In the parable of the two rivers, ‘going a step or two’ signifies the passage of one or two years. (CWS, p. 489)
We live in times that are characteristically impatient. We seek immediate responses to communications; immediate results; and immediate gratification. That is how we are and how we have become.
Such a world does not fit well in the life of the spirit. In fact things do not grow to full maturity immediately; full flowering needs the passage of time.
The entrusting heart is in essence to be completely without doubt in the Primal Vow, which is manifested as the Name, Namo Amida Butsu. Nevertheless, Shinran Shonin often speaks of the awakening of entrusting heart as a moment of rapid change.
‘One thought moment’ is time at its ultimate limit, where realisation of entrusting heart takes place. (CWS, p. 474)
In entrusting ourselves to the Tathagata’s Primal Vow and saying the Name once, necessarily, without seeking it, we are made to receive the supreme virtues, and without knowing it, we acquire the great and vast benefit. (CWS, p. 481)
How, then, do we reconcile Shinran’s definition of ‘going a step or two’, signifying the passage of one or two years, and ‘saying the Name once’, as the instant that we receive the ‘great and vast benefit’ of shinjin?
The initial steps in the life of nembutsu are faltering. We are not quite sure about the direction we are taking, the safety and security of our new path in life. We are ‘hearing’, experiencing the working of the inconceivable light of the Buddha, but we are not yet ready to trust it completely.
Complete trust is the work of the Primal Vow. It is not something that we can create for ourselves. Our reasoning gets in the way: it is always at play, trying to understand. We construct ideas of what entrusting heart (shinjin) might be. How do I know if I have it? What kind of experience is it? Thinking like this is an attempt to construct shinjin for ourselves.
The Name works without our help and all we need is a little patience, once we have encountered it and decided to follow this way. All we need to do is to reflect upon what we hear, to listen to our own depths – ourselves as we really are – and to the words of the Buddha.
We are taught to listen to the Dharma. But it is a quiet, deep, thoroughgoing devotion to listening: true reflection.
Again, there are two kinds of entrusting heart (shinjin): one arises from hearing and the other from reflection. These people’s shinjin has arisen from hearing and not from reflection. Therefore it is called ‘imperfect realisation of shinjin’. (CWS, p. 235)
When we take up the Name, when we take those first few steps along the path to nirvana at the behest of Shakyamuni and Amida Buddha, we are beginning to hear the call of the Vow. If we listen patiently to the Dharma and reflect upon it, one day, without knowing it, we will be transported to complete, pure and uncomplicated trust, entrusting heart, pure shinjin.
It is the way of patience, and an open, listening heart.