Know that the Primal Vow of Amida makes no distinction between people young and old, good and evil; only shinjin is essential. For it is the Vow to save the person whose karmic evil is deep and grave and whose blind passions abound. (Tannisho, 1, CWS, p. 661)
The inconceivable working of the power of Buddha-dharma
Is such that external hindrances and karmic fetters do not obstruct us;
Hence, the universal, Primal Vow of Amida
Is termed the ‘decisive cause’ of birth. (Master Shan-tao, Twenty-six Hymns based on his Writings, by Shinran, 71; CWS, p.379)
The Primal Vow of Amida Buddha is the manifestation of the pure truth of the Buddha Dharma. What I mean by this is that the Buddha Dharma does not accept ultimate distinctions between things. Amida Buddha’s Vow to save people cannot discriminate because there is no actual basis for it.
Distinctions are illusory, unstable constructions. They may be useful for categorisations in the world of convention: in law, science, diagnostics and so forth. But there is no ultimate reality in such things, important though they may be in day-to-day relationships and dialogue. Amida Buddha’s light, the perfection of wisdom, sees deeper than that.
All beings live within Amida Buddha’s all-pervasive light. As we read in the Hymns of the Pure Land by Shinran Shonin:
The light of wisdom exceeds all measure,
And every finite living being
Receives this illumination that is like the dawn,
So take refuge in Amida, the true and wisdom light. (CWS, p. 325)
Amida Buddha’s light is inconceivable, so we cannot see it with our eyes. We can certainly conjure light in our imagination but in my case, at any rate, this is just the creation of an ignorant, unenlightened foolish being. Needless to say, for all of its inconceivability, the light that is Amida Buddha is itself real.
We can ignore the light of Amida Buddha if we want to. But the ‘fragrance of light’ is the Name, Namo Amida Butsu. Indeed, in Notes on Once-Calling and Many-Calling, Shinran tells us that
Amida has been called ‘Buddha of unhindered light filling the ten quarters.’ This Tathagata is also known as Namo-fukashigiko-butsu (Namo Buddha of inconceivable light) and is the dharma-body as compassionate means.’ (CWS, p, 486)
It is this Buddha who is the ‘illumination that is like the dawn.’ This Buddha slowly, quietly begins to become known to beings by opening their minds and hearts to the call of the Vow; by gently prompting them to trust Namo Amida Butsu; asking of them nothing else whatsoever. That way beings are born in the Pure Land and become Buddhas.