Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Jodo Wasan 30

Those who, hearing Amida Buddha's Name, Rejoice in it with reverence and praise,
Receive its treasure of virtues;
The great benefit acquired with one utterance is supreme.

Chomon

This verse is based on the following passage from the Larger Sutra:

The Buddha said to Maitreya, 'If there are persons who, having heard the name of that Buddha, leap and dance with joy, and are mindful of the Buddha even once, know that they receive the great benefit; that is, they acquire the unexcelled virtues.1.

The 'the great benefit' is of course, nirvana. 'Hearing' the Name means that we come to understand that the Name is the call of the Vow of Amida Buddha from the other shore of enlightenment. We become aware of our entrapment in the round of birth-and-death and respond to the call in accepting Amida Buddha's shinjin: the mind that is 'single.' Hearing is, therefore, a vital aspect of the Pure Land way.

The ambient condition that assists us to this end is 'listening-listening' (chomon) to the dharma. This encourages us to engage with the teaching intellectually, emotionally and energetically by listening to dharma talks and reading.

We should not neglect reading, thinking and even struggling with the teachings as a way to hear the dharma. It is understood by this that we repeatedly read, recite and contemplate the writings of Shinran, the letters and sayings of Rennyo Shonin, and the writings of our contemporaries who are women and men of shinjin. This does not necessarily imply erudition but, rather, devotion to the task of assimilating the dharma. We may not have access to a temple because of isolation or disability, but we can always read.

Chomon has a specific purpose: it is to 'hear the Name', for the Name in the Primal Vow is dharma.

'Hearing the Name' is not simply hearing it in the ordinary sense of the term. It should be remembered that, when you meet a good spiritual teacher and hear with deep understanding the six-character word, 'na-mu-a-mi-da-butsu,' this is the entrusting heart of Other Power, through which you attain birth in the fulfilled land.2

Ultimately, the context of hearing the dharma awakens an engagement, a 'holding fast' to the Name (namu-amida-butsu): adoring it, saying it, contemplating it, and living it.

'Holding fast to the Name' is not mere repetition but signifies the working of the Buddha's virtue, and the power of the Vow:

The Smaller Sutra states: 'Hold steadfast to [the Name].' 'Steadfast' means that the mind is firm and unchanging. 'Hold' means not being distracted and not letting go. Hence the sense of 'never becoming confused.' 'Hold steadfast' is thus the mind that is single. The mind that is single is shinjin.3

Having 'heard' the Name, we find ourselves saying it. Hearing - shinjin - bursts from us in the form of Namu-amida-butsu, which is the expression of the adoration and trust that fills our being.


1: TPLS II, p. 101.

2: Letters of Rennyo. A Translation of Rennyo's Gobunsho, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Hongwanji International Center, 2000 [Gobunsho], p. 51.

3: CWS, p. 315.

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