“Saved by the inconceivable working of Amida’s Vow, I shall realize birth in the Pure Land”: the moment you entrust yourself thus to the Vow, so that the mind set upon saying the nembutsu arises within you, you are immediately brought to share in the benefit of being grasped by Amida, never to be abandoned.
Know that the Primal Vow of Amida makes no distinction between people young and old, good and evil; only shinjin is essential. For it is the Vow to save the person whose karmic evil is deep and grave and whose blind passions abound.
Thus, for those who entrust themselves to the Primal Vow, no good acts are required, because no good surpasses the nembutsu. Nor need they despair of the evil they commit, for no evil can obstruct the working of Amida’s Primal Vow.”
~ Notes Lamenting Differences (Tannisho) Chapter 1
“To those who believe and do deeds of righteousness hath Allah promised forgiveness and a great reward.”
~ Surah 5:9
“For I have worked harder than all the other apostles, yet it was not I but God who was working through me by his grace.”
~ 1 Corinthians 15:10
Recently I was asked about the Jodo Shinshu view of salvation: “Is Salvation based upon good works or is it grace?” This is a very important religious question. Not only is this a Jodo Shinshu question, it is a question asked within Christianity and Islam. I am not a religious scholar by any measure, but I have begun this article with three examples of religious verse regarding salvation. Within Jodo Shinshu, I have quoted Tannisho Chapter 1. Without question Jodo Shinshu falls into the category of salvation by grace. There are many Buddhists that don’t like the term “salvation” and will ask, “who/what are we saved from?” The answer is quite simple; “we are saved from ourselves!” For the Islamic viewpoint, I have quoted chapter 5 verse 9 of the Quran and I believe Islam would say that there is no salvation without (meritorious) work; it is a combination of both work and grace. Within Christianity I know that this a debated topic. Between Mormons and traditional Christians there is a divide as to what constitutes “faith.” Most Christians would fall into the category of a “gospel of pure grace.” However, I believe Mormons would be closer to the Islamic answer of a combination. However, for the purposes of this article, I used the Bible’s Corinthians. As many of you know, this is my personal favorite from the Bible and to compare my use of Tannisho, I’d like to think of Corinthians as the Christian Tannisho.
Most of the arguments within the Christian viewpoint of grace or works depends upon your particular religious view on the resurrection of Jesus. For those of you who may not know, Easter is the Christian holiday that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. From an orthodox Christian point of view, Jesus Christ was crucified by the Romans and then after he died on the cross, his disciples wrapped him in a shroud and placed him in a tomb. The next morning, when Mary Magdalene went to the tomb, she found it open and empty. Jesus had risen from death and this was witnessed by some of Jesus’ disciples. For Christians, this was proof that Jesus was the one and only son of God. Easter is the celebration of this event and therefore the most auspicious Christian religious holiday.
In the United States, Easter is usually celebrated in April, which is the first Sunday after the vernal equinox (Ohigan). When I was a child, Easter was about coloring eggs, candy, new clothes, and especially a new hat. It had nothing to do with religion. There was a mix in my head as to Hanamatsuri (Buddha’s birthday) and Easter. My Mom would buy me the new clothes for Easter, but they would be worn at our temple’s Hanamatsuri. In many ways, I wish that all of us could bring back how things were done back then. For Hanamatsuri and Easter, we can all share in spiritual celebration with candy, new clothes, food, a party and I would buy me a new hat! As I have written about before, Hanamatsuri was sweet tea on our temple’s defiant baby Buddha, a bunch of plays by the Sunday school classes, Kentucky Fried Chicken for lunch and a Twinkie and banana for dessert. It was one of my most memorable celebrations at the temple. Any holiday that features eating is one that I always enjoy and would consider celebrating.
In regards to my original question as to whether Jodo Shinshu espouses works or grace, I learned a lesson on my last visit to Ontario, Oregon. I had finished a funeral on Saturday afternoon and was preparing to watch the basketball game between University of Oregon and University of Kansas, when the thought popped into my head, “I need to clip my nails.” I got up from the bed, went to the bathroom and checked my little travel kit. No nail clippers. I had about three hours before the game and lying on the bed, my OCD mind took over and I kept thinking about needing to clip my nails. I went out to buy nail clippers.
I went to the Walgreens. After looking at the “as advertised on TV” section of the store for about 10 minutes, I quickly found the nail clippers -- two clippers for $5.99. Getting back to the car, I realized I still had a couple of hours to kill. Across the street from Walgreens was Walmart, the biggest store in town. Carmela and I had shopped there the last time we were in Ontario. I thought I would go get some snacks to watch the game. Surprisingly the place wasn’t that crowded for a Saturday. I nodded to the Walmart greeter; everyone in Ontario is friendly, so anyone of them could be a Walmart greeter. The first section I found myself in was the produce section. The bagged oranges and “Halo” clementines caught my attention. Just as I was thinking how much I wished they had “Sumo” mandarins, I saw a bag of small “Golden Nugget” mandarins, now my new favorite citrus fruit. Thinking how proud Carmela would be of me choosing produce for my snacking pleasure, I put them in my cart. At the end of that citrus shelf
was another shelf that had “sweet pea crisps.” These types of snacks are made to make you think you are eating real chips, but making them out of something other than potatoes or corn. I grabbed a bag of the “red lentil” flavored fake chips. I called Carmela to tell her how good I was doing in making healthy snacking choices. She told me that since I was at the Walmart with time to kill, why didn’t I pick up the carpet deodorizer she needed but didn’t have time to get. I agreed and off I went to the cleaning supplies aisle.
To get to the deodorizer, I passed down the aisle with the real chips. There was a stand with “Lays Potato Chips,” my favorite. The Frito Lays company has been having a lot of new flavors for their potato chips and there was a new “Southwest Queso” flavored bag. Just before coming up to Ontario, Carmela and I had eaten at a Chili’s and I had the skillet queso chips. I brought the left overs with me to Ontario, hoping I could warm them up in the microwave in my room. There was no microwave in the room. I knew that if Carmela were there, she would give me a funny look and say, “Chips?!” However, Carmela was in Bountiful; I had just talked with her on the phone. Into the cart went the chips. Besides, if she didn’t ask me to buy deodorizer, I would never have passed the chip aisle and would have been on my way home, so it was kind of her fault.
I found the deodorizer Carmela wanted on the very top shelf. I had to ask the Walmart girl if she had a ladder so that I could get the deodorizer. It’s bad enough having to buy deodorizer, but telling the girl I was too short to reach the product only added insult to injury. I bought four boxes to make up for her trouble. Feeling a little down for being too short to reach the deodorizer, I began to make my way to the check stand. Just around the corner, I happened to see a special stand, with Oreos! I love Oreo cookies, almost as much as Girl Scout cookies. Although I don’t drink milk to dip my Oreos into, I love them with coffee. If Carmela were there, she would shake her head and say, “Oreos?!” She wasn’t there and it’s her fault I felt depressed because I wasn’t tall enough to buy the deodorizer. There was a “Limited Edition” Peeps Oreos and a special double stuff “Spring” Oreos with daffodil yellow cream. I love Oreos and Carmela wasn’t there, so into the cart went both packs of Oreos. At the checkout stand were little fruit pies. I had also bought Starbucks instant coffee, since the nearest Starbucks was 25 miles away in Caldwell, Idaho, and I needed good coffee to dip my Oreos into. Into the cart went two little pies, an apple and a pecan, my favorites.
The reason I am telling you this story about my recent shopping spree in Ontario, Oregon, was to explain why I am a Jodo Shinshu Buddhist. I’m a person who has very bad self- control. I am filled with enormous amounts of Bonno (greed, anger and ignorance). Although Shakyamuni Buddha reached enlightenment and provided a path to follow in his footsteps, I have difficulty getting through a Walmart without Jiminy Cricket Carmela by my side. How can I become Buddha, without Buddha. As Shinran has said, “Know that the Primal Vow of Amida makes no distinction between people young and old, good and evil, [with or without self- control]; only shinjin is essential. For it is the Vow to save the person whose karmic evil is deep and grave and whose blind passions abound.”
I believe this idea of Other Power or “pure grace” is the central tenet of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism. Amida Buddha’s Vow which makes no distinction between young and old, good and evil, healthy orange eaters and true chip eaters like myself. I cannot meditate, I cannot do religious practices, just as I cannot make right food choices. Chapter ten of Tannisho states: Concerning the nembutsu, no working is true working. For it is beyond description, explanation, and conceptual understanding. This, in essence, is why I cannot be anything other than a Jodo Shinshu Buddhist. Happy Easter, Happy Hanamatsuri, Namo Amida Butsu!
~ J.K. Hirano