How Genuine! Shinran’s Great Joy

How genuine, the true words of Amida that embrace us and never forsake us, the absolute doctrine that is surpassingly wonderful! Listen and believe without hesitation or delay. (Preface, Teaching Practice Faith Enlightenment)

It is real, it is true, Amida’s Vow is no lie! The lines above express Shinran’s surprise and delight, all trace of doubt in the Vow— words that he says “embrace us and never forsake us”— gone from his mind.

“Embrace” is sesshu in Japanese, a word that means to grasp and hold fast someone who is using every possible pretext to get away. When there is an occasion to hear Buddhism, we plead work or our child’s school event as an excuse and make no attempt to go. Even when we are sitting in the audience, we are distracted by things at home and at work or by potential traffic on the way home, our minds seizing on any pretext to avoid the truth. Despite this, Amida Buddha, who is supreme among all buddhas, does not leave us unsaved but comes after us and grasps us tight.

Once Amida saves us, he never forsakes us. Day and night, we struggle mightily to obtain money and possessions, a home or a sweetheart. But such happiness is fleeting, doomed to vanish in seconds in the event of an earthquake or tsunami. And even if we do not encounter disaster in this life, death is inescapable.

At the moment of death, nothing one has previous relied on, whether wife and child or money and treasure, will accompany one. At the end of the mountain road of death, one must cross the river all alone

The Letters

When we die, nothing we have turned to till then for support— neither family nor fortune—will be of any avail. Abandoned by all, we must leave this world naked and alone, not knowing where we may go.

As Rennyo admonishes, when I stand at the cliff of death, everything I have ever relied on for strength will desert me. Even Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who during his lifetime lorded it over the country and wallowed in luxury, lay stripped of all at the point of death. With no choice but to leave his precious son in the hands of the blackhearted Tokugawa Ieyasu, he departed this world forlornly, declaring in his death poem that “All Naniwa [Osaka] is but the dream of a dream.” Sooner or later, it is the universal fate of humankind to be abandoned by all. Since our lives are headed straight for this tragic end, how can we know true peace of mind?

To be “embraced and never forsaken,” a happiness that not even death can destroy, is the joy that all people seek and the ultimate purpose of life. In the passage above, Shinran calls Amida’s Primal Vow, in which Amida promised to save every single person into this happiness without fail, “the true words of Amida that embrace us and never forsake us.”

When we hear this stunning promise of Amida, doubts are bound to arise: “Is there really such a thing as absolute happiness?” “It says ‘every single person,’ but can I really be saved?” Shinran’s joy in destroying this mind of doubt is evident in his words, “How genuine, the true words of Amida that embrace us and never forsake us.” He continues to call out to us: “Amida’s Vow is real, it is true! I, Shinran, am a living witness. Hurry and know absolute happiness.”

Then how can we, like Shinran, be brought into the same happiness of being embraced and never forsaken? As Rennyo says,“Buddhism must be listened to.” The only way to encounter Amida’s salvation is by listening.

“Is just listening really enough?” To such skeptics, Shinran counsels, “Listen and believe without hesitation or delay.” We are saved through chomon (listening to the teachings and hearing Amida’s call) alone, so don’t worry and don’t delay, but keep listening to Other-power until you know Other-power. Shinran encourages us to stake our very lives on listening to Buddhism. Let us go on listening intently until our doubts are dispelled and we can say with the master, “The Primal Vow is genuine!” There is no other reason for being born human.

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #23 | 2013, How Genuine! Shinran’s Great Joy

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