Zoaku-muge   

Plum blossom

I have not mentioned this term before. Zoaku-muge is a divergent belief that was found in the Jodo Shinshu tradition, especially in its early days. It is the idea that, since the power of Amida Buddha’s Vow is absolute, our behaviour, no matter how egregious, will not obliterate the fact that we are delivered from birth-and-death and will become Buddhas at the end of this current life. Well that is actually true.

It is true that the power of Amida’s Vow is unconditional in its working. I think that Nagarjuna Bodhisattva’s expression of the Primal Vow is complete in itself:

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)

The phrases ‘think on me’ and ‘spontaneously taking refuge in me’ describe Amida Buddha’s entrusting heart – shinjin. The outcome is assurance in this life of birth in the Pure Land at death and enlightenment at birth in the Pure Land. And as Shinran Shonin makes clear …

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. (CWS, p. 107)

… there is no condition whatever that blocks the working of the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha when a person accepts the entrusting heart. From the point of view of ordinary beings like us, this is so remarkable and so absolutely undeserved, that it defies description. It is a gift so wonderful, so perfect that it leaves one speechless and overwhelmed with joy. Nowhere else is there perfect compassion like this.

But shinjin is actually the beginning of a Buddhist life in accord with the Pure Land inheritance: a life of gratitude expressed in the nembutsu, Namo Amida Butsu. And after receiving a gift of such infinite and inexpressible magnitude, who would want to take advantage of it by deliberately smearing it with greed, anger and folly, which is already an unwelcome burden for each of us?  Wouldn’t a person want to take baby steps towards a gentler, more honest and kinder life? Wouldn’t one want to live in such a way as to honour the Buddha Dharma?