The manifestations of the Vow

Agapanthus  flowers in Adelaide during the Christmas to New Year holiday period.

On the matter of confusing practicers of the nembutsu who are ignorant of even a single letter by challenging them, ‘To which do you entrust yourself in saying the nembutsu – the inconceivable working of the Vow or that of the Name?’ without clarifying fully these two kinds of inconceivable working. (A Record in Lament of Divergences, 11; CWS, p. 667)

As he addresses each of the eight views that were current among Shinran Shonin’s fellow practicers, Yuien begins his refutation with a summary of the kinds of distortions that were being circulated. This is the first of them. There were pedantic people who were themselves confused; or, perhaps they took pleasure in causing confusion to innocent followers. After all, would anyone really be troubled about the supposed distinction between the Primal Vow, shinjin (entrusting heart) and the nembutsu unless someone pointed it out?

Nagarjuna Bodhisattva, who is the first Dharma Master of the Pure Land school, expresses the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha in this way:

If persons think on me and say my Name, spontaneously taking refuge in me, immediately they enter the stage of the definitely settled and will realise the supreme, perfect enlightenment. (CWS, p. 23)

The person who thinks of Amida Buddha trusts in him, and that person naturally take refuge in him and says his Name. Here the entrusting heart (shinjin) and the Name are elements of the same state of mind, which is the living expression of Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow. In one of his letters, Shinran explains it is this way:

You should know further that there can be no nembutsu separate from shinjin. Both should be understood to be Amida’s Vow. Nembutsu and shinjin on our part are themselves the manifestation of the Vow. (CWS, p. 538)

Consistent with Shinran’s teaching, Yuien responds to the mischievous idea that there is some kind of dissonance between the Vow and Name with great clarity:

Through the inconceivable working of the Vow, Amida Buddha devised the Name. To begin with, then, it is through Amida’s design that we come to say the nembutsu with the belief that, saved by the inconceivable working of the Tathagata’s great Vow of great Compassion, we will part from birth-and-death. This being realized, our calculation is not in the least involved, and so, in accord with the Primal Vow, we will be born in the true fulfilled land.

That is, when we entrust ourselves to the inconceivable working of the Vow, taking it as essential, the inconceivable working of the Name is also included; the inconceivable working of the Vow and that of the Name are one, with no distinction whatever. (CWS, p. 667)

You can see here that Yuien draws us back, yet again, to the working of Other Power, the Primal Vow, which is the essential principle that he seeks to uphold in writing his book. He states the centrality of Other Power at the beginning and end of the first section of A Record in Lament of Divergences  – and at the beginning and end of the second section, which we are exploring now. ‘Our calculation is not in the least involved.’ This is all he wants to tell us.

All distortions and divergences from the true teaching of Pure Land Buddhism are attempts to insert our egoistic contrivances into the working of the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha. To do that is to block the working of the Vow.

 As for me, I simply accept and entrust myself to what my revered teacher told me, ‘Just say the nembutsu and be saved by Amida’; nothing else is involved. (CWs, p. 662)

Author: George Gatenby

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