In the term ‘true disciple of Buddha,’ ‘true’ contrasts with false and provisional. ‘Disciple’ indicates a disciple of Shakyamuni Buddha and the other Buddhas. This expression refers to the practicer who has realised the diamondlike heart and mind. Through this shinjin and practice, one will without fail transcend and realise great nirvana; hence one is called ‘true disciple of the Buddha.’ (CWS, p. 117)
This passage comes from the third part of Shinran Shonin’s work The True Teaching, Practice, and Realisation (Kyogyoshinsho). Shinran follows this statement with a quotation from the Larger Sutra which is the declaration of the fulfilment of the thirty-third of Amida Buddha’s forty-eight Vows:
When I attain Buddhahood, the sentient beings throughout the countless and inconceivable Buddha-worlds in the ten quarters who, having received my light and having been touched by it, will become soft and gentle in body and mind. (The Larger Sutra, Shin Buddhism Translation Series.)
True disciples of the Buddha are people of nembutsu who will become Buddhas. They will attain nirvana because they have awakened to Amida Buddha’s shinjin. Becoming soft and gentle in body and mind is a gradual and natural development for a person who lives in the light of Amida Buddha. A person who lives in the light of Amida Buddha natually says his Name.
In one of his letters, Shinran says,
Signs of long years of saying the nembutsu and aspiring for birth can be seen in the change of heart that had been bad and in the deep warmth for friends and fellow-practicers; this is the sign of rejecting the world. (CWS, p. 551)
The nembutsu community is one of warm appreciation and care for each other. After all, did not Shakyamuni Buddha teach the Larger Sutra so that we could all be dharma-friends? That all accept the call of the Vow of Amida Buddha and say the nembutsu means that we are on-dobo, dogyo: ‘revered friends and fellow practicers of the way.’ No one in the nembutsu community is privileged and there is no essential hierarchy.
Yes, of course, some people make a personal commitment, which may sometimes include ordination, to teach others. But anyone can be a teacher of the way of nembutsu. As one of my teachers once said to me, even a four-year-old child can teach the Dharma of Amida Buddha.
And none of these things happen by our own effort. The life of nembutsu will teach us what we shall become.
Even when we are evil, if we revere the power of the Vow all the more deeply, gentleheartedness and forbearance will surely arise in us through its spontaneous working (jinen) (CWS, p. 676)