“It is impossible for us, who are possessed of blind passions, to free ourselves from birth-and-death through any practice whatever. Sorrowing at this, Amida made the Vow, the essential intent of which is the evil person’s attainment of Buddhahood. Hence, evil persons who entrust themselves to Other Power are precisely the ones who possess the true cause of birth.
“Accordingly he said, ‘Even the good person is born in the Pure Land, so without question is the person who is evil.’ “ A Record in Lament of Divergences, CWS p663
At the core of the Buddhadharma is a single intent: resolve the difficulties we cause and experience. Difficulties result from my behavior not from the intent of Buddhadharma. I do not see things as there are but rather through my preferences and prejudices. I prefer things I like and distance myself from things I don’t like. The practices prescribed by the Dharma cultivate the mind that see things simple as they are.
In Jodo Shinshu I understand that I am unable to cultivate the mind that sees things as they are so I continue to cause and experience difficulties. However, I also understand that I am assured as I am of the resolution of difficulties. That assurance resides with Amida Buddha. Whether I recognize this or not does not affect the result of Amida’s intent. I am an unenlightened being whose actions will result in difficulties. The intent of the Buddha is to resolve the difficulties of such an unenlightened being. If I am unaware of Amida, the intent of Amida does not change; I am still assured of the resolution of difficulties.
The Buddhadharma is not about reward and punishment. It is about the resolution of difficulties. Reward and punishment may adjust behavior that may lead to understanding. It is a useful skill but may not lead to seeing things or engaging things as they are. The separation of the world into preferences that I enjoy or avoid result in difficulties. It distorts how I experience and engage the world. The Buddhadharma is trying to cultivate the mind that sees and engages things as they are.
Amida’s assurance allows me to begin to look more openly at how I see and engage the world. Without fear of punishment, without anticipation of reward, I can begin to acknowledge that there may be other ways of seeing and experiencing the world. If I choose to define the world only through my view then differing world views can come into conflict resulting in difficulties. The difficulties may not terminate at the end of an incident but may linger over time and perhaps even generations.
In a recent NPR report on StoryCorps I heard Hartmut Lau talk with his wife Barbara, for the first time, about his experience during the Vietnam War. In a pitch battle someone yelled at him, watch out behind you. He turn and shot and killed the man coming up behind. It was only when the man was falling that Hartmut realized that the man’s arms were raised in a posture of surrender. ( https://goo.gl/YNYuX4 )
Lau had never spoken to his wife of over twenty years about this, yet he carried this with him for nearly fifty years. We would not think of Lau as evil. In war people kill people. The family of the man Lau killed, knowing his intent to surrender, might feel quite different.
We are unenlightened beings capable of causing great difficulties. We are also capable of extraordinary kindness. Among us there are those who are able to resolve the difficulties we experience. And among us there are those who cannot. Amida assures all beings, absolutely, of the resolution of difficulties. Acknowledging my unenlightened state I am grateful for the assurance of Amida.