Views

Red flowering gum (Corymbia ficifolia)

I have heard that among the people, young and old, in numbers past knowing, who say the nembutsu following those practicers, there are at present many who set forth divergent views not taught by the Master. These groundless assertions will be fully clarified below. (A record in Lament of Divergences, Preface to the Section On Departures from the Teaching of Shinran; CWS, p 667)

We have been reviewing Yuien’s quotations that he heard directly from Shinran Shonin. Now — in the next eight chapters of A Record in Lament of Divergences — Yiuen speaks more in his own voice, and turns his attention to the question of ‘views’ that have become a problem in the monto, the Shin Buddhist community, which continued after Shinran’s departure to the Pure Land. These are all ideas that spoil the clarity of Shinran’s teaching, especially the centrality of Other Power as it is summed up in the tenth brief chapter of A Record in Lament of Divergences:

Concerning the nembutsu, no working is true working. For it is beyond description, explanation, and conceptual understanding. (CWS, p. 666)

The Buddha Dharma is intrinsically non-dogmatic. The importance of this is emphasised in the Noble Eightfold Path. Here ‘right view’ is invariably listed as the first of the eight elements of the Path. The significance of this fact is that the shedding of views is the first principle to be understood before one sets out on the way. ‘Views’ are ideas that add complexity to the doctrine so that those who adopt them will become diverted from the Path and get lost in confusion. A person of entrusting heart does not have such divergent views because he, or she, is settled in the way.

Shinran had to deal with significant ‘views’ that Yiuen also confronted in this second half of A Record in Lament of Divergences. One of these is that followers of the Pure Land way can behave without constraint, even in ways that are anti-social, because they have received salvation by the working of the Primal Vow of Amida, which embraces all beings without discrimination. This idea is a ‘view’ because it adds to the teaching a condition that just does not exist. It is a rationalisation of the teaching and it is both fanciful and damaging to the well being of followers because they are mislead by the idea in question.

Another ‘view’ that Shinran had to address was the idea that a person of entrusting heart must say the nembutsu many times, or just once. Once again these problems are a rationalisation of Other Power. How often one says the nembutsu is completely irrelevant because the cause of birth in the Pure Land is entrusting heart (shinjin). The nembutsu is the expression of gratitude for salvation by Other Power, and we spontaneously (jinen) say it when — and however often — we are moved to do so.

The views that Yuien addresses were common in his time and sometimes we hear them expressed even now. Needless to say, modern prejudices have brought about new ‘views’ which are as unhelpful as the old ones. There are many of these.

Author: George Gatenby

George is a Shin Buddhist priest and lives in South Australia