the paradox or irony of the saint

the paradox or irony of the saint

The Jodoshinshu Book published by The Nembutsu Press (Los Angeles), second printing, 1975, is what we draw from for today’s essay.  “Not copyrighted.  May be reproduced without permission.” appears on the back of the title page.

This beautiful paperback book of less than 100 pages we purchased at the Buddhist Bookstore on Octavia Street in San Francisco (CA, USA) in the late 1980s.

Before quoting from this gem of insight and wisdom, let us consider the paradox or irony of the person living a saintly life (a loving, giving, sacrificing, moral life, selfless as opposed to selfish).  The person who strives to live the saintly life and makes significant progress in doing so is ever more acutely, and poignantly aware of his/her shortcomings, failings, weaknesses, character flaws, etc.  (For simplicity of wording, we will now use masculine pronouns generically to indicate both males and females.)  Although others around such a person will view him as a saint, he, with an acute, immediate grasp or awareness of his flaws, always strives to be (and to do) better.  The saintly person rarely thinks of himself as a saintly person.  Such a person always falls short in his own eyes, by his high standards.  Perhaps, the saintly life really is a journey, and not a destination.  A process of becoming, continually striving to improve one’s self, rather than a state achieved.

Here is a relevant quote from the book (p. 61 -62).  Ren’i is Shinran’s direct disciple.

. . . . . Similarly because Shinran Shonin’s conduct exceeded the standards Ren’i had set, Shinran Shonin was a saint.  But Shinran Shonin’s conduct was far below the standards he set for himself.  And the more Shinran Shonin approached his already high standards, the higher he saw that they could be set.

Although people looking at Shinran Shonin could see him growing morally and spiritually, he himself felt that in comparison with his constantly rising standards (which always rose faster than his attainments) he was falling behind, and thus his sense of “evil” (his consciousness of imperfection) increased.

The reason we do not sense our “evil” nature as strongly as Shinran Shonin did, is that we are not as severe with ourselves as he was.  The more severe we are with ourselves, the greater will be our sense of imperfection, or “evil”. . .

Now, some other quotes that may be of interest and/or help to you.

As to a criticism of placing undue faith in technology, we read on p. 19:

“When mankind is released from physical toil and household drudgery,” we said, “we will be truly free, and live as men were meant to.”

However, contrary to our expectations, such a rose-colored age did not come into being. We seem to live in an age which is busier and more rude than ever.  What happened? 

On page 22, a computer was asked how we should live.  Its answer is as profound as it is simple.

Select only those things that are truly important.

From page 27, come these statements to consider.

Science cannot replace religion.

There are those who believe that if science continues to advance, there will be less need of religion.

And, on p 28:

Suffering arises because man’s joy and anger, his grief and pleasure, have no connection with science.  A true scientist is very much aware of this.

“A scientist who believes that science is all there is, is not a first-rate scientist.”  Hideki Yukawa (Nobel Prize winner in physics)

On page 37, there is this indictment of the zealous pursuit of the worldly life.

Those with incomplete spiritual lives who are gifted mentally and physically are worse off than those who are not so gifted because they will use their talents to fill their emptiness.  This works to a certain degree, but it will never carry you to enlightenment.

As to regret and excessive guilt, p. 40:

Recovering even stronger from a fall.

To constantly brood over the same thing is not good for you.  Let us give up cleanly those things that we can.  When you cannot give something up, be prepared or resolved to suffer.

Then we read this poignant insight into the flawed moral nature of human beings (p. 55).

There is an old saying, “At times we can truly grieve over the disaster that has befallen another, but only a heavenly being can truly rejoice over the good fortune of another.”  This is truly what we are like.

P. 56:

Jodoshinshu teaches the truth.  Regardless of how distasteful and painful it may be, if it is the truth about ourselves, we must listen.

And, on p 77 – 78, we ponder this:

Merely to escape without a goal to direct yourself to is to find yourself in another trap.  True “escape” consists in finding freedom where you are right now.  An enlightened person can never be imprisoned, even if he is placed behind prison bars.

Dear readers, here is our closing suggestion for each of you.

Seek the truth.  Recognize the truth when you find it.  Then, order your life around the truth.

Thanks for reading!

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