Welcome to the Western Quarter!

This blog is devoted to the propagation of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, a 750-year-old Buddhist tradition.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Importance of Study

I am currently deployed to Afghanistan so unfortunately I cannot post as often as I would like to this blog! However, during the down time here (and in the absence of many recreational activities we take for granted!), I am taking the opportunity to engage in some study of the Pure Land texts. Although we rightly say that faith, or tariki ("Other-Power") is foremost in our tradition, this does not necessarily imply that we shouldn't take advantage of studying the writings of not only Shinran Shonin, our founder, but also of the Seven Pure Land Masters the sutras themselves, and even writings by contemporary Pure Land scholars and priests. This is the reason for my earlier posts of some quotes and other books. In my job as chaplain, I often encounter Buddhists and it still surprises me of how little is known of their own traditions. However, this equally is true of many members in our Jodo Shinshu temples, who for one reason or another have never picked up a Pure Land text other than the service book for chanting. Although we are a tradition of ritual, like other Buddhist traditions, we should also remember that Shinran Shonin and Rennyo Shonin actively promoted the study of the Pure Land, through their letters and writings, and asked that their letters be read to others. It's not just for scholars! Ideally, we should all put on our "scholar cap," take a break from the TV or Internet, and pick up a Pure land text to read. Every time I read the writings of the Masters, I still find something new and inspiring, that can speak directly to me although they were written centuries ago. Don't think that the texts are "too intellectual" or too hard to read - take a chance and go to the source! This is how we can eliminate our own doubts about the efficacy of the Pure Land, and Jodo Shinshu teachings.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Letter of Rennyo

"When I reflect quietly, I realize that one receives life in the human world due solely to the merit of observing the five precepts in one's past life. This is indeed a rare thing to happen. Life in the human world, however, is but momentary and ephemeral the life in the Pure Land is the eternal, blissful fruit.
Even if we boast of pomp and glory and revel in prosperity, we cannot enjoy such a state for long, because 'those who prosper will necessarily decline, and those who meet must definitely part' is the way of the world. Life lasts only fifty or a hundred years. In addition, since it is not certain whether death comes to the old first and then to the young, human life is hardly reliable.
For this reason, people of today should seek the entrusting heart of Other Power and aspire to be born in the Pure Land.
In order to attain the entrusting heart, you do not need wisdom or learning; it is not a question of whether you are rich and noble or poor and destitute, whether you are good or evil, male or female. The essential point is to give up various practices and take refuge in the right practice, that is, the nembutsu.
To take refuge in the right practice means simply to entrust yourselves to Amida Tathagata single-mindedly and unwaveringly.
Those beings who thus entrust themselves to Amida will all be embraced in his light and not be forsaken; when their lives come to an end, they will unfailingly be brought to the Pure Land. Your birth in the Pure Land is attainable only through the single thought of the settled mind. How easy it is to attain the settled mind which is free of calculations! This is why the two-character word, 'an-jin' also means 'easily attained mind.'
You will be born in the land of bliss only through having the entrusting heart - a single-minded and unwavering reliance on the Tathagata without any calculations.
How easy it is to realize the settled mind! How easy it is to go to the Pure Land!
Hence, it is stated in the Larger Sutra, 'To go is easy and yet no one is born there.' This passage means that it is easy to go to the Pure Land if you attain the settled mind and entrust yourselves unwaveringly to Amida, but those who atain the entrusting heart are rare. For this reason, the sutra states that the Pure Land is easy to go to but there is no one who is born there.
Calling the Name day and night, morning and evening, after you have reached this understanding, is simply to express your gratitude for the benevolence of the universal Vow of great compassion.
You should, by all means, keep in mind the Buddha Dharma and seek to know the essentials of the entrusting heart which is easy to gain, and never fail to attain birth in the fulfilled land, the matter of the greatest importance.
Humbly and respectfully."

Rennyo Shonin's most important body of written work is his letters to Nembutsu followers throughout Japan. Many of these were compiled in a collection known as the Gobunsho. These letters address many aspects of Jodo Shinshu doctrine; one of the most important is the letter known as "On White Ashes," concerning the transience of human life and which is recited today during funerals. Other letters are also used in Jodo Shinshu liturgy.

The purpose of these letters was to instruct Shinshu followers, and they are still used for that purpose today. This particular letter encapsulates the basic teachings of the Dharma, such as impermanence and the concepts of rebirth and karma. It is uniquely Jodo Shinshu in the emphasis of birth in the Pure Land (that it restricts no one) and how it stresses importance of the "entrusting heart," as shinjin is translated here. The mind that is transformed by shinjin is anjin, or "settled mind." Anjin is explained further in other letters. We are also cautioned to know that shinjin can be uncommon, perhaps this was to keep in mind that entrusting in the Vow of Amida Buddha is a truly transformative experience; also, that it can't be gifted by other teachers. For this reason, we should treat the idea of shinjin with care, being wary of people who speak carelessly about it, and especially cautious of those who claim shinjin (or, conversely, deny others' shinjin reality. Shinjin, as a personal transformative experience, is entirely left to the individual and his or her understanding and faith. Therefore, this can be a clue to reading the puzzling statement, "To go is easy, and yet no one is born there!"
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