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Ippen Shonin, the founder of the Jishu Sect says that Faith (Shinjin) is the act of leaving everything up to Amida Buddha. The crucial word in this definition of faith is the word Everything.
When one entrusts oneself to Amida Buddha, it must be done with absolute thoroughness. Should one reserve even one particle of Jiriki (the power of one's self or ego), this would absolutely destroy one's faith. This quality of being absolutely thorough and decisive about one's Faith is called "Ketsujo" in Japanese.
Here a number of questions may arise in the reader's mind, such questions as, "How do we awaken to Faith?" or "Why must we awaken to Faith?"
Such questions, of course, are impossible to answer. They transcend words and ideas. Ultimately, they must be understood through personal and direct experience, without a single thought or word meditating.
To answer, however, within the limits imposed by words, I would answer as follows: we awaken to Faith precisely at that moment (and moment(s) we realize the absolute futility of our Jiriki, and the absolute sustaining power of Tariki (Other Power or Amida Buddha). As to the question, "Why must we awaken to Faith?", one might answer, "Because Jiriki, no matter how effective, leads to endless suffering and Faith leads to the end of suffering and Faith leads to the end of suffering and the eventual attainment of Bodhi (Enlightenment) and Nirvana, the Pure Land.
One might ask at this point, "What kind of life is a life lived in Faith?" Ethically, it would be a life of gratitude for being taken in (Sesshu) by the Amida Buddha. Philosophically, it would be a life with a sense of unconditional affirmation of one's being and self. Psychologically, it would be a life of unrestricted inward freedom (the Japanese character for "entrusting oneself to another" or "Makaseru" also has the meaning for "inward freedom"). In tems of Faith itself, it would be an endless process of dying unto one's Jiriki and residing in Tariki (Zennen myoju; gonen sokusho). In short, it would be a life of pure Nembutsu.
In theory, there are many paths to salvation and enlightenment; Philosophy, Science, Psychology, Aesthetics, and so forth. In reality we discover that there is only One Faith, the Path of Faith, Tariki, Nembutsu. Shinran Shonin called this Path "The One Faith of Unobstructed Freedom" (Muge no Ichido). Without this One Path, we would have been condemned by our karmas to endless suffering, to wander forever throughout countless hells. Walking this Path, we move toward Buddhahood and the Pure Land of Nirvana.
On May 21, Jodoshinshu celebrates the birth of Shinran Shonin (A.D. 1173), who labored for ninety years to make this clear to us. All that we can do in return is to bow our heads in gratitude, say the Nembutsu, deepen our own awareness of Faith, and in this world, work with all our might to ease suffering and let in the Light of Amida Buddha's boundless Compassion and Wisdom.
Rev. Tetsuo Unno was formerly a minister at Pasadena Buddhist Temple. This message was reprinted from Dharma Talks of the Four Seasons, which is available in our Online Store.