The mind set upon saying the nembutsu

Reflected image of the Ushiku Daibutsu, which is 120 metres tall. Photo by Mark Healsmith.
Reflected image of the Ushiku Daibutsu, which is 120 metres tall. Photo by Mark Healsmith.

Those who truly attain shinjin
As they utter Amida’s Name,
Being mindful of the Buddha always,
Wish to respond to the great benevolence.
(Hymns of the Pure Land 1; CWS, p. 321)

We have been considering the opening paragraph of the Tannisho, which reads:

‘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. (CWS, p. 661)

The opening sentence of this passage is an expression of the moment when one accepts, without reservation, that only by the Power of Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow is it possible to enter the stage of the truly settled and become a Buddha upon birth in Pure Land. In The True Teaching, Practice and Realisation Shinran tells us of this moment in his own life when he says that – in the year 1201 – he, ‘discarded sundry practices and took refuge in the Primal Vow.’ (CWS, p. 290)

This is the moment that shinjin arises, although it is not always possible to pinpoint it because it is such a brief event. As it is taught in the Larger Sutra of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life:

All sentient beings, as the hear the Name, realise even one thought moment of shinjin and joy, which is directed to them from Amida’s sincere mind … (CWS. P. 474)

Shinran explains the phrase ‘one thought-moment’ in this way:

‘One thought moment is time at its ultimate limit, where the realisation shinjin takes place.’ (CWS, p. 474)

It is when Amida Buddha grants his sincere mind, the mind of true entrusting. At one moment beings are without shinjin; in the next moment, everything has changed. One life ends, and another begins. It is now a life, which is conscious of the embrace of Amida Buddha. This change happens so quickly, and is not one’s own doing, that it is immediately in the past and cannot be repeated or recounted as evidence.

Shinran points out, in the hymn that I quoted at the beginning of this post, that the only sure evidence of such change is not recalling when it happened but the emergence of the ‘desire to respond to the great benevolence.’

The nembutsu becomes a spontaneous response to the working of the dharma — the wish to respond to Amida Buddha’s compassion. This is what the Tannisho means when it speaks of the ‘mind set upon saying the nembutsu.’

The ‘mind set upon saying the nembutsu’ is the joyous and grateful ‘wish to respond to the great benevolence.’ Such is the way for people who ‘truly attain shinjin’ (CWS, p. 321) as they become, for the first time, ‘true disciples of the Buddha.’ (CWS, p. 117)