The nembutsu is the single path free of hindrances. Why is this? To practicers who have realised shinjin, the gods of the heavens and earth bow in homage, and maras and nonbuddhists present no obstruction. No evil act can bring about karmic results, nor can any good act equal the nembutsu. (A Record in Lament of Divergences, 8; CWS, p. 665)
We now come to the eighth chapter of A Record in Lament of Divergences. These words are surely the pinnacle of Shinran’s teaching and the most succinct expression of the Pure Land way. Their significance lies in the established meaning of the nembutsu path.
We must always call to mind the first chapter of A Record in Lament of Divergences. It explains that the nembutsu is the expression of Amida Buddha’s entrusting heart (shinjin). The nembutsu is the single path because Amida Buddha alone is at work in the lives of beings, who are unable to realise awakening by their own means. There is nothing that compares with ‘the single path’ (ichido). It breaks through spiritual blindness to establish beings in the stage of the truly settled, and to board the bodhisattva vehicle, sailing ‘out on the vast ocean of light.’
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 the waves of evil are transformed. (Shinran; CWS, p. 56)
The nembutsu is also ‘the path free of hindrances’. Firstly, it eclipses the influence of all gods and maras (demons). Gods are originally the supernatural beings of the Indian religion at the time of Shakymuni Buddha. They were thought to influence events. They may be the objects of love and devotion, or a source of fear. The nembutsu way overwhelms their power. The power of the Primal Vow transcends any other influences, good or bad. The Buddhist understanding is that gods and maras have come to revere the Buddha Dharma. And that is Shinran’s understanding, too.
Secondly, the nembutsu is free of hindrances because the blandishments or hostilities of those who follow other paths cannot destroy the entrusting heart of Amida Buddha, since the Primal Vow is the ultimate reality. The Primal Vow calls to all beings without exception. Few may choose to accept it now but, in the fulness of time, all will be born in the Pure Land.
Finally, the nembutsu transcends all actions. There is, indeed, nothing that can dilute its virtue.