Collected Works of Shinran

Concerning Thought and No-thought

The idea of Amida’s coming at the moment of death is for those who seek to gain birth in the Pure Land by doing various practices, for they are practicers of self-power. The moment of death is of central concern to such people, for they have not yet attained true shinjin. We may also speak of Amida’s coming at the moment of death in the case of those who, though they have committed the ten transgressions and the five grave offenses throughout their lives, encounter a teacher in the hour of death and are led at the very end to utter the nembutsu.

The practicer of true shinjin, however, abides in the stage of the truly settled, for he or she has already been grasped, never to be abandoned. There is no need to wait in anticipation for the moment of death, no need to rely on Amida’s coming. At the time shinjin becomes settled, birth too becomes settled; there is no need for the deathbed rites that prepare one for Amida’s coming.

“Right-mindedness,” then, is the settling of the shinjin of the universal Primal Vow. Because of the realization of this shinjin, a person necessarily attains the supreme nirvana. Shinjin is the mind that is single; the mind that is single is the diamondlike mind; the diamondlike mind is the mind aspiring for great enlightenment; and this is Other Power that is true Other Power.

There are, in addition, two other types of right-mindedness: that achieved through meditative and that through nonmeditative practices. These are right-mindedness of self-power within Other Power. The terms “meditative good” and “nonmeditative good” are used with reference to birth through various practices and indicate the good practices of self-power within Other Power.

Without awaiting Amida’s coming, the practicer of self-power will not attain birth even into the borderland, or the womblike birth, or the realm of indolence. For this reason Amida created the Nineteenth Vow, vowing to appear at the moment of death to welcome people who wish to attain birth by directing the merit of their accumulated good toward the Pure Land. Thus, it is the person endeavoring in meditative or nonmeditative practices who must be concerned about awaiting the moment of death and attaining birth through Amida’s coming.

The shinjin of the selected Primal Vow has nothing to do with either “thought” or “no-thought.” “Thought” refers to meditation on the color and form of an object; “no-thought” means that no form is conceived and no color visualized, so that there is no thought whatever. These are both teachings of the Path of Sages. The Path of Sages comprises teachings that people who have already attained Buddhahood preach in order to encourage us; it includes such schools as the Busshin, Shingon, Tendai, Kegon, and Sanron, which are said to be the ultimate developments of the Mahayana. The Busshin school is the presently growing Zen school. There are also the accomodated Mahayana and the Hinayana teachings, such as the Hosso, Jojitsu, and Kusha. These are all teachings of the Path of Sages. “Accomodated teachings” are those that Buddhas and bodhisattvas, who have already attained Buddhahood, promote by temporarily manifesting themselves in various forms; this is the meaning of the word “accomodated.”

The Pure Land teaching also includes doctrines of “thought” and “no-thought,” although here “thought” refers to nonmeditative good and “no-thought” to meditative good. “No-thought” in the Pure Land school, then, is quite different from that of the Path of Sages. “No-thought” of the Path of Sages also includes a doctrine of “thought” as visualization. Please ask someone about the full implications of this.

In the Pure Land teaching there are the true and the provisional. The true is the selected Primal Vow. The provisional teaches the good of meditative and nonmeditative practices. The selected Primal Vow is the true essence of the Pure Land way; good practices, whether meditative or nonmeditative, are provisional ways. The true essence of the Pure Land way is the consummation of Mahayana Buddhism; the provisional gateways of expedience include the other Mahayana and the Hinayana teachings, accomodated and real.

The teachers of Sakyamuni numbered one hundred and ten; this is stated in the Garland Sutra.


Kencho 3 [1251], Intercalary ninth month, 20th day

Age 79