Never abandoning any sentient being

How is directing of virtue accomplished? It is by never abandoning any sentient being in suffering, but constantly aspiring in the heart to fulfil the mind of great compassion, taking the directing of virtue as foremost. (CWS, p. 633)

There is a wonderful short work towards the end of The Collected Works of Shinran, which is alive with the Power of the Primal Vow. It is deeply moving because, in beginning with these words, it becomes personal as well. It is as though Amida Buddha is expressing the fathomless depth of his own compassion for each and every being, each and every one of us, you and me: beings who live in the realm of desire (kama dhatu) and are therefore ‘sentient beings in suffering’.

In the path of sages, it is the developing bodhisattva who expresses this sincere wish. In the Pure Land path it is Amida Buddha, directing his virtue to suffering beings and delivering them from birth-and-death (samsara). This is the ‘transfer of merit’, which is a crucial feature of Buddhist practice, especially in the bodhisattva vehicle of which the Pure Land way is part.

These sublime words remind us that Amida Buddha ‘never abandons’ beings like us and that he is always – always! – offering us his compassion and his virtue, even though we refuse to listen, refuse to open our hearts to his call, for endless futile aeons. Futile for beings, but not for Amida Buddha, because, as Shinran Shonin makes clear, Amida Buddha made Vows specifically designed to lead us to full realisation.

Because we are foolish beings of the realm of desire, of suffering, he reaches toward us in ways that we can eventually comprehend. Shinran says that ‘with regard to the directing of virtue in the aspect for our going forth to the Pure Land, “there is true and real practice, true and real shinjin, and true and real realisation.”‘

True and real practice is the seventeenth Vow, the compassionate Vow of saying the Name. It is Amida Buddha calling to us to put our trust in him: ‘Namu-amida-butsu’, ‘Take refuge in Amida Buddha’, ‘Take Refuge in the Tathagata of Light Filling the Ten Quarters’, ‘entrust yourself, deliverance is assured.’  True and real shinjin is the entrusting heart of Amida Buddha, the virtue of the Buddha giving itself to beings when they accept the Name.

Readers will know that I often speak of the late Professor Ryosetsu Fujiwara, whom I greatly admire. He describes the awakening of shinjin like this:

When Amida’s compassion embodied in this Name is accepted by beings, this is the Awakening of Faith as beings’ experience, and when it is re-expressed through their mouth, it becomes the Utterance of the Name as the expression of inner-felt joy and gratitude. (The Way to Nirvana [1974] p. 171)

True and real realisation is expressed in the twenty-second Vow. It is entering the stage of the truly settled and becoming a Buddha upon birth in the Pure Land at the end of life.