Thursday, September 15, 2016

The merit transference from Amida Buddha to those who entrust to Him

How does Amida Buddha save us? By transfering His merits to us, those who have faith in Him. Shinran Shonin said:

"When I humbly contemplate the true essence of the Pure Land Way, I realize that Amida’s merit transference has two aspects: one is the aspect of going forth, and the other that of returning. Concerning the aspect of going forth of merit transference, there are true teaching, practice, faith, and Enlightenment"[1].

In the practices based on personal power the practitioner “earns” virtues which he transfers for his own Enlightenment. But in the case of  Other Power (Pure Land) way, the transference of merits takes place from Amida Buddha to those who entrust to Him. This transference of merit (eko) carries the follower to the Pure Land where he attains Nirvana or perfect Enlightenment. Shinran Shonin says in a hymn:

“When sentient beings of this evil world
of the five defilements[2]
Entrust themselves to the selected Primal Vow,
Virtues indescribable, inexplicable, and inconceivable
Fill those practitioners.

As mentioned above, the merit transference from Amida to the practitioner has two aspects: 

1) the merit transference of going forth (Oso-Eko) and
2) the merit transference of returning to this world (Genso-Eko) .

The first refers to the fact that through Amida's transference of merit we go to His Pure Land where we become Buddhas, while the second one means that after we become Buddhas in the Pure Land by sharing the same Enlightenment as Amida, we return to the various samsaric realms and universes, to save all beings.

To better understand the merit transference from Amida Buddha to us, we can compare it with a blood transfusion, or an organ transplant. When a sick person receives healthy blood or a healthy vital organ he can continue to live, even if until then he was supposed to die. Thus, the blood or the organ he received becomes part of his own body and will function as if it has always been there.

In the same way, we who deserve to be born in the lower realms if we are left at the mercy of our unenlightened karma, by entrusting ourselves to Amida Buddha we receive His enlightened karmic merits which imbues our mind stream and leads us securely to His Pure Land. Even if we continue to have delusions and blind passions until we die and we are actually born in the Pure Land, we become united with Amida Buddha from this very life (we enter the stage of non-retrogression), as His own blood or enlightened karma circulates now through our veins.

            What are the elements of the first aspect of merit transference, that is, from Amida Buddha to us (Oso-Eko)? Shinran Shonin said:

"Concerning the aspect of going forth of merit transference, there are true teaching, practice, faith, and Enlightenment."

This means that Amida Buddha transmitted to us a teaching, a practice and a faith through which we can attain Enlightenment in His Pure Land. If we accept that teaching, if we have that faith in our hearts, and we follow that practice, then we will attain Enlightenment. If not, our life in human form would be spent in vain.

It is extremely important to notice that all the above elements of the Path to the Pure Land come from Amida Buddha (are part of His merit transference), so they are not something we develop by our own power. Thus, we are not the creators of the true teaching on Amida Buddha (Amida Dharma), that is, we cannot change it according to our own personal opinions, likes or dislikes, and we are not even the owners of our faith and practice!

You can read more on this topic in the following articles:

[1] Kyogyoshinsho – On Teaching, Practice, Faith, and Enlightenment, translated by Hisao Inagaki, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Kyoto, 2003, p. 5
[2] The five defilements are the five marks of decay of the world we live in: 1) the defilement of views, when incorrect, perverse thoughts and ideas are predominant, 2) the defilement of passions, when all kinds of transgressions are exalted, 3) the defilement of human condition, when people are usually dissatisfied and unhappy, 4) the defilement of life-span, when the human life-span as a whole decreases – according to the sutras, when it is less or close to one hundred years, 5) the defilement of the world-age, when war and natural disasters are rife.

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