If Amida’s Primal Vow is true, Shakyamuni’s teaching cannot be false. If the Buddha’s teaching is true, Shan-tao’s commentaries cannot be false. If Shan-tao’s commentaries are true, can Honen’s words be lies? If Honen’s words are true, then surely what I say cannot be empty.
Such, in the end, is how this foolish person entrusts himself [to the Vow]. Beyond this, whether you take up and accept the nembutsu, or abandon it, is for each of you to determine. (CWS, p. 662)
These words of Shinran are full of power and light. His starting-point is the self-evident reality of the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha. As a ‘foolish person’ who cannot save himself, he has heard the ‘call of the Vow’, which takes the form of Namo Amida Butsu.
From these passages we see that the word ‘Namo’ means to take refuge. In the term to take refuge (‘kimyo’), ‘ki’ means to arrive at. Further, it is used in compounds to mean to yield joyfully to (‘kietsu’) and to take shelter in (‘kisai’). ‘Myo’ means to act, to invite, to command, to teach, path, message, to devise, to summon.
Thus, ‘kimyo’ is the command of the Primal Vow calling to and summoning us. (CWS, p. 38)
In this way, Shinran describes the moment that he heard and accepted the call of the Primal Vow.
The Primal Vow is deeper and greater than anything that words can describe. Shakyamuni Buddha explains its essential features in the Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life. In particular, it is the Vow of ‘Sincere Mind and Entrusting’, the eighteenth of Amida Buddha’s forty-eight Vows. It is the Vow that confers the status of ‘entering the stage of the truly settled’ upon the person hearing and accepting the Name — Namo Amida Butsu —, setting one upon the way to Buddhahood at birth in the Pure Land, when this life ends.
Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow is incontrovertible for Shinran, and for everyone who has accepted the sincere mind and entrusting of the eighteenth Vow. That is why Shinran describes Shakyamuni as the historical manifestation of Amida Buddha.
Amida, who attained Buddhahood in the infinite past,
Full of compassion for foolish beings of the five defilements,
Took the form of Shakyamuni Buddha
And appeared in Gaya. (CWS, p. 349)
The Primal Vow of Amida Buddha is the source of Shakyamuni Buddha who made the nembutsu teaching known in the world. The transmission of the Primal Vow continues through history in the lives of Pure Land masters, like Shan-tao (613-681) and Honen Shonin (1133-1212).
The fulfilment of the Primal Vow occurs in the moment that beings open their hearts and joyfully accept it. No one else can confer it upon them. It is a decision for each of them alone.
Beyond this, whether you take up and accept the nembutsu or whether you abandon it is for each of you to determine. (CWS, p. 662)