In meeting unlettered people who say the nembutsu some people disturb them with such questions as, "Do you say the nembutsu by entrusting yourself to the inconceivable power of the Vow or to the inconceivable power of the Name?" They fail to clarify the two forms of inconceivable powers and their respective significance. Thus, they confuse the people. We must turn our attention to this matter and carefully consider the connection between the two.
By virtue of the inconceivable power of the Vow, Amida Buddha devised the Name easy to uphold and pronounce and, thereby, promised to take in all who say the Name. Thus, when we entrust ourselves to the inconceivable power of Amida's compassionate vow which saves us to deliver us from birth-and-death and when we realize that the saying of nembutsu occurs because of Tathagata's working, we are in accord with the Primal Vow and will be born in the land of Fulfillment, since our own calculation is not involved.
When we entrust ourselves completely to the inconceivable power of the Primal Vow as the heart of the matter, then the inconceivable power of the Name is also naturally found together with it. The inconceivable powers of the Vow and of the Name are therefore one, the slightest difference between the two being nonexistent.
Next, the person who inserts his or her own calculations into the consideration of good and evil, believing that the former helps and the latter hinders birth in the Pure Land, fails to entrust the self to the inconceivable power of the Vow. Rather, such a person strives with effort to achieve birth, claiming the nembutsu uttered as one's own practice. The person also fails to entrust the self to the inconceivable power of the Name.
However, even though the person fails to entrust the self, he or she will be born in the borderland, the realm of indolence, the castle of doubt, or the palace of womb to be eventually born in the land of Fulfillment by virtue of the Vow which vowed that unless all beings are saved, Amida will not have attained Buddhahood. All this is due to the inconceivable power of the Name. Since this is also due to the inconceivable power of the Vow, the Vow and the Name are one and the same.
Some people say that those who do not read and study the sutras and commentaries cannot be ascertained of birth in the Pure Land. This view is hardly worthy of serious consideration.
All the sutras which reveal the essentials of the truth of Other Power simply state: By saying the nembutsu, entrusting oneself to the Primal Vow, one attains buddhahood. What further knowledge is required for birth in the Pure Land? Truly, those who are still confused about this should by all means study hard to realize the purpose of the Primal Vow. If the true meaning of the sacred texts is not clearly understood, even though one reads and studies, it is to be pitied.
Since the Name is devised to be easily said by the unlettered who cannot even grasp the basic meaning of the sutras and commentaries, such utterance is called easy practice. Learning is required in the Path of Sages; therefore, it is called difficult practice. Some people mistakenly pursue knowledge for the sake of fame and profit - their birth in the next life is doubtful, so states an attesting passage.
Today, the people of single-hearted nembutsu and those of the Path of Sages engage in argument, claiming that one school is superior and the other inferior. Thus, enemies of dharma appear and slandering of dharma becomes rampant. But does this not slander and destroy one's own teaching?
Even if all the other schools together proclaim, "The nembutsu is for foolish beings; its teaching is shallow and vulgar," you should not object. And instead simply reply, "We are taught that foolish beings of inferior capacity like ourselves, unlettered and ignorant, will be saved by entrusting ourselves to Amida. As we accept this and entrust ourselves, it is the supreme dharma for us, regardless of how vulgar it may seem to people of superior capacity. No matter how superb other teachings may be, if they are beyond our grasp and mastery, we cannot uphold them. Since it is the basic intention of the Buddhas that we shall all together go beyond birth-and-death, you should not hinder us." In this way, if we have no rancor, who would want to hurt us? An attesting passage also states, "Where there are arguments, various kinds of blind passion are awakened; the wise should avoid them."
The late master also said, "The Buddha predicted that there will be people who shall entrust themselves to this dharma, as well as those who shall slander it. I have already been made to entrust myself to the dharma, while there are those who slander it - by this we know that the Buddha's words are true. In fact, we should realize that our birth is even more firmly settled. If, contrary to this, no one denounced the nembutsu, we might wonder why even though there are believers, there are no slanderers. But this, of course, does not mean that the teaching should become the object of slander. The Buddha taught this because he knew that both believers and slanderers would exist. It was to dispel any doubts that might arise among us.
Is the only purpose of knowledge to defend against criticism and to engage in arguments and debates? If a person studies properly, he or she will come to see more clearly the intention of the Buddha and realize the boundlessness of true compassion. Such a student will teach those who are unsure of birth in the Pure Land because of their defiled nature that the Primal vow does not discriminate between the good and evil, the pure and impure. Only then will knowledge be meaningful.
People who insist that knowledge is essential for the religious life frighten those who live the nembutsu according to the Primal Vow. Such pedagogues are demons who obstruct the dharma, and they are despised enemies of the Buddha. They not only lack the true entrusting to Other Power but wrongly mislead other people. They should stand in fear lest they go against the teaching of our late master. And they should be filled with remorse for going against the Primal Vow.
Some people say that those who do not fear committing evil because of the inconceivable power of Amida's Vow are guilty of taking pride in the Primal Vow and, therefore, will not attain birth. This betrays doubt in the Primal Vow and shows a lack of understanding of good and evil as the product of past karma.
Good thoughts arise in our minds due to the effect of past good, and we are made to think and do evil because of the working of karmic evil. The late master said, "We should know that even as trifling a thing as the speck of dust on the tip of a rabbit's hair or a sheep's fleece is the product of past evil karma." At another time he asked me. "Would you agree to anything I say, Yui-en?"
"Of course, I will," I replied.
"Are you sure that you won't disobey me?," he repeated, and when I again agreed, he continued, "Go, then and kill a thousand people and your birth in the Pure Land is settled.'
"Even though that is your order," I protested, "and even with the capacity for evil within me, I cannot kill even a single person."
"Then why did you just say that you would not disobey what I, Shinran, said?" And then he went on, "By this we know that if we could act according to our thoughts, we could kill a thousand people for the sake of birth in the Pure Land if so required. We do not kill, not because our thoughts are good but because we do not have the karma to kill even a single person. Yet, even though we do not want to injure anyone, we may be led to kill a hundred or a thousand people."
The gist of this statement is that when we think good thoughts, we think we are good; and when we think evil thoughts, we think we are evil, not realizing fully that it is not these thoughts but the inconceivable power of the Vow that makes our salvation possible.
Once there was a man who fell into wrong views proclaiming that he would intentionally do evil as a way of attaining birth, since the Vow is directed to those who are evil. Thus saying, he committed many evil deeds. When Shinran heard about this, he admonished in a letter, "Do not take poison just because there is an antidote." He made this point to correct such erroneous views, but not at all to say that evil is an obstacle to attaining birth.
Shinran, moreover, said, "If upholding the precepts and maintaining the disciplines are required for true entrusting, how could we ever hope to go beyond birth-and-death? It is only by encountering the Primal Vow that such hopeless beings like ourselves are shown to be prideful and haughty. And yet evil cannot be committed unless it is already within us."
Again, he said, "People who make a living by casting nets or fishing in the seas and rivers, those who sustain themselves by hunting wild life and catching birds in the moors and mountains, and people who pass their lives by trading and cultivating fields are all alike." According to Shinran, "Under the influence of our karmic past we human beings will do anything."
And yet, in recent years people put on the guise of striving on the nembutsu path. They claim that only good people should say the nembutsu. Or they post restrictions at gathering places, proclaiming that those who commit certain acts are prohibited from entering. Are these not the sort of people who show outwardly how wise, virtuous, and diligent they are, while inwardly cherishing vanity and falsehood?
Karmic evil committed because of taking pride in the Vow is also an effect of past karma. Thus, leave everything good and evil to the working of karma and single-heartedly entrust yourself to the Primal Vow. Such is the way of Other Power. In Essentials of Faith Alone it is said, "To what extent does one know the power of Amida's compassion when a person believes that salvation is impossible because of karmic evil?" For the very reason that we are guilty of taking pride in the Primal Vow, the true entrusting as the gift of Other Power is settled.
We can be free of taking pride in the Primal Vow only after we entrust ourselves to the Primal Vow, having extinguished karmic evil and blind passion. But if blind passion were extinguished, one is already a buddha; and for a buddha the Vow realized through five kalpas of profound thought would be useless.
Since the people who censure others for taking pride in the Primal Vow themselves are filled with blind passion and impurities, aren't they also guilty of taking pride in the Primal Vow? If so, what is the evil that takes pride in the Primal Vow and what is the evil that does not take pride in the Primal Vow? Indeed, all this debate reveals shallowness and immaturity.
Some people say that one should believe that heavy evils of eight billion kalpas can be extinguished in the single utterance of nembutsu. This view refers to an evil person, guilty of ten vices and five transgressions, who has never said the nembutsu throughout life but who for the first time at the moment of death is told by a good teacher: nembutsu uttered once shall extinguish the evils accumulated in eight billion kalpas, and nembutsu uttered ten times shall extinguish the evils accumulated in eighty billion kalpas, thus leading to birth in the Pure Land. Is the single utterance or ten utterances meant to suggest the relative weights of ten vices and five transgressions? if so, this refers to the utility value of nembutsu in extinguishing evil. This is far different from our understanding. The reason is that in the awakening of one thought-moment, having been illuminated by Amida's light, we are endowed with true entrusting which is firm as a diamond; thus, we are already included in the stage of the truly settled. When our life comes to an end, all the blind passions and evil hindrances are immediately transformed into the realization of the "wisdom of non- origination."
Realizing that without this compassionate Vow, wretched and evil beings such as ourselves can never go beyond birth-and-death, we should know that all the nembutsu said throughout our lifetime simply expresses our gratitude to the benevolence and virtues of Tathagata's compassion.
To believe that each saying of nembutsu extinguishes evil is to seek birth in the Pure Land by eliminating evil thoughts through one's own efforts. If that is the case, since every thought we think in life binds us to birth-and-death, we must say the nembutsu until the final moment, continuously and consistently, without ever attaining birth. But since karmic consequences are decisive, we may end our life because of unforeseen accidents or we may be tormented by illness without ever attaining right-mindedness. Saying the nembutsu in such a state would be, indeed, most difficult. How are we to extinguish evil in such a state? If evil cannot be extinguished, then is attaining birth impossible?
When we entrust ourselves to the Vow that grasps us never to abandon us, we shall quickly attain birth, regardless of whether we commit evils for unknown reasons and even end our lives without saying the nembutsu. And when we say the nembutsu spontaneously, our trust in Amida becomes stronger and our gratitude to Tathagata becomes deeper as we approach the moment of supreme enlightenment. To desire to extinguish evil is the thought of self-power, the intention of those who hope to achieve right-mindedness at the moment of death. This shows the lack of true entrusting which is made possible by the working of Other Power.
Some people say that one can attain enlightenment in this very body filled with blind passion. This is completely out of the question.
The doctrine of attaining Buddhahood in this very body is the essential teaching of Shingon Esoterism, the ultimate attainment of the three esoteric practices. And the purifying of the six sense-organs is the doctrine of the One Vehicle teaching of the Lotus Sutra, the attainment of the four blissful practices. These are all difficult practices performed by superior religious adepts and enlightenment realized through perfecting meditative practices. In contrast, the enlightenment that unfolds in the next birth is the essence of the Pure Land way of Other Power, the true entrusting which is settled and final. This is the effortless practice undertaken by inferior religious practicers in which the distinction between good and evil is non-existent.
Since it is unthinkably difficult to sunder blind passion and evil hindrances in this present life, the virtuous monks of Shingon and Tendai disciplinary practices also pray for enlightenment in the life to come. How much more so for ordinary people like ourselves! Although the upholding of precepts and attainment of wisdom are lacking, when we have crossed the painful ocean of birth-and- death on the vessel of Amida's Vow, reaching the Other Shore of the land of Fulfillment, the dark clouds of blind passion immediately vanish and the moon of enlightenment, dharma-as-it-is, appears instantaneously. Having become united with the Unhindered Light that illuminates the ten quarters, we bring benefits to all beings. This is true enlightenment.
Do those who believe in attaining enlightenment in this very body reveal themselves in various forms of enlightenment, as did the historical Sakyamuni? Do they possess the thirty-two features and eighty characteristics of an enlightened being? Do they benefit sentient beings by expounding the Buddha Dharma? This is what constitutes enlightenment in this life. Shinran writes:
When true entrusting, firm as a diamond,
Is settled, at that very instant
Amida's light grasps us and protects us,
And we forever transcend birth-and-death.
This means that when true entrusting is realized, Amida grasps us never to abandon us, and we no longer transmigrate through the six realms. When we understand this fully, how can we confuse it with the enlightenment in this life? How sad that such a misunderstanding exists. As the late master said, "In the true teaching of Pure Land I have been taught that in this life we entrust ourselves to the Primal Vow and in the Pure Land attain supreme enlightenment."
Some people say that if a practicer of true entrusting should unexpectedly become angry, act wantonly, or argue with others, they should by all means undergo turning-of-mind. Does this mean that we should sunder evil and practice good?
In the person of single-hearted nembutsu the turning-of-mind occurs only once. The turning- of-mind refers to this: transformation of those ignorant of the Primal Vow of Other Power who, being granted Amida's wisdom and realizing the impossibility of everyday mind attaining birth, abandon the old mind and entrust the self to the Primal Vow.
If it is necessary to undergo the turning-of-mind, day and night, about every deed in order to attain birth, we may die before doing so, or before nurturing tenderness and forbearance, since our lives may come to an end between the inhaling and exhaling of breath. Then the Primal Vow which grasps us never to abandon us would have no meaning.
Even though some may claim to entrust themselves to the Primal Vow, they actually feel that only the good are saved, no matter how great the inconceivable power of the Vow to save evil doers. To that extent they are doubting the power of the Vow, lacking the thought of entrusting themselves to the Vow, and will be born in the borderland. How lamentable this is!
Once true entrusting is settled, we realize that our birth is due to the working of Amida and not to our calculations. Even though we may do evil, even more should we think about the power of the Vow. Then, tenderness and forbearance will appear by virtue of "made to become so by itself."
In all matters regarding birth it is not necessary to contrive or design but always remember and become absorbed in the deep and profound compassion of Amida. Then we shall be able to say the nembutsu spontaneously, "made to become so by itself." When I do not contrive or calculate, I am "made to become so by itself." This is none other than the working of Other Power. And yet to my regret I hear some people talking knowingly about being "made to become so by itself" as if it were something special. How deplorable this is!
Some people say that those born in the borderland will eventually fall into hell. What attesting passage makes this claim?
This is asserted by those who claim to be scholars and that is truly deplorable. How are they reading the sutras, commentaries, and teachings? I have been taught that people who lack true entrusting, doubting the Primal Vow, are born in the borderland, where they atone for evil karma and ultimately attain enlightenment in the land of Fulfillment.
Since true entrusting is very rare, many people go to the temporary land.. And yet to contend that they are ultimately hopeless is to accuse the Buddha of falsehood.
Some people say that the amount of offerings made to the Buddha Dharma will determine the size, great or small, that we will become as buddhas.
First of all, is it possible to determine the size of a buddha, whether great or small? Even though the size of Buddha in the Pure Land is described in the sutra, it is the manifestation of dharmakaya-as- compassion, appearing for the sake of human beings. When one attains supreme enlightenment and realizes dharmakaya-as-it-is, how can size be discussed, since such shapes as long or short, square or round, do not exist; and color is also transcended, whether it be blue, yellow, red, white, or black?
Some say that they see the transformed Buddha when uttering the nembutsu. Could they have based their view on such statements as the following and applied it here, "In loud utterance one sees a huge Buddha and in quiet utterance one sees a small Buddha"?
Furthermore, although offerings can be part of the practice of selfless giving, no matter how many valuables we present to the Buddha or give to our teachers, the act is meaningless if true entrusting is absent. If one is made to give the self up to Other Power and true entrusting is complete, even though one does not present even a single sheet of paper or even half a coin to the Buddha Dharma, he or she is in accord with the intention of the Primal Vow.
Are people intimidating their fellow practicers, using the teaching as a pretext, to fulfill their own selfish needs?
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