Anshin is a Japanese word, often translated as 'settled faith' as I explained in Anshin Part One yesterday. It is a particularly important term in Pureland Buddhism. However, the theme is of universal implication and relevance.
Bringing Peace to the Heart
The term 'an' means peace and 'shin' means mind or heart. The Chinese character for shin is, in fact, derived from a drawing of a heart. So if we were to write anshin in modern emoticons, it could be...
This, perhaps, gives us a feel for what anshin means. Something that tenderly brings peace to the heart. In this simple idea lies one of the main themes of spiritual practice that transcends differences of creed or community.
Love is Both Culprit & Cure
This wish for peace of heart finds a rather mundane, utilitarian expression in the current craze for a certain kind of 'mindfulness'. People want 'relief from stress', stress being disturbance of the heart, and in our modern way we look for a technique. However, such heart stress cannot really be cured by a distractive technique, that only gives temporary respite, welcome as such respite may be. It behoves us to look at our lives in a more fundamental way if we wish to eliminate the roots of the problem rather than simply abate the symptoms for a while.
Of course, we all know instinctively - and it is apparent to us as soon as we look at the emoticons - that this all has something to do with love. It is love that can both stress and smooth the heart. In this sense, we are talking about the yoga of the heart chakra. Anshin, therefore, is about soothing the heart and mending broken ones. It is love that can most disrupt our lives and it is also love that brings great bliss. However, there are many varieties of love, many objects of love and many ways in which love can be expressed or hidden.
Symbols of Innocence
The dove symbolises innocence and simplicity so the peace that it brings is unsullied by hidden corruptions. Doves have sybolised peace in cultures as diverse as ancient Egypt and classical China and in the Bible the dove represents the Holy Spirit that descended upon Jesus at his baptism by John in the River Jordan. Also, earlier in the Bible, at the end of the flood, a dove brings an olive branch to Noah signalling the the waters are going down and there is land. The troubles are coming to an end. So this is a rather universal symbol of the restoration of calm.
The Chinese character for 'an', however, is not a picture of a dove, it is a picture of a woman in a house. This was a very practical matter. In ancient China where these symbols originated there was often local warfare and at such times the women and children would take to the hills and hide. When peace came they returned to the villages and homes. So when the women were in their houses, there was peace.
Peace Beneath One's Own Roof
This brings home to us the fact that while the issue of war and peace is of immense importance, the peace that matters most frequently to most people is the one that they try to achieve under their own roof. Peace, therefore, in most cultures, is also closely linked with domesticity. In some religions, however - Buddhism, for example - while this association exists, the greatest peace is said to lie in going forth out of domesticity into the 'homeless life'. We shall see how this works in a future teaching.
Peace of mind, therefore, has a macro and a micro level socially. The little wars that we fight with our nearest and dearest can be just as bitter and taxing as the big wars that go on between nations and ideologies, and there is a good deal of parallelism between the two. Warfare only occurs in a few species such as humans and ants, but domestic squabbling is evident in every sparrow nest in our barn and the bird flying home with some titbit in his/her beak in an effort to restore calm is by no means a species specific gesture.
The Romantic Ideal
In fact, probably most people think that the way to establish peace of heart and mind is to find the right partner and establish the right kind of relationship - whatever that may be. The fact that the key to success in a popular novel is so often that it depicts such a conclusion following after difficulties illustrates the fact that this is a common archetype.It is surely the basis of the 'serial monogamy' that is increasingly the pattern in our contemporary society, as people reiteratively seek happiness by what they believe is the only promise available.
The Complementarity of Inner & Outer
The spiritual paths, however, tend to suggest that the path to bliss is not through finding the right other, but through changing the self in some crucial way so that one can or could be at peace with a diversity of others - ultimately that one can be a bringer of peace to the whole world. Perhaps the ideal relationship is actually one in which those partnered together are held so by common commitment to such a noble ideal.
Nonetheless, even in those paths that take such a view, it is generally through a crucially important relationship that such a personal change takes place. It is in the encounter with a significant other who disturbs our conceit that we can find liberation from it. We thus come full circle. Release from addiction to seeking the right other comes as a result of an encounter with the right other. However, the 'right' other may not be the one we expect. Furthermore, such an encounter disturbs the foundations. Thus we see two different types of crucially important relations - that between similars and that between opposites.
The term anshin implies trust. For us to benefit from either type of relationship, there has to be a lot of trust and that trust, to work, really has to transcend the relationship itself. So here is the contrary cycle: arriving at the right quality in oneself depends upon the right relationship, but forming the right relationship depends upon a right quality already established in ourselves.
So we go round these circles, now this way, now that, seeking peace, fleeing it, receiving it, bringing it, disturbing it, losing it, finding it, bestowing and redeeming it, and if our faith can endure through all of this, well, that is anshin.