The Way of Jodo Shinshu
Reflections on the Hymns of Shinran Shonin

Jodo Wasan 47

Those of immeasurable wisdom throughout the ten quarters
      - past, present, and future -
All, without exception, having grounded themselves in oneness,
Equally attain the enlightenment of perfection in the two aspects
      of wisdom;
Their salvation of beings according to conditions is beyond
      conception.

Becoming Wise

Oneness has many synonyms and we have already encountered most of them in Shinran Shonin's hymns. Two of these synonyms are dharma nature and suchness. Shinran is, of course, speaking of the 'immutable and unchanging principle underlying all things'. In the Pure Land tradition this is Amida Buddha as the dharma body as suchness1. All buddhas throughout the universe derive from this dharma body as suchness. Amida Buddha is the teacher of all buddhas, the well-spring of wisdom and compassion.

Buddhas have the capacity through their 'two aspects of wisdom', whereby they know ultimate reality and how to manifest it to beings, to reach the entire range of existing things, understanding all beliefs, tendencies and characteristics with their perfection of wisdom (prajna-paramita) in such a way as to identify fully with them. Prajna is the insight into emptiness, which is the quality of all dharmas, the constituent elements of existence. This is the meaning of compassion in Buddhism.

The 'twofold wisdom' is the characteristic model of the Buddhist way of life. Since the compassion of Buddhas urges the dissemination of the dharma in the world for the liberation of suffering beings, a wholistic approach to knowledge and wisdom in its adherants is most appropriate. Those who are adepts upon the Path of Sages, seeking - or who have awakened - bodhicitta, the 'mind of enlightenment' and entering pramudita, the first stage of enlightenment, are particpants in an obligation to understand the world at large and to grow in both worldly and transcendent wisdom.

In the Pure Land path true growth in wisdom leads into a deepening awareness of our status as prthagjana, ordinary people, who are not sages. Paradoxically, the wisdom that comes from living in the light of the Buddha and the nembutsu way, is true knowledge of the depth of our ignorance. To know our absolute dependence on the wisdom of the Buddhas, the power of the Primal Vow, is to be truly wise. It is to know the blessedness of deep veracity; the fulfilment of actual insight.

... to say that Buddhism does not possess any fixed doctrine is not to say that it has no philosophy. Despite the fact that the content of [Shayamuni Buddha's] enlightenment has been passed down in a variety of forms, those forms all lead back to one point. Buddhism attempts to bring people to a state of spiritual serenity by having them see thmselves as they actually are, not by forcing them to maintain an established creed and dogma, and by enabling them to experience the Dharma in terms of practical existence.2


1: 'In order to make us realise that the true Buddhahood is without form, it is expressly called Amida Buddha.' (Ryukoku Translation Series, Vol VII, p. 117). This is a passage from the Jinen Honi Sho, a letter Shinran wrote late in his life (1258).

In any case, Shinran attests to the identity of Amida Buddha with both the dharma body as suchness and the dharma body as compassionate means (the latter aspect of the dharma body having become the fulfilled body of the Buddha) in several places in his collection of hymns. Amida is both 'supreme Buddha' (dharma body as suchness), and the 'Buddha with form' (dharma body as compassionate means).

2: Gotama Buddha: A Biography Based on the Most Reliable Texts by Hajime Nakamura, Kosei Publishing Tokyo, Vol 1 p 213.

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