Continuing commentary upon Summary of Faith and Practice

TEXT: Dwelling in this settled faith

COMMENTARY

Settled faith is anshin. An-shin literally means "the heart-mind at peace". We can speak of different modes or dimensions of faith and anshin is one of them. Thus we can distinguish between anshin, shinjin, bodaishin and abhilasa. The first three terms are Japanese and the last Sanskrit.

Shinjin means the kind of faith that suddenly dawns upon one. It is the experience of awakening or conversion. It may have the form of satori, or, in more traditionally Pureland terms, it is the experience of being "seized by Amida, never to be abandoned." It is the dawning of certainty and confidence. It is the time of turning. The Pureland scriptures say that one has only to turn one's heart toward Amida in order to be filled with grace and assurance. This, therefore, is a kind of ecstasy or catharsis.

Such heightened experiences are indelible, but do not continue on such a high pitch. They mellow and settle. Where, in shinjin, Amida may fill one's consciousness, in anshin, that faith has settled into the background of one's being. One does not think about it all the time, but it resurfaces frequently enough. In fact, every little act of life is somehow touched by it, as though the quality of the light in which one sees things has subtly altered. Life has a glow that was not there before.

When such settled faith is established it particularly manifests in two ways. The first of these is abhilasa, which is willingness. This position is sometimes likened to the good inn-keeper by the roadside. Travellers come along and one caters for them all. Some are rich, some are poor, some are good natured, some are surly, some are excellent guests while others make a mess or create trouble. Nonetheless, the good inn keeper welcomes them all, refreshes and rests them and then sees them on their way. This is a condition of non-possessive goodwill, wishing only that others thrive in their own way and succeed in their journey, along their particular path.

The second is bodaishin or bodhichitta. This is the "way seeking mind". It is also the path of self-abandonment in the service of all sentient beings. It is the mind of the bodhisattva. Here faith takes the form of spiritual altruism. Where abhilasa receives whatever comes, bodhichitta goes forth seeking ways to be of service. This is the path of the spiritual knight errant riding out from Shambhala, seeking the grail and rescuing all those in distress whom he meets along the way. In a sense, abhilasa and bodhichitta are two sides of the same coin.

We can see that settled faith is the enduring foundation. It is the maturing of shinjin into something solid and reliable, an inextinguishable flame. From that light the motivations of bodhichitta and abhilasa arise naturally. If one has the inner peace that comes from a settled faith, then there is no inner obstacle to one's going forth and whatever comes to you will inevitably be experienced simply as another step on the path. This is the epic of Buddhism, the flowing forth of the heart of the tathagata in its quest to save all sentient beings.

This is operationalised in the teachings of Honen in the act of senchaku. When one makes a decisive choice to enter into the refuge offered by the Buddhas and cries out "Namo Amida Bu", this is not a narrowing, but an opening up. All practices, all circumstances, and all conditions are suddenly transformed into the path of enlightenment. Fundamentally this is no different to the path of tantra or the path of zen – it is sudden awakening to the great liberation. This does not depend upon a particular practice. It is not a technical achievement. It is a turning.

When we are uncertain about something we feel anxiety. When the matter is settled that anxiety drops away. This can be happening at many levels. One can be anxious about whether there is sugar for the tea, or one can be anxious about whether the enemy are going to invade. There are many levels and degrees. The most profound level is spiritual. The person who is settled at the spiritual level will still experience all the lesser anxieties, but they will not go so deep, because below them is established the bedrock of anshin. With that basis one is “irreversible”. Spiritual progress is then inevitable. It may take a long time, but one's ocean of greed, hate and delusion has a limit, a bottom. That bottom is Amida.

This is like the little poem by Saichi...

The ocean is full of water

It has the seabed to support it

Old Saichi is full of blind passion

It has Amida to support it



Such is settled faith.

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