Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Jodo Wasan 65

Based on the Vow that beings ultimately attain birth,
Sakyamuni presented, in the Amida Sutra,
The root of good and the root of virtue,
Encouraging those of the One Vehicle.

The Amida Sutra

Shinran Shonin selects the Amida Sutra as revealing the significance of Amida Buddha's twentieth vow, which he calls 'the vow of sincere mind and directing of merit'. This is because this sutra enjoins the exclusive practice of saying the Name.

Sentient beings, each of you should accept what Sakyamuni has taught, has praised, has given witness to! It is certain beyond any doubt that when foolish beings - regardless of whether their evil or merit is great or small, or the period of time long or short - just single-heartedly practice the saying of the Name of Amida alone, for up to one hundred years or down to even one or seven days, they unfailingly attain birth.1

Along with the Mahamangala Sutta, the Metta Sutta and the Heart Sutra, the Amida Sutra is the most widely chanted and best known and loved sutra in the Buddhist world. Apart from its association with the twentieth vow, the Amida Sutra has many special qualities. The first is that it boldly proclaims Amida Buddha as a timeless fact. It merely defines his Name and does not attempt to assign an ætiology to him. In this way we are led to understand the nature of Amida Buddha as the ultimate reality - however it is otherwise expressed - thusness (tathata), dharma-nature (dharma ta), enlightenment (bodhi), dharma body (dharmakaya), unconditioned (asamskrita) and so on. Indeed, the description of Amida Buddha - and his Pure Land - in the Amida Sutra is a straightforward declaration of the four qualities of dharma-body:

The dharma-body is eternity, bliss, self, and purity.2

Furthermore, this small sutra makes us aware of the principles outlined by Shakyamuni in the Kalama Sutra - which is, in part, that we should not accept something unless it is 'praised by the wise'. The sutra tells us that all of the Buddhas, throughout the universe are one in encouraging us to accept the sutra. And so it is that, throughout the centuries, countless millions of Buddhists have paid homage to Amida Buddha - in this sutra - in response to the encouragement given to us by all of the Buddhas in the universe to turn to Amida Buddha as our source of spiritual light.

In short, the Amida Sutra affirms that Amida Buddha is the irresistable truth (nirvana)3 to which all suffering beings are drawn from the moment that his light begins to dawn in their hearts.

1: CWS, p. 231. A translation from the Amida Sutra as rendered by Shan-tao. The passage is included in Kyo Gyo Sho Monrui, VI, 47.

2: CWS, p. 188; a quotation in the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho from the Nirvana Sutra.

3: CWS, p. 184.

Current image

Jodo Wasan

Koso Wasan

Shozomatsu Wasan


Back | HOME | Next