Saturday, May 5, 2018

The Ten Benefits of faith in Amida during this life: 10. The benefit of entering the stage of the truly settled (non-retrogression)


By receiving faith (shinjin) and saying the Name of Amida we enter, in this life, in the stage of the truly settled for birth in the Pure Land, where we’ll actually go after death, and where we’ll immediately attain Buddhahood (Nirvana). This is also called the stage of non-retrogression, the stage of definite assurance, the group of the rightly established stage, the stage equal to perfect Enlightenment, the stage equal with Maitreya, etc.
Here are some passages related with this stage:

„If one is mindful of that Buddha’s infinite power and
merit,
One will instantly enter the stage of definite
assurance. So I am always mindful of Amida”[1]

"When we, ordinary people filled with evil passions, the multitudes defiled by karmic evil and subject to birth and death, attain the faith and practice transferred by Amida for our going forth, we will immediately join the Mahayana group of the rightly established stage. Because we dwell in the rightly established stage, we unfailingly reach Nirvana".[2]

"Those who desire quickly to attain
The stage of nonretrogression
Should, with a heart of reverence,
Hold steadfast to and say Amida's Name."[3]

"When one realizes true and real shinjin, one is immediately grasped and held within the heart of the Buddha of Unhindered Light, never to be abandoned.
'To grasp' (sesshu) means to take in (setsu) and to receive and hold (shu). When we are grasped by Amida, immediately - without a moment or a day elapsing - we ascend to and become established in the stage of the truly settled".[4]

"'Nonretrogression' is the stage at which a person becomes settled as one who will necessarily attain Buddhahood."[5]

"Receiving the true cause of birth in the true fulfilled land
Through the words of the two Honored Ones,
We dwell in the stage of the truly settled;
Thus, we will unfailingly attain Nirvana".[6]

"The person who realizes shinjin becomes settled in the stage of the truly settled without any lapse of time or passage of days".[7]

"By virtue of being shone upon by Amida's light[8], we receive diamondlike shinjin (faith) when the one thought-moment of entrusting arises within us; hence, already in that instant Amida takes us into the stage of the truly settled, and when our lives end, all our blind passions and obstructions of evil being transformed, we are brought to realize insight into the nonorigination of all existence[9]."[10]

No matter how wonderful and profound are the sutras and teachings of various Dharma gates, only the Dharma Gate of Faith in Amida provides quick attainment of Buddhahood to ALL sentient beings. This is because among all Buddhas, Amida alone offers His salvation without asking anything from us, ordinary people, who are incapable of resisting our attachments and blind passions. Also, among the Pure Lands of all Buddhas, only the Pure Land of Amida has no special requirements for those who want to gain access there. In the very moment we entrust to Amida Buddha in this life we receive His inconceivable karmic energy (merits), which make us enter the stage of those assured of birth in His Pure Land. After we die and we are born in the safe environment of the Pure Land we immediately attain perfect Enlightenment (Buddhahood), so, entrusting to Amida in this life is the surest prediction that we, ordinary beings, will become Enlightened Ones:

"Yung-ch’in of the Vinaya school says:
'In the profundity of the teaching, nothing surpasses the ultimate doctrine of the Garland Sutra or the excellent message of the Lotus Sutra. But we have never seen in those sutras the prediction of Buddhahood given to all sentient beings. It is due to the benefit of Amida’s inconceivable virtue that ALL sentient beings receive in the present life the prediction of attaining highest, perfect Enlightenment'".[11]

Just like an oak seed planted in good soil is already regarded as an oak because it will surely grow into an oak tree, people who received faith in Amida are regarded as equal to perfect Enlightenment, because they will surely attain it:

„To dwell in the stage of nonretrogression is to become established in the stage of the truly settled. This is also called the attainment of the equal of perfect Enlightenment".[12]

„Persons who truly realize shinjin,
Which is directed to them through Amida's Vow of wisdom,
Receive the benefit of being grasped, never to be abandoned;
Hence they attain the stage equal to perfect Enlightenment".[13]

"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 persons is my excellent, close companion'; thus He teaches that the person who has attained shinjin is equal to Buddhas."[14]

Of course, we are not equal to Buddhas in the sense of having now, in this life, the same enlightened qualities as them, so we do NOT dare to call ourselves, on our own accord, their equal or their „excellent close companions”. This and other simmilar passages suggest that the Buddhas regard us in this way by themselves, out of the joy of seeing us following the Path which represents the true reason for their coming to this world:

„The Buddhas in the ten quarters rejoice in the settling of this mind [of faith] 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 succesion to Buddhahood.”[15]

I think the above passage contains the key to understand the idea of being equal to Buddhas. To be equal to Buddhas means to fulfill the wish of their hearts and the intention of their minds  -  „equal to the hearts and minds of all Buddhas”. So, we are not equal to them in the sense of being like them, but in fulfilling their hearts desire and their mind intention. What do all Buddhas wish? That all beings attain Buddhahood. What is their main intention of coming to this world? To help us walk the easiest path to Buddhahood, which is faith in Amida and birth in His Pure Land. Seeing that we entrust ourselves to Amida, the Buddhas look to us as their future colleagues in perfect Enlightenment and the work to save all beings. Being happy that we’ll join them soon, they already call us their equals or „excellent close companions”.

The stage of the trully settled or the stage equal to perfect Enlightenment is also the same stage of Maitreya, now residing in the Tusita heaven, who 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[16] 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.”[17]

Because Maitreya is sure to become a Buddha, He is already regarded as a future Buddha, so by the same logic, we, as future Buddhas, are also regarded as the same with Maitreya.

Of course, there is a difference between Maitreya  and the followers who have faith in Amida Buddha and are now in the stage equal to perfect Enlightenment like Him. Maitreya has entered this stage through His own power while those who have shinjin become truly settled through the Power of Amida.

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 Maitreya and perfect Enlightenment because we deserve it, 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 we are made capable to 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, 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). 

Because we are in this special group of the truly settled and non-retrogression we enjoy all the other nine benefits. We can also say that this benefit and all other benefits are given to us because of the merit transference from Amida Buddha (second benefit).  
The tenth benefit is the wonderful news that we, ordinary people full of blind passions, are saved just as we are (assured of birth in the Pure Land), if we entrust ourselves to Amida Buddha.




[1] Nagarjuna (Discourse on the Ten Stages - Dasabhumikavibhasa), quoted by Shinran in Kyogyoshinsho, chapter II, Kyogyoshinsho – On Teaching, Practice, Faith, and Enlightenment, translated by Hisao Inagaki, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Kyoto, 2003, p. 22
[2] Shinran Shonin, Kyogyoshinsho, chapter IV, Kyogyoshinsho – On Teaching, Practice, Faith, and Enlightenment, translated by Hisao Inagaki, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Kyoto, 2003, p. 169
[3] Shinran Shonin, Hymns of the Pure Land Masters, The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.362
[4] Shinran Shonin, Notes on Once-calling and Many-calling,The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.475
[5] Shinran Shonin, Notes on the Inscriptions on Sacred Scrolls, The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.494
[6] Shinran Shonin, Hymns of the Dharma Ages, The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.409
[7] Shinran Shonin, Notes on the Inscriptions on Sacred Scrolls, The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.520
[8] We receive shinjin through the working of Amida’s Light, when we become open to Him.
[9] To „realize insight into the nonorigination of all existence” means to attain ultimate Dharmakaya beyond form (Buddhahood).
[10] Tannisho, XIV, The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.673
[11] Shinran Shonin, Kyogyoshinsho, chapter III, Kyogyoshinsho – On Teaching, Practice, Faith, and Enlightenment, translated by Hisao Inagaki, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Kyoto, 2003, p. 133
[12] Shinran Shonin, Notes on the Essentials of Faith Alone, The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.455
[13] Shinran Shonin, Hymns of the Dharma Ages, The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.405
[14] Shinran Shonin, Lamp for the Latter-Ages, letter 18, The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.549
[15] Shinran Shonin, Lamp for the Latter-Ages, letter 7, The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.532
[16] This is perhaps another version of the Larger Sutra.
[17] Shinran Shonin, Lamp for the Latter-Ages, letter 3, The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.528

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