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No Need for Proof

Chapter 2 of the “Tannisho” can be described as a description of faith, especially within our uncertainties.

One uncertainty is, “Does saying the Nembutsu actually work?” Although asked badly because it assumes that my saying the Nembutsu is what makes it “work,” Shinran Shonin answers this uncertainty by expressing it as well:

“I am entirely ignorant as to whether the Nembutsu is really the cause of Birth in the Pure Land, or whether it is the karma which will cause me to fall into hell.”

There are some things we can't prove. When we ask for proof, we will instead discover that we neither have the heart that can understand nor receive the very thing we are asking proof for.

For example, if we were to demand from our significant other, “I need you to prove your love for me,” we will discover that, because of our words, our significant other doesn't feel so significant.

We have effectively negated every act, every thought, and every bond of love that has been shared with us. Because all these things have already been given, even if we could list, tally and somehow score it all, none of this will be recognized as proof.

Assuming that our significant other loves us, how much more than everything can they give? What else can they do to help us understand and overcome the uncertainty we have just expressed? All they can do is keep sharing their love and hope we will somehow “get it.” Given the request, it is probably not a realistic expectation.

Fortunately, even when we can't see it ourselves, we often have others who can point out what we weren't able to see. Hopefully, we have relationships that can provide the framework to help us understand things like love.

In this discovery, I think, we will find that love is not something meant to be proved. Instead, it is something to receive, experience, share and give. In other words, in order to experience love, faith is required. In order to have faith, you need to feel assured. Love is often how we understand this feeling of assurance.

Although Shinran Shonin tells us that the Nembutsu cannot be proven, we are told what was received. Despite the “uncertainty,” Shinran Shonin tells us about the relationships that have been shared, and that made it possible to meet with the Vow that becomes Nembutsu. Shinran Shonin says:

“If the Original Vow of Amida is true, then Sakyamuni's sermons cannot be untrue. If the Buddha's words are true, then Zendo's comments cannot be untrue. If Zendo's comments are true, how can Honen's sayings be false? If Honen's sayings are true, what I, Shinran, say cannot possibly be false, either. After all is said, such is the faith of this simpleton. Beyond this, it is entirely left up to each one of you whether you accept and believe in the Nembutsu or reject it.”

The relationship Shinran Shonin is talking about here is the relationship with Nembutsu, and is first described by saying, “if the Vow is true.” Although stated clumsily, the heart and source of the Nembutsu, that which cannot be proven, is the Vow. But, why not simply say the Vow is true?

As mentioned earlier, there are some things that cannot be proven and some that don't need proof: It is more important to recognize and receive. Shinran Shonin recognized the great work necessary to simply hear the Vow, and recite the Nembutsu. Shinran Shonin also expresses gratitude to the people who provided the framework necessary to receive the gift of the Vow. This gift, we are told, is not to take for granted. It is a gift that can be shared, but it is a gift that cannot be proven. The Nembutsu is too precious for that kind of sharing.

Like the love shared between significant others is not forced, demanded or proved — even while, at times, it can be taken for granted — when we are able to live our lives in faith we discover how reliable this “thing” that refuses to be proven is.

The Nembutsu is the gift that has been shared from the past, the gift shared in the present, and the gift bequeathed to the future. We do this because we know it is real.

The Nembutsu, however, is not a gift simply shared between humans. It is a gift shared by a Buddha. This is the reason why Shinran Shonin worked so hard to help us to hear. The Nembutsu is a gift that does not simply tell us how good we can be, as in love, but also tells us what we can become.

It is a gift that ties not just individuals or families, or even communities together. The Nembutsu can tie together humanity itself. It is that gift that informs us that no one ever has to live a life in vain. It tells us that each and every one of us matters. It is a gift that is both true and real. This, too, is not forced upon us. It is up to us to decide.

After all is said, such is the faith of this simpleton. Beyond this, it is entirely left up to each one of you whether you accept and believe in the Nembutsu or reject it.


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