The people who practice great compassion

Thus, when one has boarded the ship of the Vow of great compassion and sailed out on the vast sea of light, the winds of perfect virtue blow softly and the waves of evil are transformed. The darkness of ignorance is already broken through, and quickly reaching the land of immeasurable light, one realises great nirvana and acts in accord with the virtue of Samantabhadra. Let this be known. (Shinran Shonin – CWS, p. 56)

Originally imported from the Mato Grosso in South America, to be used as street trees, jacarandas have naturalised in the temperate regions of Australia and grow without cultivation. Here – flowering in November – they are loved as harbingers of summer and a solace during the time of end-of-year exams.

Last week we contemplated the fourth chapter of A Record in Lament of Divergences. It discusses the nature of compassion, which is at the heart of the bodhisattva vehicle, represented here as ‘the virtue of [bodhisattva] Samatabhadra’. We heard that our paltry efforts could never match the true compassion of the Enlightened One.  We also considered the question of how we respond to the great compassion by practicing it ourselves.

Indeed, how do we contribute compassion, in a practical sense, throughout our lives?

The quotation at the head of this post is from the second chapter of The True Teaching, Practice and Realisation. It reminds us of our relationship with compassion itself and of the absolute necessity for us to relinquish any endeavour on our part and to surrender to the light that fills the ten quarters – the Power of Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow.

Only in this way – by relying on the ocean of Amida Buddha’s Vow of great compassion – can ordinary, foolish beings like us attain the inconceivable birth in the Pure Land and become a Buddha. The moment of true entrusting is the moment that this outcome is settled. We become established in the path that will bear full fruition at the end of their lives.

Shinran often describes what it is to be a foolish being. But this famous passage describes our duplicity and neediness with striking frankness and truth.

I know truly how grievous it is that I, Gutoku Shinran, am sinking in an immense ocean of desires and attachments and am lost in vast mountains of fame and advantage, so that I rejoice not at all at entering the stage of the truly settled, and feel no happiness at coming nearer to the realisation of true enlightenment. How ugly it is! How wretched! (CWS, p. 125)

It is easy to be deceived about our own capacity and ability. The degree of our self-deception and blindness is quite unfathomable. We may believe that we are beings of compassion and light. But, in truth, the only real light is Amida Buddha, and the only true compassion is his compassion. These irresistible facts underscore the entire scope of A Record in Lament of Divergences, which encourages us to return our hearts and minds to the one true thing alone – the Other Power.

Other Power is none other than the Power of the Tathagata’s Primal Vow. (CWS, p. 57)

The Power of the Tathagata’s Primal Vow comes to those who hear the call of the Vow in Namo Amida Butsu. In turning to it exclusively, and encouraging others to join them, they practice true compassion, just by saying the Name of Amida Buddha.

What is ‘great compassion’? Those who continue solely in the nembutsu without any interruption will thereby be born without fail in the land of happiness at the end of life. If these people encourage each other and bring others to say the Name, they are called ‘people who practice great compassion.’ (CWS, p. 119)