Mindfulness in Jodo Shinshu

The Taste of the Nembutsu cover image

A message from Rev. Bryan Masashi Siebuhr which appears in the book, “The Taste of the Nembutsu,” published in 2016 by the HHMH State Ministers’ Association. The book is a collection of dharma messages by each of the active ministers.

To extend the reach of the dharma within these messages, we will publish one per week on our website.


Mindfulness in Jodo Shinshu

Rev. Bryan Masashi Siebuhr

When we consider mindfulness in Jodo Shinshu, we turn to the True Teaching passed down from our teacher, Shinran Shonin. What Shinran expresses is awakening to true and real life. True and real life is Amida Buddha. We remain in this secular world mindful of true and real life and when we die, we enter that life which exists within this world yet not the same as this world or life that we live. Mindfulness means to be mindful of true and real life and when we live life with this as its source, then we truly live to the fullest extent possible. Then we realize that everything; our sorrows, anger, and even spiritual joy is nothing but false and untrue because it is arises and wains depending on causes and conditions. It is nothing other than the workings of the ego. When we see the truth of this life, we cannot help but abhor it and in so doing turn to seeking something that is true. True are the words of our great teacher that everything in this world is false and untrue, only the Nembutsu is real. Amida Buddha is not a higher power or the divine, Amida Buddha is boundless true and real life contained within which are the Buddha’s of the ten directions. Sakyamuni Buddha showed us this truth. How we wish to live is up to us and life is governed by the truth of impermanence, interdependence, and karmic circumstances, inherent in which is the truth that life is suffering. Our everyday life is of little consequence compared to mindfulness associated with awakening to true and real life. One aspect of mindfulness in Jodo Shinshu is to constantly remain aware of true and real life once we awaken to it through the Nembutsu.

Examining the underlying mechanism, central to mindfulness within the context of Jodo Shinshu is the 18th or Primal Vow of Amida Buddha which states, “If, when I attain Buddhahood, sentient beings in the lands of the ten directions who sincerely and joyfully entrust themselves to me, desire to be born in my land, and call my Name even ten times, should not be born there, may I not attain perfect enlightenment. Excluded, however, are those who commit the five gravest offenses and abuse the right Dharma.”

Mindfulness of the Buddha’s Primal Vow while saying the Name is central. To say the Name is in itself constant mindfulness which is right-mindedness. Saying the Name is the act that brings about our birth in the Pure Land and is what it means to be solely mindful of the Buddha for even ten thought moments.

Once having received Shinjin, when we say the Name out of mindfulness, we do so out of gratitude for the Buddha’s benevolence. This is likened to the feeling one has when we think about the kindness that has been bestowed on us by another. Such a mind is one of great joy and true Shinjin which is to mean the transference of Amida’s mind to us. Through mindfulness we maintain the trust which is the basis of the acceptance of the Name in one’s heart.

The Buddha’s of the Ten Directions, with Amida Buddha as central, praise Amida Buddha while mindful of the Primal Vow. We, like the Buddha’s of the Ten Directions, when mindful of the Primal Vow which has as its focus foolish beings, experience the sudden attainment of Shinjin when we abandon our self-power practices. When we receive Amida Buddha’s practice, we receive true Shinjin characterized by mindfulness that never ceases and as a consequence practice is uninterrupted compared to Shinjin that is not genuine because it lacks decisiveness and our mindfulness is not enduring. If, however, we perform self-power practices, we experience constant interruption, are swayed by life circumstances, and lose right-mindedness since we are not in accord with the Primal Vow and greed, anger, and various views arise while at the same time the feeling shame and repentance is absent. Therefore, one who seeks to attain enlightenment by performing self-power acts rarely can attain enlightenment because their mindfulness is interrupted. All elements of existence are illusion. Self-power practices are therefore irrelevant when it comes to the attainment of Shinjin as mindfulness is not enduring.

The practice of saying the Name on the other hand includes all practices, breaking though deeply rooted ignorance and is in itself mindfulness. Mindfulness therefore is the Nembutsu and the Nembutsu is Namu Amida Butsu. We should therefore be mindful and think upon Amida Buddha while reciting Namu Amida Butsu. To be mindful of the Buddha while not possessing Shinjin does not mean that reciting the Name will result in a direct and sudden effect, rather it leaves the mind open to awakening to Amida’s Compassion. However, our own aspirations may not be fulfilled if we do not look upon Amida as true reality and as the Reward Body Buddha given to us so that we may open our awareness to true reality.

When we receive the true and real mind, we think on and remain mindful of Amida Buddha as if the Buddha is in close proximity. Having received a true and real mind, we come to turn away from what we were once attached and are cut off from birth-death.