Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Jodo Wasan 56

The Buddha of Inconceivable Light, under Lokesvararaja Buddha,
Selected the best qualities from among
All the pure lands of the ten quarters
To establish the Primal Vow.

The Dawn of Compassion

Namu-fukashigiko-butsu - 'I take refuge in the Buddha of Inconceivable Light!' This is a stirring way to begin a verse like this: a verse that recounts the story in the Larger Sutra, which tells how Amida Buddha chose the Primal Vow, proclaiming the transfer of his virtue to us in his Name, setting us on the path to nirvana. The Shoshin Nembutsu Ge, which many Shin Buddhists recite every day, similarly begins with namu-fukashigiko - 'I take refuge in inconceivable light'. This also prefaces a description of the same momentous event.

In his accounts of this story Shinran Shonin calls out this, his favourite epithet for Amida Buddha, for a reason. It is because he is alluding to something which is itself inconceivable but which he knows to be true.

My favourite piece of useless software provides a programme which tells users the exact location of the moon at any moment of the day or night. All one has to do is to type in the local time and the exact longitude and latitude. This enables it to give a wealth of detailed information, including the exact moment one can expect the moon to appear on the eastern horizon. I like this software because I have always loved the moon. I think it is an exquisite thing to behold and I enjoy looking up at it at different times of the year and taking in its subtle changes of shadow and colour.

One of the things that delights me about this software is knowing where the moon is when it is not visible to the naked eye. Perphaps it is a new moon, when it is in the sky during daylight. Perhaps it is on the other side of the earth's orb, beneath the horizon. Without doubt the best thing about the software is the way it locates the moon as it is about to rise, giving its location and its distance below the horizon. Although I know full well just how reliable this little piece of technology is, it is still fun to watch the calibration ticking down to moonrise and then to go outside and see the moon's disk beginning to break the horizon at lunar dawn; right on time! The presence of the moon just does not seem real until it is actually visible again.

Neither you, nor I, nor Shinran saw the events reported in the Larger Sutra and celebrated in this verse. It is well below the horizon of recorded history and quite intangible to us as individuals. And it is only as the compassion, which it demonstrates, begins to dawn in our hearts by its own power, that its truth will be affirmed for us.

Namo-fukashigiko-butsu. Homage to the Buddha of Inconceivable Light!

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