Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Jodo Wasan 36

The wondrous land, vast beyond measurement,
Is made up of adornments fulfilled through the Primal Vow,
So bow down to and take refuge in Amida,
The pure one who broadly grasps all beings.

The Pure Magnanimous Embracer

Now Shinran Shonin is turning his attention to the true land (shindo) in contrast to the transformed land (keshindo). For him the true land (shindo) is exquisite because it is the land of pure light, the land of wisdom. Those born there realize ultimate truth, wisdom (Sk. prajna) and freedom (Sk. moksha).

With regard to the true land, the Larger Sutra says, 'the land of immeasurable light'. Also another sutra [the Nirvana Sutra] says, 'the land of wisdoms'. The discourse [by T'an-luan] says, 'Infinite like space, broad and boundless.

With regard to birth, the Larger Sutra says: 'All enjoy the body of naturalness and voidness and the body of limitlessness'1.

There can be absolutely no doubt that Shinran's clarification of the nature and constitution of the Pure Land, as it was expounded through the centuries, led him to be sure that the true land was, in fact, synonymous with the realization of nirvana. He speaks of it in absolute terms, 'exquisite', 'vast and immense'. Such an attainment can only be made by those who have reached the highest stages of realization. Nevertheless, at the moment shinjin is settled - because of its pure transcendent freedom from self - the aspirants are certain of this same realization, in spite of the profound knowledge of themselves as base and destined for naraka (jigoku).

The true buddha land is vast and immense, reflecting the limitless condition of voidness, shunyata; it accommodates countless multitudes of beings, as we shall see in the next two wasan. The 'pure, magananimous embracer' has provided the infinitely vast realm for all - taking in all beings, no matter how defiled they may be.

For many of us it is this aspect of Shinran's teaching which induces us to balk at allowing ourselves to have wholehearted trust in it. It sounds like a rather fanciful assertion; it seems to fly in the face of traditional principles of the Buddha Dharma.

Only those to whom the sheer brilliance of Amida's light and power opens their hearts to see things in a direct way does the teaching seem altogether trustworthy. To reach the stage, at which we can abandon ourselves to Amida's embrace, it is often necessary to reach the end of our tether - to have exhausted our own resources. In this kind of existential crisis, when one reaches a level of self-awareness that allows one to see the truth of one's own reality, it often happens that people are freed to accept Amida's embrace. Stripped of prejudices, and naked before our own ugliness, we come to know that the heart of life is a broad, warm and all-embracing love and compassion, which despite everything, encompasses us and takes us in.

Then, despair becomes joy, light fills our lives, and the Pure Land becomes indeed a genuine entity, which we love to contemplate.

In the Hymns [on the Samadhi] of All Buddhas' Presence, Shan-tao, the Master of Kuang-ming temple, explains that the heart of the person of faith already always resides in the Pure Land.2

A close look at the traditional Buddhist teachings, and contemplation of the truth and significance of non-self, which lies at the heart of the dharma, can also lead us into the realization of the truth of the Pure Land teaching as Shinran saw it. Then, too, we become free to wholeheartly accept it, and the embrace of 'the pure mangnanimous one.'


1: Ryukoku Translation Series V. p. 156

2: CWS, p.528.

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