Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Jodo Wasan 44

Each feature and mark releases, throughout the ten quarters,
A hundred thousand beams of light;
Thus the Buddhas constantly teach and spread
        the excellent dharma
And lead beings into the Buddha's path.

Effulgence

This verse continues the description of the all-encompassing radiance of the Buddha of Immeasurable Light and the Land of Immeasurable Light. In addition to the rays of light, which emanate from the flowers in the transformed Pure Land, the 'signs and marks' of the Buddhas emerging from the flowers are also radiant with its effulgence. Once again these are features which extend to the entire realm of samsara - into the world of illusion.

As we have already seen, light is wisdom (Sk. prajna) and there is a reason for this seeming hyperbole. It conveys the sheer power of the light. Though the light is inconceivable it reaches even the darkest recesses of ignorance (Sk. avidya); the ignorance (darkness) which keeps us bound to samsara. Wisdom, in the Buddhist sense is to 'see things as they really are', that is, empty, void and transitory - having fleeting ephemeral existence.

Light as a physical entity is not something we can see. What we see are the things which are illuminated by it. If there were no objects upon which it alighted, its existence would be meaningless. It is not so much the light itself that is relevant to us but what it shows up. In Shin Buddhist experience that seems to be so, too, for the spiritual life. The light of the Pure Land is so powerful, and unhindered, that there is nothing within our hearts and minds which it does not throw into stark relief. If we open our selves to the light and the Name - Namu-amida-butsu - a time will come when we are so aware of our true constituents that - like Shinran - we will abandon them, entrusting ourselves wholly to the the power of the Primal Vow.

'To abandon the mind of self-power' admonishes the various and diverse kinds of people - masters of Hinayana or Mahayana, ignorant beings good or evil - to abandon the conviction that one is good, to cease relying on the self; to stop reflecting knowingly on one's evil heart, and further to stop the judging of people as good or bad. When such shackled foolish beings... thus wholly entrust themselves to the name embodying great wisdom, the inconceivable Vow of the Buddha of unhindered light, then while burdened as they are with blind passion, they attain the supreme nirvana.1

To my mind, this passage gives a perfect account of the way the ephemeral self is abandoned when it is revealed by the power of the Buddha of Immeasurable Light. Such an awareness cannot surely be found as a result of the mere assertion of an idea, an imposition from above. It comes from genuine realization, awakening and understanding. A person enmeshed in illusion cannot see its evanescence and futility with his own deluded insight but only in the inconceivable spiritual light, the effulgent wisdom which is the Buddha and which fills the universe.


1: CWS, p. 459.

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