What Will Happen to Us at the Moment of Death? – Part 1

Click Here for Japanese (日本語)

In my Dharma message last month, I took the opportunity to write about receiving Shinjin. Some of you might have managed to understand my message, but there were likely some who were even more confused by it! Shinjin cannot be fully understood intellectually. It is the awakening that one experiences by living daily with the Nembutsu teaching. As the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha has always been working on each one of us as the Nembutsu, “Namo Amida Butsu,” let us awaken to the Shinjin of the Other Power, while listening to the Nembutsu teaching again and again.

As you know, Jodo Shinshu teaches us that we will be born in the Pure Land and attain Buddhahood not on our own power (Self Power) but by the workings of Amida Buddha (Other Power). In other words, whether we become a Buddha or not depends entirely on the power of Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow. That is why our founder, Shinran Shonin, assures us that by simply encountering the teaching of the Primal Vow, our birth in the Pure Land and the attainment of Buddhahood are no longer our problem. And, it means that our calculation (Self Power) is simply not necessary anymore.

On a deeper level, because we are assured birth in the Pure Land thanks to Amida’s Primal Vow (Other Power), even the fact that we must someday die ceases to be a problem. This is because dying means to be born in the Pure Land because of the great working of Amida Buddha. What a great relief! For regardless how long we live, it is without a doubt that we will eventually die. Although nobody wants to die, it is impossible to escape the reality of death. This is life’s biggest dilemma.

But Jodo Shinshu teaches us that to die means to be born. Amida Buddha regards death in the same light as birth. That is why we call Amida Buddha’s wisdom, Oneness of birth and death. It is the world of enlightenment, which sees that dying and being born are inseparable.

This means that the moment we are truly born in the Pure Land is the very same moment when life ends. In his writing, “The True Teaching, Practice, and Realization of the Pure Land Way,” Shinran expresses it this way: “Sentient beings of the Nembutsu transcend and realize great, complete Nirvana on the eve of the moment of death.” “Great, complete Nirvana” means the greatest Buddha’s enlightenment. It is the best enlightenment because nothing is better. “Transcend and realize” means to attain greatest enlightenment.

Then, when is it that those who embrace the Nembutsu teaching can attain the great, complete Nirvana? As stated earlier, Shinran clarified that it is “on the eve of the moment of death.” And the moment that Shinran refers to is when there is no duration of time. To explain what “there is no duration of time” means, let me ask you to imagine that you are living with your spouse when he or she passes away. From that point, you have to start living a single life. But because you were with your spouse for a long time, you suddenly feel lonely because you are alone. Your life as a couple ends at the moment your partner dies. Certainly your life as a single person does not start after the funeral. In reality, the moment your life with your spouse ends, your single life then starts. There is no duration of time in this truth: one state ends as another begins.

In other words, the moment our lives, full of blind passions, ends, then Buddha’s life of enlightenment in the Pure Land begins. Because no measurable amount of time occurs between life and death, when our time comes, we immediately attain great Nirvana. Death is inescapable for all beings. But,because we have embraced the Nembutsu teaching, we are assured the attainment of enlightenment and birth in the Pure Land the moment we die.

In Buddhism, we call the world we live in the Defiled Land. It is a world full of the blind passions of greed, anger, dishonesty, and so on. At the opposite end is the world of enlightenment, which excludes the blind passions and is called the Pure Land. To exit the Defiled Land means to enter the world of enlightenment, the Pure Land. So the ultimate enlightenment will surely be open to us at life’s end. Shinran teaches us that the death that nobody can escape is actually the time to be born in the Pure Land and attain Buddhahood by using the word: “Sentient beings of the Nembutsu transcend and realize great, complete Nirvana on the eve of the moment of death.”

I should emphasize that we really don’t know the exact point in time when life will end for each of us, but we should know that we will attain Buddhahood with our blind passions intact. In Shoshinge, Shinran says: “Nirvana is attained without severing blind passions. We live and we die with our minds full of blind passions. Yet without severing the blind passions, we are allowed to attain enlightenment.”

Although there are so many schools in Buddhism, it is this ultimate teaching that exists only in the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha! I would like to share the rest of my message next month.

In Gassho,
Rev. Yushi Mukojima