The fragrance of light

I take refuge in the Tathagata of Immeasurable Life!
I entrust myself to the Buddha of Inconceivable Light!
(CWS, p. 69)

All Shin Buddhists are familiar with these words, particularly in the original Chinese:

Kimyo muryoju Nyorai!
Namo fukashigiko

blog-01-11-16These are the words that begin the Shoshin Nembutsuge. Written by Shinran Shonin, it is found at the conclusion of the second book of the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho. It comprises one hundred and twenty lines, and is an act of taking refuge in the Three Treasures.

First, there is the Buddha Treasure. In this section of the Shoshin Nembutsuge, we take refuge in Amida Buddha, who made the Primal Vow and appeared in the world as Shakyamuni Buddha. Then we take refuge in the Dharma. These verses tell us about Shakyamuni Buddha’s teaching about the Primal Vow. Finally, we take refuge in the Sangha: the seven Dharma Masters of Jodo Shinshu.

This  is how many followers of Jodo Shinshu begin–and sometimes also end–every day. Many people grow up hearing these words and come to learn the Shoshin Nembutsuge by heart.

In his book Tariki, Embracing Despair, Discovering Peace, the renowned writer Hiroyuki Itsuki describes his own upbringing and relates his memories of hearing these words very early in his life. (p. 99) It was only later in his life that he came to understand their meaning.

It is truly wonderful to begin and end each day by entrusting ourselves to Inconceivable Light. We do this, even if we do not have time to chant any sutras at all, when we say Namo Amida Butsu. For the meaning of this phrase, too, is: I take refuge in Inconceivable Light. Indeed, Amida Buddha is famously described in terms of the Twelve Lights. Amida Buddha is light, that ‘outshines the Sun and the Moon.’

Whereas the light of the sun and the moon are easily obstructed, the light that is Amida Buddha knows no obstacles. Not even our own dark minds and blind passions can obstruct the light.

In Hymns to the Bodhisattva Mahasthamaprapta, Shinran quotes the Bodhisattva’s words in verse:

When sentient beings think on Amida
Just as a child thinks of its mother,
They indeed see the Tathagata–who is never distant–
Both in the present and in the future.

Such beings are like people who, imbued with incense,
Bear its fragrance on their bodies;
They may be called
Those adorned with the fragrance of light.
(CWS, p. 357)

So, although we may not have time to begin each day by chanting the Sutra, Shoshin Nembutsuge, it is still possible to begin and end each day as though we did do that. When we ‘think on Amida just as an infant thinks of its mother’–in absolute trust and adoration–we are like those ‘adorned with the fragrance of light’.

And as we continue throughout the day we can still be adorned with the fragrance of light. This, Shinran tells us, is the nembutsu, which is light. It is wisdom. (CWS, p. 357)

Namo Amida Butsu

Author: George Gatenby

George Gatenby, a retired Australian businessman, has been a follower of the nembutsu teaching of Shinran Shonin (1173-1263) since 1977. He became a member of the Hongwanji Buddhist Mission of Australia when it was founded in 1993 and was ordained as a Shin Buddhist priest at the Nishi Hongwanji, Kyoto, the following year. He is the author of the blog sites, Notes on the Nembutsu and The Udumbara Flower, and convenes a Shin Buddhist sangha in Adelaide.