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ANANDA'S SHINJIN
SHAKU KEKAI


Towards the end of the Larger Sutra, the Buddhist text considered by Shinran as the cornerstone of Jodo Shinshu, Amida Buddha appears to the assembly listening to Shakyamuni at Vulture Peak. The light of Amida's Pure Land, a realm that does not correspond to any physical location in our world, overflows and mingles with Vulture Peak (Griddhraj Parvat), located on the northern edge of the current Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Although the event has been and could be interpreted in both literal and symbolic ways, I am not concerned with the factuality of the episode or trying to establish some form of interpretive orthodoxy. The appearance of Amida towards the West of Vulture Peak is pregnant with beautiful images that implicitly reveal the dynamics of 'tariki no shinjin' or the entrusting heart of other power.

Leaving visionary or supernatural aspects to the side, the section 41 of the Larger Sutra, seems to describe how Ananda (and all those around him) realizes the entrusting heart by "seeing" or fully encountering the Buddha. The vision of Amida is triggered by Ananda's wish to see the Buddha. After offering homage to the Western direction, where Amida is meant to reside, Ananda voices his desire: "O World-honoured one, I wish to see that [Amida] Buddha, the Land of Peace and Happiness, and the whole assembly of the bodhisattvas and sravakas therein"1. Ananda's wish and Amida's manifestation appear in succession in the text (it could not be otherwise when using human language), but one does not come after the other; they take place simultaneously. As the sutra states, "No sooner had he uttered these words that the Buddha of Immeasurable Life emitted a great radiant light, which universally illuminated all the Buddha-worlds". This light, which reveals the Buddha and the Pure Land to the assembly at Vulture Peak seems to come as a response to Ananda's wish, but in a sense Ananda's wish enables him to see a light that was shining on him before he wished to see it.

The sutra(s) reminds us that Amida is always active, his light ever shining throughout space and time, embracing all beings. However, unless the right circumstances come together we are not able to perceive this light or benefit from it in any way. As Rennyo legendarily responded to one of Ikkyu's koan challenges: "There is no heart far from Amida but a covered bowl of water cannot reflect the moon". Ananda's wish is a form of nembutsu, it is the bowl being uncovered and suddenly reflecting the moon for the first time. Following the logic of tariki or other power, such an occurrence is not imagined to be the result of our own efforts (at uncovering the bowl or cultivating a mind that aims to reflect the Buddha) but comes from the Buddha's side, it is the Buddha's doing. From this perspective, Ananda's wish is the fulfillment of Amida's vow, they are both accomplished at once. As Ananda realizes how his wish to see the Buddha was all that was needed to see the Buddha, the Buddha's and Ananda's wishes fully coalesce. Ananda's wish to see the Buddha is ultimately rooted in the Buddha's wish to reveal himself.

When the two wishes, wills or "powers" join in this way, we realize that they are not two but a single power that transcends the self and its calculations. Amida and Ananda instantly dissolve in a light that resembles "the flood at the end of the cosmic age covering the whole world, when everything becomes submerged and disappears, leaving nothing but the vast expanse of water to be seen". In this nondual light there is no Amida and no Ananda, no possibility of, literally, seeing anything other than the "Buddha's brilliant and glorious light". However, nonduality yields into duality when "Ananda saw the Buddha of Immeasurable Life" and "those in that [Pure] land saw all that happened in our world". The mutuality of this vision not only reveals that Amida and the Pure Land interpenetrate our world as much as we interpenetrate them, but also that we remain separate. Mutual seeing provides a counterpoint to the all-dissolving light. It is by seeing that both Ananda and Amida are born for each other. They merge into formless but they are at once given a new form.

Amida is born for Ananda as he first encounters and experiences the Buddha in his own consciousness. The enlightenment of Amida might have been a concept or an abstraction before but as it emerges in Ananda's mind through the wish to see the Buddha, it becomes lived experience. Then, Amida cannot remain an abstraction but becomes a living reality in Ananda's consciousness. Similarly, the birth of Amida in Ananda or the emergence of Ananda's shinjin signals Ananda's birth in the Pure Land. As Shinran puts it in the Shoshinge it is in "a single though of joy of oneness with Amida"2 that we are born in the Pure Land. In this sense Ananda is born for Amida as he is born in Amida's world, which also marks the fulfillment of Amida's vow. Since Amida vows not to become a Buddha before his vows are fulfilled, the fulfillment of the vow through Ananda's wish (and its granting) represents the birth of Amida as a Buddha.

Ananda's wish works like the nembutsu, in so far as they are both expressions of Amida's power. Ananda's aspiration is "Namu", whereas its fulfillment in the Buddha's vow is "Amida Butsu". When they come together, like water pouring into water, the world of shinjin unfolds. The Larger Sutra presents this world not as one of unquestioning or monolithic faith but as one of mutuality and interpenetration. The entrusting heart is a meeting place between the Buddha and the being who wishes to hear, see and eventually become Buddha. It is in this heart that both the Buddha and the Buddha-to-be are born. And yet there is nothing we can possibly do to bring about this encounter. However, our wish for it to happen proves that it has already happened.

A few years ago, as I was first gripped by Shinran's teaching I remember asking Professor Alfred Bloom about shinjin. I was anxious about signs and proofs, baffled that Jodo Shinshu did not offer any formal confirmation of realization, unlike other schools of Buddhism. I wanted to know if I "had shinjin" or if not what did I need to do in order to acquire it. Professor Bloom's answer immediately revealed the absurdity of my question: "ultimately, nothing external can assure the reception of trust […]. We do not develop a conviction based on external authority where someone declares what is true for you, but it only arises when one intuitively becomes aware in oneself that this is the truth of my life". Therefore, "if the teaching continues to attract your interest and study or questions, then do not be concerned for assurance, you already have it"3. Finally, echoing the dialogue between Yuienbo and Shinran in the 9th chapter of Tannisho, he concluded "where there is doubt there is already faith"4 .

Not unlike Ananda, we wish to see or trust the Buddha because we sense we do not or cannot really see or trust. By wishing we realize our inadequateness and shortcomings, a sign that the light of the Buddha is already at work within us.

1.All quotes from the sutra are from the translation by the Jodo Shinshu Studies and Research Centre Translation committee. Inagaki Hisao, ed. The Three Pure Land Sutras, Volume II. The Sutra on the Buddha of Immeasurable Life. Kyoto: Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-Ha, 2009.
2.This is Inagaki Hisao's translation to the 98th line in the Shoshinge (Kyo ki ichi nen so o go).
3.Private correspondence.
4. The chapter 9 of Tannisho reproduces an exchange between Yuienbo and Shinran, in which the first tries to reconcile his feelings of joylessness with the fact that he says the nembutsu. Shinran's responds by identifying with Yuienbo and confessing that he has had the same thoughts and feelings. Far from being an anomaly, Shinran reassures Yuienbo that his lack of joy is not only not his fault but is a proof that his birth in the Pure Land is certain. Yuienbo's lack of enthusiasm or even doubt means he is under the grip of blind passions and therefore he is the object of Amida's compassion. Furthermore, the fact that Yuienbo is aware of his blind passions (in the form of doubt or joylessness) demonstrate, for Shinran, that he has already been embraced by the Buddha's light.


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