Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Jodo Wasan 48

When we take refuge in the Pure Land of Amida,
We take refuge in all the Buddhas.
To praise the one Buddha, Amida, with the mind that is single
Is to praise all the unhindered ones.

Singlemindedness

Shinran Shonin assures us here that we only need to take refuge in Amida Buddha. In doing so he asserts that all other Buddhas are served and praised at the same time. This is because all Buddhas share the same enlightenment.

The many Buddhas signify the universality of the wisdom and compassion that saturates the universe. The Buddha Dharma is filled with compassion and support for people of shinjin. Shinran celebrates the fact that followers of the nembutsu are free to trust entirely in Namu-amida-butsu. We do not need to concern ourselves with our fate since all our needs are taken care of from the long distant past.

Most Buddhists know about the three Buddha bodies (Skt.: trikaya). These are the dharma body (dharmakaya), the fulfilled body (sambhogakaya), and the accommodated body (nirmanakaya). The dharma body is without colour or form, the fulfilled body can be conceptualised and the accommodated body is an external phenomenon, like Shakyamuni Buddha. According to T'an-luan the Buddhas have two dharma bodies: the dharma body as suchness and the dharma body as compassionate means. The latter may become a fulfilled body or an accommodated body. The term 'body' (kaya) reminds us that the dharma body is a person, a spirit, pervading all things. He is the 'wisdom that fills all things'.

In his teaching, and the writings he has left us, Shinran tells us that Amida Buddha is both the dharma body as suchness (without form) and the dharma body as compassionate means, which took form and made the Vows to liberate beings through the Name. That is why Amida Buddha as the supreme Buddha, without form or colour, is the teacher of all Buddhas. That is why, if we take refuge in Amida Buddha, we take refuge in all other Buddhas by extension, for all have come from Amida Buddha as supreme Buddha, the dharma body as suchness.

The Pure Land tradition everywhere encourages us to wholeheartedly and singlemindedly entrust ourselves to the dharma - to Namu-amida-butsu alone. This encouragement is not a nagging monotheism but a compassionate exhortation given for the sake of our emotional and spiritual health.

The nembutsu way is so spiritually satisfying, emotionally supportive and rewarding that exhortations to singlemindedness are really only acclamations of an established fact. It is clear to me, at any rate, that Shinran is not scolding, but reassuring us. Those of us who live according to the nembutsu way do not have any interest in any other form of spiritual life. Shinran says, don't worry, Amida Buddha is all that matters. In taking refuge in Amida all our spiritual needs are fulfilled.

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