Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Name of Amida Buddha is the Great Practice

- updated on January 21st 2017 - 

Amida Buddha
          In chapter II of his Kyogyoshinsho, Shinran defines the great practice:

"When I humbly contemplate the 'going forth' aspect of Amida’s merit transference, I realize that there are great practice and great faith. The great practice is to call the Name of the Tathagata of Unhindered Light (Amida Buddha). This practice contains all good and roots of virtue, and is perfectly accomplished and most eficacious in bringing about liberation. It is the treasure-sea of merits of true suchness, ultimate reality. For this reason, it is called great practice.

This practice comes from the vow of great compassion, the Seventeenth Vow, which is called the Vow that the Name shall be glorified by all the Buddhas. It is also called the Vow that the Name shall be praised by all the Buddhas, and the Vow that the Name shall be lauded by all the Buddhas. Further, it can be called the Vow accomplishing the going-forth aspect of merit transference, and also the Vow of the Nembutsu chosen from among many practices.'

Concerning the vow that the Name shall be praised by all the Buddhas, the Larger Sutra states:

'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.'

The Larger Sutra also states:

'When I attain Buddhahood,
My Name shall be heard throughout the ten directions;
Should there be any place where it is not heard,
May I not attain perfect Enlightenment.…'"[1]

"The sharp sword for cutting asunder our ignorance,
its effects, and the karmic cause of suffering in samsara,
is Amida’s Name.
With a single utterance of the Name, all our evils are
removed".[2]

Amida's Name has in itself the power to cut our evil karma which keeps us prisoners in Samsara. In the last passage quoted above, the Name is first mentioned as the cause of liberation, and then the utterance of the Name, that is, Namo Amida Butsu. This means that the utterance of the Name has the effect of liberating us from birth and death because the Name is the Power of Amida, not because WE say it. This aspect is extremely important. Of course, we must say it, in order to submit ourselves to Amida's Name and His Power invested in the Name, but this does not mean that the Name itself works because of us. The deep truth is that we just avail ourselves of the Power of the Name, and let ourselves to be carried by it to the Pure Land:

"What is more, our Buddha Amida encompasses beings with His Name. And so, as we hear it with the ears and recite it with the lips, boundless exalted merits enter into our hearts and become the seeds of Buddhahood forever; they instantaneously remove heavy karmic evil that would entail transmigration for a hundred million kalpas, thereby making us realize highest Enlightenment. We truly know that the Name possesses much merit, not little good.[3]

It is because of this, that Shinran Shonin reffered to Nembutsu as both practice (attention - "great practice"),

"The great practice is to call the Name of the Tathagata of Unhindered Light (Amida Buddha)"[4].

and non-practice for those who say it:

"The nembutsu, for its practicers, is not a practice or a good act. Since it is not preformed out of one's own designs, it is not a practice. Since it is not good done through one's own calculation, it is not a good act. Because it arises wholly from Other Power and is free of self-power, for the practicer, it is not a practice or a good act" (Tannisho, chapter 8).

"The nembutsu of Amida's Primal Vow is not our practice, it is not our good; it is simply keeping the Name of the Buddha. It is the Name that is good, the Name that is the practice. When we speak of practice, we mean doing good. The Primal Vow is clearly the Buddha's promise. When we have understood this, we see that the Vow is not our good, nor is it our practice. Hence we speak of Other Power" (Lamp for the Latter-Ages, letter 22)

Nembutsu is indeed something we say with our lips, I mean, we do this action of saying "Namo Amida Butsu" often or seldom, so at the conventional level we may call it the practice of saying the Name. But at the deepest level, it is not really our practice. We can easily realize that the Name is not just a mere name, because if we say, for example, our own names or the name of any person, we cannot attain birth in the Pure Land through it. So, what is the difference between saying any name and the Name of Amida? It is the power invested in these names - that is, no power in our names, and an infinite Power in the Name of Amida. No matter how much concentration we use when we say our names, we cannot attain birth in the Pure Land. Contrary to this, even if we say the Name of Amida once or ten times,  and even if we are not in a concentrated state of mind when we say it, we still attain birth there! This is exactly why we cannot really state that Nembutsu or saying Amida's Name, is our practice.

The Name is effective in saving us because it is Amida's Name and because He manifested all His enlightened virtues in it. This is why Shinran says that Nembutsu is the Great Practice - "the great practice is to call the Name of the Tathagata of Unhindered Light". The term, "great practice" indicates that it is not the practice nor the merit of smaller or unenlightened beings. Shinran uses "Great"  in contrast to "small" for a very good reason, here. He also said:

"We now clearly know that the Nembutsu is not a self-power practice performed by ordinary people or sages; hence, it is called “practice not to be transferred [toward the Buddha]."[5]

It is a delusion to think that we accumulate merits by the recitation of Amida's Name which we transfer to birth in His Pure Land. The merits belong to the Name, not to recitation! When we say Namo Amida Butsu in faith, we simply obey to Amida's Name, and we naturaly come in accord with His Primal Vow in which He said we should have faith in Him and say His Name while wishing to be born in His Pure Land.  So, again, Amida's Name
is the Great Practice because all the infinite merits of His own practices over many kalpas are invested in His Name. All His sincere aspirations to save all beings, His enlightened karma and Power, and all His transcendental merits and virtues are there, in His Name:

"Amida in His causal state of a bodhisattva established the vows. Holding fast to His aspiration, He accomplished practices. He entertained compassion to save beings for 'dust-motes' kalpas. There is no place, even as small as a mustard seed, where He did not abandon
His life for their sake. He embraced and guided all, without exception, with the six perfections of compassion and wisdom. He never failed to respond to the need of the people by giving away His possessions and His own self. When conditions matured, His practices were fulfilled and His virtues were perfected; and thus, He all at once perfectly realized the three Buddha bodies[6], and the myriad merits manifest themselves in the four characters (A-mi-da-butsu).[7]

The ultimate reality of Amida Buddha - His Dharmakaya beyond form (Suchness), as well as all His manifestations for the sake of saving sentient beings (glorious body of skilful means) are included in the Name and are represented by the Name, as Shinran explained:

" It is the treasure-sea of merits of true suchness, ultimate reality. For this reason, it is called great practice".[8]

"The ten repetitions of the Name[9] arise from the unsurpassed faith by taking as object the Name of Amida Tathagata of a glorious body of skillful means[10] that comprises immeasurable merits that are true and pure".[11]

The Name is like the most powerful and safest plane which can take you to your destination. Amida invites all sentient beings to come aboard that plane, and some do indeed come with great faith in the constructor of the plane and pilot. Can we say that the plane is able to fly and take us to the destination because we come aboard and we fly with it? Does the plane flies because of us? This would be simmilar with saying that Nembutsu is our own practice.
Or is the plane flying and will certainly reach its destination because it was made by the greatest constructor in the world and is flied by the best pilot? The common sense truth that the plane flies because of the genius of the costructor and pilot, and not because of us, passengers, is the same with saying that the Nembutsu is not our own practice, even if we say it with our lips.  

            Also, there is a very important ingredient which transforms a simple saying of the Name into the true Nembutsu. This is faith (shinjin). To say the Nembutsu without faith in Amida Buddha is like using His Name as your own practice. It means to think that Nembutsu works because of you ( like the better you recite it or the more concentrated you are, the more chances you have to be born in the Pure Land, etc), and not because of Amida's Power to save. This is the self-power nembutsu (jiriki nembutsu).
In contrast to this, Nembutsu said as an expression of faith and gratitude is the Other Power Nembutsu (Tariki Nembutsu). When one is fully connected to Amida's Power and realizes that everything necesary to his salvation comes only from Amida, then the Nembutsu he says will be a simple expression of faith and gratitude for being saved. Master Rennyo explained this:

“The self-power nembutsu is practiced with an expectation that the Buddha will save you because of the merit of reciting the nembutsu many times. The Other-Power teaching is that at the moment a single thought of entrusting (shinjin) arises in your mind, you are immediately saved. The Nembutsu you say after that is simply to repeat, “Namo Amida Butsu, Namo Amida Butsu, ...” joyfully with a thought of gratitude that you have been saved.”

So, again, for a person of faith, even if he says the Name of Amida with his own lips, he does not regard it as a personal practice or merit.

The Name itself is the Great Practice, not our saying of the Name. This Name is supreme in the universe, and all Buddhas praise it, thus encouraging us to say it in faith. Attention here - the Buddhas do not praise us, but the Name. They praise not our capacity to say it, but the Name. They do not praise our so called practice, but the Name. In other words, they want us to entrust ourselves to Amida's Power which is invested in His Name. The object of our devotion and faith is not our own power to say the Name (we do not rely on our own power to recite), but the Name itself, and the One who has that Name - Amida Buddha:

"The ten repetitions of the Name[12] arise from the unsurpassed faith by taking as object the Name of Amida Tathagata of a glorious body of skillful means that comprises immeasurable merits that are true and pure.

Suppose a man is hit by a poisoned arrow that has pierced his sinews and broken a bone. If he hears the sound of a drum treated with a special antidote, the arrow will instantly come out and the poison will be removed".[13]  

The Name of Amida is like the miraculous antidote which cures all poison. The power to cure is in the Name, not in our capacity to recite it often or seldom, or in the concentrated state of mind that we can develop through our own capacities. Nothing which can be found in our unenlightened personalities can improve the Name and its curing effect. So, again, the saying of the Name (Nembutsu) is not our practice even if we say it with our own lips. 
We are not the owners of Amida's Name. This must be very well understood.






[1] Kyogyoshinsho – On Teaching, Practice, Faith, and Enlightenment, translated by Hisao Inagaki, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Kyoto, 2003, p. 9
[2] Kyogyoshinsho – On Teaching, Practice, Faith, and Enlightenment, translated by Hisao Inagaki, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Kyoto, 2003, p. 39
[3] Kyogyoshinsho – On Teaching, Practice, Faith, and Enlightenment, translated by Hisao Inagaki, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Kyoto, 2003, p. 52
[4] Kyogyoshinsho – On Teaching, Practice, Faith, and Enlightenment, translated by Hisao Inagaki, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Kyoto, 2003, p. 39
[5] Kyogyoshinsho – On Teaching, Practice, Faith, and Enlightenment, translated by Hisao Inagaki, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Kyoto, 2003, p. 58
[6] The three Buddha bodies (aspects) are 1) the Dharmakaya or body (aspect) of ultimate reality, 2) the Sambhogakaya or the transcendental body (aspect) of recompense, and 3) Nirmanakaya or body (aspect) of transformation. Thus, Amida Buddha is beyond any form in His Dharmakaya aspect, dwells with His transcendent form (Sambhogakaya) in the Pure Land, and in the same time He is here with us, people who have genuine faith in Him, in His various Accomodated and Transformation Bodies (Nirmanakayas).  For a detailed explanation of the The Three Bodies of Amida Buddha see page 88 of my book The True Teaching on Amida Buddhaand His Pure Land, Dharma Lion Publications, Craiova, 2015.
[7] Kyogyoshinsho – On Teaching, Practice, Faith, and Enlightenment, translated by Hisao Inagaki, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Kyoto, 2003, p. 52
[8] Kyogyoshinsho – On Teaching, Practice, Faith, and Enlightenment, translated by Hisao Inagaki, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Kyoto, 2003, p. 9
[9] One or ten, or any number is ok. Here the number ten is used to signify any number.
[10] According to the doctrine of the two Buddha bodies,
[11] Kyogyoshinsho – On Teaching, Practice, Faith, and Enlightenment, translated by Hisao Inagaki, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Kyoto, 2003, p. 163
[12] One or ten, or any number is ok. Here the number ten is used to signify any number.
[13] Kyogyoshinsho – On Teaching, Practice, Faith, and Enlightenment, translated by Hisao Inagaki, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Kyoto, 2003, p. 163

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