Kanji for Muryoko

'Infinite Light'

Journal of Shin Buddhism

Yoshifumi Ueda

What is Shinjin ?

Shinjin, according to Shinran, means 'the true, real, and sincere mind and heart'. It is not the mind and heart of an ordinary being; rather it refers to the mind and heart of Tathagata or Amida Buddha. Sentient beings, which include people, possess only a defiled and tainted mind (filled with bonno or blind passion). They are basically vain and false, the very opposite of that which is true, real, and sincere.

Amida Buddha, whose essence is wisdom and compassion, clearly sees through people and knows them thoroughly; this is wisdom. Out of pity and concern, Amida Buddha gives his pure mind and heart to us in the form of Namu amida butsu; this is compassion. When Namu amida butsu is thus received and accepted, that is shinjin. The contents of shinjin, therefore, are also wisdom and compassion. In Shinran's major work, Kyogyoshinsho, he states: 'The Auspicious Name embodying the perfectly fulfilled supreme virtues is true wisdom that transforms our evil into virtue.' True wisdom is none other than true compassion.

Shinjin, then, is the characteristic of the mind and heart of a person who entrusts himself or herself to the Primal Vow of Amida. It is not, however, something inherent in the person, nor is it something that is developed or cultivated. Shinjin becomes a part of our mind and heart, because it is given to us by Amida.

Does the defiled and tainted mind, the vain and false mind, disappear when we receive the true, real, and sincere mind of Amida? Does our mind become completely and totally true, real, and sincere? The answer is no.

What, then, happens to us when we receive shinjin? Before we listen to what Shinran has to say, let us turn to Rennyo's answer which is more accessible. Rennyo said:

Leaving the (defiled) mind of sentient beings just as it is, Amida places the good mind (Buddha's mind) upon it and makes it good. It is not that the mind of sentient beings is completely taken away and that it is filled only with the Buddha's wisdom. (Goichidai kikigaki 64)

This means that when we receive shinjin, our defiled and tainted mind that is filled with blind passion receives the Buddha mind that is pure and good, and thus the mind of Amida and the mind of a foolish being become one. Elsewhere, Rennyo wrote:

When one entrusts oneself to the Primal Vow and awakens the shinjin of one thought moment of reliance, the good karma of the past is manifested and shinjin of Other Power is realized as the gift of Amida's wisdom. Where the mind of Buddha and the mind of foolish being become one, there is the practicer of shinjin. (Gobunsho 2, 9)

Thus, accordingly, two completely opposite minds the pure mind of Amida that is true, real and sincere, and the defiled mind of a foolish being that is vain and false become one. What kind of a mind is that mind? Is such a mind like a Buddha mind, or is it more like a foolish mind? Or is it a mixture of the two? According to Rennyo, 'When there is not a single thought of doubt concerning the working of the Primal Vow, Amida knows this thoroughly and makes the defiled mind of a practicer the same as the good mind of Tathagata. This is what the Buddha mind and mind of a foolish being becoming one means.' (Gobunsho 2, 10)

When the mind of the Buddha and the mind of a foolish being become one, the defiled mind of the foolish being becomes the good mind of the Buddha. That is, the defiled mind, filled with blind passion, changes into a good and pure mind. But we must note that although such a change occurs, the defiled mind of the foolish being does not disappear completely. Rather, while the defiled mind is transformed by the power of true compassion, it remains just as it is. In sum, when shinjin is awakened - when the mind of foolish being and the mind of Buddha become one - two things occur: the mind of the foolish being is transformed into the good mind of Buddha, but at the same time the foolish being remains just as he or she is. Such an experience is described by Shinran in the following words:

Jinen means 'to be made to become so'. To be made to become so means that without the practicer's calculating in any way whatsoever, all his past, present, and future evil karma is transformed into the highest good. To be transformed means that evil karma, without being nullified or eradicated, is made into the highest good, just as all waters, upon entering the great ocean immediately become ocean water.(Notes on Essentials of Faith Alone, p. 32)

When we entrust ourselves to the Primal Vow, or to put it differently, when the rivers of good and bad of sentient beings return to and enter the ocean of the Primal Vow, all the virtues of the Buddha are given to sentient beings. The power of these virtues transform blind passion into the highest good, but blind passion is not replaced by good; rather, without nullifying and negating blind passion, it is changed into good. This is called tenzu ('to transform') in Japanese. This good is the same good as the Buddha mind; it is the mind of great compassion and great wisdom. This is evident in the following poems by Shinran.

When the streams of blind passion have returned into the ocean water of the Great Compassionate Vow of Unhindered Light filling the ten quarters, they become one taste with the ocean water of wisdom. (Koso wasan, 42)

Like rivers entering the vast ocean, the foolish minds of good and evil Return to Amida's Vow of wisdom, as they become one with the heart of Great Compassion. (Shozomatsu wasan, 40)

Not even a trace remains of the lifeless corpses abusers of Dharma, when the myriad rivers of evil have returned to become one taste with the ocean of Dharmic virtue. (Koso wasan, 41)

When the waters of different rivers enter the great ocean, all become the same taste of salt. Similarly, when the streams of good and evil thoughts of foolish beings return to and enter into the ocean of the Primal Vow, they become one with true compassion and true wisdom. Speaking of entering the ocean of the Primal Vow is just another way of saying that we are grasped never to be abandoned by the light of Amida's wisdom and compassion. It means that shinjin has been settled or decided in us. When this occurs, it is not that the evil nature of a foolish person disappears but that the foolish person, as a foolish person, is transformed into the mind and heart of great wisdom and great compassion.

What is crucial at this point is to realize that although the relative good and evil determined by the foolish person does not disappear, a radical change in perspective occurs. That is, the foolish mind does not remain in the same state before and after the transformation. When the mind of a foolish being, characterized by good and evil thoughts, is transformed into the mind of true wisdom and true compassion, having entered the ocean of the Primal Vow, that foolish being now sees the reality of both good and evil with the eyes of true wisdom. What occurs then is this: the foolish mind which thought it was both good and evil comes to see that even its good thoughts are tainted with egoistic self centeredness and self-concern. This is Shinran's realization when he wrote:

Although one returns to the teaching of Pure Land, rare, indeed, is a true, real, and sincere mind. In fact, in this self - empty, vain, and untrue - there is no purity of mind.

Evil nature is difficult to desist, the mind is like snake or scorpion. The various good acts are adulterated with poison: thus, they are called empty and vain practices. (Shozomatsu wasan, 94, 96)

This radical change of perception occurs from seeing the self as capable of both good and evil to seeing that even one's highest good is tainted by a profound darkness of ignorance, an egoistic self-interest or blind passion. In fact, when we become one with great wisdom and great compassion, we see ourselves as nothing but evil. Since this realization is profound it is not a superficial evil but an evil with deep karmic roots. The ultimate realization of self, therefore, is one of evil karma or karmic evil.

This fundamental change results from the fact that the foolish being, having entered the ocean of the Primal Vow, now possesses a different standard with which to judge good and evil. Good and evil before this fundamental change is determined from a human perspective the relative, ethical standpoint. We can speak of good thoughts or deeds only when judging a person from the standpoint of morality. Even in the case of religion, if we admit the validity of self power practices, then we can talk about what is good. Once we have entered the ocean of the Primal Vow, however, we are enabled to see clearly that even the highest moral good is impure, tainted with egoism, and that the self power practices are poisoned, full of egoistic attachments, pride and arrogance.

As already stated, the reason we can say such a thing is that the mind of a foolish being, having entered the ocean of the Primal Vow, has now been transformed by the mind of great wisdom and great compassion, thus enabling us to see the working of the self from the standpoint of true wisdom, which is none other than the standpoint of the Buddha. From such a standpoint what once was good is now seen clearly as being vain, false, and untrue. Before entering the ocean of the Primal Vow, the standard of judgement concerning good and evil was conscience, morality, knowledge, and custom (human yardsticks). Once we are transformed, however, the standard of judgement is elevated to that of the Buddha's wisdom and compassion. This insight, going beyond the purely ethical, is contained in the realization of shinjin (this, of course, is not the only characteristic of shinjin, but we cannot go into discussing the other qualities at this time).

The transformation of the foolish mind that sees both good and evil implies two facts: The foolish mind sees itself as nothing but karmic evil. At the same time, the foolish mind has been transformed into the mind of true wisdom and true compassion.

The light of true compassion illuminates the totality of myself as being karmic evil but, at the same time, it is the light that grasps and never abandons this self of evil. Since I become one with that mind of great wisdom, I come to see myself as empty, vain, and untrue, causing a sense of profound shame. But at the same time, when I realize that great wisdom embraces me just as I am, I am deeply moved by its working as great compassion, making me profoundly grateful. This simultaneous experience of shamefulness and gratitude is the core of shinjin.

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