PART THREE. SIGNIFICANCE OF THE VENERABLE SHINRAN'S TEACHING TODAY
IN PART TWO, I related the things about the Venerable Master Shinran’s teaching that I thought important. As already stated, his unique insights are emphasizing joining the “‘rightly-established group’ of those assured (of birth in the Pure Land) in the present” (gensho shojoju現生正定聚) and transforming the Pure Land teaching from a “next-world centered” teaching to a “this-world centered” teaching. His teaching emphasizes an extremely deep, profound and thorough world of self-reflection; it is the salvation of the evil person and of the “ignorant who are filled with base passions.” I seem to keep repeating myself, but I firmly believe that this teaching has much to teach our present world that is so confused.
Here, I would like to briefly take up several problems that are considered important today and consider how they are related to the Venerable Master’s teaching. They include matters such as the relationship between religion and medicine, and environmental problems.
Chapter 1. Religion and Medicine
RECENTLY, problems that used to be considered the province of religion, such as educating the terminally ill and whether organ transplants should be performed, are now being taken up in the world of medicine.
This is especially pointed out by the fact that the medical profession, which until now was concerned solely with saving people from dying, now seriously considers the care of terminally-ill patients and how such patients can be gently brought to face their impending death.
Not wanting to grow old and die is probably the greatest desire of humankind since the realization that death is a condition of life. The fact that life is transient, that it consists of being born, growing old, becoming ill and finally dying as taught in Buddha-dharma in general, is apt to be forgotten because of the great strides made by medical technology going into the 21st century. Because of the limitations that have recently been realized, however, the fact that death cannot be escaped is recognized even in the world of medicine, and interest in religion and how it can help, has heightened.
The problem of the value and place of religion in our lives has been discussed very well from the side of religion, but I believe it is significant that such matters are now being taken up from the side of science (medical technology). I believe this is not only a splendid opportunity to explain the meaning and value of religion to society in general, but is also the proper time to speak about such matters.
I firmly believe that the Venerable Master’s teaching of “absolute ‘Buddha-centered power’” (zettai tariki) which overturns the traditional Pure Land teaching that laid so much stress on “Amida Buddha welcoming those on the verge of death to the Pure Land” (rinju raigo臨終来迎), and which opens the door for the salvation of all sentient beings by teaching that salvation takes place while “continuing to live in this world” (heizei gojo 平生業成), is what will best respond to the religious quest of modern man.
As related in Part Two, the Venerable Master’s unique insight was emphasizing that we are included in the “rightly-established group (of those assured of birth in the Pure Land)” at the moment we receive shinjin, and that “salvation” begins in the present. I have already described this world so I will not go into details here. It results, however, in the great relief and reassurance of knowing that we will be born in the Pure Land without fail.
This is the world of, “All right if I live, and all right if I die.” It is the world of: I am a most fortunate person who lives within the “great salvation” of the Buddha while in this world, and regardless of when I die, will remain within that great salvific activity.
I believe it is this great realm of “All right if I live, and all right if I die,” in which we find ourselves as a result of the shinjin given to us by “Buddha-centered power,” that replies to the great expectation that the medical world has of the religious world.
The biggest problem that the medical world has about terminal care is the patient’s fear of dying—how to relieve the patient from anxiety about dying. I have already mentioned the story about Emperor Shih who founded the Ch’in dynasty, the most powerful person of his time. Because of his fear and anxiety about dying, he ordered his retainers to go as far as Japan in search of the elixir of life.
A nobleman during the Heian Period, Fujiwara Michinaga 藤原道長 (966 - 1027 AD), who probably was then the most powerful man in Japan, boasted of his secular authority with the following words:
Like a full moon
That never wanes,
Is unchallenged. )
In Eiga Monogatari 栄花物語 (Tales of Prosperity), however, this same Michinaga 藤原道長 is described on his death-bed as follows:
"(Michinaga) wanted only to recite the Nembutsu in his death bed. He did not want to look at anything other than the Buddha, nor listen to anything other than the Buddha’s voice. He did not consider anything other than what would happen after his death. He wanted to see only Amida Buddha’s figure, hear only the Buddha’s words, and direct his thoughts to the Pure Land of Ultimate Joy. Holding the strings (from a portrait of Amida Buddha) in his hands, he lay with his head directed towards the north and his face towards the west. . .”
In order to escape his fear and anxiety regarding death, Michinaga desperately tried to turn his thoughts towards Amida Buddha. There is no difference today and yesterday among even those with power and riches, to seek relief from the fear and anxiety of death. Regardless of how much medical science and technology advances, that is an impossible request.
In his book Waga Shoji-kan (My View of Life and Death), the religious scholar Hideo Kishimoto岸本英夫（1903-1964）who, when confronted with death as a result of cancer, wrote: “The times when we become crazed with real desire to continue living come when we are sent into battle, become terminally ill, or at other times of real crisis. But that is limited to the short period while we are so confronted.
If we have the slightest chance of overriding that danger, however, and place all our hopes on that chance, that crazed desire will not arise.
In order for the true crazed desire to continue living to arise, there must be absolutely no chance that life will continue, as when there is no possibility that your execution will be stayed, the day you must leave on your kami-kaze flight has arrived, or your doctor informs you that your cancer has progressed too far for medical help.
When death appears before our very eyes and we are brought to the depths of despair—that is when we are suddenly and unexpectedly brought to a position of being crazed with the desire to continue living. And that is when attachment to life appears and true fear of death that cannot be described in words, arises.”
I believe this sort of “crazed desire” to continue living that comes to everyone who becomes aware that his or her death is near, can only be resolved by the salvation of religion, in other words, the relief that comes from shinjin.
A woman who followed the Jodo-Shinshu teachings, who while aware that she was near death as a result of her illness, left the following words:
In our human world, there are many above us when we look up, and many below us when we look down. Although half paralyzed, I have my right arm and I have my right leg. I have a tumor in my brain but I can see colors, hear sounds and sense differences in taste. I am fast getting to where even these will fade away, but I still have the Buddha, I have the Pure Land and I have the Great Compassion. How fortunate I am!
This truly is the “realm of salvation in the present” that is taught in Jodo-Shinshu. It is the world of “All right if I live, and all right if I die.”
I believe the words quoted above demonstrates how the Venerable Master’s teaching of Jodo- Shinshu best responds to the present world of medicine’s request of the world of religion, and shows Jodo-Shinshu’s true worth.
Chapter 2. The Jodo-Shinshu View of Life
MANY ETHICAL PROBLEMS regarding life confront us today. They include matters such as when death actually occurs (which is related to the transplanting of human organs), how to allow patients who have no possibility of recovery to die with dignity, dying peacefully and the ethical problems of altering human genes.
Further, there is the problem in Japan of children who commit suicide as a result of being bullied, and conversely those who think so little of life that they bully others so much that the bullied feel the only way left is suicide. The problem of life is widely discussed in these sorts of circumstances so I would like to consider the Jodo-Shinshu view of life while keeping these sorts of problems in mind.
Buddha-dharma teaches that sentient beings are deluded about the three periods of the past, present and future because of their karma (actions). We continually transmigrate between the three worlds of suffering and delusion which are
1) the “world of delusion” (yokkai欲界),
2) the “world of form” (shikikai色界; the beings in this world have no desire; they feed on light),
3) the “formless world” (mushikikai無色界; where there is no matter, only subtle consciousness).
Human beings are considered to exist in the “world of delusion.” The Venerable Master Shinran’s view of life can be considered to be based on this position. In the Chapter on Faith of the Kyogyoshinsho, he wrote: “. . . from “beginningless past” to this day and moment, the ocean of multitudinous beings has been defiled, is evil and filthy, and do not posses a pure mind. Again, they have been deluded, flattering and deceitful, and without a true mind.”
Again, in the same Chapter on Shinjin, the Venerable Master quotes the words of Zendo Daishi as follows:
“I am an ignorant and evil person filled with base passions. From ‘boundless kalpas ago,’ I have sunk in my base passions and live without conviction. I therefore have no cause to escape the world of delusion.”
And in the Tannisho (9), the Venerable Master is quoted as saying, “It is hard to leave our native land of sufferings where we have been transmigrating from ‘kalpas in the distant past’ to the present. We feel no longing for the Pure Land of Serene Sustenance where we are yet to be born.”
This is a realization that from the “beginningless past” (mushi無始), “boundless kalpas ago” (kogo) and “kalpas in the distant past” (kuon go久遠劫) to the present, we have continued transmigrating in this deluded world where we continue suffering while being born and then dying, and will continue doing so until the extremely distant future. But such a life can leave this world of delusion when it receives “shinjin based on ‘Buddha-centered power’” that is grounded on Amida Buddha’s power of the Primal Vow, and is transformed into an eternal life that dwells in the World of Enlightenment.
Regarding this, the Venerable Master is quoted in Article Five of the Tannisho as follows: “. . . all sentient beings in some previous birth or life have been my parents or my brothers. . .”
In other words, all sentient beings, from “beginningless past,” “boundless kalpas ago” and “kalpas in the distant past” to the present, while being born and dying, were our parents and brothers and sisters.
Living things are said to have first appeared on our earth some billions of years ago, which is the same as from the “beginningless past,” “boundless kalpas ago” and “kalpas in the far distant past.” That first living thing evolved and developed over a long period of time, and became the animals and human beings that exist today.
Considered in this way, the phrase, “. . . all sentient beings in some previous birth or life have been my parents or my brothers. . .” must be considered to be not only a religious truth, but a scientific truth as well.
The first of the Four Great Vows is, “I vow to save all sentient beings without limit.” The purpose of Buddha-dharma is the salvation, not only of human beings, but of all living things. In this regard it is different from Christianity and Islam which holds that God created human beings first and then created animals and plants for the benefit of those humans. The unique characteristic of Buddha-dharma is reverence for all forms of life.
As you know, the greatest problem confronting us today is the destruction of our environment. Fluro-chlorocarbons are destroying the ozone layer, the increasing amount of carbon dioxide is raising the level of warmth, and other damages to our environment are taking place.
The view of life that “human beings are a species of living things that has evolved like all other living forms,” is due to Darwin’s theory of evolution. The position of those who are concerned about ecological matters, that “human beings are a part of the world of nature and only when we live in harmony with that world can the life of human beings be guaranteed,” is just another development of Darwin’s theory. That is why I believe the Buddhist reverence for all living things, and not just human beings, should be given more attention. In particular, the Venerable Master’s statement that I just quoted, “. . . all sentient beings in some previous birth or life have been my parents or my brothers. . .” perfectly expresses the intimate bonds that we have with all life.
I believe the Venerable Master’s attitude expressed in the above passage from the Tannisho has a great deal to teach our present society which seems so hell-bent on destroying the ecological system within which it lives because of a too human-centered world view. The Venerable Master’s spirit of mutual brotherhood and sisterhood towards all living things should be the basis of all human endeavors.
In the Chapter on Faith of his Kyogyoshinsho, the Venerable Master wrote: “Contemplating the ocean-like Great Faith, I see that it does not choose between those of high and low social positions, priests and lay persons, nor does it discriminate between male and female, old and young. The amount of evil committed is not questioned nor is the length of religious practice discussed.”
As indicated in this passage, all things are treated the same in the world of shinjin. There is no difference between persons of a high or low social position, whether priests or lay persons, male or female, young or old, amount of evil committed, or even the length of religious practices. All are the same.
In Article One of the Tannisho, it states, “Know that Amida’s Primal Vow does not discriminate between young and old, good and evil; shinjin alone is of supreme importance.”
As stated here, Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow is directed to everyone, whether young, old, good, bad. . . everyone.
As is made very clear in the above passages, everyone, without exception, is considered impartially and treated with respect. The Venerable Master Shinran’s position regarding the sanctity of life is not limited to human life, but extends to all living things. His position can be summarized in phrases such as “all sentient beings are brothers” (issai ujodobo) and “respect towards all existence” (seimei soncho生命尊重).
As already mentioned, the Venerable Master accepted the traditional Buddhist position that all sentient beings transmigrate through the “three worlds” of delusion during the “three periods.” In that sense, our life is eternal from the very beginning. But because that is just continuing to transmigrate (being born and then dying) in the world of delusion, however, it is not the eternal existence of non-death.
At the beginning of his Chapter on Faith of his Kyogyoshinsho, the Venerable Master Shinran listed the “twelve virtues of shinjin.” The very first virtue is “long life without dying” (chosei fushi no shinbo) 長生不死之神方. This means that the shinjin with which we are blessed by “Buddha-centered power” in this world, is how we transcend the world of transmigration and how we are given the eternal life of nondeath.
As already stated, life is said to have appeared on this planet some billions of years ago, but only the human species is said to know it will eventually die. Further, humans are considered to have become aware that they must of necessity eventually die was some 60,000 years ago (by Neanderthal man). Living forever without dying seems to have been the universal desire of all human species since then.
As also previously mentioned, the transiency of human life is the foundation on which Buddha dharma stands, and because of the position of modern medicine regarding death, the expectations of religion by medical science has been heightened. I seem to keep repeating myself, but it was the Venerable Master who emphasized that when our shinjin is determined, we enter the “rightly-established group (of those assured of birth in the Pure Land),” that our salvation is assured in the present, and that we will become a Buddha simultaneously with our birth in the Pure Land.
In the Ichinen Tanen Mon’i, it states: “Amida Buddha’s purpose in causing our birth in the Pure Land of Ease is to transform us into Flowers of Enlightenment with the same Great Enlightenment as his own.”
In other words, when we enter the “rightly-established group (of those assured of birth in the Pure Land),” we are absolutely guaranteed of the Great Enlightenment that is the same as Amida Buddha’s “immeasurable life” (muryoju無量壽) and “immeasurable light” (muryoko無量光). That is, we will transcend the world of transiency and become eternally enlightened.
In the Chapter on Shinjin of the Kyogyoshinsho, the Venerable Master wrote: . . . (when) the single mind (of “merit transference”) in the “phase of going (to the Pure Land)” is raised, there are no (new) existences into which to be born, nor any realms to which to go. Since the causes and effects of the “six realms” and the “four births” are annihilated, the births and deaths in the “three existences” are instantly destroyed.” 發起「往相一心」故，無生而當受生，無趣而更應到趣。已六趣、四生，因亡果滅，故即頓斷絕三有生死，故曰「斷」也。
In other words, when our shinjin is fixed or determined, we are cut off from the “six realms” 28 and the “four births” in the “three existences” .
Further, in the Koso Wasan (77), the Venerable Master wrote:
The moment shinjin,
Hard as a diamond,
Amida’s spiritual light
Completely cutting us off
From the cycle
As can be determined from this, the moment our shinjin is established, our deluded life of birthand- death that has existed from the “beginningless past,” “boundless kalpas ago” and “kalpas in the far distant past,” is cut off by the “Buddha-centered power” of the Primal Vow and turned into a world of Enlightenment.
This is explained in the Shoshin-gé in the following words:
When shinjin is established
in the “ignorant with base passions,”
They are made aware that “birth-and-death”
Is identical with Nirvana.
And again in the Koso Wasan (35) as:
Of the “phase of going (to the Pure Land)”
Refers to realizing the “faith and practice”
Of Amida’s Compassionate Vow.
Because of this expediency,
Birth-and-death, itself, becomes Nirvana.
When our shinjin is established, “birth/death,” itself, turns into Nirvana. The deluded life of birth and death from the “beginningless past,” “boundless kalpas ago” and “kalpas in the distant past,” becomes blessed with a life of enlightenment that is measureless (eternal life) based on the “merit transference” of “Buddha-centered power.”
Further, in the Ichinen Tanen Mon’i, the Venerable Master wrote: “A bombu is an ignorant being filled with base desires. Greed, anger, hatred and jealousy constantly arise within him, and does not cease until the last moment of life.”
As can be determined from the above, even when our shinjin is settled and we are placed in the “rightly-established group (of those assured of birth in the Pure Land),” as long as we live in this world we remain “ignorant beings filled with base passions.” In spite of that, however, we are cut off from the deluded world of birth-and-death and receive eternal life. We are therefore blessed with the great assurance of being in a realm where we cannot be obstructed by anything.
As explained above, the Venerable Master is quoted in Article Five of the Tannisho as saying, “. . . all sentient beings in some previous birth or life have been my parents or my brothers. . .” This is an expression of love and affection that is directed not only towards human beings, but towards all living things. It holds all life in respect. This attitude has a great deal to offer modern man (and women) regarding our present problem of opposition between the interests of humankind. It also has a great deal to say regarding the problems of environmental pollution that we have created as a result of inconsiderate use of our material resources. And as the Venerable Master said using the phrase, “marvelous teaching of living eternally and not dying” (chosei fuchi no shinbo) 長生不死之神方 in describing the Jodo-Shinshu teaching, that is how we are given eternal life.
I believe what greatly responds to the recent interest and hope in the medical community regarding care of terminal patients, is the Venerable Master’s “marvelous teaching of living eternally and not dying.” This is the world of salvation offered by the Jodo-Shinshu teaching of shinjin based on “Buddha-centered power.”
Finally, I would like to offer my opinions on the problem of organ transplants. This is associated with the problem of brain death because, of course, you would not want to remove an organ such as the heart until the donor is dead. In the traditional work, Gaijasho 改邪鈔 (Notes on Correcting Errors) Master Kakunnyo 覺如上人 quotes the Venerable Master as saying, “When I die, throw my body in Kamo River to feed the fish.”
The Venerable Master asked that his remains be used to feed the fish in Kamo River 賀茂河 which runs through the city of Kyoto. Considering his statement in terms of the present, it is obviously a request that his physical remains (organs) be used for the benefit of others. Since he was already in the “rightly established group (of those who are assured of birth in the Pure Land,” and blessed with the life of immeasurable life in the world of enlightenment, the Venerable Master was not concerned about how his remains would be treated in this life; all there was, was his desire to be of benefit to others.
The problem of whether to consider death to have occurred when the brain dies has arisen because of developments in medical technology. During the recent past when there was no artificial means of maintaining breathing, death was considered to have occurred when the heart stopped beating. The three indications of death were no breathing, no reaction in the pupils of the eyes, and no heart beat. We must, of course, be very cautious about the standards that we adopt to determine whether death has occurred or not, but if the death of the brain is absolutely irreversible, I believe it should be considered death of the individual.
Those who deny that brain death is the same as the death of the individual point to passages in the sutras and commentaries on them in which death is said to occur when the indications of life are absent, i. e. , when “‘animation’ (ju), ‘warmth’ (netsu) and ‘consciousness’ (shiki) leave the body.” From this, they deny that an individual who is brain dead is really dead because his (or her) body is still warm. That implies death does not occur until all the cells of the body are dead. I have doubts, however, about using passages from sutras and commentaries on them written centuries ago to directly respond to the urgent matter of brain death raised by modern medical technology.
Further, since our body is comprised of billions of cells, and because the cells of our hair and nails continue growing even after the heart has stopped beating, I believe that if you hold that death does not occur until all of those cells die, you cannot say death has occurred even after the traditional “three indications of death” listed above have been observed.
The important point is that Jodo-Shinshu teaches us to become persons whose “shinjin is decided” (shinjin ketsujo信心決定) and to live in the “rightly-established group (of those assured of birth in the Pure Land) in the present.” The result is that we are able to take joy in the fact that we are blessed with an eternal life and can say, “All right if I live, and all right if I die.”