Shinran Shonin begins each of the first three – and the fifth – sections of his major work The True Teaching, Practice and Realisation with the words ‘reverently contemplating’. At the beginning of the fourth and sixth sections of the same work, he begins with the phrase ‘to reveal, with reverence’.
The common feature of the opening phrases is reverence. For the sections, which deal with our search in the present, the quality of this reverent disposition is reflection. The future and past is ‘revealed’ to us. Reverent reflection and reverent revelation.
By ‘search in the present’, I mean the ‘true teaching, practice and shinjin’; by ‘future and past’ I mean the realisation of Buddhahood upon birth in the Pure Land (the future) and the stages that represent the past, where Shinran had travelled on his way to the truth of the Primal Vow.
So, let us think about where we are now, in the present. To do this we need to call upon the attitude of mind that Shinran describes as ‘reverent contemplation’.
It seems to me that ‘reverent contemplation’ alludes to the process of ‘hearing’ the Dharma. It is not only a fact of life before shinjin but life afterwards as well. Rennyo Shonin, in particular, cautioned us to ‘constantly dredge out the channel of faith and let the water of Amida Buddha’s dharma flow freely.’ (Shinshu Seiten, BCA, 1978, p. 293)
This latter disposition is associated with the natural impulse, which comes with the entrusting heart, to praise the true faith of Amida Buddha, enabling others to find salvation too. In sharing the Dharma, we ought to strive to get it right, or we could risk causing harm instead of good. That is why Yuien-bo, the author of A Record in Lament of Divergences shed tears when he heard that the true teaching of Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow was being distorted by careless people.
I recall a time, just twenty years ago, that the Head Priest of the Hongwanji International Centre in Kyoto came to visit us in Australia. He brought a precious gift for each of the five priests who live here (there are now six of us) – The Collected Works of Shinran. When he gave me my copy he said, ‘This is for your daily reading.’ I found those words mightily encouraging. But then I started to wonder just how to read such a large volume.
The answer is to be found in Shinran’s opening words, with ‘reflection’. He begins The True Teaching, Practice, and Realisation with ‘I reflect within myself.’ (CWS, p. 3)
‘Reflection’ is such an apt word. ‘Within myself’ suggests depth. We cannot read the Dharma as though one reads a novel. It must be read with care, reverence and deep self-reflection.
Shinran’s work is drawn from about 2,500 years of lived human experience, and it is steeped in profound reality that can be so deep that its actual significance may elude us as long as we read it without reverent and deep reflection. It compels us to think deeply and to always be present in what we read.
As well as being about the true Dharma of Amida Buddha, which delivers us just as we are, the Dharma revealed by Shinran is also about us. Not a mere theory or image of ourselves that we set up for other people to admire, but how we really are – deep down.