Boarding the ship of the Vow of great compassion

Thus, when one has boarded the ship of the Vow of great compassion and sailed out on the vast ocean of light, the winds of perfect virtue blow softly and waves of evil are transformed. The darkness of ignorance is immediately broken through, and quickly reaching the land of immeasurable light, one realises great nirvana and acts in accord with the virtue of Samantabhadra. Let this be known. (Shinran Shonin, Kyo Gyo Shin Sho, II, 78)

Pomegranate 13 May 2016
Pomegranate 13 May 2016

Thus Shinran expresses the overwhelming joy of accepting the call of the Vow of Amida Buddha and entrusting his destiny without equivocation to the Name, Namu-amida-butsu.

As professor Fujiwara explains,

The position of the Name, Namu-amida-butsu, is vitally important in Shinshu teaching.  Without this Name, Shinshu could not be established, for it is the core of Amida’s Vow. (Standard, III, 1)

Shan-tao, the great seventh century Chinese master, from whose wonderful teaching Jodo Shinshu grew, described this experience in the Allegory of the Two Rivers and the White Path.

Shinran is telling us about the sense of being actually, absolutely, carried by the Vow, as if walking in air – or of being bathed in truth and light for a moment; such is the power of Namu-amida-butsu when he finally accepted its call.  This means that the hideous burden of the kleshas, or bonno, which create the vicious and oppressive ego that rules one’s life, is abandoned completely. Thus Shinran lets himself trust without any equivocation in the Vow – Namu-amida-butsu.

‘The winds of perfect virtue’ are not Shinran’s own virtue but the virtue of the Buddha, Amida; the ‘darkness of ignorance’ is the dark mind that could not free itself through countless aeons of training and striving and endeavour. The ‘virtue of Samantabhadra’ is to enter into the bodhisattva way.

When I read this sublime and exquisite passage in the writings of Shinran I am overwhelmed with gratitude to him because he saw how things really are, and he wrote so eloquently about them. Then, I feel grateful to Ananda Bhiksu, to whom Shakyamuni Buddha entrusted the way of the nembutsu, the Name, Namu-amida-butsu:

The Buddha said to Ananda, ‘Hold firmly to these words. To hold these words is to hold to the Name of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life.’ (Contemplation Sutra, 32)

Shan-tao explains:

The Contemplation Sutra passage beginning, The Buddha said to Ananda, “Hold well to these words,” reveals precisely that Shakyamuni entrusted Amida’s Name to Ananda so  that it would be passed down to distant generations.  Although the advantages of the two gateways of meditative and non-meditative practices have been taught up to this point, in view of the intent of the Buddha’s Primal Vow, this is to bring sentient beings solely to wholehearted utterance of the Name of Amida Buddha. (Shan-tao, Kyo Gyo Shin Sho VI, 49)

You and I live more than ten thousand generations from Shakymuni Buddha, and his cousin and disciple Ananda. We can still hear the news of the Name in the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha. So what’s the hesitation? Why not step onto the ship of the Vow of great compassion?