Quotes to Ponder
What are the social implications of Shinran's Theology of Ignorance?
Looking behind and beyond Shinran’s Theology of Ignorance

Shantao’s Parable:
A traveler is journeying through a strange and dangerous wilderness. Suddenly he is set upon by wild beasts. As he attempts to run away from them, bandits hear the commotion and sense an opportunity to take advantage of his situation. Pursued by both bandits and wild bests the man frantically tried to escape to the west, the only direction open to him.

The poor man eventually arrives at a river. It is made up of a current of fire and a current of water. Between the two currents and stretching from one bank to another is a small white footbridge. This small white path is the only way across the river. It is only a few inches wide. To one side is the fire leaping up at least 20 feet. On the other side are the waves consuming all before them. Even though the path beckons the man, it is so dangerous that he shrinks back. He sees no possibility of escape. The traveler is filled with fear. He is hemmed in by vast mountains on one side, pursued by beasts on another, attacked by bandits on yet another and he faces a torrent of fire and water. He can not move and he can not stand still. When the situation seems utterly hopeless, the desperate traveler hears a calming right behind him to the east saying, “Go forward without fear, no danger exist on the white path. But if you remain standing and do nothing you will surely die.”

Just then he hears as second voice from the western shore beyond the river of fire and water, “Come just as you are with singleness of heart. Do not fear the torrents of fire and water. I will protect you and await you.” The voice on the eastern shore urging the traveler forward is Shakyamuni Buddha. The voice on the western shore calling him beyond the torrents is Amida Buddha. The man is filled with renewed courage and confidence. He ventures across the white path. What direction will our lives take after the disappearance of the body? This is a matter of great concern for many people.

There is indeed a great variety of practices and theories concerning the afterlife. We, however, do at this very moment cast aside all this confusion based on self-power. Furthermore, we dedicate ourselves here and now to realizing the Infinite-At-Work-In-All-Things, Amida Buddha.

AN ANCIENT FABLE: It was common sport in ancient China to trap termites inside a bamboo stock. Each termite bore a dot of paint for identification purposes. The first termite to emerge out the top of the bamboo stock was declared the winner. The owner was sometimes very lucky and won fists full of money. Gradually the termites were bred for speed and aggressiveness. One day however a new strain of termite appeared, quite unexpectedly. It was able to chew its way out sideways. This is called oochoo, which means lateral of horizontal transcendence. When the winning termite won by appearing out the side of the bamboo stalk a great argument began. Was the victory legitimate? Should the termites with this tendency be done away with? Who owed whom money and how much? Were the termites sick? Were they really termites?

So the argument went and still goes today. It has never been resolved. You can even hear it today, after so many centuries, wherever men gather to bet on termite races.

Shinran shares a great treasure with those who would lend their ears to his message. He clarifies for us a special way to enter a stream that carries all beings into the realm of awakening and liberation. It is now clear to us that our lives emerge out of shinjin, the Awakening of Transpersonal Faith. This is the essence of Shinran’s inclusive, global way to spiritual fulfillment. We can, therefore, abandon all traditional religious practices. With clarity of mind we take refuge in the Amida’s mysterious Bodhisattva Vow to save, without exception, all beings who but call his name. We thus face a future guaranteed, one full of hope and joy.

It is often said that saved people can look forward to a good Hereafter. Well then, those who do not practice conventional religion have nothing to worry about at all! This is true indeed, although most people assume, ”Believers are definitely more saved that non-believers.” It all seems to make perfect sense at first, but this attitude is contrary to the meaning of awakening to Transpersonal Power. This is because people who rely on various beliefs based on parochial agendas are self-excluded from Transpersonal Power, failing as they do to take refuge in the Bodhisattva Vow. Whey they, however;, overturn their particular ego-powered minds and entrust their lives to Transpersonal Power, the realize rebirth into a state of true fulfillment. The Buddha had deep compassion for beings so enmeshed in karmic conditioning that any attempt at traditional religious practice was pointless; there is for them no other hope of emerging from the sea of birth-suffering-death. The focus of Amida’s Bodhisattva Vow is on those who do not follow conventional, traditional religious practices. When people in hopeless karmic bondage take refuge in Transpersonal Power (tariki), they experience within themselves the right cause for becoming spiritually alive. Thus: if saved people are supposed to experience a good Hereafter, the rebirth of those outside conventional religion is beyond doubt! These were actually Shinran’s words.

Let us assume that my teacher Honen had deceived me and in uttering the Sacred Name (namo amida buddha) I fell into some kind of hell. I would have no regrets at all!! Why? Well if I could have attained spiritual salvation by conventional religious practices, but fell into some kind of hell as a result of saying the Sacred Name, then I might harbour some regrets. Since I can never find fulfillment in any religious practice, I might as well get used to the idea that there is place in hell waiting for me in any case. Yes, I realize that you must be very serious indeed in seeking answers to you questions about a Hereafter and the process of spiritual rebirth. After all, you did cross ten provinces and took great risks to get this far. Some of you even try to honour me my insisting that I could be withholding a secret teaching from you, a teaching that I might reveal under special circumstances. Perhaps you hope that I will uncover special scriptural passages for your benefit? I am afraid I will have to disappoint you. I know only the Way of the Sacred Name. If you want answers to these matters I suggest you turn to the many scholars in the universities and religious centres, where you could attend lectures. They have theories aplenty about being reborn and about the Hereafter. As for me, Shinran, there is only one way. That is to follow the lead of my teacher, Honen, who said, “Simply give voice to the Sacred Name and be embraced by the Infinite Awake, the Amida.” It all comes down to that.

The recitation of the Sacred Name opens within us an infinite horizon, unique and free. How is this possible? All divine beings, whatever or whoever they may be, bow in respect before those of a universal, transpersonal faith (Shinjin). Also, we fear no evil, because evil powers are helpless before the Sacred Name. And other teachings? They are simply ineffective in obstructing the power of the Sacred Name. The burden of karmic conditioning, good, neutral or bad, cannot interfere with the action of the Sacred Name. So it is that those who recite the Sacred Name are themselves an infinite horizon, unique and free!

Reciting the Sacred Name is neither a religious practice nor a method of accumulating karmic prestige. It is a non-practice because it does not originate in the self-powered, ego-logical mind. It is a karma because it does not originate our of our own circumscribed sense of what is good. Reciting the Sacred Name is due solely to the force of the Transpersonal Power, a self-free power. That is the reason that the Sacred name is the religion of no religion, the karma of no karma. Such were the words of Shinran.

If the truth were known we all like to posture about this being ‘good’ and that being ‘evil,’ presenting the image of one who does not, because of intellectual rational abilities, need the grace of the Infinite. Shinran once said, “I know little at all about those two, Absolute Worthiness and Absolute Unworthiness. If I knew the Good to the extent of the Ultimate Dharma manifested as Buddha knows the Good, then I would be an expert in it. If I knew Evil to the extent the Ultimate Dharma manifested as Buddha knows Evil, then I would be an expert in it as well. But this limited being experiences blinding passions and sees the world as a house aflame with impermanence. Theory and practice are full of rationalizations and vanities, only marginally true at best. “The Sacred Name alone is true and real.” These were Shinran’s actual words!! There will come a time in your life when you realize that you are surrounded by the mystery of the Infinite. This is a realization made possible for us by Amida Buddha’s Bodhisattva Vow, the Transpersonal Power. At the very moment of this realization, you are spiritually alive and enjoy being embraced by liberation and compassion. Never again will you be shout out for any reason. This is the moment you are so moved that you give voice to ‘namo amida buddha’ The Sacred Name of the Infinite. The Bodhisattva Vow of Amida makes no distinction between the old and the young, the religious or the non-religious. Know now, that global faith is the essential experience, that is all that is needed. This is because the source of the awakening of this special faith is directed out of compassion to us sentient beings burdened by karmic conditioning, penetrating and overbearing; beings burdened by situations beyond their control, situations difficult to escape. Taking refuge in Amida’s Bodhisattva Vow is more effective than taking pride in the power of our individualistic, finite actions. This is because nothing we do more virtuous than the Sacred Name. A perverse pride in our capacity for evil is also pointless, because even evil is ineffective in the face of Amida’s Vow. These were Shinran’s words.

Having awakened to the compassion of Amida Buddha and rejoicing in the assurance of Buddhahood, we will endeavour to live the life of gratitude and service. The Honpa Hongwanji ( the mother temple and all it affiliates) is a community of people joined together by the gladness of receiving shinjin of Amida Buddha. As Jodo Shin Buddhists we shall seek to be humble and sincere in words and deeds, to be responsible citizens of our society and to share with others the teachings of Jodo Shinshu. Understanding fully the principle of causality, we shall not practice petitionary prayer and magic, and do not depend on astrology and superstitions.

The Tathagata pervades the countless worlds; it fills the hearts and minds of the ocean of beings. Thus plants, trees and land all attain Buddhahood.

Among all living things--mountains and rivers, grasses and trees, even the sounds of blowing winds and rising waves--there is nothing that is not Amida Buddha Mindfulness.

And the Sacred Name? As no-self in action, it is true action, beyond seen and unseen, beyond known and unknown, beyond thought and no-thought. This was actually said!

You say, “I heard, I believe, I think. The “I” spoils everything. Your rebirth is beyond your comprehension.

Sensei Ulrich

March 21, 2002