QUESTION: In Jodo Shinshu it seems that an experience of shinjin acts as a kind of 'proof' or 'guarantee' that one has called out to Amida with faith and has been received and will be reborn into the Pureland (do correct me if I'm wrong). What is the position in Amida Shu (and also what was Honen's position) - is it necessary for us to attain shinjin, or do we just say the nembutsu and trust that all will be okay, even after we've said it once?
SHORT ANSWER: Just say the nembutsu.
LONGER ANSWER: Honen’s position was that saying the nembutsu even once is sufficient, however, there might arise the question of faith or sincerity - i.e. is mouthing the words really saying the nembutsu? Everything in Buddhism hinges on intention. The best intention is gratitude: the sense of gratitude that Amida accepts even oneself just as one is.
In the Japanese Pureland schools generally experience of shinjin will be taken as personally evidential. There is a precedent for this in the early Buddhist regulations about ordination. For ordination to be valid, traditionally, four members of the ordained sangha have to be present at the ordination. However, in “border regions” - far away places where there may not be four - it is even possible to ordain oneself, but this is only valid if confirmed by a vision or dream within a short period of time.
In Rennyo’s writings the important things is not so much shinjin as anjin. Anjin means settled faith, or, more literally, mind at peace. There is clearly some danger in Buddhism that people get too much into chasing after experiences. Buddhism is not really a vision quest even though it recognises the significance of powerful visions when they happen naturally. Some of the early enthusiasm for Zen in the USA was stimulated by Kapleau’s book Three Pillars of Zen which included descriptions of satori experiences. No doubt many of the early Zen enthusiasts were in it in order to try to obtain similar experiences.
If one has a settled faith, virtues grow naturally, worldly worries become less pressing, and one becomes generally more liberated and at ease. If one happens to have had a powerful conversion or awakening experience - a sense of being “|seized by Amida never to be forsaken” - then this will strengthen one’s faith, but it is not a prerequisite and certainly should not be seen as a status symbol or entry requirement. Deliberately chasing after experiences always has some element of self-power about it.
The Amida ideal is simple faith - a secure refuge in the Three Jewels. Trust that the Dharma works secretly within, say the nembutsu, abandon ambitious practice and deal with life as it comes in a compassionate manner. Namo Amida Bu.