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You never know who might be your teacher of the Dharma, if you have the ears and heart to listen. A taxi driver could be a teacher, or a bartender, or your worst enemy. Shinran Shonin statue at Hawaii Betsuin. Shinran Shonin, the founder of Shin Buddhism s in Japan , lived a life as a monk for twenty years, but could not find enlightenment in that setting or environment.

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He met a wonderful teacher, named Honen, who was teaching that the Dharma can be received whether one is a monk or lay. The lifestyle did not matter as much as having the right attitude in listening and receiving the teaching. Now the light of the Dharma began to permeate his heart and mind, illuminating and penetrating into even the darkest corners of his ego self. The life of humility is the most powerful and dynamic life. In the West, we think humility means being weak, or passive, but humility is the true strength of life.

Dr. Bloom - Meditation in Shin Buddhism

We think that an oak tree is tall and firm, but in a strong wind, the oak tree breaks. A willow, or bamboo, however, is soft and flexible, and can bend and not break in a strong wind. A humble person is truly strong, whereas a rigid, stubborn person, is actually weak. The successful businessman is successful because of his customers, because of his employees, because of his business knowledge that he has learned from others.

Even the Olympic gold medalist of course trains and accomplishes an amazing athletic feat, but in reality, it would not have been possible without coaches and teammates, family and supporters. The Shin Buddhist way of life is the life of unending gratitude. Over time, this practice was simplified to the point where the nembutsu was none other than the simple recitation of the Buddha's Name.

In this final Decadent Age of the Dharma mappo-ji , recitation of the Name with a sincere and trusting heart was considered the easiest and most efficacious means of securing liberation from Samsara for ordinary people through birth in the Pure Land ie. Professor Inagaki further observes, 'What amounts to the cause of birth in the Pure Land appears only to be saying the Name.

From the Sanskrit text, we see that the word nien should be taken as a mental act of 'thinking' or 'mindfulness' rather than a verbal act of 'reciting', but there is no rigid line of demarcation between the two. In actual experience, the aspirant's mindful thinking of Amitabha is usually accompanied by uttering his Name, and so a mere verbal repetition without involving mindfulness is inconceivable' [3].

In the tradition prior to Shinran, the nembutsu was considered either a meditative or recitative practice which one undertook with a view to attaining birth in the Pure Land.

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This ranged from visualizing Amida in his land of bliss to simply saying his Name, the former practice being more prevalent among monks and the latter considered to be more suitable for ordinary lay folk. Both of these practices were considered to be highly efficacious because they were a means of accessing, or tapping into, the power of the Buddha himself as manifested in his visual form or his Name.

Nevertheless, a certain amount of effort was still required on the part of the devotee in undertaking these practices despite the assistance conferred by the Buddha's power. In time, this understanding gave rise to certain tensions and ambiguities insofar as doubts arose with respect to how much practice was sufficient to secure one's birth. How many visualizations of the Buddha or repetitions of his Name would suffice to ensure that this goal could be achieved? Could the power of the Buddha really be thwarted if our practice was found to be wanting in some way?

The amalgam of 'self-power' and 'other-power' that was integral to this conception did not help to resolve these vexing questions. Shinran's major contribution to the development of Buddhist thought was to conceive of a radically new way of thinking about practice so as to remove these ambiguities and doubts regarding its ostensible sufficiency.

The critical insight for Shinran is:. The implication is that the nembutsu is the practice of the Buddha, not that of sentient beings which is why, precisely, its efficacy is assured. Shinran was very conscious of the infirmities and limitations of ordinary beings, and considered it beyond the ability of such people to be able to generate the requisite merit for dispelling our deep-seated ignorance through conventional Buddhist practices. For him, the attempt by benighted humanity to transcend its blind passions while relying on its own impoverished resources to do so was an exercise in utter futility.

The task of purifying sentient beings and bringing them to enlightenment can only rest with a power free of such impurities and ignorance; namely, the power of tathata , the ultimate reality itself personified by Amitabha. Needless to say, our Buddha Amida grasps beings with his Name.

Thus, as we hear it with our ears and say it with our lips, exalted virtues without limit grasp and pervade our hearts and minds. It becomes, ever after, the seed of our Buddhahood, all at once sweeping away a koti of kalpas of heavy karmic evil, and we attain the realization of supreme enlightenment. I know truly that the Name possesses no scant roots of good but inexhaustible roots of good. So we can see that when Shinran says 'saying the Name breaks through all the ignorance of sentient beings and fulfils all their aspirations' and that it 'is the right act, supreme, true and excellent' he is suggesting that the merit of saying the Name stems from the virtue of the Buddha, not our own efforts which Shinran considered ineffectual by comparison.

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Professor Inagaki offers this helpful interpretation of Shinran's view of practice:. Amitabha's Name, glorified by all the Buddhas in accordance with the 17th Vow, contains all the merits inherent in True Suchness, expressed in concrete forms by his Vows and practices. In the traditional Pure Land schools, the nembutsu was the central practice, whether in meditative or recitative manner, but Shinran's nembutsu is not based on the practicer's effort.

His nembutsu comes from Amitabha and is, as it were, the self-manifestation of the Name through the practicer's mind and voice. Since the merits and power embodied in the Name enable the practicer to be born in the Pure Land and attain Buddhahood instantly, Shinran calls this path of salvation 'the One Buddha Vehicle of the Vow.

The question we must now ask ourselves is: What does it mean to say that the Name contains 'the merits inherent in True Suchness'? How are we to understand the meaning and implication of this statement? Zuiken, one of the great sages of the Shin tradition in the modern period, gave considerable thought to this question and it might be profitable to examine some of his views on this matter. To begin with, he makes a pertinent distinction between two kinds of names which is critical to understanding the significance of the nembutsu.

In the natural world, a thing and its name are different. For instance however loudly we may repeat the names of food, our appetites will never be satisfied; or however often we may call out the names of liquids, our thirst will never be quenched. The names of warriors, however fear-inspiring they may be, have no power to beat the enemy, and the names of their arms can never vanquish the foe.

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In Buddhism, the names of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have the same compassionate power to fill all beings that hear them with joy and to arouse faith in their hearts unto salvation The True Pure Land Sect teaches that the Sacred Name of Amitabha is Amitabha himself and, at the same time, denotes His wisdom, mercy and power: the accumulation of his merits. It is clear, then, that the supreme potency of the Name in bringing about the birth of sentient beings in the Pure Land arises from its identity with the Tathagata. In other words, the Name is the Buddha in active or dynamic mode.

While the essence of the ultimate reality, or Suchness, is formless, out of great compassion for ignorant and suffering beings, it assumes an intelligible and accessible form which will enable it to communicate itself most effectively in our samsaric world of delusion. Buddha Amitabha revealed himself to all beings in the form of Namu Amida Butsu - the Sacred Name - and His power is active in the form of the Nembutsu When the Name has permeated and penetrated the sinful mind of man, the true Faith is aroused within him.

His Sacred Name and our Faith are one and the same thing, differing only in name and position. When that true Faith is expressed outwardly through the mouth, then it is called Nembutsu or Shomyo. What are the implications of this perspective for the notion of practice as conventionally understood? According to Zuiken, Shinran's view was that:. Of course, the Recitation of his Name can be called 'Practice' or 'Nembutsu'. But simple repetition of the Name without Faith cannot be called 'Practice'. The Recitation which is identified with Faith is indeed 'Practice'.

Whether we recite it or not, it is [still] called 'Practice' because the Name itself has the power to destroy cravings, anger and ignorance, and to lead us to Amitabha's country. For Zuiken, true 'practice' is not something undertaken by us with a view to securing enlightenment.

It is the consummation of the Buddha's practice which is available to all sentient beings through the Name. But how does the transference of the Buddha's merit in this way actually take place? The vow states that those who sincerely and joyfully entrust themselves to Amitabha, aspire to be born in his land, and call his Name even ten times, will be born there. The question then arises as to how we are able to entrust ourselves in this way. The answer is 'through hearing the Name'. In Chapter 22 of this sutra, we find a passage which says that 'all sentient beings who, having heard his Name, rejoice in faith, are mindful of him even once and sincerely transfer the merit of virtuous practices to that land, aspiring to be born there, will attain birth and dwell in the stage of Non-retrogression.

Rejoicing in faith implies wholehearted acceptance of Amitabha's message of salvation and awakening to his Wisdom and Compassion. Not only is genuine practice effectively that of the Buddha, but we find the same can be said for genuine Faith as well. They are but two sides of the same coin. Zuiken again:. His Light shines all over the world in the ten quarters.

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His Light permeates any and every thing in the whole Universe: it pervades the hearts of all beings of the past, present and future. The nembutsu which is recited by devotees is none other than His Light and Life. His wisdom, mercy and power which are embodied in the Sacred Name manifest themselves in the hearts of men, in the form of Faith. Therefore, our Faith is not ours but Amitabha's. There is very little scope for individual initiative in such a scheme. The Pure Land way endeavours to eliminate the spectre of calculative thinking in the awakening of Faith and it does so through the promotion of a natural and spontaneous approach to the Buddha's working.

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A Pure Land Buddhist Primer

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