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Shin Faith and Inner Peace

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Faith and Inner Peace

Dharma talk given by Rev. Kemmyo Taira Sato at Shin Buddhist Temple, London, UK in 2001

It is a sad fact that our world today is just as full of war and fighting as ever it was, whether such conflicts are on a small or larger scale, whether they are individual or social, domestic or international. In Buddhism all conflict is believed to arise from our blind passions, known as the three poisons: ignorance, desire and anger. The key to pacifying all these quarrels and conflicts is to overcome these selfish, blind passions that are their underlying cause.

Listening to the Dalai Lama's talks over the past two years and reading and rereading some of his books, I have been greatly impressed by the way he has constantly been emphasising the importance of world peace. Whenever he touches on the subject of world peace, however, or simply of peace, the reference is always to "inner peace." Never once does he deviate from this stance. Theoretically speaking, it will come as no surprise to Buddhists that, in order for there to be world peace, we must first overcome our selfish blind passions and attain inner peace. I have to say, however, that it is truly wonderful to see that here is a person who actually lives this teaching, who incorporates it into his way of life.

Without attaining inner peace there can be no world peace. In order to establish peace, freedom from war and conflict, whether personal or social, we have first to establish an inner peace that we must then sustain in our daily lives. For world peace to be achieved, individuals must attain inner peace. This is a basic principle of Buddhism.

In the Buddhist tradition there are various ways of realising this inner peace, from the gradual purification of the mind found in Theravada Buddhism to the sudden awakening to one's original nature that typifies Zen. How then do we Shin Buddhists achieve this inner peace? The answer is simple: through attainment of faith in Amida Buddha.

And what exactly is the Shin Buddhist faith? When Buddhists talk of faith, it is not about blind belief, nor about something close to the Christian notion of faith. The essence of Shin Buddhist faith lies in awakening or realisation.

Whenever I have attempted to interpret the Shin Buddhist notion of faith to Westerners, I have explained it as having four main aspects: 1) Awakening, 2) Entrusting oneself, 3) Instantaneous attainment and 4) Purification.

First of all, in the true Shin Buddhist faith there are two kinds of awakening: 1) An awakening to one's own true self, to one's existence as it really is, full of blind passions and conflicts, and 2) an awakening to Amida Buddha, to his unconditional love that knows no discrimination. These are two aspects of the one reality, faith as awakening.

Secondly, when awakened in this way, one will be led to entrust oneself quite naturally and with one's whole being to Amida Buddha.

Thirdly, the faith to entrust ourselves to the Buddha comes over us all at once. What enables us to attain pure faith so instantaneously is not self-power but Other-Power, the great working of the Buddha's Original Prayer (or Vow).

Fourthly, this faith is consequently pure faith, as indicated by the original Sanskrit word prasada, found in The Larger Sutra of Eternal Life, for it is accompanied by the purification of the mind through Other Power.

Through attainment of faith, we find ourselves in the embrace of Amida Buddha's unconditional love, which is beyond the distinction between self and others. Awakened to the reality of our existence, heavily burdened with blind passions and hence full of conflicts, we entrust our whole selves just as we are to Amida Buddha, who made a vow to embrace all beings without any trace of discrimination. Thus we find a resplendent, peaceful world, purified of all war and conflict. We achieve inner peace by surrendering ourselves to Amida Buddha.

As mentioned above, the Shin Buddhist faith-experience embraces two kinds of awakening; 1) deep awakening to oneself and 2) deep awakening to Amida Buddha. In true faith these two conditions are experienced simultaneously.

Once true faith, consisting of these two kinds of awakening, is attained deep down at the very core of our existence, we also acquire a new and peaceful awareness, illumined by Amida's unconditional love. Secure in the embrace of Amida's light, we are conscious of ourselves as burdened with blind passions still, yet this awareness is pure and serene, reflecting everything as it is, our own blind passions as well as Amida's great compassion.

In this context let me quote to you a verse from the Shoshin-ge by our Great Master Shinran (1173-1262):

The mind-light that embraces [all those who have attained faith]
always keeps them illuminated and protected.
Though the darkness of ignorance is already broken through,
the clouds and mists of greed and love, of anger and hate,
always cover the sky of true faith.
It is as if, though the sun-light is veiled by clouds and mists,
below the clouds and mists brightness reigns and there is no darkness.

What a wonderful expression this is of the spiritual world Shinran Shonin experienced through faith in Amida Buddha! Although every part of the Shoshin-ge is said to be firmly based on preceding Buddhist documents, this verse stands alone as a unique expression of Shinran's own personal experience. It is not based on any specific text that scholars can point to. What is being expressed in this verse is precisely that "peaceful awareness" I spoke of above. Our Great Master Shinran's experience of inner peace finds here its true and full expression. In this spiritual world of peaceful awareness "brightness reigns and there is no darkness."

Even after the attainment of faith, for as long as we live in this world we remain full of blind passions: "Though the darkness of ignorance is already broken through, the clouds and mists of greed and love, of anger and hate, always cover the sky of true faith." Whilst on the one hand we are aware of this sad fact, on the other we are also aware of Amida's light reaching through to us: "It is as if, although the sun-light is veiled by clouds and mists, below the clouds and mists brightness reigns and there is no darkness." This is a description of the depth of spiritual experience Shinran enjoyed in his daily life.

I should also say something about the Japanese term I chose to render in English as "mind-light." The original Japanese is shinko. Whilst another term, shikiko (literally, form-light), means the physical light of the Buddha, "mind-light" signifies the unimpeded light of Amida's love that embraces all of us unconditionally. This "mind-light" is the very source of our peaceful awareness. At all times it illumines and embraces every one of us, penetrating to the deepest recesses of our consciousness.

For those wishing to find a traditional Japanese equivalent, what I mean by "peaceful awareness" can be rendered as anjin. Anjin is customarily translated as "settled mind". It is a good translation, conveying the peacefulness of a mind securely settled in the Original Prayer. The reason I use the expression "peaceful awareness" is in order both to describe the unimpeded working of Amida's light of compassion as it penetrates our consciousness and to convey the sense of serene awareness implied in the original word, that sort of brightness found in the poem that I quoted above. Needless to say, "peaceful awareness" in this particular sense is a gift from Amida Buddha in its entirety.

When Shan-tao (613-681), a Chinese Pure Land priest in the Tang Dynasty, wrote his main work, The Exposition of the Meditation Sutra, he clarified this compound word (jp. anjin) as being the foundation of the Pure Land practice that consists of kigyo) and sago. In this case the term anjin meant "settling the mind" in Amida's Original Prayer, whilst kigyo referred to the five forms of Pure Land practice: 1) bowing to Amida Buddha with one's body, 2) praising Amida by pronouncing his Name with one's mouth, 3) desiring to be born in Amida's Pure Land by renouncing this world with one's mind (shamatha), 4) contemplating Amida Buddha and his Pure Land with the wisdom one has attained through Birth in the Pure Land (vipashyana) and 5) transferring the merits one has gained in this way to all sentient beings in this world. According to Shan-tao these are five aspects of one practice, the nembutsu that wells up through anjin, "settling the mind" in Amida Buddha. The term sago prescribes the way one should perform those practices: 1) reverently, 2) without interval, 3) with no other practice and 4) eternally. Although anjin originally meant "settling the mind", this term also came to mean the mind that is settled. Therefore, as I said above, it is traditionally translated as "settled mind", meaning the mind that is settled in the Original Prayer of Amida Buddha. In other words anjin is a state of mind given through the attainment of faith.

Just as the notion of faith in Shin Buddhism has the meaning of awakening, anjin that is given through faith carries the implication of awareness. Although the first character ? of the compound word anjin?? originally meant "settling", it can also mean "peaceful" or "tranquil" when it refers to one's state of mind after the attainment of faith. The other character ? is often translated as "mind". In this special context I would like to render it as "awareness", because, as we already saw above in the quotation from the Shoshinge, the "settled mind" contains profound peaceful awareness. Devout Shin Buddhist followers known as myokonin enjoy this tranquil awareness.

I have tried to translate some poems by Asahara Saichi (1850-1932), one of the most famous myokonin:

Peaceful awareness (anjin) is like the moonlight,
the moonlight known as Namu-amida-butsu.
Namu-amida-butsu that we pronounce.
(Myokonin Saichi no Uta Vol.2, p.23)

Peaceful awareness
is the moon of faith that arises from within,
the moon of faith that illumines darkness.
(Myokonin Asahara Saichi shu, p.391)

Peaceful awareness is the moon of faith
that comes forth from within,
Namu-amida-butsu that has tinged my heart.
(Myokonin Asahara Saichi shu, p.392)

As you can see from the three poems above, Saichi often employs "moonlight" as a simile or metaphor to describe peaceful awareness. He senses peaceful awareness in the Buddha-name he pronounces, Namu-amida-butsu. He describes peaceful awareness as light or brightness that comes from within and illumines the darkness.

"Peaceful awareness (anjin) and grateful response (hosha)" indicate
that the six Chinese characters [that is, Namu-amida-butsu]
have encountered my heart.
This is called peaceful awareness
and grateful response.
Where then is faith (shinjin)
In peaceful awareness (anjin)
.
(Myokonin Saichi no Uta Vol.2, p.41)

The term anjin is often used synonymously with shinjin. What does Saichi mean by saying that faith (shinjin) is "in peaceful awareness (anjin)"? As I understand it, what he probably means is that the one is included in the other, given that anjin or peaceful awareness comes about at the moment of attaining faith and carries on to the very end of one's life. In the sense that faith-experience brings about anjin, you can also say the former includes the latter. The words "peaceful awareness (anjin) and grateful response (hosha)" in this poem refer to the basic principles that govern daily life after the attainment of faith. The expression "the six Chinese characters have encountered my heart" indicates the attainment of faith itself..

What is meant by peaceful awareness in our tradition is
that even if something good comes forth you should not be pleased about it
and also that even if something bad comes forth you should not regret it.
Just be reverent and bow; just pay respect.

(Myokonin Saichi no Uta Vol.2, p.88)

Peaceful awareness is the spiritual foundation that sustains our everyday life. It is not swayed by circumstance or superficialities. The quality always active within peaceful awareness is humble respect.

Do not seek after faith and peaceful awareness!
Peaceful awareness does come to me
to make me know Namu-amida-butsu.
Namu-amida-butsu Namu-amida-butsu.

(Myokonin Saichi no Uta Vol.2, p.127)

What Saichi would like to say with this poem is that peaceful awareness is a gift that comes from Amida Buddha. It is not anything that can be sought after but something that comes to you and makes you understand the working of the Buddha-name. Saichi also says,

Peaceful awareness is the way the six characters (Namu-amida-butsu) work.
Namu-amida-butsu.

(Myokonin Asahara Saichi shu, p.399)

The next poem I would like to talk about does not actually include the word anjin or peaceful awareness, yet it describes perfectly what is meant by the term. It goes like this,

The sea is just full of water;
there is the seabed that sustains it.
Saiich is just full of evil karma;
there is Amida that sustains it.
How happy I am!
Namu-amida-butsu, Namu-amida-butsu.

(Myokonin Saichi no Uta Vol.1, p.188)

What a peaceful world it is once one is possessed of such deep spiritual awareness. Saichi's simple wording is very expressive of inner peace.

Peaceful awareness in the light of Amida Buddha allows us to understand that, because of our blind passions that do not simply disappear on our attainment of faith, we will always have problems about how to live in this world. It is only through faith, through surrendering ourselves to Amida Buddha with humble repentance, that we can find solutions to all the problems and conflicts and return to inner peace with gratitude

Namu Amida Butsu!