When Appearances No Longer Deceive

At a recent Q&A on Unlocking Tannisho Takamori Sensei spoke about the Kanto followers who traveled the arduous journey by foot to Kyoto to ask Master Shinran about the path to rebirth in paradise. Was the nembutsu the source of birth in paradise, or the seed that would send them to the world of suffering? Driven by this intense concern, they put their lives on the line to find out the answer.

Takamori Sensei explained that, in Kanto at that time, a person by the name of Nichiren had been slandering various forms of Buddhism, including the nembutsu, saying that anyone who recited it would fall into hell. Sensei gave the following analogy to help explain.

When you are driving down the road and a big truck comes up behind you, because the size of the vehicle is intimidating, you imagine that behind the wheel must be a big tough guy. But the reality might be something completely different. Maybe at the wheel is a cute little girl. The fact is that you don’t know who is driving. But you are fooled into thinking that the driver is a big tough guy because the vehicle looks big and dangerous. You are ignorant of the truth in this situation.

In the same way the Kanto followers allowed the aggressive and vociferous Nichiren to make them doubt what they had learned over the course of twenty years from Master Shinran. What Nichiren spoke of was not the truth; it was not Buddhism, since it was not in the sutras. He spoke lies, but yet because of the energy of his effort and because he continued to spread it, the seeds of doubt were planted in the minds of those followers who did not have the mind of truth themselves. To put their minds at ease, they needed to hear words of reassurance directly from Master Shinran himself.

But aren’t we all blinded from the truth? Aren’t we fooled by outside appearances?

As Buddhism teaches, we are born with a mind that is ignorant of the truth of ourselves, and what will happen to us after we die.

How many people really think they are evil whose only destination is hell? In fact most people might think the very opposite: “I am a good person, and after I die I will be rewarded in the afterlife.”

So what is the truth? “What others say about you based on personal or social concepts of good and evil is not the truth; what you may think of yourself based on those same concepts is not the truth about you either. When darkness of mind that hides the truth about oneself is dispelled, what is revealed?” (YOU WERE BORN FOR A REASON page 112).

“Once made to see he was the vilest and most depraved of sinners, beyond all hope of redemption, Shinran stated with tears of anguish, ‘I am incapable of doing any good at all, and so Hell is my eternal dwelling place’ ” (p.137).

From the outside we cannot see ourselves as “the vilest and most depraved of sinners beyond all hope of redemption.” We live with minds of ignorance until the moment our dark mind is cleared by the power of Amida’s Vow and we are no longer deceived by the illusion of what we thought we are: good people.

Once our ignorance is cleared, we cannot be fooled by anyone telling us that our faith is wrong, no matter how energetic or persuasive they may be. For Master Shinran, whose true self had been revealed to him, no words of Nichiren could ever shake his faith in the nembutsu.

Frank Costelloe, U.S.A.

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #04 | 2011, When Appearances No Longer Deceive

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