For the sake of myself alone!

A lone tree in the Simpson Desert, Australia.

The Master would often say,

When I consider deeply the Vow of Amida, which arose from five kalpas of profound thought, I realise that it was entirely for the sake of myself alone! Then how I am filled with gratitude for the Primal Vow, in which Amida resolved to save me, though I am burdened with such heavy karma. (A Record in Lament of Divergences, Postscript; CWS, p. 679)

How wonderful are these words of Shinran Shonin! These are the words of someone who knows Amida Buddha. And that he and Amida Buddha have been together since time immemorial. Shinran, the seeker, and Amida Buddha, the living embodiment of Dharma whose sole objective is to realise the Primal Vow and to save the seeker. It is for each single being, each unique being, that Amida Buddha dedicated himself to five kalpas of profound thought. With each of us in mind.

The relationship between the Buddha of Immeasurable Light and Life and ordinary, foolish beings, is recognised and fulfilled in that one moment of taking refuge – Namo Amida Butsu – and it continues as a sublime collaboration thereafter.

Then how I am filled with gratitude for the Primal Vow, in which Amida resolved to save me, though I am burdened with such heavy karma. (Shinran; A Record in Lament of Divergences; CWS, p. 679)

Passages on the Land of Happiness [by Tao-ch’o] states:

I have collected true words to aid others in their practice for attaining birth, in order that the process be made continuous, without end and without interruption, by which those who have been born first guide those who come later, and those who are born later join those who were born before. This is so that the boundless ocean of birth-and-death be exhausted. (CWS, p. 291)

Jodo Shinshu is a religion that is uniquely personal; perhaps even private. Each one, one-by-one, strives and struggles endlessly, and then, one day, to everyone’s surprise and boundless joy, takes refuge: surrendering to Amida Buddha’s call to accept the Primal Vow without a shadow of doubt. The struggle is over; the Primal Vow fulfilled.

This experience means that the way of nembutsu thus expressed is not just ‘another religion’. It is unique. It does not belong to the way people see such things … as a matter of choice, mere intellectual assent, or a belief in something so other that it bears little relationship to the deep and complex reality of who one truly is.

As we have seen in A Record in Lament of Divergences, the nembutsu way is not a way of intellectual endeavour, or ethical perfection; not a way of study, of striving, of ritual, or observances. Such things, if they come to life in the nembutsu person, are natural outcomes of profound gratitude for the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha. That is why Shinran invested so much time and energy in teaching his fellow followers, in his writing, and in seeking to address misunderstandings.

But the Dharma of Amida Buddha always remains deeply personal because each of us is unique. It is always hard to convey its wonder to others because it is, indeed, so sublime and so profound, that it is beyond words and expression.

In reflecting on the great ocean of shinjin, I realize that there is no discrimination between noble and humble or black-robed monks and white-clothed laity, no differentiation between man and woman, old and young. The amount of evil one has committed is not considered; the duration of any performance of religious practices is of no concern. It is a matter of neither practice nor good acts, neither sudden attainment nor gradual attainment, neither meditative practice nor nonmeditative practice, neither right contemplation nor wrong contemplation, neither thought nor no-thought, neither daily life nor the moment of death, neither many-calling nor once-calling. It is simply shinjin that is inconceivable, inexplicable, and indescribable. It is like the medicine that eradicates all poisons. The medicine of the Tathagata’s Vow destroys the poisons of our wisdom and foolishness. (Shinran, CWS, p. 107)