The working of Amida’s Vow

‘Saved by the inconceivable working of Amida’s Vow, I shall realise birth in the Pure Land’: the moment you entrust yourself thus to the Vow, so that the mind set upon saying the nembutsu arises within you, you are immediately brought to share in the benefit of being grasped by Amida, never to be abandoned.

 Know that the Primal Vow of Amida makes no distinction between people young and old, good and evil; only entrusting heart (shinjin) is essential. (CWS, p. 661)

These are the opening words of the first chapter of A Record in Lament of Divergences, the Tannishô. They remind us of the most pressing point that the author, Yuien, made in his Preface — that the true teaching of Pure Land Buddhism is Other Power. Everything that follows is dependent on one basic reality, ‘the working of Amida’s Vow’.

The Larger Sutra tells us how the Primal Vow is realised in the lives of ordinary beings:

All sentient beings, as they hear the Name, realise even one thought-moment of shinjin and joy, which is directed to them from Amida’s sincere mind, and aspiring to be born in that land, they attain birth and dwell in the stage of nonretrogression. (CWS, p. 80)

To ‘hear the Name’, is to know that Namo Amida Butsu is the Buddha’s call to you to accept his gift of deliverance, joining the path of non-retrogression and becoming a Buddha at the end of this life. Hearing the Name is entrusting heart. It is shinjin, because it knows that the Name can be trusted without the slightest hint of doubt. It is, as Shinran says, to hear the origin and fulfilment of the Vow.

The origin of the Vow resides in Amida Buddha’s compassion as it responds to the timeless suffering of beings bound to the cycle of birth-and-death. This is reflected in the time that Shakyamuni Buddha was moved to undertake the Great Renunciation in pursuit of enlightenment after his journey from the four gates of the palace — when he saw the true nature of existence. It was Shakyamuni Buddha who revealed the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha that lies at the heart of such compassionate striving.

Whoever we are, or however we conceive of ourselves, shinjin occurs when we accept the Name, Namo Amida Butsu, into our hearts. To be ‘grasped by Amida, never to be abandoned’ is to enter the stage of the truly settled, in the assurance of attaining Buddhahood when we are born in the Pure Land at the end of our lives.

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.