Rennyo Letter 02

Volume 1 Letter No. 2



The basic principle in the teachings of Shonin Shinran of our Sect is centered neither on the importance of specifically becoming a monk to seek bodhi, nor in that aspect of having to renounce the world to seek Enlightenment.  Rather, it is founded on the premise that there is not the slightest distinction as to whether one is male or female, young or old when one obtains the steadfast Faith of the Other-Power that is instantaneous with complete reliance on Amida.  Thus, the condition of having attained this faith

is taught in the Larger Sutra

as, “instantaneous rebirth-residing in the state of non-retrogression.”

In the commentaries by Donran

it is stated, “the awakening of faith-entering

the ranks of the Truly-Assured.”  This, in other words, is the principle of “acquisition in everyday life of the cause for rebirth in the Pure Land” as described in the commentary on ‘non-receival.”

In the Wasan

it says:

Those who rely on Amida’s Land of Recompense

Varied tho’ the outward forms of life may be,

Believe in the Sacred name of the Primal Vow

And forget Him not, not even for one moment.

“…the outward forms of life” means that there is not the slightest differentiation as to whether one is a layman, monk, male, or female.  Then, “…believe in the Sacred name of the Primal Vow and forget Him not, not even for one moment,” means that no matter what one’s external form may be: be he with the corruptions of the Ten Major Evils

and the Five Cardinal Sins

; be he an abuser of the Dharma; and be he “unsavable”

; should this person change his heart and repent after believing with deep conviction that it is the Primal Vow of Amida Tathagata that delivers all utterly hopeless beings of chance, and places his reliance on Tathagata without doubt, awake or asleep, and ever mindfully, such a person is called a true follower who has attained the Faith that relies completely on the Primal Vow.

Furthermore, wherever and whenever one recites the Nembutsu, believe that it is the Nembutsu to express gratitude felt owed to Amida Tathagata.  Such a person is called a follower who has attained True Faith with assured rebirth in the Pure Land.

With reverence, I remain

P.S. The perspiration that flows on this hot day are tears of embarrassment because that which I have just written is so ridiculously poor.

18th day, 7th month, 3rd year of Benmei (1471)

Group Study Notes:

This letter deals with having karma settled in the present life.  It also addresses the whole issue of equality and what the priesthood is.  The distinction is not sex, age or position.  Rather, the fundamental identifier is shinjin.  Shinjin can be translated as the Faith of joy.  It is part of the concept of three hearts discussed by Shinran Shonin.  What fuels the true heart is the Tathagata.  What fuels Faith of joy is the true heart.  What fuels the true heart is the Faith of joy.  These are all aspects of the heart that has no doubt.  Shinjin is the practice of heart of assurance.

The second paragraph of this letter states that at the point of receiving faith you are guaranteed of becoming a Buddha.  When you have received faith you will have entered the ranks of the truly settled.  When Rennyo Shonin spoke of “non-receival” he was countering the age-old expectation that the Buddha has come to pick you up at death.  These passages express a big jump in thought.  It used to be thought that if you did not receive enough merit, Amida Buddha would not come for you at death.  Shonin Shinran used a vision that you did not have to rely on Amida Buddha coming at your deathbed because birth in the Pure Land becomes settled when you receive shinjin.  There are no more issues because the heart is settled.

The Primal Vow (the 18th vow) forms the crux of the Pure Land tradition.  The Primal Vow is the vow in which Amida promises to save all sentient beings by promising not to become enlightened until all sentient beings are enlightened.  This vow expresses the compassion and wisdom of Amida Buddha.  All life is one and if any being fails to appreciate the value of all, then everything fails.  Amida Buddha predicates his enlightenment on the enlightenment of all beings.  The paradox is that Amida Buddha is considered to be already enlightened.

It is through the paradox that we go beyond rational sense and realize other dimensions of being.  Therefore, religions tend to ask about the nature of being by going beyond the logical plane.  For example, Christianity teaches that God is omnipotent.  If God is all-powerful, could he create a rock he could not lift?  The answer is yes.  But if he is omnipotent, could he not be more powerful than anything of his creation?

Buddha became immeasurable life to save all sentient beings throughout time.  There are two senses of immeasurable life; truth and reality.  There is a Chinese word for truth and reality, shin jitsu.  This word implies that truth and reality are inextricably bound together.  We can create a reality that has no basis in truth, and that reality creates suffering.  The only way to break beings from this “reality” is to reveal the truth.  Our beliefs make us do strange things.  For example, some believe that money will buy happiness.  Therefore they lie, cheat and kill for money.  This belief can lead to the destruction of lives because the premise is untrue reality, which leads to more suffering until the sufferers can finally see the truth.

The truth is that which allows us to see things as they really are.  A more fundamental Buddhist way of defining it is that all conditions of things are impermanent and non-substantive.  Nirvana is tranquility.  All life supports every other life.  Amida Buddha is the Buddha of immeasurable life and light, where light has been implied to be wisdom and life is implied to be compassion.


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