Does Other-Power Mean That We Sit Back and Do Nothing (Part 2 - A 2 Part Series)

(Read Part 1 Here)

From Echigo to Kanto and Back to Kyoto

Five years later, in the snow and cold of Echigo, Shinran received word of his pardon. He moved on to the eastern Kanto district, setting up a simple hut in the village of Inada in Hitachi7 where for the next twenty years he devoted himself single- mindedly to teaching Amida’s Primal Vow. After turning sixty, he returned to his native Kyoto and gradually began to concentrate on writing. Most of his copious writings were done after the age of seventy-six.

After Shinran left Kanto, a number of events sowed confusion among his followers there. Agitated by the profound upheaval in their faith, several of them resolved to make the perilous journey to Kyoto in order to meet directly with the master and ascertain the truth.

The journey would take a month or more. On the way they would cross over mountains, ford rivers, and be threatened by murderous thieves and bandits lurking everywhere. There was no knowing if they would return alive. Each one who made the trip did so truly “at the risk of [his] life,” determined to hear the truth of Buddhism no matter what the cost, just as Shinran had exhorted. All their lives, they remained faithful to the everpresent voice of Shinran.

The Path to Birth in Paradise

Section II begins with Shinran’s blunt remark to the believers: “Each of you has come seeking me . . . at the risk of your life, with one thing only in mind: to ask the path to birth in the land of utmost bliss.” Clearly, during his twenty years in the Kanto area this path was all that he had taught.

What is the “path to birth in the land of utmost bliss”? It is the Vow of Amida Buddha to all humanity: “I will enable you to be born in the Pure Land without fail.”

The followers’ state of mind is fully understandable as, their faith in the Vow shaken, they staked their lives on a trip to attain the fulfillment of knowing that they could go to the Pure Land without fail.

Determination to Hear Buddhist Teaching

Though the universe should become a sea of flames, he who crosses it to hear the Name of Amida will achieve everlasting salvation. (Hymns on the Pure Land)

This hymn by Shinran means that if you keep on listening to Buddhism “through hell and high water” and you are saved by Amida, you are certain to achieve radiant, eternal bliss. Rennyo’s teaching was identical:

Buddhism must be heard even if it means fighting one’s way through raging flames; then what hindrance can there be in rain or wind or snow?

Rennyo further offers this instruction on priorities.

Buddhism must be listened to by setting aside the world’s affairs. Thinking that one should listen to Buddhist law when not occupied with the world’s affairs is shallow.

(The Words of Rennyo Heard and Recorded During His Lifetime)

In other words, Buddhism is so important that it must be apprehended even if it means dropping all our work. The assumption that it is enough to fit Buddhism in between other things in life shows a sad lack of understanding. Here Rennyo describes means of living as “the world’s affairs.” Given that resolving the crucial matter of birth and death is our true purpose in life, one can only marvel at the aptness of this pithy phrase.

Yet where on earth can these teachings of Shinran and Rennyo be heard today? Almost nowhere. No matter how carefully one peruses Section II—or indeed all of Tannisho— the main point will regrettably be missed unless one is aware that Buddhist truth must be heard even at the risk of one’s life.

(from Unlocking Tannisho, Part Two, Chapter 5)

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #32 | 2013, Does Other-Power Mean That We Sit Back and Do Nothing (Part 2 - A 2 Part Series)

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