The Mind That Is Single

O World-honoured one, with the mind that is single
I take refuge in the Tathagata of unhindered light
Filling the ten quarters
And aspire to be born in the land of happiness.
(CWS, p. 191)

Dunhuang
Dunhuang

These words of Bodhisattva Vasubandhu begin the hymn that accompanies his Treatise on the Pure Land. They sum up the entrusting heart. They express the mind that receives Amida Buddha’s virtue as one enters the stage of the truly settled.

Shinran Shonin regarded these words as pivotal to an understanding of the eighteenth or Primal Vow of Amida Buddha. In this Vow three minds are expressed: sincere mind, entrusting and aspiration for birth – all given by Amida Buddha – shishin, shingyo, yokusho. (CWS, p. 80). In the passage that describes the fulfilment of the Vow there is just ‘one thought moment of shinjin and joy’ ‘that is directed from Amida’s sincere mind.’

The three minds are actually one mind.

Shinran saw that Amida’s sincere mind was evident in Vasubandhu’s expression of joy in the opening verse of his hymn, as he ‘with the mind that is single’ takes refuge in the ‘Tathagata of Unhindered Light filling the ten quarters.’ Indeed, when Shinran explains the great practice he tells us that it is to ‘say the Name of the Tathagata of unhindered light.’ Such is the working of Other Power.

Other Power is none other than the power of the Tathagata’s Primal Vow. (CWS, p. 57)

As we all know, in the chapter on Shinjin in the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho, Shinran goes to great effort to explain how the three minds of the Primal Vow are the mind that is single. By making a careful linguistic analysis of the three terms that are used for the three minds, Shinran shows clearly that each of these minds have one common feature, and are therefore the mind that is single.

The common feature that makes them one is that they are ‘all untainted by the hindrance of doubt.’ (CWS, p. 94)

A little later on, Shinran explains the Buddha’s intention in speaking of the three minds.  They comprise the sincere mind, untainted by the hindrance of doubt, which Amida Buddha maintained throughout the course of his bodhisattva practice over many æons.

This sincere mind that is free of doubt is given to us as the ‘revered Name of supreme virtues.’ (CWS, p. 95) In the mind that is single there is nothing but the Name received in joy and uttered in thanksgiving.

How does it feel to live the mind that is single?

I have two favourite quotes – one from Shinran in the Tanni Sho.

‘Just say the nembutsu and be saved by Amida’; nothing else is involved. (CWS, p. 662)

Another is much longer and comes from Shinran’s booklet Notes on ‘Essentials of Faith Alone’.

‘To abandon  the mind of self-power’ admonishes the various and diverse kinds of people – masters of the Hinayana or Mahayana, ignorant beings good or evil – to abandon the conviction that one is good, to cease relying on the self; to stop reflecting knowingly on one’s evil heart, and further to abandon the judging of people as good and bad. When such shackled foolish beings – the lowly who are hunters and peddlers – thus wholly entrust themselves to the Name embodying great wisdom, the inconceivable Vow of the Buddha of unhindered light, then burdened as they are with blind passion, they attain the supreme nirvana. (CWS, p. 459)

Author: George Gatenby

George Gatenby, a retired Australian businessman, has been a follower of the nembutsu teaching of Shinran Shonin (1173-1263) since 1977. He became a member of the Hongwanji Buddhist Mission of Australia when it was founded in 1993 and was ordained as a Shin Buddhist priest at the Nishi Hongwanji, Kyoto, the following year. He is the author of the blog sites, Notes on the Nembutsu and The Udumbara Flower, and convenes a Shin Buddhist sangha in Adelaide.