Only the entrusting heart

Know that the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha makes no distinction between people young and old, good and evil; only the entrusting heart (shinjin) is essential. For it is the Vow to save the person whose karmic evil is deep and grave and whose blind passions abound.

Thus, for those who entrust themselves to the Primal Vow, no good acts are required, because no good surpasses the nembutsu. Nor need they despair of the evil they commit, for no evil can obstruct the working of Amida’s Primal Vow. (A Record in Lament of Divergences (Tannisho); CWS. p. 661)

These final paragraphs of the first chapter of A Record in Lament of Divergences tell us three things. Firstly, that Amida Buddha’s light reaches everywhere and is absolutely unhindered by any constraints or obstacles. These include how a person may perceive him or herself; how others may judge them; anything they do, or the degree of their egoistic hindrances, delusions and desires. There is literally nothing whatsoever that is not bathed in the light of Amida Buddha’s wisdom and all-embracing compassion.

The second thing that we learn from these two paragraphs is that there is no way at all that any being like us – oppressed by ‘blind passions’ – can attain deliverance from the round of birth-and-death (samsara) without the entrusting heart (shinjin) of Amida Buddha. This entrusting heart is Amida Buddha’s boundless compassion, grasping and embracing us when we accept his Name, Namo Amida Butsu. When the Name becomes our expression – whether in thought or voice – it is ‘nembutsu’: the mind of the Buddha making itself manifest in us.

Thirdly, Amida Buddha’s embrace is unconditional. It only requires the entrusting heart, expressed as nembutsu. Who we are or what we do have nothing to do with salvation by the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha.

Over time the unconditional nature of Amida Buddha’s embrace inspires one’s outlook on life. Because beings cannot accept the working of the Primal Vow unless they have seen themselves as they truly are through its working – and realised that they are of such limited capacity, and so ego-bound, that they could never, ever, attain liberation by their own efforts – they know great joy, and are able to live life to the fullThey become people of gratitude and appreciation of life, and the people and the world around them.

Shinran reflects this in his letters:

Signs of long years of saying the nembutsu and aspiring for birth can be seen in the change of heart that had been bad and in the deep warmth for friends and fellow-practicers; this is the sign of rejecting the world. (CWS, p. 551)