the end of the Larger Sutra, the Buddhist text considered by
Shinran as the cornerstone of Jodo Shinshu, Amida Buddha appears
to the assembly listening to Shakyamuni at Vulture Peak. The
light of Amida's Pure Land, a realm that does not correspond
to any physical location in our world, overflows and mingles
with Vulture Peak (Griddhraj Parvat), located on the northern
edge of the current Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Although
the event has been and could be interpreted in both literal
and symbolic ways, I am not concerned with the factuality of
the episode or trying to establish some form of interpretive
orthodoxy. The appearance of Amida towards the West of Vulture
Peak is pregnant with beautiful images that implicitly reveal
the dynamics of 'tariki no shinjin' or the entrusting heart
of other power.
visionary or supernatural aspects to the side, the section 41
of the Larger Sutra, seems to describe how Ananda (and all those
around him) realizes the entrusting heart by "seeing"
or fully encountering the Buddha. The vision of Amida is triggered
by Ananda's wish to see the Buddha. After offering homage to
the Western direction, where Amida is meant to reside, Ananda
voices his desire: "O World-honoured one, I wish to see
that [Amida] Buddha, the Land of Peace and Happiness, and the
whole assembly of the bodhisattvas and sravakas therein"1.
Ananda's wish and Amida's manifestation appear in succession
in the text (it could not be otherwise when using human language),
but one does not come after the other; they take place simultaneously.
As the sutra states, "No sooner had he uttered these words
that the Buddha of Immeasurable Life emitted a great radiant
light, which universally illuminated all the Buddha-worlds".
This light, which reveals the Buddha and the Pure Land to the
assembly at Vulture Peak seems to come as a response to Ananda's
wish, but in a sense Ananda's wish enables him to see a light
that was shining on him before he wished to see it.
sutra(s) reminds us that Amida is always active, his light ever
shining throughout space and time, embracing all beings. However,
unless the right circumstances come together we are not able to
perceive this light or benefit from it in any way. As Rennyo legendarily
responded to one of Ikkyu's koan challenges: "There is no
heart far from Amida but a covered bowl of water cannot reflect
the moon". Ananda's wish is a form of nembutsu, it is the
bowl being uncovered and suddenly reflecting the moon for the
first time. Following the logic of tariki or other power, such
an occurrence is not imagined to be the result of our own efforts
(at uncovering the bowl or cultivating a mind that aims to reflect
the Buddha) but comes from the Buddha's side, it is the Buddha's
doing. From this perspective, Ananda's wish is the fulfillment
of Amida's vow, they are both accomplished at once. As Ananda
realizes how his wish to see the Buddha was all that was needed
to see the Buddha, the Buddha's and Ananda's wishes fully coalesce.
Ananda's wish to see the Buddha is ultimately rooted in the Buddha's
wish to reveal himself.
the two wishes, wills or "powers" join in this way,
we realize that they are not two but a single power that transcends
the self and its calculations. Amida and Ananda instantly dissolve
in a light that resembles "the flood at the end of the
cosmic age covering the whole world, when everything becomes
submerged and disappears, leaving nothing but the vast expanse
of water to be seen". In this nondual light there is no
Amida and no Ananda, no possibility of, literally, seeing anything
other than the "Buddha's brilliant and glorious light".
However, nonduality yields into duality when "Ananda saw
the Buddha of Immeasurable Life" and "those in that
[Pure] land saw all that happened in our world". The mutuality
of this vision not only reveals that Amida and the Pure Land
interpenetrate our world as much as we interpenetrate them,
but also that we remain separate. Mutual seeing provides a counterpoint
to the all-dissolving light. It is by seeing that both Ananda
and Amida are born for each other. They merge into formless
but they are at once given a new form.
is born for Ananda as he first encounters and experiences the
Buddha in his own consciousness. The enlightenment of Amida might
have been a concept or an abstraction before but as it emerges
in Ananda's mind through the wish to see the Buddha, it becomes
lived experience. Then, Amida cannot remain an abstraction but
becomes a living reality in Ananda's consciousness. Similarly,
the birth of Amida in Ananda or the emergence of Ananda's shinjin
signals Ananda's birth in the Pure Land. As Shinran puts it in
the Shoshinge it is in "a single though of joy of oneness
with Amida"2 that we are born in the Pure Land.
In this sense Ananda is born for Amida as he is born in Amida's
world, which also marks the fulfillment of Amida's vow. Since
Amida vows not to become a Buddha before his vows are fulfilled,
the fulfillment of the vow through Ananda's wish (and its granting)
represents the birth of Amida as a Buddha.
wish works like the nembutsu, in so far as they are both expressions
of Amida's power. Ananda's aspiration is "Namu", whereas
its fulfillment in the Buddha's vow is "Amida Butsu".
When they come together, like water pouring into water, the world
of shinjin unfolds. The Larger Sutra presents this world not as
one of unquestioning or monolithic faith but as one of mutuality
and interpenetration. The entrusting heart is a meeting place
between the Buddha and the being who wishes to hear, see and eventually
become Buddha. It is in this heart that both the Buddha and the
Buddha-to-be are born. And yet there is nothing we can possibly
do to bring about this encounter. However, our wish for it to
happen proves that it has already happened.
few years ago, as I was first gripped by Shinran's teaching
I remember asking Professor Alfred Bloom about shinjin. I was
anxious about signs and proofs, baffled that Jodo Shinshu did
not offer any formal confirmation of realization, unlike other
schools of Buddhism. I wanted to know if I "had shinjin"
or if not what did I need to do in order to acquire it. Professor
Bloom's answer immediately revealed the absurdity of my question:
"ultimately, nothing external can assure the reception
of trust [
]. We do not develop a conviction based on external
authority where someone declares what is true for you, but it
only arises when one intuitively becomes aware in oneself that
this is the truth of my life". Therefore, "if the
teaching continues to attract your interest and study or questions,
then do not be concerned for assurance, you already have it"3.
Finally, echoing the dialogue between Yuienbo and Shinran in
the 9th chapter of Tannisho, he concluded "where there
is doubt there is already faith"4 .
unlike Ananda, we wish to see or trust the Buddha because we
sense we do not or cannot really see or trust. By wishing we
realize our inadequateness and shortcomings, a sign that the
light of the Buddha is already at work within us.
quotes from the sutra are from the translation by the Jodo Shinshu
Studies and Research Centre Translation committee. Inagaki Hisao,
ed. The Three Pure Land Sutras, Volume II. The Sutra on the
Buddha of Immeasurable Life. Kyoto: Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-Ha,
is Inagaki Hisao's translation to the 98th line in the Shoshinge
(Kyo ki ichi nen so o go).
4. The chapter
9 of Tannisho reproduces an exchange between Yuienbo and Shinran,
in which the first tries to reconcile his feelings of joylessness
with the fact that he says the nembutsu. Shinran's responds
by identifying with Yuienbo and confessing that he has had the
same thoughts and feelings. Far from being an anomaly, Shinran
reassures Yuienbo that his lack of joy is not only not his fault
but is a proof that his birth in the Pure Land is certain. Yuienbo's
lack of enthusiasm or even doubt means he is under the grip
of blind passions and therefore he is the object of Amida's
compassion. Furthermore, the fact that Yuienbo is aware of his
blind passions (in the form of doubt or joylessness) demonstrate,
for Shinran, that he has already been embraced by the Buddha's