The True and Real Light

The light of wisdom exceeds all measure,
And every finite living being
Receives this illumination that is like the dawn,
So take refuge in Amida, the true and real light.
(Jodo Wasan 4; CWS. p. 325)

Australian Sunrise
Australian Sunrise

Without question this is one of my favourite verses in Shinran Shonin’s collection of hymns. It is the fourth of the Hymns of the Pure Land.

You will remember that the Larger Sutra lists twelve epithets for Amida Buddha, which remind us that this Buddha – the Buddha of Immeasurable Life – is the Buddha of Immeasurable Light. As Shinran often reminds us, light is the form taken by wisdom, or prajna. It is the wisdom of Enlightenment. It is not merely wisdom in the conventional sense, but transforming insight into truth.

This verse then draws our attention to the fact that Amida Buddha, is the wisdom ‘that exceeds all measure’. In a footnote, Shinran reminds us that it is the light of non-discrimination. There is no one excluded from the light, the wisdom, of Amida Buddha. No matter who you are, the light of the Buddha calls to you in the Name, Namo Amida Butsu.

There is a further epithet for Amida Buddha at the end of the verse, and this is ‘true and real light’. This means that there is ‘no falsehood’ in this light and that accepting it will inevitably lead to nirvana, Buddhahood, the fruition of the light – Amida Buddha’s – activity in saving us.

I love the imagery of the second and third line:

And every finite living being
Receives this illumination that is like the dawn.

It is a perfect description of the way things are.  Those of us who  have spent a lot of their lives in spiritual darkness but turn to Amida Buddha will find, as Shinran did, that there is a very real sense in which there is a slow dawning for us as we begin to see things in a new way.

There are many aspects of this. But I would think that the most important of them is the way that we come to realise, with great clarity, that we are embraced by the ‘true and real light’ just as we are, without any limit or equivocation.

It does not matter how we see ourselves – as failures, unsophisticated, stupid, hopeless and unworthy – we are embraced by the true and real light nonetheless. Knowing this is not unlike the way that sunlight brings life to the natural world. For us, hearing and accepting the light of Amida Buddha in Namo Amida Butsu is to begin a new life – like the dawn – and to grow in the warm and never-ending embrace of the true and real light.