Concerning Namo Amida Butsu

It is taught, concerning Namo Amida Butsu,
That its virtue is like the vast waters of the ocean;
Having myself received that pure good,
I direct it equally to all sentient beings.
(Shinran, Hymns of the Pure Land Masters, CWS, p. 393)

This verse comes at the end of Shinran Shonin’s collection of poems titled Hymns of the Pure Land Masters. It follows a list of the great Dharma Masters of Pure Land Buddhism through the ages, culminating in Honen Shonin. The verse, which comes just before this list runs:

When sentient beings of the evil world of the five defilements
Entrust themselves to the selected Primal Vow,
Virtues beyond description, explanation, and conceptual understanding
Fill those practicers (CWS, p. 392)

This verse is inspired by a passage from the Larger Sutra:

The Buddha said to Maitreya, ‘If there are persons who, having heard the name of that Buddha (Amida), leap and dance with joy and are mindful of the Buddha even once, know that they receive the great benefit; that is, they acquire the unexcelled virtues.’ (Larger Sutra, tr. Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, p. 101)

The juxtaposition of these two verses occurs because, in Shinran’s words,

Although the one moment of shinjin and the one moment of nembutsu are two, there is no nembutsu separate from shinjin, nor is the one moment of shinjin separate from the one moment of nembutsu. (CWS, p. 538)

It seems to me that these two verses, coming immediately after the Hymns on Honen Shonin, as they do, reassert the fact that Shinran was a faithful follower of Honen and that his life and writings are eloquent renditions of the deepest significance of Honen’s teaching. It is often forgotten that it was Honen himself who originally insisted that birth in the Pure Land would not be attained unless the aspirant was a person of faith.

When Shinran proclaims that ‘the virtue of Namo Amida Butsu is like the vast waters of the ocean’, which persons receive, he makes it clear that nembutsu and entrusting heart are not two. The the nembutsu is Amida Buddha proclaiming ‘entrust yourself, deliverance is assured’.

Four years before his death, when his understanding had matured to its fullest bloom, Shinran wrote:

No less than people of shinjin,
Practicers of doubt who cling to self-power should
Awaken to the benevolence of Amida’s great compassion
And endeavour in saying the nembutsu. (CWS, p. 414)

The Name (Namo Amida Butsu) is the working of the Primal Vow and has a life of its own. It is imbued with the perfect wisdom of the Tathagata, which is its source. Why not let it settle into your heart and ‘awaken to the benevolence of Amida’s great compassion’, accepting the true entrusting of Amida Buddha?