In the term true disciple of Buddha, true contrasts with false and provisional. Disciple indicates a disciple of Sakyamuni 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 Buddha. (CWS p. 117)
When a nembutsu follower becomes a person of nembutsu, having ‘realised the diamondlike heart and mind’, she or he becomes a ‘true disciple of Buddha’ because they are people who, at the end of life, will ‘be born in the Pure Land and attain Buddhahood, returning at once to this delusional world to guide people to awakening.’ (The Essentials of Jodo Shinshu). The purpose of the Buddha Dharma is the realisation of this state and place.
Shinran Shonin addresses this question in the third section of The True Teaching, Practice, and Realisation. After stating this definition of the phrase ‘true disciple of the Buddha’, he then goes on to lay before us an outline of its significance in everyday life.
The one who hears never forgets this dharma,
But sees and reveres it and greatly rejoices in attaining it –
That person is my [the Buddha’s] true companion. (CWS, p. 117)
The true disciple rejoices in this fact and never forgets it. He or she is a person of ‘ho-on nembutsu’, whose nembutsu is an expression of great rejoicing. We later learn from Shinran’s quotations, that the true disciple of Buddha teaches others in the way a physician seeks to heal the sick – doing the work of ‘elimination of pain’. The nembutsu brings not pain but comfort to others.
Further on in his book Shinran reminds us that the person of ‘ho-on nembutsu’ is a ‘white lotus among’ people (myokonin): rare, special and surprising. Then as The True Teaching, Practice, and Realisation continues, we learn that they move away from provisional paths and no longer subscribe to false views.
As you would expect, Shinran was imbued with a sense of what it is to be a ‘true disciple of Buddha’ and returns to it in the final section of The True Teaching, Practice, and Realisation. Here he demonstrates from a very large number of inspiring quotes that the true disciple of Buddha has no interest in superstition and does not worship or pray to gods and spirits.