Shinran thought of himself as neither priest nor layman. Until he was exiled from Kyoto Shinran led the life of a priest. He spent twenty years as a monk on Hieizan and six years with Honen. When they were exiled their stripped of their religious identity. Shinran no longer thought of himself as a priest, but having lived that life for so long, he did think of himself as a layperson. He no longer shaved his head as monks did nor did he grow his hair like his neighbors. He was neither priest nor layman. He called himself Gutoku, the short haired fool. He never returned to the priesthood. Even after his pardon he continued to live his life unconcerned about his position or authority. The only authority he claimed was an understanding of the Dharma he received from Honen. The authority rested not in Shinran but in the Dharma. Perhaps he understood how confusing things could become if authority rested with someone.
When Shinran was 84 his son, Jishin-bo (Zenran), claimed secret knowledge received from Shinran, causing so much confusion and distrust that Shinran disowned him. Jishin-bo, used teachings he claimed he received secretly from his father to falsely established his own authority. ShinranÕs growing frustration with Jishin-bo’s behavior is clearly seen in his letters. In Letter 6, A Collection of Letters, Shinran writes to Jishin-bo, ‘How have you been teaching the people? I hear you are saying incomprehensible things and am troubled by it. Please explain matters to me in detail.’ (CWS p567)
Later, in Letter 6 of the Uncollected Letters, Shinran writes:
‘The offense here of disrupting the sangha is one of the five grave offenses. To make accusations about me is to murder your father; it is among the five grave offenses. I cannot fully express my grief at hearing these things. Hence, from now on there shall no longer exist parental relations with you; I cease to consider you my son. I declare this resolutely to the three treasures and the gods. It is a sorrowful thing. It rends my heart to hear that you have devoted yourself to misleading all the people of the nembutsu in Hitachi, saying that [what they have been taught] is not my teaching.’ CWS p583
Whatever the effects or consequences of centralized authority, I think Shinran understood that it did not reflect the Dharma. In his last instructions Shakyamuni encouraged everyone ‘to be a lamp unto themselves. Seek out your salvation with diligence’. In the Tannisho, Yuien describes a disagreement Shinran had with other students who believed that Shinran’s shinjin could not be the same as Honen’s. Honen was their teacher. He had studied more. Experienced more. His shinjin must be different. The deference to authority limited possibilities; how we might think about and understand things. In the broader historical context of Shinran’s time, centralized authority often resulted in conflicts between parties vying for power and influence. The fodder for battles were conscripts, drafted from towns and farms.
Underlying all of this is Shakyamuni’s observation that we are unenlightened beings; unenlightened beings whose narrow view of the world will result in difficulties. The resolution of difficulties results from a mind that sees things as they are. A mind that begins to recognize its own preferences and prejudices.
As an unenlightened person it is difficult to acknowledge my prejudices. I see what I want to see or need to see. In Jodo Shinshu we recognize the difficulty of cultivating the mind free of prejudices. The mind that sees things simply as they are. We rely on Amida to provide the means to resolve the difficulties we experience that result from our prejudices. Amida’s assurance allows me to begin to see my limitations.
Hierarchical, centralized authority can be limited and rigid. Structurally, it can be efficient. Decisions require less competing views. But it can become isolated, affirming and reaffirming, assumptions about the world. This is not to say centralized authority will fail. However, centralized authority can begin to simply exist to reinforce itself. I don’t think that reflects the Buddhadharma.
We see Shakyamuni and Shinran as authorities. Shakyamuni said, ‘Be a lamp unto yourself.’ Yuien recalls the words of Shinran in chapter 6 of the Tannisho, ‘For myself, I do not have even a single disciple. For if I brought people to say the nembutsu through my own efforts, then they might be my disciples. But it is indeed preposterous to call persons ‘my disciples’ when they say the nembutsu having received the working of Amida.’ CWS p. 664 Both encouraged the individual’s responsibility and relationship with the Dharma.
Where there is no centralized authority there can be opportunity for individuals to interact. Individuals coming together to share common interests. Contributing to a conversation that can expand the boundaries of otherwise isolated individuals. I contribute what I can. I receive what others have to offer. Ideas, materials, support, not dependent on an individual but everyoneÕs appreciation of a common interest. This is collaboration. Working together.
For us that common interest is the Buddhadharma. In Jodo Shinshu that common interest is deepening our appreciation of the nembutsu.
Ondobo ondogyo: Walking the Dharma path together