念 佛 – Nembutsu
We sincerely take refuge in Amida Buddha and His Primal Vow, the universal pledge of Boundless Compassion and aspire to be born in His Pure Land of Peace and Bliss. In profound gratitude for this inconceivable Gift of Salvation, we Say the Buddha’s Name, knowing without any doubt, that the Tathagata has permanently saved us from samsara – the vicious cycle of relentless birth, suffering and death – at the end of this precious human life…
Amida Buddha’s salvific activities – His practice of great compassion, is essentially contained in the forty eight original Vows made by Him countless trillions of years ago, when He was performing extremely difficult practices, as Bodhisattva Dharmakara, under the close mentorship of Buddha Lokesvararaja. Having perfectly fulfilled all His Vows through those extremely hard practices of ineffable endurance and discipline, Amida Buddha finally established the Pure Land of Serene Sustenance to receive all suffering sentient beings who wish to be born there. Amongst all Buddhas, Amida Buddha is Supreme because of His universal Vows – His Infinite Light of Wisdom supersedes all other Buddhas.
The existence of Amida Buddha and The Pure Land is true and real. Yet, it is totally inconceivable and beyond the defiled, unenlightened understanding of foolish sentient beings like ourselves. Perpetually engulfed by the darkness of ignorance and assailed by the hindrance of doubt, there is absolutely no way – by intellectual or scientific means – that we can prove or perceive, the inconceivable, but real existence of Amida.
Through expedient means and innumerable manifestations in this world, Amida Buddha, without a moment respite, tirelessly saved countless beings in the past and continues right now to lead those in the present who are karmically ripe out of this dreadful cycle of birth, suffering and death.
Being always amongst the multitudes, The Tathagata, using various skillful methods, sets up the appropriate karmic connections with sentient beings to enable them to be saved in the future. The Buddha, without being asked, spontaneously helps all sentient beings. We should know that Amida Buddha had already accomplished our Pure Land births by fulfilling for each of us our aspirations and their attendant practices – all ignorant sentient beings will realise this fact sooner or later when they are karmically ready to receive Amida Buddha’s precious gift of Entrusting faith (Shinjin -信 心).
The Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life, carefully taught by Shakymuni Buddha, describes in detail the history of Amida Buddha, His fulfilled original Vows, and the Pure Land. This Sutra – the king of all sutras – meticulously delivered by the Buddha, while displaying an unprecedented radiance and joy, affords mundane foolish persons (凡 夫 – bombu) like us, the only viable route out of samsara. It is the main reason for Shakyamuni Buddha’s fortunate appearance in this world.
In his wonderful poems – Gatha of True Faith – Venerable Master Shinran wrote:
“The reason for The Tathagata’s appearance in this world
Is solely to teach the ocean-like Primal Vow of Amida
The multitudes of beings in this evil Age of The Five Defilements
Should entrust themselves to the absolute true words of The Tathagata.”
The ultimate purpose of the Buddha Dharma is to teach each and every one of us, how we can permanently be freed from samsara – the treacherous realms of pain and suffering. Born into this precious human life, we are now given the rare opportunity of escaping from samsara. Yet, to be completely free from all suffering, we must become Buddhas at the end of this physical life. This is indeed impossible for badly defiled sentient beings like us – wretched persons overwhelmed by persistent greed, hatred, ignorance, jealousy and arrogance – through the performance of self-powered practices.
Amida’s Primal Vow however, seeks to get us permanently out of samsara and become Buddhas at the end of this life. Through the inconceivable power of the Primal Vow, we are equally saved without exception – whether we are monk or lay, men or woman, good or evil persons, young or old and living in any circumstance or social status. We are definitely saved, according to our wishes, when we accept and are in accord with, the explicit instructions of Amida’s Primal Vow:
“If, When I attain Buddhahood
Sentient Beings of The Ten Quarters
With Sincere Mind, Joyfully entrusting themselves
Aspiring To Be Born in my Land
And Saying My Name perhaps even ten times
Should Not be born there
May I Not Attain The Supreme Enlightenment
Excluded Are Those Who commit the five grave offenses
And Those Who slander The Right Dharma.”
“For Amida vowed to take into Perfect Bliss those who Say the Name, and thus to entrust oneself deeply and to Say the Name is to be in perfect accord with the Primal Vow. Though a person may have Shinjin, if he does not Say the Name it is of no avail. And conversely, even though he fervently Says the Name, if his Shinjin is shallow, he cannot attain birth. Thus, it is the person who both deeply entrust himself to birth through the Nembutsu and undertakes to Say the Name who is certain to be born in the true Buddha Land.”
Listening Deeply (深 聞 佛 法) to the Buddha Dharma in general and Amida Dharma in particular, naturally nurtures us, allowing us to finally resolve all our doubts regarding Amida Buddha and the Primal Vow. It is the only practice required on our part that had repeatedly enabled us to be exposed to the true Dharma teachings in our past lives and will continue to embrace us, right up to the end of this life.
Persons with unsettled shinjin, if they listen deeply to the Buddha Dharma and clearing all their doubts with persons of Shinjin; Saying the Buddha’s Name as they are so inclined to, may ultimately be awakened to the honest truth that they are indeed incapable to save themselves by struggling in vain with any kind of self-powered, meditative or non-meditative, practices. When the good karma from their past lives ripens, these persons of unsettled shinjin may soon come to realize that the ‘easy’ path of the True Pure Land Way is their only viable route out of samsara.
Persons with Shinjin firmly settled, would naturally continue to listen deeply, Saying the Buddha’s Name, whether once or by many repetitions, deeply grateful for the Boundless Compassion of Amida Buddha, the Other Power that guarantees their salvation from the treacherous ocean of unending suffering and pain.
True Entrusting (Shinjin -信 心) – on our part – is the faith-mind consciousness that is able to accept without any doubt, fully convinced about the existence of Amida Buddha, His Pure Land and the Power of His Vows, particularly, the Primal Vow. When sparked off by the ripening of good karmic seeds accumulated from our past lives, our repeated listening deeply to the Buddha Dharma, particularly the wonderful Amida Dharma, as taught by Shakyamuni Buddha, will bring us to the point of clear realization – “the one-thought moment” – in which we are awakened to the fact that we are saved by Amida Buddha. Thus, with joy and deep gratitude, we receive and single-mindedly accept this true and real entrusting faith.
Moreover, honestly realizing that we are the lowest of the lowest grade of Dharma practicers, spiritual idiots totally incapable to save ourselves by our own efforts and struggles, we would know that the Pure Land Way is the only option available to us, if getting out of samsara is indeed our goal in this life. We are then able to completely abandon all sundry, egoistic, meditative/non-meditative practices and fully entrust our karmic destiny entirely to Amida Buddha and single-heartedly Say the Buddha’s Name.
Passages from the Sutras and Master Shinran’s wonderful teachings are found in his magnum opus, the KyoGyoShinSho – expositions on The True Pure Land Way – in which he clearly delineates the great compassionate, salvific activities of Amida Buddha.
“Reverently contemplating Amida’s directing of virtue for our going forth to the Pure Land, I find that there is great practice, there is great Shinjin. The great practice is to Say the Name of the Tathagata of Unhindered Light. This practice, embodying all good acts and possessing all roots of virtue, is perfect and most rapid in bringing about birth. It is the treasure ocean of virtues that is suchness or true reality. For this reason, it is called great practice…”
“The Vow that all the Buddhas Say the Name is stated in the Larger Sutra:
If, when I attain Buddhahood, the countless Buddhas throughout the worlds in the ten quarters do not all praise and Say my Name, may I not attain the supreme Enlightenment.”
“The sutra passage declaring the fulfillment of this Vow states:
The Buddha-Tathagatas throughout the ten quarters, countless as the sands of the Ganges, are one in praising the majestic power and the virtues, inconceivably profound, of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life.”
“Further it states:
The power of the Buddha’s Primal Vow is such
That those who hear the Name and aspire for birth
All reach that land –
Their attainment of non-retrogression coming about of itself.”
“These passages reveal that Saying the Name breaks through all the ignorance of sentient beings and fulfills all their aspirations. Saying the Name is the right act, supreme, true, and excellent. The right act is the Nembutsu. The Nembutsu is Namo-Amida-Butsu. Namo-Amida-Butsu is right-mindedness. Let this be known.”
“Those who feel uncertain of birth should say the Nembutsu aspiring first for their own birth. Those who feel that their own birth is completely settled (Shinjin) should, mindful of the Buddha’s benevolence, hold the Nembutsu in their hearts and say it to respond in gratitude to that benevolence…” – (Go-Shosoku Shu)
Saying the Buddha’s Name (Nembutsu – 念 佛) is the Great Practice embodied in Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow (阿 彌 陀 佛 本 願) – His pledge of Absolute Confidence (Shinjin – 信 心) in saving every one of us from samsara. This Great Practice had been selected by Amida Buddha and given to all suffering beings, as a practical and easy medium by which the Buddha transfers His infinite virtues and merits to mundane foolish persons (凡 夫 – bombu) like us, those who, wishing to be born in His Pure Land, sincerely and joyfully entrust their karmic destiny single-heartedly to Him.
In this degenerated Dharma Ending Age (末 法 時 代), Dharma practicers, badly defiled by evil passions and living in unconducive environments, are absolutely incapable to attain emancipation by performing self-centered practices. Only the Other power faith in Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow and single-minded rememberance of the Compassion of the Buddha (Nembutsu – 念 佛), is fully in accord with the extremely poor spiritual capacities of beings like us.
Saying the Buddha’s Name – (Namo Amida Bu – 南 无 阿 彌 陀 佛 ) – for persons of settled entrusting faith (Shinjin -信 心), is their expression of receiving this other power faith which, they know, without any doubt, comes solely from Amida Tathagata’s Primal Vow.
Before receiving Shinjin, there was a time when we were erroneously inclined toward performing self-power practices (including Saying the Buddha’s Name), thinking that, by doing so, we could gain and dedicate more merits for our birth in the Pure Land. We had not realized that these self-centered acts had exposed our lack of Shinjin in the Primal Vow. Ardently reciting the Buddha’s Name without Shinjin, we were merely calling – ‘Buddha, please save me’ – and expressing our aspiration for birth. By relying on such egoistic practice, we actually doubt Amida Buddha’s “mysteriously marvellous” Primal Vow. Any kind of doubt in the saving power of the Primal Vow, certainly obstructs our birth in the True Fulfilled Land of Peace and Bliss.
After receiving Shinjin, we would single-heartededly Say the Buddha’s Name (Namo Amida Bu -南 无 阿 彌 陀 佛), fully aware that it is not our good nor is it our self-power practice. It is simply our expression of taking refuge/entrusting in Amida Buddha and the Primal Vow; sincerely thanking Him for saving us. Without any concern about the number of repetitions, we would just Say the Buddha’s Name, in times of happiness or sadness, under any circumstance, environment or state of mind, whether standing, walking, sitting or lying down. It is truly a wonderful Path completely free of obstacles.
The six character Name – a phonetic transliteration from the original Sanskrit text – has the following wonderful features, skilfully employed by Amida Buddha, that would absolutely cause our birth in Buddha’s Pure Land of Peace and Ultimate Happiness:
Namo – 南 无 – refers to the one to be saved – that pathetic person who wants to be freed from the painful existences in samsara. It is also the call of Amida Buddha to that person commanding him/her to single-heartedly take refuge and fully entrust in the Primal Vow.
Amida Bu (_ddha or _tsu) – 阿 彌 陀 佛 – is the Buddha of Infinite Light/Life, the Saviour (the Other-power) who saves the one to be saved.
Thus, Saying the Name (Namo Amida Bu -南 无 阿 彌 陀 佛) with unshakable entrusting faith, remembering Amida Buddha, causes the person who wants to be saved and the Saviour to become one; effectively fulfilling the Primal Vow. We therefore know, without any doubt, that our deliverance to the shore of ultimate Freedom and Happiness has been firmly secured and absolutely assured, at the end of this miserable existence in mortal flesh.
Ten benefits of Saying the Buddha’s Name, with true entrusting faith in Amida’s Primal Vow, in our present lives, are clearly stated by Master Shinran:
“.. First, the benefit of being protected and sustained by unseen powers.
… Second, the benefit of being possessed of supreme virtues.
… Third, the benefit of our karmic evil being transformed into good.
… Fourth, the benefit of being protected and cared for by all the Buddhas.
… Fifth, the benefit of being praised by all the Buddhas
… Sixth, the benefit of being constantly protected by the light of the Buddha’s heart.
… Seventh, the benefit of having great joy in our hearts.
… Eight, the benefit of being aware of Amida’s benevolence
and responding in gratitude to His virtue.
… Ninth, the benefit of constantly practicing great compassion.
… Tenth, the benefit of entering the stage of the truly settled.”
Thus, from the moment we receive true and real Shinjin, we are truly settled in our minds and hearts; constantly protected and cared for by all the Buddhas. Naturally, we would live out the remaining days in our perishing material bodies, knowing that Amida Buddha has already transferred His infinite merits and virtues for our going forth to the Pure Land. We would single-heartedly Say the Buddha’s Name in deep gratitude to Him, for as long as our breaths last.
The Buddha’s infinite merits and virtues
Are bestowed equally to all beings
May all accept Amida’s Gift of Shinjin and
Obtain birth in His Land of Peace and Bliss.
Thus, receiving the Tathagata’s inconceivable gift of Salvation, we single-heartedly Say the wonderful Name, having clearly and surely ‘HEARD’:
The Call of Boundless Compassion
南 無 阿 彌 陀 佛 – Namo Amida Bu
南 無 阿 彌 陀 佛 – Namo Amida Bu
南 無 阿 彌 陀 佛 – Namo Amida Bu
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