Throw Away Your Own Yo-Raku

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The essence of Jodo Shinshu is to receive Shinjin or entrusting mind. Without Shinjin, no matter how sincerely we lead a humble life and no matter how much we talk about peace, they have nothing to do with the essence of Jodo Shinshu.

Some of you might ask, “How can I gain Shinjin?” It has been taught in Jodo Shinshu that one is able to receive it by listening to the Dharma. Then there might be many of you who wonder, “I have never achieved Shinjin even though I have listened to the Dharma for so many years!” Unfortunately, the reason we cannot attain Shinjin is because our wrong views and arrogance prevent us from simply receiving Shinjin.

The wrong view is thought that runs counter to the truth and instead clings to one’s beliefs. So even if someone with the wrong view listens to the Dharma, because he believes that he is always right, the Buddha’s words will not resonate with that person. And arrogance refers to the conceited mind. The arrogant one is a person full of pride who believes that he can attain Buddhahood on his own. Such a person is simply listening without paying attention to the Buddha’s wish.

There is an important scripture called “Contemplation Sutra” in which Queen Vaidehi appears. Her son Prince Ajatasatru was incited by his friend Devadatta to try to kill his own father, King Bimbisara, and usurp the king’s throne. Ajatasatru imprisoned his father, but because the Queen didn’t want her son to kill the King, nor did she wish her husband to die, she secretly carried some food to the King in prison. A few weeks later , Ajatasatru, who knew what the Queen had done, got mad and even tried to kill his mother. But because of the two ministers’ persuasion, Ajatasatru gave up his intent to kill his mother.

Although the Queen was also imprisoned, Sakyamuni Buddha visited the Queen to comfort her. The moment Vaidehi saw Buddha, she tore off her Yo-raku, prostrated herself on the ground and cried bitterly before the Buddha. Then she complained of her suffering and asked Buddha to teach her how to be reborn in the land of bliss, free of worries and pain. When Buddha taught her the way of the Nembutsu of Other-Power, which frees her from suffering by showing contemplative practices, the Queen was liberated from delusions and filled with joy and happiness. This story is written in scripture.

Vaidehi had listened to the Buddha’s teaching for many years. Nonetheless, when she was imprisoned, the teachings she had heard up till then weren’t at all useful in helping her be free from suffering and sorrow. But when the Queen heard the Buddha’s teaching in the prison, the Buddha’s words resonated with her and sank into her mind as dry sand absorbs water. She was deeply moved and filled with a feeling of great joy and security. In other words, she finally received Shinjin.

Then why wasn’t Vaidehi able to gain Shinjin even though she had heard the Dharma over and over for many years? I think that the answer to this was her own Yo-raku. Yo-raku is the gorgeous and luxurious ornaments or accessories worn by the nobility. Whenever Vaidehi visited the Buddha to hear the Dharma, she probably wore them. Yo-raku was a symbol of power and of wealth. But from the Buddhist perspective, it also symbolizes arrogance and wrong views. So when she wore Yo-raku in front of the Buddha, it meant that she always listened to the Dharma as the Queen, but not as an ordinary person. Because Yo-raku’s conceited mind was filled with thoughts of power, wealth, status, honor, and knowledge, she must not have had a humble attitude of a foolish being who sincerely listens to the Buddha’ s teaching. We can understand that her Yo-raku expressed her arrogance that believes that she was always right and superior to everyone else.

However, when Vaidehi cried and tore the Yo-raku off her neck and threw it on the ground, she showed that she truly understood that power and wealth are worthless when facing fear of death. Of course, in society, power, wealth, status and honor are very attractive and there are countless people who strive for them. But when confronted with the problem of impending death, those things will never help us find a way to get over our suffering and sorrow. They are totally useless.

That is why when Vaidehi became aware of this, she threw away her Yo-raku and, as a foolish being, began sincerely listening to the Buddha’s teaching. As a result, she finally encountered the Nembutsu teaching which embraces and saves foolish beings just as they are. When she was able to accept the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha, her suffering and pain turned into a great joy just as it is and Shinjin arose in her mind.

Like Queen Vaidehi, we also wear our Yo-raku because our conceit controls us every day. The biased view and thoughts which prevent us from simply accepting the Primal Vow are really just wrong view, arrogance and foolishness.

For foolish beings who are addicted to adorning themselves, it must be hard to give up their own Yo-raku. But once you let go of it and hear the Nembutsu teaching, we can fully realize that the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha was established for the sake of each one of us alone so we could encounter Amida Buddha’s wisdom and compassion that embrace foolish beings like us and will never abandon us.

By repeated listening, Amida Buddha’s calling will surely reach us. When we become fully aware of the Amida Buddha’s Primal vow, our joy will cause us naturally to put our palms together and say the Nembutsu in deep gratitude. This is the very moment we receive Shinjin.

And when we receive Shinjin, our great joy and deep gratitude which meets the Nembutsu teaching reveals our daily actions. These actions will always reflect deeply on our wrong views and arrogance, to remember the spirit of repaying the debt of gratitude and of humility, and to do what we as Nembutsu followers can for the benefit of our society. That is the true lifestyle of the Nembutsu follower with true Shinjin who threw away one’s own Yo-raku.

In Gassho,
Rev. Yushi Mukojima