Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Jodo Wasan 89

Let Amida be praised for a hundred thousand kotis of kalpas
By a hundred thousand kotis of tongues,
Each producing countless voices,
And still that praise would be incomplete.

When the Heart is Full

There are the ever more urgent eternal questions and deep matters which need to find resolution. I am not talking about those things which can be alleviated by talking them through but about that nagging doubt or nameless dark brooding - inner oppression -, which is always there; always just behind everything we think and everything we do. It gives us a sense of unease, especially because it hints all the time that life may actually be completely meaningless and futile. It is there, there always, like a dark room in a house. The room seems to be haunted and we are terrified to open the door, fearful beyond endurance of what we might find inside. Our heart is full, but full of darkness.

It is impossible to open this door alone, for the contents of our inner recesses portend annihilation. They are the rapacious, reptilian things which we keep hidden because of the damage they would do in a social context; and to ourselves. But there is a hand that we can hold as we walk through the door, into the heart of darkness - a light that will show these terrors as the empty things they are, and set our hearts free.

Too often we are fond of describing Amida Buddha in abstruse terms and some people even venture to describe him as symbol, metaphor or myth. But why not let go of this kind of complicated and pinched sophistry, break down the walls of our fear and open our hearts - accept Amida Buddha, as he is: the Tathagata of inconceivable light? How hard it is for many of us to go beyond the parameters of our intellect! True, this light is inconceivable but, as we are reminded in the words of the Shoshinge,

The light of compassion that grasps us illumines and protects us
      always;
The darkness of our ignorance is already broken through;
Still the clouds and mists of greed and desire, anger and hatred,
Cover as always the sky of true and real shinjin.

But though light of the sun is veiled by clouds and mists,
Beneath the clouds and mists there is brightness, not dark.1

Amida Buddha, the Buddha existing from the eternal past, is as real and as tangible as was Shakyamuni Buddha. We always arm ourselves with doubt because by means of it we can protect ourselves from the irruption of deep realities; and, subsequently of the fullness of heart that comes from joy. But in reality there are those dark lurking things which cry out for our attention, for we know that as long as they remain lurking we will not be free; and we know that they are not symbols or myths! We are afraid to be disarmed and unsophisticated and open to the only one light that can endure our inner darkness.

We should let go of our self-defeating prejudices and in a moment of complete disarmament take hold of Amida Buddha's hand.

In the Gobunsho, Rennyo Shonin says,

For those who understand thoroughly the meaning of 'Anjin-Faith' of our Jodo Shinshu School, there is no necessity to possess intelligence or learning. Just become aware that at best you are deeply evil-prone, shameful beings, and believe that the Buddha who delivers such beings regardless is Amida Buddha only. If they cling tightly to the sleeve of this Amida Tathagata's Benevolence with feelings of complete trust without any doubt and place Faith in Him for the life to come, this Amida Tathagata will be deeply joyed and will emit 84,000 rays of Light from His person and envelop them forever in this Light.2

... Oh, how wonderful is this unobstructable Primal Vow and how welcome is this Great Light of Amida Tathagata! Without the blessing of this Light, there is not even a remote hope that we shall be cured of this fearful sickness of ignorance and delusion that has transcended to us from time immemorial.

And then the heart is full!


1: CWS, p. 70.

2: Shinshu Seiten, Jodo Shinshu Teaching, Buddhist Churches of America, 1978, p. 373. Gubunsho tr. Elson B. Snow.

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