1. On Contemporary Shin Buddhist Thought 2. Author Affiliations: Professor Emeritus Ryukoku University, Kyoto
Pure Land=淨土; Pure Land School=淨土宗; Sukhavati=極樂世界; the right dharma-age=正法時代; the semblance dharma-age=像法時代; the last dharma-age=末法時代; Amida Buddha=Amitabha Buddha=阿彌陀佛
THE GOAL OF THE BUDDHIST PATH is to realize unsurpassed enlightenment by awakening to and overcoming the impermanent nature of the existential world. In Japan as well, the Buddhist path that was transmitted through China was also founded in both the realization and overcoming of the impermanent nature of reality. The awakening that comes from understanding the impermanent nature of reality is the first step toward practicing the Buddhist path. It is through practicing the Buddhist path that one is able to overcome the impermanent nature of existence and realize the realm of unsurpassed enlightenment. The doctrines that the Buddha expanded during his forty-five years of propagation are said to have reached eighty-four thousand in number. Over time, the transmission of these doctrines incorporated various complex conditions that existed during its history of propagation. One such example was the construct of the three dharma-ages: the right dharma-age, the semblance dharma-age, and the last dharma-age. This construct became so prevalent that it began to influence how the doctrine was transmitted. In the period corresponding to the last dharma-age, it was said that of the three pillars of teaching, practice, and enlightenment—a system indicating the process toward enlightenment—the two characteristics of practice and enlightenment were lost. This last dharma-age connoted a breakdown in the ability of the Buddhist path itself to overcome impermanence and bring about the attainment of enlightenment. By forcing those who would attempt to resurrect the right dharma-age into a re-examination of Śākyamuni’s teaching itself, it drove them to discover a new system of thought and thereby re-establish the path toward enlightenment. according to Shinran’s thought, the last dharma-age is not simply an excellent external system that reveals the internal, true form of “foolish beings of the present.” It does not simply stop at the individual level, but is a system that completely fills the ocean of all beings. One could probably refer to it as a clear recognition of the nature of karmic evil, which has existed from the beginningless past. Or, stating it in another way, it is the clear recognition of one’s true form as a foolish being, which one becomes able to acknowledge for the first time when illuminated by the light of Amida Buddha’s salvation.