What Will Happen to Us at the Moment of Death? – Part 2

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In my Dharma Talk last month, I wrote that Jodo Shinshu teaches us that dying means to be born in the Pure Land and attain enlightenment with our blind passions intact because of the great working of Amida Buddha. It is the ultimate teaching that exists only in the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha.

Rennyo Shonin, the eighth head priest of Jodo Shinshu, said at the end of his letter, “ Attaining the Entrusting Heart”:

This teaching is unique to our tradition.
Therefore, we shouldn’t discuss it with followers of other schools so that we don’t make others misunderstand it.

By this he meant that the teaching where one becomes a Buddha without severing the blind passions only exists in the teaching of the Primal Vow of Other Power as handed down by Shinran. This teaching, of course, is not taught in the Path of Sages nor even in the other schools of the Path of the Pure Land.

We all live with our blind passions and die embracing them. However, because of the great working of Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow, at the very moment of death, we will be born in the Pure Land without severing the blind passions. No matter how hard we look at the many religions throughout the world, the same claim cannot be made by them. But because such an impossibility does happen in Jodo Shinshu, the working of Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow is called “Inconceivability.”

This means our encounter with the Primal Vow assures us that we are guaranteed birth in the Pure Land, becoming a Buddha at the moment of our death. That’s why we recite the Nembutsu as an expression of our deepest feelings of joy and gratitude. Is there any doctrine for which we are filled with more gratitude than this? Ours is not a teaching that says we must wait till death to find out what awaits us. Our lives have already been firmly embraced by Amida Buddha. T o encounter the Primal Vow really means to receive a profound sense of security in life. To have the biggest mystery of life—the problem of death— settled for us by Amida Buddha’s Supreme Vow—is our greatest security. Nothing is more joyful for us than this.

Human existence means we sometimes have to experience unbearable sadness and hardships as part of this precious life that we have received. But no matter what might happen during our lifetime, because we are guaranteed Buddhahood, we are free to take the great Nembutsu path with strength and try to do our best to live fully for the benefit of others and society each day with joy and gratitude.

The most important thing in the life of a Nembutsu follower is to become fully aware of ourselves who are assured of surely becoming a Buddha thanks to the Primal Vow. And to be born in the Pure Land at the moment of death shows that life is a journey moving towards the Pure Land. That is why we can truthfully say that those who receive true Shinjin have already been illumined by the light of Pure Land in spite of living in the Defiled Land at present.

The Pure Land is the world of enlightenment without the defilement of the blind passions. It is a world that transcends love and hatred; a world where all life shines, for all life is revealed to be precious. Living daily in a defiled land, we live selfishly, craving only those things that are convenient for us and excluding from our lives those things that are inconvenient. Because we live in such a selfish way, we often hurt others and may even hurt ourselves.

To live with the Pure Land as our destination, Shinran teaches us to live humbly, seriously reflecting on our true selves that are only capable of living in such a foolish way. We are only able to see our own lies and self-delusions when we are illumined by the light of Amida Buddha’s wisdom. In other words, a Nembutsu follower who truly sees his ego-nature by receiving Shinjin has already begun to live in the Pure Land.

As Rennyo said, “Simply listening to the Buddha Dharma ends in Shinjin,” which means we are able to only receive Shinjin of Other Power when listening.

I’m sure that many of you who come often to the Temple have noticed that the hondo is always filled with a sweet fragrance even when incense has not been lit. It is because when incense is burned whenever the services are conducted, its sweet smell naturally permeates the entire Hondo.

In Buddhism, we are taught that, when performing the same action again and again, one can acquire it unknowingly that helps build one’s character. It is a teaching called kunju, which means “repeatedly impregnating with a scent.” So when listening to the Nembutsu teaching over and over again, even if we cannot get rid of our selfishness, the warm mind of Amida Buddha will naturally color our own minds before we realize it. W e call this mon-kunju, which means, “repeatedly impregnated by the Buddha’s mind through listening.” By repeated listening, when Amida Buddha’s mind reaches our own, we become aware that we don’t place our hands together by our own will, but are led to recite the Nembutsu through the working of Amida Buddha. This awakening is the actual Shinjin of Other Power.

For the Nembutsu follower with true Shinjin who firmly received the Amida Buddha’s mind by listening, the problem of impending death has already been settled by the working of Amida Buddha. The Nembutsu teaching is the ultimate assurance that we will surely attain Buddhahood at the moment of death. Therefore, as Shinran says,

“The great path of unobstructed freedom opens up in the person of Nembutsu.”

No matter what might happen to us each and every day, the true Nembutsu follower is able to take the steady journey to the Pure Land filled with great joy and security, undisturbed, reciting the Nembutsu in gratitude for the guidance of Amida Buddha. How steadfast and joyful we are!

In gassho,
Rev. Yushi Mukojima