Saying the Buddha’s Name

Nembutsu — 念 佛

namoamitofu-fa

We sincerely take refuge in Amida Buddha and His Vow of Boundless Compassion and aspire to be born in His Pure Land of Peace and Bliss. We know, without any doubt, that by simply entrusting ourselves completely to the power of Amida’s Primal Vow, we are permanently saved from samsara – the vicious cycle of birth, suffering and death. In profound gratitude for the inconceivable gift of Salvation freely given by the Buddha to hopeless persons like us, we spontaneously Say Amida Buddha’s Name:

Namo Amida Butsu   南 無 阿 彌 陀 佛

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Amida Buddha’s aspiration to save all sentient beings from samsara – His practice of great compassion – is essentially contained in the forty eight original Vows made by Him countless billions of years ago. At that time, He was performing extremely difficult practices, as Bodhisattva Dharmakara, under the close guidance of Buddha Lokesvararaja, The World-honored One, Teacher of gods and humans.

Having perfectly fulfilled all His Vows through those extremely austere practices of ineffable generosity, endurance, discipline and meditation, Amida Buddha finally established the Pure Land of Peace and Provision, so that He could receive all suffering sentient beings who wish to be born there. His central Vow, also called The Primal Vow, is the Buddha’s Absolute Confidence (Shinjin – 信 心) and promise to save all persons who are unable to free themselves from samsara through their own self-power, difficult practices.  

Among all Buddhas, Amida Buddha is Supreme because His Infinite Light of Wisdom and Compassion 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 spiritually defiled, unenlightened understanding of ordinary foolish persons 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 and His Land of Peace and Happiness.

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Listening Deeply (深 聞 佛 法) to the Buddha Dharma in general and to the Amida Dharma in particular, would 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 would cause the seeds of our merits from the repeated exposure to the true Dharma teachings in our past lives, to ripen, enabling us to awaken and accept the true Saving Grace of Amida Buddha.

The Larger Sutra of Infinite Lifecarefully taught by Shakyamuni Buddha, describes in detail the history of Amida Buddha, His fulfilled original Vows, and the creation of Sukhavati – The Land of Peace and Bliss. This Sutra – the king of all Sutras – was meticulously delivered by the Buddha, while displaying an unprecedented radiance and joy, in the presence of a large assembly of accomplished disciples.  It describes the only viable route out of samsara, especially made for mundane foolish persons (凡 夫 – bombu) like ourselves.

 “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 Amida Dharma is to teach each and every one of us, how we can permanently be freed from all pain and suffering. We should know that, to be born as a human being is extremely difficult and even more difficult, it is, to be given this rare opportunity of escaping from samsara. But 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, wretched persons like us, who are drowning in the ocean of persistent greed, hatred, ignorance, arrogance and doubt.

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Amida’s Primal Vow, which had been perfectly fulfilled ten kalpas ago, seeks to get us permanently out of samsara and to become Buddhas at the end of this life. Due to the inconceivable power of the Primal Vow, all persons without exception, are equally saved – whether we are monks or lay disciples, men or women, good or evil persons, young or old and living in any circumstance or social status. As mentioned before, this marvellous Vow arises from the Buddha’s Great Compassion for all beings in pain and suffering, who are unable to free themselves from samsara by their own efforts.

Amida Buddha’s Universal Pledge to save all of us states:

“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.”

Thus, Saying Amida Buddha’s Name (Nembutsu – 念 佛), with an entrusting mind (shinjin – 信 心), that places total reliance on the fulfillment of The Primal Vow, is the wonderful essence of the True Pure Land Way. It is our absolute assurance of birth in the Pure Land, at the end of this mortal life.

“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.”

Therefore, in this degenerated Dharma Ending Age (末 法 時 代), Dharma practicers, badly defiled by evil passions and living in badly polluted, unconducive environments, are absolutely incapable to attain emancipation by performing self-centered practices. Only by solely relying on the Other Power of Amida Buddha’s fulfilled Primal Vow, that we are definitely saved, from samsara and the raging fire of hell, where almost all of us are actually headed.

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The Entrusting Mind (shinjin – 信 心), that spontaneously awakens in us through our persistence in Listening Deeply to the True Pure Land Dharma, has two aspects:

“.. One is to believe deeply and decidedly that you are a foolish being of karmic evil caught in birth and death, ever sinking and ever wandering in transmigration from innumerable kalpas in the past, without a condition that would lead to emancipation.

… The second is to believe deeply and decidedly that Amida Buddha’s Forty-eight Vows grasped sentient beings, and that allowing yourself to be carried by the power of the Vow without any doubt or apprehension, you will attain birth in the Pure Land.”

The essential teaching on the entrusting mind and Nembutsu, is found in Master Shinran’s wonderful magnum opus, the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho – Teaching, Practice, Shinjin and Realization of the Pure Land Way. The passage that concisely delineates the compassionate working of The Primal Vow states:

“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…”

Thus, single-mindedly taking refuge in the power of the Primal Vow, we gratefully say Amida Buddha’s Name:

Namo Amida Butsu, 南 無 阿 彌 陀 佛

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Saying Amida Buddha’s Name (Nembutsu – 念 佛)is the Great Practice contained in The Primal Vow – the Right Act and infinite virtue directed to us by Amida Buddha for our going forth to The Pure Land. The Nembutsu, had been selected by Amida Buddha and given to all ordinary foolish persons (凡 夫 – bombu) like ourselves, as an Easy Path and a practical channel by which our minds can be effectively tuned to, in order to accept the infinite virtues, given to us, for our assured birth in Sukhavati.

As the Nembutsu comes from Amida Buddha’s Vow-mind, it breaks through the ignorance of all sentient beings and fulfils all their aspirations. It actualizes the Buddha’s compassionate practice of benefitting miserable beings like us. Therefore, Saying Amida’s Name is not our self-power practice or good act, that we perform, in our struggle to attain enlightenment. 

We should also be aware that, through the fulfillment of Amida’s 17th Vow, all the Buddhas throughout the ten directions, have fully endorsed the Nembutsu, as the universal means, most effective for securing our births in the Land of Enlightenment.

“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.”

Thus, all the Buddhas throughout the countless universes and galaxies, give all foolish persons their undivided encouragements and direct us to solely say Amida’s Name. They know that attaining enlightenment through the Nembutsu is the easiest path for us, as it is fully in accord with our natures and extremely poor spiritual capabilities.

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Saying Namo Amida Butsu – 南 无 阿 彌 陀 佛 – for persons with settled entrusting faith (shinjin – 信 心), is their affirmation that they have been saved, solely by Amida Buddha’s Vow of Great Compassion. They know, without any doubt, that the power of the Buddha’s Primal Vow is such, that those who hear the Name and aspire for birth, all reach the Pure Land. Thus, they say the Nembutsu with gratitude, awakened to the fact that, they have naturally attained the stage of non-retrogression, here and now, in this mortal life of pain and suffering.

The six character Name – a phonetic transliteration from the original Sanskrit text – has the following wonderful attributes, skilfully employed by Amida Buddha, that would absolutely cause our birth in Sukhavati.

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 Butsu – 阿 彌 陀 佛 – is the Buddha of Infinite Light and Life, the Great Compassionate Saviour (the Other-power) who saves the one to be saved.

Thus, saying Namo Amida Butsu – 南 无 阿 彌 陀 佛 – with an entrusting mind, fully relying on Amida Buddha’s Compassion, causes the person who wants to be saved and the Saviour to become one; effectively manifesting the saving power of the Primal Vow. Our Salvation is therefore guaranteed the moment we first say the Nembutsu with shinjin.

Before we are settled in entrusting faith (shinjin), there was a time when we were erroneously inclined toward performing self-power practices (including Saying Amida’s Name), thinking that, by doing so, we could gain and contribute more merits for our birth in the Pure Land. By relying on such self-centred meditative or non-meditative practices, 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 Amida’s Fulfilled Land.

After we are settled in shinjin, we would single-heartedly Say Amida Buddha’s Name, entrusting ourselves to Amida Buddha and the Primal Vow. Without any concern about the number of repetitions, we Say Namo Amida Butsu – 南 无 阿 彌 陀 佛) – whether standing, walking, sitting or lying down; in times of happiness or sadness, under any circumstance, environment or state of mind. 

Saying Namo Amida Butsu – 南 无 阿 彌 陀 佛 – is therefore, a truly wonderful and Easy Path out of samsara, that is completely free of any obstacles.

In response to a question regarding saying Nembutsu before and after receiving shinjin, Master Shinran clearly explained in his Go-Shosoku-Shu:

“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…”

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Ten benefits of Saying Amida Buddha’s Namereceived by persons entrusting themselves to The Buddha’s Primal Vow, while they are living in this present live, are clearly expounded 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.

Eighth – 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.”

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Thus, from the moment we receive true and real shinjin, we enter the stage of the truly settled of those who are assured of Nirvana. We now know that we are constantly being protected and cared for by all the Buddhas in the ten directions. Therefore, persons of shinjin and Nembutsu, freely walk the only unimpeded Single Path out of samsara.

Naturally, we would live out the remaining days in this evil, polluted world, fully awakened to the fact that Amida Buddha has already transferred His infinite merits and virtues for our going forth to Sukhavati. Warmly embraced by the Buddha’s Infinite Light, that dispels the darkness of our ignorance, we single-mindedly say Namo Amida Butsu, 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.

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Knowing that we are saved by the inconceivable power of Amida Buddha’s fulfilled Primal Vow – The Light of Boundless Compassion – we joyfully say Amida’s Name:

Namo Amida Butsu   南 無 阿 彌 陀 佛
Namo Amida Butsu   南 無 阿 彌 陀 佛
Namo Amida Butsu   南 無 阿 彌 陀 佛

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