Hard it is to obtain human life,
And difficult it is to encounter a Buddha in this world.
Even more difficult it is for one to attain faith and wisdom.
Once you have heard the Dharma, endeavour to seek the Way.
The one who hears and never forgets the Dharma,
Sees and reveres it and greatly rejoices in attaining it –
That person is my true friend;
Therefore, awaken aspiration for enlightenment.
Even if the whole world were filled with fire,
Resolutely pass through it in your quest to hear the Dharma.
You will unfailingly attain the enlightenment of Buddha
And bring beings everywhere across the stream of birth-and-death.
(The Sutra on the Buddha of Immeasurable Life (tr. Hongwanji 2009) p. 59)
Here, in three verses, is the perfect outline of a nembutsu life. Whatever evil may befall us, it is the best life because it fulfils the bodhisattva way for the benefit of oneself and others.
Human life is precious, and rare in the scheme of things through time and space. And it does not come from nowhere. Beyond the role of our parents there is also a vast background of existence in the realm of birth-and-death through endless ages. At some point we have heard hints of the call of the Vow. And the five precepts contribute to a human birth.
To encounter a Buddha is difficult, too. Shakyamuni Buddha appeared about two thousand five hundred years ago. Since then his voice has grown more and more distant, until we are now in the last Dharma Age. This is the time that greed, anger and delusion hold sway among us with gradually increasing power and noise.
‘Once you have heard the Dharma’, is the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha. It begins sotto voce – in the midst our suffering; in times of joy and sorrow; in time of peace and anxiety; in our restless dissatisfaction; there is a moment here and there wherein the curtain is lifted on the Pure Land, the realm of inconceivable light. Every being knows this in their own way. It is personal, individual, compelling and special.
Then there is the Name, Namu-amida-butsu, calling you, calling beings. On accepting it – finally and exclusively – into their hearts, beings ‘greatly rejoice in attaining’ the Dharma of Amida Buddha and realise their salvation. For the remainder of their life, the sound of the call of the Vow encourages its response in the life of nembutsu.
Traversing this treacherous world in the company of Namu-amida-butsu; this world that is burning in the fire of anger, the fire of greed, the fire of delusion – so the nembutsu person is born at death into the world of nirvana and Buddhahood for the sake of all beings.