The nembutsu, for its practicers, is not a practice or a good act. Since it is not preformed out of one’s own designs, it is not a practice. Since it is not good done through one’s own calculation, it is not a good act. Because it arises wholly from Other Power and is free of self-power, for the practicer, it is not a practice or a good act. (The Tanni Sho, 8; CWS p. 665)
Yuien, who is the author of The Tanni Sho, delights in the seeming paradoxes that his teacher, Shinran Shonin, used to describe the teaching of Jodo Shinshu, which is the ‘True Teaching of Pure Land Buddhism’. Shinran inherited this teaching, in turn, from his teachers, Shakyamuni Buddha and the seven Dharma Masters. These apparent paradoxes are striking and succinct but accurate descriptions of the principal features of the Pure Land teaching.
Here Yuien begins with a paradox, that practicers of the dharma are not actually engaging in any practice. The reason for this is that the nembutsu is the practice of Amida Buddha. His practice is transferred to those who accept it in complete, uncomplicated and unequivocal trust.
The Tathagata, turning with compassion toward the ocean of living beings in pain and affliction, has given unhindered and vast pure entrusting heart (shinjin) to the ocean of sentient beings. This is called the ‘true and real shinjin that is [Amida’s] benefiting of others.’ (The True Teaching, Practice, and Realisation III, 28; CWS p. 98)
A complete understanding of this central aspect of our school includes the prominent idea within the bodhisattva vehicle that beings are not isolated, discrete units but an integral part of the whole – every being is in relativity. Associated with this is the fact of the transference of merit (eko).
The Name, Namu-amida-butsu, is the form of Other Power making itself known to us and inviting us to accept its call. It is true mindfulness. It is the practice of Amida Buddha, which he gives to us, and when we accept it, Amida’s virtue fills our hearts and minds. And so does joy and relief. One kind of life ends, and another begins. The decisive move that beings make is to accept the Name. Nothing more is needed.
This is an integral part of the bodhisattva vehicle, the path of Buddha Dharma that ultimately leads each and every being to become Buddha for the sake of others.
These teachings remain mere theory for us as long as we are separated from them. But when we allow ourselves to be held in the compassionate embrace of Amida Buddha we know their reality. As followers of the nembutsu way, we move from one stance to another by hearing the dharma, through reading, listening to dharma talks, and reflecting upon our own hearts.
It is then that we find that the nembutsu is entirely Amida Buddha’s great practice and great good. Although we say the nembutsu in appreciation of the dharma, there is nothing that we can add to it because it is in itself complete.
If not for the Buddha’s directing of virtue,
How could we realise enlightenment in the Pure Land?
(Hymns of the Dharma Ages 52; CWS p. 411)