Two aspects of deep mind

I have no idea whether the nembutsu is truly the seed for my being born in the Pure Land or whether it is the karmic act for which I must fall into hell. Should I have been deceived by Master Honen and, saying the nembutsu, were to fall into hell, even then I would have no regrets.

 The reason is, if I could attain Buddhahood by endeavouring in other practices, but said the nembutsu and so fell into hell, then I would feel regret at having been deceived. But I am incapable of any other practice, so hell is decidedly my abode whatever I do. (A Record in Lament of Divergences, II; CWS, p. 662)

These two paragraphs from A Record in Lament of Divergences follow on from Shinran Shonin’s declaration that he simply follows the guidance of his Master, Honen, who taught ‘Just say the nembutsu and be saved by Amida.’

Shinran’s meaning is plain: whatever the consequences, there is no way at all that he can attain liberation from birth-and-death by his own efforts. By pointing out that he simply says the nembutsu while understanding perfectly well that ‘hell is decidedly my abode whatever I do’, Shinran is reiterating in the strongest terms that the ‘two aspects of deep mind’, are integral to the realisation of the entrusting heart (shinjin).

The ‘deep mind’ is one of the ‘three minds’ that Shakyamuni Buddha expounded in the Contemplation Sutra. It was the fifth Pure Land Dharma Master, Shan-tao (613-681), who clarified this aspect of entrusting heart. Shinran quotes the relevant passage no less that three times in his main work The Teaching, Practice, and Realisation. Here is one of them:

Second [of the three minds] is deep mind, which is true and real shinjin. One truly knows oneself to be a foolish being full of blind passions, with scant roots of good, transmigrating in the three realms and unable to emerge from this burning house. And further, one truly knows now, without so much as a single thought of doubt, that Amida’s Primal Vow decisively enables all to attain birth, including those who say the Name even down to ten times, or even but hear it. Hence, it is called ‘deep mind’ … (CWS, p. 92)

This is the awakening that Shinran describes in this and the preceding passage from A Record in Lament of Divergences, which I quoted in the previous post. The reality for the person who awakens to Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow and accepts it in the Name, Namo Amida Butsu — with clarity and without any misgiving — is that all options for transcending birth-and-death and entering the stage of the truly settled have been exhausted.

Nevertheless, it is not characteristic of our ego-centered minds to genuinely come to this deep realisation. It is the work of Amida Buddha. It expresses at the same time extreme desperation and the fullness of joy. This existential moment is beautifully told in the Parable of the Two Rivers and the White Path.

There are no words to express the terror and despair that fill him at this point. He thinks further to himself: ‘If I turn back now, I die. If I remain here, I die. If I go forward, I die. There is no way for me to escape death. Therefore, I choose to go forth, venturing on this path. Since this path exists, it must be possible to cross the rivers.’

When this thought occurs to him, he suddenly hears the encouraging voice of someone on the eastern bank, ‘O traveller, just resolve to follow this path forward! You will certainly not encounter the grief of death. But if you stay where you are, you will surely die.’ (CWS, p. 90)

All people of shinjin have reached this point, and it is a profound, immutable truth that enlivens them until the end of their lives.

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.