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Doctrinal Q&A - on Icchantika

Q: What kind of mind is that of the icchantika (Jp. sendai), and

what does it feel? Write these two things.

A:The mind that rejects the law of cause and effect.Upon hearing of hell, it registers no surprise; upon hearing of the Land of Bliss, it musters no joy. It is unresponsive and remains unfazed.


Icchantika is a Sanskrit word, and it means ‘those who are cut off from all goodness’ or ‘those who lack faith’. It refers to the human mind, which lacks even a particle of goodness. In Teaching, Practice, Faith, Enlightenment, Master Shinran said, “May those who encounter this book make their belief and obedience the cause, or their skepticism and revilement the opportunity.”

As we can tell from his words, those who slander Buddhism still have bonds to salvation. An icchantika, however, has no hope at all of being saved. This is why the Nirvana Sutra teaches that such a mind is “like carrion.” Master Shinran calls it a “corpse of rebellion and revilement.” Told that its fate is hell, this mind is not even as shocked as one might be if one dropped some money. Told that it can attain birth in the land of utmost bliss, it does not even feel as much joy as one might when one picks up a coin. Confronted by Buddhism with the fact that there is no tomorrow, it neither panics nor feels the slightest urgency. The mind absolutely unmoved by the teachings of Buddhism is what is meant by the mind of the icchantika.

Our surface mind may fear the recompense for evildoing that will be ours should death come now, but the mind below is stolid and insensitive to evil. News of someone else’s death may arouse surprise, yet deep down inside we are nonchalant and scoff, “I won’t die!” We have no thought of the afterlife or of attaining salvation. Such is the mind of the icchantika.

When we hear the law of causality explained methodically, we nod in comprehension, having not a single qualm with the teachings and even feeling as if we know it all too well, yet something deep inside us remains stubbornly unregenerate. However it is stimulated and however much it listens to the teachings, this mind does not respond.

The more we try to listen compliantly to the truth, the more perverse and rebellious this mind becomes. All the buddhas of the three temporal worlds flee aghast at this incorrigible mind, the mind of a corpse.

(from 2-21 of the doctrine book)


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