Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Jodo Wasan 18

Amassing a stock of virtues from the Buddhas
For sentient beings of the ten quarters,
They bring them to entrust themselves to the universal Primal Vow;
So take refuge in Amida, the oceanlike great mind.

A Vehicle Built for Bodhisattvas

This verse continues the theme of the previous wasan.

Shinran Shonin does not consider himself to be the creator of a new perspective on Pure Land Buddhism. His use of true (shin) as an adjective qualifying Pure Land (jodo)1 is not an attempt to delineate a teaching, which is in any way a departure from the Pure Land tradition. Rather, his writings attest to his wish to present a clear witness to his teacher Honen.

When we discover that the structure of the ship of Pure Land dharma is such that its purpose is to enable the entire range of human personalities to move together into the great bodhisattva way, we should not be surprised. Although people, who do not know the Pure Land way well, sometimes characterize it as 'devotional', its real purpose is to facilitate entry for its followers into the career of a bodhisattva or a Buddha. Shinran suggests in the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho that those who 'carefully assess their capacity' turn to the Pure Land way to achieve this end. There can be little doubt that he saw it in that light.

In returning to this traditional emphasis, Shinran was actually correcting a tendency to lapse into an exclusive concern for one's own liberation, which had begun to distort the original direction of Pure Land teaching. In so doing, he was especially bringing back into its rightful focus the thought of Vasubhandhu Bodhisattva and his commentator T'an-luan.

Shinran's Kyo Gyo Shin Sho takes us on a long, wonderful and intricate journey to the threshold of a bodhisattva vocation. As we approach the end of this magnificent treatise, which is essentially about the entry into the bodhisattva way, he quotes a final passage to punctuate his vision of universal salvation.

A verse in the Garland Sutra says:

On seeing a bodhisattva
Perform various practices,
Some give rise to a good mind and others a mind of evil,
But the bodhisattva embraces them all.2


1: The term 'Jodo Shinshu', 'True Teaching of the Pure Land' was first coined by Fa-chao (766-822). Originally, it was not the name of a religious organisation.

2: CWS, p. 292.

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