Thus, for those who entrust themselves to the Primal Vow, no good acts are required, because no good surpasses the nembutsu. Nor need they despair of the evil they commit, for no evil can obstruct the working of Amida’s Primal Vow. (Tannisho 1, CWS, p. 661)
Here Shinran Shonin reminds us of what Buddhists have always known: that we are made up of kleshas, the blind passions. Love and hate are blind passions, so is spiritual blindness, or ignorance. There are one hundred and eight blind passions. At base they are the progeny of greed, anger and folly.
This is our ‘karmic evil’. It is an existential concept, rather than being a matter of ethical or moral sanction. The fact is that most of us want to be good and ethical in our behaviour, which is essentially based on a sense of reciprocity. It underpins everyday human relations: civility, kindness, observance of the law and other conventions. Without these attitudes human society and existence would be impossible.
Speaking personally, the following is a well-known distillation of the rule that has always served me well:
Zigong asked, ‘Is there one word that can serve as a guide for one’s entire life?’
The Master replied, ‘Is it not “understanding” (shu)? Do not impose upon others what you yourself do not desire.’ (Confucius, Analects 15:24, tr. Edward Slingerland)
The reality of our self — a complex of kleshas, or blind passions, and conflicting desires — lies at the heart of the teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha, notably, of course, in the Four Noble Truths:
Mendicants, this is the Noble Truth of suffering. Birth is suffering. Old age, sickness, and death are all suffering. To have contact with something hateful, to part with someone you love, and not to obtain what you seek are all suffering. In short, to exist as a human being is suffering. (BD, p. 30)
Such is the true nature of our existence. Such is the true nature of our self. The absolute truth-and-reality is not self, it is shinjin. According to Shinran, shinjin, entrusting heart, is ‘inconceivable, inexplicable, and indescribable’ (CWS, p. 107). This is because beings are not able to create or conjure it themselves.
Great shinjin is Buddha-nature. Buddha-nature is Tathagata. (CWS, p. 99)
Whatever we think or do on our own effort is inevitably coloured by our egoistic desires, our ‘karmic evil’. Only entrusting heart (shinjin), which is given by Amida Buddha as the Name, Namo Amida Butsu, can overwhelm and liberate us from our condition.
The power of the Vow is without limit;
Thus, even our karmic evil, deep and heavy, is not oppressive.
The Buddha’s wisdom is without bounds;
Thus, even those of distracted minds and self-indulgence are not abandoned. (Pure Land Hymns on the Right, Semblance, and Last Dharma-Ages by Gutoku Shinran, 37; CWS, p. 408)