On birth becoming firmly settled

Other Power is the entrusting of yourself to the Eighteenth among Amida Tathagata’s Vows, the Primal Vow of birth through the nembutsu, which Amida selected and adopted from among all other practices. …….

Other Power is entrusting ourselves to the Primal Vow and our birth becoming firmly settled. (Lamp for the Latter Ages, II, CWS, p. 525)

This is the third of a series of posts about the Letters of Shinran.

The definition of Other Power that Shinran Shonin uses in his letters is stark, elegant, profound, absolute, joyous, and simple. It is easy to understand and potentially straightforward to accept. Yet for most of us it is some time before we do so.

In his teaching and writing, Shinran uses only very few words to define Other Power. My favourite is to found in the second book of The True Teaching, Practice and Realisation:

Other Power is none other than the power of the Tathagata’s Primal Vow. (CWS, p. 57)

Yet, in his letters, it seems that Shinran needed to clarify the meaning of Other Power further by making sure that his disciples understood what is meant by the phrase ‘Tathagata’s Primal Vow’. As he says in the above quotation from the second letter of Lamp for Latter Ages, Other Power is

the Primal Vow of birth through the nembutsu, which Amida selected and adopted from among all other practices.

Accepting this without equivocation is shinjin–the entrusting heart of Amida Buddha. Without shinjin the way of nembutsu may remain for us little more than a matter theory or speculation.

As Shinran says in Notes on ‘Essentials of Faith Alone’, shinjin is not what we believe, or think, or hope. It is absolute acceptance of the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha, manifested in the nembutsu that spontaneously (jinen) flows from the heart and mind.

Know that it is impossible to be born in the true, fulfilled Pure Land by simply observing precepts, or by self-willed conviction, or by self-cultivated good. (CWS, p. 458)

It is indeed these three attitudes that hinder the working of Other Power. It is thinking, perhaps, ‘I am not worthy of Amida Buddha’s unconditional compassion; I am not worthy to be embraced in this light of Wisdom; I cannot believe this but I will try to believe it.’ It is to create ideas and fanciful propositions for ourselves; it is to hide from the deep truth of our own total and true inadequacy.

Instead, why not just accept the working of the ‘Primal Vow of birth through the nembutsu’, and say Namo Amida Butsu?