The Color Gold – excerpt for River of Fire River of Water by Taitetsu Unno
Though Shin Buddhism improvised a radically new form of practice, its goal is one and the same with that of Mahayana Buddhism The goal is to awaken to the true self as a manifestation of dharma or “reality-as-is.” What this means may be illustrated by some popular metaphors in the Pure Land tradition.
The lotus flower, the second metaphor, reveals the distinctive meaning of suchness or thatness. The lotus has been an important religious symbol in the Asian world for more than five thousand years with different signilications. In the Pure Land tradition it represents the uniqueness of each person, or each reality-as-is, distinct from all others each with its own uniqueness.
The multiple colors of the lotus blossoms, each radiating its distinctive luster, creates the glory of the enlightened realm. This is the realm of the Pure Land, the world of enlightenment. But this world is not a given; it is to be realized through undergoing a radical transformation.
This transformation is suggested in the third metaphor of transformed rubble, based on scripture that reads: “We who are like bits of rubble are transformed into gold.” All-embracing and nonexclusive, this path accepts everyone, even the lowliest who are considered nothing more than “bits of rubble” in the eyes of society. But no matter who or what one is, everyone is transformed through the power of compassion to become authentically real as an awakened person. “Bits of rubble” is the realization of those who, illuminated by Immeasurable Light and Immeasurable Life that is Amida, are made to see their essential finitude, imperfection, and mortality. This realization may not sound too inspiring, but affirming one’s basic reality is the crucial factor in the transformative process. To bring about such a transformation is the sole purpose, of the Primal Vow of Amida, the working of great compassion that courses through the universe.
This metaphor of alchemical transmutation is based on the Mahayana teaching of the nonduality of samsara and nirvana, delusion and enlightenment, rubble and gold. This is not a simple identity, for it involves a dialectical tension between the two poles, between limited karmic beings and unbounded como passion. The two remain separate, yet they are one; they are one, yet always remain separate.