A final quotation from Zuiken before moving on to other considerations:. The first one moment's thought of Faith is raised at the moment His Sacred Name has manifested itself in the mind of man. In that instant, the cause or karma of rebirth in the Pure Land shall be determined at the same time. After that, the first voicing of the nembutsu follows. It is now time to explore some of the ramifications of these views on the nembutsu as espoused by Shinran and Zuiken.
What are we to conclude regarding the status of the nembutsu from the perspective of both metaphysics and praxis? What is the correct attitude to be maintained when undertaking nembutsu practice? Why, ultimately, is the nembutsu so important? Let us try and address these questions under a series of discrete headings which may better serve to clarify the issues at stake.
A clear implication of the foregoing passages is the view that the entire reality of Amida is somehow contained in His Name, invoked as Namu Amida Butsu. All his power, merits and virtues are seen to be invested in this supreme manifestation of the formless Tathagata in the realm of forms.
The Name emerges as the most direct and profound means by which the absolute and transcendent reality - the Dharmakaya - is able to assume a form which can be grasped and assimilated by all. There is no-one who can claim that the Name is beyond their reach for its scope is universal. It is the true measure of the compassion of the Buddha that He adopts a means best suited to ordinary people to have them entrust themselves to His boundless wisdom. It is the vehicle yana with the least conditions hence its appropriateness in this Decadent Age of the Dharma.
How is it, then, that something seemingly so simple as a name can constitute such a repository of limitless power? Surely a set of words denoting a mere linguistic convention cannot possess the extraordinary influence that is claimed for it. Indeed, such a notion is difficult for many people in the modern world to believe. The key to understanding this matter, however, is to recognise that the Buddha and His Name are non-dual.
This means that there is no essential difference - despite appearances - between the essence of the Buddha's innermost reality and the forms that He chooses to assume in order to communicate Himself. In fact, according to the ontological viewpoint of the Mahayana, all reality as we perceive it with all its countless forms is none other than the manifestation or the expression in material mode of the Absolute Reality.
The infinitude of the ultimate principle of existence tathata unfolds from its illimitable centre and radiates itself as the variegated panoply that constitutes the universe in all its dimensions. Accordingly, no form as such can constitute an impenetrable barrier to the disclosure of the Buddha-nature because such forms are the very extension of this nature itself. Ostensibly, the Name of Amida Buddha is assuredly just another form, and therefore no more an aspect of the Buddha's reality than any other.
However, it is pre-eminent among all forms in that Amida Buddha has especially invested it with the power to bring ordinary deluded beings to enlightenment and thereby liberate them from their samsaric bondage. Although one could argue, philosophically, that all forms harbour the Buddha's presence and that it is illegitimate to single one out as exceptional, soteriologically this a much more difficult position to sustain. From the perspective of an ordinary being bombu who is constantly burdened with delusory thoughts and debilitating passions, the infinite forms of the universe are much less a portal to the ultimate reality than they are a source of distraction, attachment or aversion.
To a fully-awakened Tathagata, of course, 'form is emptiness and emptiness is form' but the message of the nembutsu is not necessarily addressed to superior beings such as these! Amida Buddha, then, was impelled to select a form in which to manifest Himself completely and which would be recognised and embraced by those with a sincere desire to attain Nirvana through birth in His Pure Land.
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In this way, the Buddha becomes His Name and, in doing so, is able to impart all that he is to those who allow Him to infuse them through the invocation of Namu Amida Butsu. It is solely through the Name that the Buddha is able to enter the hearts and minds of sentient beings, transforming their evil karma through His Infinite Light and sowing the seeds of unassailable emancipation. The natural corollary of this conception of the Name is a reappraisal of our ordinary understanding of 'practice'. Traditionally, in Buddhism, one applies oneself to the practice expounded in the teachings with a view to attaining realization of the truth that is taught therein.
To practice the teachings in this way was considered a fundamental prerequisite in following the Buddhist path to enlightenment. Shinran also considered practice to be indispensable to the full realization of the Dharma but his understanding of what constituted legitimate and effective practice was quite radical and controversial.
He did not recognize that ordinary people in the current age of mappo had the capacity to fulfil the highly rigorous and demanding conditions required to eradicate the three poisons of samsaric existence: greed, anger and ignorance. Any efforts by sentient beings to transcend these conditions are thoroughly vitiated, according to Shinran, by the intrinsic delusion ingrained in all people who find themselves in this current age of rampant defilements.
Therefore, it is not human practice that is considered efficacious but that of the Buddha. Only a being freed of the crippling poisons that characterize life in this Saha world is fully capable of practicing without delusion and the karmic bondage effected by impure actions. The only 'person' capable of such practice in the eyes of the Pure Land tradition is Amida Buddha who thereby practices on behalf of all sentient beings.
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Enlightenment can only be reached through the agency of Enlightenment itself. Ordinary beings are far from enlightened and must therefore rely on the power of this reality to reach it - and not just to simply rely on it but to actively suspend one's own interference in its working in order to ensure that its designs are not thwarted. Given his starkly realistic view on the spiritual infirmities of human nature, Shinran stresses that our own practice, such as it is, simply does not suffice to ferry us to the liberating shores of the Pure Land. The practice of Amida Buddha must replace our own.
How is this to be done? Through 'hearing the Name' and awakening the bodhicitta. We encounter Amida Buddha through His Name - or, more precisely, as His Name - which inevitably leads to His infinite mind of wisdom and compassion arising within our own finite minds. The action of the Buddha in illuminating the tenebrous recesses of our darkened hearts manifests itself as the nembutsu uttered by the person of shinjin, ie. This is precisely why Shinran viewed this, and only this, as 'great practice' - because it is the practice flowing from the very heart of Enlightenment itself.
We must avail ourselves of this practice if we are to reach our goal and the Buddha has ensured that this is possible for us by identifying Himself and all that He is with Namu Amida Butsu. It is now time to consider some of the more practical issues connected with the nembutsu and its practice. What is the correct attitude that one should adopt in relation to the nembutsu?
How does one seek refuge in Amida Buddha through His Name? What room is there for individual effort and initiative in a spiritual path so thoroughly dominated by the perspective of 'Other-Power'? Satisfactory answers to these questions are imperative if a convincing and intelligible account of the nembutsu is to be sustained.
The first thing to stress is that the denial of 'self-power' in the Pure Land path to enlightenment is not a denial of personal effort and perseverance. Shinran was often at pains to point out that this path was among the most difficult things to accept despite the ostensible simplicity of its method. The path is difficult because it works against all the ingrained dispositions and habits formed by the egocentric self over countless lives.
It is confronting and demanding because it challenges all our cherished, but illusory, beliefs regarding ourselves and the world. It denies the validity of the 'self' in order to transcend it through an awakening to the Great Self that is Amida Buddha - the true essence of all sentient beings and all things. Such a treasure does not come without considerable effort, struggle and even despair.
In what does this effort exist? If Amida's power is all that is required to secure our salvation, what role is there for us to accomplish? Are we not thereby reduced to a state of utter passivity? At the beginning of this paper, there was a brief discussion of how the Pure Land tradition understood one's first encounter with Amida Buddha as taking place through 'hearing the Name'. It was explained that this was not just hearing the sound of the Name being uttered but a full engagement with its content and meaning.
This implies thought, reflection and contemplation in the act of one's 'hearing' - it is far from being a mindless activity as is sometimes supposed by critics of the nembutsu.
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After all, the origin of the word nembutsu connotes, precisely, mindfulness of the Buddha. When one first encounters the Name, one can be either perplexed, repelled or consumed with joy, depending on the state and quality of one's antecedent karma. The Primal Vow offers salvation to any person in any circumstances. To expound the ocean of Amida's Primal Vow; In this evil world of five defilements We should believe the Buddha's true words. Thus Amida Buddha must be considered the greatest of all buddhas because He extends salvation from the world of suffering to all - whether good or evil, young or old, male or female - who simply take refuge in Him and attain that state of settled faith known as SHINJIN or "the mind of faith.
Once born in Amida's Pure Land, we attain buddhahood, we become buddhas ourselves. In fact, self-power Jp. To receive Amida's gift of SHINJIN one must acknowledge completely that one is incapable of achieving buddhahood through one's own self-power, and then one must take singleminded refuge in Amida Buddha.
It is as simple as that. This is where it is important to have a good teacher; further, one's karmic connection to Amida Buddha must be ripening to the point where one can accept this teaching in complete faith. It is not a "practice" in the sense that it accomplishes any spiritual goal.
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It, itself, does not cause birth in Amida's Pure Land. Master Shinran explained the Nembutsu as follows: The Nembutsu, for its practicers, is not a practice or a good act. Since it is not performed out of one's own designs, it is not a practice.
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Since it is not good done through one's own calculation, it is not a good act. Because it arises wholly from Other Power and is free of self-power, for the practicer, it is not a practice or a good act. For a summary of some of Master Shinran's core teachings, see the Tannisho, a short book composed by his follower Yuienbo with key quotes directly from Master Shinran.
Tannisho represents Jodo Shinshu Buddhism in terms of refuting specific deviations from Master Shinran's teaching which arose after his death in Unfortunately it has been expressed by some of the leading Shin scholars, and even leading Shin ministers, of our time and represents a threat to the vitality of the greater Sangha of True Shin Buddhism as set forth originally by Master Shinran and later revived by Master Rennyo. It is as though a person who has intellectually studied music wanted to teach someone how to play a musical instrument.
Guided by the teaching of Shinran Shonin, we shall listen to the compassionate calling of Amida Tathagata and recite the Nembutsu.
While always reflecting on ourselves, amidst our feelings of regret and joy, we shall live expressing our gratitude without depending on petitionary prayer and superstition. The Hongwanji school is a community of people joined together revering the teaching of Shinran Shonin and saying the Nembutsu. We seek to share with others the wisdom and compassion of Amida Tathagata. By doing so, we shall work toward the realization of a society in which everyone is able to live a life of spiritual fulfillment.
Contact Us Find a Temple. Home Jodo Shinshu Buddhism. Jodo Shinshu Buddhism. The author is Rev. Used with permission. The complete set of brochures is available online. Way of Life Guided by the teaching of Shinran Shonin, we shall listen to the compassionate calling of Amida Tathagata and recite the Nembutsu. Purpose The Hongwanji school is a community of people joined together revering the teaching of Shinran Shonin and saying the Nembutsu. Message Categories. Message Tags.