Friday, January 27, 2017

Repentance and the Nembutsu of Faith


Along the path of personal power, repentance is a very important method of destroying the negative karma. However, true repentance is not just a simple confession of mistakes, but a deep awareness which penetrates one's body and mind. Thus, Master Shan-tao explained that there are three types of genuine repentance:

"The high grade of repentance is to shed blood from the pores of one’s body and also to shed blood from one’s eyes.
The middle grade of repentance is to shed hot sweat from the pores of one’s whole body and also to shed blood from one’s eyes.
The low grade of repentance is to feel feverish all over the body and also to shed tears from one’s eyes".[1]

Answering the question whether repentance is necessary in Pure Land Buddhism, Master Shan-tao says in the same book (Liturgy for Birth), which was quoted by Shinran in his Kyogyoshinsho, that if the follower has faith in the salvation offered by Amida Buddha he reaches the same result as in the case of repentance:

"Even though one is unable to shed tears and blood, one will get the same result described above if one thoroughly attains the true faith (shinjin)".[2]

Shinran also said in the Hymns of the Pure Land Masters:

"Persons who have thoroughly realized the true mind [of shinjin],
Because it is the diamondlike mind,
Are equal to those who accomplish
The three grades of repentance; thus Shan-tao teaches."
[3]

and in Notes on the Inscription of Sacred Scrolls:

"To say Namo Amida Butsu is to repent all the karmic evil one has committed since the beginningless past."[4]

In chapter III of his Kyogyoshinsho Shinran presents a very important dialogue[5]. Somebody asked how can the evil karma of the five grave offenses and the ten evil acts, which would cause one to be born into the lower realms for many kalpas, is annihilated by the nembutsu of faith, thus making one to be reborn in the Pure Land? How this situation can be explained "in the light of the law of karma according to which a heavier karma pulls one down? Furthermore, from the beginningless past, sentient beings have been given to acts of various defilements, and so they are tied to the three worlds. If, as you say, they can attain liberation from the three worlds by mere mindfulness of Amida Buddha with ten repetitions of His Name, what will become of the bondage of karma?".[6]

The answer is wonderful:

"Suppose there is a room that has been dark for a thousand years. If a light is cast into the room even for only a short while, the room will instantly become bright. How could the darkness refuse to leave because it has been there for a thousand years?"

Darkness may seem deep and strong when we live surrounded by it for many kalpas, but it disapears as if it never existed when it meets the Light of Amida Buddha. We can compare the various evils and blind passions among each other and say that some are heavier or darker than others, but with what can we compare the Enlightenment and Light of  Amida Buddha?
Also, if we speak in terms of weak vs strong, some beings are more powerful than others, but who in this world is more powerful than a Buddha? Even the most superior gods who live for eons cannot compare themselves with a Buddha in wisdom, powers, purity and the capacity to save all beings.  

In order to escape the black hole of samsaric existence, we need the infinitely powerful energy of Amida Buddha. Only that can pull us out from the repeated births and deaths. We cannot build anything equally powerful through our own actions. Our repentance is simply not enough to eliminate the evil karma of innumerable eons in which we piled mountain after mountain of greed, anger and ignorance.

The karma which binds us to samsara is too strong for people like us, filled with delusion and blind passions, but for somebody who is already free from samsara, like Amida Buddha, nothing which belongs to samsara has any power over Him or the salvation He offers:

"The ten repetitions of the Name are stronger than the five grave offenses or the ten evil acts and so this 'stronger' karma prevails, enabling the evildoer to escape from the three painful states of existence."

Only a few repetitions of the Name of Amida Buddha, and even one saying which is done by relying on Amida Buddha's Power to save (the Nembutsu of faith), is able to destroy the roots of all our evil karma since the beginingless past. And is not just because we say it, but because the Name we say is the Name of Amida Buddha in which He manifested all His enlightened karmic energy and virtues:

"The repetitions of the Name arise from the unsurpassed faith by taking as object the Name of Amida Tathagata of a glorious body of skillful means that comprises immeasurable merits that are true and pure".[7]

 Thus, if one entrusts oneself to Amida Buddha and says His Name in faith, it is like putting a sumo wrestler on the same scale with a feather :) Which one is heavier and pulls the other one down?
Trully, the whole of samsara with all its worlds and universes, and realms of various beings, from the hell dwellers up to the most powerful gods, weights less than a feather in comparison with the Name of Amida Buddha.   




[1] Quoted by Shinran in his Kyogyoshinsho – On Teaching, Practice, Faith, and Enlightenment, translated by Hisao Inagaki, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Kyoto, 2003, p. 247
[2] Kyogyoshinsho – On Teaching, Practice, Faith, and Enlightenment, translated by Hisao Inagaki, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Kyoto, 2003, p. 247
[3] The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.380
[4] Idem, p.504
[5] This dialogue was taken by Shinran from Commentary on Vasubandhu's Discourse on the Pure Land by Master T'an-luan.
[6] Kyogyoshinsho – On Teaching, Practice, Faith, and Enlightenment, translated by Hisao Inagaki, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Kyoto, 2003, p. 162
[7] Idem. 163

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