Understanding the deluded person (bonbu)

The term bonbu (凡夫), or a person of “delusions and passions” comes up a lot in Japanese Buddhism, particularly in Pure Land Buddhism. So on the heels of my criticism toward Pure Land for being too pessimistic, I found this nice explanation of what bonbu means in the Pure Land context. In particular:

In Mahayana Buddhism, this notion is applied to oneself, and the common sense of the Chinese and Japanese terms is perjorative, but within the Pure Land tradition the sense is quite different. The common meaning comes from a more relative, social stance, while the Pure Land meaning comes from a more subjective and personally religious one. In Pure Land Buddhism, it is an extremely important notion in that it describes the situation of the sincere practitioner who nevertheless finds him or herself totally incapable of avoiding the acts prohibited by the Buddha.

This echoes something said by Shinran at one point in the Tannisho:

In this life no matter how much pity and sympathy we may feel for others, it is impossible to help another as we truly wish; thus our compassion is inconsistent and limited. Only the saying of nembutsu manifests the complete and never ending compassion which is true, real, and sincere.

Here it’s interesting to note that Shinran isn’t denying that people have good intentions or do good acts, but that they are limited or inconsistent. Sometimes we help others, while other times, when we’re feeling grouchy, we would rather tell them off. I think we’ve all observed this behavior in ourselves, but it interesting that Shinran would hit upon in his own experiences.

Food for thought.


4 thoughts on “Understanding the deluded person (bonbu)

  1. Hello,

    I have removed a number of comments in this thread related to a certain, controversial group. I don’t want to take sides on the issue, so I would rather not have any posts here either for or against.

    Thanks for your understanding.


  2. I don’t recall what group this may have been, but I do know of a good book of which one of the authors is a part of a controversial group. Shinran must have been very controversial in his time. Ippen and even Haya Akegarasu were controversial. As far as that goes, Jodo Shinshu in general can be considered controversial to some. Just something to consider. I do, however, understand the need to keep tensions out of the blog.

  3. Thanks Shinnyo. You bring up some good points here, and much to think about. For the particular group, or any controversial group, I just prefer to stay out of it. I like researching and teaching the Dharma where I can, without taking sides too much. It’s no fun to get involved in political issues, or worse, religious issues.

    Thanks again!

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