April Fool Every Day

The shinjin of the wise is such that they are inwardly wise, outwardly foolish. The heart of Gutoku is such that I am inwardly foolish, outwardly wise.

Gutoku Shinran
Gutoku’s Notes, Fascicle One
Collected Works of Shinran, Volume 1, page 587

Shinran, founder of Jodo Shinshu, referred to himself as “Gutoku” Shinran. 

“Gutoku” means the “stubble-headed foolish one”. “Gu” means foolish, silly, immature, foolish, ignorant (from bāla in Sanskrit). “Toku” means “stubble-headed” and refers to Shinran’s self-awareness that he was unable to follow the precepts of a Buddhist monk, which include shaving one’s head.

Despite Shinran’s religious transformation through Shinjin, remarkable scholarly achievements, and great success in the propagation of the Jōdo Shinshū teachings, he always displayed a remarkable self-awareness of his true nature as a “bonbu” or a “…foolish being who is forever motivated by blindly self-centered desires, attached the fascination of this evanescent world, and unable to resolve the contradictions of human existence thoroughly. In fact, Shinran says that true wisdom is brought forth only from the heart and mind of the person who as awakened to Amida’s great compassion, and in the light of that compassion, realizes himself to be a foolish being.”(1)

At the core of the religious transformation experienced through Shinjin is an acute awareness one’s self-centered desires and attachments to the fascinations of this world of delusion; that is, awakening to the reality-as-it-is that WE are the “bonbu” who are the object of Amida’s Great Compassionate Vow.

In the midst of the sheer chaos of COVID-19, it is all too easy for me to insist that I am better than others. My need to feel superior to others is driven by my fundamental self-centered nature, that I am wise in comparison to those “other people who are stupid!”

Illuminated by Amida’s Unhindered Light of Wisdom, and embraced by Great Compassion, I see the truth of Shinran’s words, “…I am inwardly foolish, outwardly wise.”

Inwardly, I am karma’s fool, hopelessly selfish, greedy, angry … and yet I put on airs of being a wise Buddhist temple minister, the Hongwanji version of Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid teaching Daniel-san how to “wax on, wax off.”

How silly is that?

Mahalo Amida for making me truly see I am the April Fool, each moment of every day!

Namo Amida Butsu!

Gutoku Kerry

P.S. Stay Home, Stay Well!


(1)  The Collected Works of Shinran, Volume 2, Glossary of Terms, page 187.

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