The Buddhadharma addresses and resolves the difficulties that we cause and experience. Difficulties that result from the value we place on how we see and engage the world. The practices of the Buddhadharma cultivate the mind that sees things as they are, correcting the mind that places value on prejudices with which I engage the world. This is core of the Buddhadharma. These are the Four Noble Truths. There are many ways to address the difficulties we experience. If we are not addressing these difficulties by acknowledging and adjusting the way we see and engage the world it is not the Buddhadharma.
I see the world through the narrow lense of my likes and dislikes. I hold on to what I like, push away what I don’t like, separating the world into categories. These categories offer opportunities for conflict. Whether between or within individuals or nations, when different views collide, difficulties can arise. I like chocolate, you like strawberry. I like the Democratic approach to the economy, you like the Republican approach. I am Russian, you are American. You see green, he sees red, I don’t see the difference. I hold onto what I believe to be correct. The more I cling to my belief the harsher the boundary that separates becomes. The greater value I place on my preference, what I like, in politics or religion or culture, the greater the opportunity for difficulties to arise. I think how I see the world is preferable. This attachment to my selective view of world results in difficulties for myself and others. This is the mind that the Buddhadharma offers to correct. The practices of the Buddhadharma cultivates the mind that sees things as they are.
Jodo Shinshu is Buddhadharma. It addresses and resolves the same difficulties. I acknowledge however that I am unable to cultivate the mind that sees things as they are. I continue to cause and experience difficulties as a result of my inability.
Amida assures me of the eventual resolution of difficulties. At the core of Jodo Shinshu is the relationship between Amida’s absolute assurance and acknowledging my absolute inability to resolve the difficulties I cause and experience. This is what I understand shinjin to be. (Shinran quotes Shan-tao, “The second is deep mind”, CWS 85) This is to begin to see things as the are. I am changed by Amida’s assurance. Amida’s assurance allows me to look more openly at my prejudices and preferences that result in difficulties. Namo Amida Butsu expresses my gratitude for the work of Amida that results in the resolution of difficulties.
“Hence, whether with regard to practice or to shinjin there is nothing whatever that has not been fulfilled through Amida Tathagata’s directing of virtue to beings out of the pure Vow-mind. It is not that there is no cause or that there is some other cause. Let this be known.” Shinran, CWS 300.
Whether there is substance to the myth of Amida matters only in how I am affected. If there is no substance to Amida my belief will not cause Amida to be. If there is substance to the myth of Amida what I do or not do will not affect the outcome of Amida’s intent. Perhaps, a gentler, kinder, Pascal’s Wager. Whether we are aware of Amida or not, Amida’s Vows still assure all beings of the resolution of difficulties. That assurance lifts the burden of having to be something. We are assured, as we are, of the eventual resolution of difficulties.
For unenlightened beings if we wish to correct the way we see the world there are prescribed practices that need to be followed and perfected. The fourth of the Four Noble Truths represents this approach to the resolution of difficulties. Address the cause. Perfect the practice. Resolve the difficulties. Experience nirvana.
The Eightfold Path, the fourth of the Four Noble Truths, is the means to resolve the difficulties we experience. We often think, however, of practices like the Eightfold Path, Six Paramita, meditation as ways of enhancing our experiences. We use these practices as guides for a better life. Using these practices in this way can have benefits. We may experience better attention, live a life that is less harmful and more generous. Guides for better living, however, can be found in many places from monasteries to Wall Street. The practices of the Buddhadharma are the practices that cultivate the mind of enlightenment that results in the resolution of difficulties.
“I have no idea whether the nembutsu is truly the seed for my being born in the Pure Land or whether it is the karmic act for which I must fall into hell. Should I have been deceived by Master Honen and, saying the nembutsu, were to fall into hell, even then I would have no regrets.
“The reason is, if I could attain Buddhahood by endeavoring in other practices, but said the nembutsu and so fell into hell, then I would feel regret at having been deceived. But I am incapable of any other practice, so hell is decidedly my abode whatever I do.” Tannisho, Chapter 2, CWS 662
What will happen in my future is uncertain. If I hold the myth of Amida to have substance that future becomes certain. Amida assures me of the eventual resolution of difficulties. That assurance frees me from the practices that are intended to cultivate the mind of enlightenment. I might feel that there is something I must do, express thanks, be attentive, attend services, go to study classes, none of these activities affects the intent of Amida nor do they change my unenlightened state. Recognizing and acknowledging my inability to perfect the practices that cultivate the mind of enlightenment is to begin to see things as they are.
Amida’s assurance changes the way I engage the world. The boundaries of the categories that result from my preferences and prejudices become less harsh. What I hold to be right or wrong may take on new meaning as I consider different ways of seeing. My appreciation for the causes and conditions that support me can deepen, awakening an awareness of the relationship I share with all beings. The change in how I see and engage the world may be sudden or gradual. Or perhaps it may not happen at all. The intent of Amida, to resolve the difficulties of all beings remains the same. The assurance of Amida is an opportunity to reconsider how we see the world. To open up to possibilities not considered before.
“The light of compassion that grasps us illumines and protects us always;
The darkness of our ignorance is already broken through;
Still the clouds and mists of greed and desire, anger and hatred,
Cover as always the sky of true and real shinjin.
But though the light of the sun is veiled by clouds and mists,
Beneath the clouds and mists there is brightness, not dark.
When one realizes shinjin, seeing and revering and attaining great joy,
One immediately leaps crosswise, closing off the five evil courses.”
Shinran, Shoshinge, CWS 70
CWS: Collected Works of Shinran, Nishi Hongwanji, 1997