About the true Nembutsu in Jodo Shinshu
Eiken Kobai, Professor Emeritus of SOAI University. Japan.
Nembutsu is the meaning of the thought of the Buddha. There are meditations on the Buddha (Amida) and recitations of Buddha (Amida)’s name.
The Nembutsu of Shinran is a recitation of Amida’s name. However, it is a very unique thing in some of its features.
In the following, entitled “About the true Nembutsu in Jodo Shinshu”, the Nembutsu of Shinran, in particular, I would like to discuss its features.
１，The Nembutsu of true and real Shinjin
Shinran says in Pure Land Hymns on the Right Semblance, and Last Dharma-Ages, 39:
‘The saying of the Name arising from true and real Shinjin
Is Amida’s directing of virtue to beings;
Therefore, it is called “not directing” merit.
And saying the nembutsu in self-power is rejected. ①
True Nembutsu in Jodo Shinsu is the Nembutsu with true and real Shinjin.’
True Nembutsu is the Nembutsu with Shinjin.
The Nembutsu of Jodo Shinshu is neither for one’s pure land birth, nor to obtain Shinjin.
True Nembutsu of Jodo-Shinshu comes after a Shinjin decision, and the statement of it by a person, is for to show Hoon (gratitude) for Amitabha Buddha’s salvation and benevolence.
Shinran says at beginning of The True Teaching, Practice, and Realization of the Pure Land Way, Chapter II:
“The great practice is to say the Name of the Tathagata of unhindered light. This practice, embodying all good acts and possessing all roots of virtue, is perfect and most rapid in bringing about birth. It is the treasure ocean of virtues that is suchness or true reality. For this reason, it is called great practice.”②
The sentence above refers to saying the Name of the Tathagata of unhindered light.
Also, Shinran says:
“Although I am without shame and self-reproach
And lack a mind of truth and sincerity,
Because the Name is directed by Amida,
Its virtues fill the ten quarters.” (Hymns on the Three Dharma Ages, 97③).
In the sentence above, the Name is directed by Amida.
Shinran also says:
“But with a foolish being full of blind passions, in this fleeting world,this burning house, all matters without exception are empty and false, totally without truth and sincerity. The Nembutsu alone is true and real.” (A Record in Lament of Divergences, Postscript)④
As described above, to say the Name of the Tathagata of unhindered light, the Name is directed by Amida. The Nembutsu alone is true and real. All the sentences above are“The Nembutsu of true and real Shinjin”.
Shinran tells us the following in Shosinge, (Hymn of True Shinjin and the Nembutsu):
“The moment one thinks on Amida’s Primal Vow,
One is naturally brought to enter the stage of the defnitely settled;
Solely saying the Tathagata’s Name constantly,
One should respond with gratitude to the universal Vow of great compassion.”⑤
In this sentence, “gratitude for the universal Vow of great compassion” is the Nembutsu of Hoon (gratitude) for Amitabha Buddha. The important point of this sentence is “One is naturally brought to enter the stage of the definitely settled.”
When we get Shinjin, we are immediately placed in the “rightly established group” in the present. After that, we say the Nembutsu out of gratitude for Amitabha Buddha..
And in the sentence on three-vow-turning in the Chapter on Transformed Buddha-Bodies and Lands, the True Teaching, Practice and Realization of the Pure Land Way, Shinran also says:
“Having entered forever the ocean of the Vow, I now realize deeply the Buddha’s benevolence.
To respond with gratitude for the supreme virtues,
I collect the crucial passages expressing the true essence of the Pure Land Way, constantly saying, out of mindfulness, [the Name that is] the inconceivable ocean of virtues.”⑥
In this sentence, “constantly saying, out of mindfulness, [the Name that is] the inconceivable ocean of virtues.” is also the Nembutsu as Hoon (gratitude) for Amitabha Buddha.
Also, Rennyo describes it as such in "Sentences" (5-10):
“The state we thus attain is described as “with awakening , we join those who are in the stage of the truly settled.”
Recitation of the Nembutsu thereafter should be understood to be the Nembutsu as an expression of gratitude for the the Tathagata’s benevolence for settling our birth in the Pure Land.’⑦
Nembutsu in this sentence is the Nembutsu of Hoon (gratitude) for Amitabha Buddha..
Like this, true Nembutsu in Shinran is after Shinjin, which is other power giving itself. It is possible upon attaining the stage of the truly settled (rightly established group), and is neither for one’s pure land birth, nor to obtain Shinjin.
2. The denial of the Nembutsu of gratitude for the Tathagata’s benevolence
However, regarding the Nembutsu in the Shinshu sect of Buddhism in recent years,
•some people say that Shinjin is not necessary, or that Nembutsu is what makes Shinjin. Also, there is the opinion that the Nembutsu of gratitude to Buddha is a mistake
I think people who hold such opinions have not had a
saving experience, and do not have Shinjin.
They mainly deny based on the following statements.
Shinran says in a wasan:
"Those who say the Name in self−power, whether meditative or nonmeditative way,
Having indeed taken refuge in the Vow that beings ultimately attain birth
Will spontaneously, even without being taught,
Turn about and enter the gate of suchness.
(Hymns on the Pure Land, 66)⑧
Shinran also says in another wasan:
"No less than people of shinjin
Practicers of doubt who cling to self-power, should
Awaken to the benevolence of Amida’ s great compassion
And endeavor in saying the Nembutsu."
(Hymns on the Three Dharma Ages, 66)⑨
But, the two wasan above do not recommend Nembutsu of self-power.
The meaning of (Hymns on the Pure Land, 66) is that even with the Nembutsu of self-power, one is introduced into the the gate of suchness (the 18th vow) by the Vow by which beings ultimately attain birth (the 20th vow),
Also, the meaning of Hymns on the Three Dharma Ages, 66 is that who still have no settled shinjin, must first get shinjin, should awake to the benevolence of Amida’s great compassion,
and endeavor to say the Nembutsu of gratitude.
And about the sentence below:
“Those who feel uncertain of birth should say the Nembutsu, aspiring first for their own birth. Those who feel that their own birth is completely settled should, mindful of the Buddha’s benevolence, hold the Nembutsu in their hearts and say it to respond in gratitude to that benevolence, with the wish, “May there be peace in the world and may the Buddhas teaching spread!” (A Collection of Letters 2 (1))⑩
Using the part, “Those who feel uncertain of birth should say the Nembutsu, aspiring first for their own birth,” Of the previous、some say that Shinran means the Nembutsu makes Shinjin. However, this is a mistake. The meaning of this is the same as (Hymns on the Three Dharma Ages, 66) above. It means that those who still do not have settled shinjin is, should first get shinjin, should awake to the benevolence of Amida’s great compassion, and endeavor to say the Nembutsu of gratitude.
As stated above, I consider the true Nembutsu in Jodo Shinshu to be Hoon (gratitude) for Amitabha Buddha’s salvation and benevolence,
And it is upon attaining the stage of the truly settled (rightly established group).
But, I do not state that the Nembutsu precedes Shinjin,
However, even if one does not have the mind of true gratitude for Amida, one should recite the Nembutsu out of feelings of gratitude for Amida, I think that reciting the Nembutsu even without completely understanding the heart of gratitude will nurture us, and that we will eventually come to recite it with true gratitude.
About this I wrote in my book as follows:
Reciting the “name of the Buddha” based on completion of the Primal Vow to create our own “good roots” is a great mistake. Many problems can arise if we attempt to do so. They include:
• Should those whose shinjin is not yet determined recite the Nembutsu?
• How should infants recite the Nembutsu?
• Is it wrong to recite the Nembutsu in order to receive shinjin?
• What should we do in order to receive shinjin?
It is, of course, wrong to say that those without shinjin should not recite the Nembutsu. There presently is a Jodo-Shinshu group that forbids reciting the Nembutsu before receiving shinjin, but that clearly is incorrect.
I believe that since the Nembutsu we recite in our Jodo-Shinshu tradition is to express indebtedness to the dharma, we should not recite it for the purpose of receiving shinjin. But I also I believe that reciting the Nembutsu even without completely understanding the heart of gratitude will nurture us and that we will eventually come to recite it with true gratitude.
As has already been stated, “hearing” (chomon) is considered extremely important in Jodo Shinshu. As the Venerable Master wrote in his Jodo Wasan:
Those who pass through the fires
Of the “great thousand worlds”
To hear the sacred Name of the Buddha
Will be included in the “stage
of never falling back.”
As can be determined from this, the path to shinjin is “hearing” (chomon) and is the way to reach the “stage of never falling back” (futai), which is the same as being in the “rightly-established group (of those assured of birth in the Pure Land).”
Further, Master Rennyo is quoted in the Kikigaki (Heard and Recorded [During Master Rennyo’s Lifetime]):
“Do not listen to (the teachings) of Buddha-dharma in your free time; rather, perform your worldly duties in the free time you have when not listening to the dharma.”
As Master Rennyo said, we should concentrate on “listening” to the teaching, regardless of how important we may consider matters in the secular world. Further, Master Rennyo said, “If those without shinjin listen (to the dharma), it will be given to them because of the Great Compassion. Buddha-dharma (begins and) ends with ‘listening.’”
I believe that “listening” (chomon, in a broad sense, which includes studying Buddha-dharma and Jodo-Shinshu, as well as attending Jodo-Shinshu services, and in fact, everything in our life) is extremely important for shinjin. This “listening” has already been completely prepared for us by the Buddha, and is the world where absolutely nothing is required on our part.⑪
① The Collected Works of SHIRAN, V1:P..408.:
② The Collected Works of SHIRAN, V1:P..13
③ The Collected Works of SHIRAN, V1:P..421
④ The Collected Works of SHIRAN, V1:P..679
⑤ The Collected Works of SHIRAN, V1:P..71
⑥ The Collected Works of SHIRAN, V1:P..240
⑦ Letters of Rennyo. A Translation of Rennyo’s Gobunsho. P.3.
⑧ The Collected Works of SHIRAN, V1:P..343.:
⑨ The Collected Works of SHIRAN, V1:P..414.:
⑩ The Collected Works of SHIRAN, V1:P..560.:
⑪UNDERSTANDING JODO SHINSHU. Eiken Kobai. Dharma Lion Publications.CRAIOVA,2007.P.171.
(18th Eurpean Shin Buddhist Conference August 23-26,2016-Antwerp<Belgium>,August 23)