Foolishness as the Crux

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K. Ken Fujimoto
Recently, the Coast District Ministers Association hosted the annual BCA Ministers Association Seminar and Summer Meeting here in San Jose. As our main speaker, we were fortunate to have Rev. Haruaki Shirakawa, head of the Chuo Bukkyo Gakuin, the main institution for the training and education of ministers for the Hongwanji in Kyoto, Japan. Part of his lecture to us covered a critical point for the understanding of our teaching. This is something many people do not like to hear, but the reason we do not want to hear it is the very reason we need to hear it.
He starts off by relating an episode from a wedding reception for former students, one of many to which he is invited each year, that he was able to attend and continues by quoting and commenting on texts supporting his points, but that may be more than most of you may want to read today. I will abridge some of those quotes here. Those interested can contact me and I will be glad to give them the entire translated text of his presentation.
To be made aware of one’s foolishness
When I attend a reception, I am often asked to make a congratulatory speech as well. I often mix in things about the groom/bride’s personality or episodes from their student life in those speeches, last month I was at a reception where I spoke on the following:
At receptions such as this, we often hear congratulatory messages saying, “Please become a good husband and a good wife and build a happy home.” However, the groom, Mr. XXX, and bride, Mrs. XXX, met while studying at Chuo Bukkyo Gakuin and were able to greet this festive day. This means that they were able to study the teachings of Shinran Shonin. Therefore, I will not ask them to become a good husband and a good wife, but rather to please become aware that they are hopelessly foolish people who will never be able to become a good husband or good wife and to respect the other. I would like you to become a couple like this. If you felt that you have become a good husband or good wife, the feeling that “I am an exemplary human being,” will lead to looking down on those around you, including your husband or wife. To come to the awareness that “I am a hopeless fool,” will not lead to looking down on others, but rather lead to a feeling of respect for all those around you….
Shinran Shonin did not tell us to, “Become a good person, an exemplary human being.” He taught us the great value in becoming aware of how hopelessly foolish I am.
However, the truth is that no one wants to admit to being a foolish being or an evil person. In the Larger Sutra’s section on the Primal Vow, the extremely evil person is discussed:
If, when I attain Buddhahood, the sentient beings of the ten quarters who, with sincere and entrusting heart aspire to be born in my land and say my name even ten times, should not be born there, may I not attain the perfect Enlightenment. Excluded are those who commit the five grave offenses and those who slander the right Dharma. (text of 18th Vow: The Three Pure Land Sutras, Vol II, The Larger Sutra; Shin Buddhism Translation Series, p.22)
To explain in modern language, “If, when I attain Buddhahood, everyone who receives Shinjin and becomes able to recite the Nembutsu, does not receive life in the Pure Land, I will not accept the perfect enlightenment. However, those who commit the five grave offenses and obstruct the Buddhist teaching will be excluded.” (abridged)
At the end of this passage of the Primal Vow, it is stated that, “Those who have committed the five grave offenses and have slandered the Buddha-dharma are excluded.” This would normally mean that such people would be excluded from salvation. However, Shinran Shonin made a unique interpretation of this passage. In the Notes on the Inscriptions on Sacred Scrolls (『尊号真像銘文』Songo Shinzo Meimon), he explains the section following the Yui Jo (唯除, Excluded are…) as:
Excluded means that those who commit the five grave offenses are rejected and reveals how grave the evil of slandering the dharma is. By showing the gravity of these two kinds of wrongdoing, these words make us realize that all the sentient beings throughout the ten quarters, without a single exception will be born in the Pure Land. (CWS, p.494)
It might be considered a matter of course if those who are evil due to the five grave offenses and slandering the dharma are abandoned. However, parents do not abandon their children no matter how they may be. No, a parent will put extra effort into trying to nurture the child who is beyond hope. Shinran Shonin in the Kyogyoshinsho, Chapter on True Shinjin quotes the Nirvana Sutra passage where the comparison with a parent’s feeling toward their child is made.
“Suppose there are parents with seven children. When there is sickness among the seven children, although the father and mother are concerned equally with all of them, nevertheless their hearts lean wholly toward the sick child. Great King, it is like this with the Tathagata.” (CWS p.133)
Tuesday night study classes will be starting again from September 22, from 7:30 PM. Generally, the classes will be held on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month. This year we have decided to have group led discussions on contemporary issues to consider Buddhist perspectives of such issues. We will not try to develop a Buddhist view, but discuss views and consider what makes them possible Buddhist views.
© August 22, 2015