People often say that Jodo Shinshu is a religion of gratitude. Indeed it is! Those who accept the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha have no reason to be anything but grateful.
I praise Amida’s wisdom and virtue
So that beings with mature conditions throughout the ten quarters may hear.
Let those who have already realised shinjin
Constantly respond in gratitude to the Buddha’s benevolence.
(Hymns of the Pure Land, CWS, p. 337)
But how do we express our feelings of gratitude? What is it to be grateful for the Buddha’s Primal Vow?
Shinran Shonin’s wife, Eshinni, recounts in a letter that one time Shinran came down with a very bad cold. It was so bad that he had a high fever. During this time he began to recite the Larger Pure Land Sutra. He later described to Eshinni how he could see the characters of the Sutra passing before his eyes.
However, after a while, Shinran suddenly broke off his chanting. He recalled that he had recited the Sutra a thousand times, many years before this incident, for the benefit of sentient beings.
How strange, I thought. Thinking that there should be nothing on my mind beside true entrusting, born out of the joy of nembutsu, I carefully thought about this matter. (The Life of Eshinni, Wife of Shinran Shonin, by Yoshiko Ohtani, p. 95.)
Shinran then explained that there was really nothing to be done as a way of expressing thanks to the Buddha but to say the nembutsu and ‘Ji-shin-kyo-nin-shin’: ‘accept the teaching oneself and make others believe.’
But it is not as though one needs to become a missionary, trying to convince other people of the teaching. Our only impulse is to praise the Buddha. That’s all it really is.
People who unconditionally accept the Primal Vow enter the ‘stage of the truly settled’. They are born in the Pure Land and return to the realm of birth-and-death to help others. What does this mean?
Yuan-chao was a great Chinese master of the precepts, the Vinaya. He lived from 1048 to 1116, entering parinirvana just fifty-seven years before Shinran was born. Apart from the Vinaya, he lectured on two of the Three Pure Land Sutras – the Contemplation Sutra and the (Smaller) Sutra on Amida Buddha.
From Shinran’s Notes, it seems clear to me that it is Yuan-chao who most clearly described what it is to live the life of appreciation for the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha – not just now – but forever.
It is rare, very rare, and unusual, to encounter the True Pure Land teaching, to hear The Larger Sutra on the Buddha of Immeasurable Life and to surrender oneself entirely to the working of the Primal Vow, taking up, thereby, the life of nembutsu.
Aware of this, Yuan-chao describes the life of gratitude in this way:
Know that such an encounter is rare, even in a myriad of kalpas. In a thousand lifetimes, a person might encounter the Vow but once. From this day to the very end of time, wherever you are, give praise to the Vow, and wherever you may go, encourage others to hear it. Whatever body and land you may be born into as your recompense, whatever the conditions for teaching others, your work is the same as Amida Buddha’s, without any difference. This aspiration is boundless; may the Buddha recognise and know this. (CWS, p. 599)
And … there it is! Having encountered and accepted the Vow, and letting it be actualised in the Name, Namo Amida Butsu, life in praise of the Vow begins … and goes on … forever.
Namo Amida Butsu.