Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, out of the larger branch of Pure Land Buddhism, has some interesting innovations that I sometimes find compelling and yet challenging at the same time. To me, one of the most interesting is the concept of jinen hōni (自然法爾). I’ve touched on it before in an old post, but I wanted to explore it more here.1
The concept of jinen-honi is translated to things like “made to become so, by virtue of the Dharma” or something along those lines. It is explained in several of Shinran’s letters and writings, but in particular, I liked the explanation in the “Notes on Essentials of Faith Alone” or yuishinshōmon’i (唯信鈔文意).
This is a commentary by Shinran on another text, the “Essentials of Faith Alone” (yuishinshō 唯信鈔) composed in 1221 by a contemporary named Seikaku (聖覚, 1167-1235).2 Both Seikaku and Shinran were originally monks of the Tendai sect, but later left, and became a disciples of Honen. Seikaku’s text speaks from standpoint more familiar with Jodo Shu Buddhism (practice of reciting the nembutsu, the Three Minds, etc), so Shinran made commentaries on Seikaku’s text providing his own viewpoint.
Of particular interest is the following paragraph, which is translated here (kanji added for clarity):
Ji [自] also means of itself. “Of itself” is a synonym for jinen, which means to be made to become so. “To be made to become so” means that without the practicer’s calculating in any way whatsoever, all that practicer’s past, present, and future evil karma is transformed into the highest good, just as all waters, upon entering the great ocean, immediately become ocean water. We are made to acquire the Tathagata’s virtues through entrusting ourselves to the Vow-power; hence the expression, “made to become so.” Since there is no contriving in any way to gain such virtues, it is called jinen [自然]. Those persons who have attained true and real shinjin are taken into and protected by this Vow that grasps never to abandon; therefore, they realize the diamondlike mind without any calculation on their own part, and thus dwell in the stage of the truly settled. Because of this, constant mindfulness of the Primal Vow arises in them naturally (by jinen). Even with the arising of this shinjin, it is written that supreme shinjin is made to awaken in us through the compassionate guidance of Sakyamuni, the kind father, and Amida, the mother of loving care. Know that this is the benefit of the working of jinen.
The idea here is that through completely entrusting oneself to the vow of Amitabha Buddha to rescue all beings, the virtues of Amitabha help to transform a person without any calculation by the person. It seems like a totally foreign concept in Buddhism, though when I think of the Upaddha Sutta (SN 45.2) in the Pali Canon, the idea is not so far-fetched, because the idea is that self-power alone is not enough: even monks depend on others to advance on the path. It’s a question of whom and how.3
Anyhow, something interesting I wanted to share. :)
1 I’m surprised that old post is 7 years old! Time flies. :p
2 Interesting bit of historical trivia, Seikaku was also the grandson of Fujiwara no Michinori.
3 It’s also why the sangha (community) is one of the three treasures of Buddhism.