Samsara is Nirvana

Posted by:

G Sakamoto

“When foolish beings of delusion and defilement awaken shinjin,
They realize that birth-and-death is itself nirvana;
Without fail they reach the land of immeasurable light
And universally guide sentient beings to enlightenment.”
Shinran, Shoshinge, CWS p 72

When someone asks, “What is Buddhism?” we should confidently respond, “A way to resolve difficulties.” The next question can be scary since it may be about anything in the world of Buddhism. “How do you do that?”, “What is karma?”, “Do you transmigrate?”, “Do you meditate?” “Who is Amida?” or just a statement “I’m a Buddhist.” Its scary, so we might answer the first question, “What is Buddhism?” with “Go ask sensei.” We shouldn’t be afraid. Every question is a opportunity for discovery.

We have, for a long time, felt uncertain about our understanding of the Buddhadharma. Its so big. Its so deep. Its so incomprehensible. The Buddhadharma is truly all those things, it is big, deep, incomprehensible, but at its core it is simply about addressing the difficulties we experience. Difficulties that result from our inability to see things as they are. We have a tendency to see the world through our preferences, our likes and dislikes, our prejudices. We divide the world up, holding on to what we like, pushing away what we don’t like. When we hold on to only what we like we cannot see or recognize the other. If I like only things Japanese, I may not be able to appreciate the culture and the shared humanity of a Peruvian. We might visit as tourists but not recognize the culture and values of the Peruvian people. If I can expand my view of the world I might be able to recognize that needs of people in my community, who are living in poverty, have the same needs that I try to meet.

My inability to see, and the value I place on my own view, can result in difficulties. To value only my view can diminish the value of others and in its worst form dehumanize others.

Buddhism is about recognizing my inability to see and cultivating the mind the sees things are they are. A mind free of prejudice. The many paths and practices, the great variety of schools and traditions of Buddhism all work to cultivate this mind. A mind free of prejudice. The mind of nirvana. Nirvana is the resolution of difficulties.

In Jodo Shinshu to awaken to shinjin is to acknowledge my absolute inability to cultivate the mind free of prejudice and to acknowledge Amida’s absolute assurance of the eventual resolution of difficulties. These two things, together, can change how we see and engage the world. However I might think of Amida, whether as a Buddha ten billion buddhalands to the west or as wisdom and compassion that surrounds me or someone who watches over me, does not matter. Acknowledging the absolute assurance of Amida that the difficulties I cause and experience will be resolved, allows me to see myself more openly. To begin to see my prejudices that result in difficulties for myself and others. To begin to see my prejudices is to begin to see things as they are. To begin to see things as they are is to begin to see Nirvana.

We live in the world of birth-and-death separated from Nirvana only by our inability to see things as they are. Our perception divides the world into samsara and nirvana. Amida’s assurance allows us to begin to see things as they are. To see that the world of birth-and-death is nirvana.

As a person of Jodo Shinshu my concern is the same as any other Buddhist; How do I address and resolve the difficulties I cause and experience. Jodo Shinshu’s approach is through the assurance of Amida.