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Honen on Faith and the Three Minds (sanjin)

The teachings concerning the "three minds" or three kinds of mind necessary for Buddhist enlightenment occurs in every Mahayana sect and tradition. However, the mode of explanation varies in accord with central teachings of each. In the Pure Land tradition, the Meditation Sutra does not explain precisely what kinds of mind set are represented by the "three kinds of mind." As a result the many commentators on the Meditation Sutra in China wrote many different explanations of these three kinds of mind. It was the 7th century work of Shan-tao, however, that first elaborated a clear and impressive explanation of the three kinds of mind that the proper nembutsu practitioner must possess. Honen followed Shan-tao's interpretation almost exactly to the letter. In the below passages, Honenfs explains this understanding in his own words:

gAnyone who thinks about Birth in the Pure Land should give attention to what is meant by a spiritual frame of mind (faith) and also to outward acts (practice), properly adjusting the one to the other. Now in reference to faith, it is stated in the Meditation Sutra that, gAnyone who hopes to be Born in the Pure Land should arouse the so-called Three Minds (sanjin). What Three Minds do we mean? Well,

the first is an utterly sincere mind (shijoshin);

the second is a profound mind (jinshin); and

the third is a mind which dedicates all merit toward Birth in the Pure Land

with the resolve to be Born there or, in short, the longing mind (ekohotsuganshin).

Everyone who is possessed of these three mental states will definitely be Born into that land.h

The Utterly Sincere Mind (shijoshin)

gShan-tao explained, eIn the first place, we have the utterly sincere mind. Now the word translated eutterlyf here means 'true,' and 'sincere' means 'full.' So the Buddha urged all sentient creatures, in all physical and mental acts performed by the body, mouth and mind, to do them without fail with a mind full of sincerity. In our outward relationships, he urged us not to put on the appearance of being wise, good, and diligent, when the mind within is really an empty void. Whether at home or abroad, whether in the darkness or in the light, be sure always to be true to the utmost.f"

"This is why it is called 'the utterly sincere mind.f Now what he means here by this utterly sincere mind is a mind true to the fullest; that is, a mind which in every act of the body, in every word of the mouth, and in every thought of the mind is true. In other words, a mind which is not empty within when pretending great things without. But while tiring of this present swiftly passing world, it pays full attention to completely looking after the way of truth.h

"Now the fact is that you and I have so long been accustomed to trying to enjoy this world, which in reality is all a dream. So when we succeed in casting aside worldly fame and gain even in the smallest degree, we think we have done a wonderful thing. In this way, we still are faking a disgust for the world. Shallow-minded people, not knowing our minds, think we have done something great, worthy of much admiration. In self-satisfaction, we decide to move out of the city and find a small, obscure dwelling in some lonely spot. But in reality, we havenft really put any priority on attaining spiritual insight, thinking only of appearing so miserable to people so as to awaken their compassion toward us. For example, we plant miserable looking flowers in the hedges around the temple buildings which enshrine the image of the Buddha, all of which are also made to look correspondingly poor and meager. Yet all the time, we are thinking only of how we can win the applause and escape the bad word of others. The result of going on in this way is that there isnft the least thought or mention to such a thing as trusting in Amida Buddha's Vow or vowing for Birth in the Pure Land. Thus, there is a total absence of that 'utterly sincere mind' of which Ifm speaking, and with it, a complete failure to attain Birth in the Pure Land. But by saying this, I donft mean that it doesnft matter at all how people look upon us or that we should pay no attention whatever to the world's criticism of us. We certainly should. But it would be too bad, I repeat, for us to be thinking only of outward appearances, and thereby be hindered in our efforts to attain ojo. It is for your sake that I direct your thoughts to these things.h

gThere are four distinctions to be made in regard to having an eutterly sincere mind.f Firstly, there are some people who outwardly appear sincere, but inwardly are not. Secondly there are some who are false both within and without. Thirdly, there are those who do not appear outwardly to be sincere, but inwardly are; and fourthly, there are those who are sincere both in inward reality and in outward appearance. Of these four, the first two are lacking in this 'utterly sincere mind,' and are to be rejected and called false. The other two classes are possessed of an 'almost sincere mind,' and deserve the name of genuine followers. In a word, I think that the all-important thing is to have a true mind, whether one's outward appearance is good or bad. In general, in our hatred of this world and yearning for the Pure Land, we should respect not only the views of others, but should have a true mind within. This is what we mean by an eutterly sincere mind.'h

gWhat is meant when we speak of a spiritual discipline that is simply the repetition of the nembutsu and the Three Minds (sanjin)? In reference to those other religious practices relating to the Pure Land, you shouldnft let your mind wander this way and that, but keep your mind fixed solely upon the one you are performing. Whether we consider the Original Vow of Amida, the teaching of Shakyamuni, the explanations of Shan-tao, or the opinions of many other teachers, the nembutsu, according to them all, is the essential thing in the practice which leads to Birth in the Land of Bliss. As to other disciplines, none of them gives any particular instructions at all. Nevertheless, if there is anyone who has been learning the sutras, and on that account, finds it difficult to believe in the nembutsu, let them keep in mind that everything else which they do, under whatever circumstances and according to other forms of spiritual discipline, is all right. This is as long as they make it an occasion for directing their thoughts to Amida and to his Pure Land of Bliss, because such acts done in this spirit may become the means of helping them to ojo.h [read more about Honen's conception of recitation and practice]

The Profound Mind (jinshin)

gIn regards to a profound mind (jinshin), Shan-tao says in his Commentary on the Meditation Sutra,fA deep mind is one which believes deeply. It can be of two kinds: First of all, we come to deeply see (shinki) that we are just common fools possessing afflictions and bad karma. We are subject to the law of birth and death. And so we only have a small and meager root of goodness within us. Further, we have always from the most remote eons of past time been subject to transmigration (samsara) from one state to another with no relationship to salvation. Then secondly, we come to see (shinpo) that Amida Buddha by his forty-eight vows can guide all sentient beings if they call upon his sacred name at least ten times. Depending upon his Original Vow, each will be certain of Birth in the Pure Land, as long as they do not give into a single thought of doubt. Again, a profound mind is one which makes a strong determination to practice the Dharma according to the teaching of the Buddha and to never to give place to doubt. Donft draw back or be moved by any other spiritual teaching or practice, any contrary opinion, or any worldly-attachment.f"

gNow as to the meaning of these words of Shan-tao, we must first believe in our own moral limitations (shinki), and then in the Vow of the Buddha (shinpo). If Shan-tao had not mentioned at all this first aspect of faith and had only dealt with the second, it might be that all who sought Birth in the Pure Land would give into doubt regarding the Original Vow. They might think that Birth in the Pure Land by calling upon the sacred name ten times or even once couldnft apply to such ignorant fools as themselves. They might give into useless self-deprecation when they were guilty of one of the ten transgressions (ju-aku) or breaking the precepts. This would be the case even though they did call upon the sacred name when the afflictions of greed and anger arose in them. But the fact is that Shan-tao had in mind the possibility that sentient beings in future generations might have doubts on this very point. So on purpose, he called attention to these two aspects of faith. Even though we have not yet gotten free from affliction and are only common fools who are always messing up, if we will only believe deeply in the Original Vow of Amida and call upon his name only once, we will, as he says, definitely be Born into the Pure Land. Now these words of Shan-tao have penetrated to my inner most mind, and I am so grateful for them. If he hadnft explained things like this, I might have thought there was some doubt in my being Born in the Pure Land."

"Now maybe some people won't understand this. They might say that because their minds are inherently deluded, they canft be Born into that land – and so by doubting like this, they can fail. But quite apart from the good or bad in your minds and the weight of your karma, you should repeat eNamu Amida Butsuf with your lips in the hope of attaining ojo. Let the conviction accompany the sound of your voice, and you will certainly attain it. By so doing, the karma which unfailingly results in this Birth will be accomplished - without it, your Birth will be uncertain. If one thinks that there is uncertainty about Birth, it is uncertain. While if one thinks itfs certain, it is certain. In short, what we mean by a profound believing mind is one which has not the least doubt at all when eNamu Amida Butsuf is said. Rather, it deeply believes that no matter how many and great one's failings may have been, Amida will in accordance with his Vow and without regard to our inherent delusion come to guide us to the Pure Land.h

The Longing Mind (ekohotsuganshin)

gRegarding what we call a mind which dedicates all merit toward Birth in the Pure Land with the resolve to be Born there (ekohotsuganshin), Shan-tao has the following explanation: eBy a longing mind, Shakyamuni Buddha means the person who vows for Birth in the Pure Land with all of his or her stock of merit. This merit may be from actions either common or religious performed in the past or present through action, speech or thought. This merit is also from feeling satisfaction with similar actions performed by other people. By the words, 'a mind which vows for Birth in the Pure Land with all of his or her stock of merit,' I mean that a person should have the thought and conviction of definitely being Born into that land. This conviction is from bringing all the above-mentioned merit with a true and sincere mind. It is a mind that is deeply believing and that is strong and adamant. It is a mind that is also neither moved, confused, nor ill at ease no matter who comes with some opposite teaching, opinion, theory or practice.fh

gNow the meaning of Shan-taofs words is that in the first place, we must carry in our minds all the merit which we have acquired by action and speech in our former lives, as well as that which we are now acquiring, and continue seeking for ojo right up to entry in the Pure Land. In the next place, we shouldnft aspire, whether for ourselves or for others, for worldly happiness or for Birth into any other pure land other than the Western Pure Land itself, whether it be the Tusita Heaven or any other human or heavenly world. And we shouldnft direct our merits to any of them, but toward Birth into the Western Pure Land alone. If before we have come to know these things, we have any merit which has been directed towards worldly happiness or any other objects, letfs now direct them wholly towards our Birth into the Pure Land. Now when I say that you should bring with you all the goodness you have right up to the Land of Bliss, I donft mean that those who devote themselves single-mindedly to the nembutsu need to also accumulate merit of any other kind. But only that in case we have merit other than the nembutsu which we have accumulated from the past; or in case we should in the natural course of events accumulate any more in the future, we would of course bring them along when we give ourselves up to the nembutsu, and then apply them to those actions that promote Birth in the Pure Land.h

gAgain, concerning the passage - eIt is a mind that is deeply believing and that is strong and adamantc. that is also neither moved, confused, nor ill at ease no matter who comes with some opposite teaching, opinion, theory or practice.f - the meaning is, as I said before, not to allow your merit to be directed this way or that, by anything that is taught by persons of a different faith. Seeing that eadamantf is a quality which cannot be broken, it is used as a metaphor to show that the mind shouldnft be broken in its purpose either. This then, is what we call a mind which dedicates all merit and vows for ojo."

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