Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Jodo Wasan 57

The light of the Buddha of Unhindered Light
Harbours the lights of purity, joy, and wisdom;
Its virtuous working surpasses conceptual understanding,
As it benefits the beings throughout the ten quarters.

Unhindered Light

From Shinran Shonin's point of view, unhindered light (mugeko) is one of the most prominent adjectives qualifying Amida Buddha. It is celebrated in this verse because, in the Larger Sutra, it is second in the list of Amida's 'twelve lights'.1 It is said that Shinran used the ten character myogo ('the Name') as his honzon or 'principle object of reverence'.

Until the time of the eighth monshu of Jodo Shinshu (Rennyo) in the fifteenth century, the ten character myogo was generally well favoured among Shinshu followers. It was often portrayed emitting rays of light. It is a pity that copies of these myogo are not available for us to use in our own home shrines, or in dojo and temples. It is pronounced ki-myo-jin-jip-po-mu-ge-ko-nyo-rai: 'Homage to the Tathagata whose light is unhindered in the ten quarters'.

As a form of nembutsu, it has value for a number of reasons. The first is that, after a brief time getting to understand the words, it is both spiritually and intellectually satisfying and in itself provides a meditation on the key features of Amida Buddha's reality. It reminds us of the specific significance of the term 'Amida' as 'unhindered light' and helps us to grow in awareness that, unhindered, Amida Buddha's wisdom penetrates to the core of our being; showing it up as it is.

It also has a more colloquial feel than the Indian phrase Namu-amida-butsu. Somehow, there is an intimate sense to it. It reminds us that the nembutsu itself is not a mere ritual - a fixed object - but has emotional, intellectual and spiritual content. Again, we are reminded of Shinran's explanation that

kimyo is the command of the Primal Vow calling to and summoning us.2

Thirdly, it is an intensely reassuring form of the myogo because the things that stubbornly hinder our progress on the path of the Buddha are the 'three roots of evil'; lobha (greed), dvesha (anger) and moha (delusion); in this case, a pedestrian kind of ignorance, contrasted with fundamental avidya, blind ignorance, that lies at the heart of existence. The unhindered light - which is the light of purity, joy and wisdom - is an antidote to greed, anger and ignorance, respectively. In the ten character myogo we encounter the truth of Other Power; the power beyond the self. The self of our conditioned existence is bound by the hindrances of greed, anger and delusion but the unhindered light ultimately vanquishes them.

Those who open themselves to the brilliance of Other Power, to the unhindered light, often have a glimpse of the reality of the 'lights of purity, joy and wisdom' and come to the wonderful realization that the ultimate truth is not the seemingly intractable hindrance of blind ignorance but the wisdom and compassion that fills the universe.


1: TPLS II, p. 36.

2: CWS, p. 38.

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