Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Jodo Wasan 5

The liberating wheel of light is without bound;
Each person it touches, it is taught,
Is freed from attachments to being and nonbeing,
So take refuge in Amida, the enlightenment of non-discrimination.


According to the Larger Sutra, Amida Buddha is known to us in only three ways: immeasurable life, immeasurable light and the Name (Myogo, Namu-amida-butsu), which is heard throughout the universe.1 We also learn in the sutra that the light is inconceivable.2

The Name, Namu-amida-butsu is always with us as the sound, the form - the way we touch and taste the inconceivable light. We are not required to believe anything, do anything, hold anything - we can think, breathe, and live Namu-amida-butsu. However, our nembutsu is no mantra. It is not a magic formula - our mind must be engaged, too. As Shinran says in the first wasan, for people of true shinjin, saying the Name (shomyo nembutsu) is

'Uttering the Buddha's Name with thought of Buddha ever mindful.'3

Our thought is of the inconceivable light, which is the body of true reality and the body for the sake of all beings.4

'Suffering, and the release from suffering,' is the core message of the Buddha Dharma. Early followers of Shakyamuni (Gautama Buddha) held fast to the idea that those who had 'seen the Buddha had seen the dharma,' and that those who has 'seen the dharma had seen the Buddha.' The light-wheel of deliverance is the dharma-body - 'true reality' - which 'teaches suffering and release from suffering.' The Name, which is the dharma-body in tangible form, for 'the sake of all beings,' teaches 'suffering and the release from suffering.'

The source of our suffering is our attachments, especially to the beliefs which govern our inner reality. These beliefs inevitably concern survival, and from them we construct a picture of ourselves and the way the world works - a 'world-view'.

Nargarjuna bodhisattva tells us that in people's world-view we discover two general tendencies. One is the tendency to assume that our existence is unending - eternal. The other tendency is that life ends with death. The first is the belief in being; the other is belief in non-being. In this verse, Shinran is telling us that our relationship with the dharma-body in the Name needs to dismantle our views, our beliefs, because these things obstruct our movement to liberation.

An enlightened person has no views; enlightenment is free from mere opinion. That is why, to move towards liberation, we need Namu-amida-butsu.

1: The Three Pure Land Sutras, Volume II, The Larger Sutra, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, 2009 [TPLS, II] pp. 21-23.

2: TPLS, II p. 36.

3: CWS, p. 321.

4: CWS, p. 82.

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