Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Shozomatsu Wasan 115

While people ignorant of the words 'good' and 'bad'
Are all of true heart,
My acting as though I knew 'good' and 'bad'
Is a manifestation of total falsity.

Unconditional Freedom

The brief essay, known as Jinen Honi Sho, was dictated by Shinran Shonin to Kenchi in 1258, when Shinran was eighty-six years old. A slightly longer version of this same essay, which has an additional paragraph on the phrase gyaku toku myogo, was inserted by Rennyo Shonin into the Bunmei edition of the Shozomatsu Wasan. Rennyo's reason for this is not known, but it seems obvious to me that it serves as a preface for the next two verses of the Wasan.

The term 'Jinen', which is a key feature of the Jinen Honi Sho, appears several times in the Larger Sutra as a synonym for the free, natural, spontaneous activity that is the reality at the heart of existence. Ji means 'self' and is also part of the word jiriki, which means self-power. In Dr Hisao Inagaki's translation of the Larger Sutra, the phrase jinen shosha is translated as 'naturalness'. It is a quality of the state of Nirvana, which constitutes the Pure Land.

Honi has an adjectival, qualifying, impact in the phrase jinen honi. It refers to the working of the Dharma, which in the case of Pure Land Buddhism, is the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha.

In the Jinen Honi Sho, Shinran is at pains to point out that jinen refers to the self that is not the limited, illusory ego that binds us to samsara. It is the purpose of this sublime essay to say that, ultimately, there is only freedom of Nirvana. Nirvana is the only reality, and it works spontaneously, as integral to the natural order, to liberate all beings. The original meaning of jinen, as it is found in the Larger Sutra - where it used to describe the characteristics of the Pure Land - carries a sense of freedom, serenity and the absolute being. It is the essential quality of the unconditioned Nirvana, which transcends birth and death.

By the working of the Dharma, Jinen becomes integral to our being in the form of Namo Amida Butsu, and, for us there is nothing else that we should concern ourselves about. It is not even of concern to us to habitually or deliberately recite the Name for it is self-existent and does not require any input from us. Rather, it manifests itself in the heart that has 'heard' (that is, understood or assimilated) the Dharma and has accepted its integration, naturally, spontaneously, freely and joyfully, so that others may come into contact with it, too.

In short, the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha acts freely, by itself (jinen), without any input of any kind from us. To know this is to be free also.

This is all the explanation that is needed for a reading of the Gyaku Toku Moyogo Jinen Honi. I strongly recommend that readers familiarise themselves with this little statement by Shinran because it is a remarkable summary of the entire scope of his life's work and of his teaching.

It seems to me that it is only possible to interpret the claims of this verse of the Wasan in terms of the Jinen Honi Sho. Shinran has realised complete diamond-like faith (kongoshin), and has joined the company of the truly settled. He is about to attain the unconditioned Nirvana (the Pure Land) and no longer has any need to assert the claims of his ego. He has become free and utterly relaxed about the infernal deceptions of his own intellectual and affective life.

To my mind, Shinran has arrived at the true state of blessedness and contentment. His life of turmoil, struggle and strife has finally come into full fruition; he has become a true human being, utterly free of all pretence and hypocrisy.

This verse of the Wasan, signifies for me the ultimate truth of Jodo Shinshu. It tells us that if we also rely unconditionally upon the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha, we too will join the stage of the settled, and find ourselves on the cusp of perfect freedom.

Like Shinran, we will no longer need to be believed, no longer seek people to trust and learn from us. Our only care will be to extend the teaching of the Primal Vow that was handed down from of old, and to deflect the gaze of all, away from our own sense of self-importance to the only true reality: the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha.

- July 26, 2006.

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