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Where Does Enlightenment Come From?

   Disputes have arisen, with companions in the singlehearted practice of the nembutsu claiming this practicer as their own disciple and numbering that one among someone else’s. Such contention is totally senseless.

   I have not a single disciple. For if I were to guide someone to the nembutsu through my own devices and efforts, then he would be my disciple, but to call a person “my disciple” when he says the Name solely through the working of Amida would be preposterous.

   One adheres to a teacher when brought by one’s karmic condition to join him, leaves a teacher when brought by karmic conditions to leave. In spite of this, some assert that even though a person may say the Name, if he has turned from one teacher to follow another, he cannot attain birth. This is absurd. Are those who say this threatening to take back the shinjin given by Amida as if it were their own property? Let there be an end to all such claims.

   If one is in accord with the reality of jinen, one will surely awaken to the benevolence of the Buddha and of one’s teachers and respond with gratitude.

   Thus were his words.

The quote above is from the Tannisho, a collection of recollections from one of Shinran Shonin’s followers, named Yuien-bo. This particular text is also considered in Japan to be a literary classic and, as such, is read by many Japanese students and not just followers of Nembutsu. For us the Tannisho is an extremely valuable written record of how Shinran was seen as a person. It records his responses to many questions put to him by nembutsu followers. It also records his responses to many problems of misinterpretation and disputes that sprang up among those followers. In reading such a written record it makes us realize that even Shinran himself, could not teach perfectly, meaning that even those who heard directly from Shinran, himself, had problems with how they understood what they heard him say. What is important to realize is that the perfection or imperfection of Shinran’s ‘techniques’ or any teacher for that matter, is not the main source of another’s enlightenment.

This particular quote clarifies that the actual source of nembutsu-enlightenment is not what the human teacher says about Amida Buddha, but an understanding of the “working of Amida.” The other necessary element is that the seeker must be  “in accord with the reality of jinen.” This statement holds tremendous meaning, but one can only appreciate it if we understand what exactly “jinen” means.

Regarding “jinen,” in another collection of writings, written by Shinran himself, called The Mattosho (Letters of Shinran), Shinran addresses the meaning of ‘jinen’ directly.

 . . . The supreme Buddha is formless, and because of being formless is called jinen. When this Buddha is shown as being with form, it is not called the supreme nirvana (Buddha). In order to make us realize that the true Buddha is formless, it is expressly called Amida Buddha; so I have been taught. Amida Buddha is the medium through which we are made to realize jinen.

This point is difficult to express, as we need to expand our minds beyond our everyday habit of concrete images and concepts. The statement is seeking to tell us that the formless reality of supreme nirvana wishes to let us know that IT is the true reality that embraces all forms and all concepts that cause us so much worry and concern. In other words, we are surrounded with the ultimate reality of supreme reality. We have no need of worrying about whether or not we need to fulfill some standard of qualifications in order to “achieve” the ultimate supreme nirvana.

In order to speak of the “true Buddha” – that is formless – we speak of Amida Buddha, the “medium” that allows us to conceptualize and think about supreme nirvana. But thinking about supreme nirvana and actually experiencing it are different things. This “difference” is not the fault of True Reality, it is of our own making.

When we say “Namo Amida Butsu” – we accept our reliance and trust upon that supreme formless nirvana that is actively seeking to awaken us to True Reality. We suffer because we do not realize it is already active and present in our lives. We suffer because we insist on trying to define life and reality using our own egotistical concepts and terms, all the while frustrated and puzzled about why we can’t make things go as we imagine they should. We fail because we do not recognize ALL of the “parts” necessary for making life whole, true and real. We fail because we do not recognize that True Reality functions as “jinen” – perfectly complete, made to become so naturally, spontaneously, by itself. namoamidabutsu.

If one is in accord with the reality of jinen, one will surely awaken to the benevolence of the Buddha and of one’s teachers and respond with gratitude.

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