Monday, September 27, 2010

Equal to Maitreya Buddha


A unique teaching of Jodo Shinshu is that followers who received shinjin are equal to perfect Enlightenment, equal to all Buddhas and equal to Maitreya Buddha (Miroku in Jap).  As this can be very easy misunderstood, I thought to dedicate it a special article.

Maitreya, now residing in the Tusita heaven, was said by Shakyamuni to be a future great Buddha who will appear in this world after many billion years (5,670,000,000) from his era.

Shinran Shonin explains this in his Letters:

“Since those who have realized shinjin necessarily abide in the stage of the truly settled, they are in the stage equal to the perfect Enlightenment. In the Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life those who have been grasped, never to be abandoned, are said to be in the stage of the truly settled, and in the Sutra of the Tathagata of Immeasurable Life they are said to have attained the stage equal to perfect Enlightenment. Although they differ, the terms "truly settled" and "equal to enlightenment" have the same meaning and indicate the same stage. Equal to the perfect Enlightenment is the same stage as that of Maitreya, who is in the rank of succession to Buddhahood. Since persons of shinjin will definitely attain the supreme Enlightenment, they are said to be the same as Maitreya.”

Those who entrust themselves in Amida Buddha in this life are said to be in the stage of the truly settled or the stage of those assured of Nirvana or in other words, the stage of non-retrogression. This means that since faith arised in their hearts they are assured of the attainment of birth in the Pure Land which will occur at their death. This birth in the Pure Land will be immediately followed by the attainment of Buddhahood or perfect Enlightenment.
So, the stage of the truly settled or of those assured of Nirvana is equal with that of perfect Enlightenment in the sense that those belonging to the first state will surely attain perfect Enlightenment. The cause of perfect Enlightenment is definitely settled when faith in Amida arises in the heart of the followers. Faith is the cause of Enlightenment, so both are equal in the sense that one is the effect of the other like there can be no smoke without a fire. The fire will necessary produce smoke even if the fire is not the same with the smoke. In the same manner, a follower who has faith in Amida Buddha is equal with the state of perfect Enlightenment because he will become a Buddha and has the seed of Buddhahood already planted in his heart, but is not a Buddha yet during his life until death.

Shinran said to Joshin-bo in Letter 7 of Mattosho:

“You should understand that the moment of settling of those who entrust themselves to Tathagata's Vow is none other than the settling into the stage of non-retrogression, because they receive the benefit of being grasped, never to be abandoned. Whether we speak of the settling of true shinjin or the settling of the diamondlike shinjin, both come about through being grasped, never to be abandoned. Thus is awakened the heart and mind that will attain the supreme Enlightenment. This is called the stage of non-retrogression, the stage of the truly settled, and the stage equal to the perfect Enlightenment.”

He also said:

“The Garland Sutra states that those who have attained true shinjin are already certain to become Buddhas and therefore are equal to the Tathagatas. Although Maitreya has not yet attained Buddhahood, it is certain that he will, so he is already known as Maitreya Buddha. In this manner, the person who has attained true shinjin is taught to be equal to Tathagatas.”

The stage of the truly settled or of those assured of Nirvana is the same state in which Maitreya now dwells in the Tusita heaven where he is waiting for the right moment to be born in this world and attain Buddhahood, exactly like Shakyamuni did in the past.

In Letter 15 of Mattosho, Shinran said:

“…the moment they realize the diamondlike mind (shinjin), they are said to abide in the stage of the truly settled and to attain the same stage as Bodhisattva Maitreya[1].
Since persons of true and real shinjin are of the same stage as Maitreya, they are equal to Buddhas.”

He also said in letter 18:

“Further, since Maitreya has already become one who is certain to attain Buddhahood, he is called Maitreya Buddha. By this we know that the person who has already realized shinjin that is Other Power can be said to be equal to Buddhas. You should have no doubts about this.”

Shinran explains further:

“The Buddhas in the ten quarters rejoice in the settling of this mind and praise it as being equal to the hearts and minds of all Buddhas. Thus, the person of true shinjin is said to be equal to Buddhas. He is also regarded as being the same as Maitreya, who is in [the rank of] succession to Buddhahood.”

“…all Buddhas feel great joy when such a person rejoices in the realization of true shinjin, and they proclaim, "This person is our equal." Sakyamuni's words of rejoicing are found in the Larger Sutra: "The one who sees, reveres, and attains [the Dharma] and greatly rejoices - that person is my excellent, close companion"; thus he teaches that the person who has attained shinjin is equal to Buddhas.”

As you see, Shinran based his arguments on the words of Shakyamuni in the Larger Sutra or other sutras:

"Those who attain shinjin and joy are equal to Tathagatas." This is from the Garland Sutra and means that the person who rejoices in shinjin is the equal of all the Tathagatas. This is also indicated in Sakyamuni's statement about those who realize shinjin and greatly rejoice: "The one who sees, reveres, and attains [the dharma] and greatly rejoices - that person is my excellent, close companion."

“The Buddhas in the ten quarters rejoice in the settling of this mind and praise it as being equal to the hearts and minds of all Buddhas. Thus, the person of true shinjin is said to be equal to Buddhas. He is also regarded as being the same as Maitreya, who is in [the rank of] succession to Buddhahood.

There is also the Seventeenth Vow of Amida Buddha recorded in the Larger Sutra who clearly states that those who say the nembutsu of faith are praised by all Buddhas:

“Further, Amida's Seventeenth Vow declares that the Buddha will not enter into perfect Enlightenment if those who say the Name are not praised by all the countless Buddhas throughout the worlds in the ten quarters. The passage declaring the fulfillment of the Vow states: "Such people are praised by all the Buddhas and rejoice."

The only difference between Maitreya  and the followers who have faith in Amida Buddha and are now in the same stage as perfect Enlightenment like him is that Maitreya has entered this stage through his own power while those who have shinjin become truly settled through the Power of Amida.

Shinran said in his letter 15 of Mattosho:

“To think in self-power that one is equal to the Tathagatas is a great error. But it is because of the shinjin of Other Power that you rejoice; how can self-power enter into it? Please consider this fully.”

This clearly shows that ordinary people become equal to the Tathagatas (Buddhas) and equal with Maitreya not through their own power but through the Power of Amida Buddha.

            There is also another difference between Maitreya and us. If he has to wait many more billion years until he is born into this world and become a Buddha, we who entrust in Amida will become Buddhas after this life is ended.
Until death and birth in the Pure Land we remain ordinary beings filled with blind passions but carrying in ourselves the settled cause for becoming Buddhas. We are not equal to the Tathagatas and to Maitreya because we deserve it or have great merits and virtues, but because Amida made us to become so. This is the meaning of “they receive the benefit of being grasped, never to be abandoned.” Due to Amida grasping us are we made capable to receive faith, enter this stage and are assured of becoming Buddhas in the Pure Land.

It is like a person flying in the air by his own power (Maitreya) and another one (us) carried by a plane. Both are flying (are in the stage of non-retrogression/assured of Nirvana or the stage next to Buddhahood, etc.) both will reach their destinations, but they travel by different means, the first by self power and the latter by Other Power (Amida’s Power). 


[1] “Since Maitreya is already close to Buddhahood, it is the custom in various schools to speak of him as Maitreya Buddha”, explained Shinran. So, Maitreya is sometimes called “Bodhisattva Maitreya” in the sense of a person who engaged himself in practices to become a Buddha for the benefit of himself and all beings or “Maitreya Buddha” because he will surely become one in his next life.

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