Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Jodo Wasan 96

Amida Tathagata came forth and guided beings,
Teaching the 'Chapter on Life-span'
In the Sutra of Golden Splendour
In order to end calamities and ensure long life.

Baishajyaguru

This verse is the first of a wonderful collection which celebrate the benefits we receive in our present life as a result of our acceptance of the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha in his Name. There are fifteen verses in this section of the Jodo Wasan and they will afford us an opportunity to explore some important metaphysical Buddhist themes.

The benefits in the present are essentially spiritual: they convey the sense of relief and joy which may arise in people of the nembutsu. Having resolved the all-important question of our future destiny, by entrusting ourselves to Amida Buddha, we receive a dividend, which is a sense of security and the amelioration of fear.

In the Kyo-Gyo-Shin-Sho, Shinran lists ten benefits of faith:

  1. The benefit of being protected and sustained by unseen powers.
  2. The benefit of being possessed of supreme virtues.
  3. The benefit of our karmic evil being transformed into good.
  4. The benefit of being protected and cared for by all the Buddhas.
  5. The benefit of being praised by all the Buddhas.
  6. The benefit of being constantly protected by the light of the Buddha's heart.
  7. The benefit of having great joy in our hearts.
  8. The benefit of being aware of Amida's benevolence and of responding in gratitude to his virtue.
  9. The benefit of constantly practicing great compassion.
  10. The benefit of entering the stage of the truly settled.1

The Sutra of Golden Splendour was delivered by four Buddhas: Baishajyaguru (yakushi nyorai), Samkusumitaraja, Amida and Shakyamuni. Baishajyaguru is a very popular Buddha and is associated with both the prajnaparamita and the Tendai, Shingon and Rinzai Zen schools.

Baishajyaguru, the Buddha of Medicine, is renowned for twelve vows:

  1. to shine upon all beings with His Light;
  2. to reveal His Great Power to all beings;
  3. to fulfill the desires of all beings;
  4. to cause all beings to enter the Mahayana;
  5. to enable all beings to observe all precepts;
  6. to heal all those whose senses are imperfect;
  7. to remove all diseases and give perfect enlightenment;
  8. to enable women to be born into conditions which are congenial to their gaining enlightenment;
  9. to enable all beings to be free from all false doctrines and bonds, and attain truth;
  10. to enable all beings to escape evil;
  11. to give good food to the hungry; and
  12. to wonderfully clothe the naked.

In Tibet, China and Japan many people hope to be cured of illness by touching his image or calling his name. However, the texts associated with this Buddha counsel more complex procedures. Baishajyaguru is often represented as a blue-skinned Buddha with his medicine bowl in one hand or holding the medicinal myrobalan fruit. He is associated with the eternal Buddhas, Aksobhya and Vairocana and attended by twelve nature spirits (Sk.: yaksha) who protect his followers.

Yakushiji (temple) in Nara is dedicated to Baishajyaguru. Originally established in 690 outside the city, it was re-founded within the city in 718. The only one of the original buildings to have survived is the eastern three-storied pagoda, which is considered to be one of the finest examples of religious architecture from the Nara period (710 - 784). Yakushiji contains many art treasures, the most famous of which is the Nara period sculpture group known as the Yakushi triad.

Like all Buddhas, Baishajyaguru is the epitome of wisdom and compassion; he is a master of skilfull means. But, according to Shinran Shonin it was Amida Buddha who stood forth in his compassion to proclaim the chapter on Measurement of Life, the heart of the sutra. This is because Amida Buddha is the original Buddha and teacher of all Buddhas throughout the universe.2


1: CWS, p.112

2: Jodo Wasan, 88; CWS, p. 349

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