Shin Buddhism: It’s not all about “Me”

One of the beauties of Jodo Shinshu is an experienced, perceived relaxation of what has been called “the ego-knot” or “the ego-constriction”.  According to our saint, Shinran, even after receiving Amida’s grace through Shinjin ( a term that connotes something like “perfect faith”), we still remain Bombus: ignorant beings who are driven by blind passions and are, while in this life, subject to Buddhistically-normative karma.

But precisely because Amida handles our karmic issues upon our entry into Buddahood “in the Pure Land”, we believe that our karmic burden will be relieved in the posthumous moment when our earthly aspiration for Buddhahood is fulfilled by Amida. Karmically, then, when that “time” comes, we are “off the hook”.

Because of these considerations, our manner of death is irrelevant, as set against the background of the Working of Amida and our Shinjin.

That is, the condition of – the issue of – whether we die in peace or in abysmal torment; with calm, loving words, or with cries of abject horror, is irrelevant both to the subjective mind and/or to any witnesses who may be on hand to observe our demise. Ultimately – and in Shin, death-and-transfiguration is the “ultimate” issue – our karmically-determined death has already passed into Amida’s hands, and death, regardless of how we experience it, truly has no sting, because through it, we transition into the transcendent “Buddha-Realm” in which Amida fully abides.

Thus, we ourselves, and/or witnesses to our death, cannot really objectively judge our manner of death by any standards except Amida’s Dharma; unlike in some other religious systems, wherein a “bad death” might be taken as a token of (a literally) bad faith. Not so in Shin,  not so with Amida: Rather, it is a case of “once embraced, never to be let go”, and our manner of dying is not meant to be a crowd-pleaser or an exemplar of the motivational speaker’s triumphal victory of self-power.

From these considerations alone can be taken a basic lesson, namely:  “It’s not all about me”.  It is, after all, not “my” salvation. It’s the salvation mediated to me by Amida Buddha.

Of course, in one crucial sense, Amida’s sealing of our Buddha-aspiration, our salvation, our Shinjin, our enlightenment, is and must be “all about us”.  Shinran even wrote words to the effect that Amida is blessed because “His” salvation is “only for me alone”. But the “I” and the “me” in this view is “us” in our Bombu aspect. As when starving, persecuted, desperate refugees gather at the seaside and, miraculously, a vessel pulls in to rescue them; so, too, does Amida send “His” “Raft from the Other Shore”  for our rescue. This rescue – like biblical salvation – is simultaneously individual and collective.  In this sense, it is definitely about us.

But in another crucial sense, “we” figure very little in the process, for the simple reason that it is not our process, aspiration, power, grace that seals our ultimate Buddhahood. It is Amida and Amida alone who does all those things. We poor Bombus simply cannot attain enlightenment by our egoic self-power. We can only rely on Amida’s all-suffiency and again come to the realization that “It’s not all about you/me”.

The person of Shinjin, as mentioned, may therefore relax into the experience of Amida’s grace as well as the “sacramental” presence of Amida which resides in the Nembutsu. The old, egoic struggle based in self-power has been depotentiated and elminated by grace. Our ultimate spiritual disposition is not about me, and it’s not about you. Rather, it’s about Amida’s powerful, mysterious, and even “inconceivable” (Shinran’s term) Working for us.

“Just sit back and enjoy the ride” is much too trivial and partial a descriptor of the Shin Experience. But at least the phrase does convey the notion of what salvation means in Shin, namely, that to rely on Amida’s Other-Power is … well, in  fact to rely on Amida’s Other-Power.

Self-power (although not secular self-effort) has been eliminated from our spiritual “salvation-equation”. It’s not all about us – thank God, thank Amida! To borrow and paraphrase another saying, Shin people can truly “Let go, and let Amida …”, as they contemplate the reality of, and are suffused with gratitude for, their Buddha’s masterful Gesture of Unimpeded Light and Infinite Wisdom-Compassion.

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