Month: November 2017

Group of the Truly Settled

  SHO-JO-JU

正 定 聚

Stage of Non-Retrogression2

The stage realized by persons of truly settled Shinjin – the entrusting mind that puts complete reliance only in the Other-Power of Amida Buddha and His Primal Vow – is repeatedly emphasized by Master Shinran. As this Shinjin is the core essential teaching in Jodo Shinshu, he compares it with the difficult attainments achieved by practicers on the Theravada and Mahayana paths – those who will definitely not backslide in their practice and will only advance forward to Nirvana. These are persons who are assured of breaking free from the firm clutches of samsara. Let us listen deeply…

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In his Kyo-Gyo-Shin-Sho, Master Shinran writes:

“Thus, when one attains the true and real Practice and Shinjin, one greatly rejoices in one’s heart. This stage is called the stage of Joy. It is likened to the First Fruit – a sage of the First Fruit; though he may give himself to sleep and to sloth, will still never be subject to samsaric existence for a twenty-ninth time.”

“Even more decisively will the ocean of beings of the ten quarters be grasped and never abandoned when they have taken refuge in this Practice and Shinjin.
..Therefore, He is called ‘Amida Buddha.’
..This is Other Power.
..Accordingly, the Mahasattva Nagarjuna states [that such person] ‘immediately enters the Stage of the Definitely Settled.’
..Master T’an-luan states [that he] ‘enters the Group of the Truly Settled.’
We should reverently entrust ourselves to this [Practice and Shinjin]; we should single-heartedly receive it.”

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Sage of the First Fruit (初 果, Pali: Sotapanna), in the Theravada Buddhist tradition on the Path of Sages, is the first stage of sainthood also called ‘Stream Enterer’. This stage is attained by practicers who, through difficult self-power, keep strict moral precepts, and by practicing painstaking Insight meditations, gain insight into the true nature of themselves and of the aggregates.

Stream Enterers have entered the stream leading to enlightenment and will definitely advance forward; never backsliding below the human realm, toward the stage of Arahats – the 4th and final stage of sainthood in the Theravada path. On reaching the Arahat sainthood stage through extremely rigorous meditational practices, they are thereby freed from this vicious cycle of samsara. However, a Sotapanna may still be subjected to another twenty nine existences – seven in the human realm, seven in deva realms and fifteen in the intermediate states between births – before they become Arahats.

The path just to reach the stage of Sotapanna have taken superior disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha countless lives of extremely hard self-power practices to achieve. We are now over 2500 years from the Buddha’s direct energetic field; ordinary foolish persons like ourselves are now living in this evil age with extreme distractions and heavy defilements which have persistently dragged us down, as we try to climb up the slippery slope, on the mountain of enlightenment.

If getting out of samsara is indeed our goal in this precious lifetime, we should be realistic enough to admit that it is really an impossible task for us, even to achieve just a steady advancement on the Buddhist path by engaging in these difficult practices; let alone talk about attaining the First Fruit.

When we honestly take stock of our own inferior spiritual capacities, we will know that we are definitely to going waste this rare opportunity for emancipation, by struggling in vain with this difficult self-power Theravada Path of Sages.

The Stage of Non-retrogression (住 不 退 轉) – is a term originally used in the traditional Mahayana teachings to describe the stage of spiritual development in the Bodhisattvas’ path to enlightenment, when these Bodhisattvas will never backslide in their attainments. Their arduous practices of vast merit gathering, good deeds and flawless difficult disciplines on the Path of Sages, through billions of lives, have brought them up to the eighth stage (Sanskrit: bhumi) on a ten bhumi spiritual climb, before realizing Buddhahood. These Bodhisattvas on the 8th bhumi and above have attained the Stage of Non-retrogression – they belong to the Group of persons absolutely assured of advancing to Nirvana.

However, because of their individual vows, some Bodhisattvas, out of compassion, choose to remain in the dualistic realms of this vicious cycle of samsara, for the sake teaching and delivering the innumerable beings who are in pain and suffering.

The Bodhisattvas’ heroic, self-power practice of compassion, through billions of lives, just to arrive at the Stage of Non-retrogression, is extremely difficult and simply impossible to be emulated by ordinary foolish beings like ourselves, trapped in this Dharma Ending Age. Every one of us is now carrying an enormous baggage of evil karma – greed, hatred, ignorance, jealousy and pride, on top of the agnostic weight of scientific knowledge that simply brush aside the truth of transcendental existences.

If we sincerely wish to be freed from samsara at the end of this precious human life, let us be realistic enough to admit that we simply do not possess the nature, environment and spiritual capacity for the Bodhisattva’s formidable task, to scale the hazardous mountain of enlightenment, without backsliding. Take the easy path to enlightenment by entrusting our karmic destiny entirely to Amida Buddha and the Primal Vow. Simply rule ourselves out from the Bodhisattvas’ extremely difficult Mahayana Path of Sages.

Group of the Truly Settled (正 定 聚, Japanese: Sho-Jo-Ju),- which Mahasattva Nagarjuna called ‘Stage of the Definitely Settled’ – is the stage realized by that group of persons whose birth in the fulfilled Pure Land of Amida is absolutely assured. Having single-heartedly entrusted themselves to Amida Buddha and The Primal Vow, they have taken the easy and direct route out of samsara – the end of suffering – and will become Buddhas in the Pure Land at the end of this life.

Receiving the Inconceivable Gift of True and Real Shinjin from Amida Buddha, their aspiration to be permanently freed from this painful cycle of birth and death, is instantly fulfilled and truly settled – here and now, while they are still living out this dreadful existence.

In a letter clarifying this Truly Settled stage to a Jodo Shinshu follower, Master Shinran carefully explained:

“You should understand that the moment of settling of those who entrust themselves to Tathagata’s Vow is none other than the settling into the stage of non-retrogression, because they receive the benefit of being grasped, never to be abandoned. Whether we speak of the settling of true Shinjin or the settling of the diamond-like Shinjin, both come about through being grasped, never to be abandoned. Thus is awakened the heart and mind that will attain the supreme enlightenment. This is called the stage of non-retrogression, the stage of the truly settled, and the stage equal to the perfect enlightenment.

The Buddhas in the ten quarters rejoice in the settling of this mind and praise it as being equal to the hearts and minds of all Buddhas. Thus, the person of true Shinjin is said to be equal to Buddhas. He is also regarded as being the same as Maitreya, who is in [the rank of] succession to Buddhahood.”

Further, he states in another wonderful exposition:

“Through the karmic power of the great Vow, the person who has realized true and real Shinjin (entrusting in Amida Buddha) naturally is in accord with the cause of birth in the Pure Land and is drawn by the Buddha’s karmic power; hence the going is easy, and ascending to and attaining the supreme great Nirvana is without limit.”

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The Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life states:

“All sentient beings, as they hear The Name, realise even one thought-moment of Shinjin and joy, which is directed to them from Amida’s Sincere Mind, and aspiring to be born in that Land, they then attain birth and instantly dwell in the stage of non-retrogression.”

It further states:

“The power of the Buddha’s Primal Vow is such
That those who hear the Name and aspire for birth
All reach that Land –
Their attainment of non-retrogression coming of itself.”

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Mundane foolish persons (凡 夫, bombu) – like ourselves, even though we are heavily burdened with blind passions and stubborn ignorance – will eventually (with the ripening of good karma from the past), come to realize our utter inability to get out of samsara, by depending on our pathetic spiritual capacities. Our unyielding arrogance and deeply embedded Hindrance of Doubt have also caused us to be spiritually blind, with false perceptions, often enhanced by intellectual and scholarly knowledge so easily available today.

However, through the repeated practice of Listening Deeply to the Buddha Dharma in general, and Jodo Shinshu in particular, we will, sooner or later, wake up and face the honest truth that – no matter how hard or for how long we try with meditational or non-meditational practices – our useless self-power struggle to get out of samsara, will surely be in vain.

Thus, we should, with Sincere mind, entrust ourselves and aspire to be born in the Pure Land, by relying single-heartedly and entirely, on the Vow-power of Amida Buddha and naturally enter the Group of the Truly Settled whose birth in the Land of Peace and Bliss is guaranteed in the present.

Instantly embraced and not forsaken
By the Light of Great Compassion
We enter the Group of the Truly Settled
With our baggage of blind passions.

With the benefit of being possessed of supreme virtues
Our karmic evil is transformed into good
We are protected and cared for by all the Buddhas
Here and now, assured of Buddhahood.

Receiving the benefits of having much joy in our hearts
And being praised by all the Buddhas,
We gratefully respond to Amida’s virtues and benevolence
By Saying the Name of Boundless Compassion.

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Saying the Name (Namo Amida Butsu   南 无 阿 彌 陀 佛) that embodies the Primal Vow, is the act of true settlement for those whose birth in the Pure Land is absolutely assured. It is our spontaneous expression of gratitude; taking refuge in Amida Buddha and the Primal Vow. Saying the Name, is the great Practice bestowed by Amida Buddha and fully endowed with His infinite virtues which are equally transferred to us for our going forth to the Pure Land.

Joining the Group of the Truly Settled, we single-heartedly and spontaneously Say the Name for the rest of this fleeting life. Here and now, we know that we have receive Amida’s Inconceivable Gift of Salvation and that this defiled Saha world of perpetual suffering has finally lost its firm grip on us and we will become Buddhas at the end of this life.

Thus, clearly and truly, we now ‘Hear’:

The Call of Boundless Compassion

The Buddha’s infinite merits and virtues
Are bestowed equally on all beings.

May all accept Amida’s Gift of Shinjin

And obtain birth in His Land of Peace and Bliss.

Namo Amida Butsu   南 无 阿 彌 陀 佛
Namo Amida Butsu   南 无 阿 彌 陀 佛
Namo Amida Butsu   南 无 阿 彌 陀 佛

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True and Real Shinjin

This is a repost of an earlier article presented on this blog:

The Mind of True Entrusting

 真 實 信 心 

true-entrusting-fa

In the chapter on Shinjin, Master Shinran passionately wrote…

As I reflect, I find that our receiving of Shinjin arises from the Vow-mind with which Amida Tathagata selected the Vow, and that the clarification of this True Mind has been skillfully taught to us through the compassion of The Great Sage, Shakyamuni.

But both monks and lay persons in this Dharma Ending Age and tradition teachers of these times are still floundering in the concepts of “self-nature” and “mind only”. Therefore, they disparage the True Realization of enlightenment in The Pure Land Way. Being lost in the self-power attitude of meditative and non-meditative practices, they are confused and ignorant of the diamond-like True Shinjin.

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True and Real Shinjin (真 實 信 心) is The Absolute Confidence of Amida Buddha that His Primal Vow of “Sincere Mind, Entrusting and Aspiration for birth”, promising to save all sentient beings from samsara, the painful cycle of birth, suffering, old age and death, will definitely be fulfilled. He had boldly made Forty-eight amazing Vows when He was performing extremely hard practices and disciplines as Bodhisattva Dharmakara, under the guidance of Buddha Lokitesvaraja billions of years ago. Out of deep reflections over an incredibly long period of contemplation and His great compassion for the various painful situations of suffering all beings have to endure, He had strongly pledged that each Vow – expressing His Compassionate Aspiration appropriate to the karmic condition of different sentient beings – would be fulfilled accordingly, as He had promised in each individual vow.

Through the extremely hard practices He performed over countless billions of years, The Bodhisattva had fulfilled all His Vows and thus He became Amida Buddha. The Pure Land has been established for the sake of receiving all suffering beings and it is here that Amida Buddha abides. Though not all sentient beings in the innumerable worlds are saved at this moment, the fulfilment of His Vows and His Shinjin ensure that all sentient beings will eventually be saved with their birth in The Pure Land sooner or later, as they come to fully entrust themselves in His Vow of Boundless Compassion.

True and Real Shinjin is the main and essential teaching of Master Shinran who had repeatedly expounded and clearly explained it in his Kyo-Gyo-Shin-Sho. He passionately wrote this beautiful passage:

“Reverently contemplating Amida’s directing of virtue for our going forth, I find there is Great Shinjin.
.. Great Shinjin is the superlative means for attaining longevity and deathlessness.
.. It is the wondrous way to awaken aspiration for the pure and rejection of the defiled.
.. It is the straightforward mind directed to us through the selected Vow.
.. It is Shinjin that actualizes Amida’s profound and vast benefiting of others.
.. It is true mind that is diamondlike and indestructible.
.. It is pure Shinjin by which a person easily reaches the Pure Land where no one goes.
.. It is the mind that is single, realized by the person who is grasped and protected by the compassionate light.
.. It is Great Shinjin, rare and unsurpassed.
.. It is the quick path difficult for people to accept.
.. It is the true cause of attaining great Nirvana.
.. It is the white path by which all virtues are fulfilled instantly.
.. It is the ocean of Shinjin that is itself suchness or true reality.”

Amongst Amida Buddha’s forty-eight Vows, the two important Vows specifically identified by Master Shinran are the 17th Vow (The Vow that All Buddhas Praise His Name) and the 18th Vow (The Primal Vow). These Vows have been exclusively selected by Master Shinran as the Vows specially made to save him and all sentient beings in this Dharma Ending Age when everyone of us, without exception, is heavily burdened by the five defilements of greed, hatred, ignorance, jealousy and pride – all drowning in the adverse environments in which we live, especially in this materialistic world consumed by ego and scientific knowledge.

The two important Vows that directly concern us are……

The Vow that All Buddhas Praise His Name (諸 佛 稱 名 願) states: “If, when I attain Buddhahood, the countless Buddhas throughout the worlds in the ten quarters should not all praise and Say My Name, May I not attain The Supreme Enlightenment.”

Thus, with the fulfilment of this Vow, Saying the Name of Amida Buddha (Nembutsu: Namo-Amida-Butsu, 南 無 阿 彌 陀 佛) which is endowed with the Infinite merits and virtues of Amida Buddha, is praised and fully supported by all Buddhas whose main purpose is to save all beings.

Although all Buddhas have their own realms or energetic spheres of influence, They know that Amida’s path of Salvation is the easiest for all beings. Therefore, They direct us to Amida Buddha and encourage us to Say the Name.

The Primal Vow (阿 彌 陀 佛 本 願) states: “If, when I attain Buddhahood, sentient beings of the ten quarters, with Sincere Mind, Joyfully Entrusting themselves, Aspiring to be born in my Land, and Saying My Name perhaps even ten times, should not be born there, may I not attain The Supreme Enlightenment. Excluded are those who commit the five grave offences and those who slander the Right Dharma.”

Thus, for those who single-heartedly and steadfastly Take Refuge in Amida Buddha, The Primal Vow is the highest Mahayana Teaching that promises the Salvation for every person, particularly for the ordinary masses – not just for the well-endowed, monks or the  practising sages. Master Shinran says that the main reason for Shakyamuni Buddha’s appearance in this world is solely to preach The Primal Vow of Amida Buddha especially for mundane foolish persons (凡 夫 , bombu).

Therefore, mundane foolish persons like us should simply entrust ourselves to Amida Buddha and The Primal Vow, gratefully Saying His Name and be freed from samsara forever when this life ends here. Total reliance on The Primal Vow is our only viable way out of this crazy cycle of relentless painful existence. We should be realistic enough to know that besides receiving Shinjin in The Primal Vow,  we DO NOT have any other choice – if Buddhahood, the end of all suffering is indeed our aspiration and goal at the end of this life.

Thus, Shinjin is Amida Buddha’s True and Real Mind of Boundless Compassion directed to us through the power of The Primal Vow. When this True and Real Mind of Shinjin reaches suffering beings who could single-mindedly and steadfastly rely on Amida Buddha and the working of The Primal Vow, it is received by them, accepted and manifested as their ‘entrusting mind’ (信 心), the Shinjin of Other-power.

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Fulfilment of The Primal Vow (本 願 成 就) had already been fully accomplished when The Bodhisattva, after billions of years of Sincere, True and Selfless difficult practices, brought this Vow to perfection and became Amida Buddha with His Pure Land wonderfully established ten kalpas ago, even though not all sentient beings have been born in The Pure Land yet. The enlightenment of all sentient beings like us had already been fulfilled at the hands of Amida Buddha who had accomplished all our aspirations and necessary attendant practices.

Therefore, The Primal Vow is always in an active mode, instantly fulfilled whenever any sentient being is karmically ready to joyfully entrust himself/herself and accept the Shinjin of Amida Buddha without any doubt or apprehension.

Thus, the moment when we have  ‘Listened Deeply’ to The Buddha Dharma and are able to ‘Hear’ without any doubt, the inconceivable fulfilment of The Primal Vow, Amida Buddha’s Shinjin is awakened in us – we can then accept willingly, this precious gift of Shinjin freely given to us by Amida Buddha, Joyfully Entrusting ourselves and our karmic destiny completely to Amida Buddha and His Primal Vow.

Naturally, with this one-thought-moment of True Shinjin, we are truly settled in our minds and would Say His Name (Namo-Amida-Butsu, 南 無 阿 彌 陀 佛), taking refuge in Amida Buddha with deep gratitude to Him for having saved us. It is really inconceivable that we are enabled to receive and experience this salvation while still living in this world.

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The Entrusting Mind (信 心) is The Shinjin of Amida Buddha instantly bestowed on sentient beings who, having Listened Deeply (深 聞) to The Dharma of Amida Buddha, finally ‘Heard’ (聞) how The Primal Vow arose – its origin and fulfilment – are altogether free of doubt. As this Shinjin – the entrusting mind, comes wholly from Amida Buddha, it is truly the decisive cause of our birth in The Pure Land. True Shinjin is unfailingly accompanied by Saying the Name of Amida Buddha (Nembutsu: Namo-Amida-Butsu, 南 無 阿 彌 陀 佛) which is selected and accomplished by Amida Buddha as the practical and easy medium of transfering His Infinite virtue to suffering beings.

Therefore, Shinjin is “the mind that accepts The Primal Vow without doubt”. Regarding this Entrusting Mind (Shinjin), Master Shinran states in his True Pure Land Teaching – Kyo Gyo Shin Sho:

“There are two aspects to this mind:

.. One is to believe deeply and decidedly that you are a foolish being of karmic evil caught in birth and death, ever sinking and ever wandering in transmigration from innumerable kalpas in the past, without a condition that would lead to emancipation.

.. The second is to believe deeply and decidedly that Amida Buddha’s Forty-eight Vows grasped sentient beings, and that allowing yourself to be carried by the power of the Vow without any doubt or apprehension, you will attain birth in the Pure Land.”

Thus, when we receive The Inconceivable Gift of Shinjin from Amida Buddha, our birth in His Pure Land is assured. Shinjin in the Primal Vow, the Entrusting  Mind that place complete reliance on Amida Buddha, is therefore the karmic-consciousness that completes the required causes for our birth in The Pure Land. Both The Primal Vow and Nembutsu (念 佛) – that is Saying the Name, are the vital objects of our entrusting mind.

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Nembutsu (念 佛) – Single-heartedly Saying the Name (Namo Amida Butsu, 南 無 阿 彌 陀 佛) is the essence of Joyful Entrusting (True Shinjin) embodied in The Primal Vow. Saying the Name is the act of true settlement and our spontaneous expression of Taking Refuge in Amida Buddha whenever we remember The Primal Vow. We realize, with Deep Gratitude, His Boundless Compassion in saving even wretched persons like ourselves – the multitudes of suffering beings who are unable to free themselves, with their own power, from the painful cycle of samsara.

The Name of Amida Buddha is endowed with His perfect virtues which are directed to us through the power of the Primal Vow. It is praised and glorified by all the Buddhas in the ten directions – wonderfully fulfilled through “The Vow that the Name shall be praised by all Buddhas”. Gratefully Saying the Name, single-mindedly entrusting ourselves to Amida Buddha and the Primal Vow, therefore, assure our birth in The Pure Land at the end of this life.

The Larger Sutra states: “All sentient beings, as they hear The Name, realise even one thought-moment of Shinjin and joy, which is directed to them from Amida’s Sincere Mind, and aspiring to be born in that Land, they will attain birth and instantly dwell in the stage of non-retrogression.”

Thus, Saying the Name is the Great Practice contained in The Primal Vow – the Right Act and infinite virtue directed to us by Amida Buddha for our going forth to The Pure Land. The Nembutsu effectively breaks through all our ignorance and readily brings all our aspirations to fulfilment. It is not our self-power practice or good act. The Nembutsu is also not for the purpose of gaining merits or our prayer for material benefits.

With deep gratitude abiding in our hearts, we spontaneously  and constantly say the Nembutsu (Namo-Amida-Butsu, Thank You Amida Buddha) – whether standing, walking, sitting, lying down, in times of happiness  or in sadness, in any circumstance or environment and living in the exhilarating embrace of Namo-Amida-Butsu till the end of our lives in this unsatisfactory existence.

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The Precious Gift of Shinjin, the entrusting mind, is freely given by Amida Buddha to all persons whether good or evil, irrespective of gender or social status. But many people cannot put their trust in Amida Buddha or the Primal Vow because they doubt the Boundless Compassion of Amida Buddha and so unable to entrust themselves or their destiny entirely in Amida Buddha – they reject this gift of Shinjin. Though this is the ‘easy way’ out of samsara, it is also the most difficult of all difficulties for most people to accept, as they are heavily burdened by The Hindrance of Doubt.

Expressing beautifully in poetry, Master Shinran, through his deep reflections and passionate personal experience of Shinjin wrote…..

Entrusting in Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow and Saying The Name
For arrogant sentient beings with perverted views
To accept and be blessed with Shinjin is difficult indeed
It is the most difficult of all difficulties that one could meet

Encouraging beings of the ten quarters with the words
“With Sincere mind Entrust yourselves and Aspire for birth”
Amida established The Vow beyond conceptual understanding
And made it the cause of birth in the True and Real Fulfilled Land

Only those with karmic links with Buddhas from the past – nurtured and ripened by Listening Deeply in this life – and those who, realising their utter inability in performing meditative and non-meditative Buddhist practices, put aside all these self-centered disciplines, will come to Entrust themselves and their destiny fully in Amida Buddha and The Primal Vow.  Thus, they accept and receive this inconceivable gift of Shinjin.

On receiving Shinjin, we are ‘Embraced and Not Forsaken’ (攝取不捨) by Amida Buddha who instantly transfers His entire store of infinite karmic merit to us for our going forth to The Pure Land. Though we remain our foolish selves, filled with the same five defilements as other persons living in this Dharma Ending Age, we are Truly Settled in mind and heart. While still living in this world, we instantly belong to the Truly Settled Group, also called Rightly Established Group (正 定聚) of those whose birth in The Pure Land is Absolutely Assured.

People who receive Amida Buddha’s Gift of Shinjin ‘Know’ with the one-thought moment of True Entrusting that they have been embraced by Boundless Compassion and definitely assured of birth in The Pure Land. They ‘Know’ that this is their last deluded existence in samsara and that they will become Buddhas at the end of their lives in mortal flesh.

The Buddha’s infinite merits and virtues
Are bestowed equally on all beings.
May all accept Amida’s Gift of Shinjin
And obtain birth in His Land of Peace and Bliss.

Persons of True Shinjin have definitely Heard:

The Call of Boundless Compassion

NAMO AMIDA BUTSU   南 無 阿 彌 陀 佛
NAMO AMIDA BUTSU   南 無 阿 彌 陀 佛
NAMO AMIDA BUTSU   南 無 阿 彌 陀 佛

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