The Present Buddha

Reverently contemplating the true Buddha and the true land, I find that the Buddha is the Tathagata of inconceivable light and that the land also is the land of immeasurable light. (Shinran, A Collection of Passages Revealing the True Buddha and Land of the Pure Land Way, CWS, p. 177)

In Shinran Shonin’s teaching, which informs our spiritual lives, the Tathagata of inconceivable light (muryoko nyorai) is the principal designation of the Buddha of immeasurable life. We know this Buddha as ‘immeasurable Buddha’ – Amida Buddha. The Hymn of True Shinjin and the Nembutsu, which many Shin Buddhists chant every morning and evening, also reminds us of Amida Buddha in this way:

I take refuge in the Tathagata of Immeasurable Life
I entrust myself to the Buddha of Inconceivable Light! (CWS, p. 69)

The fifth dharma master of our teaching lineage, Shan-tao, also is conscious that Amida Buddha is a present Buddha. In his explanation of The Parable of the Two Rivers and the White Path he says that

Shakyamuni Buddha has already entered nirvana and people of later times cannot meet him. His teachings still remain, however, and we can follow them. (CWS, p. 91)

Shakyamuni Buddha points us to Amida Buddha in many sutras and encourages all to take refuge in him. But how does this present Buddha, the Buddha of inconceivable light, relate to us? How do we know him and hear his teaching?

We hear the teaching of Amida Buddha through the words of Shakyamuni Buddha who shares his enlightenment. And the epitome of his teaching on Amida Buddha is the Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life.

At the opening of the sutra we learn of the occasion for the sermon on Amida Buddha that Shakyamuni delivered. Shinran reminds us that this sermon was presented when Shakyamuni had emerged from the ‘samadhi of great tranquillity.’ (CWS, p. 339) Such deep contemplation is perfect, clear and pure. It is the ‘tranquillity that is the supreme tranquillity of “the unaging, the undecaying, the undying, the unsorrowing, the stainless.” ‘ (Gotama Buddha, by Hajime Nakamura p. 213)

Furthermore, Nagarjuna Bodhisattva tells us of the full implication of the teaching on Amida Buddha in his brief account of Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow:

There is Lokeshvararaja Buddha (and the other Buddhas). These world-honoured Buddhas at present in the pure realms of the ten quarters all say the Name of Amida Buddha and are mindful of the Primal Vow, which states:

If persons think on me and say my Name, spontaneously taking refuge in me, immediately they enter the stage of the definitely settled and will realise the supreme, perfect enlightenment. (CWS, p. 23)

Living in the embrace of the Buddha of inconceivable light is expressed in the Name: Namu-amida-butsu.