Green Koans Case 33: The Evil Person

Clark Strand

Oni Tattoo

Case 33: The Evil Person
In the Tannisho, Shinran Shonin taught: “Even the good person attains birth in the Pure Land, how much moreso the evil person.”

Tannisho     Long kept in secret and regarded as a “dangerous book,” Tannisho (lit., “Text Lamenting the Heresies”) is the most popular spiritual text in modern day Japan. A little under 6,000 words in length, it can be read here at a single sitting. The above passage is the Tannisho’s most famous line.
Shinran Shonin    Considered the founder of the Jodo Shinshu, or True Pure Land School, Shinran (1173-1263) did not regard his teachings as a departure from those of his mentor, Honen. Like Nichiren, he spent much of his life in exile, during which time his most profound teachings took shape.
The evil person    In Pure Land Buddhism “the evil person” is not self-consciously or determinedly evil. Rather, he is aware of his own evil impulses. An analogous figure in modern society might be the addict in 12-step recovery. Having admitted that he is powerless over his addiction, such a person has no recourse but to hand his life and his will over to a “Power greater than himself.” In Pure Land Buddhism, that Power is identified with Amida Buddha. Ecology identifies it with the Earth.

Why is the evil person’s birth in the Pure Land more certain than the good person’s? It’s like saying that some raindrops will strike the ground before others. So what? It doesn’t matter when they fall, only that they do.

Shinran must have been thinking of the religiously-inclined person who believes he’s got it figured out—a way to make his raindrop fall faster, or straighter, or better than the rest. Ridiculous? Maybe so. But it happens. Once we’ve decided that we can do the work of the planet better than the planet, there’s no end to how far we will go.

Two pilgrims stood
Before a river of fire:
The first one remarked,
“Let’s just walk across quickly.”
The second let him go first.


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ClarkStrand's picture

"Decisions, decisions." Always love finding your sometimes droll, always pointed sense of humor here, Law.

Dominic Gomez's picture

In a letter to Shijo Kingo, one of his lay supporters, Nichiren wrote: "If you should fall into hell for some grave offense, no matter how Shakyamuni Buddha might urge me to become a Buddha, I would refuse. I would rather go to hell with you. For if you and I should fall into hell together, we would find Shakyamuni Buddha and the Lotus Sutra there."

To fall into Hell or to be born again in the Pure Land. To be the evil person or the good person.
Hmmm...decision, decisions. The ball, it seems, is always in our court.