Namu Amida Butsu

This work is especially dedicated to Zuiken Saizo Inagaki, who sheds light on the pristine and original teachings of Jodo Shinshu (Shin Buddhism) for many people, including myself. I regard him as my soul teacher and I am very much influenced by his words and thoughts, which are deeply imbued with the Wisdom of Compassion of Amida Buddha. I read most of his writings available in Chinese language and I wish to share some of his golden words in this blog in English. Rev. George Gatenby and Mr. Gabriel Schlaefer have been kindly and untiringly assisting me to edit the translated essays so that they are readable and true to the intent of Sensei. May all partake of the wisdom of Shinshu teaching and be overpowered by the light of Amida Buddha.

Namu Amida Butsu!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Unit 8: The Radiance of Enlightenment

[1] Namu-amida-butsu is vast and unbounded. Because this is the working of Amida, it is fine that we are happy or unhappy at times. If you forget that Amida is working on us and about His working, you will go to hell. If you think you are working on your own even the slightest—from saying the nembutsu, faith (shinjin), and listening (chomon) to the Buddha-dharma to worshipping Buddha at the temple—no matter what you do, as long as you hold onto your self-centeredness that you are doing it all on your own accord, you will definitely be going to hell!

On the other hand, those who feel that Amida Buddha is entirely working on them will go to the Pure Land. Some believe that Amida Buddha is working on them while “they” also pull their own weight. Such a notion of cooperation is not the right way to think—it is still self-power!

If one thinks he is working on his own, such a person will definitely go to hell. If the opposite mentality is the case, then one will naturally express a grateful feeling for the Buddha: “Thank you, Buddha, I owe it all to you.” If a person spontaneously expresses such thankful feelings despite any conditions, involuntarily forgetting “himself”, he will go to the Pure Land. For people on their deathbeds, “lose or win” is determined in seconds. When a person can take three meals a day and go to the temple to listen to the Buddha-Dharma as if he does all this on his own working, although you tell him, “This is not the time for you to ‘come on stage’, please request the appearance of the Compassionate Father,” he still keeps working on his own.

On your deathbed, you are totally powerless; what you have left is absolute powerlessness, absolute darkness, and absolute horror. Your own power is no more. When you are powerless, “Well, Amida is waiting!” When you request the appearance of Amida, you will immediately be taken to the Pure Land. It all happens in an instant. This is what we call “the sudden within the sudden.”

Know that because the One Vehicle of the Primal Vow [the vast Primal Vow-Power of the Tathagata] is the ultimate sudden teaching, the teaching of sudden and instantaneous attainment, the perfect fulfilled teaching, and the consummate teaching, it is the absolute and incomparable teaching . . . [2]

Do you hold this mindset? Once “I” arises, hell would decidedly be where you belong! Amida Buddha emerges in a flash; when Amida Buddha makes his appearance, you’ll be going to the Pure Land. At that time, you might think, “Did I request the appearance of Amida and forget ‘myself’?” However, when you think this, “you” naturally surfaces! Thus, nothing can work, regardless of what you do. How then? The Other-Power of Buddha is just to resolve this problem.

“The radiance of enlightenment, in its brilliance, transcends all limits. . . .” This sentence shows the astonishment of Shinran Shonin when he discovered that ever since he was practicing the 19th and 20th vows of the Path of Sages, he had always been “taking the lead”. In this life of impermanence, Shonin realized that to exercise one’s own power to escape from birth-and-death is absolutely impossible; hence he went to the abode of Honen Shonin to seek the way.

Honen Shonin said, “I know nothing. I simply rely exclusively on the one [Buddha] Amida’s Primal Vow. Just say the nembutsu and be saved by Amida.” So it is Amida who takes the lead. Shinran Shonin met Amida Buddha there. At that moment, in his gratitude to Buddha, Shinran Shonin eventually resolved the matter of life and death.

Therefore, the problem concerns who will take the lead, you or Amida. This is not easy to understand, is it? If Amida Buddha takes the lead, then you are born in the Pure Land. However, if you take the lead, then hell will definitely be your immediate abode. If you exercise your own power, you will go to hell; on the other hand, you will go to the Pure Land when you allow Amida to work on you. Because of that, some people might think, “Am I taking the lead, or is Amida Buddha?” It is wrong when you think this way. This is why we say, “Do not look around! Do not calculate!” This simply means just listen to what you are told by the Buddha. But it is difficult to follow the words of Buddha.

The power of the Vow is without limit;
Thus, even our karmic evil, deep and heavy, is not oppressive. [3]

Are we not satisfied with this one sentence?

The power of the Vow is without limit;
Thus, even our karmic evil, deep and heavy, is not oppressive. [3]

Once “the power of the Vow . . . without limit” makes its appearance, this means, “Thus, even our karmic evil, deep and heavy, is not oppressive”; “Regardless of how much karmic evil you amass, it would not create an obstacle to birth in the Pure Land”; and “Regardless of what kind of good you have done, the good that bombu do is unhelpful to birth in the Pure Land.” Isn’t the limitless power of the Vow active? Isn’t this enough? It will not do unless you yourself realize this point.

Giving the Dharma is more or less like making the horse drink the water and so leading it to the waterside. But one must drink the water by oneself. Speaking of this may sound like self-power, but you must not do without yourself being “awakened”. “Awakened” is the original syntax used in Zen; in Jodo Shinshu, this term does not apply. Nevertheless, it bears no results simply not having to be awakened. In the Hymns of the Pure Land Masters, it is said that “all alike awakened to and entered the true Pure Land way” [4]. “[A]wakened to and entered” means “to be awakened”. Though it is Jodo Shinshu, one mustn’t do without making efforts to hear the teaching thoroughly.

As for me, I don’t make things so difficult, just doing this is enough. [Clench your fist, thumb facing up, with the rest of the fingers pointing to yourself. The thumb refers to the Tathagata (Other-Power); the fingers refer to sentient beings (self-power).] This is also a kind of “awakening”! No one delivers the Dharma in such a way, do they? Speaking of self-power and Other-Power, this is it [observing his fist], nothing else. We must be awakened to this. This is known to be Buddha-Dharma; Buddha-Dharma is such.

Of the five inconceivabilities taught in the sutras,
The inconceivability of the power of the Buddha-dharma is supreme;
The inconceivability of the power of the Buddha-dharma
Refers to Amida’s universal Vow. [5]

In this hymn, the Compassionate Father appears. That which allows the Compassionate Father to appear must be done. Therefore, thinking on this point, “the radiance of enlightenment” in “the radiance of enlightenment, in its brilliance, [transcending] all limits,” is exactly when Amida appears!

No clouds hang in the sky of my mind any longer;
I go to the Land of Bliss as Amida mindfully watches over me.

No clouds hang in the sky of my mind any longer” because we rely on the radiance of the Tathagata, His working, and the fact that the Tathagata is living, that we can be born in the West. This is relying on Amida for birth. Ah, Amida Buddha appears, just like when the moon or sun rises and the ten quarters clear up!

           No clouds hang in the sky of my mind any longer;
           I go to the Land of Bliss as Amida mindfully watches over me. 

Humans (bombu) have calculations, that is, they regard Amida as blind—fully blind, to be more precise. Though we say “Amida knows my mind,” in fact our inner side thinks the opposite: “How could He possibly know this?” People feel that they are concealed in clothes and bodies; hence they wonder how Amida Buddha could know deep inside their minds. Amida, however, really has this bombu who can do nothing, just like the worms on the yams, in His fingertips. Therefore, it is fine not to worry about this matter. The wisdom of bombu is the wisdom of ticks or fleas only; the power of bombu is likened to that of caterpillars. Amida Buddha has a pretty good idea of what we amount to! This is “the light of compassion”, “unhindered light”, and “the embracing light”. We rely on this “power of light” for birth.

Namu-amida-butsu is the Vow-Power of “Namu-amida-butsu does not allow you to fall, and hence you can be born there.” The Tathagata knows the cards in your hand thoroughly. He sees through even the deepest depths of the mind’s abyss, its most distant part; and only then does He proclaim, “I save you as you stand!”

The promise that the Buddha makes for us is this: “I will not become a Buddha if I do not save you.” How can Buddha go back from His word? Therefore we have so far regarded Amida as blind. If Amida does not appear, we are assuredly going to hell. But if you really regard Amida as blind, you will go to hell without hesitation. You act as if you alone possess the discerning eyes, as if only you have ears to listen, and that Amida’s existence has nothing to do with you. Regarding Amida as blind, you will definitely go to hell.

When you truly realize that “Amida knows that I am incapable of anything, that my karmic evil is deep and heavy; actually Buddha saw through me from the very beginning,” then you will naturally come to understand the meaning of “as it is.” Ah, it is just like that! You must have awakened yourself to this point. Without spending twenty or thirty years listening to Buddha-Dharma, hitting the wall again and again, how on earth can you realize that “as it is” means that “Amida saw through even the deepest part of me,” thereby savoring the taste of “as it is”? This great Father, the Tathagata, [thumb] must appear. Once this happens, the taste of “as it is” will be comprehended. Then you will be at peace.

As for “pitch-darkness”, Buddha understands this “pitch-darkness” very well. And He saves us just like that. And so it is said,

 No clouds hang in the sky of my mind any longer;
 I go to the Land of Bliss as Amida mindfully watches over me.

You all just report whatever to Amida, things like what you are incapable of doing, the mind which is filthy, evil, strong desires, etc. But even if you do not do so, Amida still knows you. Hence, Amida knew you thoroughly before pronouncing, “I save you as you stand”. This is the promise of Buddha. This is called Vow (seigan). Therefore, such feelings as this will naturally be born out of sentient beings.

No clouds hang in the sky of my mind any longer;
I go to the Land of Bliss as Amida mindfully watches over me.

Amida Buddha beholds sentient beings. It is through His “light of wisdom” and “light of compassion” that He sees through us and thus is called “the radiance of enlightenment, in its brilliance, [transcending] all limits.”

(Talk on Wasans at Myosho-ji Temple, Hikone, Shiga Prefecture)

[1] This talk is based on the following passage from the Hymns of the Pure Land (The Collected Works of Shinran, Vol. I, 326):
The radiance of enlightenment, in its brilliance, transcends all limits;
Thus Amida is called “Buddha of the Light of Purity.”
Once illuminated by this light,
We are freed of karmic defilements and attain emancipation.
[2] Gutoku’s Notes (The Collected Works of Shinran, Vol. I, 592)
[3] Hymns of the Dharma Ages (The Collected Works of Shinran, Vol. I, 408)
[4] Hymns of the Pure Land Masters (The Collected Works of Shinran, Vol. I, 389)
[5] Hymns of the Pure Land Masters (The Collected Works of Shinran, Vol. I, 369)

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