Clearly, the most important matter in our Jodo-Shinshu teaching is receiving shinjin. There can be no doubt about this because of the many references to it in the Venerable Master Shinran’s voluminous writings.
I wonder, however, if I am the only one who has misgivings about the fact that recently this most important aspect of our Jodo-Shinshu teaching is becoming obscured by other matters. With the approaching 750th Memorial Service for the Venerable Master in mind, I would like to comment on this most important subject.
The Venerable Master wrote:
Those who attain true and real shinjin
Immediately join the truly settled;
Thus having entered the stage of nonretrogression,
They necessarily attain nirvana.
As indicated, those who receive shinjin “join the truly settled” (shojoju) and are guaranteed to be born in the Pure Land where they will become Buddhas. Shinjin in Jodo-Shinshu is not something that we create ourselves but rather, is what we receive from Amida Buddha. It is the “… shinjin that is directed to beings through the power of the Primal Vow” and “… shinjin given by Amida.”
As to what shinjin is, the Venerable Master wrote that “… there is no mixture of doubt (in it). It is therefore called entrusting” and “… shinjin is hearing the Vow of Tathagata and being free of doubt.”
Although shinjin is what we receive from Amida Buddha, something also finds expression in the minds and hearts of the sentient beings who receive it. Recently, statements have been made that unless the feeling that we have received shinjin is accompanied by appropriate social actions or practices, there is no meaning to having received it. But such actions are meaningful only after receiving shinjin, and are not considerations about shinjin itself. As just indicated, the Venerable Master wrote that shinjin is “hearing the Vow of Tathagata and being free of doubt.” That is the proper cause of our birth in the Pure Land and the true cause of our attaining nirvana. The most important consideration is that this mind/heart is “given by Amida,” and then finds expression in the minds/hearts of sentient beings. The birth of this mind/heart is what receiving shinjin is.
2. RECITATION OF THE TRUE AND REAL SHINJIN
The Venerable Master wrote:
The saying of the Name arising from true and real shinjin
Is Amida’s directing of virtue to beings;
Therefore, it is called “not directing merit,”
And saying the nembutsu in self-power is rejected.
A major characteristic of the Venerable Master’s teaching is the clear division he made between:
- “saying … the Name arising from true and real shinjin” and
- saying the Name (reciting “Namo Amida Butsu”) with self-centered effort” (jiriki).
(“Saying … the Name arising from true and real shinjin” is another way of referring to recitation based on “Buddha-centered power” (tariki).)
In other words, this is a division between:
- Shinjin that is completely endowed with Amida Buddha’s power.
- Shinjin that is not completely endowed.
I believe misunderstanding of this is a great problem today.
I frequently hear statements such as, “Voices reciting the Nembutsu seem to be lacking today,” and I agree. While the voices of those reciting the Nembutsu in a loud voice were often heard during Dharma Talks given in the past, they are noticeably absent today. This is not to say, however, that it is sufficient if the Nembutsu is recited during Dharma Talks (though I personally believe that rather than remaining silent, it is preferable to recite the Nembutsu during Dharma talks).
But vocalizing the Nembutsu is not all there is to the practice of “reciting the Nembutsu” (shomyo), nor is it the “Nembutsu of Amida Buddha’s ‘merit transference’” (tariki eko no nembutsu).
Only when shinjin is endowed as explained above does it become recitation of the true and real shinjin, does it become the Dharma of Amida Buddha’s “merit transference,” and is the Nembutsu that the Venerable Master Shinran taught.
Only after receiving shinjin does “recitation of the Name” become shomyo. The Nembutsu that is recited without it is a recitation based on “self-centered effort” (jiriki).
3. THE WAY TO SHINJIN
The Venerable Master Shinran received shinjin at the age of 29. That was when he abandoned the monastic practices on Mt. Hiei, descended that mountain, met Master Honen, and was taught about Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow.
The Venerable Master’s wife, Eshin-ni, wrote about this in a letter:
From Esshin-ni’s statement that the Venerable Master “visited” and listened to Master Honen’s Dharma Talks for a hundred days, we understand that he reached a state where he was able to receive shinjin from this “listening.”
The same thing is mentioned in the Tannisho where Yuien quotes the Venerable Master:
As for me, I simply accept and entrust myself to what my revered teacher (Honen) told me, ‘Just say the Nembutsu and be saved by Amida’; nothing else is involved.
Here again, it states that the Venerable Master received shinjin as a result of being “told,” i.e., “listening.”
The Venerable Master wrote the following wasan:
Those who hear the Buddha’s Name ?
Going even through flames that fill
The great thousand fold world to do so ?
Attain forever the stage of nonretrogression.
In Article 193 of Kikigaki (Heard and Recorded), Master Rennyo is quoted as emphasizing that “listening” is the way to receive shinjin:
If even those without shinjin listen to the teaching of Buddha-dharma from the bottom of their minds/hearts, they will absolutely receive shinjin because of the power of the Buddha’s Great Compassion that is added. All we need do is expend our efforts in listening to the honorable teaching.
The way to receive shinjin in the Jodo-Shinshu teaching is by “hearing” (chomon). Today, that would include studying the doctrines of Jodo-Shinshu.
4. SHINJIN AND WORKING FOR SOCIETY
In a letter dated “Seventh month, 9th day,” the Venerable Master Shinran wrote:
Those who feel that their own birth is completely settled should, mindful of the Buddha’s benevolence, hold the nembutsu in their hearts and say it to respond in gratitude to that benevolence, with the wish, “May there be peace in the world, and may the Buddha’s teaching spread!”
Horrendous attacks by terrorists before and after that frightening day of September 11, 2001 have not ceased. In addition to such frightening human acts of terrorism, our world has experienced many natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and tsunami, causing much anxiety. When the discussion turns to what we as followers of Jodo-Shinshu teaching can do in such circumstances, the passage in the above letter that the Venerable Master wrote is often quoted. What concerns me, however, is that the most important part of that statement is almost invariably left out. The part that is left out is: “Those who feel that their own birth is completely settled (i.e., those who have received shinjin) should, ….”
Clearly, it is important that we Jodo-Shinshu followers work for peace in the world and spread the Buddha-dharma. But as indicated, for the Venerable Master, this cannot be done without receiving shinjin and being assured of birth in the Pure Land.
 Jodo Wasan Number 59, The Collected Works of Shinran, Volume 1 (hereafter CWS:1), Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, page 341.
 Chapter on Shinjin of the Kyogyoshinsho, CWS:1, page 112.
 Tannisho, CWS:1, page 664.
 Chapter on Shinjin of the Kyogyoshinsho, CWS:1 page 98.
 Ichinen tanen mon’i, CWS:1, page 474.
 Shozomatsu Wasan Number 39, CWS:1, page 408.
 Tannisho, CWS:1, page 662.
 Jodo Wasan Number 31, CWS:1, page 332.
 A Collection of Letters, CWS:1, page 560.