The difficulty of Buddhism lies in the liberation from subjectivity and discrimination – the origin of sins and evils. Most Shin followers cannot distinguish true faith from their own knowledge, memory, thinking, actions and deeds. True faith is the entire reliance on Amida’s wisdom and compassion; that is, on the Vow Power or His Name, being heedless of our being good or evil, wise or ignorant. Indeed, true faith is wonderful; it is ineffable, inexplicable and unimaginable. It is above human consciousness and reasoning. In this sense, the Satori (enlightenment) of Zen and the Faith of Shin resemble each other, but are not the same.
The essence of Buddhism is above relative human words or thoughts. It is the Truth itself – the Truth of the whole universe. And the Truth and true Wisdom are one and the same. The essence of Faith (or the Sacred Name) of Shin Buddhism is nothing but Amida’s Wisdom and Compassion; it is nothing but the Truth (Dharmakaya or Bhutatathata). For this reason, true faith (or the Vow-Power) can convey people across the sea of birth-and-death, to Nirvana.
Many Shin Buddhists think that they are to be saved in Amida’s Land after death. It is not so. Salvation is given at the very moment of acquiring the true faith in this life. Shinran Shonin stresses this point. Salvation in Shin means:
- One is blessed with peace of mind, joy and the hope of entering Nirvana
- One ascends to the Stage of Non-Retrogression, being counted among the sages in the Pure Land.
- Becomes a Buddha in the Pure Land and enters the Great Nirvana
- Comes into the world in order to save all the people.
Kegon, Tendai, Shingon and Zen – these four great sects of the Mahayana in Japan proclaim that they can become Buddha in this life but who, in reality, can attain Buddhahood except Shakyamuni Buddha himself. Hakuin Zenji, a great Zen master, once said: ” Every man is originally a Buddha “. But a nominal or potential Buddha is not a true Buddha. If anyone is a Buddha, he should demonstrate this Buddhahood in his everyday life.
Zen followers should be careful not to over-estimate their own wisdom, power and practice. They must not be deceived about their own self worth. The greatest ancient Zen masters, of course, knew this fact; therefore, they were very strict in instructing their disciples, and they themselves strictly observed the laws of moral discipline taught by the Buddha. Through practicing sila, they aspired to accomplish their meditation and, moreover, they diligently perused the Sacred Scriptures of both the Hinayana and the Mahayana. By doing so, they tried to protect themselves from going astray in following the path of Zen.
It is deplorable that, nowdays, most Zen masters and the Shin abbots in Japan do not perform their duties, and are idly leading their lives mingling among the common people. But the men of true Faith of Shin Buddhism do homage to Amitabha Buddha on the one hand, and, on the other, deeply ponder their karmic evil and always repent. The adoration, praise and thankfulness to Amida Buddha and Shakyamuni, and the hope, rejoicing, peace of mind and repentance are characteristic modes of true faith in Shin Buddhism. In this sense, Shin is yet a living religion in Japan. Chanting his Name – Namu Amida Butsu – is the spontaneous expression of one’s faith. It is called Nembutsu.
The so-called believers of the other sects in Buddhism, and all the members of the New Religions – millions in number – cannot discriminate between true religion and superstition. In Japan, Zen is practiced by few intelligent people and Shin is popular among ordinary people but men of true faith are few. I should say that, among hundreds of thousands of Shin people, there may be one man of true faith. It would be even more difficult to find one man who has really been enlightened in Zen, not only in Japan, but anywhere in the world.