On being content with the nembutsu

But with a foolish being full of blind passions, in this fleeting world – this burning house – all matters without exception are empty and false, totally without truth and sincerity. The nembutsu alone is true and real. (Postscript, A Record in Lament of Divergences, CWS, p. 679)

This is a direct quote from Shinran and lies at the heart of the closing words of A Record in Lament of Divergences. These are the thoughts of a person of profound and unshakeable entrusting heart (shinjin). There is only one thing in life; there is only one true reality that any of us can know and trust in respect of our ultimate well-being and salvation: Namu-amida-butsu.

Yet, how does one reach such a point? How do we come to this secure and calm assessment of things? How can we be sure of its truth?

Shinran led a life of exile, struggle and hardship. With Eshinni, he raised a family while attending to the spiritual needs of his nembutsu friends. Before he took up the nembutsu, things were just as difficult and fraught: twenty years devoted to a desperate spiritual search, in a world that was torn with violence, strife and famine.

As a nembutsu follower he had seen much cruelty at the hands of Buddhist temples and the government. He endured the relentless persecution of the nembutsu communities, and the heartbreaking deceit of his son.

The answer to this is, literally, that only Amida Buddha knows. Shinran’s anjin – his settled mind – is entirely the work of Amida Buddha.  It is the Buddha alone who can bring a ‘foolish being full of blind passions’ to a calm and serene joy like his.

It seems to me that many of us spend a lot of time not being particularly content, or even satisfied with the nembutsu. One hears people ask what can be done to realise shinjin or whether there are ethical determinants that manifest it. But the answer is no: the only sign of the heart of true entrusting is Namu-amida-butsu. This is the spontaneous (jinen) expression of the person who seeks nothing more in the spiritual life.

To be sure, there seem to be some natural tendencies that flow from the heart of shinjin. Shinran alludes to these in his letters. He describes the life of shinjin as ‘abandoning the world’. This does not mean home-leaving. It is a far deeper understanding than that. It is knowing that ‘in this fleeting world – this burning house – all matters without exception are empty and false, totally without truth and sincerity’.

In other places, Shinran suggests a tendency to stop judging others as ‘good or bad’. (CWS, p. 459, etc.) Through the working of the light of Amida Buddha, people of nembutsu know just how evil they are. So, how can they judge others? At peace with themselves, through the working of the Primal Vow, nembutsu people would tend to be at peace with others, too. Nevertheless, we all live and work in varying environments: sometimes calm, mostly stressful.

As the only real thing that one can ever know, Namu-amida-butsu can carry every one of us through life, no matter what kind of life it might be.