Nirvana through Amida's Compassion after Birth in the Pure Land. According to the conviction of the latter school, it is difficult for man to accomplish such saintly disciplines in this mundane world.

11. What is the significance of Birth in the Pure Land?

Shinran emphasised that Birth in the Pure Land is 'Birthless Birth' which means the end of samsara, and, that Birth itself is indeed the realisation of Nirvana; other sects of the Pure Land School, on the other hand, state that Nirvana can be achieved after a long period of further practice in the Pure Land itself; for them the Pure Land is, as it were, a suitable location where one can study without any fear of retrogression to the lower grades of the path.

12. The literal meaning of Nirvana seems to be rather negative. Is there a positive nature of Nirvana?

To attain Nirvana is to complete Buddhahood. Buddhahood means the perfection of absolute Wisdom and Compassion both for oneself and for all others. On the basis of this, Shinran stressed the deep significance of two kinds of merit-transference, namely, 'Merit-transference of Going Forward' (Oso-Eko) and 'Merit-transference of Coming Backward' (Genso-Eko). The former means that Amida transfers His own merit to enable us to attain Buddhahood (perfection of Wisdom for one-self). The latter shows that it is also through His Merit-transference that one who has attained Buddhahood is given a special power to return to the defiled worlds and save all beings (perfection of Compassion for others). 'Oso-Eko' is promised in the Eleventh Vow and 'Genso-Eko' in the Twenty-second Vow.

13. What about the view that Shin followers should perform the activities of 'Genso-Eko' in this present life, not only after death?

According to orthodox Shinshu, 'Genso-Eko' is the benefit to be given at the instant of attaining Buddhahood. It is the crystallisation of Buddha's positive and compassionate mind to benefit all suffering beings.

14. If 'Genso-Eko' is limited to the future life, does Shinshu not see the necessity of benefiting others in this life?

Of course this is extremely important. However, such activity is not called 'Genso-Eko' in orthodox Shinshu. Other expressions are used such as 'Activities to benefit others,' 'Practice in repaying what we owe,' 'Service for Dana (egoless giving),' etc. Such spirit of service is very necessary for those Shinshuists who want to realise Buddha's compassionate ideal and thus spread His teaching among all mankind in the present chaotic world.

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