What is Stubborn Stone?

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“Hard is stone, soft is water. Water will wear away stone. If one has plumbed the mind, the Enlightenment of Bodhi is certain.” If Shinjin (true entrusting) is at a distance, intensive listening to the Buddha Dharma ends in Shinjin due to Amida Buddha’s compassionate activity. All we need do is expend our efforts in listening to the supreme teaching.

~ A passage from “A Record of Master Rennyo’s Words” by Rennyo (1415-1499), 8th Head Abbot of the Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha

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Of course, we know stone is hard and water is soft.  But there is a Japanese proverb that says, “Constant dropping wears away stones.”  In this way, no matter how hard the stone may be and, if a single drop of rainwater continues to drip on it over time—perhaps many years—a depression will be left on the surface of the stone.  No matter how jagged the stones lying at the bottom of the river may be, the gentle water moving repeatedly over them, will eventually make the stones smooth and rounded—even if it takes many years.

The passage I quoted at the beginning of my message are well-known words of Rennyo, an expression that compares the relationship between our self-centered mind and Amida Buddha’s great compassion, simply by using the metaphor of stone and water.

Although Rennyo shows us that a rough stone symbolizes our self-centered thoughts and blind passions, T’an-luan, one of the Seven Pure Land Masters, also describes the blind passion that blocks the Amida Buddha’s light from a stone.  He calls it “Stubborn Stone” in his book, “Commentary on the Discourse on Birth.”  No matter how much it rains, if there is a huge rock, the ground under it will never be wet.  Similarly, although all of us are already embraced by Amida Buddha’s compassion, because of our own blind passions we refuse the working of the Buddha Dharma and cannot simply accept the light of Amida’s wisdom.

As Rennyo and T’an-luan say, our minds are just like “rugged stone,” meaning they are stubborn and inflexible.  We lack the tolerance to be able to accept Buddha’s light or even that of others around us. This inflexibility is dangerous because it could harm others with hurtful words or oppressive behavior.

This is how the phrase “hard as stone” accurately describes our self-absorbed egotism.  Although intellectually, we realize that dignity of life and respect for human rights are fundamental principles of this earthly life, our self-absorption has created a history of hate, conflict and killing, much like hard stones being bashed together.  Humankind has been surviving while tied to such a regretful history of broken relationships.  That is why we are still faced with social problems like racial inequality, LGBTQ concerns, and so on.

Selfishness is what causes suffering. Our selfishness can be divided into the three minds.  First, there is the mind of believing, or the certainty that I alone am always right.  Second, there is the mind that wants to have its own way in everything. And, third is the mind that loves only itself.

All of us are ordinary people (or bonbu) who are constantly confused by these three selfish minds.  That is why, even if we are wrong, we cannot apologize.  To affirm our own existence, we tend to have a prejudice against those who have their own values and ideas that differ from ours.  This is why we discriminate against those who are different from us in race, skin color, religious belief, and so on.  We take kindness for granted, so we cannot show our thanks.  When things don’t turn out as we desire, we get angry and blame others.  And because we can’t forgive another person’s faults and errors, we constantly complain about them.  For these reasons, when we accuse others, we also brush aside our own shortcomings.  We tend to look down on others while seeing ourselves as the standard for righteousness.  These examples of our self-centeredness are just like a dangerous rugged stone that can easily harm others.

In a passage from “A Record of Master Rennyo’s Words,” Rennyo Shonin describes a person with Shinjin or entrusting mind: “A person with Shinjin would not say hurtful words to fellow Nembutsu practitioners and is sure to gain a peaceful mind.  This is because Amida Buddha vows that all sentient beings who have been touched by the Buddha’s light will become gentle in body and mind.  Contrarily, without Shinjin, one would be wrapped up in one’s own self-centeredness, speaking hurtful words that are bound to result in conflict with others.”

Rennyo teaches us if we attain the entrusting mind, that our minds, shut tightly, will surely be opened, that will lead us to become fully aware that our lives are sustained by the blessing and kindness of all others.  By becoming aware of this truth, our long-held complaints and discontentment will naturally turn into gratitude.  We will gain the compassion that understands another’s pain because we are able to put ourselves in another’s place.

In Jodo Shinshu tradition, we are taught that listening is essential to attaining Shinjin.  Through repeated listening, Amida Buddha’s great compassion (Dharma water) will make our stubborn minds (rugged stone) soften and smooth.  It is because no matter how thick blind passions cloud our minds, everyday listening—like a drop of rainwater which continues to drip—will gradually make a depression, wear a hole in the stubborn stone of blind passions, and make the heart and mind open to the world of Shinjin naturally.

By listening to the Nembutsu teaching again and again, we are reminded why Amida Buddha established the Primal Vow for all sentient beings, and what Amida had to go through in order to extend the Primal Vow to each one of us.  Through these repeated lessons, our misshapen “Stubborn Stone” will surely become smooth and rounded because of the Dharma Water, which is Amida Buddha’s great compassion.  The smooth, rounded mind which results is Shinjin.  I believe that the world that is created when we receive Shinjin is just like the Pure Land.  It is full of the deep compassion that is truly considerate and respectful of others and makes each of our lives shine.


In Gassho,

Rev. Yushi Mukojima