Natural Working of the Primal Vow

JINEN HONI

自 然 法 爾

Jinen Honi 1 (FA)

In this stanza from the Gatha of True Faith – Venerable Master Shinran’s wonderful song on the True Pure Land way – he vividly expresses his profound understanding on The Natural working of Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow…

“When one deeply remembers Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow
Naturally in that instant, one enters the Stage of Definitely Settled 
And solely Saying the Tathagata’s Name always 
Gratefully respond to Great Compassion’s Universal Pledge and grace”

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Suffering beings like ourselves do not know why we are born here – in a fleeting and impermanent environment firmly attached to greed, hatred, ignorance, arrogance and doubt – living perhaps for only a short period of a 100 years and then blindly leaving this world in agony for another unknown existence of continued pain and suffering. How painfully foolish and blind we are, not making use of this precious human birth which has brought us the right conditions to free ourselves forever from samsara – the vicious cycle of birth and death.

Our lives are characterized by perpetual strivings to find happiness and to avoid suffering. Being constantly inundated by the sheer volumn of relative scientific knowledge that greatly enhanced our blind passions, we are pitifully being led astray. We doubt even the true existence of any transcendental reality, let alone accept the ultimate truths pointed out in the Buddha Dharma.

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The Natural working of the Buddha Dharma (自 然 法 爾 – Jinen Honi) in general, is inconceivable and absolutely beyond the ego-centred conceptual understanding of unenlightened sentient beings like us. This is why Buddhist sutras are introduced with the phrase “Thus, have I heard”. “Thus” indicates the natural manifestation of the Buddha Dharma – it’s spontaneous working cannot be created, affected or altered at all, in any way, by the contrivance of sentient beings including the greatest amongst gods and humans.

Habitually clinging tightly to their hardened, self-powered struggle to end suffering, most foolish mundane persons (凡 夫 – bombu), living in this badly defiled Dharma-ending Age, constantly look for rational explanations and proofs even for the natural truths that is definitely beyond their limited sphere of perception. Not realizing that they are in fact spiritually blind, they certainly deprive themselves of the precious opportunities repeatedly given to them to listen deeply and to accept these inconceivable aspects of the Absolute Truth, carefully pointed out in the Buddha Dharma:

.. The Natural Working of Amida Buddha’s Vow-power
.. (願 力 自 然)

.. The Natural Working of Karma
.. (業 道 自 然)

.. Naturalness of the Unconditioned Realm of Nirvana
.. (無 為 自 然)

Shakyamuni Buddha who appeared in this world over 2500 years ago, taught the sublime Dharma for 45 years, using skilful methods – said to have numbered 84,000 and more – to draw all persons to the path of Enlightenment, in accordance with the karmic propensities of individuals or groups. The Dharma, He discovered, which manifests the Truths about suffering and the end of suffering, operates naturally “of itself” (自 然 法 爾 – Jinen Honi) and is completely beyond the intellectual understanding, reasoning and scope of non-Buddhas.

However, The Buddha summarizes His immeasurable treasury of teachings – which are absolutely trustworthy and dependable, as they come from His  great compassion and wisdom – simply with one sentence:

All I teach is about suffering and the end suffering.

For all sentient beings like us, coming to the ultimate end of all suffering, is to become Buddhas, awakened to Truth of all existence. We have been transmigrating endlessly for countless billions of lives, caught in the extensive net of samsara, without an appropriate means to end this treacherous existence of perpetual pain, suffering and strife.

This precious human existence has now brought us the rare opportunity to extricate ourselves from samsara. Yet, we are too busy chasing after the fleeting worldly attractions and distractions that bind us even more tightly to samsara. Therefore, we are certain to continue experiencing this dreadful, cyclical nightmare, as we drift further and further away from the shore of emancipation.

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Amida Buddha’s True and Real Shinjin (真 實 信 心), is His Absolute Confidence that all persons who single-heartedly accept His Primal Vow, will definitely be born, as they wish, in His Land of Peace and Bliss, at the end of their present lives. This Great Compassionate Vow had already been wonderfully fulfilled ten kalpas ago when the Tathagata attained Supreme Buddhahood, after trillions of years, perfectly performing the extremely difficult practices of a Bodhisattva:

“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.”

The Primal Vow is clearly the Buddha’s promise to save all beings from the dreadful cycle of samsara. Thus, Saying the Buddha’s Name (南 無 阿 彌 陀 佛 – Namo Amida Butsu), fulfilled in the Primal Vow, is the active cause of our birth in the Pure Land. It is Amida Buddha’s Great Practice of directing His infinite virtues to us for our going forth. By the power of this Universal Vow, we are effectively pulled out from this treacherous world of delusion, at the end of this life.

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The Natural Working of the Primal Vow Jinen Honi (自 然 法 爾) – is the spontaneous act of Great Compassion, manifesting the Absolute Truth (of all phenomenon) in our world. This natural manifestation of the Absolute Truth – which is otherwise completely inconceivable to deluded, egocentric beings – is vividly expounded by Master Shinran in all his wonderful writings :

In the ‘Lamp for the Latter Ages’, he wrote:

Concerning jinen [in the phrase jinen hōni]:

Ji (自) means ‘of itself’ – not through the practiser’s calculation. It signifies being made so. nen (然) means ‘to be made so’ – it is not through the practiser’s calculation; it is through the working of the Tathagata’s Vow.

Concerning ‘Hōni’: Honi (法 爾) signifies being made so through the working of the Tathagata’s Vow. It is the working of the Vow where there is no room for calculation on the part of the practicer. Know, therefore, that in Other Power, no working is true working.

Jinen (自 然) signifies being made so from the very beginning. Amida’s Vow is, from the very beginning, designed to bring each of us to entrust ourselves to it – Saying “Namu-Amida-Butsu” – and to receive us into the Pure Land; none of this is through our calculation. Thus, there is no room for the practicer to be concerned about being good or bad. This is the meaning of jinen as I have been taught.

As the essential purport of the Vow, [Amida] vowed to bring us all to become supreme Buddha. Supreme Buddha is formless, and because of being formless is called jinen. Buddha, when appearing with form, is not called supreme nirvana. In order to make it known that supreme Buddha is formless, the name Amida Buddha is expressly used; so I have been taught. Amida Buddha fulfils the purpose of making us know the significance of jinen.

After we have realized this, we should not be forever talking about jinen. If we continuously discuss jinen that no working is true working will again become a problem of working. It is a matter of inconceivable Buddha-wisdom.

In his “Notes on The Essential of Faith Alone”, he again, carefully explained:

Ji also means of itself. ‘Of itself’ is a synonym for jinen, which means to be made to become so. ‘To be made to become so’ means that without the practiser’s calculating in any way whatsoever, all that practiser’s past, present, and future evil karma is transformed into the highest good, just as all waters, upon entering the great ocean, immediately become ocean water.

We are made to acquire the Tathagata’s virtues through entrusting ourselves to the Vow-power; hence the expression, ‘made to become so.’ Since there is no contriving in any way to gain such virtues, it is called jinen.

Those persons who have attained true and real Shinjin are taken into and protected by this Vow that grasps never to abandon; therefore, they realize the diamond-like mind without any calculation on their own part, and thus dwell in the stage of the truly settled. Because of this, constant mindfulness of the Primal Vow arises in them naturally (by jinen). Even with the arising of this Shinjin, it is written that supreme Shinjin is made to awaken in us through the compassionate guidance of Sakyamuni, the kind father, and Amida, the mother of loving care. Know that this is the benefit of the working of jinen.

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Listening Deeply and repeatedly exposed to the Buddha Dharma (深 聞 佛 法) in general and the True Pure Land teachings on Amida Buddha and the Primal Vow in particular, we will naturally realize that the sublime operation of the Buddha Dharma, is inconceivable to us. The Absolute automatically manifest “of itself”- with the ripening of our good karmic seeds – and needs no working, whatsoever, from spiritually defiled sentient beings like us.

We will also be made to realize that any self-power effort and contrivance on our part – deluded sentient beings filled with blind passions – is utterly useless toward achieving salvation in this precious human life. Let us not struggle in vain and accept the proffered hand of Great Compassion to take us across “the ocean of suffering”.

With the one-thought moment of true entrusting in the Primal Vow, we will naturally realize that we are saved by Amida, at long last. The Natural Working of the Buddha’s Vow-power is simply inconceivable.

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Saying the Buddha’s Name (Namo Amida Butsu – 南 無 阿 彌 陀 佛) embodies Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow. Once we single-heartedly entrust ourselves to the Vow – realizing that it surpasses conceptual understanding – and aspiring to be born in His fulfilled Land, we simply say His Name. Unfailingly, our birth in the Land of Peace and bliss is absolutely assured.

Thus, Saying the Buddha’s Name is the act of true settlement for persons of true shinjin (entrusting faith). Joining this Group of the Truly Settled, we are embraced and not forsaken by the compassionate Light of Amida Buddha, who, through the power of the Primal Vow, instantly transfers His entire store of merits and virtues for our going forth to the Pure Land.

The Buddha’s infinite merits and virtues
Are bestowed equally on all beings.
May all accept Amida’s Gift of Shinjin
And obtain birth in His Land of Peace and Bliss.

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Thus, single-heartedly entrusting ourselves to the Natural Working of Amida’s Vow-power, we continue to Say the Buddha’s Name – with no calculation whatsoever on our part – deeply grateful to the Buddha for having saved us. We have, without any doubt, clearly Heard:

The Call of Boundless Compassion

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

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Home Page – The Call of Boundless Compassion:

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