Part Two: Utterly Sincere Mind 至誠心 shijoshin

We can distinguish a broad meaning and a narrow meaning. In the broad sense, we all have some idea what sincerity is. It is to be innocent, straight-forward and wholehearted.

Recently we heard the fairy story of the three young men who each set out to take a magic apple with which hopefully to cure the princess of an otherwise incurable ailment and thus win her hand in marriage. On their journey, each meets an old woman who is, of course, a fairy. She asks them each, “Young man, where are you going and what do you have in your basket?” and after each answers, she says “So shall it be.” The first young man is frightened that he might lose the apple if he reveals that that is what he has, so he lies and says he has some frogs in his basket and he is taking them to the river to release them. The old lady lets him pass, saying, “So shall it be,” and when he gets to the princess’ castle he finds he has only frogs in his basket. Something similar happens with the second young man who pretends that he has food for the pig in his basket. However, when the third and youngest comes along and is challenged by the old woman he just blurts out that he has got the magic apple and is taking it to the princess who is then going to marry him. The old woman says, “So shall it be,” and her spell works and the young man marries the princess. This story celebrates innocent sincerity.

In the narrower sense, the sincere mind is the mind that has complete faith in the saving vows of Amida Buddha. For one who has such complete trust everything is completely assured. Amida will receive him or her. Such a person does not have to worry about salvation and so concern about body and mind fall away. Such a person will die in peace when the time comes.

The ideal in Pureland is the myokonin who is a person who manifests such sincere faith. In a way, a myokonin is a ‘holy fool’. He or she is not necessarily intelligent or educated and does not necessarily follow any kind of practice protocol, but he is completely sincere in his faith. Perhaps each day - or whenever he thinks of it - he goes to the altar and talks to Amida, telling Him everything that has happened including his own mistakes and failings. This is not done in any kind of puritanical way, but rather more like an innocent child talking to a kind aunty.

Such is the shijoshin, the mind (shin) that is completely sincere. The word shin could also be translated ‘heart’. The charater 心 was originally a picture of a human heart. Shijoshin is thus wholeheartedness.

This emphasis means that Pureland practice is rather flexible. Where some other schools place great emphasis upon strict form - posture, behaviour, etiquette, and so on - in Pureland it is sincerity that matters and the sincere person will naturally find a form to express his or her faith. So this is very much an inside to outside approach.

Complete sincerity is a kind of clarity, a light. It is, in fact, itself the light of Buddha. When we are completely sincere we experience the light of Buddha shining through us, or reflected in us and when somebody else is so sincere we receive the light of Buddha from them. This is very disarming and purifying. The person involved is not necessarily particularly conscious that it is happening any more than the young man in the story had any conscious thought about needing to be sincere. He just was.

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