Our true father and mother

Eremophila maculata. From the north of South Australia

As for me, Shinran, I have never said the nembutsu even once for the repose of my departed father and mother. For all sentient beings, without exception, have been our parents and brothers and sisters in the course of countless lives in the many states of existence. On attaining Buddhahood after this present life, we can save every one of them.

Were saying the nembutsu indeed a good act in which I strove through my own powers, then I might direct the merit thus gained towards saving my father and mother. But this is not the case.

If, however, simply abandoning self-power, we quickly attain enlightenment in the Pure Land, we will be able to save, by means of transcendent powers, first those with whom we have close karmic relations, whatever karmic suffering they may have sunk to in the six realms through the four modes of birth. (A Record in Lament of Divergences, 5; CWS, p. 664)

We now come to the fifth chapter of A Record in Lament of Divergences. The author, Yuien, again quotes a comment that Shinran Shonin had made to him. No doubt he was with other fellow nembutsu followers who also heard Shinran speak.

Shinran drew on the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha and the Pure Land masters to demonstrate how one attains Buddhahood upon birth in the Pure Land at the end of our lives. His teaching has been lived and experienced by millions of people, and still thrives in the world today.

At the heart of Shinran’s teaching is the Name – Namo Amida Butsu – which is the form taken by Amida Buddha to reach into our hearts, endow us with his virtue, awakening shinjin, the entrusting heart. At that time we enter the stage of the truly settled and are saved from birth-and-death.

The Name of Amida Buddha is a living thing. It is nembutsu. It is not a magical formula or a talisman. Even though many people believe that we can change the destiny of loved ones who have died, it is not so. Each of us bears full responsibility for our own destiny.

As his parinirvana was approaching, Shakyamuni Buddha said,

Therefore in this world you should be islands unto yourselves, your own refuge, depending on no one else, with the Dharma as an island and the Dharma as a refuge, depending on nothing else.

When we hear the Dharma, we alone must choose to hear and accept it.

The Dharma that we follow is the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha, the Name. We can only make the choice to accept it ourselves. No one else can make that choice for us. Having done so, when we are born in the Pure Land and become Buddhas, of course, we can teach others, including those we have loved and lost.

Not only that, but the interconnectedness of all things means that all beings have been our parents through endless aeons. We can teach the Dharma to them too, and lead them to the Pure Land. Having become one with Amida Buddha we can endow them with the Name that we have received. Indeed, in the fullness of time, all beings will return to the Pure Land, whatever their present path may be.

It all comes back to the Name and the light of Amida Buddha. These are our true and ultimate parents.

Truly we know that without the virtuous Name, our compassionate father, we would lack the direct cause for birth. Without the light, our compassionate mother, we would stand apart from the indirect cause of birth. Although direct and indirect causes may come together, if the karmic-consciousness of shinjin is lacking, one will not reach the land of light. The karmic-consciousness of true and real shinjin is the inner cause. The Name and light – our father and mother – are the outer cause. When the inner and outer causes merge, one realizes the true body in the fulfilled land. Therefore master [Shan-tao] states:

[Amida] takes in and saves all beings throughout the ten quarters with light and Name; [Amida] brings sentient beings to realize shinjin and aspire for birth.

Further, [Fa-chao] states:

Attainment of Buddhahood through the nembutsu: this is the true essence of the Pure Land way. (CWS, p. 54)