Shinran and His Work, by Arthur Lloyd, , at sacred-texts.com
§§ 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37.
In the romantic history of Shinran's life, to which I have already made allusion, there is a very pretty little story about his courtship. I will not vouch for its historical accuracy, but I think it will serve my purpose well enough to quote it here.
It was in Shinran's early days, before he had: begun to be troubled with doubts touching the infallibility of the Tendai system, and when he was still a rising and promising young monk at Hieizan.
He had been on business of the monastery to Kyoto, and was on his way home. Near the foot of the mountain he overtook a young maiden, who accosted him. She was desirous, she said, of going to worship at the famous shrine on the mountain: would he be kind enough to act as her guide and take her with him?
Shinran was greatly shocked. "You are a woman," he said, "and no foot of woman may tread the holy mountain. I cannot take you with me."
But the young woman would take no refusal. "I am a woman," she said, "but I have a human heart, and my human heart longs for salvation. Am I to be denied that which my soul longs for?"
Shinran suggested a nunnery, but the suggestion was not welcomed. "Your nunneries," she said,
[paragraph continues] "are like your monasteries, places where women get together to pore over books and heap up knowledge, and think they shall be saved by what they know. I am not a learned woman, and if I were, what good would my learning, immersed in a convent, do to my suffering sisters? I desire to be saved in order that I may save others, I want some simple faith suitable for simple souls; for whilst monks and nuns are poring over Sūtras of doubtful meaning in the selfish quiet of the monasteries, there are thousands of men and women in Japan perishing for lack of a few satisfying mouthfuls of Saving Doctrine."
Shinran was not a man of ready words. Some years later, when he had joined Hōnen, his master sent him, in his own stead, to be the champion of the Jōdo cause in a public disputation. He went, announced his arrival, took his seat modestly near the door; listened to all that the adversary had to say, and then brought shame on his Master and himself by slipping out of the room, without making a speech in defence of his own position. We should not therefore be surprised to be told that he remained silent under the attacks of his fair fellow-traveller.
But the maiden went on with her attack. Producing from her pocket a crystal burning glass, such as we may often see in Japan, she said: "Please take this and keep it. It has the power to collect the sun's rays and focus them on one point, on which it shines with burning heat. Do the same for religion: collect and focus into one point the whole system of the faith, and let that one point
be made burning and bright, so that it may kindle. into zeal even the simplest and most ignorant soul."
Then she left him, and it was not for some years that he discovered that he had been conversing with the daughter of Fujiwara Kanezane, the lady who afterwards became his wife. *
I have told this story because it seems to it illustrate one or two of the questions brought before us in our consideration of the Shinshu Catechism.
For what period in the world's history, we are asked, and for what persons are the Shinshu doctrines of Salvation by Faith in Amida specially suitable? They are suited especially for the "last days," is the answer, for the matsudai, † the sue no yo, in which we live. And they are suited for sinners, for weak, vacillating, helpless, persons like ourselves, who have not the moral and spiritual strength necessary for the working out of our own salvation. What does not St. Paul tell us of the last days, and of the mercy of God revealed to sinful man in them? And what sign of Christ's truth is there greater than this,—that the "poor have the Gospel preached unto them?"
St. Paul has focussed the whole of Christianity for us into a single point. "I determined to know
nothing among you save Christ Jesus and Him crucified," and the focussed rays of light, coming through that burning glass, have always been bright and powerful. "Christ and Him crucified" has always been a simple formula, well within the intellectual grasp of the most ignorant and the most unlearned. And Christians have at times been charged with almost wilful ignorance.
So has it been with Shinshuism. Tama Hi no Miya's gift to her future husband bore its fruit, when he became a disciple of Hōnen, and preached that simple faith which Hōnen first formulated into a system, but which a constant succession of pious monks had held and taught throughout all the years since the commencement of the Mahāyāna. Faith in Amida has always been in Japan a burning glass, quickening certain souls into spiritual life, and giving hope to the ignorant, the unhappy, the sinful. And, like Christians, the holders of this faith have at times been charged with ignorance. Monto mono wo shirazu,—the "Monto know nothing,"—has passed into a proverb.
But as there were occasions when St. Paul could "speak wisdom," so the Shinshu has its philosophies for the perfect, the spiritual, the wise man. It does not reject knowledge, it only assigns it to a secondary place, instead of making it the end-all of religion. "Had Christ said, 'He that hath known me hath known the Father, he would have been but a man," said to me a disciple of Hōnen. "But he said 'He that hath seen me,' and that word seen showed Him to be God."
There is a simple summary of the Shinshu faith
which our Catechism proceeds to discuss (§§ 33–37). Its composition is ascribed to Rennyo Shōnin, the great renovator of the Shinshu in the fifteenth century, and the Faith is therein treated of as consisting of two portions,—the shintai, or "true position," and the zoku-tai or "ordinary position." I have been unable to satisfy myself in the choice of a term with which to render these expressions into English. They correspond roughly speaking to the "duty towards God" and the "duty towards one's neighbour" in the English Church Catechism, but they are more than that. They imply grounds of belief as well as duty based on belief, and so may be looked upon as half-creed, half-duty. In another light, shintai may be spoken of as our justification, zokutai as the gradual sanctification of the heart and life.
The shintai is the short-cut (keiro) of the believing heart which intuitively sees what it does not yet possess or understand, and which apprehends the fruits of Amida's Enlightenment through faith in him. The shintai is especially the faith of those who make a special profession of religion. It is shusseken no hō. The zokutai, on the contrary, is the position of the man who is in the world and who has to do his duty in that position. All sects of Buddhism make the same distinction, but the Shinshu, which is especially the religion of the layman, lays especial stress on the zokutai, considering it of more importance among Shinran's followers than anywhere else in Buddhism. The distinction is also found in the Larger Sukhāvati Vyūha. It is claimed
that the Eighteenth Section of Amida's Great Vow contains both. *
I will end this chapter by giving a translation (taken from Satow and Hawes’ Guidebook to Japan. Introd. p. 92) of this Shinshu Creed.
Shintai.—"Rejecting all religious austerities and other action, giving up all idea of self-power, we rely upon Amida Buddha with the whole heart for our salvation in the future life, which is the most important thing; believing that at the moment of putting our faith in Amida Buddha our fate is settled. From that moment, invocation of His Name is observed as an expression of gratitude and thankfulness for Buddha's mercy. Moreover, we bear in thankful remembrance our reception of this doctrine from the Founder, and succeeding chief priests, whose
teachings have been as benevolent and as welcome as light shining in a dark place."
Zokutai.—"Furthermore, we must, during our whole life, observe the laws which are appointed for our duty."
Note on Shintai and Zokutai.
Dr. Nanjo in his Short History of the Twelve Buddhist Sects, page 128, defines Zokutai as being equivalent to the Sanskrit Samvritisatya, or "truth by general consent." It is, he says, that "part of the doctrine of this sect, which has reference to the distinction of good and evil in conduct in this world."
"Those who belong to this sect are recommended to keep to their occupation properly, and to discharge their duty, so as to be able to live in harmony. They should also cultivate their persons and regulate their families. They should keep order and obey the laws of the government, and do their best for the sake of the country. Buddha says in the Great Sūtra, (i.e. the Larger Sukhāvati Vyūha): "you should separate yourselves from all evil, and select and practise what is good, thinking and considering well:"
Shintai Dr. Nanjo defines as Paramārtha satya "true truth." The term "refers to the distinction between belief and doubt in the mind." By putting their belief in Buddha Amitābha, the faithful become members of the Shōjōjū (Skt. Samyaktva ras’i) or "mass of absolute truth,"—a term which may be considered as being analogous o the Communion of Saints in certain of its aspects, or to what some Roman Catholic Theologians would call the "Soul of the Church."
Shōjōjū represents that to "that class of beings who will certainly be born in the Pure Land of Amitābha Buddha, and attain to Nirvana there in the next life. They are taken hold of within the light of Amitābha Buddha, joyful in heart, practising always the great compassion of Buddha, and suffer transmigration no more. Therefore they are called Avaivartikas (Jap. Futaiten), or 'those who never return again.' They derive this benefit at the moment of their putting faith in Buddha."
By Nirvana is meant "the state of enlightenment of Amitābha Buddha." In other sects, it is held that the soul, after reaching Paradise, must still, in that Paradise, practise good works for a long time, before reaching to that state of light. But the Shinshu have a phrase ōjō-sokujōbutsu which means that the state of ōjō, 'going to be born in the Land of Bliss,' is itself to become Buddha. This implies that at the moment of death, the perfection of the Believer is accomplished.
As for the Zokutai, in other sects it is used as a means of working out salvation. In the Shinshu it is merely the expression of gratitude for a salvation already received.
65:* In Shinshu books, Shinran's wife is always spoken of as Tama Hi no Miya, "Princess Burning-Crystal."
65:† The Shinshu arrangement of the ages to come after the death: of S’akyamuni is somewhat different from that which we find in the Nichiren system (see my Japanese Mahāyāna). In the Shinshu, it is 500 years of Upright Law, 1030 years of Image Law, and 10,000 years (instead of 1000 only) of corrupted Law, at the end of which the knowledge of the Law will perish.
68:* The eighteenth section of Amida Vow, as given in vol. XLIX of the Sacred Books of the East (Description of Sukhāvati, p. 73), is as follows:—
"When I have obtained Buddhahood, if those beings who are in the ten quarters should believe in me with serene thoughts, and should wish to be born in my country (Paradise), and should, say, ten times have thought of me (or repeated my named—if they should not be born there, may I not obtain the perfect knowledge; (shintaimon)—barring only those beings who have committed the five deadly sins, and who have spoken evil of the good law" (zokutaimon).
There is a certain amount of discrepancy, as to the arrangement of the different sections of the Vow between the Sanskrit and the Chinese. It is interesting to notice that Buddhism too has no unforgivable sin. For such sinners, as, e.g. Ajātas’atru, there is still hope in Amida's Mercy. Still, after Faith has been received and accepted, there comes the obligation to keep the laws of the Zokutaimon. Failure to observe this, or sinning against the light involves forfeiture of the grace for a while at least.