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

Jodo Wasan 53

Having entered the Samadhi of great tranquility,
The Buddha's countenance was wondrous in its radiance;
Observing the depth of Ananda's discernment,
He praised him for his insightful question.

The Samadhi of Great Tranquillity

In the verse of the wasan which we have before us now, Shinran Shonin relates the opening of the Larger Sutra in which Shakyamuni's appearance became radiant because of his meditative state. In this event we have a telling juxtaposition between the single-minded absorbtion of samadhi, tranquillity and the joy which is manifested in Shakyamuni's appearance.

Samadhi is the state of absorbtion in which the mind is firmly fixed, unwavering. It is complete union with the object of concentration. It is a component of the Noble Eightfold Path, and is a deeper state than dhyana which is essentially the attainment of complete mental detachment from perception and sense-reactions. Dhyana is the word often used in the titles of the meditative schools in both Southern and Mahayana Buddhism. The Chinese Dhyana School is 'Ch'an', and the Japanese School is 'Zen'. One passes beyond dhyana into the transcendent realm of samadhi. It is from samadhi that it is possible to finally resolve all of the conflicting dharmas, constituent elements of existence, and attain enlightenment. Samadhi was a more or less natural frame of mind for Shakyamuni since he was enlightened; just as confusion is a natural state for us, since we are not.

In another translation of the Larger Sutra we read that the samadhi which Shakyamuni was engaged in was the 'Samadhi of Great Tranquillity'. This absorbtion is actually that of nirvana, which, of course, is synonymous with Amida Buddha.

When this Buddhahood appears in form, it is not called the supreme nirvana. In order to make us realize that the true Buddhahood is without form, it is expressly called Amida Buddha; so I have been taught.1

Shinran takes special notice of the samadhi in his marginal note.

samadhi of great tranqillity: the reason for the Buddha's inner stillness and quietude, which is now more excellent than usual, is that he has appeared in the world solely to teach the Name of Amida; thus, his particularly excellent and auspicious features.2

So, Ananda is drawn to Shakymuni's radiant appearance and asks what its cause may be. The answer? 'The reason for my appearance in the world is to reveal teachings of the Way and save multitudes of beings by endowing them with true benefits.' Shinran understands this to be the Nembutsu - Namu-amida-butsu.

Clearly Shakyamuni's radiance is that of joy. As Ananda says, '... today all your senses are radiant with joy.' From the Buddhist perspective and experience, joy is associated with tranquillity. Indeed, in some contexts 'joy' and 'serenity' are interchangeable. This is in marked contrast with the way 'joy' is often used in the modern context, for it is sometimes associated with strong emotions and passion. But in the religious sense it never is - it is always profoundly peaceful, deeply serene. It is a delicate, limpid and gentle state of mind. And it is the condition of those who first attain pramudita, enter the stream in the process of becoming bodhisattvas.

Joy is infectious, too. In 'endowing [us] with the true benefit', Shakyamuni endows us with the serene joy which is a to apprehend something of his samadhi. In accepting and entrusting ourselves to the Name we meet the joy which has been waiting for us since the eternal past and which is our utmost destiny.

1: Shozomatsu Wasan, Ryukoku Translation Series VII, 1980, p. 117.

2: CWS, p. 339.

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