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Monthly Dharma Thoughts

In Search of a Religion of Truth


The world we live in is filled with religions of many kinds. The original role of religion is to steer us in some meaningful direction in life. Imagine what would happen if we were to start out in the wrong direction – who knows where we would end up! Likewise, there are religions that are misleading and could well lead us down the wrong path.
According to our Founder, Shinran Shonin (1173–1263), religion can be classified into three kinds: ‘true’, ‘provisional’, and ‘false’. That is, there are ‘religions of truth’, ‘provisional teachings’, and ‘false religions’. As to ‘religions of truth’, Shinran Shonin says that a truly genuine religious teaching is to be found in ‘the true teaching of the Pure Land way’, or Jodo Shinshu, which is the name of our school. As to ‘provisional teachings’, he points out there are some religious teachings that are merely stop-gap measures; that is, they are informative and may serve to lead people to the true teaching, but they are not a ‘religion of truth’ in themselves.
There are those who say that religions are all the same, and that all of them lead ultimately to the same goal; however, this is not always the case. Some religions merely teach people ways to fulfill their selfish desires, for instance, how to make themselves rich, or how to cure themselves of illness, or how to acquire some other material benefit for themselves in this world. There are also those religions that demand that people make the ultimate sacrifice in the name of God or sacrifice their dream of happiness in the name of justice. Though we may loosely refer to them as ‘religions’, more accurately such religions are to be classified as ‘false religions’.
Such false religions that are only an extension of our selfish desires or merely intimidate people by threatening to punish them can never be said to be a ‘religion of truth’. International conflict is one unfortunate result of the friction and disharmony caused by such false religions at the individual, social, and world level.
Shinran Shonin points to the ‘religion of truth’ to be found in the teaching of the Nembutsu. The teaching of the Nembutsu brings us to awaken to the real truth about ourselves: that we have been acting selfishly all along, driven blindly by our desires. This is a truth to which we have long closed our eyes. Paradoxically, it is by means of this awakening that we are enabled to attain the status of Awakened Ones, or ‘Buddhas’.
The term ‘Buddha’ is a Sanskrit word that means ‘one who has been enlightened as to the ultimate truth’. To take notice of the easily deluded nature of our mind and to curb our selfish desires – this is what it means for us to become Awakened Ones, or ‘Buddhas’.
Once we have attained such insight into ourselves through the working of the true compassion of Amida Buddha, we are better able to live in the world in a true and real sense that will ultimately lead us to the final goal of attaining Buddhahood in the Pure Land. No longer do we narrow-mindedly pursue whatever greets the eye nor do we act out of a selfish mind that thinks only in terms of ‘me, myself, and I’. Once we open our eyes to the ‘truth’ about ourselves, and let it spell a change in us, we become those who are more awakened to the needs of those around us, and as Awakened Ones we become truly concerned over the happiness of others.

The path that Shinran Shonin walked was the way of the Nembutsu leading to the final attainment of Buddhahood. We too must earnestly follow this path of saying the Nembutsu that leads us to the realization of the working of Amida Buddha’s true compassion in our lives.

Source: Adapted from Rodoku howa shu [A book of sermons to read at home], vol. 1, p. **. We wish to thank the many people who put their minds together to produce the English rendering of this sermon.