Sunday, December 1, 2013

Concentrate exclusively on Amida Buddha



“With your whole heart look forward expectantly to birth in the Pure Land, worship and bear in mind the Buddha of Infinite Light, and don’t think about anything else, nor perform any other spiritual practices.” Honen Shonin[1]

All we need to do for our attainment of Buddhahood in the Pure Land is mentioned in the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha: to say the Name in faith and wish to be born there. Nothing else. No meditation practices, no this or that special virtue, just entrust to Amida, say his Name and wish to be born in his Pure Land.
The essentials of our tradition are just these three conditions, which are comprised in shinjin or faith in Amida. If you have genuine faith in Amida, then you naturally say his Name and wish to be born in his Land after death. It is as simple as that. Also, in order to have faith in Amida, you need to accept that he is a real and living Buddha, and in order to wish to be born in his Land you also need to accept that thisland is true and real. I think that everybody, even illiterate people, can understand this simple logic.

Now please, pay attention: to say the Name of Amida, and not of other Buddhas or religious figures outside Buddhism, to have faith in Amida and wish to be born in his Pure Land, not in the land of other Buddhas! This is extremely important.

Among all the pure lands in the ten directions we chose to go in the Pure Land of Amida, and from among all the Buddhas in the ten directions we chose to entrust to and say the Name of Amida only. This is not because other Buddhas are not worthy of devotion and respect, or that other practices like meditation, precepts and so on are not good in themselves. It is just because other Buddhas do not have vows of making evil people like us to be born so easy in their Pure Lands and because only Amida took the Vow to do so:

„When we inquire in detail as to why it is that Amida’s Primal Vow surpasses the compassionate vows of other Buddhas, [we realize that] the Buddhas of the ten directions are unable to save sentient beings with extremely deep evil karma or women, who are burdened with the five obstacles and the three submissions. Hence it is said that Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow surpasses other Buddhas’ vows.”[2]

Among all the Buddhas, only Amida established a spiritual country where it is easy to emigrate:

„It was Amida Tathagata who alone made an unsurpassed, incomparable Vow – the great Vow that he would save ordinary beings burdened with evils and offenses and women burdened with the five obstacles.”[3]

“In the ten directions there are countless Buddha lands. We should aspire to be born in the Western Land because, as beings who have committed the five deadly sins, it is the only Pure Land into which we can be born.”[4]

Also, in our everyday life, depending on the result we wish to achieve, we must follow specific instructions. If for example, we want to go from A to B we follow the course from A to B, not the course from A to C. In the same way, if we want to reach the Pure Land of Amida, then we follow only the indications mentioned in his Primal Vow: faith (shinjin), nembutsu and the wish to be born there, which are all expressions of faith. In the case of Amida Dharma, faith is the cause for birth in the Pure Land and of the subsequent attainment of Buddhahood there. Honen Shonin clearly said:

“It is a general rule that those who wish to be born in a particular land ought to follow the vow of the Buddha who established that country. Thus those who wish to be born into the Western Land of Amida Buddha should follow his fundamental Vow.”[5]

More than this, for us, ordinary unenlightened people, it is extremely important to be concentrated and focused on one thing only and not let ourselves distracted by many practices belonging to different teachings and even different Dharma gates.
In our religious daily life focus is a key point. Only when we reach Buddhahood we’ll be able to play as we like with all methods, but until then we must stay humble and let go to everything which is not related with the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha. Master Seikaku said it clearly:

“That which is rejected as ‘various good acts done according to one's conditions’ is the attachment to one's own former practice. In serving as a retainer, for example, one should serve one's lord, depend on him, and wholeheartedly be loyal to him.

Being of two minds and being of one mind are as vastly different as heaven and earth.”[6]

Master Honen, Shinran and Rennyo too, also advised us to be of one mind and say only Amida’s Name in faith. For example, here is a quote from Rennyo which is in perfect similarity and agreement with Seikaku:

“A loyal retainer will not serve two masters; a faithful wife will not take a second husband.”[7]

Again, Master Seikaku said:

“If one already aspires wholeheartedly for the land of bliss, why include other things besides contemplating on the master of that land? Life is like a flash of lightning, or a dewdrop at daybreak, and the body like the plantain tree or a bubble - yet one seeks in a mere lifetime of religious practice to depart immediately from one's long abode in the five courses. How can one leisurely combine diverse practices?[8]” 

Truly we have no time here in this unpredictable world where death can occur at any time (“life is like a flash of lightning or a dewdrop at daybreak, and the body like the plantain tree or a bubble”) to understand, to check or to combine diverse religious practices at once. And if we have already wished to be born in the land of Amida, why should we use the precious time we have until death with things not related with this birth? Why should we not insist further on listening the Dharma and deepen our understanding of Amida and his salvation? There is also no indication in the sacred texts that after we receive shinjin we should no longer give our attention to matters related with the Amida Dharma. I really do not understand those who sustain that they entrust in Amida but in the same time they engage in various practices not related with this Buddha. Truly, what faith do they have if they feel that Amida is not enough for them?

“Aside from aspiring for the one land and thinking on the one Buddha [Amida], there is no other necessity. People who enter the gate of the nembutsu but combine it with other practices are attached to their former practices and have difficulty abandoning them.”[9]


Avalokitesvara wearing the image of Amida
on the crown of Her Head
I know it might be hard for some who are still attached to the previous practices they performed before they met with Amida Dharma, but I ask them to please always try to conform to the Primal Vow and abandon all which is not in accord with it. If they do this, they please Amida Buddha and all the Buddhas, including Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha. This is because all Buddhas praise the Name of Amida and encourage beings to say it and be concentrated on it, wishing to be born in that specific land. If they do otherwise, even if they think that thus they please as many Buddhas as possible, they in fact scatter their minds in many directions and fail to observe the intentions of all these Awakened Ones. For example, if you notice that Avalokitesvara wears an image of Amida on the crown of her head, this should be an indication to you that this great Bodhisattva wishes you to say Amida’s Name and entrust in him. It is like she is saying to you, „Amida is my spiritual Parent and far greater than me, so please entrust to him”.

Master Rennyo said:

“Since Amida Tathagata is the original teacher and master of all Buddhas of the three periods, how can all the Buddhas who are his disciples not rejoice when we rely on that Buddha who is the master? You must understand the grounds for this very thoroughly.“[10]

So, if you truly have devotion for many other Buddhas except Amida, then please do not think that you serve them if you chant their Names or their sacred formulas together with the Name of Amida! In truth, as Shinran explained in his hymns, saying Amida's Name contains in itself the praise and respect for all Buddhas:

„When we take refuge in the Pure Land of Amida,
We take refuge in all the Buddhas.
To praise the one Buddha, Amida, with the mind that is single
Is to praise all the unhindered Ones”

Also do not think that you acquire special protection or other spiritual or worldly benefits if you combine the saying of nembutsu with other sacred formulas or practices. This is because all you need to receive is provided in the Name of Amida. Just say exclusively the Name of Amida and many spiritual blessings[11] will naturally come to you. How can not this be the case, when all Buddhas praise Amida’s Name? What can have more spiritual benefits than a Name that is praised by all Buddhas? If all Buddhas praise the Name of Amida, why do you, a disciple of the Buddhas and a person who has attachments to many Buddhas, don’t do the same?
In his 17th Vow, Amida promised:

“If, when I attain Buddhahood, innumerable Buddhas in the lands of the ten directions should not all praise and glorify my Name, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment.”

Also Shakyamuni is recorded as saying, in the Smaller Amida Sutra:

"Shariputra, just as I praise the inconceivable virtue of Amida Buddha, so do the Buddhas in the eastern quarter, as numerous as the sands of the Ganges, [..] While dwelling in their own lands, they extend their long, broad tongues and, encompassing with them the universe of a thousand million worlds, pronounce these words of truth: Sentient beings should accept this sutra entitled 'Praise of the Inconceivable Virtue and Protection by All Buddhas.' 


This picture is named "Amitabha (Amida)
and his emanations".
Bellow Amitabha there are Avalokitesvara
and Guru Padmasambhava. 
Also in the southern, western, northern, quarter in the nadir and zenith, that is, in all places of the universe, the various Buddhas praise Amida:

 "Shariputra, there are in the southern quarter Buddhas as numerous as the sands of the Ganges, […] While dwelling in their own lands, they extend their long, broad tongues and, encompassing with them the universe of a thousand million worlds, pronounce these words of truth: Sentient beings should accept this sutra entitled 'Praise of the Inconceivable Virtue and Protection by All Buddhas.'

 "Shariputra, there are in the western quarter Buddhas as numerous as the sands of the Ganges, […] While dwelling in their own lands, they extend their long, broad tongues and, encompassing with them the universe of a thousand million worlds, pronounce these words of truth: Sentient beings should accept this sutra entitled 'Praise of the Inconceivable Virtue and Protection by All Buddhas.'

"Shariputra, there are in the northern quarter Buddhas as numerous as the sands of the Ganges, […] While dwelling in their own lands, they extend their long, broad tongues and, encompassing with them the universe of a thousand million worlds, pronounce these words of truth: Sentient beings should accept this sutra entitled 'Praise of the Inconceivable Virtue and Protection by All Buddhas.'

"Shariputra, there are in the nadir Buddhas as numerous as the sands of the Ganges[…]While dwelling in their own lands, they extend their long, broad tongues and, encompassing with them the universe of a thousand million worlds, pronounce these words of truth: Sentient beings should accept this sutra entitled 'Praise of the Inconceivable Virtue and Protection by All Buddhas.'

"Shariputra, there are in the zenith Buddhas as numerous as the sands of the Ganges, such as […]. While dwelling in their own lands, they extend their long, broad tongues and, encompassing with them the universe of a thousand million worlds, pronounce these words of truth: Sentient beings should accept this sutra entitled 'Praise of the Inconceivable Virtue and Protection by All Buddhas.'”

More than this, after showing how all the Buddhas praise Amida, Shakyamuni explains why his teaching about Amida is called 'the Sutra of Protection by All Buddhas':

"Shariputra, why do you think this teaching is called 'the Sutra of Protection by All Buddhas'? Shariputra, all good men and women who hear the Name of Amida Buddha expounded by all the Buddhas and the name of this sutra are protected by all the Buddhas and dwell in the Stage of Non-retrogression for realizing the highest, perfect Enlightenment. This is why, Shariputra, you should accept my words and the teachings of all the Buddhas.”

Please stop and reflect because this is extremely important! The teaching on saying Amida’s Name in faith is not only Shakyamuni’s teaching, but the teaching of all Buddhas: “you should accept my words and the teachings of all the Buddhas” And “the Name of Amida Buddha”  is “expounded by all Buddhas”! So, how much more we should say only this Name in faith and aspire to be born in the Pure Land! As Shakyamuni clearly said, next to the above passage:

"those who have already aspired, now aspire or in the future will aspire to be born in Amida Buddha's land, all dwell in the Stage of Non-retrogression for realizing the highest, perfect Enlightenment. They have already been born, are now being born, or will be born in that land. Hence, Shariputra, good men and women of faith should aspire to birth there.”

Also, in the Larger Sutra, Shakyamuni again speaks about the praising of Amida by all the Buddhas:

“The light of Amida shines brilliantly, illuminating all the Buddha-lands of the ten quarters. There is no place where it is not perceived. I am not the only one who now praises his light. All the Buddhas, shravakas, pratyekabuddhas and bodhisattvas praise and glorify it in the same way. If sentient beings, having heard of the majestic virtue of his light, glorify it continually, day and night, with sincerity of heart, they will be able to attain birth in his land, as they wish.” 

There is also another reason why many people combine the reliance on Amida Buddha with various practices. Master Seikaku points to a question asked by a disciple:

"Suppose there is a person who practices the nembutsu, reciting it ten thousand times each day, and aside from that does nothing but play all day and sleep all night; and another person who says it ten thousand times and afterwards reads sutras and recites the names of other Buddhas: which is superior?”

The disciple also asks how, for example, reciting the Lotus Sutra in addition to the Name of Amida can be the same as playing and frolicking. He also mentions the sutra on Yakushi Buddha[12] where it is found the guidance of eight Bodhisattvas. He argues:

“Thinking on Yakushi Buddha is surely not like useless sleep. I still cannot understand praising one as single practice and rejecting the other as sundry practice."

Master Seikaku then explains that in fact, the problem is falsely stated and that people are, by their very condition of unenlightened beings, prone to sleeping too much, playing and frolicking and that exactly such people Amida saves:

“In considering this matter over again now, single practice is still superior. The reason is that we are essentially foolish beings of this defiled world who experience obstacles in everything. Amida, observing this, taught the path of easy practice. One who plays and frolics all day is a person of great distraction and confusion. One who sleeps the whole night is a person of great lethargy. All are consequences of blind passions, difficult to sunder and difficult to control.”

And the solution Master Seikaku proposes is simple:

“When playing has ended, say the nembutsu; when awakening from sleep, recall the Primal Vow. This does not violate the performance of single practice.”

He then goes on explaining that at first sight it might seem a good thing to chant as many sutras and names of other Buddhas as possible in combination with the nembutsu:

“To recite the nembutsu ten thousand times and afterward hold in mind other sutras and other Buddhas seems splendid upon first hearing,

 but this is again, a mistaken way to address the problem, because:

“who determined that the nembutsu should be limited to ten thousand times? If you are a person of diligence, then recite all day. If you take up the nenju-beads, then utter the Name of Amida. If you face an object of worship, then choose the image of Amida. Directly await Amida's coming; why depend on the eight bodhisattvas to direct your way? You should rely solely on the guidance of the Primal Vow.”

Next, he explains that some nembutsu devotees say the Name often while others say it seldom, which are both correct because the Primal Vow does not imposes a fixed number of recitations and he also points to the fact that those who are truly dedicated to nembutsu do not really wish to spend their time with other practices: 

“Those  say the nembutsu both night and day; in what interval, then, can they turn their attention to other Buddhas? You should reflect on this deeply and not become entangled in distracting doubts.”

Master Rennyo also points to the same thing in his letters:

„My saying of the Name in grateful return for the Buddha’s benevolence is therefore unceasing; walking, standing, sitting, or lying down, I am never forgetful”.[13]

The expression „walking, standing, sitting, or lying down” is much spread in the letters of Rennyo and it also means that faith in Amida Buddha never disappears from the heart of the devotee who is thus concentrated exclusively on Amida Buddha. Such a disciple with true faith, even if he spends his daily life going here and there or being attached to this or that, he relies exclusively on Amida Buddha and he is thus in accord with the Primal Vow.

We too, if we wish to be in accord with this Vow, must do as Rennyo did and as Seikaku emphasizes in his Essentials of Faith Alone:


“The Tathagata selected the essential Dharma [Amida Dharma],
   Instructing beings to say Amida's Name with singleness, again singleness.”

“Singleness, again singleness” – that is nembutsu only. 




[1] From “Dialogue on the Essential teachings”.
[2] Rennyo Shonin Ofumi, letter „On the Compassionate Vows of Other Buddhas”, page 60, in BDK English Tripitaka 105-II, 106-I, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 1996, Berkeley USA.
[3] Rennyo Shonin Ofumi, letter „On the Present Plight of the world”, page 85, in BDK English Tripitaka 105-II, 106-I, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 1996, Berkeley USA.
[4] "Words of Dharma - Sixty selections from the Sayings and Writings of Honen Shonin. A Translation of Go Ho Ga", translated by Dwight R Nakamura; page 9,  The Pure Land Institute & The Arya Marga Foundation, 1994.
[5] "Words of Dharma - Sixty selections from the Sayings and Writings of Honen Shonin. A Translation of Go Ho Ga", translated by Dwight R Nakamura; page 10,  The Pure Land Institute & The Arya Marga Foundation, 1994.
[6] Essentials of Faith Alone by Seikaku, http://web.mit.edu/stclair/www/seikaku-essentials.html
[7] Rennyo Shonin Ofumi, letter „On the ‚Loyal Retainer and the Faithful Wife’”, page 44, in BDK English Tripitaka 105-II, 106-I, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 1996, Berkeley USA.
[8] Essentials of Faith Alone by Seikaku, http://web.mit.edu/stclair/www/seikaku-essentials.html 
[9] Essentials of Faith Alone by Seikaku, http://web.mit.edu/stclair/www/seikaku-essentials.html
[10] Rennyo Shonin Ofumi, letter „On the ‚Loyal Retainer and the Faithful Wife’”, page 44, in BDK English Tripitaka 105-II, 106-I, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 1996, Berkeley USA.
[11] In relation with this, I already explained „The Ten Benefits in this Life of a Nembutsu practitioner” in my book, Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Teachings.
[12] Yakushi Buddha or the Healing Buddha presides over another land in the east and many Buddhist practices are related with him.  He is very popular among and many people combine saying the Name of this Buddha with that of Amida, especially for healthy benefits.
[13] Rennyo Shonin Ofumi, letter „Reflections in Early Summer”, page 102, in BDK English Tripitaka 105-II, 106-I, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 1996, Berkeley USA.

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