Why Shinran?

I was speaking to a nembutsu friend a few weeks ago and, in the course of the conversation, we decided  that Shinran Shonin was a truly remarkable and rare teacher because he simultaneously attained perfect insight into both the true depths of his flawed human condition and the radiant light of the true and real. People may abandon one or other of these features of existence but few live them at the same time with the ‘mind that is single’.

In my opinion, the significance of this is that Shinran discovered the way of being human and living life to the full in its entirety. The infinite and the temporal found harmony living together in him. Neither becoming anything other than themselves, inextricably interwoven. Such is the life of great compassion that was manifest in Namu-amida-butsu.

Shinran was a true disciple of the Buddha because he was ultimately bound for nirvana (CWS, p. 117). Yet, he continued to live an ordinary human life fraught with all of the usual stresses and strains that we all share. Unlike Shakyamuni, who during his life attained perfect enlightenment and became a Buddha, Shinran was embraced in the light of the true and real while continuing as a foolish being.

For these reasons, Shinran Shonin is the person to whom one naturally turns for guidance on the great task of being human, of living a life in the world as it really is. Not a world of ease and the imagination, not a world that we somehow think we can make better. Anything a person can admirably do to improve things is always, inexorably, subject to the rule of the law of change nonetheless. As Shakyamuni Buddha said to his disciple Ananda

There is profit and loss, suffering and pleasure in the world … they will cease as quickly as they come. (Dhammapada Atthakatha)

Shinran  was a person of shinjin. His awakening was the way of one entering the state of the truly settled but with an ordinary human life to fulfil until birth in the Pure Land:

… deep mind … is true and real shinjin. One truly knows oneself to be a foolish being full of blind passions, with scant roots of good, transmigrating in the three realms and unable to emerge from this burning house. And further, one truly knows now, without so much as a single thought of doubt, that Amida’s universal Primal Vow decisively enables all to attain birth, including those who say the Name even down to ten times, or even but hear it. Hence it is called “deep mind”…

When people have been able to hear
The Name of Amida Buddha,
Rejoice, and attain the mind that is single,
They will all attain birth in the Pure Land.

(CWS, p. 92)