In Lamp for the Latter Ages, which is a collection of letters from Shinran Shonin to his distant dharma friends, we find many hints of the warmth and affection that he shared with them.
In one of these letters there is an exchange between an intermediary in the correspondence between Shinran and a disciple. This was Ren’i who was living in Kyoto. He helped to edit Shinran’s response to a letter from Kyoshin-bo, who was still living far away in the Kanto area.
The letter includes a very long post-script. In it Ren’i gives a detailed outline of some aspects of Shinran’s teaching. He also includes some anecdotes.
Towards the end of the letter, in the second-last paragraph of Ren’i’s post-script, we read about the last days of a disciple named Kakushin-bo, who had recently been travelling from a distant province to see Shinran, even though he had become very ill. Encouraged by dharma friends to return home and abort his trip to Kyoto he replied that he would not do so:
“If I am to be sick, I will be sick whether I return or whether I stay. If it’s all the same, I wish to die at the side of the Shonin.” (CWS, p. 545)
Ren’i remarkes that
“His shinjin was truly splendid—so splendid and enviable that it reminds me of Shan-tao’s parable of the two rivers.” (CWS, p. 545)
To say that Kakushin-bo reminded him of Shan-tao’s parable of the two rivers, Ren’i was affirming that Kakushin-bo lived an unstinting life of trust in the way of nembutsu–the manifestation of the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha. Such a life is well portrayed by the parable of the two rivers.
The two rivers are of water and fire. Water signifies the passions associated with greed—covetousness and envy, for example; fire signifies the passions associated with anger—rage, hostility, and the rest. Between these two rivers there is a single path from this shore, the world of samsara, wandering in birth and death, and the Pure Land, which is nirvana.
The white path is the entrusting heart that supports us all the way to the ‘other shore’. It is manifested in Namo Amida Butsu.
This means that Kakushin-bo had eyes only for the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha–Namo Amida Butsu–and was never discouraged by the rising of his blind passions, even though they would continue to abound throughout his life.
Whether stirred by sorrow or joy …
Namo Amida Butsu!