Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The ten benefits in this life of a nembutsu follower (explanations and a few questions & answers)

Shinran Shonin speaks about the ten benefits a nembutsu follower receives in this present life:

1. Protected by unseen divine beings (myoshu goji)
This means that those who have shinjin are protected against various influences from external evil forces.
So, the nembutsu follower has no reason to be afraid of sorcery, black magic or evil spirits. Shinran Shonin said in “Hymns of Benefit in the Present”:


“When we say "Namo Amida Butsu,"
Brahma[1] and Indra[2] venerate us;
All the benevolent gods of the heavens
Protect us constantly, day and night.

When we say "Namo Amida Butsu,"
The four great deva-kings together
Protect us constantly, day and night,
And let no evil spirits come near.

When we say " Namo Amida Butsu,"
The earth-goddess called Firmness
Reveres and protects us constantly, day and night,
Accompanying us always just as shadows do things.

When we say "Namo Amida Butsu,"
Nanda, Upananda, and the other great nagas,
Along with the countless naga-gods, revere
And protect us constantly, day and night.

When we say "Namo Amida Butsu,"
Yama, the king of the dead, reveres us,
And the officers who judge the beings of the five courses of existence
All protect us constantly, day and night.

When we say "Namo Amida Butsu,"
We are protected by the great king of maras
Residing in the sixth heaven;
This he vowed to do in the presence of Sakyamuni Buddha.

The gods of the heavens and earth
Are all to be called good,
For together they protect
The person of the nembutsu.

There are many similar references in Kyogyoshinsho and other writings of Shinran Shonin.

2. Possessed of the supreme virtue (shitoku gusoku)
It means that by entrusting in Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow we receive his merits and virtues that make us attain birth in the Pure Land:

“When sentient beings of this evil world of the five defilements
Entrust themselves to the selected Primal Vow,
Virtues indescribable, inexplicable, and inconceivable
Fill those practicers.”

Shinran Shonin explained in his work “Passages on the Two Aspects of The Tathagata's Directing of Virtue”:

“Concerning the directing of virtue through the power of the Primal Vow, the Tathagata's directing of virtue has two aspects: the directing of virtue in the aspect for our going forth to the Pure Land and the directing of virtue in the aspect for our return to this world.”

The directing of virtue in the aspect for our going forth means that by receiving shinjin during this present life we are made to be born in the Pure Land where we become immediately Buddhas[3].
The directing of virtue for our return to this world means that as soon as we become Buddhas in the Pure Land we return to this world in various forms to help all beings.

Both these aspects are the transference of merit from Amida Buddha to us which we receive in the form of shinjin (entrusting heart) and nembutsu (saying of the Name).
In fact, every one of the benefits presented here are the manifestation of Amida’s transference of merits to us; they are all the gifts of Amida.

Here it is a question about the merit transference from Amida and my answer:

Question:
”When I first experienced gratitude and said the Nembutsu, Paul[4] wrote and said, "He (Amida) not only knows your name, but he has given to you his own store of infinite karmic merit."
Does that "karmic merit" only apply to what happens after this life?”

Answer:
In the moment you received shinjin, as Paul said, you also received Amida Buddha’s store of infinite karmic merit. This means that you have entered the stage of non-retrogression in this life (see the 10th benefit) and you became assured of birth in the Pure Land exactly as you are. In this way Amida's karmic merit applies in this life.
But this doesn’t mean that you are free of any suffering while still alive. You can’t always experience happiness in this world because your mind still remains unenlightened until you die and you are born in the Pure Land.

You ask questions like why are you not happy here and now since you have shinjin, but the answer is that you are not happy because you are not a Buddha yet! An unenlightened mind cannot be happy, no matter what it has and what kind of pleasant circumstances it encounters. On the contrary, you can experience bliss and lack of suffering when you are born in the Pure Land – because then you become Enlightened. Only an Enlightened mind can be truly happy.

Jodo Shinshu is not a path of becoming a Buddha in this life, so you cannot become perfectly happy here. Only a Buddha can be perfectly happy in this world, because his mind is a Buddha Mind, an Enlightened Mind, Awakened and Free.  Anywhere he goes he is free and happy.

However, exactly your unenlightened mind is assured of birth in the Pure Land –this is the meaning of this second benefit.

3. Having evil turned into good (tenaku jyozen)
Due to the influence of Amida we can transform an unpleasant experience into an opportunity to understand life as it is and the Dharma.  It doesn’t mean that we will no longer have problems, or experience lack of material things, etc, but that we can understand these unfortunate events as being the effects of our karma, using them to become more aware that this is samsara, the world of suffering from which we must escape once and for all. Bad events in our lives can be thus transformed through the light of the Dharma into useful ones – useful for our understanding.

Also this benefit refers to the fact that in the instant we receive shinjin our karma is cut and cannot plant its seed in another life. When shinjin enters our heart we receive the pure karmic energy of Amida Buddha. Our evil is turned into good in the sense that it is no longer an obstacle for our attainment of Buddhahood at the end of this life. No matter what we did in the past or we’ll do in the future due to our illusions and attachments, it becomes as good as non-existent once we receive shinjin. Being an ordinary person of grave karmic evil brings us in the special attention of Amida’s Compassion.

4. Protected by all Buddhas (shobutsu gonen)
This benefit is again related with protection, like the first benefit.
It is said in the “Hymns of Benefit in the Present”:

“When we say "Namo Amida Butsu",
Avalokitesvara and Mahasthamaprapta,
Together with bodhisattvas countless as the Ganges' sands or as particles,
Accompany us just as shadows do things.

Countless Amida Buddhas reside
In the light of the Buddha of Unhindered Light;
Each one of these transformed Buddhas[5] protects
The person of true and real shinjin.

When we say "Namo Amida Butsu",
The countless Buddhas throughout the ten quarters,
Surrounding us a hundredfold, a thousandfold,
Rejoice in and protect us.”

Protection of the Buddhas can be understood not only in the sense explained at the first benefit, but also that shinjin can’t be lost once we receive it from Amida. This is why it is said in chapter seven of Tannisho:

“nonbuddhists present no obstruction”.

How many Christians tried to tell me that I will go to hell because of being a Jodo Shinshu Buddhist! Of course that such attempts to frighten me failed not because I posses some special powers, but because  my faith (shinjin) is not my creation. It is not by accident that in Jodo Shinshu we often meet the expression “diamond like shinjin”. That which gives power to our faith is its origin – the Heart and Mind of Amida Buddha. This
is why Jodo Shinshu followers can’t be influenced by those who follow nonbuddhist paths.

We may also say that the protection of the Buddhas means that since the moment we  receive shinjin, we safely go into the direction of Buddhahood.  All Buddhas are witnesses of this truth and praise the wonderful salvation work of Amida.

Here it is a question about the protection of the Buddhas in this life and my answer:

Question:
“I still don't understand how a person is "protected" by these various Buddhas if a person's karma can’t be changed in the present life”.

Answer:
In the moment you entrust to Amida Buddha your karma has its root cut of in the sense that it cannot plant its seeds into another life – that is you will no longer be subject to birth and death. But in this life you continue to experience the effects of your past actions from previous lives or of those you will commit until the moment of death. So, we should not make any confusion and think that after we receive shinjin we should always be happy or always experience happy circumstances.

We are protected from rebirth in the unenlightened states of existence, no being (visible or invisible) can destroy our faith or deviate us from the Buddhist path and the attainment of Buddhahood in the Pure Land is guaranteed – these are the ways through which this benefit of all Buddhas protection manifests itself.

5. Praised by all Buddhas (shobutsu shyosan).
All Buddhas praise those who entrust in Amida, looking to them as to future Buddhas. It is wonderful that we have come to entrust in a teaching so hard to be accepted in faith, as Shakyamuni himself recognizes.
In the Larger Sutra, he said:

“The one who hears and never forgets this Dharma,
But sees and reveres it and greatly rejoices in attaining it -
That person is my true companion.”

Also it is stated in the Contemplation Sutra:

“Know that the person who says the nembutsu is a white lotus among people.”

Shinran Shonin explained in one of his letters:

“Further, Amida’s Seventeenth Vow declares that the Buddha will not enter into perfect Enlightenment if those who say the Name are not praised by all the countless Buddhas throughout the worlds in the ten quarters. The passage declaring the fulfillment of the Vow states: ‘’Such people are praised by all the Buddhas and rejoice.’’
.
6. Protected by the Buddha's spiritual light (shinko jogo)
I think this benefit is in close connection with the fourth.
Here we see that the protection is a spiritual one. It means that Amida always illuminates us, making us understand our life’s events as they are explained by the Dharma.
Amida’s Light makes us profoundly realize our limitations and how reliable the Primal Vow of Amida is. These twofold awareness never disappears from us because we are embraced in Amida’s spiritual Light.
It also means that we are protected from wrong understanding of the teaching. False teachers can’t influence us and we’ll never distort the essentials of the Jodo Shinshu Dharma in our presentations.

7. Having much joy in mind (shinta kangi)
The receiving of shinjin is equivalent with escaping a great burden. We know that we’ll become Buddhas no matter our present situation. We are able to feel this relief and joy many times in our life, no matter that sometimes it is covered by the everyday difficulties and sorrows.
Imagine that you are in a prison and somebody in whom you trust 100% assures you that you will be released in one year or a few years. That one year you are still in prison is of course difficult, but you also know for sure that your day of freedom will soon come. So you are able to feel relief and joy remembering your assurance, no matter how hard your everyday life in prison still remains.

8. Acknowledging His benevolence and repaying it (chion hotoku)
We become aware of what Amida does for us, freeing us from birth and death, and we feel gratitude. We express this gratitude by saying nembutsu and by doing many kind of activities in the benefit of the Dharma. For example, some people become teachers and preach the Dharma to others in order to help them receive shinjin.
Also, sharing Dharma texts or helping dojos and temples, supporting our teachers and fellow practitioners are acts of repaying the benevolence of Amida Tathagata.

Shinran said in the Hymns of the Dharma Ages:

“Such is the benevolence of Amida’s great Compassion,
That we must strive to return it, even to the breaking of our bodies;
Such is the benevolence of the masters and true teachers,
That we must endeavor to repay it, even to our bones becoming dust”.


9. Always practicing the Great Compassion (jyogyo daihi)
This doesn’t mean that we act like Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in this very life. If we are already Buddhas and have Great Compassion then it means that we no longer need the Primal Vow. So, what is the benefit of always practicing Great Compasion?

I think that although we do not act like Buddhas in this life, by receiving shinjin we become part of the salvation work of Amida or a link in Amida’s Great Compassion chain.  We can understand others limitations and realize that everybody is accepted as they are, including ourselves.  Especially we can benefit others by helping them to create connections with the Dharma of Amida.

If somebody gives the true teaching about Amida to others, then he indeed practices the Great Compassion in the sense that he acts as a messenger of this Great Compassion.

In his Kyogyoshinsho, chapter three, section on the true disciple of the Buddha, Shinran Shonin quotes this passage from “The Sutra of Great Compassion”:

“What is "great Compassion"? Those who continue solely in the nembutsu without any interruption[6] will thereby be born without fail in the land of happiness at the end of life. If these people encourage each other and bring others to say the Name, they are all called "people who practice great Compassion."


This clearly shows that practicing Great Compassion in this life means to encourage others to say the nembutsu of faith in Amida Buddha[7].

10. Entering the Rightly-Established Group (shojyoju ni iru)
By receiving shinjin in this life we enter the rightly established group or those assured of birth in the Pure Land. This is also called the stage of non-retrogression. Because we are in this special group we enjoy every other benefit. I think we may also say that this benefit and all other benefits are given to us because of the merit transference from Amida Buddha to us (second benefit).
The tenth benefit is the wonderful news that people like us, full of blind passions are saved as they are – assured of birth in the Pure Land, if we entrust in Amida Buddha.

At the end of these explanations I wish to present you with another three very important questions and my answers, related with the benefits in this life. Please read them carefully.

Question:
“… that feeling of safety doesn’t seem to apply to how we live life in this realm of Samsara, nor even how we die (suffering, pain etc) but to the next life and rebirth in the Pure Land .”

Answer:
The feeling of safety of a person of shinjin is that he feels assured he goes directly to the Pure Land . He knows that no matter how he dies or how he lives, he will surely go to the Pure Land . Any karma he still creates in this life, will no longer have an effect in terms of another birth in samsara. This is an assurance he receives in this life, not in the moment of death. (See the tenth benefit)

But he also knows that the remaining part of this life is the life of an ordinary unenlightened being, so its normal that as long as he is not a Buddha, he still suffers. I repeat, he still suffers because he remains an unenlightened being until his death.

To receive the merits of Amida is like entering in an infinitely powerful stream of water. You remain as you are, an ugly piece of wood but you are carried by the stream of water to the ocean. Maybe this image will be helpful to you. To received the merits of Amida in this life through shinjin and to be protected by the Buddhas means that you are carried safely to the other shore, while you remain as you are.

It is like being a small and disoriented bee in the great hand of the Buddha. The bee still suffers but she is carried to her true home and when she reaches it, she becomes truly happy.

It is like a sick man carried by an ambulance. The sick person still experiences pain on the road to the hospital (the rest of the life you have until death and birth in the Pure Land), but when he reaches the hospital and meets the Doctor in person (birth in Amida Buddha’s Pure Land) he is healed for ever and he becomes a Doctor himself (becomes a Buddha and returns to this world to save others).

Question:
” I am just confused about the entire premise of Buddhism leading a person beyond suffering in this world. It sounds like you’re saying the only way out of suffering for a Shinshu Buddhist is death.”

Answer:
The only way out of suffering for a Shinshu Buddhist is to entrust in this life in Amida Buddha, which means to let himself being carried by the ambulance of Amida and be sure that when he reaches the Hospital ( Pure Land) and meets the Doctor himself (Amida), he is cured. It can’t be in another way.

But this entrusting and sense of assurance that he is saved appears during the present life. Faith and assurance do not lead automatically to the absence of suffering from his life because he is not a Buddha yet, as I explained before.

Question:
”From what I understand in your explanations - I created all that happens in this life and that can’t be changed. I just grim and bear it until I die, go to the Pure Land and become a Buddha. Can any actions in this present life change how past karma is manifested in this life? “

Answer:
Yes you may alter your karma in many ways, you may arrange your time you still have here in samsara to be more pleasant, or you may not - this depends from person to person - but what is most important is that you can’t heal all your wounds here, that is to become perfectly happy in this life, because you can’t become a perfect Buddha while in this present body.

Jodo Shinshu doesn’t say you should do nothing to make your life more comfortable, but it sais you cannot solve the great problem of birth and death by yourself and become perfectly happy here. And as I said previously, you can’t be 100% happy here because you are not a Buddha yet, and only a Buddha can be 100% happy in all the worlds, even in hell.


[1] Brahma is the creator God in Hinduism, but in Buddhism he is the Lord of the first Dhyana Heaven from the world of form.
[2] Indra is the Lord of the heaven of the thirty-three gods (Trayas-trimsa).
[3] See the 10th benefit.
[4] Paul Roberts, disciple of Eiken Kobai Sensei and webmaster of Shin Ugly Blog and True Shin Buddhism yahoo group.
[5] Manifestations of Amida Buddha which accords with the particularity of each being.
[6] This nembutsu is the expression of faith. To continue in the nembutsu without any interruption means to have a stable faith, without any doubt.
[7] See my commentaries of the chapters four and five from Tannisho in my book, The Path of Acceptance – Commentary on Tannisho, published by Dharma Lion Publications in 2011. Click here if you wish to read the free online edition.

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