Dangerous inventions

On the assertion that a person born in the borderland will in the end fall into hell. (A Record in Lament of Divergences, 17; CWS, p. 676-677)

This is the penultimate erroneous contention that Yuien, the author, addresses in the second section of his short but profound work. His response is consistent with his primary intention: to uphold the true teaching of Other Power in the face of teachings that distort it. In this case he is confronted by yet another intellectual conceit that may appear to be logical but has absolutely no basis whatever in the truth of the absolute compassion of Amida Buddha.

It is tempting to try to become sophisticated in our approach to the teaching of Other Power. But the risk in taking that path lies in the fact that we crowd the teaching with our own prejudices and expectations. We forget that Buddha Dharma is inherently practical and prosaic. It does not indulge in fanciful inventions designed to lend force to the teachings. In this case we see an example of people using their own doctrinal inventions in order to frighten fellow followers into a sense of despair about their status as nembutsu followers.

In my view it is very important for us to approach the dharma with a respectful heart and an open mind. It is very tempting to add interpretations which we think will convince others to take up the teaching, when all we are doing is adding a self-imposed fiction. In this case Yuien is addressing an idea, which seeks to embellish the fact that people who say the Name in self-power, seeing it as their own good, will be born in the ‘borderland’ of the Pure Land. However, in all of the scriptures and teachings of the Pure Land dharma masters, it is clear that such people are born at the fringes of the Pure Land so that the entrusting heart (shinjin) awakens for them.

The ‘borderland’ is also known as the ‘Transformed Land’. It is a provision by Amida Buddha for those who cannot fully accept the Other Power teaching of the Primal Vow. Shinran Shonin explains this in the sixth section of his main work The True Teaching, Practice and Realisation. Yuien rightly asks how it is possible for someone who is born in the ‘Transformed Land’, which is provided for nembutsu people who resist the working of the Primal Vow, to fall into hell. The specific purpose of the Transformed Land is, after all, to lead beings to awaken entrusting heart and to be born in the true Pure Land – when they will attain nirvana.

Statistically there can be no doubt that very few followers of the Buddha Dharma attain the entrusting heart in any particular generation. Practices given by the Buddha are all provisions of the Primal Vow and eventually lead to the awakening of entrusting heart, whereupon one ‘attains the stage of the definitely settled and will realise the supreme, perfect enlightenment.’ (CWS, p. 23) And if we are beings of nembutsu who have not found the complete trust of the Primal Vow, birth in the borderland is a wonderful thing anyway:

The depth of the Buddha’s benevolence is such that even with birth in the realm of indolence and pride, the borderland, the city of doubt or the womb-palace, which is brought about only through the compassion revealed in Amida’s Nineteenth and Twentieth Vows, we meet with a happiness that surpasses understanding. Thus the depth of the Buddha’s benevolence is without bound. But how much more should we realize the benevolence of the Buddha with birth into the true and real fulfilled land and attainment of the enlightenment of the supreme nirvana. This is not a matter that Shoshin-bo or I have decided ourselves. Not in any way at all. (CWS, p. 527)